In this episode we meet Diani Barreto from the Berlin Bureau of ExposeFacs. Launched in June 2014, ExposeFacts.org supports and encourages whistleblowers to disclose information that citizens need to make truly informed decisions in a democracy.
ExposeFacts aims to shed light on concealed activities that are relevant to human rights, corporate malfeasance, the environment, civil liberties and war.
Steal This Show aims to release bi-weekly episodes featuring insiders discussing copyright and file-sharing news. It complements our regular reporting by adding more room for opinion, commentary, and analysis.
The guests for our news discussions will vary, and we’ll aim to introduce voices from different backgrounds and persuasions. In addition to news, STS will also produce features interviewing some of the great innovators and minds.
As part of what is now clearly a crackdown on Great Firewall-evading tools and services, during the summer Chinese government pressure reached technology giant Apple.
On or around July 29, Apple removed many of the most-used VPN applications from its Chinese app store. In a short email from the company, VPN providers were informed that VPN applications are considered illegal in China.
“We are writing to notify you that your application will be removed from the China App Store because it includes content that is illegal in China, which is not in compliance with the App Store Review Guidelines,” Apple informed the affected VPNs.
Apple’s email to VPN providers
Now, in a letter sent to Apple CEO Tim Cook, US senators Ted Cruz and Patrick Leahy express concern at the move by Apple, noting that if reports of the software removals are true, the company could be assisting China’s restrictive approach to the Internet.
“VPNs allow users to access the uncensored Internet in China and other countries that restrict Internet freedom. If these reports are true, we are concerned that Apple may be enabling the Chines government’s censorship and surveillance of the Internet.”
Describing China as a country with “an abysmal human rights record, including with respect to the rights of free expression and free access to information, both online and offline”, the senators cite Reporters Without Borders who previously labeled the country as “the enemy of the Internet”.
While senators Cruz and Leahy go on to praise Apple for its contribution to the spread of information, they criticize the company for going along with the wishes of the Chinese government as it seeks to suppress knowledge and communication.
“While Apple’s many contributions to the global exchange of information are admirable, removing VPN apps that allow individuals in China to evade the Great Firewall and access the Internet privately does not enable people in China to ‘speak up’,” the senators write.
“To the contrary, if Apple complies with such demands from the Chinese government it inhibits free expression for users across China, particularly in light of the Cyberspace Administration of China’s new regulations targeting online anonymity.”
In January, a notice published by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said that the government had indeed launched a 14-month campaign to crack down on local ‘unauthorized’ Internet platforms.
This means that all VPN services have to be pre-approved by the Government if they want to operate in China. And the aggression against VPNs and their providers didn’t stop there.
In September, a Chinese man who sold Great Firewall-evading VPN software via a website was sentenced to nine months in prison by a Chinese court. Just weeks later, a software developer who set up a VPN for his own use but later sold access to the service was arrested and detained for three days.
This emerging pattern is clearly a concern for the senators who are now demanding that Tim Cook responds to ten questions (pdf), including whether Apple raised concerns about China’s VPN removal demands and details of how many apps were removed from its store. The senators also want to see copies of any pro-free speech statements Apple has made in China.
Whether the letter will make any difference on the ground in China remains to be seen, but the public involvement of the senators and technology giant Apple is certain to thrust censorship and privacy further into the public eye.
A few weeks ago, Epic Games released Fortnite’s free-to-play “Battle Royale” game mode for the PC and other platforms, generating massive interest among gamers.
The release also attracted attention from thousands of cheaters, many of whom were subsequently banned. In addition, Epic Games went a step further by taking several cheaters to court over copyright infringement.
This week the North Carolina-based game developer continued its a war against cheaters. In a new lawsuit, it targets two other cheaters who promoted their hacks through YouTube videos.
One of the defendants is a Swedish resident, Mr. Josefson. He created a cheat and promoted it in various videos, adding instructions on how to download and install it. In common with the previous defendants, he is being sued for copyright infringement.
The second cheater listed in the complaint, a Russian man named Mr. Yakovenko, is more unique. This man also promoted his Fortnite cheats through a series of YouTube videos, but they weren’t very effective.
When Epic downloaded the ‘cheat’ to see how it works, all they got was a Bitcoin miner.
“Epic downloaded the purported cheat from the links provided in Yakovenko’s YouTube videos. While the ‘cheat’ does not appear to be a functional Fortnite cheat, it functions as a bitcoin miner that infects the user’s computer with a virus that causes the user’s computer to mine bitcoin for the benefit of an unknown third party,” the complaint reads.
Despite the non-working cheat, Epic Games maintains that Yakovenko created a cheat for Fortnite’s Battle Royale game mode, pointing to a YouTube video he posted last month.
“The First Yakovenko video and associated post contained instructions on how to download and install the cheat and showed full screen gameplay using the purported cheat,” the complaint reads.
All the videos have since been removed following takedown notices from Epic. Through the lawsuit, the game developer now hopes to get compensation for the damages it suffered.
In addition to the copyright infringement claims the two men are also accused of trademark infringement, unfair competition, and breach of contract.
There’s little doubt that Epic Games is doing its best to hold cheaters accountable. However, the problem is not easy to contain. A simple search for Fortnite Hack or Fortnite Cheat still yields tens of thousands of results, with new videos being added continuously.
A copy of the full complaint against Josefson and Yakovenko is available here (pdf).
All around the world, content creators and rightsholders continue to protest against the unauthorized online distribution of copyrighted content.
While pirating end-users obviously share some of the burden, the main emphasis has traditionally been placed on the shuttering of illicit sites, whether torrent, streaming, or hosting based.
Over time, however, sites have become more prevalent and increasingly resilient, leaving the music, movie and publishing industries to play a frustrating game of whac-a-mole. With this in mind, their focus has increasingly shifted towards Internet gatekeepers, including ISPs and bodies with influence over domain availability.
As a result, there’s nearly always a disconnect, with copyright holders on one side and Internet technology companies worried about mission creep on the other. In Denmark, however, those lines have just been blurred in the most intriguing way possible after an infamous anti-piracy outfit joined an organization with significant control over the Internet in the country.
RettighedsAlliancen (or Rights Alliance as it’s more commonly known) is an anti-piracy group which counts some of the most powerful local and international movie companies among its members. It also operates on behalf of IFPI and by extension, most of the world’s major recording labels.
The group has been involved in dozens of legal processes over the years against file-sharers and file-sharing sites, most recently fighting for and winning ISP blockades against most major pirate portals including The Pirate Bay, RARBG, Torrentz, and many more.
In a somewhat surprising new announcement, the group has revealed it’s become the latest member of DIFO, the Danish Internet Forum (DIFO) which “works for a secure and accessible Internet” under the top-level .DK domain. Indeed, DIFO has overall responsibility for Danish internet infrastructure.
“For DIFO it is important to have a strong link to the Danish internet community. Therefore, we are very pleased that the Alliance wishes to be part of the association,” DIFO said in a statement.
Rights Alliance will be DIFO’s third new member this year but uniquely it will get the opportunity to represent the interests of more than 100,000 Danish and international rightholders from inside an influential Internet-focused organization.
Looking at DIFO’s membership, Rights Alliance certainly stands out as unusual. The majority of the members are made up of IT-based organizations, such as the Internet Industry Association, The Association of Open Source Suppliers and DKRegistrar, the industry association for Danish domain registrars.
A meeting around a table with these players and their often conflicting interests is likely to be an experience for all involved. However, all parties seem more than happy with the new partnership.
“We want to help create a more secure internet for companies that invest in doing business online, and for users to be safe, so combating digital crime is a key and shared goal,” says Rights Alliance chief, Maria Fredenslund. “I am therefore looking forward to the future cooperation with DIFO.”
Only time will tell how this partnership will play out but if common ground can be found, it’s certainly possible that the anti-piracy scene in Denmark could step up a couple of gears in the future.
Copyright holders continue to flood Google with DMCA takedown requests, asking the company to remove “pirate links” from its search results.
In recent years the number of reported URLs has exploded, surging to unprecedented heights.
Since Google first started to report the volume of takedown requests in its Transparency Report, the company has been asked to remove more than three billion allegedly infringing search results.
The frequency at which these URLs are reported has increased over the years and at the moment roughly three million ‘pirate’ URLs are submitted per day.
The URLs are sent in by major rightsholders including members of the BPI, RIAA, and various major Hollywood studios. They target a wide variety of sites, over 1.3 million, but a few dozen ‘repeat offenders’ are causing the most trouble.
File-hosting service 4shared.com currently tops the list of most-targeted domains with 66 million URLs, followed by the now-defunct MP3 download site MP3toys.xyz and Rapidgator.net, with 51 and 28 million URLs respectively.
3 billion URLs
Interestingly, the high volume of takedown notices is used as an argument for and against the DMCA process.
While Google believes that the millions of reported URLs per day are a sign that the DMCA takedown process is working correctly, rightsholders believe the volumes are indicative of an unbeatable game of whack-a-mole.
According to some copyright holders, the takedown efforts do little to seriously combat piracy. Various industry groups have therefore asked governments and lawmakers for broad revisions.
Among other things they want advanced technologies and processes to ensure that infringing content doesn’t reappear elsewhere once it’s removed, a so-called “notice and stay down” approach. In addition, Google has often been asked to demote pirate links in search results.
UK music industry group BPI, who are responsible for more than 10% of all the takedown requests on Google, sees the new milestone as an indicator of how much effort its anti-piracy activities take.
“This 3 billion figure shows how hard the creative sector has to work to police its content online and how much time and resource this takes. The BPI is the world’s largest remover of illegal music links from Google, one third of which are on behalf of independent record labels,” Geoff Taylor, BPI’s Chief Executive, informs TF.
However, there is also some progress to report. Earlier this year BPI announced a voluntary partnership with Google and Bing to demote pirate content faster and more effectively for US visitors.
“We now have a voluntary code of practice in place in the UK, facilitated by Government, that requires Google and Bing to work together with the BPI and other creator organizations to develop lasting solutions to the problem of illegal sites gaining popularity in search listings,” Taylor notes.
According to BPI, both Google and Bing have shown that changes to their algorithms can be effective in demoting the worst pirate sites from the top search results and they hope others will follow suit.
“Other intermediaries should follow this lead and take more responsibility to work with creators to reduce the proliferation of illegal links and disrupt the ability of illegal sites to capture consumers and build black market businesses that take money away from creators.”
Agreement or not, there are still plenty of pirate links in search results, so the BPI is still sending out millions of takedown requests per month.
We asked Google for a comment on the new milestone but at the time of writing, we have yet to hear back. In any event, the issue is bound to remain a hot topic during the months and years to come.
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.
Traditionally there have only been a handful of well-known industry groups fighting online piracy, but this appears to be changing.
Increasingly, major entertainment industry companies are teaming up in various regions to bundle their enforcement efforts against copyright infringement.
Earlier this year the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE) was formed by major players including Disney, HBO, and NBCUniversal, and several of the same media giants are also involved in the newly founded Coalition Against Piracy (CAP).
CAP will coordinate anti-piracy efforts in Asia and is backed by CASBAA, Disney, Fox, HBO Asia, NBCUniversal, Premier League, Turner Asia-Pacific, A&E Networks, Astro, BBC Worldwide, National Basketball Association, TV5MONDE, Viacom International, and others.
The coalition has hired Neil Gane as its general manager. Gane is no stranger to anti-piracy work, as he previously served as the MPAA’s regional director in Australasia and was chief of the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft.
The goal of CAP will be to assist in local enforcement actions against piracy, including the disruption and dismantling of local businesses that facilitate it. Pirate streaming boxes and apps will be among the main targets.
These boxes, which often use the legal Kodi player paired with infringing add-ons, are referred to as illicit streaming devices (ISDs) by industry insiders. They have grown in popularity all around the world and Asia is no exception.
“The prevalence of ISDs across Asia is staggering. The criminals who operate the ISD networks and the pirate websites are profiting from the hard work of talented creators, seriously damaging the legitimate content ecosystem as well as exposing consumers to dangerous malware”, Gane said, quoted by Indian Television.
Gane knows the region well and started his career working for the Hong Kong Police. He sees the pirate streaming box ecosystem as a criminal network which presents a major threat to the entertainment industries.
“This is a highly organized transnational crime with criminal syndicates profiting enormously at the expense of consumers as well as content creators,” Gane noted.
The Asian creative industry is a major growth market as more and more legal content is made available. However, the growth of these legal services is threatened by pirate boxes and apps. The Coalition Against Piracy hopes to curb this.
The launch of CAP, which will be formalized at the upcoming CASBAA anti-piracy convention in November, confirms the trend of localized anti-piracy coalitions which are backed by major industry players. We can expect to hear more from these during the years to come.
Last September, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced plans to modernize copyright law in Europe.
The proposals (pdf) are part of the Digital Single Market reforms, which have been under development for the past several years.
One of the proposals is causing significant concern. Article 13 would require some online service providers to become ‘Internet police’, proactively detecting and filtering allegedly infringing copyright works, uploaded to their platforms by users.
Currently, users are generally able to share whatever they like but should a copyright holder take exception to their upload, mechanisms are available for that content to be taken down. It’s envisioned that proactive filtering, whereby user uploads are routinely scanned and compared to a database of existing protected content, will prevent content becoming available in the first place.
These proposals are of great concern to digital rights groups, who believe that such filters will not only undermine users’ rights but will also place unfair burdens on Internet platforms, many of which will struggle to fund such a program. Yesterday, in the latest wave of opposition to Article 13, a huge coalition of international rights groups came together to underline their concerns.
In an open letter to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani, President of the European Council Donald Tusk and a string of others, the groups warn that the proposals undermine the trust established between EU member states.
“Fundamental rights, justice and the rule of law are intrinsically linked and constitute
core values on which the EU is founded,” the letter begins.
“Any attempt to disregard these values undermines the mutual trust between member states required for the EU to function. Any such attempt would also undermine the commitments made by the European Union and national governments to their citizens.”
Those citizens, the letter warns, would have their basic rights undermined, should the new proposals be written into EU law.
“Article 13 of the proposal on Copyright in the Digital Single Market include obligations on internet companies that would be impossible to respect without the imposition of excessive restrictions on citizens’ fundamental rights,” it notes.
A major concern is that by placing new obligations on Internet service providers that allow users to upload content – think YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – they will be forced to err on the side of caution. Should there be any concern whatsoever that content might be infringing, fair use considerations and exceptions will be abandoned in favor of staying on the right side of the law.
“Article 13 appears to provoke such legal uncertainty that online services will have no other option than to monitor, filter and block EU citizens’ communications if they are to have any chance of staying in business,” the letter warns.
But while the potential problems for service providers and users are numerous, the groups warn that Article 13 could also be illegal since it contradicts case law of the Court of Justice.
According to the E-Commerce Directive, platforms are already required to remove infringing content, once they have been advised it exists. The new proposal, should it go ahead, would force the monitoring of uploads, something which goes against the ‘no general obligation to monitor‘ rules present in the Directive.
“The requirement to install a system for filtering electronic communications has twice been rejected by the Court of Justice, in the cases Scarlet Extended (C70/10) and Netlog/Sabam (C 360/10),” the rights groups warn.
“Therefore, a legislative provision that requires internet companies to install a filtering system would almost certainly be rejected by the Court of Justice because it would contravene the requirement that a fair balance be struck between the right to intellectual property on the one hand, and the freedom to conduct business and the right to freedom of expression, such as to receive or impart information, on the other.”
Specifically, the groups note that the proactive filtering of content would violate freedom of expression set out in Article 11 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. That being the case, the groups expect national courts to disapply it and the rule to be annulled by the Court of Justice.
The latest protests against Article 13 come in the wake of large-scale objections earlier in the year, voicing similar concerns. However, despite the groups’ fears, they have powerful adversaries, each determined to stop the flood of copyrighted content currently being uploaded to the Internet.
Front and center in support of Article 13 is the music industry and its current hot-topic, the so-called Value Gap(1,2,3). The industry feels that platforms like YouTube are able to avoid paying expensive licensing fees (for music in particular) by exploiting the safe harbor protections of the DMCA and similar legislation.
They believe that proactively filtering uploads would significantly help to diminish this problem, which may very well be the case. But at what cost to the general public and the platforms they rely upon? Citizens and scholars feel that freedoms will be affected and it’s likely the outcry will continue.
The ball is now with the EU, whose members will soon have to make what could be the most important decision in recent copyright history. The rights groups, who are urging for Article 13 to be deleted, are clear where they stand.
Earlier this year, a group of well-known labels targeted Spinrilla, a popular hip-hop mixtape site and app which serves millions of users.
The coalition of record labels, including Sony Music, Warner Bros. Records, and Universal Music Group, filed a lawsuit against the service over alleged copyright infringements.
While the discovery process is still ongoing, Spinrilla recently informed the court that the record labels have “just about derailed” the entire case. The company has submitted a motion for sanctions, which is currently sealed, but additional information submitted to the court this week reveals what’s going on.
When the labels filed their original complaint they listed 210 tracks, without providing the allegedly infringing URLs. These weren’t shared during the early stages of the discovery process either, forcing the site to manually search for potentially infringing links.
Then, early October, Spinrilla received a massive spreadsheet with over 2,000 tracks, including the infringing URLs. This data came from the RIAA and supported the long list of infringements in the amended complaint submitted around the same time.
The spreadsheet would have made the discovery process much easier for Spinrilla. In a supplemental brief supporting a motion for sanctions, Spinrilla accuses the labels of hiding the piracy data from them and lying about it, “derailing” the case in the process.
“Significantly, Plaintiffs used that lie to convince the Court they should be allowed to add about 1,900 allegedly infringed sound recordings to their original list of 210. Later, Plaintiffs repeated that lie to convince the Court to give them time to add even more sound recordings to their list.”
Spinrilla says they were forced to go down an expensive and unnecessary rabbit hole to find the infringing files, even though the RIAA data was available all along.
“By hiding and lying about the RIAA data, Plaintiffs forced Defendants to spend precious time and money fumbling through discovery. Not knowing that Plaintiffs had the RIAA data,” the company writes.
The hip-hop mixtape site argues that the alleged wrongdoing is severe enough to have the entire complaint dismissed, as the ultimate sanction.
“It is without exaggeration to say that by hiding the RIAA spreadsheets and that underlying data, Defendants have been severely prejudiced. The Complaint should be dismissed with prejudice and, if it is, Plaintiffs can only blame themselves,” Spinrilla concludes.
The stakes are certainly high in this case. With well over 2,000 infringing tracks listed in the amended complaint, the hip-hop mixtape site faces statutory damages as high as $300 million, at least in theory.
Spinrilla’s supplement brief in further support of the motion for sanctions is available here (pdf).
Early October, Ryan S. Lin, 24, of Newton, Massachusetts, was arrested on suspicion of conducting “an extensive cyberstalking campaign” against a 24-year-old Massachusetts woman, as well as her family members and friends.
The Department of Justice described Lin’s offenses as a “multi-faceted” computer hacking and cyberstalking campaign. Launched in April 2016 when he began hacking into the victim’s online accounts, Lin allegedly obtained personal photographs and sensitive information about her medical and sexual histories and distributed that information to hundreds of other people.
Details of what information the FBI compiled on Lin can be found in our earlier report but aside from his alleged crimes (which are both significant and repugnant), it was PureVPN’s involvement in the case that caused the most controversy.
In a report compiled by an FBI special agent, it was revealed that the Hong Kong-based company’s logs helped the authorities net the alleged criminal.
“Significantly, PureVPN was able to determine that their service was accessed by the same customer from two originating IP addresses: the RCN IP address from the home Lin was living in at the time, and the software company where Lin was employed at the time,” the agent’s affidavit reads.
Among many in the privacy community, this revelation was met with disappointment. On the PureVPN website the company claims to carry no logs and on a general basis, it’s expected that so-called “no-logging” VPN providers should provide people with some anonymity, at least as far as their service goes. Now, several days after the furor, the company has responded to its critics.
In a fairly lengthy statement, the company begins by confirming that it definitely doesn’t log what websites a user views or what content he or she downloads.
However, that’s only half the problem. While it doesn’t log user activity (what sites people visit or content they download), it does log the IP addresses that customers use to access the PureVPN service. These, given the right circumstances, can be matched to external activities thanks to logs carried by other web companies.
PureVPN talks about logs held by Google’s Gmail service to illustrate its point.
“A network log is automatically generated every time a user visits a website. For the sake of this example, let’s say a user logged into their Gmail account. Every time they accessed Gmail, the email provider created a network log,” the company explains.
“If you are using a VPN, Gmail’s network log would contain the IP provided by PureVPN. This is one half of the picture. Now, if someone asks Google who accessed the user’s account, Google would state that whoever was using this IP, accessed the account.
“If the user was connected to PureVPN, it would be a PureVPN IP. The inquirer [in the Lin case, the FBI] would then share timestamps and network logs acquired from Google and ask them to be compared with the network logs maintained by the VPN provider.”
Now, if PureVPN carried no logs – literally no logs – it would not be able to help with this kind of inquiry. That was the case last year when the FBI approached Private Internet Access for information and the company was unable to assist.
However, as is made pretty clear by PureVPN’s explanation, the company does log user IP addresses and timestamps which reveal when a user was logged on to the service. It doesn’t matter that PureVPN doesn’t log what the user allegedly did online, since the third-party service already knows that information to the precise second.
Following the example, GMail knows that a user sent an email at 10:22am on Monday October 16 from a PureVPN IP address. So, if PureVPN is approached by the FBI, the company can confirm that User X was using the same IP address at exactly the same time, and his home IP address was XXX.XX.XXX.XX. Effectively, the combined logs link one IP address to the other and the user is revealed. It’s that simple.
It is for this reason that in TorrentFreak’s annual summary of no-logging VPN providers, the very first question we ask every single company reads as follows:
Do you keep ANY logs which would allow you to match an IP-address and a time stamp to a user/users of your service? If so, what information do you hold and for how long?
Clearly, if a company says “yes we log incoming IP addresses and associated timestamps”, any claim to total user anonymity is ended right there and then.
While not completely useless (a logging service will still stop the prying eyes of ISPs and similar surveillance, while also defeating throttling and site-blocking), if you’re a whistle-blower with a job or even your life to protect, this level of protection is entirely inadequate.
The take-home points from this controversy are numerous, but perhaps the most important is for people to read and understand VPN provider logging policies.
Secondly, and just as importantly, VPN providers need to be extremely clear about the information they log. Not tracking browsing or downloading activities is all well and good, but if home IP addresses and timestamps are stored, this needs to be made clear to the customer.
Finally, VPN users should not be evil. There are plenty of good reasons to stay anonymous online but cyberstalking, death threats and ruining people’s lives are not included. Fortunately, the FBI have offline methods for catching this type of offender, and long may that continue.
When The Pirate Bay first came online during the summer of 2003, its main point of access was thepiratebay.org.
Since then the site has burnt through more than a dozen domains, trying to evade seizures or other legal threats.
For many years thepiratebay.se operated as the site’s main domain name. Earlier this year the site moved back to the good old .org again, and from the looks of it, TPB is ready to say farewell to the Swedish domain.
Thepiratebay.se expired last week and, if nothing happens, it will be de-activated tomorrow. This means that the site might lose control over a piece of its history.
The torrent site moved from the ORG to the SE domain in 2012, fearing that US authorities would seize the former. Around that time the Department of Homeland Security took hundreds of sites offline and the Pirate Bay team feared that they would be next.
Thepiratebay.se has expired
Ironically, however, the next big threat came from Sweden, the Scandinavian country where the site once started.
In 2013, a local anti-piracy group filed a motion targeting two of The Pirate Bay’s domains, ThePirateBay.se and PirateBay.se. This case that has been dragging on for years now.
During this time TPB moved back and forth between domains but the .se domain turned out to be a safer haven than most alternatives, despite the legal issues. Many other domains were simply seized or suspended without prior notice.
Although a Supreme Court appeal is still pending, according to a report from IDG earlier this year the court has placed a lock on the domain. This prevents the owner from changing or transferring it, which may explain why it has expired.
The lock is relevant, as the domain not only expired but has also been put of for sale again in the SEDO marketplace, with a minimum bid of $90. This sale would be impossible, if the domain is locked.
Thepiratebay.se for sale
Perhaps the most ironic of all is the fact that TPB moved to .se because it feared that the US controlled .org domain was easy prey.
Fast forward half a decade and over a dozen domains have come and gone while thepiratebay.org still stands strong, despite entertainment industry pressure.
Update: We updated the article to mention that the domain name is locked by the Swedish Supreme Court. This means that it can’t be updated and would explain why it has expired.
War for the Planet of the Apes is the most downloaded movie.
The data for our weekly download chart is estimated by TorrentFreak, and is for informational and educational reference only. All the movies in the list are Web-DL/Webrip/HDRip/BDrip/DVDrip unless stated otherwise.
There is little doubt that, in the United States and many other countries, Netflix has become the standard for watching movies on the Internet.
Despite the widespread availability, however, Netflix originals are widely pirated. Episodes from House of Cards, Narcos, and Orange is the New Black are downloaded and streamed millions of times through unauthorized platforms.
The streaming giant is obviously not happy with this situation and has ramped up its anti-piracy efforts in recent years. Since last year the company has sent out over a million takedown requests to Google alone and this volume continues to expand.
This growth coincides with an expansion of the company’s internal anti-piracy division. A new job posting shows that Netflix is expanding this team with a Copyright and Content Protection Coordinator. The ultimate goal is to reduce piracy to a fringe activity.
“The growing Global Copyright & Content Protection Group is looking to expand its team with the addition of a coordinator,” the job listing reads.
“He or she will be tasked with supporting the Netflix Global Copyright & Content Protection Group in its internal tactical take down efforts with the goal of reducing online piracy to a socially unacceptable fringe activity.”
Among other things, the new coordinator will evaluate new technological solutions to tackle piracy online.
More old-fashioned takedown efforts are also part of the job. This includes monitoring well-known content platforms, search engines and social network sites for pirated content.
“Day to day scanning of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Periscope, Google Search, Bing Search, VK, DailyMotion and all other platforms (including live platforms) used for piracy,” is listed as one of the main responsibilities.
Netflix’ Copyright and Content Protection Coordinator Job
The coordinator is further tasked with managing Facebook’s Rights Manager and YouTube’s Content-ID system, to prevent circumvention of these piracy filters. Experience with fingerprinting technologies and other anti-piracy tools will be helpful in this regard.
Netflix doesn’t do all the copyright enforcement on its own though. The company works together with other media giants in the recently launched “Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment” that is spearheaded by the MPAA.
In addition, the company also uses the takedown services of external anti-piracy outfits to target more traditional infringement sources, such as cyberlockers and piracy streaming sites. The coordinator has to keep an eye on these as well.
“Liaise with our vendors on manual takedown requests on linking sites and hosting sites and gathering data on pirate streaming sites, cyberlockers and usenet platforms.”
The above shows that Netflix is doing its best to prevent piracy from getting out of hand. It’s definitely taking the issue more seriously than a few years ago when the company didn’t have much original content.
The switch from being merely a distribution platform to becoming a major content producer and copyright holder has changed the stakes. Netflix hasn’t won the war on piracy, it’s just getting started.
A prime example is the case it pursued against a seller of fully-loaded Kodi boxes in the Netherlands. The subsequent landmark ruling from the European Court of Justice will reverberate around Europe for years to come.
Behind the scenes, however, BREIN persistently tries to take much smaller operations offline, and not without success. Earlier this year it revealed it had taken down 231 illegal sites and services includes 84 linking sites, 63 streaming portals, and 34 torrent sites. Some of these shut down completely and others were forced to leave their hosting providers.
Much of this work flies under the radar but some current action, against an eBook site, is now being thrust into the public eye.
For more than five years, EBoek.info (eBook) has serviced Internet users looking to obtain comic books in Dutch. The site informs TorrentFreak it provides a legitimate service, targeted at people who have purchased a hard copy but also want their comics in digital format.
“EBoek.info is a site about comic books in the Dutch language. Besides some general information about the books, people who have legally obtained a hard copy of the books can find a link to an NZB file which enables them to download a digital version of the books they already have,” site representative ‘Zala’ says.
For those out of the loop, NZB files are a bit like Usenet’s version of .torrent files. They contain no copyrighted content themselves but do provide software clients with information on where to find specific content, so it can be downloaded to a user’s machine.
“BREIN claims that this is illegal as it is impossible for us to verify if our visitor is telling the truth [about having purchased a copy],” Zala reveals.
Speaking with TorrentFreak, BREIN chief Tim Kuik says there’s no question that offering downloads like this is illegal.
“It is plain and simple: the site makes links to unauthorized digital copies available to the general public and therefore is infringing copyright. It is distribution of the content without authorization of the rights holder,” Kuik says.
“The unauthorized copies are not private copies. The private copy exception does not apply to this kind of distribution. The private copy has not been made by the owner of the book himself for his own use. Someone else made the digital copy and is making it available to anyone who wants to download it provided he makes the unverified claim that he has a legal copy. This harms the normal exploitation of the
Zala says that BREIN has been trying to take his site offline for many years but more recently, the platform has utilized the services of Cloudflare, partly as a form of shield. As readers may be aware, a site behind Cloudflare has its originating IP addresses hidden from the public, not to mention BREIN, who values that kind of information. According to the operator, however, BREIN managed to obtain the information from the CDN provider.
“BREIN has tried for years to take our site offline. Recently, however, Cloudflare was so friendly to give them our IP address,” Zala notes.
A text copy of an email reportedly sent by BREIN to EBoek’s web host and seen by TF appears to confirm that Cloudflare handed over the information as suggested. Among other things, the email has BREIN informing the host that “The IP we got back from Cloudflare is XXX.XXX.XX.33.”
This means that BREIN was able to place direct pressure on EBoek.info’s web host, so only time will tell if that bears any fruit for the anti-piracy group. In the meantime, however, EBoek has decided to go public over its battle with BREIN.
“We have received a request from Stichting BREIN via our hosting provider to take EBoek.info offline,” the site informed its users yesterday.
Interestingly, it also appears that BREIN doesn’t appreciate that the operators of EBoek have failed to make their identities publicly known on their platform.
“The site operates anonymously which also is unlawful. Consumer protection requires that the owner/operator of a site identifies himself,” Kuik says.
According to EBoek, the anti-piracy outfit told the site’s web host that as a “commercial online service”, EBoek is required under EU law to display its “correct and complete business information” including names, addresses, and other information. But perhaps unsurprisingly, the site doesn’t want to play ball.
“In my opinion, you are confusing us with Facebook. They are a foreign commercial company with a European branch in Ireland, and therefore are subject to Irish legislation,” Zala says in an open letter to BREIN.
“Eboek.info, on the other hand, is a foreign hobby club with no commercial purpose, whose administrators have no connection with any country in the European Union. As administrators, we follow the laws of our country of residence which do not oblige us to disclose our identity through our website.
“The fact that Eboek is visible in the Netherlands does not just mean that we are going to adapt to Dutch rules, just as we don’t adapt the site to the rules of Saudi Arabia or China or wherever we are available.”
In a further snub to the anti-piracy group, EBoek says that all visitors to the site have to communicate with its operators via its guestbook, which is publicly visible.
“We see no reason to make an exception for Stichting BREIN,” the site notes.
What makes the situation more complex is that EBoek isn’t refusing dialog completely. The site says it doesn’t want to talk to BREIN but will speak to BREIN’s customers – the publishers of the comic books in question – noting that to date no complaints from publishers have ever been received.
While the parties argue about lines of communication, BREIN insists that following this year’s European Court of Justice decision in the GS Media case, a link to a known infringing work represents copyright infringement. In this case, an NZB file – which links to a location on Usenet – would generally fit the bill.
But despite focusing on the Dutch market, the operators of EBoek say the ruling doesn’t apply to them as they’re outside of the ECJ’s jurisdiction and aren’t commercially motivated. Refusing point blank to take their site offline, EBoek’s operators say that BREIN can do its worst, nothing will have much effect.
“[W]hat’s the worst thing that can happen? That our web host hands [BREIN] our address and IP data. In that case, it will turn out that…we are actually far away,” Zala says.
“[In the case the site goes offline], we’ll just put a backup on another server and, in this case, won’t make use of the ‘services’ of Cloudflare, the provider that apparently put BREIN on the right track.”
The question of jurisdiction is indeed an interesting one, particularly given BREIN’s focus in the Netherlands. But Kuik is clear – it is the area where the content is made available that matters.
“The law of the country where the content is made available applies. In this case the EU and amongst others the Netherlands,” Kuik concludes.
Online streaming piracy is booming and many people use dedicated media players to bring this content to their regular TVs.
The bare hardware is not illegal and neither is media player software such as Kodi. When these devices are loaded with copyright-infringing addons, however, they turn into an unprecedented piracy threat.
It becomes even more problematic when the sellers of these devices market their products as pirate tools. This is exactly what TickBox TV does, according to Hollywood’s major movie studios, Netflix, and Amazon.
TickBox is a Georgia-based provider of set-top boxes that allow users to stream a variety of popular media. The company’s devices use the Kodi media player and come with instructions on how to add various add-ons.
In a complaint filed in a California federal court yesterday, Universal, Columbia Pictures, Disney, 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros, Amazon, and Netflix accuse Tickbox of inducing and contributing to copyright infringement.
“TickBox sells ‘TickBox TV,’ a computer hardware device that TickBox urges its customers to use as a tool for the mass infringement of Plaintiffs’ copyrighted motion pictures and television shows,” the complaint, picked up by THR, reads.
While the device itself does not host any infringing content, users are informed where they can find it.
The movie and TV studios stress that Tickbox’s marketing highlights its infringing uses with statements such as “if you’re tired of wasting money with online streaming services like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime.”
Sick of paying high monthly fees?
“TickBox promotes the use of TickBox TV for overwhelmingly, if not exclusively, infringing purposes, and that is how its customers use TickBox TV. TickBox advertises TickBox TV as a substitute for authorized and legitimate distribution channels such as cable television or video-on-demand services like Amazon Prime and Netflix,” the studios’ lawyers write.
The complaint explains in detail how TickBox works. When users first boot up their device they are prompted to download the “TickBox TV Player” software. This comes with an instruction video guiding people to infringing streams.
“The TickBox TV instructional video urges the customer to use the ‘Select Your Theme’ button on the start-up menu for downloading addons. The ‘Themes’ are curated collections of popular addons that link to unauthorized streams of motion pictures and television shows.”
“Some of the most popular addons currently distributed — which are available through TickBox TV — are titled ‘Elysium,’ ‘Bob,’ and ‘Covenant’,” the complaint adds, showing screenshots of the interface.
The movie and TV studios, which are the founding members of the recently launched ACE anti-piracy initiative, want TickBox to stop selling their devices. In addition, they demand compensation for the damages they’ve suffered. Requesting the maximum statutory damages of $150,000 per copyright infringement, this can run into the millions.
The involvement of Amazon, albeit the content division, is notable since the online store itself sells dozens of similar streaming devices, some of which even list “infringing” addons.
The TickBox lawsuit is the first case in the United States where a group of major Hollywood players is targeting a streaming device. Earlier this year various Hollywood insiders voiced concerns about the piracy streaming epidemic and if this case goes their way, it probably won’t be the last.
A copy of the full complaint is available here (pdf)
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.
While domain seizures against pirate sites are relatively common in the United states, ISP and search engine blocking is not. This could change soon though.
In an ongoing case against Sci-Hub, regularly referred to as the “Pirate Bay of Science,” a magistrate judge in Virginia recently recommended a broad order which would require search engines and Internet providers to block the site.
The recommendation followed a request from the academic publisher American Chemical Society (ACS) that wants these third-party services to make the site in question inaccessible. While Sci-Hub has chosen not to defend itself, a group of tech giants has now stepped in to prevent the broad injunction from being issued.
This week the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), which includes members such as Cloudflare, Facebook, and Google, asked the court to limit the proposed measures. In an amicus curiae brief submitted to the Virginia District Court, they share their concerns.
“Here, Plaintiff is seeking—and the Magistrate Judge has recommended—a permanent injunction that would sweep in various Neutral Service Providers, despite their having violated no laws and having no connection to this case,” CCIA writes.
According to the tech companies, neutral service providers are not “in active concert or participation” with the defendant, and should, therefore, be excluded from the proposed order.
While search engines may index Sci-Hub and ISPs pass on packets from this site, they can’t be seen as “confederates” that are working together with them to violate the law, CCIA stresses.
“Plaintiff has failed to make a showing that any such provider had a contract with these Defendants or any direct contact with their activities—much less that all of the providers who would be swept up by the proposed injunction had such a connection.”
Even if one of the third party services could be found liable the matter should be resolved under the DMCA, which expressly prohibits such broad injunctions, the CCIA claims.
“The DMCA thus puts bedrock limits on the injunctions that can be imposed on qualifying providers if they are named as defendants and are held liable as infringers. Plaintiff here ignores that.
“What ACS seeks, in the posture of a permanent injunction against nonparties, goes beyond what Congress was willing to permit, even against service providers against whom an actual judgment of infringement has been entered.That request must be rejected.”
The tech companies hope the court will realize that the injunction recommended by the magistrate judge will set a dangerous precedent, which goes beyond what the law is intended for, so will impose limits in response to their concerns.
It will be interesting to see whether any copyright holder groups will also chime in, to argue the opposite.
CCIA’s full amicus curiae brief is available here (pdf).
At the end of September we reported on a nightmare scenario for videogame anti-tamper technology Denuvo.
With cracking groups chipping away at the system for the past few months, progressing in leaps and bounds, the race to the bottom was almost complete. After aiming to hold off pirates for the first few lucrative weeks and months after launch, the Denuvo-protected Total War: Warhammer 2 fell to pirates in a matter of hours.
In the less than two weeks that have passed since, things haven’t improved much. By most measurements, in fact, the situation appears to have gotten worse.
On Wednesday, action role-playing game Middle Earth: Shadow of War was cracked a day after launch. While this didn’t beat the record set by Warhammer 2, the scene was given an unexpected gift.
Instead of the crack appearing courtesy of scene groups STEAMPUNKS or CPY, which has largely been the tradition thus far this year, old favorite CODEX stepped up to the mark with their own efforts. This means there are now close to half a dozen entities with the ability to defeat Denuvo, which isn’t a good look for the anti-piracy outfit.
A CODEX crack for Denuvo, from nowhere
Needless to say, this development was met with absolute glee by pirates, who forgave the additional day taken to crack the game in order to welcome CODEX into the anti-Denuvo club. But while this is bad news for the anti-tamper technology, there could be a worse enemy crossing the horizon – no confidence.
This Tuesday, DSO Gaming reported that it had received a review copy of Bethesda’s then-upcoming survival horror game, The Evil Within 2. The site, which is often a reliable source for Denuvo-related news, confirmed that the code was indeed protected by Denuvo.
“Another upcoming title that will be using Denuvo is The Evil Within 2,” the site reported. “Bethesda has provided us with a review code for The Evil Within 2. As such, we can confirm that Denuvo is present in it.”
As you read this, October 13, 2017, The Evil Within 2 is enjoying its official worldwide launch. Early yesterday afternoon, however, the title leaked early onto the Internet, courtesy of cracking group CODEX.
At first view, it looked like CODEX had cracked Denuvo before the game’s official launch but the reality was somewhat different after the dust had settled. For reasons best known to developer Bethesda, Denuvo was completely absent from the title. As shown by the title’s NFO (information) file, the only protection present was that provided by Steam.
Denuvo? What Denuvo?
This raises a number of scenarios, none of them good for Denuvo.
One possibility is that all along Bethesda never intended to use Denuvo on the final release. Exactly why we’ll likely never know, but the theory doesn’t really gel with them including it in the review code reviewed by DSO Gaming earlier this week.
The other proposition is that Bethesda witnessed the fiasco around Denuvo’s ‘protection’ in recent days and decided not to invest in something that wasn’t going to provide value for money.
Of course, these theories are going to be pretty difficult to confirm. Denuvo are a pretty confident bunch when things are going their way but they go suspiciously quiet when the tide is turning. Equally, developers tend to keep quiet about their anti-piracy strategies too.
The bottom line though is that if the protection really works and turns in valuable cash, why wouldn’t Bethesda use it as they have done on previous titles including Doom and Prey?
With that question apparently answering itself at the moment, all eyes now turn to Denuvo. Although it has a history of being one of the most successful anti-piracy systems overall, it has taken a massive battering in recent times. Will it recover? Only time will tell but at the moment things couldn’t get much worse.
Without a doubt, YouTube is one of the most important websites available on the Internet today.
Its massive archive of videos brings pleasure to millions on a daily basis but its centralized nature means that owner Google always exercises control.
Over the years, people have looked to decentralize the YouTube concept and the latest project hoping to shake up the market has a particularly interesting player onboard.
Until 2015, only insiders knew that Argentinian designer Federico Abad was actually ‘Sebastian’, the shadowy figure behind notorious content sharing platform Popcorn Time.
Now he’s part of the team behind Flixxo, a BitTorrent and blockchain-powered startup hoping to wrestle a share of the video market from YouTube. Here’s how the team, which features blockchain startup RSK Labs, hope things will play out.
The Flixxo network will have no centralized storage of data, eliminating the need for expensive hosting along with associated costs. Instead, transfers will take place between peers using BitTorrent, meaning video content will be stored on the machines of Flixxo users. In practice, the content will be downloaded and uploaded in much the same way as users do on The Pirate Bay or indeed Abad’s baby, Popcorn Time.
However, there’s a twist to the system that envisions content creators, content consumers, and network participants (seeders) making revenue from their efforts.
At the heart of the Flixxo system are digital tokens (think virtual currency), called Flixx. These Flixx ‘coins’, which will go on sale in 12 days, can be used to buy access to content. Creators can also opt to pay consumers when those people help to distribute their content to others.
“Free from structural costs, producers can share the earnings from their content with the network that supports them,” the team explains.
“This way you get paid for helping us improve Flixxo, and you earn credits (in the form of digital tokens called Flixx) for watching higher quality content. Having no intermediaries means that the price you pay for watching the content that you actually want to watch is lower and fairer.”
The Flixxo team
In addition to earning tokens from helping to distribute content, people in the Flixxo ecosystem can also earn currency by watching sponsored content, i.e advertisements. While in a traditional system adverts are often considered a nuisance, Flixx tokens have real value, with a promise that users will be able to trade their Flixx not only for videos, but also for tangible and semi-tangible goods.
“Use your Flixx to reward the producers you follow, encouraging them to create more awesome content. Or keep your Flixx in your wallet and use them to buy a movie ticket, a pair of shoes from an online retailer, a chest of coins in your favourite game or even convert them to old-fashioned cash or up-and-coming digital assets, like Bitcoin,” the team explains.
The Flixxo team have big plans. After foundation in early 2016, the second quarter of 2017 saw the completion of a functional alpha release. In a little under two weeks, the project will begin its token generation event, with new offices in Los Angeles planned for the first half of 2018 alongside a premiere of the Flixxo platform.
“A total of 1,000,000,000 (one billion) Flixx tokens will be issued. A maximum of 300,000,000 (three hundred million) tokens will be sold. Some of these tokens (not more than 33% or 100,000,000 Flixx) may be sold with anticipation of the token allocation event to strategic investors,” Flixxo states.
Like all content platforms, Flixxo will live or die by the quality of the content it provides and whether, at least in the first instance, it can persuade people to part with their hard-earned cash. Only time will tell whether its content will be worth a premium over readily accessible YouTube content but with much-reduced costs, it may tempt creators seeking a bigger piece of the pie.
“Flixxo will also educate its community, teaching its users that in this new internet era value can be held and transferred online without intermediaries, a value that can be earned back by participating in a community, by contributing, being rewarded for every single social interaction,” the team explains.
Of course, the elephant in the room is what will happen when people begin sharing copyrighted content via Flixxo. Certainly, the fact that Popcorn Time’s founder is a key player and rival streaming platform Stremio is listed as a partner means that things could get a bit spicy later on.
Nevertheless, the team suggests that piracy and spam content distribution will be limited by mechanisms already built into the system.
“[A]uthors have to time-block tokens in a smart contract (set as a warranty) in order to upload content. This contract will also handle and block their earnings for a certain period of time, so that in the case of a dispute the unfair-uploader may lose those tokens,” they explain.
That being said, Flixxo also says that “there is no way” for third parties to censor content “which means that anyone has the chance of making any piece of media available on the network.” However, Flixxo says it will develop tools for filtering what it describes as “inappropriate content.”
At this point, things start to become a little unclear. On the one hand Flixxo says it could become a “revolutionary tool for uncensorable and untraceable media” yet on the other it says that it’s necessary to ensure that adult content, for example, isn’t seen by kids.
“We know there is a thin line between filtering or curating content and censorship, and it is a fact that we have an open network for everyone to upload any content. However, Flixxo as a platform will apply certain filtering based on clear rules – there should be a behavior-code for uploaders in order to offer the right content to the right user,” Flixxo explains.
To this end, Flixxo says it will deploy a centralized curation function, carried out by 101 delegates elected by the community, which will become progressively decentralized over time.
“This curation will have a cost, paid in Flixx, and will be collected from the warranty blocked by the content uploaders,” they add.
There can be little doubt that if Flixxo begins ‘curating’ unsuitable content, copyright holders will call on it to do the same for their content too. And, if the platform really takes off, 101 curators probably won’t scratch the surface. There’s also the not inconsiderable issue of what might happen to curators’ judgment when they’re incentivized to block curate content.
Finally, for those sick of “not available in your region” messages, there’s good and bad news. Flixxo insists there will be no geo-blocking of content on its part but individual creators will still have that feature available to them, should they choose.
Founded in 1991, Epic has developed and published computer games for over a quarter century.
The North Carolina company is known for titles such as Unreal, Gears of War, Infinity Blade, and most recently, the popular co-op survival and building action game Fortnite.
A few weeks ago, Fortnite released the free-to-play “Battle Royale” game mode for the PC and other platforms, generating massive interest from gamers. Unfortunately, this also included thousands of cheaters, many whom have been banned since.
Last week, Epic stressed that addressing Fortnite cheaters is the company’s highest priority, hinting that they wouldn’t stop at banning users.
“We are constantly working against both the cheaters themselves and the cheat providers. And it’s ongoing, we’re exploring every measure to ensure these cheaters are removed and stay removed from Fortnite Battle Royale and the Epic ecosystem,” the company wrote.
It turns out that this wasn’t an idle threat. TorrentFreak has obtained two complaints that were filed in a North Carolina federal court this week, which show that Epic is launching a legal battle against two prolific cheaters.
The two alleged cheaters are identified as Mr. Broom and Mr. Vraspir. Both are accused of violating Fortnite’s terms of service and EULA by cheating. This involves modifying and changing the game’s code, committing copyright infringement in the process.
“The software that Defendant uses to cheat infringes Epic’s copyrights in the game and breaches the terms of the agreements to which Defendant agreed in order to have access to the game,” the company notes.
From the complaints
The two complaints are largely the same and both defendants are accused of ruining the fun for others.
“Nobody likes a cheater. And nobody likes playing with cheaters. These axioms are particularly true in this case. Defendant uses cheats in a deliberate attempt to destroy the integrity of, and otherwise wreak havoc in, the Fortnite game.
“As Defendant intends, this often ruins the game for the other players, and for the many people who watch ‘streamers’,” the complaint adds.
Both defendants are connected to the cheat provider AddictedCheats.net, either as moderators or support personnel. They specifically target streamers and boast about their accomplishments, making comments such as ‘LOL I f*cked them’ after killing them.
According to Epic’s complaint, Vraspir was banned at least nine times but registered new accounts to continue his cheating. He also stands accused of having written code for the cheats.
Broom was banned once and previously stated that he’s also working on his own cheat. He publicly stated that he aims to create “unwanted chaos and disorder” in Fortnite and said the game was the highest priority of the cheat provider.
With the two lawsuits, the game publisher hopes to put an end to the cheating.
Both defendants face $150,000 in statutory damages for copyright infringement. The complaint further lists breach of contract and circumvention of technological measures as additional claims.
While taking out two cheaters is just a drop in the ocean, Epic is sending a stark warning to people who don’t play by the rules.
Here are copies of the full complaints against Vraspir and Broom.
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