With many thousands of movies and TV shows being made available illegally online every year, a significant number will be enjoyed by speakers of languages other than that presented in the original production.
When Hollywood blockbusters appear online, small armies of individuals around the world spring into action, translating the dialog into Chinese and Czech, Dutch and Danish, French and Farsi, Russian and Romanian, plus a dozen languages in between. TV shows, particularly those produced in the US, get the same immediate treatment.
For many years, subtitling (‘fansubbing’) communities have provided an incredible service to citizens around the globe, from those seeking to experience new culture and languages to the hard of hearing and profoundly deaf. Now, following in the footsteps of movies like TPB:AFK and Kim Dotcom: Caught in the Web, a new movie has premiered in Italy which celebrates this extraordinary movement.
Subs Heroes from writer and director Franco Dipietro hit cinemas at the end of January. It documents the contribution fansubbing has made to Italian culture in a country that under fascism in 1934 banned the use of foreign languages in films, books, newspapers and everyday speech.
The movie centers on the large subtitle site ItalianSubs.net. Founded by a group of teenagers in 2006, it is now run by a team of men and women who maintain their identities as regular citizens during the day but transform into “superheroes of fansubbing” at night.
Needless to say, not everyone is pleased with this depiction of the people behind the now-infamous 500,000 member site.
For many years, fansubbing attracted very little heat but over time anti-piracy groups have been turning up the pressure, accusing subtitling teams of fueling piracy. This notion is shared by local anti-piracy outfit FAPAV (Federation for the Protection of Audiovisual and Multimedia Content), which has accused Dipietro’s movie of glamorizing criminal activity.
In a statement following the release of Subs Heroes, FAPAV made its position crystal clear: sites like ItalianSubs do not contribute to the development of the audiovisual market in Italy.
“It is necessary to clarify: when a protected work is subtitled and there is no right to do so, a crime is committed,” the anti-piracy group says.
“[Italiansubs] translates and makes available subtitles of audiovisual works (films and television series) in many cases not yet distributed on the Italian market. All this without having requested the consent of the rights holders. Ergo the Italiansubs community is illegal.”
Italiansubs (note ad for movie, top right)
FAPAV General Secretary Federico Bagnoli Rossi says that the impact that fansubbers have on the market is significant, causing damage not only to companies distributing the content but also to those who invest in official translations.
The fact that fansubbers often translate content that is not yet available in the region only compounds matters, Rossi says, noting that unofficial translations can also have “direct consequences” on those who have language dubbing as an occupation.
“The audiovisual market today needs to be supported and the protection and fight against illicit behaviors are as fundamental as investments and creative ideas,” Rossi notes.
“Everyone must do their part, respecting the rules and with a competitive and global cultural vision. There are no ‘superheroes’ or noble goals behind piracy, but only great damage to the audiovisual sector and all its workers.”
Also piling on the criticism is the chief of the National Cinema Exhibitors’ Association, who wrote to all of the companies involved to remind them that unauthorized subtitling is a crime. According to local reports, there seems to be an underlying tone that people should avoid becoming associated with the movie.
This did not please director Franco Dipietro who is defending his right to document the fansubbing movement, whether the industry likes it or not.
“We invite those who perhaps think differently to deepen the discussion and maybe organize an event to talk about it together. The film is made to confront and talk about a phenomenon that, whether we like it or not, exists and we can not pretend that it is not there,” Dipietro concludes.
While pirated Hollywood blockbusters often score the big headlines, there are several other industries that have been battling with piracy over the years. This includes sports organizations.
Many of the major US leagues including the NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB and the Tennis Association, are bundling their powers in the Sports Coalition, to try and curb the availability of pirated streams and videos.
A few days ago the Sports Coalition put the piracy problem on the agenda of the United States Trade Representative (USTR).
“Sports organizations, including Sports Coalition members, are heavily affected by live sports telecast piracy, including the unauthorized live retransmission of sports telecasts over the Internet,” the Sports Coalition wrote.
“The Internet piracy of live sports telecasts is not only a persistent problem, but also a global one, often involving bad actors in more than one nation.”
The USTR asked the public for comments on which countries play a central role in copyright infringement issues. In its response, the Sports Coalition stresses that piracy is a global issue but singles out several nations as particularly problematic.
The coalition recommends that the USTR should put the Netherlands and Switzerland on the “Priority Watch List” of its 2018 Special 301 Report, followed by Russia, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles and Sweden, which get a regular “Watch List” recommendation.
The main problem with these countries is that hosting providers and content distribution networks don’t do enough to curb piracy.
In the Netherlands, sawlive.tv, strikezoneme, wizlnet, AltusHost, Host Palace, Quasi Networks and SNEL pirated or provided services contributing to sports piracy, the coalition writes. In Switzerland, mlbstreamme, robinwidgetorg, strikeoutmobi, BlackHOST, Private Layer and Solar Communications are doing the same.
According to the major sports leagues, the US Government should encourage these countries to step up their anti-piracy game. This is not only important for US copyright holders, but also for licensees in other countries.
“Clearly, there is common ground – both in terms of shared economic interests and legal obligations to protect and enforce intellectual property and related rights – for the United States and the nations with which it engages in international trade to work cooperatively to stop Internet piracy of sports programming.”
Whether any of these countries will make it into the USTR’s final list has yet to be seen. For Switzerland it wouldn’t be the first time but for the Netherlands it would be new, although it has been considered before.
A document we received through a FOIA request earlier this year revealed that the US Embassy reached out to the Dutch Government in the past, to discuss similar complaints from the Sports Coalition.
The same document also revealed that local anti-piracy group BREIN consistently urged the entertainment industries it represents not to advocate placing the Netherlands on the 301 Watch List but to solve the problems behind the scenes instead.
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.
Online streaming piracy is on the rise and many people now use dedicated media players to watch content through their regular TVs.
This is a thorn in the side of various movie companies, who have launched a broad range of initiatives to curb this trend.
One of these initiatives is the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE), an anti-piracy partnership between Hollywood studios, Netflix, Amazon, and more than two dozen other companies.
Last year, ACE filed a lawsuit against the Georgia-based company Tickbox TV, which sells Kodi-powered set-top boxes that stream a variety of popular media.
ACE sees these devices as nothing more than pirate tools so the coalition asked the court for an injunction to prevent Tickbox from facilitating copyright infringement, demanding that it removes all pirate add-ons from previously sold devices.
Last month, a California federal court issued an initial injunction, ordering Tickbox to keep pirate addons out of its box and halt all piracy-inducing advertisements going forward. In addition, the court directed both parties to come up with a proper solution for devices that were already sold.
The movie companies wanted Tickbox to remove infringing addons from previously sold devices, but the device seller refused this initially, equating it to hacking.
This week, both parties were able to reach an ‘agreement’ on the issue. They drafted an updated preliminary injunction which replaces the previous order and will be in effect for the remainder of the lawsuit.
The new injunction prevents Tickbox from linking to any “build,” “theme,” “app,” or “addon” that can be indirectly used to transmit copyright-infringing material. Web browsers such as Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Safari, and Firefox are specifically excluded.
In addition, Tickbox must also release a new software updater that will remove any infringing software from previously sold devices.
“TickBox shall issue an update to the TickBox launcher software to be automatically downloaded and installed onto any previously distributed TickBox TV device and to be launched when such device connects to the internet,” the injunction reads.
“Upon being launched, the update will delete the Subject [infringing] Software downloaded onto the device prior to the update, or otherwise cause the TickBox TV device to be unable to access any Subject Software downloaded onto or accessed via that device prior to the update.”
All tiles that link to copyright-infringing software from the box’s home screen also have to be stripped. Going forward, only tiles to the Google Play Store or to Kodi within the Google Play Store are allowed.
In addition, the agreement also allows ACE to report newly discovered infringing apps or addons to Tickbox, which the company will then have to remove within 24-hours, weekends excluded.
“This ruling sets an important precedent and reduces the threat from piracy devices to the legal market for creative content and a vibrant creative economy that supports millions of workers around the world,” ACE spokesperson Zoe Thorogood says, commenting on the news.
The new injunction is good news for the movie companies, but many Tickbox customers will not appreciate the forced changes. That said, the legal battle is far from over. The main question, whether Tickbox contributed to the alleged copyright infringements, has yet to be answered.
Ultimately, this case is likely to result in a landmark decision, determining what sellers of streaming boxes can and cannot do in the United States.
A copy of the new Tickbox injunction is available here (pdf).
With 20 million members around the world, Crunchyroll is one of the largest on-demand streaming platforms for anime and manga content.
Much like Hollywood, the site has competition from pirate streaming sites which offer their content without permission. These usually stream pirated videos which are hosted on external sites.
However, this week Crunchyroll is facing a more direct attack. The people behind the new streaming meta-search engine StreamCR say they’ve found a way to stream the site’s content from its own servers, without paying.
“This works due to a vulnerability in the Crunchyroll system,” StreamCR’s operators tell TorrentFreak.
Simply put, StreamCR uses an active Crunchyroll account to locate the video streams and embeds this on its own website. This allows people to access Crunchyroll videos in the best quality without paying.
“This gives access to the full library in the region of our server, retrieving it as long as we’re not bound by the regular regional restriction. For this, we pick a US server as American Crunchyroll has the most library of content.
Stream in various qualities
The exploit was developed in-house, the StreamCR team informs us. While it works fine at the moment the team realizes that this may not last forever, as Crunchyroll might eventually patch the vulnerability.
However, the meta-search engine will have made its point by then.
“We expect them to fix this, Why wouldn’t they? In the meantime, this can demonstrate how vulnerable Crunchyroll is at the moment,” they tell us.
The site’s ultimate plan is to become the go-to search engine for people looking to stream all kinds of pirated videos. In addition to Crunchyroll, StreamCR also indexes various pirate sites, including YesMovies, Gomovies, and 9anime.
“StreamCR’s goal is to let people access streams with ease from a universal site, we’re trying to have a Google-like experience for finding online streams,” they say.
TorrentFreak reached out to Crunchyroll asking for a comment on the issue, but at the time of publication, we have yet to hear back.
More than six years ago in January 2012, file-hosting site Megaupload was shut down by the United States government and founder Kim Dotcom and his associates were arrested in New Zealand.
What followed was an epic legal battle to extradite Dotcom, Mathias Ortmann, Finn Batato, and Bram van der Kolk to the United States to face several counts including copyright infringement, racketeering, and money laundering. Dotcom has battled the US government every inch of the way.
The most significant matters include the validity of the search warrants used to raid Dotcom’s Coatesville home on January 20, 2012. Despite a prolonged trip through the legal system, in 2014 the Supreme Court dismissed Dotcom’s appeals that the search warrants weren’t valid.
In 2015, the District Court later ruled that Dotcom and his associates are eligible for extradition. A subsequent appeal to the High Court failed when in February 2017 – and despite a finding that communicating copyright-protected works to the public is not a criminal offense in New Zealand – a judge also ruled in favor.
Of course, Dotcom and his associates immediately filed appeals and today in the Court of Appeal in Wellington, their hearing got underway.
Lawyer Grant Illingworth, representing Van der Kolk and Ortmann, told the Court that the case had “gone off the rails” during the initial 10-week extradition hearing in 2015, arguing that the case had merited “meaningful” consideration by a judge, something which failed to happen.
“It all went wrong. It went absolutely, totally wrong,” Mr. Illingworth said. “We were not heard.”
As expected, Illingworth underlined the belief that under New Zealand law, a person may only be extradited for an offense that could be tried in a criminal court locally. His clients’ cases do not meet that standard, the lawyer argued.
Turning back the clocks more than six years, Illingworth again raised the thorny issue of the warrants used to authorize the raids on the Megaupload defendants.
It had previously been established that New Zealand’s GCSB intelligence service had illegally spied on Dotcom and his associates in the lead up to their arrests. However, that fact was not disclosed to the District Court judge who authorized the raids.
“We say that there was misleading conduct at this stage because there was no reference to the fact that information had been gathered illegally by the GCSB,” he said.
But according to Justice Forrest Miller, even if this defense argument holds up the High Court had already found there was a prima facie case to answer “with bells on”.
“The difficulty that you face here ultimately is whether the judicial process that has been followed in both of the courts below was meaningful, to use the Canadian standard,” Justice Miller said.
“You’re going to have to persuade us that what Justice Gilbert [in the High Court] ended up with, even assuming your interpretation of the legislation is correct, was wrong.”
Although the US seeks to extradite Dotcom and his associates on 13 charges, including racketeering, copyright infringement, money laundering and wire fraud, the Court of Appeal previously confirmed that extradition could be granted based on just some of the charges.
The stakes couldn’t be much higher. The FBI says that the “Megaupload Conspiracy” earned the quartet $175m and if extradited to the US, they could face decades in jail.
While Dotcom was not in court today, he has been active on Twitter.
“The court process went ‘off the rails’ when the only copyright expert Judge in NZ was >removed< from my case and replaced by a non-tech Judge who asked if Mega was ‘cow storage’. He then simply copy/pasted 85% of the US submissions into his judgment," Dotcom wrote.
Dotcom also appeared to question the suitability of judges at both the High Court and Court of Appeal for the task in hand.
“Justice Miller and Justice Gilbert (he wrote that High Court judgment) were business partners at the law firm Chapman Tripp which represents the Hollywood Studios in my case. Both Judges are now at the Court of Appeal. Gilbert was promoted shortly after ruling against me,” Dotcom added.
Dotcom is currently suing the New Zealand government for billions of dollars in damages over the warrant which triggered his arrest and the demise of Megaupload.
The hearing is expected to last up to two-and-a-half weeks.
Kodi-powered set-top boxes are a great way to to stream video content to a TV, but sellers who ship these devices with unauthorized add-ons give them a bad reputation.
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 Kodi-powered set-top boxes that stream a variety of popular media.
According to ACE, these devices are nothing more than pirate tools, allowing buyers to stream copyright-infringing content and being advertised as such. The coalition, therefore, asked the court for an injunction to prevent Tickbox from facilitating copyright infringement by removing all pirate add-ons from previously sold devices.
This week US District Court Judge Michael Fitzgerald issued a preliminary injunction, which largely sides with the movie companies. According to the Judge, there is sufficient reason to believe that Tickbox can be held liable for inducing copyright infringement.
One of the claims is that Tickbox promoted its service for piracy purposes, and according to the Judge the movie companies provided enough evidence to make this likely. This includes various advertising messages the box seller used.
“There is ample evidence that, at least prior to Plaintiffs’commencement of this action, TickBox explicitly advertised the Device as a means to accessing unauthorized versions of copyrighted audiovisual content,” Judge Fitzgerald writes.
In its defense, Tickbox argued that it merely offered a computer which users can then configure to their liking. However, the Judge points out that the company went further, as it actively directed its users to install certain themes (builds) to watch movies, TV and sports.
“Thus, the fact that the Device is just a ‘computer’ that can be used for infringing and noninfringing purposes does not insulate TickBox from liability if [..] the Device is actually used for infringing purposes and TickBox encourages such use.”
Taking these and several other factors into account, the Court ruled that a preliminary injunction is warranted at this stage. After the lawsuit was filed, Tickbox already voluntarily removed much of the inducing advertisements and addons, and this will remain so.
The preliminary injunction compels TickBox to the current version of the user interface, without easy access to pirate add-ons. The devices should no longer contain links to any of the themes and addons that the movie companies have flagged as copyright infringing.
Tickbox had argued that a broad injunction could shut down its business, but the court counters this. Customers will still be able to use the box for legitimate purposes. If they are no longer interested it suggests that piracy was the main draw.
“[A]n injunction of this scope will not ‘shut down Defendant’s business’ as TickBox contends. In the event that such an injunction does shut TickBox down, that will be indicative not of an unjustifiably burdensome injunction, but of a nonviable business model,” Judge Fitzgerald writes.
The preliminary injunction is not final yet as there are several questions still unanswered.
It’s unclear, for example, if and how Tickbox should remove addons from previously sold devices. The Court, therefore, instructs both parties to attempt to reach agreement on these outstanding issues, to include them in an updated injunction.
The above findings are preliminary and apply specifically to the injunction request and the case itself will continue. However, the Court’s early opinion suggests that Tickbox has plenty of work ahead to prove its innocence.
A copy of the preliminary injunction is available here (pdf), and Judge Fitzgerald’s findings can be found here (pdf).
The most important fact about Wannacry is that it was an accident. We’ve had 30 years of experience with Internet worms teaching us that worms are always accidents. While launching worms may be intentional, their effects cannot be predicted. While they appear to have targets, like Slammer against South Korea, or Witty against the Pentagon, further analysis shows this was just a random effect that was impossible to predict ahead of time. Only in hindsight are these effects explainable.
We should hold those causing accidents accountable, too, but it’s a different accountability. The U.S. has caused more civilian deaths in its War on Terror than the terrorists caused triggering that war. But we hold these to be morally different: the terrorists targeted the innocent, whereas the U.S. takes great pains to avoid civilian casualties.
Since we are talking about blaming those responsible for accidents, we also must include the NSA in that mix. The NSA created, then allowed the release of, weaponized exploits. That’s like accidentally dropping a load of unexploded bombs near a village. When those bombs are then used, those having lost the weapons are held guilty along with those using them. Yes, while we should blame the hacker who added ETERNAL BLUE to their ransomware, we should also blame the NSA for losing control of ETERNAL BLUE.
A country and its assets are different
Was it North Korea, or hackers affilliated with North Korea? These aren’t the same.
It’s hard for North Korea to have hackers of its own. It doesn’t have citizens who grow up with computers to pick from. Moreover, an internal hacking corps would create tainted citizens exposed to dangerous outside ideas. Update: Some people have pointed out that Kim Il-sung University in the capital does have some contact with the outside world, with academics granted limited Internet access, so I guess some tainting is allowed. Still, what we know of North Korea hacking efforts largley comes from hackers they employ outside North Korea. It was the Lazurus Group, outside North Korea, that did Wannacry.
Instead, North Korea develops external hacking “assets”, supporting several external hacking groups in China, Japan, and South Korea. This is similar to how intelligence agencies develop human “assets” in foreign countries. While these assets do things for their handlers, they also have normal day jobs, and do many things that are wholly independent and even sometimes against their handler’s interests.
For example, this Muckrock FOIA dump shows how “CIA assets” independently worked for Castro and assassinated a Panamanian president. That they also worked for the CIA does not make the CIA responsible for the Panamanian assassination.
That CIA/intelligence assets work this way is well-known and uncontroversial. The fact that countries use hacker assets like this is the controversial part. These hackers do act independently, yet we refuse to consider this when we want to “attribute” attacks.
Attribution is political
We have far better attribution for the nPetya attacks. It was less accidental (they clearly desired to disrupt Ukraine), and the hackers were much closer to the Russian government (Russian citizens). Yet, the Trump administration isn’t fighting Russia, they are fighting North Korea, so they don’t officially attribute nPetya to Russia, but do attribute Wannacry to North Korea.
Trump is in conflict with North Korea. He is looking for ways to escalate the conflict. Attributing Wannacry helps achieve his political objectives.
That it was blatantly politics is demonstrated by the way it was released to the press. It wasn’t released in the normal way, where the administration can stand behind it, and get challenged on the particulars. Instead, it was pre-released through the normal system of “anonymous government officials” to the NYTimes, and then backed up with op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. The government leaks information like this when it’s weak, not when its strong.
The proper way is to release the evidence upon which the decision was made, so that the public can challenge it. Among the questions the public would ask is whether it they believe it was North Korea’s intention to cause precisely this effect, such as disabling the British NHS. Or, whether it was merely hackers “affiliated” with North Korea, or hackers carrying out North Korea’s orders. We cannot challenge the government this way because the government intentionally holds itself above such accountability.
We believe hacking groups tied to North Korea are responsible for Wannacry. Yet, even if that’s true, we still have three attribution problems. We still don’t know if that was intentional, in pursuit of some political goal, or an accident. We still don’t know if it was at the direction of North Korea, or whether their hacker assets acted independently. We still don’t know if the government has answers to these questions, or whether it’s exploiting this doubt to achieve political support for actions against North Korea.
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.
Six years ago, New Zealand police carried out a spectacular military-style raid against individuals accused only of copyright infringement.
Acting on allegations from the United States government and its Hollywood partners, New Zealand’s elite counter-terrorist force raided the mansion of Kim Dotcom, who was detained along with his wife and children.
Megaupload’s founder has always maintained that his arrest was unlawful under New Zealand law, and he is determined to hold the authorities accountable.
In addition to getting married and celebrating his birthday this weekend, the German born entrepreneur announced that he is seeking damages from the New Zealand Government.
“Today, 6 years ago, the NZ Govt enabled the unlawful destruction of Megaupload and seizure of my global assets,” Dotcom wrote on Twitter.
“I was arrested for the alleged online piracy of my users. Not even a crime in NZ. My lawyers have served a multi billion dollar damages claim against the Govt today,” he added.
Dotcom’s lawyer Ira Rothken informs TorrentFreak that a damages claim was filed at the New Zealand High Court last December.
“We confirm that our legal team filed a Statement of Claim in the New Zealand High Court for monetary damages on December 22, 2017 on behalf of Kim Dotcom against the United States and NZ governmental entities alleging that defendants pursued with malice and material non disclosure an erroneous arrest warrant,” Rothken says.
In the claim, Dotcom’s legal team argues that the arrest warrant was invalid. They say that there were no reasonable grounds on which the District Court could conclude that Dotcom’s alleged crimes were an extraditable offense.
The consequences, however, were rather severe. Dotcom lost his freedom and also his company, which was worth billions and preparing for an IPO, according to the legal paperwork.
“At the time the Restraint Orders were granted, second plaintiff was preparing to list on the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong at a conservative valuation of not less than US$2.6 billion,” the claim reads.
This valuation is based on a valuation of $40 for each of the 66 million users Megaupload had, which generated $45 million in profits per year. If Megaupload had not have been raided, today’s value could be as high as $10 billion.
Dotcom has a 68 percent stake in the Megaupload companies and seeks damages that will compensate for lost profits. In addition, he requests compensation for legal costs, lost business opportunities, loss of reputation, and other losses.
The exact scale of the damages isn’t specified and will have to be determined at a later stage, before trial.
The claim doesn’t come as a surprise to the New Zealand Government, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a brief response.
“This has obviously been an ongoing matter, so no it doesn’t surprise me,” she commented.
Following Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet reshuffle earlier this month, Matt Hancock replaced Karen Bradley as Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
Hancock, the 39-year-old MP for West Suffolk, was promoted from his role as Minister for Digital and Culture, a position he’d held since July 2016.
“Thrilled to become DCMS Secretary. Such an exciting agenda, so much to do, and great people. Can’t wait to get stuck in,” he tweeted.
Of course, the influence held by the Culture Secretary means that the entertainment industries will soon come calling, seeking help and support in a number of vital areas. No surprise then that Stan McCoy, president and managing director at the Motion Picture Association’s EMEA division, has just jumped in with some advice for Hancock.
In an open letter published on Screen Daily, McCoy begins by reminding Hancock that the movie industry contributes considerable sums to the UK economy.
“We are one of the country’s most valuable economic and cultural assets – worth almost £92bn, growing at twice the rate of the economy, and making a positive contribution to the UK’s balance of payments,” McCoy writes.
“Britain’s status as a center of excellence for the audiovisual sector in particular is no accident: It results from the hard work and genius of our creative workforce, complemented by the support of governments that have guided their policies toward enabling continued excellence and growth.”
McCoy goes on to put anti-piracy initiatives at the very top of his wishlist – and Hancock’s to-do list.
“A joined-up strategy to curb proliferation of illegal, often age-inappropriate and malware-laden content online must include addressing the websites, environments and apps that host and facilitate piracy,” McCoy says.
“In addition to hurting one of Britain’s most important industries, they are overwhelmingly likely to harm children and adult consumers through nasty ads, links to adult content with no age verification, scams, fraud and other unpleasantness.”
That McCoy begins with the “piracy is dangerous” approach is definitely not a surprise. This Hollywood and wider video industry strategy is now an open secret. However, it feels a little off that the UK is being asked to further tackle pirate sites.
Through earlier actions, facilitated by the UK legal system and largely sympathetic judges, many thousands of URLs and domains linking to pirate sites, mirrors and proxies, are impossible to access directly through the UK’s major ISPs. Although a few slip through the net, directly accessing the majority of pirate sites in the UK is now impossible.
That’s already a considerable overseas anti-piracy position for the MPA who, as the “international voice” of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), represents American corporations including Disney, Paramount, Sony Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Universal, and Warner Bros.
There’s no comparable blocking system for these companies to use in the United States and rightsholders in the UK can even have extra sites blocked without going back to court for permission. In summary, these US companies arguably get a better anti-piracy deal in the UK than they do at home in the United States.
In his next point, McCoy references last year’s deal – which was reached following considerable pressure from the UK government – between rightsholders and search engines including Google and Bing to demote ‘pirate’ results.
“Building on last year’s voluntary deal with search engines, the Government should stay at the cutting edge of ensuring that everyone in the ecosystem – including search engines, platforms and social media companies – takes a fair share of responsibility,” McCoy says.
While this progress is clearly appreciated by the MPA/MPAA, it’s difficult to ignore that the voluntary arrangement to demote infringing content is somewhat special if not entirely unique. There is definitely nothing comparable in the United States so keeping up the pressure on the UK Government feels a little like getting the good kid in class to behave, while his rowdy peers nearer the chalkboard get ignored.
The same is true for McCoy’s call for the UK to “banish dodgy streaming devices”.
“Illegal streaming devices loaded with piracy apps and malware – not to mention the occasional electrical failure – are proliferating across the UK, to the detriment of consumers and industry,” he writes.
“The sector is still waiting for the Intellectual Property Office to publish the report on its Call for Views on this subject. This will be one of several opportunities, along with the promised Digital Charter, to make clear that these devices and the apps and content they supply are unacceptable, dangerous to consumers, and harmful to the creative industry.”
Again, prompting the UK to stay on top of this game doesn’t feel entirely warranted.
With dozens of actions over the past few years, the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit and the Federation Against Copyright Theft (which Hollywood ironically dumped in 2016) have done more to tackle the pirate set-top box problem than any group on the other side of the Atlantic.
Admittedly the MPAA is now trying to catch up, with recent prosecutions of two ‘pirate’ box vendors (1,2), but largely the work by the studios on their home turf has been outpaced by that of their counterparts in the UK.
Maybe Hancock will mention that to Hollywood at some point in the future.
In recent years the MPAA has pursued legal action against several pirate sites and the streaming service Pubfilm is one of their latest targets.
Hollywood’s industry group initially kept the lawsuit secret. This was done to prevent Pubfilm’s operator from moving to a new domain preemptively. While this strategy worked, Pubfilm didn’t throw in the towel.
Soon after the pubfilm.com domain name was suspended, the site moved to pubfilm.ac. And that wasn’t all. Pubfilm also started to actively advertise its new domain through Google Adsense to regain its lost traffic.
Today, close to a year has passed and Pubfilm is still around. The site moved from domain to domain and currently resides at Pubfilm.is and a few other domains that are advertised on the site.
All this time the company failed to responded in court, so the case saw little movement. This week, however, the MPAA made its demands clear and soon after the court issued a default against the site and its unknown operators.
“Defendants are Internet pirates who own, operate, and promote a ring of interconnected websites under the name “PubFilm” and variants thereof whose purpose is to profit from the infringement of copyrighted works,” the group wrote in its request.
Because of this continued infringement, the MPAA demanded the maximum amount of statutory copyright infringement damages. With 132 titles listed in the complaint, this totals nearly $20 million.
“Given the egregious circumstances of this case, Plaintiffs should be awarded the full amount of statutory damages of $150,000 for each of the 132 Works identified in the Complaint, for a total of $19,800,000,” the MPAA writes in its memorandum.
In addition, the Hollywood studios requested a permanent injunction that will require domain registries to put associated domain names on hold and sign them over to the MPAA.
Both requests were granted by the court on Thursday.
Pubfilm domain hopping
Previously, several domain names were aready seized through a preliminary injunction that resulted in Pubfilm moving from domain to domain in recent months. While these seizures can be effective, not all domain registries will comply with a US court order.
One of Pubfilm’s main domain names at the moment uses the Icelandic .is cTLD. In the past, Iceland’s domain registry ISNIC told TorrentFreak that it would only take action when an Icelandic Court tells it to.
This means that the MPAA’s win might be one without teeth.
Getting millions of dollars from an anonymous site operator, presumably outside the United States, is not easy. And since the site still has several hard-to-shutdown domains, taking it offline isn’t that straightforward either.
The streaming site operators didn’t appear to be impressed by the legal battle either. For the time being, they seem more concerned with fighting fake versions, judging from their most recent Facebook update.
Pubfilm’s latest Facebook post
A copy of the MPAA’s Memorandum in support of the default judgment and permanent injunction is available here (pdf). A copy of court’s order can be found here (pdf).
More than a decade ago, Hollywood was struggling to get to grips with the file-sharing phenomenon. Sharing via BitTorrent was painted as a disease that could kill the movie industry, if it was allowed to take hold. Tough action was the only way to defeat it, the suits concluded.
In 2007, however, a most unusual turn of events showed that piracy could have a magical effect on the success of a movie.
After being produced on a tiny budget, a then little-known independent sci-fi film called “The Man from Earth” turned up on pirate sites, to the surprise of its creators.
“Originally, somebody got hold of a promotional screener DVD of ‘Jerome Bixby’s The Man from Earth’, ripped the file and posted the movie online before we knew what was even happening,” Man from Earth director Richard Schenkman informs TorrentFreak.
“A week or two before the DVD’s ‘street date’, we jumped 11,000% on the IMDb ‘Moviemeter’ and we were shocked.”
With pirates fueling interest in the movie, a member of the team took an unusual step. Producer Eric Wilkinson wrote to RLSlog, a popular piracy links site – not to berate pirates – but to thank them for catapulting the movie to fame.
“Our independent movie had next to no advertising budget and very little going for it until somebody ripped one of the DVD screeners and put the movie online for all to download. Most of the feedback from everyone who has downloaded ‘The Man From Earth’ has been overwhelmingly positive. People like our movie and are talking about it, all thanks to piracy on the net!” he wrote.
Richard Schenkman told TF this morning that availability on file-sharing networks was important for the movie, since it wasn’t available through legitimate means in most countries. So, the team called out to fans for help, if they’d pirated the movie and had liked what they’d seen.
“Once we realized what was going on, we asked people to make donations to our PayPal page if they saw the movie for free and liked it, because we had all worked for nothing for two years to bring it to the screen, and the only chance we had of surviving financially was to ask people to support us and the project,” Schenkman explains.
“And, happily, many people around the world did donate, although of course only a tiny fraction of the millions and millions of people who downloaded pirated copies.”
Following this early boost The Man from Earth went on to win multiple awards. And, a decade on, it boasts a hugely commendable 8/10 score on IMDb from more than 147,000 voters, with Netflix users leaving over 650,000 ratings, which reportedly translates to well over a million views.
It’s a performance director Richard Schenkman would like to repeat with his sequel: The Man from Earth: Holocene. This time, however, he won’t be leaving the piracy aspect to chance.
Yesterday the team behind the movie took matters into their own hands, uploading the movie to The Pirate Bay and other sites so that fans can help themselves.
“It was going to get uploaded regardless of what we did or didn’t do, and we figured that as long as this was inevitable, we would do the uploading ourselves and explain why we were doing it,” Schenkman informs TF.
“And, we would once again reach out to the filesharing community and remind them that while movies may be free to watch, they are not free to make, and we need their support.”
The release, listed here on The Pirate Bay, comes with detailed notes and a few friendly pointers on how the release can be further shared. It also informs people how they can show their appreciation if they like it.
The Man from Earth: Holocene on The Pirate Bay
“It’s a revolutionary global experiment in the honor system. We’re asking people: ‘If you watch our movie, and you like it, will you pay something directly to the people who made it?’,” Schenkman says.
“That’s why we’re so grateful to all of you who visit ManFromEarth.com and make a donation – of any size – if you’ve watched the movie without paying for it up front.”
In addition to using The Pirate Bay – which is often and incorrectly berated as a purely ‘pirate’ platform with no legitimate uses – the team has also teamed up with OpenSubtitles, so translations for the movie are available right from the beginning.
Other partners include MovieSaints.com, where fans can pay to see the movie from January 19 but get a full refund if they don’t enjoy it. It’s also available on Vimeo (see below) but the version seen by pirates is slightly different, and for good reason, Schenkman says.
“This version of the movie includes a greeting from me at the beginning, pointing out that we did indeed upload the movie ourselves, and asking people to visit manfromearth.com and make a donation if they can afford to, and if they enjoyed the film.
“The version we posted is very high-resolution, although we are also sharing some smaller files for those folks who have a slow Internet connection where they live,” he explains.
“We’re asking people to share ONLY this version of the movie — NOT to edit off the appeal message. And of course we’re asking people not to post the movie at YouTube or any other platform where someone (other than us) could profit financially from it. That would not be fair, nor in keeping with the spirit of what we’re trying to do.”
It’s not often we’re able to do this so it’s a pleasure to say that The Man from Earth: Holocene can be downloaded from The Pirate Bay, in various qualities and entirely legally, here. For those who want to show their appreciation, the tip jar is here.
Like many other countries throughout Europe, Ireland is no stranger to pirate site blocking efforts.
The Pirate Bay was blocked back in 2009, as part of a voluntary agreement between copyright holders and local ISP Eircom. A few years later the High Court ordered other major Internet providers to follow suit.
However, The Pirate Bay is not the only ‘infringing’ site out there. The Motion Picture Association (MPA) has therefore asked the Commercial Court to expand the blockades to other sites.
On behalf of several major Hollywood studios, the group most recently targeted a group of the most used torrent and streaming sites; 1337x.io, EZTV.ag, Bmovies.is, 123movieshub.to, Putlocker.io, RARBG.to, Gowatchfreemovies.to and YTS.am.
On Monday the Commercial Court sided with the movie studios ordering all major Irish ISPs to block the sites. The latest order applies to Eircom, Sky Ireland, Vodafone Ireland, Virgin Media Ireland, Three Ireland, Digiweb, Imagine Telecommunications and Magnet Networks.
According to Justice Brian McGovern, the movie studios had made it clear that the sites in question infringed their copyrights. As such, there are “significant public interest grounds” to have them blocked.
Irish Examiner reports that none of the ISPs opposed the blocking request. This means that new pirate site blockades are mostly a formality now.
MPA EMEA President and Managing Director Stan McCoy is happy with the outcome, which he says will help to secure jobs in the movie industry.
“As the Irish film industry is continuing to thrive, the MPA is dedicated to supporting that growth by combatting the operations of illegal sites that undermine the sustainability of the sector,” McCoy says.
“Preventing these pirate sites from freely disturbing other people’s work will help us provide greater job security for the 18,000 people employed through the Irish film industry and ensure that consumers can continue to enjoy high quality content in the future.”
The MPA also obtained similar blocks against movie4k.to, primewire.ag, and onwatchseries.to. last year, which remain in effect to date.
The torrent and streaming sites that were targeted most recently have millions of visitors worldwide. While the blockades will make it harder for the Irish to access them directly, history has shown that some people circumvent these measures or simply move to other sites.
Several of the targeted sites themselves are also keeping a close eye on these blocking efforts and are providing users with alternative domains to bypass the restrictions, at least temporarily.
As such, it would be no surprise if the Hollywood studios return to the Commercial Court again in a few months.
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.
More and more people are starting to use Kodi-powered set-top boxes to stream video content to their TVs.
While Kodi itself is a neutral platform, sellers who ship devices with unauthorized add-ons give it a bad reputation.
In recent months these boxes have become the prime target for copyright enforcers, including the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE), an anti-piracy partnership between Hollywood studios, Netflix, Amazon, and more than two dozen other companies.
After suing Tickbox last year a group of key ACE members have now filed a similar lawsuit against Dragon Media Inc, which sells the popular Dragon Box. The complaint, filed at a California federal court, also lists the company’s owner Paul Christoforo and reseller Jeff Williams among the defendants.
According to ACE, these type of devices are nothing more than pirate tools, allowing buyers to stream copyright infringing content. That also applies to Dragon Box, they inform the court.
“Defendants market and sell ‘Dragon Box,’ a computer hardware device that Defendants urge their customers to use as a tool for the mass infringement of the copyrighted motion pictures and television shows,” the complaint, picked up by HWR, reads.
The movie companies note that the defendants distribute and promote the Dragon Box as a pirate tool, using phrases such as “Watch your Favourites Anytime For FREE” and “stop paying for Netflix and Hulu.”
When users follow the instructions Dragon provides they get free access to copyrighted movies, TV-shows and live content, ACE alleges. The complaint further points out that the device uses the open source Kodi player paired with pirate addons.
“The Dragon Media application provides Defendants’ customers with a customized configuration of the Kodi media player and a curated selection of the most popular addons for accessing infringing content,” the movie companies write.
“These addons are designed and maintained for the overarching purpose of scouring the Internet for illegal sources of copyrighted content and returning links to that content. When Dragon Box customers click those links, those customers receive unauthorized streams of popular motion pictures and television shows.”
One of the addons that are included with the download and installation of the Dragon software is Covenant.
This addon can be accessed through a preinstalled shortcut which is linked under the “Videos” menu. Users are then able to browse through a large library of curated content, including a separate category of movies that are still in theaters.
According to a statement from Dragon owner Christoforo, business is going well. The company claims to have “over 250,000 customers in 50 states and 4 countries and growing” as well as “374 sellers” across the world.
With this lawsuit, however, the company’s future has suddenly become uncertain.
The movie companies ask the California District for an injunction to shut down the infringing service and impound all Dragon Box devices. In addition, they’re requesting statutory damages which can go up to several million dollars.
At the time of writing the Dragon Box website is still in on air and the company has yet to comment on the allegations.
Thousands perhaps millions of pieces of illegal content flood onto the Internet every single day, a problem that’s only increasing with each passing year.
In the early days of the Internet very little was done to combat the problem but with the rise of social media and millions of citizens using it to publish whatever they like – not least terrorist propaganda and racist speech – governments around the world are beginning to take notice.
Of course, running parallel is the multi-billion dollar issue of intellectual property infringement. Eighteen years on from the first wave of mass online piracy and the majority of popular movies, TV shows, games, software and books are still available to download.
Over the past couple of years and increasingly in recent months, there have been clear signs that the EU in particular wishes to collectively mitigate the spread of all illegal content – from ISIS videos to pirated Hollywood movies – with assistance from major tech companies.
Google, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are all expected to do their part, with the looming stick of legislation behind the collaborative carrots, should they fail to come up with a solution.
To that end, five EU Commissioners – Dimitris Avramopoulos, Elżbieta Bieńkowska, Věra Jourová, Julian King and Mariya Gabriel – will meet today in Brussels with representatives of several online platforms to discuss progress made in dealing with the spread of the aforementioned material.
In a joint statement together with EC Vice-President Andrus Ansip, the Commissioners describe all illegal content as a threat to security, safety, and fundamental rights, demanding a “collective response – from all actors, including the internet industry.”
They note that online platforms have committed significant resources towards removing violent and extremist content, including via automated removal, but more needs to be done to tackle the issue.
“This is starting to achieve results. However, even if tens of thousands of pieces of illegal content have been taken down, there are still hundreds of thousands more out there,” the Commissioners writes.
“And removal needs to be speedy: the longer illegal material stays online, the greater its reach, the more it can spread and grow. Building on the current voluntary approach, more efforts and progress have to be made.”
The Commission says it is relying on online platforms such as Google and Facebook to “step up and speed up their efforts to tackle these threats quickly and comprehensively.” This should include closer cooperation with law enforcement, sharing of information with other online players, plus action to ensure that once taken down, illegal content does not simply reappear.
While it’s clear that that the EC would prefer to work collaboratively with the platforms to find a solution to the illegal content problem, as expected there’s the veiled threat of them being compelled by law to do so, should they fall short of their responsibilities.
“We will continue to promote cooperation with social media companies to detect and remove terrorist and other illegal content online, and if necessary, propose legislation to complement the existing regulatory framework,” the EC warns.
Today’s discussions run both in parallel and in tandem with others specifically targeted at intellectual property abuses. Late November the EC presented a set of new measures to ensure that copyright holders are well protected both online and in the physical realm.
A key aim is to focus on large-scale facilitators, such as pirate site operators, while cutting their revenue streams.
“The Commission seeks to deprive commercial-scale IP infringers of the revenue flows that make their criminal activity lucrative – this is the so-called ‘follow the money’ approach which focuses on the ‘big fish’ rather than individuals,” the Commission explained.
This presentation followed on the heels of a proposal last September which had the EC advocating the take-down-stay-down principle, with pirate content being taken down, automated filters ensuring infringement can be tackled proactively, with measures being taken against repeat infringers.
Again, the EC warned that should cooperation with Internet platforms fail to come up with results, future legislation cannot be ruled out.
Ten years ago, November 2007 to be precise, we published an article featuring the four leading torrent site admins at the time.
Niek van der Maas of Mininova, Justin Bunnell of TorrentSpy, Pirate Bay’s Peter Sunde and isoHunt’s Gary Fung were all kind enough to share their vision of BitTorrent’s future.
This future is the present today, and although the predictions were not all spot-on, there are a few interesting observations to make.
For one, these four men were all known by name, despite the uncertain legal situation they were in. How different is that today, when the operators of most of the world’s largest torrent sites are unknown to the broader public.
Another thing that stands out is that none of these pioneers are still active in the torrent space today. Niek and Justin have their own advertising businesses, Peter is a serial entrepreneur involved in various startups, while Gary works on his own projects.
While they have all moved on, they also remain a part of Internet history, which is why we decided to reach out to them ten years on.
Gary Fung was the first to reply. Those who’ve been following torrent news for a while know that isoHunt was shut down in 2013. The shutdown was the result of a lawsuit and came with a $110 million settlement with the MPAA, on paper.
Today the Canadian entrepreneur has other things on his hands, which includes “leveling up” his now one-year-old daughter. While that can be a day job by itself, he is also finalizing a mobile search app which will be released in the near future.
“The key is speed, and I can measure its speedup of the whole mobile search experience to be 10-100x that of conventional mobile web browsers,” Gary tells us, noting that after years of development, it’s almost ready.
The new search app is not one dedicated to torrents, as isoHunt once was. However, looking back, Gary is proud of what he accomplished with isoHunt, despite the bitter end.
“It was a humbling experience, in more ways than one. I’m proud that I participated and championed the rise of P2P content distribution through isoHunt as a search gateway,” Gary tells us.
“But I was also humbled by the responsibility and power at play, as seen in the lawsuits from the media industry giants, as well as the even larger picture of what P2P technologies were bringing, and still bring today.”
Decentralization has always been a key feature of BitTorrent and Gary sees this coming back in new trends. This includes the massive attention for blockchain related projects such as Bitcoin.
“2017 was the year Bitcoin became mainstream in a big way, and it’s feeling like the Internet before 2000. Decentralization is by nature disruptive, and I can’t wait to see what decentralizing money, governance, organizations and all kinds of applications will bring in the next few years.
“dApps [decentralized apps] made possible by platforms like Ethereum are like generalized BitTorrent for all kinds of applications, with ones we haven’t even thought of yet,” Gary adds.
Not everything is positive in hindsight, of course. Gary tells us that if he had to do it all over again he would take legal issues and lawyers more seriously. Not doing so led to more trouble than he imagined.
As a former torrent site admin, he has thought about the piracy issue quite a bit over the years. And unlike some sites today, he was happy to look for possible solutions to stop piracy.
One solution Gary suggested to Hollywood in the past was a hash recognition system for infringing torrents. A system to automatically filter known infringing files and remove these from cooperating torrent sites could still work today, he thinks.
“ContentID for all files shared on BitTorrent, similar to YouTube. I’ve proposed this to Hollywood studios before, as a better solution to suing their customers and potential P2P technology partners, but it obviously fell on deaf ears.”
In any case, torrent sites and similar services will continue to play an important role in how the media industry evolves. These platforms are showing Hollywood what the public wants, Gary believes.
“It has and will continue to play a role in showing the industry what consumers truly want: frictionless, convenient distribution, without borders of country or bundles. Bundles as in cable channels, but also in any way unwanted content is forced onto consumers without choice.”
While torrents were dominant in the past, the future will be streaming mostly, isoHunt’s founder says. He said this ten years ago, and he believes that in another decade it will have completely replaced cable TV.
Whether piracy will still be relevant then depends on how content is offered. More fragmentation will lead to more piracy, while easier access will make it less relevant.
“The question then will be, will streaming platforms be fragmented and exclusive content bundled into a hundred pieces besides Netflix, or will consumer choice and convenience win out in a cross-platform way?
“A piracy increase or reduction will depend on how that plays out because nobody wants to worry about ten monthly subscriptions to ten different streaming services, much less a hundred,” Gary concludes.
Perhaps we should revisit this again next decade…
The second post in this series, with Peter Sunde, will be published this weekend. The other two pioneers did not respond or declined to take part.
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.
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