From its relatively basic and humble roots back in the 1990s, Internet-based distribution of copyright-infringing content underwent a renaissance at the turn of the century.
Peer-to-peer technologies, including the now omnipresent BitTorrent protocol, brought file-sharing to the masses and with it a huge problem for the content industries.
Twenty years on – a lifetime in technology – BitTorrent still attracts hundreds of millions of users but the immediacy of streaming, including movies, TV series, live TV and sports, is now considered one of the greatest threats facing copyright holders and distribution platforms.
This week, in remarks made at the Thirteenth Law Enforcement and Industry Meeting on Intellectual Property Enforcement in Washington, DC, the Department of Justice weighed in on these dramatic changes in the piracy landscape over the past decade.
“Copyright pirates have moved from peddling individual copies of movies, music, and software on street corners or offering individual downloads online, to operating technologically advanced, multi-national streaming services that generate millions of dollars in illicit profits,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski.
While online streaming of pirated content is nothing new, in more recent years there has been a noticeable shift in the professionalism of those providing and distributing content, with highly organized unlicensed IPTV providers and ‘pirate’ CDN operations presenting new challenges to entertainment companies and law enforcement alike.
Piracy-enabled set-top boxes, which in many cases draw their content from the type of services referenced by Benczkowski, remain high on the agenda. The Assistant Attorney General also referenced the recent charges against eight Las Vegas residents who allegedly ran two of the largest platforms in the country.
“One of the services – known as Jetflicks – allegedly obtained infringing television programs by using sophisticated computer scripts to scour pirate websites around the world and collect the television shows,” Benczkowski said.
“It then made the programming available for paying Jetflicks subscribers to stream and download, often just one day after the original episodes aired. The scheme, as charged, resulted in the loss of millions of dollars by television program and motion picture copyright owners.”
This leveraging of technology to provide content quickly and at scale is a concern for the USDOJ, which indicates it will continue to pursue “high-impact cases” to deter IP crime. However, Benczkowski noted that changes to the law or creative legal strategies may be required to reel in the more elusive offenders.
“Existing laws do not always address the conduct that IP criminals are engaging in today. Or, put differently, smart criminals may seek to avoid serious repercussions by developing new technologies or security measures to skirt legal authorities,” he said.
“We need to be creative and cooperative in thinking about possible solutions, whether through looking at additional charging strategies, or considering legislative amendments.”
What those strategies might be is open to question but Benczkowski believes law enforcement will “never” be in a position to solve the IP crime problem through prosecution alone.
Nevertheless, through cooperation and the enhancement of relationships with overseas law enforcement entities to target the “worst actors”, he believes that it’s possible to significantly reduce the profits available to those engaged in criminal copyright infringement.
Anyone who has followed piracy and copyright infringement issues for years or even decades, few developments fall into the ‘WOW’ category anymore.
That torrent and streaming services are still getting sued or raided is frankly daily fodder and after the military-style raid on Kim Dotcom hit the headlines, pretty much anything is possible.
Over the past couple of years, however, something so bizarre – so ridiculous – has been developing on sites like YouTube to make even the most outspoken of pirates raise an eyebrow or two. We’re talking about the rise of the IPTV seller and reseller ‘celebrities’ who are openly promoting their businesses like a regular company might.
As reported this week, IPTV reseller company Boom Media LLC is getting sued by DISH Networks and NagraStar in the United States. That another one of these outfits is being targeted isn’t a shock. However, when promotional YouTube videos are produced in court evidence, with the alleged owner of the company personally appearing in them stating that “it’s pirated f**cking streams. It’s no different than buying f**king knockoff shoes. It’s black market shit,” one has to wonder what the hell is going on.
So, just one person has allegedly done something reckless or ill-considered, right? Wrong. This type of behavior is neither isolated or rare.
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been sitting through hours of YouTube videos produced by people selling or reselling ‘pirate’ IPTV packages. In a worrying number, particularly given the popularity of their services, owners, founders, or ’employees’ of these outfits appear in person.
Their names are publicly known and in some cases, even their addresses. These are not small players, not by any stretch. In some cases, we’re talking huge numbers of followers and many hundreds of thousands of views, selling well-recognized services.
While in some cases hyperbole is clearly part of the pitch, it’s child’s play to find operators of these companies bragging about how much money they’ve made or are making, and how many customers they have. They speak to their subscribers, in person via live-streams, conduct detailed Q&A sessions, while ‘confirming’ the supposed legality of what they’re doing.
In a surprising number of cases, negative comments by users concerning legality are passed off as ridiculous, with sellers describing the sale of pirate IPTV subscriptions as residing in a gray area with the law powerless to do anything about it. While we could have a detailed argument here about the intricacies of any number of laws, both criminal and civil, and any potential defenses to them, these people appear to be missing the point.
Just this week, Openload – a true Internet giant with considerable resources – was pummeled into submission by dozens of the world’s largest content companies after agreeing to pay substantial damages. This was a file-hosting goliath being beaten up dozens of bigger goliaths. No face on YouTube required.
Another example can be found in Kim Dotcom, who says he has spent upwards of $40m in legal fees, even though, on the surface, many argue he has a solid legal basis for mounting a successful defense in the United States. But that’s $40,000,0000 already, before trial, an amount that will no doubt skyrocket in the event he ever gets sent there.
But here’s the thing. The majority of these IPTV ‘celebrities’, for want of a better term, are actually living in the United States already. It’s not necessary to name any of them, they do enough of that themselves. But in addition to their self-declared IPTV empires, some have significant and legitimate additional business interests too, which could all be put in jeopardy, one way or another, should the proverbial hit the fan.
In a piracy world where many are discussing anonymity, encryption, proxies, cryptocurrency payments, to name just a few, these people are deliberately making their identities known. They are not hiding away and as a result, they are known by anti-piracy groups who probably can’t believe their luck.
They not only have their real names and their own faces splashed across their own IPTV-based YouTube channels, but also channels that cover other aspects of their sometimes flamboyant lives. Anti-piracy groups don’t need investigators to find out who they are anymore, it’s common knowledge. An alias? Not parading yourself on the modern equivalent of TV? That’s soooo 1999, apparently.
The big question is whether these people really have lost their minds, or do they actually know something that most other people don’t? When did putting your own face in multiple videos, selling access to an admittedly pirated product via a company in your own name, become part of a solid business plan? It’s truly bizarre and cannot end well.
Welcome to 2019, it’s a truly strange place to be.
Selling ‘pirate’ IPTV packages and subscriptions to the public is a growing market, with the obvious potential to end badly for anyone involved.
With that in mind, there’s a growing trend for so-called IPTV resellers to be extremely open about their activities, utilizing highly active social media accounts and particularly YouTube channels, where they promote their services, describe them as illegal, and then have their own faces front and center.
For Boom Media, a prominent reseller of various ‘pirate’ IPTV services, this business model has attracted the wrong type of attention. The company, which trades as Boom Media LLC in North Carolina, is now being sued by DISH Network and NagraStar for illegally offering their content to the public.
Alongside the LLC, John Henderson of New York and Debra Henderson of North Carolina are also named as defendants.
The lawsuit, filed in a New York district court, states that Boom Media is run from John’s home and he is the sole member of the company. Together with his mother, Debra, it’s alleged they sell “access codes” (a common term used in DISH lawsuits to reference IPTV subscriptions) which are designed to enable subscribers to illegally receive DISH programming via the Internet.
“The codes are designed and produced to enable a set-top box or other Internet-enabled device to access servers used to transmit DISH programming to customers of the MFG TV, Beast TV, Nitro TV, Murica Streams, Epic IPTV, Vader Streams and OK2 services,” the complaint reads.
Noting that Vader Streams and OK2 are no longer on offer from Boom Media (likely due to the former being shut down by ACE earlier this year), the lawsuit notes that the defendants also promote their service to access channels such as HBO and Showtime, plus PPV events associated with UFC, WWE, and various boxing promotions.
In common with similar suits filed recently, DISH says it was able to determine that the channels were sourced from its service due to watermarks embedded in its broadcasts. These were then resold from the above-listed IPTV suppliers by Boom Media, which charged customers between $10 and $20 per month with an option to buy a “pre-loaded” set-top box for $150.
While DISH points the finger firmly at John Henderson for the running of Boom Media, the broadcaster claims that it is his mother, Debra, who receives payment from Boom’s customers.
As previously mentioned, Boom Media has a YouTube channel which it uses to promote the various packages it sells. This hasn’t gone unnoticed by DISH, which highlights some of the language used by Boom Media in its videos.
“In a video posted to the Boom Media YouTube channel, Defendant John Henderson informed customers that “[y]ou guys are buying pirated streams, this shit is not Hulu, it’s not Netflix, it’s pirated f**cking streams. It’s no different than buying f**king knockoff shoes. It’s black market shit,” DISH writes in its complaint.
In common with other similar lawsuits, DISH hasn’t gone down the copyright infringement route with this action, instead opting for willful violations of the Federal Communications Act.
The company demands a permanent injunction to prevent the ongoing behavior and seizure of all devices and equipment used to facilitate the violations. It also wants to seize the Boommedia.org domain name (and any others involved in the scheme) plus “all hard copy and electronic records” regarding persons involved in the entire “Rebroadcasting Scheme”.
At this stage it’s difficult to put a figure on the final amount DISH will demand in damages but even hundreds of thousands of dollars could be a conservative estimate.
Right up until early this month, IPTV Smarters, one of the most popular and impressive IPTV players, was available from Google’s Play Store.
The software, which is available for Android and iOS, allows people to watch IPTV streams but, at the time of delivery, carries no content. If users want to view anything, they have to add login details for their service of choice.
While the software can be used for legitimate means in the same manner as a torrent client, for example, some IPTV Smarters users utilize the software to access infringing content. As a result, on October 7, 2019, the developer of the software received a copyright complaint which led to Google removing it from Google Play.
At the time, the company behind the software, New Spark Technology, told TorrentFreak that this was the third time it had received a complaint about its player and that its legal team would sort out the issue. That has now resulted in the software being reinstated by Google.
Speaking with TF, Amanpreet Singh declined to mention the name of the company behind the complaint but did reveal that it was based on copyright law and alleged breaches of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA).
“Our lawyer has handled this case with Google and the company that claimed. We have clarified to them that we are not offering content and not infringing copyright. As all know, we are not offering any kind of media content – streams, subscriptions, channels, etc. The user must have their own content,” Singh said.
The outcome of the claim, according to Singh, is that this should never happen again, at least when it comes to any future complaints from the unnamed company.
“I have discussed with my lawyer, they will work on it to prevent it from happening again. But the same group/company can’t complain anymore I assure you,” he added.
“In the end, we have got our application back as we promised. There was no evidence so it was a false complaint.”
While many app developers are small teams without the resources to fight back against dubious claims, that’s not the case with the company behind IPTV Smarters. Singh says it’s a pretty big development operation with 67 staff members.
Meanwhile, an apparently similar complaint, against the IPTV player Perfect Player, is still ongoing. That tool was removed from Google Play just a few days ago and remains unavailable via the platform.
‘Pirate’ IPTV services make the news every week, mostly in connection with streaming movies, TV shows, and sports without obtaining permission from rightsholders.
Enforcement actions against these entities are certainly on the increase and in most instances it’s easy to see why copyright holders have a problem with them. However, it’s clear that some companies either don’t understand what they’re dealing with or simply don’t care.
Case in point, the popular Android app Perfect Player. This software is effectively a network-capable media player that enables users to enter a playlist from an IPTV provider and watch video, no matter what the source. In common with Windows Media Player, it doesn’t involve itself with end-user conduct and can be used to watch legitimate streams.
This week, however, the software – which has in excess of a million downloads from Google Play – was removed by Google because of a copyright complaint. It was filed by a major pay-TV provider, the name of which we’ve agreed not to publish while the complaint is ongoing.
It states that the software allows users to watch channels from unauthorized sources and is therefore illegal. However, there appears to be a considerable flaw in the pay-TV company’s arguments.
In common with the developers behind various torrent clients, Perfect Player’s developer doesn’t dictate how the software is used because no control can be exercised over that. Just like Windows Media Player, uTorrent, or even VLC (which has similar capabilities), it can be used for entirely legal purposes – or not, depending on the choice of the user.
To support its complaint, we understand that the pay-TV provider supplied screenshots showing Perfect Player playing content to which the company holds the rights. This is particularly odd because any content being played is actioned by and is the responsibility of the user.
To have received the content in the first place, the company (or whoever they obtained the app from) must’ve actively configured Perfect Player to infringe by loading it with the playlist from an illicit IPTV provider. Perfect Player contains no playlists when supplied directly from Google Play, it’s content-neutral.
To strike an analogy, you can’t put a bullet in a gun, shoot someone in the head, and then blame the gun manufacturer. Likewise, if you don’t want illicit streams turning up in a software player, don’t have someone load it with infringing playlists from third-parties and then blame a software developer.
“These guys told me that they own ‘Premier’ channels and we should stop transmitting these channels. I answered that the app doesn’t contain any content or channels,” Perfect Player’s developer informs TorrentFreak.
“They then sent another email with a screenshot, showing that they are able to watch their channels in the app.”
TorrentFreak contacted the TV company’s anti-piracy team asking why they chose to target Perfect Player while gently pointing out the playlist issue detailed above. Unfortunately, at the time of publication, the company had not responded to our request for comment.
Giving the TV company the benefit of the doubt for a moment, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that it acquired a ready-configured copy of Perfect Player from a third-party that already contained a URL for a ‘pirate’ service. That could give the impression it’s a dedicated pirate app.
That being said, downloading a copy from Google Play would’ve highlighted the important differences between a non-configured player and one set up for piracy. That’s impossible now, of course, because Google has taken Perfect Player down.
With the help of a lawyer, the developer is now filing a DMCA counter-notice with Google Play which will require the pay-TV company to either double down or back off. Unless Google chooses to restore Perfect Player in the meantime, of course.
Earlier this month, Google also took down the IPTV Smarters app from its Play Store following a “false complaint”, according to its developer. The company’s lawyers are reportedly working to have the software restored but at the time of writing, it remains unavailable on copyright grounds.
When they don’t use protection such as VPNs, pirates who use BitTorrent-like peer-to-peer systems are relatively easy to track down. Their IP addresses are publicly viewable meaning that one subpoena later, content companies can obtain their names and addresses from ISPs.
The situation is quite different when it comes to users of regular ‘pirate’ IPTV services. Their IP addresses and personal details are usually only known to their provider, so proving infringement is more difficult. Of course, if the IPTV provider itself is targeted by a company like DISH, it may decide to squeal to lessen the pain of its own demise.
In the summer it was revealed that NagraStar had been sending out settlement letters to people it accused of pirating DISH and Bell content using pirate IPTV services. The company reportedly asked for around $3,500 in compensation to make a potential lawsuit disappear.
Now, according to sources cited by CordCutters News, NagraStar and DISH are upping the tempo by threatening yet more IPTV users with lawsuits.
The publication says that it has received multiple reports of people who have been tracked down and provided with copies of their PayPal transactions which showed they purchased a subscription from illicit IPTV services.
Which IPTV services are involved this time around isn’t currently public knowledge but a user of RocketIPTV was previously forced to apologize on NagraStar’s website as part of a settlement.
None of this should come as a surprise. There are plenty of stories from users around the web indicating that NagraStar has obtained their records from a ‘pirate’ supplier, whether that was an IPTV provider or, more commonly, someone dealing in Internet Key Sharing (IKS) servers or codes.
In fact, when examining some of DISH’s ongoing lawsuits last week, TF noticed a statement from the broadcaster clearly indicating that it had obtained business records from a company called Digital TV that was helping it to sue. An excerpt from the case (pdf), filed on October 1, 2019, provides the details.
While this is a new case, other cases involving DISH, NagraStar, NFusion Private Server, and its resellers have been ongoing for a very long time.
One case, which dates back six years, shows that handing over information to NagraStar is part of the plan and that the company is very thorough in chasing people right down the chain.
While obtaining satellite programming using IKS was once rampant and is still an issue for broadcasters, IPTV is arguably a bigger problem today. With that in mind, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that DISH and its partners are branching out to target customers of IPTV services in the same manner.
And with IPTV resellers being asked to pay around $7,500 in settlements, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when they hand over subscribers’ personal details either. After all, the skin-saving game is hardly new when people are faced with damages claims in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
TorrentFreak was previously informed that most providers rarely care whether people supply their correct information when signing up for a service. But when PayPal addresses are involved, in most cases DISH is already too close to home.
If the figures that were cited following the recent international police operation against Xtream Codes are any yardstick, providers and sellers of ‘pirate’ IPTV providers currently number in their thousands.
While there are relatively few sources at the very top of the pyramid, there could be in excess of 5,000 players selling IPTV subscriptions to the public, which by recent estimates could dwarf even the five million accounts cited by the authorities.
In common with the task of removing every torrent, streaming and similar site from the Internet, the possibility of handing a death blow to the entire IPTV industry seems a distant dream for content providers. But that doesn’t mean incremental efforts aren’t underway.
As previously documented, the massive Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment, which comprises dozens of the world’s largest content companies, is quietly taking down sellers and providers of IPTV. Today we can reveal that another four have had their domains commandeered by MPA America, the organization previously known as the MPAA.
VStreamTV.com first appeared to gain traction back in 2015, selling an inconspicuous set-top box to the public. Promising no contract and no monthly fees, the $349 device boasted 100,000 movies and TV shows, plus 1,000 channels of live entertainment.
By 2019, the site was offering its latest ‘VS4+’ device, promising unlimited entertainment to customers looking to permanently cut the cord. Then, a few weeks ago, it all came to an end. The site shut down without notice after its domain was taken over by the MPA. Like many before it, it now directs to the anti-piracy portal operated by ACE.
According to web records, MaxTVLive.com only appeared on the scene in 2018. Among other things, the site seems to have offered a custom Android APK to be installed on users’ own devices. For the price of $25 per month, Max TV users could enjoy live TV and other content on a single device, with extra devices costing an extra $5 per month.
However in common with VStreamTV, a few weeks ago the party came to an abrupt end. It seems likely that ACE came knocking with demands to shut down the business as the service’s website is now owned by the MPA and redirects to the ACE portal.
What ultimately happened with MyIQXTV.com isn’t in question – it was taken over by the MPA and now redirects to the ACE portal. We weren’t able to recover a copy of the operation’s website but if it was in any way connected to the IXQtv service (note subtle difference in spelling), it’s no surprise it appeared on the MPA/ACE radar.
IXQtv shut down August 1st and was no ordinary operation. While many IPTV providers operate via resellers, IXQtv operated a ridiculously full-blown multi-level-marketing (MLM) scheme which paid affiliates not only on sales of streaming packages but also commissions for recruiting yet more affiliates. Think Amway for IPTV.
Finally, the obviously-named JailbrokenBlackBox.co takes last place on today’s update of recent domain takeovers. Information on precisely what packages, services or tools the site offered isn’t clear but like the others, it clearly attracted the negative attention of the world’s biggest entertainment companies.
Details of earlier domain takeovers carried out by ACE and the MPA against IPTV-related operations can be found here (1,2,3,4)
People who want to view IPTV services on their mobile or set-top devices need a software player with which to do so.
IPTV Smarters is one of the most impressive and popular applications in the niche and is used by large numbers of users on both Android and iOS-based devices.
Up until today, people could just head off to Google’s Play Store to download a copy. However, visitors to the page are now advised that the URL no longer exists, a pretty clear indication that IPTV Smarters has been deleted from the service.
Given the popularity of the software, TorrentFreak spoke with New Spark Technology, the company behind IPTV Smarters. Amanpreet Singh, who is listed as the person behind the Android app, says that the tool was indeed removed from Google Play following a complaint.
Singh says that he prefers not to share the details of the complaint, or reveal who sent it, because “it’s just a false complaint as usual.” The developer informs TF that this is the third time that the app has been deleted from Google Play and the company’s legal team is on the case.
“It’s normal [to receive such complaints] and [it has] happened three times so far. We had it sorted out last time and this time. We have executed the same procedure with the help of our lawyers,” he says.
The last time the app was taken down earlier this year it remained offline for 10 days. This time the company says it will “try to get it back as soon as possible.”
“As it’s just a video player, that’s why it will be back very soon,” Singh says.
While many people understand that IPTV Smarters doesn’t provide any content or IPTV streams to users, there are plenty out there who don’t seem to appreciate how it all works. They see IPTV Smarters getting recommended as a good IPTV-viewing solution and then expect the company to provide the streams as well.
In response, the company says it added a popup disclaimer to its site a few days ago, unconnected to the current disappearance of its app from Google Play, explaining that it doesn’t “endorse or guarantee” the use of its software by third parties “for streaming and subscriptions.”
“We respects the Intellectual Property rights of others and does not endorse any of the Intellectual Property violation by third parties. Linking of New Spark Technology, WHMCS & IPTV softwares to any of the third party links or platforms does not constitute any of the its endorsement or sponsorships [sic], it reads.”
“We put the disclaimer on our website because many users keep asking for a subscription ( username / password and url ), that is what we don’t offer,” Singh informs TF.
“Also, many customers keep asking us why their channels are not working blah blah blah. So, to prevent us getting unnecessary questions, we updated the disclaimer.”
At the time of writing, the App Store variant for Apple devices is still online via the web and installable on iOS devices, suggesting that the problem is, at least for now, isolated to the Android variant.
Precisely when that will return for download is uncertain but Singh appears confident it won’t take too long.
Last week the illicit IPTV market was thrown into turmoil when Italian authorities teamed up with law enforcement groups in the EU.
Their operation, dubbed ‘Black IPTV‘, targeted individuals and equipment behind at least one Italy-based IPTV provider. More importantly, however, it also targeted Xtream Codes, a management system utilized by many providers and sellers of IPTV services.
While Xtream Codes claimed to be a content-agnostic system, its popularity in the unlicensed market is hard to understate. With an estimated 5,000 providers of varying kinds on its books servicing around 50 million end-users, its closure had an immediate and dramatic impact.
In the immediate aftermath of the raids, suppliers reported an inability to sign up new customers or renew customer subscriptions. Within several hours, it became clear that anyone reliant on the system would be more seriously affected, with IPTV services going dark and paying customers seeing red.
As soon as news of the raids appeared on our radar, we contacted several previously responsive players in the IPTV market. Precisely zero responded to our requests for comment amid the chaos, which was widespread and by some estimates affected up to 90% of the market. Data from Google Trends does seem to indicate that plenty of people hit its search engine for news.
With no obvious central source for information on the impact of the operation, the day after the raids TorrentFreak contacted Sandvine, a networking equipment company that has previously provided detailed analysis on general Internet and piracy-related traffic.
An external source that requested anonymity told us that due to technical issues the full force of the raid may not be felt until Thursday or Friday, the two days directly after the raids took place. So, we asked Sandvine if the company had noticed any significant drop in illicit streaming traffic during that period – it had.
This week a spokesperson for the company told TorrentFreak that on Friday September 20, Sandvine estimated that illicit streaming traffic had decreased 50% from the levels seen on Thursday, a massive drop by any standards.
That many illicit IPTV providers had been seriously affected by Xtream Codes’ removal from the market didn’t really come as a shock. Equally, it wasn’t really a surprise when providers began to adapt to the loss either.
Slowly but surely, some providers and sellers began migrating to alternative management systems, as detailed in emails to subscribers seen by TF. By Saturday, better news for them began to filter through, with services not only returning but also with subscriber payment and subscription information intact.
Sandvine gave TF a brief list of five providers, all of which went down completely between the 19th and 21st of September. By 21st/22nd all were recovering to a greater or lesser extent, with only one failing to return at all.
That being said, the overall market is huge, so it’s almost impossible to say how many have now returned, in whole or in part. It isn’t difficult to find complaints that services are still down even today but there are also several reports of providers that weren’t affected at all by the Xtream Codes situation.
Typically, there are individuals and groups out there trying to make hay even before the storm clouds have cleared. TF has heard of a handful of hopeful end-users who believed they were paying to access a service that was still up, only to have their ‘supplier’ cut and run.
Equally, we were pointed to a service that claims to be an Xtream Codes replacement but is probably nothing more than an elaborate scam. Since the prices were so high, we didn’t feel tempted to test that theory out.
On the other hand, real Xtream Codes alternatives are out there but how vulnerable they are to similar action will remain to be seen. In particular, one service seems happy to take orders and is reportedly in use by a number of previously stranded providers and resellers.
If nothing else, most of those in the chain should now be more prepared if there’s similar action in the future. Or less surprised at least.
As reported Wednesday, police in Italy and several other European countries coordinated to take down Xtream Codes, at least one IPTV provider, and more than twenty individuals and related equipment linked to the services.
The precise roles of all these people remain unclear. However, there can be little doubt that emphasis is being placed on the importance of the Xtream Codes management system which, according to law enforcement officials, lay at the very heart of the targeted criminal operation even though the software didn’t supply any content.
This very large operation involved police forces in Italy, the Netherlands, France and Bulgaria. It was coordinated across borders with the assistance of Eurojust, an EU agency that helps agencies from member states to co-operate in criminal matters.
Yesterday afternoon, a press conference took place to explain how the operation panned out, who it had targeted, and to detail various additional pieces of information. It began with Filippo Spiezia, National Member for Italy at Eurojust, explaining that hundreds of officers had been involved in the operation to dismantle the technological infrastructure of a “criminal IPTV network.”
Spiezia confirmed that 181 servers had been taken down and seized and more than 800,000 users (police reported 700,000 earlier yesterday) had been disconnected from the Xtream Codes service when it was taken down.
In what became a common theme throughout the conference with several participants, Spieza sometimes appeared to speak generally about the entire operation, which included the takedown of at least one actual IPTV provider, then sometimes in relation to Xtream Codes alone.
This ambiguity and lack of clarity appear to be causing confusion. For example, Reuters reported the following yesterday:
“The biggest illegal platform shut down on Wednesday, dubbed Xtream Codes, had around 50 millions users worldwide,” Reuters reported, citing Gianluca Berruti of the Italian tax police.
“It sold a bundled pay-TV service that included premium content from Comcast’s Sky Italia, Netflix, Mediaset, Dazn, for a monthly subscription of 12 euros,” it claimed Berruti added.
Again, ‘pirate’ IPTV sellers utilizing the Xtream Codes platform may have been doing just that but, at this stage, the second claim above doesn’t make sense or indeed add up. Fifty million users multiplied by 12 euros a month is a staggering amount of money that wasn’t supported by financial information provided later in the conference.
In common with all of those present at yesterday’s gathering, Filippo Spiezia expressed satisfaction at the success of the international operation, noting that cross-border cooperation had proved invaluable since the investigation began.
“During these months of work at Eurojust, we have adapted to the judicial needs of the Italian authorities….to the specific legal requirements of our new partners. This is the first example of an action conducted with these modalities,” he said.
“Thanks to this action we have sent out a very clear signal to criminals that even in this specific domain, even in this specific area which represents the most advanced form of criminality, we will [respond] to them.”
Vincenzo Piscitelli, Deputy Prosecutor in Naples, painted a picture of small offenses by end-users (pirate IPTV subscribers) fueling “huge illegal activities” behind the scenes.
“So this is why we really tried to hit these organizational structures at the heart and that was done through the investigation that was carried out by the public prosecutor’s office of Naples,” he said.
Next up was Valeria Sico, Public Prosecutor in Naples. Sico spoke quickly and through a translator, so that may account for what at times felt like confusing output. While clearly an expert in law, those looking for clear and specific technical details from the Prosecutor failed to receive them.
Some of what Sico said made sense but the fact that Xtream Codes isn’t normally understood to be an actual provider of illegal streams (although it is undoubtedly used by outsiders to manage them), it’s worth reproducing some of her words in full, to see how muddied this has become.
“There was software created by two citizens of Greek nationality. They have a company which had a legal seat in Bulgaria,” Sico said, confirming the information previously supplied by the Italian authorities.
“So this software enables the disclosure and the transmission of [pirate] TV signals through digital ways to different servers which were constructed by the organizations, by the host providers in the Netherlands and in France.
“Through these servers, the signal – the digital signal – was therefore sent to different IP addresses of final users and these people would then receive the [illegal] television signal in their homes.”
Again, it’s worth reiterating that Sico was speaking through a translator so some context and detail may have been lost but from there, the explanation didn’t really become any more clear.
“For the first time, having identified the company that was producing the software, we went directly to the company that was producing the software so they were enabling people to decrypt the signal,” she said.
“So this is why we also went right to the physical place where the disclosure [broadcast] of the signal would take place within these hosting provider companies in Holland and in France….the signal was broadcast to the company that had created the illegal signal – the software company – and then that was sent to the end-users.”
Again, this isn’t the broadly accepted function of the Xtream Codes system, unless the company itself was also involved in the provision of illicit streams. That claim has been the subject of speculation in the past 24 hours, perhaps based on the Reuters report.
Thankfully, Cybercrime Prosecutor Lodewijk Van Zwieten from the Netherlands kept things fairly simple in his prepared speech.
He began by noting that 93 servers had been taken down in one location in the Netherlands, all of which had targeted the Italian market. This seems to be a reference to equipment operated by the actual IPTV provider shown in the video published yesterday.
According to a chart published by the authorities and reproduced below, it was using the Xtream Codes management software, something which seems to have led the company’s software becoming embroiled in the investigation.
Van Zwieten said that no offenses had been committed by Dutch citizens but confirmed that local Internet infrastructure had been abused by the ‘criminal’ network.
“In the Netherlands, we are proud of the fact that we have a big affordable hosting industry which is very important for our economy but we don’t want these services to be used on a large scale for criminal activities,” he said.
“That is why we find it so important, together with the Dutch hosting industry, to act very diligently against abuse. So it was our pleasure to comply with a request from our Italian colleagues.”
Riccardo Croce, Head of Financial Cybercrime Investigation with the State Police in Italy, said that the “criminal group” (again, no precise explanation of which entities that phrase encompasses) had five million users in Italy alone, contributing to the 2,180,000 euros generated every month in illicit funds.
As highlighted earlier, the figures offered by various parties don’t add up, lack clarity, and as a result, appear to contradict each other.
In common with Sico’s speech, Creco’s was also presented through a translator. However, Creco was absolutely clear that the plan was to get to the “complex mapping of international technological infrastructure and to really hit them at the heart of the infrastructure.”
He spoke briefly about the complex technological network being used to transfer the actual streams but then appeared to touch on the importance of Xtream Codes once again, noting that entities in the chain were able to use a particular service to sell the product to the public.
“Our investigation was based on this, to go to the source level of this illegal signal, to disarticulate completely all servers in various European countries in which the infrastructure existed to replicate these signals,” Creco said.
“And, to hit for the first time, the company that was offering this very interesting support to the criminal infrastructure which put at its disposal these panels, network panels, the computer system through which the multitude of pay channels were able to be sold and resold through a chain of people called resellers throughout Europe so it could end up at the end-users.”
The paragraph above is possibly the clearest description of Xtream Codes’ function from someone in authority since yesterday’s raids. Creco’s statement not only separates the system from the actual provision of illegal streams but describes its function as most people understand it.
While many will argue that Xtream Codes was content-agnostic and capable of being put to plenty of legitimate uses, it’s clear that the authorities do not believe that was the intent at all. Through their statements, as confusing as they were at times, the message seems to be that Xtream Codes was perhaps the most important cog in the wheel.
There are many huge questions now being asked in the unlicensed IPTV community but perhaps the biggest is what information was held on the servers of Xtream Codes at the moment they were seized. They are a potential goldmine of information, not only relating to the many IPTV providers and sellers that used the service but also their customers. The worldwide fallout could be immense.
Importantly, however, Xtream Codes (as popular as it was) is not the only product out there capable of doing this kind of management job. So while the company’s days may already be over, others are already gearing up to fill in the gaps. Whether anyone will want to centralize their data with a vulnerable third-party again will be up for debate, however.
Reports of legal action and law enforcement activities against IPTV services and providers are a regular occurrence but news coming out of Italy this morning is particularly interesting.
According to the Guardia di Finanza (GdF), a law enforcement agency under the authority of the Minister of Economy and Finance, a huge operation is underway to target and dismantle the software service known as Xtream Codes.
What makes the case unusual is that Xtream Codes isn’t an IPTV provider as such. Usually operating from Xtream-codes.com, the company behind the software/system offers a comprehensive package that allows people to manage their own IPTV reselling service and its customers.
The system is subscription-based, starting at around 15 euros per month and running to 59 euros per month for the powerful “all-in-one” solution.
The Guardia di Finanza say that 100 officers from its Special Unit for the Protection of Privacy and Technological Fraud (NSPFT) are taking part in the operation to take Xtream Codes down.
Early reports suggest that the system has been “seized”, allegedly preventing 700,000 users from accessing the platform. Xtream Codes itself recently reported having more than 5,000 clients servicing in excess of 50,000,000 end clients.
The Italian police unit is describing Xtream Codes as an international criminal group that’s being targeted not only in Italy but with simultaneous searches in the Netherlands, France, Germany, Greece and Bulgaria.
Xtream Codes is registered as a company in Bulgaria, has a local VAT number, and lists an address in Petrich for its offices. According to its now-disappeared website, it was founded by two students. Police say that 25 “managers” have been identified but there’s no specific mention of any arrests.
Disruption is already being reported by some IPTV sellers utilizing the Xtream Codes system. Authorities in Italy are set to provide more information on the operation this morning so we’ll update this article as more news comes in.
While the TV licensing system in the UK is viewed as an unpopular tax by many citizens, millions hand over money every year in order to receive broadcasts into their homes.
For the sum of £154.50 for a color TV license and £52 for a black and white equivalent, residents can potentially obtain access to dozens of channels via satellite (Freesat) or antenna (Freeview), none of which come with a subscription charge. In fact, those who don’t pay the license fee can still receive them, just not entirely legally.
Of course, those subscribing to a ‘pirate’ IPTV provider gain access to thousands of channels, including all the premium channels that would otherwise add hundreds of pounds of costs to the average bill.
There’s no doubt that gaining access to Sky’s premium offerings for next to nothing is an attractive proposition for customers. However, a UK-based IPTV provider informs TorrentFreak that these aren’t always the most popular channels with his subscribers.
Perhaps surprisingly, when looking at the Top 10 most-watched channels on the service, BBC One, BBC Two, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 all get a prominent position. Every single one is not only available for free (license permitting) via satellite or antenna but also available via the Internet for UK residents.
TF was able to review data from the IPTV provider’s panel which listed the service’s most popular streams from a few weeks ago. It showed that the most-viewed channel was ITV HD with just over 16%, with BBC1 HD in second place with close to 13%. National Geographic, a non-free to air channel, sat in third with just under 10%, closely followed by free to air Channel 4 HD.
Of the top 12 most popular channels listed in a provided chart, six are already free to air – ITV, BBC1 One, Channel 4, BBC Two, 4seven, Channel 5, ITV2, E4, Quest Red, and Quest. So why the inflated interest in channels already covered by a TV license and free-to-air?
The IPTV provider said it polled some customers, with a number of interesting reasons reportedly coming up, most of which appear to center around service-related issues. Firstly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, users of Freeview complained about not being able to get a good enough signal.
The digital Freeview service is supposedly available to 98% of the population but anecdotal evidence suggests that many are left with a poor signal, a reduced channel offering, picture break up, or not being able to receive the service at all.
Freesat (satellite) users can usually overcome most of these issues but many televisions don’t come with an appropriate tuner and in all cases, an external satellite dish must be installed, which presents another barrier to entry.
IPTV services, on the other hand, require a broadband connection and a cheap subscription, no external equipment (satellite dishes, antenna, or tuners) required.
It could be countered that several of the main BBC channels can be acquired via the Internet using the BBC iPlayer, which unquestionably provides a first-class service. However, online offerings from ITV (ITV Hub), Channel 4 (All 4), and Channel 5 (My5) only come in SD quality and in some cases, that’s a best-case scenario.
Most of the rest of the channels in the ‘free’ range (outside the regular TV license fee) have no online offer at all but an IPTV service can provide them all, in most cases in HD quality.
Only adding to the hassle of going legal is the fact that most if not all of the above channels’ online offerings now require registration, meaning that users have to have accounts with them all to receive them on a TV. On the other side, a subscription with an IPTV provider requires a single sign-up.
According to the provider, users don’t like to have accounts with all of these different official suppliers and they don’t enjoy the low-quality images on offer from their online portals, even if they are free to access. They also prefer the flexibility of being able to watch channels on any device they like, rather than being restricted to the platforms supported by various providers.
A UK user with experience of all of the systems above confirmed that while having Freeview or Freesat is a nice option, switching from app to app to receive other channels on various devices is a sub-standard experience when compared to that offered by unlicensed providers. He also questioned whether “any harm was being done” to the legitimate providers by accessing their channels from an IPTV provider.
“I pay my license for the BBC and I don’t use up any of their Internet [bandwidth]. I watch all the adverts on everything else same as everyone. Where’s the negative, I don’t see any?” he said.
In common with the provider we spoke with, the TV viewer pointed out that having everything in one place (a single IPTV subscription) is much more convenient than having to switch around various sources, even if that means paying a few pounds per month.
So while some people clearly latch on to unlicensed IPTV subscriptions for premium content usually offered by companies such as Sky, it seems that at least, in this case, convenience is also playing a big factor.
Unlicensed IPTV services are now billed as one of the biggest threats faced by producers of movies and television shows.
There are numerous cases pending against alleged operators of ‘pirate’ services actioned under copyright law.
However, in the United States, DISH Networks and NagraStar are increasingly using the Federal Communications Act to target companies and individuals who it claims are involved in the capture and subsequent rebroadcasting of its satellite signals via ‘pirate’ IPTV services.
The latest targets are One Box TV, LLC and alleged sole manager Donna Fogle, both of Florida. It’s alleged that One Box TV sold $19 per month IPTV subscriptions containing unlicensed DISH programming and Android-style boxes configured with the same features for around $275.
In common with another recent DISH case filed against unlicensed IPTV provider IPGuys, the broadcaster claims that it was able to use technical means determine that at least some of the content offered by One Box TV was illegally sourced from its satellite broadcasts.
“The DISH Programming distributed on the OneBox service was received from DISH’s satellite communications without authorization from DISH,” the complaint reads.
“During testing of the OneBox service, encoded messages incorporated into DISH’s satellite communications of the Willow Cricket channel, for example, were detected on the Willow Cricket channel retransmitted to customers of the OneBox service, thereby confirming this content originated from DISH’s satellite communications.”
While One Box TV is an LLC, the company doesn’t appear to have particularly grand premises. According to DISH, the company operates from a booth at a flea market and websites including OneBoxLive.com and OneBoxTV.com.
A note in the complaint indicates that DISH had a “pre-suit discussion” with One Box TV during which the company said that it had the ability to “remove channels” from its service. It’s not clear when that communication took place but if customer complaints posted to the Better Business Bureau website are any indicator, One Box TV went down during May.
“When we purchased our TV streaming box, we were promised lifetime updates. Our box needs updated [sic], and we can’t find this seller. E-mails returned. We paid $175 cash for the OneBox about 2-3 years ago. Model No. OneBoxTVPlus. We were promied lifetme updates [sic], but we cannot find the seller,” one reads.
Another complainant indicated that they went to the company’s place of business, but left disappointed.
“We received notice of them stopping their business. We went to see what’s up and the booth they were at is empty. We are out over $350 on our equipment. Sales rep was Donna F. She sold us 2 boxes and a monthly service and now we get an email saying they are discontinuing their business. We are out $350 for equipment,” a complaint posted May 13 reads.
Yet another complaint says that the company took back a previously-sold box to update it, but then closed down without returning the device. Subsequent phone calls went unanswered and the company’s voicemail was reportedly full.
DISH is now demanding a broad permanent injunction against One Box TV and its alleged operator, plus actual or statutory damages of between $10,000 and $100,000 per violation, plus costs.
Finally, the DISH case against IPGuys reported last week listed Miracle Box Media as a reseller of that service. Court records indicate that Virginia-based Miracle Box Media LLC and alleged operator Melvin Crawley Jr. are also being sued by DISH along broadly similar lines.
The One Box TV and Miracle Box complaints can be found here and here.
For as long as piracy and counterfeiting have existed, there have been claims that groups engaged in the practices have links to other, more serious crimes.
Over the past couple of decades the claims have persisted but even the most serious legal cases (ones for which people have been jailed for many years) have failed to turn up evidence that people running pirate sites, services, and similar platforms are connected to even more serious crimes.
This week, however, following news from FACT that it had targeted numerous IPTV sellers and providers in the UK, Lesley Donovan – the National Coordinator for the multi-agency Government Agency Intelligence Network (GAIN) – repeated similar claims.
Referencing even the smaller players – those who re-sell access to larger IPTV providers – Donovan said that they are contributing to what many people consider to be some of the most serious crimes.
“This type of activity is also often a cog in a larger criminal machine, often ultimately funding drugs, weapons and people trafficking,” Donovan said.
Clearly, most members of the general public wouldn’t want to feel that they’re funding drug supply, helping to encourage the flow of weapons, or contributing to the suffering of those trafficked illegally across or even within borders.
However, these claims are rarely (if ever) backed up with references to cases where people can see evidence of that happening for themselves in Internet cases. And with the word “often” being used twice in the GAIN statement, one might be forgiven for thinking it’s commonplace.
Several weeks ago, while in discussion with the operator of an IPTV service based in Europe, this very topic raised its head. Our contact, while acknowledging that what goes on the IPTV space isn’t exactly legal, bemoaned claims that links to wider crime are rampant.
“The truth is that most IPTV services that I know of only do IPTV. The other half have normal jobs that they do day in, day out,” he explained.
Indeed, TF is informed from several sources that IT professionals, both former and current (and particularly those in the networking space), have close interests in supplying IPTV services to the public. “A natural progression and salary supplement,” is how one described it recently.
Interestingly, one provider spoke of how supplying IPTV to the public has actually become an alternative option for those who may have become involved in other types of crime. Nevertheless, gun-running and people trafficking aren’t part of the equation.
“I’m not saying they are whiter than white but they certainly aren’t some mobster gangsters involved in human trafficking,” he said.
Another thing that seems to have irritated IPTV suppliers is the claim by anti-piracy groups that members of the public open themselves up to being stolen from when they deal with ‘pirate’ IPTV providers.
It’s often claimed that handing over personal information along with payment details can result in people being deprived of their cash through ancillary fraudulent transactions. But again, this is something rarely reported in public by any alleged victims, or backed up by evidence from law enforcement.
“Nobody is forced to give real details when signing up [to an IPTV service]. In fact we don’t care what name or address you put as we aren’t going verify the information,” one source told TF.
“We use third-party gateways for payment such as PayPal or Stripe and so on, so none of us ever see card details [enabling us to] commit fraud.”
Of course, it could also be argued that in common with the thus-far unsubstantiated claims that IPTV providers are involved in more serious crime, the claims of these providers are also without supporting evidence.
Nevertheless, they seem keen to distance themselves from the claims and in the main, approached us first to dispel the narrative they’re involved in anything other than the supply of illegal streams.
In the interim, it will be for the public to decide who to believe and a court case showing otherwise to run its course and reveal if such connections are both real and substantiated. Until then, the business will remain in the shadows, with both claims and counterclaims up for debate.
Finally, we spoke to one lower-tier reseller and asked him about the recent involvement of organized crime units and whether “organized crime” was an accurate description of his reseller sideline.
“I’ve got about 250 customers,” he told TF. “It’s too many for me really and if it is crime it’s VERY disorganized. So no.”
Those involved in the sale of unlicensed IPTV services appear to be coming under attack from an increasing number of angles.
Just this week, the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment confirmed that it was behind the closure of previously popular IPTV service Vader Streams.
Just days earlier, the UK’s Federation Against Copyright Theft said it had served cease-and-desist notices in 16 locations to individuals involved in the supply of infringing sports streams, with at least some acting as resellers of ‘pirate’ IPTV services.
Today, another well-known provider is added to the growing list.
IPGuys is a recognized brand in the IPTV space. It has no website of its own, with subscribers to the service gaining access through a network of resellers. For how much longer that will be the case will remain to be seen, as the service is now being sued in the United States.
In a lawsuit filed by DISH Networks and NagraStar yesterday, the broadcaster names Ontario, Canada-based Tomasz Kaczmarek as the operator of IPGuys.
“Kaczmarek operates an illicit streaming service called IPGuys, where he acquires DISH’s satellite broadcasts of television programming and retransmits that programming without authorization to customers of his IPGuys service,” the complaint reads.
According to DISH, Brooklyn, New York-based husband and wife team John and Julia Defoe participate in the “rebroadcasting scheme” by creating and maintaining DISH subscription accounts that are used to supply the IPGuy’s service with DISH’s programming.
The additional Does 1-10 are described as “one or more persons” responsible for DISH subscription accounts that were created with false information and used to supply DISH content to the scheme.
DISH says the accounts were created through a former retailer in Brooklyn named Ratiann Enterprise Inc. and registered to addresses in the same area. The company hopes that the discovery process will enable it to identify the people behind those accounts.
The suit states that DISH used technical means to determine that the content being offered by IPGuys originated from its satellite broadcasts.
“During testing of the IPGuys service, encoded messages delivered as part of DISH’s satellite communications were detected on the DISH Programming retransmitted on the IPGuys service, confirming the DISH Programming provided by Kaczmarek is originating from DISH’s satellite communications and DISH subscriber accounts,” the complaint reads.
Seven of the so-called “seeder accounts” (the accounts that allegedly provided the content to IPGuys) shared one or more credit cards as the source of payment and all had either the same passwords or password hints, DISH adds.
Furthermore, the same credit cards were also used to pay for “at least twenty” additional subscriber accounts established with false information. One of the twenty accounts was held in the name of John Defoe, DISH claims, adding that Kaczmarek sent Julia Defoe “tens of thousands of dollars”, while specifically mentioning DISH.
From here, DISH begins to tackle some of the resellers of the IPGuys service, which offered the roughly $15 per month packages to the public. The primary sellers are named in the suit as Romie IPTV World, IPTV Bazaar, GetIPTVOnline and IPGuys-Live. Two secondary sellers are named as The Napster and Miracle Media Box Media.
DISH states that Kaczmarek and the Defoes were given notice by the company that their activities violated various aspects of the Federal Communications Act back in April 2019, but the IPGuys service continued to operate.
As a result, DISH is now demanding a broad permanent injunction against all defendants, plus actual or statutory damages of between $10,000 and $100,000 per violation, plus costs.
DISH’s complaint against the IPGuys operation can be found here (pdf)
Changes to the law now make it relatively straightforward to have blatant ‘pirate’ sites blocked by ISPs in Australia.
Entertainment industry groups have targeted dozens of sites using the streamlined system, including many of the top torrent and streaming platforms. For reasons that remain unclear, however, one application for a blocking order now appears to have hit the stops.
Back in February, an application for injunction filed in Federal Court saw TV distributor International Media Distribution (IMD) targeting Reelplay, an IPTV provider that specializes in Italian, Greek, and Arabic programming.
Luxembourg-registered IMD describes itself as the single largest provider of ethnic channels to US-based multi-billion dollar TV distributor, Dish Network, and the “leading aggregator and marketer of niche television services to various ethnic communities around the globe.”
In the application for an injunction(pdf), IMD was joined by two other companies – Netherlands-based distributor Overlook Management BV and Lebanon-based pan-Arab TV station Al Jadeed. Together they complained that Reelplay offered 15 TV channels for which they are the exclusive licensee.
Given that Reelplay indicates on its site that it is “not responsible for the content and do not guarantee nor claim any rights to the content”, this seemed like a fairly straightforward case for the applicants, at least on the surface. However, something appears to have gone wrong.
ComputerWorld reports that during a case management hearing in March, the Judge indicated he would be looking closely at a couple of points of interest.
“Justice Burley told the applicants that he would pay ‘particularly close attention’ to proof of service in the matter and said that [the applicants] needed to ensure they fulfilled the requirements of Section 115a of the Copyright Act,” writes Rohan Pearce.
Since then the Judge issued several orders which required, among other things, for Overlook Management to be joined as an applicant, and the applicants to serve affidavit and schedules of evidence.
On June 28, 2019, the Judge noted that the matter had been listed for hearing on August 16, 2019. However, a subsequent order, dated August 8, stated that the applicants had been granted leave to file a notice of discontinuance. Yesterday, the court indicated that a final order had been handed down, terminating the case.
No details to explain the move are on record at the court, so it remains open to question whether some kind of agreement has been reached with Reelplay or if the case hit some kind of technical or legal block. Reelplay doesn’t list the channels it offers to the public on its site but discontinuing the disputed channels would at least have the potential to undermine the action.
Either way, the Reelplay site appears to be fully functional and capable of taking orders for the Arabic package in question. It features an Android-based box loaded with 450+ channels plus a 24-month subscription, priced at AUS$230. Only time will tell if the companies in question will return for a second bite at the cherry.
Threats of legal action backed up by litigation was once regular news in the torrent site arena but as streaming has begun to take over, particularly among more casual pirates, it’s IPTV grabbing most of the headlines.
DISH Networks is rapidly becoming one of the most litigious companies around and this week, in collaboration with partner NagraStar – a joint venture between Dish Network and Kudelski – it added yet another anti-IPTV lawsuit to its growing roster.
Filed in a New Jersey federal court, the suit targets individuals and companies said to be behind what appears to be at least six IPTV providers and/or brands.
“Defendant [Wilmey] Jimenez created and operates and/or operated unauthorized pirate television streaming services under various brand names including BimoTV, TVStreamsNow, OneStepTV, IbexTV, and MagnumStreams,” the complaint reads.
“Defendant [Fernandez Manuel] DaRocha created and operates and/or operated unauthorized pirate television streaming services under the brand name SolTV, and Defendant DaRocha also uses SoITV to provide unauthorized and pirated programming content to Defendant Jimenez, which Defendant Jimenez then retransmits.”
The heart of the complaint centers around the unlicensed distribution of DISH’s programming. The company says that it believes that the defendants worked in concert with others with similar aims and this is where things begin to get a little tangled.
DISH claims that Jimenez and DaRocha “have a history in trafficking in similar piracy streaming services”, claiming that they sold access to the now-defunct SetTV, the IPTV provider that was ordered to settle with DISH for an eye-watering $90 million.
Previously, SetTV was also sued by the Alliance For Creativity and Entertainment (ACE), a case that ended in a $7.6m default judgment just this week. There are some interesting ACE cross-overs in this case too.
While the domain of BimoTV appears to have disappeared out of use, the same cannot be said about those previously linked to TVStreamsNow and OneStepTV. As reported here in May and July, those domains are already in the hands of the MPAA. They display a copyright infringement warning before diverting to ACE’s website, which is also operated by the MPAA.
While unconfirmed by any official sources, this type of domain ‘seizure’ behavior usually points to some kind of settlement, in this case potentially with ACE and/or the MPAA. DISH is not a member of ACE, however, which suggests that settling with one group doesn’t grant immunity from another.
Unlike other cases involving IPTV providers, the DISH lawsuit isn’t based in copyright law. The company alleges violations of the Federal Communications Act (FCA) while demanding a permanent injunction to prevent the defendants from receiving and redistributing DISH content, and selling/distributing subscriptions and any associated reception devices.
DISH also requests an order to have the defendants’ social media pages removed, along with any advertising for the ‘pirate’ IPTV services. DISH further demands that their websites are handed over to the broadcaster. Of course, the company wants damages on top, which could reach $100,000 for each violation of the FCA. Very big numbers indeed.
While rightsholders and anti-piracy groups often deploy multiple strategies for dealing with online copyright infringement, blocking websites, streams, and servers is now one of the most common.
The Premier League broke new ground on this front in 2017, after it obtained a pioneering injunction which enabled it to track live ‘pirate’ streams and have them blocked by leading ISPs BT, Virgin Media, EE, Sky Broadband and TalkTalk in real-time.
With backing from the High Court, the Premier League deployed its system during the 2017/18 and 2018/19 seasons. We can now confirm that the Court recently granted permission for the efforts to continue during the 2019/20 campaign.
A High Court order signed off July 15, 2019, by Justice Arnold, but as yet unannounced by the Premier League or the Court, will be the basis for the blocking mechanism during the upcoming season. Thus far, one ISP has confirmed the existence of the order.
“A number of unidentified servers associated with infringing Premier League match footage will be blocked until the end of the 2019/20 Premier League season,” Sky notes.
Unlike other blocking orders targeting torrent sites or streaming platforms with a fixed domain, the servers streaming Premier League content are “unidentified” until its anti-piracy partners are able to locate them a few minutes before matches begin. The relevant IP addresses are then forwarded to the ISPs who block them under the authority of the Court.
TorrentFreak has been able to confirm that other ISPs are aware of the new Premier League order but are yet to make a public statement.
Late 2017, UEFA followed in the footsteps of the Premier League by obtaining a similar order covering the period February 13, 2018, to May 26, 2018, in an effort to protect European matches. A month later in July 2018, UEFA was given permission by the High Court to expand and extend its campaign until July 12, 2019.
Earlier this month, UEFA obtained permission from the High Court to continue. As yet, no associated documents have been published by the Court but both Sky and Virgin have confirmed they will be blocking ‘pirate’ servers again, with the Court’s authorization, until 2021.
“A number of unidentified servers associated with infringing UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League, UEFA Super Cup, UEFA Nations League, UEFA European Qualifiers and UEFA Friendlies match footage will be blocked until the end of the 2020/21 Champions League or Europa League competitions,” Sky notes.
Virgin states that it will block “Various Target Servers notified to Virgin Media by UEFA or its appointed agent for the duration of the UEFA 2019/2020 & 2020/2021 competition seasons.”
The technical details of the blocking systems deployed by both the Premier League and UEFA (TF understands they’re managed by different anti-piracy companies) are largely secret although some insiders have recently been prepared to talk more about what happens behind the scenes.
As the new season progresses, we expect to report more on how this digital game of cat-and-mouse is playing out.
Increasingly, people are canceling their expensive cable subscriptions, opting to use cheaper or niche-based Internet TV instead.
While there are plenty of legal options available, there’s also a broad offer of easy-to-use set-top boxes which are specifically configured to receive pirated content.
These pirate IPTV boxes are often sold bundled with a monthly or yearly subscription. This created an industry that’s worth billions of dollars worldwide and may grow even bigger.
It is safe to conclude that IPTV piracy makes up a large part of the pirate ecosystem. This hasn’t gone unnoticed to copyright holders of course. Over the past year, we have seen enforcement actions against hundreds of sellers and more are likely to follow.
Dutch anti-piracy group BREIN is one of the outfits that have IPTV-pirates high on their agenda. This was highlighted in an interview with local radio station BNR in which director Tim Kuik referred to the criminal nature of this problem.
While IPTV sellers come in all shapes and sizes, the true masterminds behind the pirated signals often remain unseen. According to BREIN, many resellers are actually afraid to identify their sources.
“The signals are stolen by criminal organizations. These set up the infrastructure and provide vendors with the codes. Sellers are afraid to name their suppliers out of fear of retaliation. ‘That would put my life at risk,’ we regularly hear.”
The Hollywood-backed anti-piracy group mostly takes action against public sellers. It tracks down these companies and successfully demands hefty settlements. However, in order to tackle the problem properly, more resources are needed.
“We target sellers and take their money. A settlement costs them tens of thousands of euros, but to tackle the infrastructure you need better resources and a criminal investigation,” BREIN notes.
Potential investigations should target the criminal masterminds behind the scenes but BREIN says that Dutch hosting providers should remain alert as well. Also, providers who willingly host illegal IPTV services should face charges themselves.
“Providers who shelter such illegal services and willingly turn a blind eye should be prosecuted,” the anti-piracy group argues.
Because of its good Internet infrastructure, the Netherlands is typically a popular location for IPTV vendors to host their services. These ISPs generally claim that they are not aware of the criminal nature of their clients. However, many rightsholders have their doubts about that.
According to BREIN, there is a small number of Dutch hosting providers that frequently does business with these IPTV services. These companies don’t get actively involved when complaints come in but forward them to their customers instead.
“Reports of rightsholders are only forwarded to the criminals who obviously do nothing with it. If the provider has to take action, it gives the illegal customer plenty of time to keep his service online,” BREIN adds.
Whether the hosting companies are required to do more under Dutch law remains the question. However, BREIN would clearly like these companies to take more responsibility. Or, alternatively, have a proper criminal investigation where the role of a hosting provider is seriously considered.
In the past, we have already reported on large Europol raids where servers in the Netherlands were targeted. However, as far as we know, Dutch hosting providers were never accused or criminally charged as part of these operations.
Millions of people in the UK cite football (soccer for those over the pond) as their favorite sport. Every week, huge numbers head off to grounds far and wide but for the travel averse, watching matches on TV is the only option.
Broadcasters like Sky and BT Sport would like consumers to choose their premium offerings but that can be prohibitively expensive. Even then, the Premier League’s top games played on a Saturday afternoon are banned from TV, thanks to the somewhat archaic “3pm blackout“.
As a result, pirate IPTV services, which all but eliminate high costs while completely ignoring the blackout, are thriving. In response, the Premier League obtained a pioneering injunction from the High Court in 2017 that compelled the largest ISPs to block ‘pirate’ servers for a season. It has obtained permission to continue along the same lines twice since.
Based on information made available in the initial injunction, we previously provided a rough guide on how the system operates. However, the High Court also accepted that other details were secret and agreed to them not being detailed in public.
Since then, TF has received various pieces of information about how the blocking system works in practice but recently a new source came forward offering much more detail, from both the perspective of IPTV providers dealing with the technology and based on information that we’re told was leaked from inside an anti-piracy company.
TF was able to review copies of some of the information. We have been unable to confirm the manner in which the leaks allegedly took place but a secondary source, who has proven reliable in the past, acknowledged that a leak had taken place. It therefore seems likely that the company in question, which we have also chosen not to name, is already familiar with the circumstances.
We’re told that the original source of the leaks, with whom TF has had no contact and whose identity is unknown to us, went AWOL a number of months ago and stopped providing data. Exactly why is unclear but at this point, the details aren’t particularly important.
Inside the Blocking System
In a detailed analysis, our source explained that, unsurprisingly, the anti-piracy company first needs to become a customer of the providers it targets. That means signing up to services in the usual manner and handing over money to what are essentially illegal services.
Documents reviewed by TF also suggest the use of fake online social media accounts which solicit IPTV providers for trials. One particular account, created less than a week before the new season began in August 2017, had nothing but these kinds of requests in its timeline. At least one provider responded in public, apparently unaware of the nature of his potential customer.
Other information supplied suggests that in some instances PayPal accounts with fake details were used to sign up to IPTV providers. This, the source says, probably caused problems because the details on the accounts didn’t match real people’s identities, so they would eventually fail PayPal’s checks and become much less useful.
Once signed up, the anti-piracy company could act like any other subscriber but this didn’t go unnoticed. TF was shown a screenshot from an IPTV service’s customer panel, dated sometime in 2018, which revealed a suspect subscriber who had been a member for many months. The last login was actioned from a particular IP address which, according to current public WHOIS information, remains registered to the anti-piracy company in question.
An invoice for between 10 and 20 euros, dated 2019, which the source says was issued to one of the anti-piracy accounts, gave a name plus an address in London. The supplied postcode relates to an address in another country of the UK. When all put together it is clearly a fake account, although we weren’t able to positively link it to a specific anti-piracy operative.
Nevertheless, it seems clear from the supplied channel surfing logs (which we were told were retained and supplied by a cooperative third-party IPTV provider) that a normal human viewer almost certainly wasn’t behind the subscription.
The logs show that sports channels were systematically selected, presumably to be analyzed back at base, and then skipped to fresh channels over pretty precise set periods. According to our source, these durations were sometimes varied, in his opinion to avoid detection as a computerized system.
Of course, not all attempts at subscribing to channels for anti-piracy purposes are spotted early by the affected IPTV providers. Once in, we’re informed that the preferred method of scanning for infringement is via the humble .m3u playlist file, with channels to be monitored being captured for set periods and then rotated.
The scanning system reportedly allows for a VPN to be assigned to each .m3u line/account, in order to make detection more difficult. VPNs are also sometimes used to sign up and/or used for contact via customer support services offered by the providers.
According to the source, captured frames from ‘pirate’ streams are compared with a direct source from the original content. If there’s an automatic match (sometimes manual intervention is required) then the source server’s IP address is logged and sent to the big six ISPs in the UK for blocking.
We’re told that an email is also sent to the hosting companies of the servers informing them of the block, accompanied by a link to the High Court order. Often these notices aren’t passed on to the operators of IPTV services.
According to one IPTV provider, the process for checking for infringing streams begins around 15 minutes before a match begins and continues for 15 minutes after. Further checks are conducted in the interim to catch any IP address or other network changes carried out by the providers.
However, while infringing streams are apparently blocked in just a “few seconds”, it can take a couple of hours for them to become unblocked by ISPs after the games have finished.
While reports online indicate that some services have been affected by this type of blocking, it has also had some unintended consequences that may have made IPTV providers more resilient and more adept at countering the blocking program. We’ll cover some of those next time.
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