Determined to reduce levels of piracy globally, Hollywood has become one of the main proponents of site-blocking on the planet. To date there have been multiple lawsuits in far-flung jurisdictions, with Europe one of the primary targets.
Following complaints from Disney, 20th Century Fox, Paramount, Sony, Universal and Warner, Spain has become one of the latest targets. According to the studios a pair of sites – HDFull.tv and Repelis.tv – infringe their copyrights on a grand scale and need to be slowed down by preventing users from accessing them.
HDFull is a platform that provides movies and TV shows in both Spanish and English. Almost 60% its traffic comes from Spain and after a huge surge in visitors last July, it’s now the 337th most popular site in the country according to Alexa. Visitors from Mexico, Argentina, United States and Chile make up the rest of its audience.
Repelis.tv is a similar streaming portal specializing in movies, mainly in Spanish. A third of the site’s visitors hail from Mexico with the remainder coming from Argentina, Columbia, Spain and Chile. In common with HDFull, Repelis has been building its visitor numbers quickly since 2017.
The studios demanding more blocks
With a ruling in hand from the European Court of Justice which determined that sites can be blocked on copyright infringement grounds, the studios asked the courts to issue an injunction against several local ISPs including Telefónica, Vodafone, Orange and Xfera. In an order handed down this week, Barcelona Commercial Court No. 6 sided with the studios and ordered the ISPs to begin blocking the sites.
“They damage the legitimate rights of those who own the films and series, which these pages illegally display and with which they profit illegally through the advertising revenues they generate,” a statement from the Spanish Federation of Cinematographic Distributors (FEDECINE) reads.
FEDECINE General director Estela Artacho said that changes in local law have helped to provide the studios with a new way to protect audiovisual content released in Spain.
“Thanks to the latest reform of the Civil Procedure Law, we have in this jurisdiction a new way to exercise different possibilities to protect our commercial film offering,” Artacho said.
“Those of us who are part of this industry work to make culture accessible and offer the best cinematographic experience in the best possible conditions, guaranteeing the continuity of the sector.”
The development was also welcomed by Stan McCoy, president of the Motion Picture Association’s EMEA division, which represents the plaintiffs in the case.
“We have just taken a welcome step which we consider crucial to face the problem of piracy in Spain,” McCoy said.
“These actions are necessary to maintain the sustainability of the creative community both in Spain and throughout Europe. We want to ensure that consumers enjoy the entertainment offer in a safe and secure environment.”
After gaining experience from blockades and subsequent circumvention in other regions, the studios seem better prepared to tackle fallout in Spain. In addition to blocking primary domains, the ruling handed down by the court this week also obliges ISPs to block any other domain, subdomain or IP address whose purpose is to facilitate access to the blocked platforms.
News of Spain’s ‘pirate’ blocks come on the heels of fresh developments in Germany, where this week a court ordered ISP Vodafone to block KinoX, one of the country’s most popular streaming portals.
Last November, following a year of upheaval for third-party addon creators and distributors, yet more turmoil hit the community in the form of threats from the world’s most powerful anti-piracy coalition – the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE).
Comprised of 30 companies including the studios of the MPAA, Amazon, Netflix, CBS, HBO, BBC, Sky, Bell Canada, CBS, Hulu, Lionsgate, Foxtel, Village Roadshow, and many more, ACE warned several developers to shut down – or else.
The letter: shut down – or else
Now it appears that ACE is on the warpath again, this time targeting a broader range of individuals involved in the Kodi addon scene, from developers and distributors to those involved in the production of how-to videos on YouTube.
The first report of action came from TVAddons, who noted that the lead developer at the Noobs and Nerds repository had been targeted with a cease-and-desist notice, adding that people from the site had been “visited at their homes.”
As seen in the image below, the Noobs and Nerds website is currently down. The site’s Twitter account has also been disabled.
Noobs and Nerds – gone
While TVAddons couldn’t precisely confirm the source of the threat, information gathered from individuals involved in the addon scene all point to the involvement of ACE.
In particular, a man known online as Teverz, who develops his own builds, runs a repo, and creates Kodi-themed YouTube videos, confirmed that ACE had been in touch.
An apparently unconcerned Teverz….
“I am not a dev so they really don’t scare me lmao,” he added.
Teverz claims to be from Canada and it appears that others in the country are also facing cease and desist notices. An individual known as Doggmatic, who also identifies as Canadian and has Kodi builds under his belt, says he too was targeted.
Another target in Canada
Doggmatic, who appears to be part of the Illuminati repo, says he had someone call the people who sent the cease-and-desist but like Teverz, he doesn’t seem overly concerned, at least for now.
“I have a legal representative calling them. The letters they sent aren’t legal documents. No lawyer signed them and no law firm mentioned,” Doggmatic said.
But the threats don’t stop there. Blamo, the developer of the Neptune Rising addon accessible from the Blamo repo, also claims to have been threatened.
SpinzTV, who offers unofficial Kodi builds and an associated repository, is also under the spotlight. Unlike his Canadian counterparts, he has already thrown in the towel, according to a short announcement on Twitter.
For SpinzTV it’s all over…
TorrentFreak contacted the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment, asking them if they could confirm the actions and provide any additional details. At the time of publication they had no information for us but we’ll update if and when that comes in.
Given Russia’s historical reputation for having a weak approach to online piracy, the last few years stand in stark contrast to those that went before.
Overseen by telecoms watchdog Rozcomnadzor, Russia now has one of the toughest site-blocking regimes in the whole world. It’s possible to have entire sites blocked in a matter of days, potentially over a single piece of infringing content. For persistent offenders, permanent blocking is now a reality.
While that process requires the involvement of the courts, the subsequent blocking of mirror sites does not, with Russia blocking more than 500 since a new law was passed in October 2017.
With anti-piracy measures now a force to be reckoned with in Russia, it’s emerged that last week Stan McCoy, president of the Motion Picture Association’s EMEA division, met with telecoms watchdog Roskomnadzor in Moscow.
McCoy met with Rozcomnadzor chief Alexander Zharov last Friday, in a meeting that was also attended by Ekaterina Mironova, head of the anti-piracy committee of the Media Communication Union (ISS).
According to Rozcomnadzor, issues discussed included copyright-related legislation and regulation. Also on the agenda was the strengthening of international cooperation, including between public organizations representing the interests of rightholders.
“In particular, an agreement was reached to expand contacts between the MPAA and the ISS,” Rozcomnadzor notes.
The ISS (known locally as Media-Communication Union MKC) was founded by the largest Russian media companies and telecom operators in February 2014. It differentiates itself from other organizations with the claim that its the first group of its type to represent the interests of communications companies, rights holders, broadcasters and large distributors.
During the meeting, McCoy was given an update on Russia’s implementation of the various anti-piracy laws introduced and developed since May 2015.
“Since the introduction of the anti-piracy laws, Roskomnadzor has received more than 2,800 rulings from the Moscow City Court on the adoption of preliminary provisional [blocking] measures to protect copyright on the Internet, including 1,630 for movies,” the watchdog reveals.
“In connection with the deletion of pirated content, access to the territory of Russia was restricted for 1,547 Internet resources. Based on the decisions of the Moscow City Court, 752 pirated sites are now permanently blocked, and according to the decisions of the Ministry of Communications, more than 600 ‘mirrors’ of these resources are blocked too.”
While it’s normally the position of the US to criticize Russia for not doing enough to tackle piracy, it must’ve been interesting to participate in a meeting where for once the Russians had the upper hand. Even though the MPAA previously campaigned for one, there is no site-blocking mechanism in the United States.
“The fight against piracy stimulates the growth of the legal online video market in Russia. Attendance of legal online sites is constantly growing. Users are attracted to high-quality content for an affordable fee,” Rozcomnadzor concludes.
The meeting’s participants will join up again during the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum scheduled to take place May 24-26.
While piracy of all kinds is often viewed as a threat to the creative industries, a new type of unauthorized content distribution has been gaining prominence over the past few years.
Sites like YouTube, that allow their users to upload all kinds of material – some of it infringing – are now seen as undermining a broad range of industries that rely on both video and audio to generate revenue.
The cries against such User Uploaded Content (UUC) sites are often led by the music industry, which complains that the safe harbor provisions of copyright law are being abused while UUC sites generate review from infringing content. In tandem, while that free content is made available, UUC sites have little or no incentive to pay for official content licenses, and certainly not at a rate considered fair by the industry.
This mismatch, between the price that content industries would like to achieve for licenses and what they actually achieve, is now known as the ‘Value Gap’.
Today, in advance of an EU meeting on the draft Copyright Directive, a huge coalition of rightsholder groups is calling on the new EU Presidency not to pass up an “unmissable opportunity” to find a solution to their problems.
In a letter addressed to the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, which Bulgaria officially took over January 1, 2018, an army of rightsholders lay out their demands.
“We represent musical, audio-visual, literary, visual authors; performers; book, press, musical, scientific, technical and medical publishers; recorded music, film and TV producers; football leagues; broadcasters; distributors and photo agencies. These are at the very heart of Europe’s creative sector,” the groups write.
“We have formed an alliance to campaign for a solution to a major problem which is holding back our sector and jeopardizing future sustainability – the Transfer of Value, otherwise known as the Value Gap.
“User uploaded content services have become vast distributors of our creative works e.g. film, music, photos, broadcasts, text and sport content – all while refusing to negotiate fair or any copyright licences with us as right holders.”
Value Gap Coalition
Featuring groups representing many thousands of rightsholders, the coalition is the broadest yet to call for action against the ‘Value Gap’. Or, to put it another way, to demand a change in the law to prevent sites like YouTube, Facebook and other hosting platforms from “hiding” behind provisions designed to protect them from the infringing activities of others.
“This problem is caused by a lack of clarity surrounding the application of copyright to certain online services and the abuse of European copyright ‘safe harbor’ rules in the e-Commerce Directive (2000/31/EC) by those services,” the coalition writes.
Referencing the EU Copyright Directive proposal tabled by the European Commission in September 2016, the coalition says that UUC services communicating content to the public should be compelled to obtain licenses for that content. If they play an “active role” through promotion or optimization of content, UUC platforms should be denied ‘safe harbors’ under copyright law, they argue.
Noting that there is “no solution” to the problem without the above fixes, the coalition cites last year’s ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union which found that The Pirate Bay knowingly provide users with a platform to share copyright-infringing links.
“It is important to recall that the underlying policy objective of this legislation is to address the current unfairness in the online market due to the misapplication of copyright liability rules by UUC services. We would therefore like to stress that the focus should remain on finding effective solutions to tackle this issue.
“As an alliance, we look forward to working with your Presidency to achieve an effective solution to the Value Gap problem for the benefit of Europe,” the coalition concludes.
The letter, addressed to Prime Minister Borissov, Minister Pavlova and Minister Banov, arrives in the wake of an alert sounded by several Members of the European Parliament.
Earlier this month they warned that the EU’s proposed mandatory upload filters – which could see UUC sites pre-screen user-uploaded content for infringement – amount to “censorship machines” that will do more harm than good.
Anti-piracy campaigns come in all shapes and sizes, from oppressive and scary to the optimistically educational. It is rare for any to be labeled ‘brilliant’ but a campaign just revealed in Belgium hits really close to the mark.
According to an announcement by the Belgian Entertainment Association (BEA), Belgian Federation of Cinemas, together with film producers and distributors, cinemas and directors, a brand new campaign has been targeting those who download content from illegal sources. It is particularly innovative and manages to hit pirates in a way they can’t easily avoid.
Working on the premise that many locals download English language movies and then augment them with local language subtitles, a fiendish plot was hatched. Instead of a generic preaching video on YouTube or elsewhere, the movie companies decided to ‘infect’ pirate subtitles with messages of their own.
“Suddenly the story gets a surprising turn. With a playful wink it suddenly seems as if Samuel L. Jackson in The Hitman’s Bodyguard directly appeals to the illegal viewer and says that you should not download,” the group explains.
Samuel is watching…..
“I do not need any research to see that these are bad subtitles,” Jackson informs the viewer.
In another scene with Ryan Reynolds, Jackson notes that illegal downloading can have a negative effect on a person.
“And you wanted to become a policeman, until you started downloading,” he says.
The movie groups say that they also planted edited subtitles in The Bridge, with police officers in the show noting they’re on the trail of illegal downloaders. The movies Logan Lucky and The Foreigner got similar treatment.
It’s not clear on which sites these modified subtitles were distributed but according to the companies involved, they’ve been downloaded 10,000 times already.
“The viewer not only feels caught but immediately realizes that you do not necessarily get a real quality product through illegal sources,” the companies say.
The campaign is the work of advertising agency TBWA, which appropriately bills itself as the Disruption Company.
“We are not a traditional ad agency network — we are a radically open creative collective. We look at what everyone else is doing and strive to do something completely new,” the company says.
Coincidentally, the company refers to its staff as pirates who rewrite rules and have ideas to take on “conventionally-steered ships.”
“As creative director of communication agency TBWA, protecting creative work is very important to us,” says TBWA Creative Director Gert Pauwels. “That is precisely why we came up with the subtle prank to work together with the sector to tackle illegal downloading.”
Although framed as a joke, one which may even raise a wry smile and a nod of respect from some pirates, there’s an underlying serious message from the companies involved.
“Maybe many think that everything is possible on the internet and that downloading will remain without consequences,” says Pieter Swaelens, Managing Director of BEA. “That is not the case. Here too, many jobs are being challenged in Belgium and we have to tackle this behavior.”
It’s also worth noting that while this campaign is both innovative and light-hearted, at least one of the companies involved is also a supporter of much tougher action.
Dutch Filmworks recently obtained permission from the Dutch Data Authority to begin monitoring pirates. Once it has their IP addresses it will attempt to make contact, offering a cash settlement agreement to make a potential lawsuit disappear.
“We are pleased with the extra attention to the problem of downloading from illegal sources,” says René van Turnhout, COO Dutch FilmWorks. “Too many jobs in our sector have been lost. Moreover, piracy endangers the creativity and quality of the legal offer.”
Kodi is the now ubiquitous media player taking the world by storm. In itself it’s a great piece of software but augmented with third-party software it can become a piracy powerhouse.
This software, known collectively as ‘add-ons’, enables Kodi to do things it was never designed for such as watching pirated movies, TV shows, and live sports. As a result, it’s the go-to media platform for millions around the globe, but for those distributing the add-ons, there can be risks attached.
As one of the most prominent Kodi-related sites around, TVAddons helped to distribute huge numbers of add-ons. The platform insists that if any add-on infringed copyright, it was only too willing to remove them under a DMCA-like regime. Last year, however, it became clear that copyright holders would prefer to sue TVAddons (1,2) than ask for takedowns.
With those lawsuits still ongoing, the site was left with a dilemma. Despite add-ons being developed and uploaded by third-parties, rightsholders are still trying to hold TVAddons responsible for what those add-ons can do. It’s a precarious situation that has led to TVAddons not having its own repository/repo (a place where the addons are stored for users to download) since the site ran into trouble last summer.
Now, however, the site has just launched a new tool which not only provides some benefits for users looking for addons, but also attempts to shift some liability for potential infringement away from the service and onto a company with much broader shoulders.
Since many third-party Kodi add-ons are developed and first made available on Github, the world’s leading software development platform, why don’t users install them directly from there instead?
The idea is that this might reduce liability for distributors like TVAddons but could also present benefits for users, as they can be assured that they’re getting add-ons directly from the source.
Github Browser welcome screen
“Before the GitHub Browser, when an end user wanted to install a particular addon, they’d first have to download the necessary repository from either Fusion Installer or an alternative,” a TV addons spokesperson informs TF.
“This new feature gives the end user the ability to easily install any Kodi addon, and empowers developers to distribute their addons independently, without having to align themselves with a particular release group or web site.”
Aside from the benefits to users, it also means that TVAddons can provide its users with access to third-party add-ons without having to curate, store, or distribute them itself. In future, storage and distribution aspects can be carried out by Github, which has actually been the basic behind-the-scenes position for some time.
“GitHub has always been the leading host of Kodi addons, and also respects the law. The difference is, they are big enough to not be bullied by draconian legal maneuvers used by big corporations to censor the internet. We also felt that developers should be able to develop without having to comply with our rules, or any other Kodi web site’s rules for that matter,” TVAddons explain.
The screenshot of the Github Browser below reveals a text-heavy interface that will probably mean little to the low-level user of Kodi who bought his device already setup from a seller. However, those more familiar with the way Kodi functions will recognize that the filenames relate to add-ons which can now be directly installed via the browser.
The Github Browser
While the approach may seem basic or even inaccessible at first view, that wrongfully discounts the significant resources available to the sprawling third-party Kodi add-on community.
Dozens of specialist blogs and thousands of YouTube videos report in detail on the most relevant addons, providing all of the details users will need to identify and locate the required software. Developer usernames could be a good starting point, TVAddons suggests.
“We have already seen many social media posts, blogs and developers advertising their GitHub usernames in order to make it easier for users to find them,” the site explains.
From our tests, it appears that users really have to do all the work themselves. There doesn’t appear to be any add-on curation and users must know what they’re looking for in advance. Indeed, entering the Github usernames of developers who produce software that has nothing to do with Kodi can still present zip file results in the browser. Whether this will prove problematic later on will remain to be seen.
While most keen users won’t have a problem using the Github Browser, there is the question of whether redirecting the focus to the development platform will cause copyright holders to pay more attention to Github.
This has certainly happened in the past, such as when the Federation Against Copyright Theft targeted the SportsDevil add-on and had it removed from Github. It’s also worth noting that Github doesn’t appear to challenge takedown requests, so add-ons could be vulnerable if the heat gets turned up.
Nevertheless, TVAddons believes that the open source nature of most addons coupled with Github’s relative strength means that they’ll be able to stand up to most threats.
“Open source code lives on forever, it’s impossible to scrub the internet of freely distributed legitimate code. I think that GitHub is in a better position to legitimately assess and enforce the DMCA than us. They won’t be sued out of nowhere in circumvention of the DMCA in similar fashion to what we have been the victim of,” TVAddons says.
Several years ago, when The Pirate Bay got rid of torrents and relied on magnet links instead, the platform became much more compact, thus saving on bandwidth. The lack of a repository at TVAddons has also had benefits for the site. Previously it was consuming around 3PB (3,000,000 gigabytes) of bandwidth a month, with a hosting provider demanding $25,000 per month not to discontinue business.
Finally, the team says it is working on new browser features for the future, including repository distribution over torrents. Only time will tell how this new system will be viewed by copyright holders but even with add-on hosting taken care of externally, any form of curation could be instantly frowned upon, with serious consequences.
The Motion Picture Distributors’ Association (MPDA) is a non-profit organisation which represents major international film studios in New Zealand.
With companies including Fox, Sony, Paramount, Roadshow, Disney, and Universal on the books, the MPDA sings from the same sheet as the MPAA and MPA. It also hopes to achieve in New Zealand what its counterparts have achieved in Europe and Australia but cannot on home soil – mass pirate site blocking.
In a release heralding the New Zealand screen industry’s annual contribution of around NZ$1.05 billion to GDP and NZ$706 million to exports, MPDA Managing Director Matthew Cheetham says that despite the successes, serious challenges lie ahead.
“When we have the illegal file sharing site the Pirate Bay as New Zealand’s 19th most popular site in New Zealand, it is clear that legitimate movie and TV distribution channels face challenges,” Cheetham says.
MPDA members in New Zealand
In common with movie bosses in many regions, Cheetham is hoping that the legal system will rise to the challenge and assist distributors to tackle the piracy problem. In New Zealand, that might yet require a change in the law but given recent changes in Australia, that doesn’t seem like a distant proposition.
Last December, the New Zealand government announced an overhaul of the country’s copyright laws. A review of the Copyright Act 1994 was announced by the previous government and is now scheduled to go ahead this year. The government has already indicated a willingness to consider amendments to the Act in order to meet the objectives of New Zealand’s copyright regime.
“In New Zealand, piracy is almost an accepted thing, because no one’s really doing anything about it, because no one actually can do anything about it,” Cheetham said last month.
It’s quite unusual for Hollywood’s representatives to say nothing can be done about piracy. However, there was a small ray of hope this morning when Cheetham said that there is actually one option left.
“There’s nothing we can do in New Zealand apart from site blocking,” Cheetham said.
So, as the MPDA appears to pin its hopes on legislative change, other players in the entertainment industry are testing the legal system as it stands today.
Last September, Sky TV began a pioneering ‘pirate’ site-blocking challenge in the New Zealand High Court, applying for an injunction against several local ISPs to prevent their subscribers from accessing several pirate sites.
The boss of Vocus, one of the ISP groups targeted, responded angrily, describing Sky’s efforts as “dinosaur behavior” and something one would expect in North Korea, not in New Zealand.
“It isn’t our job to police the Internet and it sure as hell isn’t SKY’s either, all sites should be equal and open,” General Manager Taryn Hamilton said.
The response from ISPs suggests that even when the matter of site-blocking is discussed as part of the Copyright Act review, introducing specific legislation may not be smooth sailing. In that respect, all eyes will turn to the Sky process, to see if some precedent can be set there.
Finally, another familiar problem continues to raise its head down under. So-called “Kodi boxes” – the now generic phrase often used to describe set-top devices configured for piracy – are also on the content industries’ radar.
There are a couple of cases still pending against sellers, including one in which a budding entrepreneur sent out marketing letters claiming that his service was better than Sky’s offering. For seller Krish Reddy, this didn’t turn out well as the company responded with a NZ$1m lawsuit.
Generally, however, both content industries and consumers are having a good time in New Zealand but the MPDA’s Cheetham says that taking on pirates is never easy.
“It’s been called the golden age of television and a lot of premium movies have been released in the last 12 or 18 months. Content providers and distributors have really upped their game in the last five or 10 years to meet what people want but it’s very difficult to compete with free,” Cheetham concludes.
switching to F-Droid for Android apps.
“A polluted ocean of apps is plaguing Android, an operating system
built upon Free and Open-Source Software (FOSS) but now barely resembling
those venerable roots. Today, the average Android device is not only
susceptible to malware and trackers, it’s also heavily locked down and
loaded with proprietary components—characteristics that are hardly the
calling cards of the FOSS movement.
Though Android bears the moniker of open-source, the chain of trust between developers, distributors, and end-users is broken.”
The rising popularity of piracy streaming boxes has turned into Hollywood’s main piracy concern in recent months.
While the hardware and media players such as Kodi are not a problem, sellers who ship devices with unauthorized add-ons turn them into fully-fledged piracy machines.
According to the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE), an anti-piracy partnership comprised of Hollywood studios, Netflix, Amazon, and more than two dozen other companies, Tickbox TV is one of these bad actors.
Last year, ACE filed a lawsuit against the Georgia-based company, which sells set-top boxes that allow users to stream a variety of popular media. The Tickbox devices use the Kodi media player and comes with instructions on how to add various add-ons.
According to ACE, these devices are nothing more than pirate tools, allowing buyers to stream copyright-infringing content. The coalition, therefore, asked the court for a permanent injunction to remove all infringing add-ons from previously sold devices.
Tickbox maintained its innocence, however. The company informed the court that its box is a simple computer like any other, which is perfectly legal.
According to Tickbox, they don’t have anything to do with the infringing “Themes” that users can select on their device. These themes feature several addons that link to infringing content.
This explanation doesn’t sit well with the movie companies, which submitted a reply to the court late last week. They claim that Tickbox is deliberately downplaying their own role, as they are the ones who decided to make these themes accessible through their boxes.
“TickBox falsely claims that the presence of these ‘Themes’ on TickBox devices ‘have nothing to do with Defendant’,” ACE’s reply reads.
“To the contrary, TickBox intentionally chooses which ‘Themes’ to include on its ‘Select your Theme’ menu for the TickBox TV interface, and TickBox pushes out automatic software updates to its customers’ TickBox TV devices.”
The movie companies also dispute Tickbox’s argument that they don’t induce copyright infringement because their device is “simply a small computer” that has many legitimate uses.
This liability question isn’t about whether Tickbox stores any infringing material or runs pirate streams through their servers, they counter. It’s about the intended use and how Tickbox promotes its product.
“TickBox’s liability arises based on its advertising and promoting TickBox TV as a tool for infringing use, and from designing and including software on the device that encourages access to infringing streams from third-party sources.”
ACE notes that, unlike Tickbox claims, the current case shows a lot of parallels with previous landmark cases including Grokster and Fung [isoHunt].
The isoHunt website didn’t store and infringing material, nor was it crucial in the torrent piracy ecosystem. However, it was liable because the operator willingly facilitated copyright infringing activity. This is what Tickbox does too, according to ACE.
“TickBox ‘competes’ with legitimate services by telling customers that they can access the same content available from legitimate distributors ‘ABSOLUTELY FREE’ and that customers therefore ‘will find that you no longer need those subscriptions’.”
The movie companies therefore ask the court to issue the requested injunction. They want all existing devices to be impounded and Tickbox should, through an update, remove infringing addons from already sold devices.
Tickbox argued that this would require them to “hack into” their customers’ boxes and delete content. ACE, however, says that this is a simple update and nothing different from what the company has done in the past.
“The proposed injunction would merely obligate TickBox to make good on its halfhearted and ineffective efforts to do what it claims to have already done: remove Kodi builds with illicit addons from TickBox TV,” ACE writes.
“As demonstrated by TickBox’s own, repeated software updates since the filing of Plaintiffs’ Complaint, TickBox has the means and ability to easily and remotely change what options users see and can access on their TickBox TVs.”
After having heard the arguments from both sides, it’s now up to the California federal court to decide who’s right.
The current case should set an important precedent. In addition to Tickbox, ACE also filed a similar lawsuit against Dragon Box. Clearly, the coalition is determined to get these alleged pirate devices off the market.
For as long as piracy has been mainstream, people have tried to find ways to monetize the system. While many have had good intentions, only models focusing on the negative (copyright trolling, for example) have enjoyed any level of success.
Blockchain startup White Rabbit is hoping to buck that trend but it’s not going to be easy. Then again, nothing worthwhile is, so what do they have to offer?
White Rabbit begins with the assumption that while they love their pirate sites, a many as 60% of pirates would happily reward creators if it was made easy enough. The startup deals with this by inviting pirates to carry on using the kinds of unauthorized sites and services they’re using already, but with a twist.
By installing the White Rabbit browser plug-in, the company will be able to see what content the user is accessing. It will then attempt to match that download to deals it’s made with the companies behind those movies or TV shows. They’ll then get paid a set amount.
“White Rabbit is a content ecosystem accessed through a plugin that recognizes the film and series you stream. The streaming sites are P2P or open server, meaning users can choose where they want to stream,” White Rabbit CEO Alan R. Milligan informs TF.
“We already have a library of films that have won and been nominated for Oscars, Cannes, Berlin and Venice film festival best film prizes – but will continue adding more films and series as we near launch.”
It’s envisioned that this mechanism will prove popular with reluctant pirates since instead of paying Netflix, Amazon, and dozens of other services, users can pay for content through one channel. And, since White Rabbit uses blockchain technology, rights holders can be ensured complete financial transparency, with user payments going straight to them without delay, cutting out the middleman.
“Users are anonymous but can offer filmmakers, artists or other content right holders (investors, distributors, sales agents) our tokens (WRT) as good faith that they are willing to pay for the content. Should the rights holders accept, we enter into a contract with the rights holder that allows them to receive revenue – and accept P2P streaming. We find, and research shows, that most people that are forced to piracy [do so] because they are just not able to access content,” Milligan adds.
White Rabbit’s CEO, who is a filmmaker himself, also sees opportunities to bring fans and filmmakers closer together. Once users have paid for content, they continue to get access via something called the Rabbit Hole, an interface which provides extras that are normally found on a DVD, such as deleted scenes etc.
The team behind White Rabbit describe themselves as “responsible rebels” hoping to spark a revolution. While that’s clearly the goal, by any measure there is a mountain to climb, not least on the content front.
When TorrentFreak first started speaking with the startup in October last year, we were told they were “closing in on 500 films” with contracts, although they wouldn’t elaborate on who might be on board. Nevertheless, that is quite a lot of movies, especially given the mainstream studios’ hatred of pirate sites and anything they might be involved in.
However, subsequent discussion suggests that those with more niche tastes might be White Rabbit’s initial target audience.
“I believe timing is of big relevance and right now a lot of producers are scared of where they´re going to go now that Netflix is enforcing its 50/50 policy. There are also so many amazing films out there that get no or little digital distribution at all,” Milligan says.
“As a Norwegian film producer there is little chance of the film being streamed in my home country – even if we won awards in Cannes and Venice. My latest film Valley of Shadows got US digital distribution, but in Norway – nada.
“My colleagues around the world are suffering the same way, not to mention all the fans who cant watch local films and series. So the indie part of the industry – which is most of us (and still representing 20-30% of cinema sales) – are very ready for change.”
But while indie producers could benefit nicely from White Rabbit, Milligan highlights problems that the big studios have, and suggests that they might like to see the startup succeed too.
“The studios will likely want to see our business model work – but they also have a problem with Netflix which has become a studio. So they´re competitors now, but Netflix has a 100M subscriber advantage. Will they all break out and create each their streaming site for their content only? That would be terrible for fans,” he notes.
That would indeed be a huge problem and it’s an issue we’ve raised here on TF on several occasions. However, if White Rabbit is to succeed, it needs to overcome significant hurdles. We raised just a handful of these with its CEO. First up, Partner Streaming Sites (PSS).
PSS sites appear to be pirate sites that will partner with White Rabbit, so the latter can tap into the formers’ userbases. When White Rabbit users stream ‘pirate’ content from a PSS, that content will be monetized, with the creator getting paid quickly and transparently. At that point, it seems, the content will become non-infringing.
But while that sounds intriguing in theory, plenty of questions remain. White Rabbit says it will share “up to $1M” from its token sale “with the most innovative, brand conscious, film and series loving streaming sites either already out there, planned or about to launch.”
The start-up says the best projects could get $100,000 each but, since its goal is to convert pirates, that necessarily means doing business with pirate sites.
So we asked; how will it be possible to do business with people that are regularly described as criminals? How will it then become possible to secure deals with filmmakers that will undoubtedly come under huge pressure from industry players not to participate in the White Rabbit scheme?
“What we are trying to do is to change digital distribution to everyone´s benefit. We have no interest in financing illegal content, we are interested in spurring innovation in streaming, access for fans and due payment for the rights holders,” Milligan explains.
“That´s what PSS can help us achieve using the WRT (White Rabbit Token) – that helps us find out who wants to be part of this model. No revenue exchanges hands until rights holders accept the token. What is important for rights holders is that we generate more revenue for them than current business models, and we haven´t even included the Rabbit Hole revenue yet.”
So what happens if a White Rabbit user tries to stream something that isn’t part of the program? According to Milligan, PSS sites must remove the content and let White Rabbit users know they must get the content legally elsewhere.
Clearly, the vast majority of pirate site users aren’t White Rabbit users now, nor will they be so in the future, so the removal of content is massively counter-productive for pirate sites. Indeed, it’s this reluctance to take down infringing content that causes them most of their problems.
So, hypothetically, what happens when the operators of streaming site X (that previously partnered with White Rabbit) get arrested and their site shut down for distributing Hollywood content that isn’t part of the program?
“PSS´s would never distribute illegal content, we are offering an opportunity to monetize. We are allowing a platform to those that see monetized P2P as beneficial to their income stream,” Milligan says.
“Hollywood is tricky though, I admit. The proof is in the pudding, so if we have to prove the value through indie and arthouse films first that´s OK. That is still 30% of the multi-billion dollar film market, so we are OK to start with that.”
The final issue is the price and where revenue goes. White Rabbit envisions a user paying $2 for film and $1 for a TV show, although producers are free to set their own price. That means 11 TV shows or five movies per month, given the Netflix model/budget of roughly $11.00 for the same period.
Revenue generated would then be split, with 75% going to the rightsholders, 15% to White Rabbit, and 10% to PSS sites. There’s also a provision for non-PSS sites to be a part of the program, but they would only get 5%, with the remaining 5% going to White Rabbit.
With an incredibly ambitious project like this, it’s easy to find reasons why it might not succeed or even fail to get off the ground. But the team behind the operation have lots of experience in relevant fields and from what we’ve seen are putting considerable effort into getting things moving, as their white paper (pdf) explains.
Currently, White Rabbit is seeking conversation with prospective Partner Streaming Sites, who will provide the content on which White Rabbit will survive. It will certainly be interesting to see which sites put themselves forward for consideration.
This is one of those projects that raises a dizzying volume of questions, with each living up to their billing as part of the Rabbit Hole. The big question is whether the Rabbit Hole will eventually lead to Wonderland or will render everyone who ventures inside feeling surreal and disorientated.
At Opensource.com, Mike Bursell looks at blockchain security from the angle of trust. Unlike cryptocurrencies, which are pseudonymous typically, other kinds of blockchains will require mapping users to real-life identities; that raises the trust issue.
“What’s really interesting is that, if you’re thinking about moving to a permissioned blockchain or distributed ledger with permissioned actors, then you’re going to have to spend some time thinking about trust. You’re unlikely to be using a proof-of-work system for making blocks—there’s little point in a permissioned system—so who decides what comprises a “valid” block that the rest of the system should agree on? Well, you can rotate around some (or all) of the entities, or you can have a random choice, or you can elect a small number of über-trusted entities. Combinations of these schemes may also work.
If these entities all exist within one trust domain, which you control, then fine, but what if they’re distributors, or customers, or partners, or other banks, or manufacturers, or semi-autonomous drones, or vehicles in a commercial fleet? You really need to ensure that the trust relationships that you’re encoding into your implementation/deployment truly reflect the legal and IRL [in real life] trust relationships that you have with the entities that are being represented in your system.
And the problem is that, once you’ve deployed that system, it’s likely to be very difficult to backtrack, adjust, or reset the trust relationships that you’ve designed.”
There is little doubt that, in many countries, Netflix has become the standard for watching movies on the Internet.
Generally speaking, on-demand streaming services are convenient alternatives to piracy. However, millions of people stick to their old pirate habits, Netflix subscription or not.
Intrigued by this interplay of legal and unauthorized viewing, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and Universidade Católica Portuguesa carried out an extensive study. They partnered with a major telco, which is not named, to analyze if BitTorrent downloading habits can be changed by offering legal alternatives.
The researchers used a piracy-tracking firm to get a sample of thousands of BitTorrent pirates at the associated ISP. Half of them were offered a free 45-day subscription to a premium TV and movies package, allowing them to watch popular content on demand.
To measure the effects of video-on-demand access on piracy, the researchers then monitored the legal viewing activity and BitTorrent transfers of the people who received the free offer, comparing it to a control group. The results show that piracy is harder to beat than some would expect.
Subscribers who received the free subscription watched more TV, but overall their torrenting habits didn’t change significantly.
“We find that, on average, households that received the gift increased overall TV consumption by 4.6% and reduced Internet downloads and uploads by 4.2% and 4.5%, respectively. However, and also on average, treated households did not change their likelihood of using BitTorrent during the experiment,” the researchers write.
One of the main problems was that these ‘pirates’ couldn’t get all their favorite shows and movies on the legal service, which is a common problem. For the small portion of subscribers who had access to their preferred content, the researchers did find an effect on torrent traffic.
“Households with preferences aligned with the gifted content reduced their probability of using BitTorrent during the experiment by 18% and decreased their amount of upload traffic by 45%,” the paper reads.
The video-on-demand service in the study had an average “fit” of just 12% with people’s viewing preferences, which means that they were missing a lot of content. But even Netflix, which has a library of thousands of titles, only has a fit of roughly 50%.
The researchers show that the lack of availability is partly caused by licensing windows, which makes it hard for legal video streaming services to compete with piracy.
“We show that licensing windows impose significant restrictions on the content that can be included in SVoD catalogs, which hampers the ability of content distributors to offer catalogs that cater to the preferences of pirates,” they write.
However, even if more content became available, piracy wouldn’t magically disappear. In the experiment, subscribers were offered free access to a video on demand service. In the real world, they would have to pay, which presents another barrier.
In this study, the pirate households were willing to pay at most $3.25 USD per month to access a service with a library as large as Netflix’s in the United States. That’s not enough.
This leads the researchers to the grim conclusion that video on demand services such as Netflix can’t significantly lower piracy rates. They could make a dent if they increase their content libraries while lowering the price at the same time, but that’s not going to happen.
“Together, our results show that, as a stand-alone strategy, using legal SVoD to curtail piracy will require, at the minimum, offering content much earlier and at much lower prices than those currently offered in the marketplace, changes that are likely to reduce industry revenue and that may damage overall incentives to produce new content while, at the same time, curbing only a small share of piracy,” the researchers conclude.
While Hollywood maintains that people can get pretty much anything they want legally, the current research shows that it’s not as simple as that. Most people are not going to pay for 22 separate subscriptions. Instead of more streaming services, it would be better to make more content available at the ones that are already out there.
The research was partially funded by the Carnegie Mellon University’s IDEA, which receives an unrestricted gift from the MPAA, so Hollywood will likely be clued in on the results.
Do you remember what web video was like in the early days? Standalone players, video no larger than a postage stamp, slow & cantankerous connections, overloaded servers, and the ever-present buffering messages were the norm less than two decades ago.
Today, thanks to technological progress and a broad array of standards, things are a lot better. Video consumers are now in control. They use devices of all shapes, sizes, and vintages to enjoy live and recorded content that is broadcast, streamed, or sent over-the-top (OTT, as they say), and expect immediate access to content that captures and then holds their attention. Meeting these expectations presents a challenge for content creators and distributors. Instead of generating video in a one-size-fits-all format, they (or their media servers) must be prepared to produce video that spans a broad range of sizes, formats, and bit rates, taking care to be ready to deal with planned or unplanned surges in demand. In the face of all of this complexity, they must backstop their content with a monetization model that supports the content and the infrastructure to deliver it.
New AWS Media Services Today we are launching an array of broadcast-quality media services, each designed to address one or more aspects of the challenge that I outlined above. You can use them together to build a complete end-to-end video solution or you can use one or more in building-block style. In true AWS fashion, you can spend more time innovating and less time setting up and running infrastructure, leaving you ready to focus on creating, delivering, and monetizing your content. The services are all elastic, allowing you to ramp up processing power, connections, and storage and giving you the ability to handle million-user (and beyond) spikes with ease.
Here are the services (all accessible from a set of interactive consoles as well as through a comprehensive set of APIs):
AWS Elemental MediaConvert – File-based transcoding for OTT, broadcast, or archiving, with support for a long list of formats and codecs. Features include multi-channel audio, graphic overlays, closed captioning, and several DRM options.
AWS Elemental MediaLive – Live encoding to deliver video streams in real time to both televisions and multiscreen devices. Allows you to deploy highly reliable live channels in minutes, with full control over encoding parameters. It supports ad insertion, multi-channel audio, graphic overlays, and closed captioning.
AWS Elemental MediaPackage – Video origination and just-in-time packaging. Starting from a single input, produces output for multiple devices representing a long list of current and legacy formats. Supports multiple monetization models, time-shifted live streaming, ad insertion, DRM, and blackout management.
AWS Elemental MediaStore – Media-optimized storage that enables high performance and low latency applications such as live streaming, while taking advantage of the scale and durability of Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3).
AWS Elemental MediaTailor – Monetization service that supports ad serving and server-side ad insertion, a broad range of devices, transcoding, and accurate reporting of server-side and client-side ad insertion.
Instead of listing out all of the features in the sections below, I’ve simply included as many screen shots as possible with the expectation that this will give you a better sense of the rich set of features, parameters, and settings that you get with this set of services.
AWS Elemental MediaConvert MediaConvert allows you to transcode content that is stored in files. You can process individual files or entire media libraries, or anything in-between. You simply create a conversion job that specifies the content and the desired outputs, and submit it to MediaConvert. There’s no software to install or patch and the service scales to meet your needs without affecting turnaround time or performance.
The MediaConvert Console lets you manage Output presets, Job templates, Queues, and Jobs:
You can use a built-in system preset or you can make one of your own. You have full control over the settings when you make your own:
Jobs templates are named, and produce one or more output groups. You can add a new group to a template with a click:
When everything is ready to go, you create a job and make some final selections, then click on Create:
Each account starts with a default queue for jobs, where incoming work is processed in parallel using all processing resources available to the account. Adding queues does not add processing resources, but does cause them to be apportioned across queues. You can temporarily pause one queue in order to devote more resources to the others. You can submit jobs to paused queues and you can also cancel any that have yet to start.
Pricing for this service is based on the amount of video that you process and the features that you use.
AWS Elemental MediaLive This service is for live encoding, and can be run 24×7. MediaLive channels are deployed on redundant resources distributed in two physically separated Availability Zones in order to provide the reliability expected by our customers in the broadcast industry. You can specify your inputs and define your channels in the MediaLive Console:
After you create an Input, you create a Channel and attach it to the Input:
You have full control over the settings for each channel:
AWS Elemental MediaPackage This service lets you deliver video to many devices from a single source. It focuses on protection and just-in-time packaging, giving you the ability to provide your users with the desired content on the device of their choice. You simply create a channel to get started:
Then you add one or more endpoints. Once again, plenty of options and full control, including a startover window and a time delay:
You find the input URL, user name, and password for your channel and route your live video stream to it for packaging:
AWS Elemental MediaStore MediaStore offers the performance, consistency, and latency required for live and on-demand media delivery. Objects are written and read into a new “temporal” tier of object storage for a limited amount of time, then move silently into S3 for long-lived durability. You simply create a storage container to group your media content:
The container is available within a minute or so:
Like S3 buckets, MediaStore containers have access policies and no limits on the number of objects or storage capacity.
AWS Elemental MediaTailor This service takes care of server-side ad insertion while providing a broadcast-quality viewer experience by transcoding ad assets on the fly. Your customer’s video player asks MediaTailor for a playlist. MediaTailor, in turn, calls your Ad Decision Server and returns a playlist that references the origin server for your original video and the ads recommended by the Ad Decision Server. The video player makes all of its requests to a single endpoint in order to ensure that client-side ad-blocking is ineffective. You simply create a MediaTailor Configuration:
Context information is passed to the Ad Decision Server in the URL:
Despite the length of this post I have barely scratched the surface of the AWS Media Services. Once AWS re:Invent is in the rear view mirror I hope to do a deep dive and show you how to use each of these services.
Available Now The entire set of AWS Media Services is available now and you can start using them today! Pricing varies by service, but is built around a pay-as-you-go model.
In recent years, file-sharers around the world have been pressured to pay significant settlement fees, or face legal repercussions.
Sweden is not spared from these practices. A recent wave of threatening letters, sent out on behalf of film distributors including those behind the zombie movie Cell, targets thousands of local Internet users.
The campaign is coordinated by Danish law firm Njord Law. The company accuses people of downloading the movie without permission and demands a settlement, as is common with these copyright troll schemes.
The scope of the latest campaign is enormous as 20,000 new IP-addresses were collected. Swedish courts can order ISPs to uncover the identities of thousands of IP addresses, in a single batch. That’s quite a lot compared to the US, where the same filmmakers can target only a dozen Internet accounts at a time.
While recipients of these letters can be easily scared by the legal language and proposed 4,500 SEK [$550] settlement, not all experts are impressed.
Sanna Wolk, Intellectual Property Professor at Uppsala University, recommends people to ignore the letters entirely.
“Do not pay. You do not even have to answer it. In the end, it’s the court that will decide whether you have to pay or not. We have seen this type of letter in the past, and only very few times those in charge of the claims have taken it to court,” Wolk tells Ny Teknik.
However, if the case does indeed move beyond a threat and goes to court then it’s important for the accused to contest the claim.
Njord Law says that it will follow up on their ‘promise’ and take people to court if they ignore their settlement requests.
Whether they have the resources to sue thousands of people is questionable though. Similarly, it remains to be seen how good an IP-address is as evidence, since it doesn’t identify a single person, just a connection.
The law firm also highlights that subscribers can be held liable even if someone else used their connection to download the film. However, professor Wolk stresses that this isn’t necessarily true.
“Someone who has an open network cannot be held responsible for copyright violations – such as downloading movies – if they provide others with access to their internet connection. This has been decided in a European Court ruling last year,” she states.
The Copyright Professor refers to the McFadden vs Sony Music ruling where the EU Court of Justice found that the operator of an open WiFi network can’t be held liable for infringements carried out by his users.
National courts have some leeway and could order someone to protect his or her WiFi connection, but this doesn’t mean that they are liable for past infringements.
It’s doubtful that Njord Law and their clients will change their tune. Not all people will read the professor’s comments and their scheme generally thrives on the easily threatened and uninformed. Still, most of the accused will probably sleep better after reading it.
In 2016, mass ‘copyright-trolling’ hit Sweden for the first time. An organization calling itself Spridningskollen (Distribution Check) claimed its new initiative would save the entertainment industries and educate the masses.
Following a huge backlash, however, the operation shut up shop and retreated, tail between its legs. But for those who expected the trolls to disappear altogether, bad news was just around the corner.
In February 2017, Danish law firm Njord Law was found to be at the helm of a new troll operation targeting the subscribers of several ISPs, including Telia, Tele2 and Bredbandsbolaget. Some 42-pages of court documents revealed that thousands of IP addresses had been harvested, potentially linking to thousands of subscribers.
After receiving permission from the courts to obtain the personal details of alleged pirates, things went a little quiet. However, according to local news outlet IDG, the floodgates have now been opened, with several thousand ISP subscribers receiving cash demands from Njord Law in recent weeks.
“We have sent out a few thousand letters, but we have been given the right to obtain information behind many more IP addresses that we are waiting to receive from the telecom operators. So there are more, ” lawyer Jeppe Brogaard Clausen told the publication.
Indeed, an indication of the scale of the operation can be found in the order obtained to target customers of ISP Telia. In that batch alone the court granted permission for Njord Law to obtain the identities behind 25,000 IP addresses.
Earlier this year, Clausen said that after identifying the subscribers he wanted to “enter into non-aggressive dialogue” with them. As we predicted, this apparently friendly introduction would simply lead to inevitable demands for cash.
“Have you, or other people with access to the aforementioned IP address, such as children living at home, viewed or tried to watch [a pirate movie] at the specified time?” Njord Law now writes in its letters to alleged pirates.
“If so, the case can be terminated by paying 4,500 SEK [$550].”
According to IDG, lots of movies are involved, both from local and international distributors. Earlier this year, CELL, IT, London Has Fallen, Mechanic: Resurrection, Criminal and September of Shiraz were named as possible titles.
The inclusion of these titles come as no surprise since several have turned up in similar trolling cases all over Europe and the United States. In common with schemes elsewhere, BitTorrent tracking was carried out by MaverickEye, a German-based company that is part of the notorious Guardaley trolling operation.
Like most ‘trolling’ cases, figures on how many people are paying up in Sweden are hard to come by. Clausen won’t say how many have parted with cash, but the lawyer says that 60% of the letters have elicited some kind of response. In previous similar projects in the UK, around a fifth of targets paid some sort of settlement, with no contested cases reaching the courts.
Njord Law insists, however, that those who don’t pay in Sweden may have to face the legal system.
“Yes, we will [go to court],” says Clausen. “We wish to resolve matters as much as possible through education and dialogue without the assistance of the court though. It is very expensive both for the rights holders and for plaintiffs if we go to court.”
While it’s impossible to predict how these cases will go, the usual tactic is to attack the low-hanging fruit first. People who admit some form of guilt can expect the most pressure while those who deny the allegations flat out (subscribers aren’t necessarily infringers) are likely to be placed in a file to be dealt with last, if at all.
The upcoming Firefox 57 release presents a challenge to distributors, who
have to decide when and how to ship a major update that will break a bunch
of older extensions. This
Fedora Magazine article describes the plan that Fedora has come up with
for this transition. “Users probably shouldn’t ‘hold back at FF56 as
my favorite extensions don’t work.’ Recall that security fixes only come
from new versions, and they’ll all be WebExtension only. The Extended
Support Release version will also switch to WebExtensions only at the next
release. This date, June 2018, marks the deadline for ESR users to migrate
After seizing several servers operated by popular private music tracker What.cd, last November French police went after a much bigger target.
Boasting millions of regular visitors, Zone-Telechargement (Zone-Download) was ranked the 11th most-visited website in the whole of the country. The site offered direct downloads of a wide variety of pirated content, including films, series, games, and music. Until the French Gendarmerie shut it down, that is.
After being founded in 2011 and enjoying huge growth following the 2012 raids against Megaupload, the Zone-Telechargement ‘brand’ was still popular with French users, despite the closure of the platform. It, therefore, came as no surprise that the site was quickly cloned by an unknown party and relaunched as Zone-Telechargement.ws.
The site has been doing extremely well following its makeover. To the annoyance of copyright holders, SimilarWeb reports the platform as France’s 37th most popular site with around 58 million visitors per month. That’s a huge achievement in less than 12 months.
Now, however, the site is receiving more unwanted attention. PCInpact says it has received information that several movie-focused organizations including the French National Film Center are requesting tough action against the site.
The National Federation of Film Distributors, the Video Publishing Union, the Association of Independent Producers and the Producers Union are all demanding the blocking of Zone-Telechargement by several local ISPs, alongside its delisting from search results.
The publication mentions four Internet service providers – Free, Numericable, Bouygues Telecom, and Orange – plus Google on the search engine front. At this stage, other search companies, such as Microsoft’s Bing, are not reported as part of the action.
In addition to Zone-Telechargement, several other ‘pirate’ sites (Papystreaming.org, Sokrostream.cc and Zonetelechargement.su, another site playing on the popular brand) are included in the legal process. All are described as “structurally infringing” by the complaining movie outfits, PCInpact notes.
The legal proceedings against the sites are based in Article 336-2 of the Intellectual Property Code. It’s ground already trodden by movie companies who following a 2011 complaint, achieved victory in 2013 against several Allostreaming-linked sites.
In that case, the High Court of Paris ordered ISPs, several of which appear in the current action, to “implement all appropriate means including blocking” to prevent access to the infringing sites.
The Court also ordered Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo to “take all necessary measures to prevent the occurrence on their services of any results referring to any of the sites” on their platforms.
Also of interest is that the action targets a service called DL-Protecte.com, which according to local anti-piracy agency HADOPI, makes it difficult for rightsholders to locate infringing content while at the same time generates more revenue for pirate sites.
In January 2016, a BitTorrent enthusiast decided to launch a stand-alone tracker, purely for fun.
The Zer0day platform, which hosts no torrents, is a tracker in the purest sense, directing traffic between peers, no matter what content is involved and no matter where people are in the world.
With this type of tracker in short supply, it was soon utilized by The Pirate Bay and the now-defunct ExtraTorrent. By August 2016, it was tracking almost four million peers and a million torrents, a considerable contribution to the BitTorrent ecosystem.
After handling many ups and downs associated with a service of this type, the tracker eventually made it to the end of 2016 intact. This year it grew further still and by the end of September was tracking an impressive 5.5 million peers spread over 1.2 million torrents. Soon after, however, the tracker disappeared from the Internet without warning.
In an effort to find out what had happened, TorrentFreak contacted Zer0day’s operator who told us a familiar story. Without any warning at all, the site’s host pulled the plug on the service, despite having been paid 180 euros for hosting just a week earlier.
“We’re hereby informing you of the termination of your dedicated server due to a breach of our terms of service,” the host informed Zer0day.
“Hosting trackers on our servers that distribute infringing and copyrighted content is prohibited. This server was found to distribute such content. Should we identify additional similar activity in your services, we will be forced to close your account.”
While hosts tend not to worry too much about what their customers are doing, this one had just received a particularly lengthy complaint. Sent by the head of anti-piracy at French collecting society SCPP, it laid out the group’s problems with the Zer0day tracker.
“SCPP has been responsible for the collective management and protection of sound recordings and music videos producers’ rights since 1985. SCPP counts more than 2,600 members including the majority of independent French producers, in addition to independent European producers, and the major international companies: Sony, Universal and Warner,” the complaints reads.
“SCPP administers a catalog of 7,200,000 sound tracks and 77,000 music videos. SCPP is empowered by its members to take legal action in order to put an end to any infringements of the producers’ rights set out in Article L335-4 of the French Intellectual Property Code…..punishable by a three-year prison sentence or a fine of €300,000.”
Noting that it works on behalf of a number of labels and distributors including BMG, Sony Music, Universal Music, Warner Music and others, SCPP listed countless dozens of albums under its protection, each allegedly tracked by the Zer0day platform.
“It has come to our attention that these music albums are illegally being communicated to the public (made available for download) by various users of the BitTorrent-Network,” the complaint reads.
Noting that Zer0day is involved in the process, the anti-piracy outfit presented dozens of hash codes relating to protected works, demanding that the site stop facilitation of infringement on each and every one of them.
“We have proof that your tracker udp://tracker.zer0day.to:1337/announce provided peers of the BitTorrent-Network with information regarding these torrents, to be specific IP Addresses of peers that were offering without authorization the full albums for download, and that this information enabled peers to download files that contain the sound recordings to which our members producers have the exclusive rights.
“These sound recordings are thus being illegally communicated to the public, and your tracker is enabling the seeders to do so.”
Rather than take the hashes down from the tracker, SCPP actually demanded that Zer0day create a permanent blacklist within 24 hours, to ensure the corresponding torrents wouldn’t be tracked again.
“You should understand that this letter constitutes a notice to you that you may be liable for the infringing activity occurring on your service. In addition, if you ignore this notice, you may also be liable for any resulting infringement,” the complaint added.
But despite all the threats, SCPP didn’t receive the response they’d demanded since the operator of the site refused to take any action.
“Obviously, ‘info hashes’ are not copyrightable nor point to specific copyrighted content, or even have any meaning. Further, I cannot verify that request strings parameters (‘info hashes’) you sent me contain copyrighted material,” he told SCPP.
“Like the website says; for content removal kindly ask the indexing site to remove the listing and the .torrent file. Also, tracker software does not have an option to block request strings parameters (‘info hashes’).”
The net effect of non-compliance with SCPP was fairly dramatic and swift. Zer0day’s host took down the whole tracker instead and currently it remains offline. Whether it reappears depends on the site’s operator finding a suitable web host, but at the moment he says he has no idea where one will appear from.
“Currently I’m searching for some virtual private server as a temporary home for the tracker,” he concludes.
As mentioned in an earlier article detailing the problems sites like Zer0day.to face, trackers aren’t absolutely essential for the functioning of BitTorrent transfers. Nevertheless, their existence certainly improves matters for file-sharers so when they go down, millions can be affected.
Responding to a request from the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR), the MPAA has submitted an updated list of “notorious markets” that it says promote the illegal distribution of movies and TV-shows.
These annual submissions help to guide the U.S. Government’s position towards foreign countries when it comes to copyright enforcement.
What stands out in the MPAA’s latest overview is that it no longer includes offline markets, only sites and services that are available on the Internet. This suggests that online copyright infringement is seen as a priority.
The MPAA’s report includes more than two dozen alleged pirate sites in various categories. While this is not an exhaustive list, the movie industry specifically highlights some of the worst offenders in various categories.
“Content thieves take advantage of a wide constellation of easy-to-use online technologies, such as direct download and streaming, to create infringing sites and applications, often with the look and feel of legitimate content distributors, luring unsuspecting consumers into piracy,” the MPAA writes.
According to the MPAA, torrent sites remain popular, serving millions of torrents to tens of millions of users at any given time.
The Pirate Bay has traditionally been one of the main targets. Based on data from Alexa and SimilarWeb, the MPAA says that TPB has about 62 million unique visitors per month. The other torrent sites mentioned are 1337x.to, Rarbg.to, Rutracker.org, and Torrentz2.eu.
MPAA calls out torrent sites
The second highlighted category covers various linking and streaming sites. This includes the likes of Fmovies.is, Gostream.is, Primewire.ag, Kinogo.club, MeWatchSeries.to, Movie4k.tv and Repelis.tv.
Direct download sites and video hosting services also get a mention. Nowvideo.sx, Openload.co, Rapidgator.net, Uploaded.net and the Russian social network VK.com. Many of these services refuse to properly process takedown notices, the MPAA claims.
The last category is new and centers around piracy apps. These sites offer mobile applications that allow users to stream pirated content, such as IpPlayBox.tv, MoreTV, 3DBoBoVR, TVBrowser, and KuaiKa, which are particularly popular in Asia.
Aside from listing specific sites, the MPAA also draws the US Government’s attention to the streaming box problem. The report specifically mentions that Kodi-powered boxes are regularly abused for infringing purposes.
“An emerging global threat is streaming piracy which is enabled by piracy devices preloaded with software to illicitly stream movies and television programming and a burgeoning ecosystem of infringing add-ons,” the MPAA notes.
“The most popular software is an open source media player software, Kodi. Although Kodi is not itself unlawful, and does not host or link to unlicensed content, it can be easily configured to direct consumers toward unlicensed films and television shows.”
Pirate streaming boxes
There are more than 750 websites offering infringing devices, the Hollywood group notes, adding that the rapid growth of this problem is startling. Interestingly, the report mentions TVAddons.ag as a “piracy add-on repository,” noting that it’s currently offline. Whether the new TVAddons is also seen a problematic is unclear.
The MPAA also continues its trend of calling out third-party intermediaries, including hosting providers. These companies refuse to take pirate sites offline following complaints, even when the MPAA views them as blatantly violating the law.
“Hosting companies provide the essential infrastructure required to operate a website,” the MPAA writes. “Given the central role of hosting providers in the online ecosystem, it is very concerning that many refuse to take action upon being notified…”
The Hollywood group specifically mentions Private Layer and Netbrella as notorious markets. CDN provider CloudFlare is also named. As a US-based company, the latter can’t be included in the list. However, the MPAA explains that it is often used as an anonymization tool by sites and services that are mentioned in the report.
Another group of intermediaries that play a role in fueling piracy (mentioned for the first time) are advertising networks. The MPAA specifically calls out the Canadian company WWWPromoter, which works with sites such as Primewire.ag, Projectfreetv.at and 123movies.to
“The companies connecting advertisers to infringing websites and inadvertently contribute to the prevalence and prosperity of infringing sites by providing funding to the operators of these sites through advertising revenue,” the MPAA writes.
The MPAA’s full report is available here (pdf). The USTR will use this input above to make up its own list of notorious markets. This will help to identify current threats and call on foreign governments to take appropriate action.
Article 23 of Iran’s Copyright law is quite clear. Anyone who publishes, distributes or broadcasts another person’s work without permission “shall be condemned to corrective imprisonment for a period of time not less than six months and not more than three years.”
That being said, not all content receives protection. Since there are no copyright agreements between Iran and the United States, for example, US content is pirated almost at will in the country. Even the government itself has run ‘warez’ servers in the past.
That makes the arrest late last month of six men tied to movie piracy site TinyMoviez all the more unusual. At first view (translated image below), the site looks just like any other streaming portal offering Hollywood movies.
Indeed, much of the content comes from abroad, augmented with local Farsi-language subtitles or audio voiceovers.
However, according to a source cited by the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), the site was targeted because rival pirate sites (which had been licensed to ‘pirate’ by the Iranian government) complained about its unlicensed status.
“In July and August , there was a meeting between a number of Iranian start-up companies and [current Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Javad Azari] Jahromi, who was asked by film and TV series distributors as well as video game developers to help shut down and monitor unlicensed rivals,” a film distributor in Tehran told CHRI.
“The start-ups made the request because they could not compete with a site like TinyMovies,” the source added. “After that meeting, Jahromi was nicknamed the ‘Start-Up Tsar’ because of his supportive comments. They were happy that he became the minister.”
That being said, the announcement from the authorities suggested broader issues, including that the site offered movies (none are singled out) that may be unacceptable by Iranian standards.
“Tehran’s prosecutor, after referral of the case to the Cyberspace corruption and prostitution department, said that the defendants in the case, of whom six were currently detained, produced vagabond and pornographic films and sold them in cyberspace,” Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi said in an announcement.
“This gang illegally operated the largest source for downloading Hollywood movies and over the past three years, has distributed 18,000 foreign films and series after dubbing, many of which were indecent and immoral, and thus facilitated by illegitimate funds.”
While the authorities say that TinyMoviez has been taken down, various URLs (including Tinyz.us, ironically) now divert to a new domain, Timoviez2.net. However, at least for the moment, download links seem to be disabled.
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