As part of the RIAA, Universal Music is known for being the aggressor in dozens of copyright infringement complaints concerning the unlicensed use of its music.
Now, however, it now finds itself on the other side of the fence, following a copyright infringement complaint filed against it in the United States.
The man behind the action is Allan Tannenbaum, an award-winning photographer known for his works depicting the New York art, music and nightlife scene in the 70s and early 80s.
Tannenbaum’s portfolio contains many iconic photographs of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, including a very well known one that depicts the couple in bed laughing. (shown below)
“John Lennon cracks a joke while he and Yoko are nude in bed filming a video for ‘Just Like Starting Over’ in a SoHo studio, November 26, 1980,” says a description of the image on Tannenbaum’s site.
“Tannenbaum is the author of the Photograph and has at all times been the sole owner of all right, title and interest in and to the Photograph, including the copyright thereto,” Tannenbaum’s complaint reads.
According to the complaint, filed under Section 501 of the Copyright Act, Universal Music is the operator of uDiscoverMusic, a website that takes an in-depth look at “some of the most influential music in the world – and the artists that created it.”
At issue is an article published on the site titled “John Lennon – Milk and Honey” which ran Tannenbaum’s image alongside to the right, as shown in the screenshot below.
According to the Universal-owned site, the article was first published during July 2015, but Tannenbaum says that he only discovered the unlicensed use of his work in May 2019. The article is still live at the time of writing.
“Universal Music infringed Plaintiff’s copyright in the Photograph by reproducing and publicly displaying the Photograph on the Website,” the complaint notes.
“Universal Music is not, and has never been, licensed or otherwise authorized to reproduce, publically display, distribute and/or use the Photograph.”
It further alleges that Universal’s actions were willful, intentional, and purposeful, in “disregard of and indifference to Plaintiff’s rights.”
Demanding a trial by jury, Tannenbaum says he is entitled to damages and profits generated as a result of Universal’s “unlawful conduct”. Alternatively, he demands statutory damages of up to $150,000 for the infringed work.
The complaint, obtained by TorrentFreak, was filed just yesterday so Universal Music has not yet responded. It can be viewed here(pdf)
The earlier a film ends up on pirate sites, the more filmmakers, cinemas, and other players in the movie industry stand to lose.
This is the main reason why movie theaters keep a very close eye on their visitors.
Employees are specifically trained and instructed to recognize potentially suspicious behavior so they take action in response. Those who help to catch a pirate, are eligible for hard cash bounties.
In the UK, the Film Content Protection Agency (FCPA) is in charge of these rewards as well as educating cinema personnel. This is much needed, it appears, as there are piracy ‘incidents’ in UK movie theaters on a weekly basis.
According to the latest annual report from the UK Cinema Association, 2018 saw a record number of ‘film theft’ related incidents, wrapped in a positive sauce.
“Despite ongoing attempts by individuals to record films in cinema theaters there were 140 separate incidents in UK cinemas in 2018, a new record – much of the year saw the continuation of a period of unprecedented success in this regard,” the report reads.
While people are frequently caught trying to record movies, leaks from UK cinemas are rare, the association notes. In fact, no leaked films could be tracked to the UK for a period of three consecutive years. However, that also changed in 2018.
In October, a pirated copy of a newly-released film was traced back to a Birmingham cinema and this was followed by two more, but unrelated, leaks from Cornwall.
This is obviously a setback, but the Cinema Association notes that the FCPA is investigating the cases with the authorities, hoping to bring the perpetrators to justice, as it did with a 21-year old man from Sunderland last summer.
“As the year closed, the FCPA was collaborating on investigating these three cases with the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU), based at the City of London Police,” the annual report notes.
As for the increase in reported incidents, it is not clear whether this reflects an actual uptick in piracy attempts. Last year, more than 2,200 cinema staff from 68 UK cinemas attended the FCPA’s anti-piracy briefings, so it’s possible that elevated awareness is playing a role too.
Increased vigilance is also a reason to keep the bounty program in place. Theater employees are eligible for a reward of up to £1,000 for spotting pirates.
“Encouraging and incentivising such vigilance and awareness is vital – so the FCPA has continued to acknowledge cinema staff for their efforts in tackling film piracy through its reward programme,” the report reads.
“Across the year, a record 52 cinema staff were formally recognised for successfully disrupting attempts to illegally record films and presented with cash rewards at presentations in March and September,” the Cinema Association adds.
On its website, the FCPA provides further guidance on how to spot pirates. Among other things, it recommends using night-vision goggles.
“Modern, lightweight, silent night vision devices may be available at your cinema. Their use during screen checks is warmly encouraged, especially for new releases most vulnerable to theft,” the advice reads.
With these and other measures, the UK movie industry hopes to keep piracy incidents under control. Sharper surveillance may initially lead to more reported incidents, but if it pays off, the number of actual leaks should drop to zero again.
Last June, popular ‘pirate’ IPTV service SET TV went offline after being sued by DISH Network and encryption partner NagraStar.
In a Florida court, the defendants were accused of creating and selling subscriptions to the SET TV service which, among other things, offered numerous television channels that were unlawfully obtained from DISH’s satellite service and retransmitted to customers.
The $20-per-month platform had offered its subscribers a package of 500 live channels, including on-demand content and PPV broadcasts, sometimes via pre-configured hardware devices.
Last November that case ended in DISH and NagraStar’s favor, with the former awarded statutory damages of $90,199,000 ($500 for each of the 180,398 subscribers SET TV had) following an agreement with SET TV.
“The judgment and injunction against the SetTV service marks a significant victory in the ongoing fight against pay-TV piracy, and a win for consumers who subscribe to legitimate pay-TV services,” DISH said in a statement.
But while the case against SET TV was being wrapped up, another case lay pending. In a second complaint, filed in Florida May 1, 2018, DISH and NagraStar targeted Julie Bishop and her company A-Box TV, which they accused of acting as a reseller for the SET TV service.
“Defendants sell subscriptions and devices for a pirate streaming television service called ‘SET TV’, which includes numerous television channels that were received without authorization from DISH’s satellite service and subsequently retransmitted without authorization on the SET TV pirate streaming service,” the complaint reads.
The filing goes on to list several now-defunct A-Box URLs (including a-boxtv.com, shop.a-boxtv.com, and store.a.boxtv.com) from where the service and associated devices were sold to customers.
In common with SET TV, A-Box was accused of offering packages costing $20 per month and selling set-top devices pre-loaded with the SET TV service. Among the illegal broadcasts offered to customers was the record-setting Mayweather v. McGregor boxing match, grabbed from the DISH service and unlawfully distributed.
Following the judgment in the SET TV case last year, it seemed unlikely that the case against A-Box would end well for the defendants. That was confirmed Tuesday with District Judge Mary S. Scriven signing off on an agreed judgment and injunction.
The order states that Julie Bishop and A-Box TV LLC are, among other things, permanently enjoined from “redistributing or retransmitting any DISH satellite signal or over-the-top (‘OTT’) signal” and/or “distributing, copying, reproducing, performing, hosting, streaming, or displaying any video programming” owned by DISH or its affiliates.
There are damages too, which are significant.
The defendants are ordered to pay DISH $2,000,000 which represents $10,000 for each violation cited in the complaint. Whether or not that amount will ever be paid is likely to remain unknown but the parties will cover their own attorney’s fees and costs.
The original complaint can be found here and the consent judgment here
With over a million visitors per day, Pelispedia.tv was one of the most popular streaming sites in Latin America.
Just a few weeks ago, it was highlighted by the US Trade Representative as a notorious pirate site, following a referral from Hollywood’s MPAA.
By then, rightsholders and enforcement authorities already had their eyes focused on the site’s alleged operators, a couple from Uruguay. Following collaborative efforts from Interpol, rightsholders, and Uruguayan authorities, this culminated in two arrests last week.
According to Uruguayan prosecutor Mónica Ferrero, the alleged operators are charged with “a continuing offense of making available a digital broadcast for profit without the written authorization of their respective holders or successors, and a crime of money laundering.”
The two, who are referred to in local media by their initials JAGR and MJHG, will remain in custody for 30 days. Their case is being handled by a court specialized in organized crime, which will take a closer look at the allegations.
Initially, Pelispedia.tv remained online following the arrests, but since yesterday it is no longer available. The sister site Pelisplus is still accessible but is also expected to shut down.
The pair reportedly have no other employment and made roughly $5,000 per month from the business. In addition to the arrests, several assets were seized including hardware, a 2008 Peugeot, a 2014 Volkswagon, $1,257 in cash, and two Payoneer cards.
The Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment collaborated with the authorities and is pleased with the outcome thus far.
“We thank Interpol, the Uruguayan police, and prosecutors for their leadership in this important action against a major illegal streaming service operator,” ACE spokesperson Richard VanOrnum said, commenting on the news.
MPAA Chairman and CEO Charles Rivkin agrees and sees the shutdown of Pelispedia.tv as another example of ACE’s successful and ongoing global effort to reduce piracy.
“Each time we collaborate with law enforcement authorities to disrupt major piracy operations like Pelispedia.tv, we support the millions of people around the world working in the film and television industry and the dynamic legal marketplace for creative content,” Rivkin notes.
While breaking records on all platforms is something that many shows will settle for, behind the scenes there’s a constant battle against piracy. Over in Russia, that task has fallen to anti-piracy company Group-IB.
After working on behalf of streaming service Amediateka, which has held the exclusive distribution rights to Game of Thrones in Russia since April 2015, Group-IB has today revealed some of the facts and stats from its four-year campaign.
The headline figure is that since the launch of Season Five, Group-IB has carried out successful takedowns against 180,000 links to illicit copies of the show on websites, forums, and social media.
As the infographic below shows, enforcement was something of a crescendo, growing rapidly as the seasons progressed (bars represent takedowns during the seasons’ airings).
During Season 8, Group-IB’s team took down more than 43,700 links to pirated versions of the show in Russian.
While that’s a large number of takedowns in itself, those were spread far and wide, spanning 1,098 different websites. More than 90 of those sites were designed specifically to spread pirated copies of the show.
Like all takedown campaigns, Group-IB also placed an emphasis on removing links to pirated copies of the show from search engines. Yandex is Russia’s most popular portal so it’s no surprise it chose to focus there.
The company reports that more than 30,000 links were removed from the search engine. Group-IB informs TF that they were all links to streaming websites but also of interest was the pirates’ response to those takedowns.
According to the anti-piracy company, the operators of the sites were unprepared for their links to be removed from Yandex, so began taking counter-measures by duplicating their platforms to ensure a new search engine listing.
“In response to the blocking, online pirates struck back by creating mirrors on a daily basis – copies of their websites with new but very similar domain names. For instance, one of the pirates created more than 20 mirrors on their subdomains,” Group-IB reports.
“However, according to the pirates’ forum posts, the owners of pirate websites were not ready for the ‘attack’ on them: ‘Looks like somebody just wiped the links out. Some of the pages disappeared… some of them do not appear in search results’,” Group-IB reports, citing the operators’ comments.
The anti-piracy campaign also targeted social media and by default VK.com, Russia’s largest social networking site. Interestingly, after filing numerous complaints with VK, some of the groups on the platform reportedly decided to go straight, converting from places to host pirated videos to become Game of Thrones fan pages.
“Group-IB Anti-Piracy team filed many takedowns through VK moderators who forced the groups’ owners to remove infringing content,” the company informs TF.
“The groups which kept publishing pirated content despite the warnings from VK were banned. Others, which removed the infringing content, turned into fan pages so as not to lose traffic that can be converted to advertising revenues.”
Finally, some thoughts from Andrey Busargin, Director of Anti-Piracy and Brand Protection at Group-IB.
“For us the battle against online pirates, trying to profit off the illegal distribution of the Game of Thrones in Russian, was as fierce as for George R.R. Martin’s characters,” Busargin says.
“I would also like to highlight Amediateka’s commitment to counter online piracy in Russia: they brought in Group-IB Anti-Piracy team ahead of time and have been making continuous efforts to popularize legal viewership of the Game of Thrones making it available on its website, in movie theaters all over the country and even on the stadium.”
While there will always be historic GoT links to clean up, Group-IB also protects other titles, including True Detective, Billions, The Good Wife, and Westworld. Game of Thrones may be over, but the takedown work will persist for years to come.
Traditionally, the Game of Thrones season finale is among the most viewed episodes, also on pirate sites.
When the entire series comes to an end, interest is only heightened.
This is what happened indeed. While many people have been rather critical about the story-line of the final season, millions of people ‘tuned’ in, both through authorized and unofficial channels.
The official ratings shot through the roof, with 13.6 million US viewers during the official airing, which is also a new all-time record for an HBO show. On pirate sites, there was plenty of interest as well.
Millions of people pirated a copy. At the height, yesterday afternoon, more than 200,000 people were actively sharing the three most popular torrents, with the most popular one being good for 130,000 sharers alone.
While this is a massive number, it’s nowhere near the all-time record. That dates back to 2015, when over a quarter million people were simultaneously sharing a single file. This drop is in part because the piracy ecosystem has evolved.
Torrent sites used to be the main distribution platforms for pirated TV shows, but unauthorized streaming sites are much more popular today. These sites don’t make any viewing numbers public but are good for millions of ‘pirate’ views as well.
With this in mind, it is likely that the record of the largest BitTorrent swarm in history will never be broken.
The end of Game of Thrones wraps up one of the biggest continuing stories in file-sharing history. The HBO show was as crowned the “most pirated” TV-series for several years, and is likely to scoop up this title again in 2019, to secure its place in history.
Aside from the impressive numbers, Game of Thrones was also at the center of other piracy-related news and discussions, much of which we have discussed in detail here.
One key theme that reappeared year after year were the numerous leaks. The most prominent one dates back to 2015 when the first four episodes leaked from a promotional screener.
In 2017 a Game of Thrones episode leaked with a “Star India” watermark. This eventually led to the arrests of four people. Keeping up with this trend, several episodes came out early this year as well, and even before the final, the plot was already out.
The fact that pirates were often able to see GoT episodes before regular viewers only increased the piracy figures. This was also confirmed by academic research which found that these leaks bred pirates while hurting official viewing numbers.
Other major factors that played a role in the high piracy rates are ‘availability’ and pricing.
During the early seasons, Game of Thrones wasn’t as widely available as it is today. And even if it was, there were often significant release delays, up to several weeks. That drove many people, especially the bigger fans, to pirate sites.
Over the years the availability problem was addressed in many countries, but for many a pricing hurdle remained. Watching Game of Thrones legally, could in many cases cost hundreds of dollars per season, while the pirate alternative was free.
Ironically, even those who had eventually signed up for a legal subscription would sometimes continue to pirate, just out of habit. In Australia, for example, 20% of the Foxtel subscribers who had already paid for Game of Thrones still chose to pirate the show instead.
In Australia, Game of Thrones piracy has been a hot topic for years. Due to early release delays and relatively high pricing, many chose the piracy route. This frustrated rightsholders and even the U.S. Ambassador, with the latter stating that there is no excuse for ‘stealing.’
Amidst all the controversy, HBO remained fairly calm. Yes, the company issued thousands of takedown notices and even warned some individual file-sharers, but that was about it. Some people did receive settlement demands in 2016, but that was the work of scammers.
Some people connected more directly to Game of Thrones also recognized the upside of piracy. Director David Petrarca, for example, previously admitted that piracy generated much-needed “cultural buzz” around the series.
Similarly, Jeff Bewkes, in 2013 the CEO of HBO’s parent company Time Warner, noted that piracy resulted in more subscriptions for his company and that receiving the title of “most-pirated” TV-show was actually “better than an Emmy.”
After years of work, on March 26, 2019 the new EU Copyright Directive was adopted, with 348 Members of Parliament in favor, 274 against, and 36 abstentions.
A little under a month later, the EU Council of Ministers waved the legislation through, despite opposition from Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Finland, and Sweden. Belgium, Estonia, and Slovenia abstained.
EU member states were then granted two years to implement the law, which includes the controversial Article 17 (formerly 13). That requires platforms like YouTube to sign licensing agreements with creators. If that proves impossible, they will have to ensure that infringing content uploaded by users is taken down and not re-uploaded to their services.
Or, if one takes on face value a recently published official translation of the Directive, something much more outrageous.
As revealed by Eleonara Rosati over at IPKitten, someone has made a small but monumental mistake when transposing the Directive into Italian.
7. The cooperation between online content-sharing service providers and rightholders shall not result in the prevention of the availability of works or other subject matter uploaded by users, which do not infringe copyright and related rights, including where such works or other subject matter are covered by an exception or limitation.
7. Cooperation between online content sharing service providers and rights holders must prevent the availability of works or other materials uploaded by users that do not infringe copyright or related rights, even in cases where such works or other materials are subject to an exception or limitation.
So, according to this translation, sites like YouTube must work with rightsholders to ensure that non-infringing works are never made available on their platforms, even when the use of such works is allowed under relevant exceptions, presumably including…..erm….fair use. Or is that unfair use? Difficult to say.
Founded in 2012, MagnetDL offered a clean and easy-to-use torrent search portal, which gained a substantial userbase over the years.
The site relied on magnet links instead of regular torrent files, as the name suggests, and was most popular in the UK where it was one of the few popular torrent sites not blocked by ISPs.
MagnetDL flew mostly under the radar but hundreds of thousands of people have it marked as their favorite search engine. Many of these were taken by surprise yesterday when the site suddenly announced that it had closed shop.
“MagnetDL has closed. It has been a great seven years and it’s sad to have it come to an end. Thanks to everyone who has visited over the years especially our regular visitors,” a message on the site reads.
TorrentFreak reached out to the operator to get more details on the reason for this decision, but at the time of writing, we have yet to hear back. This means that we can only guess about the exact reason for the shutdown.
We are not aware of any legal issues being faced by the site. It could be that the operator simply lost the motivation to keep the site going. Perhaps in combination with a loss in revenue, which other torrent sites have previously cited as a reason to throw in the towel.
The torrent site hadn’t changed much since it was first launched seven years ago. The informative ‘help’ section, which was one of the most elaborate we’d ever seen at a public torrent site, expanded a bit, but the homepage still looked exactly the same a few days ago.
The magnet search engine never made it into the top 10 of most popular torrent sites, but it came very close. In some regions, such as the UK, it definitely had a solid spot among the most-visited ‘pirate’ portals.
MagnetDL didn’t allow users to upload files and grabbed links from other torrent sites, which means that no content has been lost. However, based on comments posts on various social media sites, the site itself will be dearly missed.
During February, China’s National Copyright Administration (NCAC) announced that it would be upping efforts to deal with copyright infringement.
On top of a promise to “dig deep” into the sources of piracy and “sternly investigate” online platforms that help to distribute pirated content, the NCAC said it would also target unauthorized “camming”.
Camming, the act of recording movies in theaters with video cameras, has been a major headache for the entertainment industries for decades. Illegal copies often hit the Internet within hours of a movie’s premiere, as was the case last month with Avengers: Endgame.
While the NCAC clearly couldn’t do anything about that serious event, the question remains whether physical deterrents (such as bag searches and action against complicit theater owners) can also be augmented by technical measures.
Before Endgame dramatically hit the web, the China-based partnership of Ogilvy and Focus Film Media, part of Focus Media Group, announced that they had developed a new system to prevent camming taking in place in cinemas.
“Originality is the soul of the film industry and the foundation from which it thrives upon; it is our job to protect this originality,” said Jason Jiang, Founder and Chairman of Focus Media Group.
“We are delighted to have gone beyond a conventional approach and develop the ‘Piracy Blockr,’ which allows us to address the problem in a discrete but effective way, ensuring that the film industry is protected for years to come.”
The image above, although clearly mocked up, provides an idea of how the system is supposed to work. A watermark, invisible to the viewer, is captured by camcorders when an attempt is made to record the screen.
So how does it work? TorrentFreak spoke with Ogilvy to find out.
“There is a lot more to light than what mere human eyes can detect, but a device in your pocket can help you see beyond your biological limits. Our eyes can only detect colors of light that we see as a rainbow, primarily shades of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet,” says Silvia Zhang, Ogilvy Marketing & Communications Manager.
“So while our naked eyes can’t pick up on the wavelength of infrared light, the sensors in your phones and cameras can – essentially making the invisible visible.”
Anyone with a smartphone can easily see what the system is about. Simply press a button on an infrared remote control and point it at the camera lens and the image on the screen will display the infrared light emitted by the device. The camera can ‘see’ the infrared light, we can’t.
“We used this to our advantage to combat the multi-billion dollar illegal cam recording industry by embedding panels of infrared light powered watermarks, which we call the ‘Piracy Blockr’, behind cinema screens in China,” Zhang adds.
The idea of using infrared light to foil pirates isn’t new. A report dating back almost 10 years reveals that Japan’s National Institute of Informatics had teamed up with Sharp to pulse infrared light through cinema screens to disturb digital recording devices.
Since we haven’t heard of any such devices actually being deployed in cinemas, we asked Ogilvy how many screens its system currently ‘protects’ in China. The company didn’t respond to our question, despite repeated attempts.
We also asked how the Piracy Blockr system is able to defeat determined cammers who attach infrared filters to their devices. The company didn’t respond to that question either. A request for a real-life image or video clip of Piracy Blockr in action received the same response.
Some research appears to have been carried out in India (pdf) which considered the challenges presented by pirates who deploy infrared filtering but the problem clearly isn’t straightforward. If it was, someone would be making millions by now while resigning ‘camming’ to history.
As for Piracy Blockr, we won’t be holding our breath while waiting for a live demo.
When The Pirate Bay launched in the second half of 2003, the World Wide Web looked nothing like it does today.
Mark Zuckerberg was still preoccupied with “Facemash,” the “hot or not” site he launched before Facebook was invented. YouTube wasn’t around yet either, nor were Twitter and Instagram, which launched years later.
At the time nearly everyone used regular computers to access the web. Smartphones and tablets didn’t exist, and high-quality online video streaming was unthinkable on most residential Internet connections. If there was anything to stream at all.
People interested in watching a movie could use the Internet to buy a DVD at one of the early webshops or sign up with Netflix, which shipped DVDs through the mail. There were no download stores yet.
Given this context, imagine the appeal of a website that offered a high-quality archive of digital movies and tv-series to download, for free.
That site was The Pirate Bay.
Remarkably, many of the videos that were posted on the site during the early days remain available today. In fact, quite a few torrents on The Pirate Bay have been around longer than some of the site’s users.
This is quite an achievement, as torrents require at least one person with a full copy of the file to keep it alive. This prompted us to take a look at the oldest Pirate Bay torrents that are still being shared today.
During the early months of the site, it appears that some torrents were purged or otherwise lost. The oldest ones we can find data back to March 2004, which means that they are well over 15 years old today.
An episode of “The High Chaparral” has the honor of being the oldest torrent. The file was originally uploaded on March 25, 2004, and although it lists zero seeders in search results, there are still several people actively sharing the torrent.
Many of the other torrents in the list above need some help. However, the Top Secret Recipes E-Books and a copy of the documentary Revolution OS, which covers the history of Linux, GNU, and the free software movement, are doing very well.
While these torrents have survived one-and-a-half decades of turmoil, including two raids, they’re still going strong. In part, perhaps, because some people want to keep history alive.
“To maintain history, I will gladly put this on my seedbox forever,” one commenter writes below the High Chaparral torrent, with another one adding “I will save this torrent for history!!!”
History indeed, as it is clear that things have changed over the past 15 years. In the early days, The Pirate Bay wasn’t just popular because people didn’t have to pay. It was often the only option to get a digital copy of a movie, TV-show, or even a music album. It was a revolution in a way.
This is still the case to a certain degree in some countries, but to many, the magical appeal has gone now that there are so many legal alternatives online.
It’s worth keeping in mind, though, that these legal alternatives were in part a direct answer to sites such as The Pirate Bay.
In fact, if piracy hadn’t existed the world might have looked entirely different today. Piracy showed the entertainment industries that people wanted instant online access to media, a demand that was later fulfilled by iTunes, Netflix streaming, Spotify, and many others.
Today The Pirate Bay remains online. Despite several raids, criminal prosecutions, dozens of website blockades, and other anti-piracy measures, the site continues to thrive. And so do its torrents.
For many years, anti-piracy outfit Rightscorp has been on a mission to turn piracy into profit.
The company monitors BitTorrent networks, captures IP addresses, then asks ISPs to forward cash settlement demands to its subscribers.
While some companies in the same niche have “gone big” by demanding hundreds or even thousands of dollars for each alleged infringement, Rightscorp deployed a “speeding fine” model. To make Rightscorp go away, the company regularly demanded settlements of between $20 and $30, shared with rightsholders 50/50.
These, of course, mounted up. According to a set of financial results covering the three months ended September 30, 2017, Rightscorp had closed more than 230,000 alleged cases of infringement.
What happened after that is unclear, as the company opted not to report any further financial details in public. If it had, they probably wouldn’t have made pretty reading.
During the nine months ended September 30, 2017, Rightscorp recorded a net loss of $1,448,899. During the same period a year earlier, it lost $1,380,698. As a result, the company had just $3,147 left in cash at the end of September 2017.
Against the odds, however, Rightscorp appears to have kept going, although what that means on an operational level is anyone’s guess. Now, however, the writing appears to be on the wall.
A cursory visit to Rightscorp’s website today doesn’t yield any detailed information. Or, indeed, any information at all.
Most pages are completely blank apart from a solitary line of text on its investor page. An ironic one too given how Rightscorp frequently demanded that ISPs should suspend the accounts of subscribers who refuse to pay up.
We’re not aware of any public explanations being made by Rightscorp but things don’t look bright and sunny on the investor front either.
In January 2012, Rightscorp shares (RIHT) reached the dizzy heights of $0.80 each. At the beginning of 2015, they were worth $0.074, falling to $0.017 in January 2017.
From there, things only got worse. At the time of writing Rightscorp stock is currently worth just $0.0025.
So what next for Rightscorp? It seems unlikely the company is still sending out settlement demands, without a working website it can’t handle any payments. But even if it could, the amounts probably wouldn’t amount to much.
During its last reporting period covering the three months to September 2017, it collected just $45,848 from BitTorrent users but paid out $22,924 of that amount to copyright holders.
Finally (and whatever happens to the company next), it’s important to note that Rightscorp data is still being utilized in various copyright infringement lawsuits filed by music companies against ISPs in the United States, including against Cox Communications and Grande Communications.
Indeed, the data collated for use against Grande customers cost the RIAA $700,000. That was considerably better value for Rightscorp than scraping $20 from each infringer and then having to pay $10 straight back out. That last big deal might’ve been the last throw of the dice but only time will tell.
Meanwhile, Rightscorp founder and former CEO Christopher Sabec is currently advising “cannabis cultivators, manufacturers and other licensees” over at Fox Rothschild LLP, an appointment that was announced this March.
To most people in the West, Egy.best may not ring a bell, but in Arabic speaking countries, it’s been a piracy beacon for years.
The site, which proudly boasted a “Made in Egypt” tagline, offered access to pirated copies of movies and TV-shows. These could be downloaded and streamed for free, often with subtitles.
Egy.best was most popular in Egypt where it was among the ten most visited sites in the country. In addition, it was also the number one pirate site in many neighboring countries, including Algeria, Kuwait, Morocco and Saudi Arabia.
This week, however, the site’s operators decided to throw in the towel, without prior warning. Those who access Egy.best today only see the site’s logo, with النهاية. underneath it, which means “the end.”
It’s unclear why the site, dubbed by some as the Netflix for the poor, took this drastic decision.
In a message on the site’s official Facebook account, which has since been removed, the site mentioned that several Egyptian ISPs has started to block the site. Shortly after, the site shut down, but whether there’s a connection remains uncertain.
ISP blockades were indeed put in place recently. They didn’t just target Egy.best, but also other sites including Arab Lions, Akoam, Movies land, Arab Seed, Mazzika Today, Shahid4u, and Cima4up. Some of these switched to new domain names subsequently, but Egy didn’t.
Some people assumed that the blockades triggered the shutdown, but that would be a rather unusual response. This is also what a follow-up message in the Facebook comment section suggests. There, a site operator noted that it’s bigger than just the blocking efforts in Egypt.
Without an official statement on the reason for the shutdown, people can only speculate. The most likely explanation, perhaps, is some kind of legal pressure, but until the operators share more details, that remains a guess.
Whatever the real reason might be, for millions of people the site’s closure is a big blow. Twitter is littered with messages from people mourning the site’s demise. Not just from Egypt, but from many other Arabic speaking countries as well.
“Whoever did it & was reason of closing it [sic], you take some good prayers from many of us in this Ramadan..,” one commenter noted, with someone else adding that “Summer without #egybest will be a sad summer.”
Others expressed their state of mind through memes.
Considering the massive size of the site, there’s a huge void to be filled and several ‘copycats’ and competitors are eager to jump in. We’ve already seen several people hijacking the #egybest hashtag on Twitter to promote alternative streaming sites and piracy portals.
There’s little doubt that many of Egy.best’s users will ultimately find a new home, but considering the massive response on social media, the original will be missed.
Copyright enforcement on YouTube is a growing source of frustration, particularly the overbroad takedown efforts.
Many channel operators and users have complained about apparent abuse, but most don’t go any further than that.
John MacKay, owner of the popular channel “Boxing Now” is an exception. On his channel, MacKay releases videos with post-fight commentary of popular fights. With hundreds of thousands of subscribers, he’s amassed a sizeable audience over the years.
The channel also comments on matches from the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). Since MacKay hasn’t cleared the rights to these broadcasts, he doesn’t use video footage from these fights. Instead, he shows a few still images, commenting on these.
Nonetheless, the UFC is not happy with his coverage, as the organization has sent five takedown notices targeting Boxing Now’s videos. These are not automated Content-ID flags, but actual takedown notices, which resulted in the videos being removed from YouTube.
MacKay believes that his work is a clear case of fair use so in response sent counternotices for each takedown. The UFC hasn’t responded to any of these, which meant that YouTube restored the videos. However, at that point, most harm was already done.
“My videos are most often viewed in the days immediately after a fight, and when UFC has them taken down for a few days with these unfair copyright claims, I lose a lot of viewers and a significant amount of money,” MacKay says, commenting on the issue.
Frustrated by the continued takedowns, MacKay decided to take a stand. He reached out to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) to help him address the matter. The EFF was happy to oblige and this week attorney Alex Moss sent a letter to the UFC, demanding that it stops sending unwarranted notices.
In the letter, Moss goes over the four factors of fair use, concluding that all weigh in the channel operator’s favor. For example, the videos are transformative, only use a few frames of the copyrighted content, and do not compete with the original broadcast.
“Mr. MacKay’s post-fight commentary could not and did not affect the market for a live broadcast or recording of the entire fight. If anything, Mr. MacKay’s use of still images for commentary purposes would likely increase demand for the original,” Moss writes.
The EFF’s attorney points out that the UFC has an obligation to consider fair use before sending a takedown request, as was determined in the Lenz vs. Universal case. The repeated notices targeting Boxing Now’s videos indicate that the UFC has failed to meet this obligation, which harms the channel’s business.
When the videos are taken down shortly after being posted, MacKay is missing a lot of views and therefore ad revenue. Added to that, the takedown notices also put his channel at risk, as YouTube may terminate accounts after repeat infringements.
What the UFC’s precise motivation is for the requests is unknown. The EFF’s attorney points out, however, that the UFC also has its own post commentary videos on YouTube and that it’s reducing the competition with its takedown notices.
“We note that UFC also produces YouTube videos containing post-fight commentary, and that Mr. McKay’s videos and UFC’s videos may compete for viewership and advertising revenue. This further suggests that UFC’s takedowns of Mr. McKay’s videos were done in bad faith,” Moss writes.
The channel operator, therefore, demands that the UFC stops issuing unwarranted takedown requests. The EFF requests that the organization confirms this intention before the end of the month.
“Accordingly, we demand that you cease sending takedown notices for Mr. McKay’s videos that make fair use of still images from UFC fights. Please confirm your agreement to do so by May 28, 2019, ” Moss concludes.
It’s not clear whether the EFF and MacKay plan any legal action should the UFC fail to meet their demand. However, as highlighted a few days ago, the likelihood of a lawsuit over unwarranted takedown notices becomes ever more likely, whether that happens in this case or not.
Speaking with TorrentFreak, Moss says she can’t go into detail about any potential follow-up steps. The EFF’s attorney hopes that the letter has some effect and that the UFC stops sending wrongful takedown notices.
“It’s not too much to expect copyright owners to consider whether something actually infringes before cutting off people’s access,” Moss tells us.
In 2015, the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE), a new initiative designed to target existing and developing piracy operations on a global scale, announced its launch.
Headed up by the studios of the MPAA plus Netflix and Amazon, more than 30 international media now complete its ranks, including the likes of BBC Worldwide, Bell Canada, MGM, and Village Roadshow, to name just a few.
In addition to targeting Kodi add-ons and their developers, ACE has made unlicensed IPTV services one of its priorities. This morning we can report that the anti-piracy giant has claimed another scalp.
In the grand scheme, OneStepTV.com appears to have been a relative newcomer. Archives suggest that the service launched in 2018 and grew to offer around 600 TV channels and 20,000 pieces of VOD content (such as movies), for $25 per month or less.
While many of One Step TV’s customers appeared to have enjoyed the service, a few weeks ago problems appear to have become evident to subscribers looking to renew their package.
A post on Facebook dated April 25, 2019, signaled payment processing issues, one of the most common signs that a platform might be in trouble.
“We have been subscribers for awhile now and like your service very much. We are a little confused and concerned as recently we were told that customers cannot renew their subscriptions anymore,” the post reads.
“Is your business going away, or do you anticipate fixing the payment issue in the near future? We really would like to continue doing business with you.”
A few days later, more serious issues hit the streaming service. With its payment processing suspended, the platform itself disappeared.
One Step TV’s public social media posts don’t give any explanation for the outage but yesterday an ominous change to the service’s homepage gave the clearest indication yet of what may have transpired.
Instead of One Step TV’s sales pitch, visitors to OneStepTV.com are now presented with a message from the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment. Five seconds later the page redirects to the Alliance’s homepage.
While a page and redirect like this are very easy to fake (pirate sites frequently display similar pages as April Fool pranks), this one is very different. Not only does the domain redirect to the Alliance’s website as promised, changes to One Step TV’s domain records confirm that the domain has been taken over.
As the image above shows, the domain is now in the hands of the MPAA and has probably been that way since yesterday morning. The site itself is hosted by Amazon, a founding member of ACE.
All the pieces of the puzzle together strongly suggest that in this format at least, One Step TV is done. It’s not clear if a lawsuit is involved but as far as we can see, none have been filed recently by ACE’s lead members.
While it’s difficult to say for sure, this closure bears the hallmarks of a cease-and-desist and subsequent settlement agreement. Given ACE’s reluctance to talk about such agreements, it seems unlikely there will be a detailed public statement.
The Canadian Government is currently exploring if and how the current Copyright Act should be amended to better fit the present landscape.
To this end, Canada’s Heritage Committee organized several hearings on remuneration models for artists, where it received input from various stakeholders.
The outcome provides input for the Committee on Industry, Science and Technology’s broader review, which will determine the future course for Canada’s copyright policy. The Heritage Committee hopes that its findings will be included.
The report, titled “Shifting Paradigms,” leads to a set of 22 recommendations. These cover a variety of issues ranging from addressing the value gap and holding ISPs accountable, through limiting fair dealing, to extending the copyright term.
These themes are in large part meant to further support creators and copyright holders. Much like the EU’s copyright reform, there is a lot of emphasis on the so-called value gap, i.e the notion that artists don’t currently receive fair compensation for their work.
This is also reflected in the report. For example, the payouts at streaming services such as Spotify are often seen as too low. Similarly, services such as YouTube can distribute music and profit from it, while only paying a small fee to copyright holders.
“The inability of policy to evolve with technology has prevented artists from receiving fair market value for their work. According to witnesses, these outdated rules have diverted wealth from creators to large digital intermediaries on which artistic content is consumed,” the committee writes.
There are also rightsholders who have highlighted the possible aspects of technology on their industries. Content creators have many new distribution platforms, for example, which can bring in extra revenue. However, it’s clear that creators can use some guidance, which results in the first recommendation.
Recommendation 1: That the Government of Canada increase its support for creators and creative industries in adapting to new digital markets.
Online piracy in general is another major theme. Torrent sites and streaming sites remain a significant problem which is hard to address, for example. In addition, ISPs currently have little incentive to help combat piracy.
One issue that the Government will look into is whether safe harbor exceptions for ISPs should change, to make these companies accountable for pirating users under certain circumstances.
Recommendation 5: That the Government of Canada review the safe harbor exceptions and laws to ensure that Internet service providers are accountable for their role in the distribution of content.
More generally, the report also suggests that Canada should do more to tackle online piracy overall. One of the options, as suggested during the consultation, is to criminalize online streaming.
Recommendation 6: That the Government of Canada increase its efforts to combat piracy and enforce copyright.
The recommendations are mostly meant to strengthen the position of rightsholders. This also includes an extension of the copyright term from 50 to 70 years after the creator’s death. This follows requests from several copyright groups and is in line with the new trade agreement with the US and Mexico.
According to the committee, no witnesses expressed outright opposition to extending of the copyright term, which leads to the following recommendation.
Recommendation 7: That the Government of Canada pursue its commitment to implement the extension of copyright from 50 to 70 years after the author’s death.
Large copyright intermediaries are also presented with a setback, which appears to have been largely initiated by Canadian singer Bryan Adams. During a hearing last year, Adams suggested changing the text of the Copyright Act to made it easier for artists to regain their copyrights.
At the moment, Canadian copyright reverts to a creator’s heirs 25 years after “death.” By changing the word “death” to “assignment”, creators will be able to terminate a copyright assignment while they’re still alive.
This is helpful to artists who sign away their rights to labels early in their career, which they may regret later. The Heritage Committee sides with Adams and includes the following recommendation.
Recommendation 14: That the Government of Canada amend subsection 14(1) of the Copyright Act so that it reads “from 25 years after assignment.
Following more music- and movie-related recommendations, many of which deal with licensing and remuneration, the committee shifts its focus to the publishing industry.
Specifically, it addresses a commonly heard complaint from publishers that Canada’s fair dealing exemptions are too broad. Currently, schools are allowed to copy texts for educational use, but this should change, the committee argues.
Recommendation 18: That Government of Canada amend the Act to clarify that fair dealing should not apply to educational institutions when the work is commercially available.
All in all its clear that the recommendations made in the report are favorable to copyright holders, who will welcome it with open arms. However, not everyone is positive.
University of Ottawa professor Michael Geist, who has followed the developments closely, describes the report as the most one-sided Canadian copyright report issued in the past 15 years.
“Representing little more than stenography of lobbying positions from Canadian cultural groups, the report simply adopts as recommendations a wide range of contentious proposals: copyright term extension, restricted fair dealing, increased damages, as well as several new rights and payments,” Geist writes.
“There is no attempt to engage with a broad range of stakeholders, much less grapple with contrary evidence or positions.”
While the Heritage committee did hear several witnesses from people with contrasting views, such as Professor Jeremy de Beer, lawyer Howard Knopf, and author Cory Doctorow, these positions were not reflected in the final report.
The Heritage Committee’s recommendations will now be reviewed by the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, which is tasked the broader copyright review. That report is expected to come out later this year.
As such, there’s still a long way to go before any of these proposals are acted upon, if that’s the case at all.
A copy of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage ‘s “Shifting Paradigms” report is available here (pdf).
The worldwide music industry is making no secret of its disdain for so-called stream-ripping sites.
Utilizing content culled mainly from YouTube but also other streaming platforms, these services convert streams into downloads, allowing users to permanently store content – usually music – on a local machine.
Earlier this year the fight to curtail the growth of such platforms landed in Australia. Music labels Sony, Universal, and Warner, with assistance from Music Rights Australia and the Australasian Performing Right Association, eventually appeared in Federal Court during April, asking for action against four key players.
2conv, Flv2mp3, FLVto, and Convert2mp3 (full list of domains below) are considered some of the most significant stream-ripping sites. The music industry asked the Court to prevent users of local ISPs from accessing them. None are located in Australia but that’s convenient from a blocking perspective – Australian law requires them to be based overseas.
Lawyers for the music entities argued that the services are all unlicensed and that while some of the platforms indicate that users themselves should obtain licensing to rip content, that was a “meaningless warranty.”
This morning, ComputerWorld reported what observers believed to be the inevitable outcome. Justice Perram of the Federal Court has sided with the record companies and ordered local ISPs to block access to the sites. The order covers Telstra, Foxtel, Optus, TPG and Vodafone, plus subsidiaries, the publication reports.
Before last year’s amendments to Australia’s Copyright Act, obtaining an order to have these sites blocked would have been more difficult.
Previously, in order for a platform to be rendered inaccessible by ISPs, it would need to have a “primary purpose of infringing”. Last November’s changes lowered the bar so that sites “with the primary effect” of infringing or facilitating infringement can also be blocked.
Another element that would’ve helped the Court side with the music companies is the fact that all of the targeted platforms have been involved in legal action in other countries.
Convert2mp3 is Germany-based and was previously declared illegal and blocked in a first-of-its-kind case in Denmark. The other three services are all based in Russia, with FLVTO.biz and 2conv.com embroiled in legal action with labels in the United States.
In that action, the platforms have thus far come out on top but from the labels’ perspective (1,2) this is unacceptable. Tofig Kurbanov, the Russian operator of the stream-ripping sites, says that if the record labels want a legal battle, they should have that fight in Russia.
In a reply brief filed at the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit earlier this month, Universal, Warner Bros, and Sony argued that the confrontation should take place in the United States. Previously, US District Court Judge Claude M. Hilton dismissed the case due to a lack of jurisdiction.
It’s clear that the labels in the US and elsewhere are determined to stamp out the stream-ripping threat, wherever it may appear.
As reported here on TF yesterday, the RIAA recently obtained a DMCA subpoena to unmask the operator of stream-ripping site YouTubNow, a platform with an estimated 15 million monthly visits.
The domains to be blocked by ISPs in Australia are as follows:
Stream-ripping tools have become a big deal for the music industry over the past several years.
Instead of having to revisit platforms like YouTube, Spotify or Deezer, users of ripping tools or sites are able to download content to their own machines. The labels argue this deprives artists and indeed platforms of revenue while breaching music licensing conditions.
Perhaps the biggest problem is presented by sites that allow people to rip content from YouTube, whether that’s video or audio, or audio alone. While this can be for legitimate purposes, millions use stream-ripping platforms to obtain copyrighted content for free.
One such site is YouTube-ripping service YouTubNow.com. According to SimilarWeb stats, the site currently receives around 15 million visits per month, with the highest share of its visitors hailing from the U.S.
“YouTubNow is a powerful service that allows you to find and download your favorite YouTube videos as well as music tracks quickly, easily and absolutely for free,” the site’s promo material reads.
“It’s an excellent YouTube to MP3 downloader as it makes any soundtrack a separate audio file tailored especially for you!”
This clearly isn’t something the RIAA appreciates. The music industry group targeted YouTubNow last week via a DMCA subpoena directed at the site’s domain name registrar, NameCheap.
In common with a similar process aimed at file-hosting platform NoFile and first reported here on TF, the RIAA filed its request at a federal court in Columbia, demanding that NameCheap hands over the personal details of its client. The Court was happy to oblige.
“We believe your service is hosting [YouTubNow.com] on its network,” a subsequent RIAA letter to NameCheap reads.
“The website associated with this domain name offers files containing sound recordings which are owned by one or more of our member companies and have not been authorized for this kind of use, including without limitation those referenced at the URL below.”
It isn’t clear whether the RIAA has already filed any DMCA takedown notices with YouTubNow via the email address published on the site. Nevertheless, from the ‘copyright notice’ published on the site itself, YouTubNow claims no responsibility for what users do with the service.
From the wording of the letter sent to NameCheap and the subpoena itself, the RIAA appears more concerned about the entire YouTubNow service, rather than just a few seemingly random URLs.
“The purpose for which this subpoena is sought is to obtain the identity of the individual assigned to this website who has induced the infringement of, and has directly engaged in the infringement of, our members’ copyrighted sound recordings without their authorization,” the RIAA writes.
In addition to demanding the operator’s name, physical address, IP address, telephone number, email address, payment information, account updates and account history, the RIAA suggests a termination of the service’s domain might also be in order.
“We also ask that you consider the widespread and repeated infringing nature of the site operator(s)’ conduct, and whether the site(s)’ activities violate your terms of service and/or your company’s repeat infringer policy,” the RIAA writes.
This is at least the third DMCA subpoena the RIAA has obtained against allegedly-infringing sites in recent weeks. TF previously reported that the group is targeting several ‘pirate’ sites that use Cloudflare and file-hosting platform NoFile.
A copy of the RIAA’s letter, obtained by TF, is available here (pdf)
While Kim Dotcom remains embroiled in the largest copyright battle New Zealand has ever seen, the country’s National Party has been facing ‘infringement’ problems of its own.
In 2014 Eminem’s publisher took the National Party to court over alleged copyright infringement of the rapper’s track ‘Lose Yourself’ in an election campaign video.
At the time, the party was led by then Prime Minister of New Zealand John Key, who’s seen as Dotcom’s nemesis. In common with the Megaupload case, the dispute between the National Party and Eminem’s publisher continued to drag on.
The National Party didn’t simply use the track without paying for it. They actually sought professional advice before starting the campaign and licensed a track called Eminem Esque, which is the one they used in the ad.
The party hoped to avoid more expensive licensing fees by using the knock-off song, but the High Court previously ruled that the similarities between Lose Yourself and Eminem Esque are so significant that it breached copyright.
In 2017 the Court ordered the National Party to pay $600,000 for the copyright infringement, an amount neither side was satisfied with. In a subsequent ruling a year later, the Court of Appeal sided with the National Party, reducing the damages to $225,000.
Eminem’s publisher, Eight Mile Style, wasn’t pleased with the outcome and asked the Supreme Court to take it on.
During a hearing two weeks ago the publisher’s lawyer, Gary Williams, told the Court that the damages amount was too low. The rightsholders would have demanded a premium for the song, especially since it was used for political advertising, he argued before the court.
This week the New Zealand Supreme Court decided that it will not allow the appeal, Stuff reports. There is no doubt that the National Party’s use of the track was not permitted, but the Court doesn’t believe an extended legal fight over the damages amount is warranted.
“Given the concurrent findings of fact in the courts below rejecting the contention that the National Party turned a blind eye to the risk of infringement or was reckless, we do not see sufficient prospect of success in an argument that additional damages should have been awarded in this case to justify the grant of leave for a further appeal,” the Court wrote.
This effectively ends the legal battle after five years. The National Party will be happy to move on from this copyright infringement row. For Kim Dotcom, however, the battle continues.
For those wondering if the music used in the National Party’s ad campaign is indeed similar to the original Eminem track, a copy is available below.
There are hundreds of file-hosting services on the Internet, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.
Nofile is generally known as a no-nonsense service that’s free to everyone. The site launched two years ago and has been building a steady userbase ever since.
Recently, however, the site suddenly stopped working (it came back just hours ago). Checking the domain records revealed that the NS records had been removed, which made it impossible to access the site. The question was, why?
A search through U.S. court records provided some possibly relevant context. It revealed that the music industry group RIAA targeted the site through a DMCA subpoena, directed at Nofile’s domain name registrar Namecheap.
The RIAA requested the subpoena at a federal court in Columbia, which was swiftly signed off by a clerk. The paperwork includes a letter addressed to Namecheap, in which the music group demands detailed information on the customer associated with the file-hosting service’s domain.
“We have determined that a user of your system or network has infringed our member record companies’ copyrighted sound recordings,” the RIAA’s letter reads.
“The website associated with this domain name offers files containing sound recordings which are owned by one or more of our member companies and have not been authorized for this kind of use, including without limitation those referenced at the URL below.”
The URL in question is not just some random piece of music. It points to the upload of a leaked track by rapper ‘Tyler, the Creator,’ titled ‘Earfquake.’
The track has been circulating online for roughly a week. It was uploaded to hosting services such as Nofile.io and shared online through Leakth.is, 4Chan, Reddit, and other platforms. Whether Nofile.io played a significant role in the distribution is unknown, but it could be the site where it first appeared.
In any case, the RIAA would like to find out who’s running the site. The music group requests all electronic information that may help to identify the account holder, including IP-addresses, email, and payment information.
“As is stated in the attached subpoena, you are required to disclose to the RIAA information sufficient to identify the infringer. This would include the individual’s name, physical address, IP address, telephone number, e-mail address, payment information, account updates and account history,” the RIAA writes.
Shortly after the subpoena was granted Nofile.io became unreachable. When we started writing this article it was still offline but just before publication, it returned. The leaked file the RIAA referenced is still hosted there as well.
Interestingly, this is the second DMCA subpoena the RIAA has obtained in a short period of time. Little over a week ago we reported that the group is also going after several ‘pirate’ sites that use Cloudflare.
Both requests use boilerplate language and only require a clerk’s signature to become enforceable. This makes it a rather cheap and effective option to find out more about site owners so it would be no surprise if we see these more often going forward.
Whether it’s the RIAA’s main goal to shut down the site is questionable though. In this case, the music group will likely be more interested in finding out who uploaded the leaked file, if that’s the source.
A copy of the RIAA’s letter to Namecheap is available here (pdf).
Significant legal action against alleged operators of pirate sites have traditionally been carried out with great fanfare.
However, a case underway in federal court in Oregon is a very different beast, particularly given its scale and form.
The case filed in the district court May 6, 2019, reveals the United States government seeking forfeiture of around $4 million dollars worth of cash and cryptocurrency seized on the basis that the owner of the property was involved in a conspiracy to commit copyright infringement and money laundering.
The investigation reportedly began in October 2013 when Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents received information from PayPal concerning two websites, Noobroom.com and Noobroom7.com, that allowed subscribers to stream movies and TV shows.
HSI reported these sites to the MPAA which conducted an investigation, concluding that the sites and associated domains Noobroom and Noobroom9 distributed works in breach of its members’ copyrights. Revenue was reportedly generated by subscriptions processed through Stripe and via adverts placed by a company called Lanista Concepts.
In July 2014, the MPAA sent a cease-and-desist notice to Noobroom. Five days later a covert Noobroom user account operated by the Hollywood group received a message advising users that their accounts had been moved to a new website at SuperChillin.com.
After downloading movies from SuperChillin, the MPAA was able to link an IP address to an individual identified as Talon White. The suspect was subsequently linked to two additional sites – movietv.co and Sit2Play.com – which were deemed to be near identical copies of each other. The registrant of Sit2Play was listed as Talon White and an associated email address was determined as belonging to him.
HSI’s investigation continued from 2016 to November 2018 when search and seizure warrants were executed. A declaration by Keith Druffel, a Special Agent of the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigations, reads as follows;
“Based on financial records obtained during the investigation, I determined that White received substantial revenue from the above-listed websites,” Druffel writes.
“In 2018, he was averaging revenue over $500,000 per month. In 2017, White received over $2.2 million. In 2016, White received over $1 million in revenue, and in 2014 and 2015, White received on average about $400,000 a year in revenue.”
According to Druffel, subscribers of the sites paid via PayPal or Stripe, payments that were deposited into bank accounts controlled by White. Information provided by Stripe matched White’s personal information and the account was labeled as “Selling stock tip subscriptions via email.” The IRS claims there is no evidence of any such sales.
78,985 payments of $9.99 were received into the Stripe account between October 2015 and December 2016, amounting to $789,060. A further 7,611 payments of $25.49 ($194,004.39) and 5,348 payments of $44.99 ($240,606.52) made a grand total of $1,223,671.24.
“The above-listed amounts correspond to the listed subscription costs on Sit2Play and Movietv. Therefore, I believe the payments received by Stripe are the subscription fees for the websites,” Druffel adds.
Further analysis of transactions on White’s Stripe account dated between October 2017 and September 2018 revealed a further 396,843 payments of between $9.99 and $44.99 to a value of $6,373,816.57.
“The above listed amounts correspond to the cost of subscriptions to the websites and represent proceeds from the violation of 18 USC § 2319, Criminal Copyright Infringement,” the statement reads.
The investigation found that through August 2018, more than $3m was transferred from the Stripe account to a Wells Fargo account in White’s name and a JP Morgan Chase account held in the name of Viral Sensations, Inc. (VSI), a Nevada entity.
White is alleged to have opened three checking accounts in the name of VSI, over which he had sole signature authority. Through August 31, 2018, one VSI account received payments of more than $5.9 million. The accounts were linked to White and subscriptions from the pirate sites. Funds from one of the Chase accounts were used to buy $1m in cryptocurrency through virtual currency exchange Coinbase.
On November 13, 2018, Mustafa Kasubhai, United States Magistrate Judge for the District of Oregon, approved a search and seizure warrant authorizing a search of White’s residence and seizure of various assets. The warrant was executed two days later, yielding the following;
$2,457,790.72 seized from JPMorgan Chase Bank account #1
$1,266,650.00 seized from JPMorgan Chase Bank account #2
$1,383.68 seized from JPMorgan Chase Bank account #3
$200,653.71 seized from JPMorgan Chase Bank account #4
$32,921.00 seized in US currency (cash)
$1,940.77 seized in US currency (Stripe account)
31.53810677 in BTC (Coinbase account)
1,022.39066800 in ETH (Coinbase account)
5.74017141 in BCH (Coinbase account)
“[I] have probable cause to believe, and I do believe, that White and others known and unknown were involved in a conspiracy to commit copyright infringement and money laundering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1957 and 2319 from at least 2013 through November 2018,” Druffel’s statement adds.
On May 7, 2019, District Judge Anna J. Brown issued an order to the IRS to hold the assets until further notice.
“You are hereby commanded to arrest and take into your possession until further order of the Court, defendants, in rem, Assorted Funds,” the Judge wrote.
From a copyright infringement perspective, this case is pretty unusual.
Most civil and criminal cases against pirate sites and their operators involve detailed descriptions of their workings along with finely-tuned claims of various types of infringement. But the focus here appears to be a financial one, for now at least.
A report from Koin.com suggests that the man hasn’t been charged with a crime yet. In an effort to find ou more, TF approached White’s lawyer Rain Minns. At the time of publication we were yet to receive a response.
Related court documents obtained by TF can be found here (1,2,3)
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