Millions of people use the Kodi media player for their daily entertainment needs.
While the open-source software is content-neutral, some third-party addons have given the tool a bad reputation by using it to offer pirated content.
This isn’t anything the Kodi development team has control over. Luckily, most copyright holders realize this, but every now and then one appears having apparently missed the boat. And for Kodi, that can result in real damage.
For example, this week we noticed that the official Kodi download page is no longer listed in Google’s search results. Looking more closely, we spotted that it was removed by Google following a DMCA takedown request.
The takedown notice was sent a few weeks ago on behalf of the Turkish pay-TV service Digiturk, which is owned by the beIN Media Group. BeIN is known for its strong stance against piracy but in this case, it was too aggressive.
“The infringed content is sports content (illegal video stream) branded and watermarked with the trademark/logo BEIN SPORTS HD,” Digiturk writes.
The request identifies a series of URLs, many of which are associated with seemingly unauthorized IPTV services. However, it also lists kodi.tv/download, Kodi’s official download page.
Generally speaking, Google is pretty good at spotting such errors but in this case the URL was removed, as mentioned at the bottom of related search results.
Interestingly, Kodi was not the only legal open-source project that was targeted. The same notice also lists two Videolan.org URLs, which is the home of the popular media player VLC. Again, the download pages of the software were listed.
Luckily for VLC, Google flagged these requests as incorrect, meaning that the pages remain available in Google’s search results.
Kodi’s Keith Herrington is disappointed that their software is once again hit by the piracy stigma.
“It’s unfortunate content companies continue to lump us and VLC together with services who are clearly in violation of copyright law by not only providing streams to their content but using their logo, etc and that Google doesn’t even bother to check or validate, they just remove.
“It feels like a very ‘guilty until proven innocent’ model which I do not agree with,” Herrington adds.
The Kodi Foundation has submitted a DMCA counter-notice to Google and hopes that their download page will reappear in search results in due course.
TorrentFreak reached out to Digiturk for a comment on its unusual requests. While they could be intentional, it’s also possible that the company simply targeted these open source projects by mistake.
Talking about mistakes, Digiturk also sent takedown notices for its own website in the past, more than once actually. That’s another error they may want to pay attention to going forward.
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Kodi is widely known as a very convenient media player. While the open-source software is content-neutral, some third-party addons use it to offer pirated content.
In recent years rightsholders and anti-piracy organizations have worked hard to target copyright infringing addons. This is done through enforcement actions, but also through scare tactics.
On numerous occasions, Kodi addons have been associated with malware and other malicious content. While it is certainly true that there are some shady addons out there, the warnings are often overblown, lacking any supportive data.
A more analytical approach to this issue is being taken by a group of researchers from Northwestern University and Brave Software. They use a data-driven model and have created a software crawler to identify any potential threats in third-party Kodi addons.
Their software, aptly named ‘De-Kodi,’ scraped the web and discovered tens of thousands of addons. A small percentage of these, roughly 9,000, were still active. The researchers then tested them for potentially harmful activity.
The results show that most addons are safe. A significant portion include URLs that are linked to advertising, tracking, or Kodi’s own blacklist. However, only 13 addons included URLs that were flagged by Google’s Safebrowsing service for potentially malicious “social engineering.” Another 131 addons included links to potentially malicious IPs.
“In our study, we discovered 43,308 addons out of which 8,485 were unique and correctly working. Out of these, only a handful was potentially harmful,” Brave Software researcher Matteo Varvello tells TorrentFreak.
This doesn’t sound like a broad threat, but some nuance is warranted. The researchers also found that many of the problematic addons are relatively popular. This means that while malicious addons are rare, they still have the potential to impact a lot of people.
The SportsDevil addon, for example, which is listed among the ten most popular addon domains, is flagged as potentially malicious, includes tracking scripts and is on Kodi’s ban list.
Because users may not be aware of these threats, or the fact that that addons may track them or serve ads, the researchers decided to make the information public in the form of an addon.
“After we built De-Kodi, we realized that the information we collected was very useful to the average Kodi user, not only the research community. An addon was the easiest way to bring this information to the large Kodi user base,” Varvello tells us.
The result is the new SafeKodi addon which is available to the public for free. Kodi users who install it can use the software to check whether there are any potential security issues on their platform.
In addition to helping the public, the public can help the researchers as well. SafeKodi allows users to flag addons they think are unsafe. In addition, it will automatically locate new and unknown addons and test these on-demand.
The input from users allows the researchers to expand their findings and provide a more accurate overview of the third-party addon ecosystem.
“The current plan is to attract some user-base for SafeKodi. This allows us to complete our study with potential addons we will discover thanks to our users, and those that appear through the evolution of the Kodi ecosystem over time,” Varvello says.
In addition to insights about advertising, tracking, and potential malware threats, the research also provides additional detail on the video sources of addons.
For example, they found that the most popular media serving domains are GoogleVideo.com, Akamaihd.net, and Archive.org. These domains include legitimate content but are also used by pirate services.
The results of the study are detailed in a paper titled: De-Kodi: Understanding the Kodi Ecosystem. The findings will be officially presented at the World Wide Web Conference in April where the De-Kodi source code is also scheduled for release.
Drom: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, torrent sites and more. We also have an annual VPN review.
This week, news began to filter through that the shutdown of a pair of Kodi add-on related resources had taken place under serious legal pressure.
KodiUKTV and OneNation weren’t specific in their announcements but TorrentFreak was able to confirm that the Federation Against Copyright Theft was behind both actions. Indeed, the anti-piracy group told us that other groups were targeted too but at this stage, we haven’t been able to identify them.
What we do know is at the end of October, FACT sent out cease and desist notices titled ‘Unauthorized Distribution of Film, Television and Sport Subject to Copyright’.
The letters stated that FACT investigators had established that the platforms were “providing or facilitating access without authorization, to broadcasts or premium pay channels” containing content belonging to Sky, BT Sport, and The Premier League.
Demanding an immediate end to “unlawful activity”, the notices added that “all infringing links, listings and information from webpages, social media and any other medium” should be permanently removed. If not, a criminal investigation might get underway.
A recipient of one of the cease-and-desist letters, Matt – founder of KodiUKTV – told us that if he’d have received a simple takedown notice at any point in the past, he would’ve been happy to investigate and take action if any add-on breached copyright. Instead, it appears that FACT went for straight for the jugular.
Part of the problem for Matt, at least from our discussions, is that he doesn’t believe he was doing anything wrong. His platform didn’t develop or host any add-ons but offered a tool so that Kodi users could download and install them from elsewhere.
“Ultimately it was at the risk of the add-on designers and end-users, should such add-ons contain possibly infringing content that we had absolutely no control over,” he explains.
Matt says that he contacted FACT within an hour of receiving their cease-and-desist notice with a request for more information. He also gave FACT a commitment that the site will not deal with add-ons or builds in the future. At the time of writing, he is yet to receive a response.
As a result and at least for now, his entire site remains down, which Matt feels is both disproportionate and frustrating since much of the content the site offered (guides etc) had nothing to do with any of the companies mentioned by FACT.
“We didn’t actually host anything for the add-on guys and we don’t make any add-ons ourselves. We just offered a place for people to put their add-ons to be installed by the end-user, which is very common for many repos,” Matt explains.
“This means we were just a hub for the community for help and guides. This was always my key focus for KODIUKTV – creating guides & voicing our opinion on issues within the community to help others.
“We do not want to kiss goodbye to the website and the community we have been so involved in over the past five years. We are hoping we can continue the website on a publication standpoint and move forward.”
The site was founded by Matt in 2014 after he found himself “tinkering” with XBMC (as Kodi was formerly known) on a Raspberry Pi, installing add-ons, and eventually coming up with a ‘build’
“I’ve always been interested in publications & running a media site. So once the community started to rise we needed a home for our guides and tutorials, our news, and even the odd giveaway over the years,” he explains.
“We grew at a rapid rate which gave me and the team a huge learning curve of what it took to manage and maintain a website/project of this size. We became the go-to for people looking for help.”
At KodiUKTV’s peak last year, Matt says it was receiving around eight million users per month, a figure that’s dropped a little this year to a still-impressive six million.
But with this growth has come problems, not only in respect of FACT and its clients, but with various claims against the site’s social media accounts, and even strikes against Matt’s personal pages that had nothing to do with the project. Now, however, he is hopeful that things can move forward.
Matt says he’s just a hobbyist doing what he loves, one that also cares about freedom on the Internet. He has no desire to get into a fight with big media companies and hopes this dispute with FACT can be dealt with quickly while keeping the community intact.
Being involved in the development of third-party Kodi addons and ‘builds’ (Kodi installations pre-customized with addons and tweaks) is a somewhat risky activity.
Providing simple access to otherwise restricted movies and TV shows attracts copyright holders, and that always has the potential to end badly. And it does, pretty regularly.
On November 1, 2019, UK-focused Kodi platform KodiUK.tv made an announcement on Twitter, stating briefly that “Something has happened this morning. Sorry!” While that could mean anything, an ominous follow-up message indicated that a statement would be released in due course “detailing the future”.
Several hours later, KodiUK.tv confirmed what fans already knew, that it had taken down its site. Why that happened remained open to question but a few hours ago the group confirmed that legal action was to blame.
“We took our website offline 10 days ago closed our repo and the builds due to legal demands against us,” KodiUK.tv announced on Twitter.
“We will say more when we can bring the site back up safely. But the builds & repo will not be back nor will we host any add-ons anymore for anyone.”
The closure is particularly bad news for anyone who used the popular DadLife Kodi build that was previously installable via the group’s repository. Whether it will find a new official home somewhere else is open to question.
But there is more bad news too. In an announcement posted a few hours ago to its Facebook page, Kodi builds and addon repository OneNation revealed that it too had shut down, again as a result of legal pressure.
“Unfortunately due to outside Legal pressures this group will close with immediate effect along with our Repository etc. We would just like to thank each and every one of you for all your support over the years,” OneNation wrote.
Noting they’d had an “absolute blast”, OneNation added they were going out with their “heads held high” having done things their way, without “robbing links from others” or accepting payment in any “shape or form”.
OneNation went down with strict instructions for no-one to contact the team for any further information and to treat any additional information published online as “hearsay.” That means that confirming who applied the legal pressure will be reliant on word from the anti-piracy groups most likely to be have been involved.
TorrentFreak has contacted the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment and the Federation Against Copyright Theft for comment. We’ll post an update here if any confirmation or denials are received from either group.
Football, or soccer as it’s more commonly known in the US, is the most popular spectator sport in the UK. As a result, millions watch matches every week, both legally and illegally.
The latter method of consumption is a big thorn in the side of organizations such as the Premier League, which has been working hard to stamp out piracy in all its forms, often via aggressive enforcement. However, a new survey published today suggests more education is also needed.
Commissioned by betting tips service OLBG and carried out by market research company OnePoll in September, the survey looks at some of the habits of 1,000 football fan respondents.
The survey begins by noting that 16.6% of respondents usually attend live games, closely followed by 14.3% who “usually” watch in the pub. However, the largest audience (46.9%) are those who regularly watch matches live at home.
This, of course, opens up the opportunity for piracy. The report states that 22.4% of football fans surveyed admitted to knowingly using “unofficial streams” at some time in the past, a figure that is extrapolated in the report to “over five million UK football fans” admitting to illegal streaming.
Asking whether fans had watched a pirated stream in the past 12 months (or even “usually”) would have arguably been a little more useful, in order not to inflate the figures beyond current consumption habits. There will be fans in those millions who, in varying combinations, attend matches, watch legally in the pub, and on occasion, illegally at home too.
Nevertheless, the report provides some interesting data on the knowledge of those surveyed when it comes to illegal and legal consumption.
For example, just over 61% of respondents acknowledged that accessing streams from unofficial providers is illegal, meaning that almost 40% believe that watching matches from third-party sources is absolutely fine. That’s a pretty big problem for the Premier League and other broadcasters when four out of ten fans can’t tell the difference between a legal and illegal provider.
Strangely, the figure drops slightly when respondents were asked about “Kodi-style” devices. Just 49% said that these boxes provide content illegally, meaning around half believe they offer football matches legally. Given the drive to stamp out the illegal use of these devices globally, this is also an eye-opener.
Moving to other methods of access, the figures are a little bit more predictable. Just under 29% felt that social media streams (Facebook Live etc) are illegal, so that may raise the possibility that respondents associated the perceived legitimacy of the platform with legality.
Password sharing is also tackled in the survey, with 32.5% of respondents stating that they believe that using someone else’s login to access football matches is illegal. If that happens outside the subscriber’s household it might constitute a terms-of-service breach but actual illegality is open to question, account stealing aside.
All that being said, according to the survey, just 11% have actually used a family member’s login to watch football during the past 12 months, a figure that drops to 9.8% when borrowing from a friend.
In common with the debate around password sharing on Netflix and other platforms, this issue is likely to receive greater attention in the future but how it will be tackled by providers is far from clear. At least at the moment, the problem seems limited.
Finally, and just returning to the headline “five million football pirates in the UK”, it’s worth noting that this refers to people who have “EVER” used an unofficial stream to watch football, so it’s not necessarily five million fans who don’t ever part with a penny.
As far as we could see, no question in the report tried to determine what percentage of fans currently freeload all of the time, which is undoubtedly the biggest problem for the Premier League.
Those who don’t know better may think that Kodi itself is illegal but that’s certainly not the case. The bad reputation is the result of dozens of unofficial addons and builds, which can turn the software into a piracy tool, something the Kodi team can do little about.
While this is well-known to insiders, the people behind Kodi are faced with the piracy stigma pretty much every day. Questions like “is Kodi legal” are often asked and this week the Kodi team makes an effort to answer this question as clearly as it can.
Kodi’s Darren Hill notes that the piracy associations are in large part driven by sources that fail to make the distinction between the Kodi media center and third-party addons. Kodi itself doesn’t offer access to pirated media, but third-party addons can.
“Due to various 3rd party addons, the app has gained an unwanted reputation as being a way to get movies and TV shows for free. This is not helped at all by certain unscrupulous websites and YouTube bloggers who encourage and perpetuate the myth, simply to increase their traffic from web users and earn more cash from the site sponsors,” Hill writes.
Indeed, Kodi related searches on either Google or YouTube return plenty of results that feature its ‘piracy’ capabilities, which are of great interest to a certain audience. On YouTube, there are entire channels dedicated to Kodi piracy, which get millions of views.
The Kodi team isn’t happy with this situation. They stress that their media player is meant to play people’s locally stored media files or to use any of the Kodi-vetted addons. There are no piracy traces or options in the default software.
“As we supply it, Kodi is totally legal,” Hill clarifies.
People who do want to use third-party addons have the option to do so. However, this capability is disabled by default. Those who enable it, do it at their own risk, which, based on the usage numbers, millions of people are willing to take.
That begs the question. If third-party addons are causing all this trouble, why not ban them altogether?
While that seems like a simple step, it’s also one that goes against the very nature of the Kodi project. The Kodi team informs TorrentFreak that it believes in an open ecosystem, much like Android and Windows. Especially since Kodi itself is open-source software (OSS).
“Similar to how Android allows you to install any APK, which can provide 3rd party store access we have a similar belief/idea,” Kodi’s Keith Herrington tells us.
“Our purpose isn’t to be a gatekeeper of how folks use our software. Most OSS is designed to remove these restrictions and barriers to entry, leveling the playing field so anyone can utilize technology how they wish to see it,” he adds.
The intention was never to make Kodi a ‘consumable’ product, although it can be. As an open ecosystem, it’s first and foremost something others can build upon and enjoy. It’s a breeding ground for developers, many of whom contribute to the project.
That there are bad actors is a given by now. Theoretically, Kodi could restrict ‘unsigned’ addons but it doesn’t believe that there’s a safe and constructive manner to do so. Other have tried this, but often without success.
“Google has tried, failed, and then gave up on this, so if a billion-dollar+ company can’t figure this out, I doubt our loosely organized group of volunteers doing this all for fun can, either,” Herrington says.
The last part is something most people forget. Kodi is created and supported by volunteers – it’s not a for-profit operation. While many outsiders have built businesses, legal or not, based on the software, those who code and support the media center do it for free. And people promoting piracy addons are ruining Kodi’s image in the process.
“It’s sad how many ‘social media influencers’ think they’ve ‘helped us’ in some way, by getting us ‘more followers’. That isn’t how this works,” Herrington notes. “Nobody is paid here. Many others are making money off the backs of our hard work, and its a struggle, and it sucks to see how the media treats us.”
The Kodi team does accept donations and every now and then users send over $5 or $10, or even a bit more. This helps the core team to meet up and go to conferences and pay for administrative costs, but not much more than that.
In fact, while we are writing this piece the main Kodi website is down because its “sponsor” Acquia pulled the plug as it was using too many resources. One dedicated server can easily run the website, but apparently that’s already a challenge to get.
Coming back to the third-party addon issue, Kodi’s Darren Hill informs TorrentFreak that the team believes in freedom of choice. Kodi shouldn’t police its users, nor does it intend to.
“We specifically do not tell the user what to do and how to use Kodi, that should be up to them. All we ask is that their choice is an enlightened one, and they fully understand what they are doing. Equally, if there are any repercussions from their actions, then those too are entirely their responsibility,” Hill says.
That outsiders are hurting Kodi’s image is unfortunate, but that doesn’t stop the team from continuing its work. While some rightsholders have threatened legal action, there’s also a growing group that’s better informed and doesn’t blame the media center.
Just recently, the Copyright Alliance made this pretty clear in a submission to the US Customs and Border Protection Bureau.
“While the Kodi system itself is a legitimate media center, the system is open source – meaning that just about anybody can use the device’s original blueprint to create software that configures Kodi boxes to access illegal streams of films and shows that are available online – and unfortunately, they do,” the group wrote.
So, while the Kodi team cautions users to be aware of unlawful third-party addons it’s not going to try to ban them anytime soon. Instead, it will focus on making the media center better. That includes the official addon library, which can use some extra addons.
“We hope someday our curated addon repo will be so good and have so much content that everything a user could want would be available. This is not the case today. We’ve made great strides with our PVR addons, but we’d love to work with any content provider out there, and hope more will reach out,” Kodi’s Keith Herrington concludes.
Anyone with a technically-minded older relative happy to reminisce over their particular ‘golden age’ of motoring is likely to dwell for a moment on a particular train of thought.
Cars today are oversized computers, ones that are designed to be mechanically inaccessible to the regular Joe. Unlike their predecessors, elders argue, they often require specialist tools for repairs, adding that today’s vehicles are not made like they used to be.
Whether one agrees with these points is an individual matter, but it’s difficult to argue that in the face of rising technology, regular motorists are now less likely than ever to tackle even a basic oil change, previously the most simple of maintenance tasks.
In many respects, the same can be said of today’s consumer computing environments.
Enthusiasts of yesteryear had to be well-versed in languages like MS-DOS or BASIC simply to get by, which helped them to understand a great deal more about how their machines actually worked. Today’s graphical interfaces have all but demolished those barriers to entry, meaning there are now millions of people who class clicking icons as the height of ‘programming’ expertise.
For today’s casual pirates, this could be a ticking timebomb.
This week, Stan McCoy, President and Managing Director of the MPA in Europe, published an interesting piece titled “Piracy Went from Geeky to Easy. What’s Next?”
“[W]hile the makers innovate, so do the takers,” McCoy wrote.
“In the last 15 years, piracy went from geeky to easy. Transmission technologies improved with the advent of streaming, and delivery via new apps and devices bridged the divide between the PC and the living room.
“Today’s piracy has become a very different type of organized crime: more sophisticated, tech intensive, very elusive, and massive in scale. Where will it go next? Increasingly, industry antipiracy efforts are bending the trajectory from geeky, to easy, to … broken.”
McCoy’s argument goes as follows;
Piracy was once the realm of the technically minded but as technologies developed – pirate streaming sites, Kodi add-ons, dedicated apps, IPTV – it became very easy and more accessible to the masses. However, with numerous anti-piracy initiatives underway, piracy is more easily broken.
Add-ons suddenly fail, app creators and their tools ‘mysteriously’ disappear, IPTV platforms become less reliable. In this new and somewhat dumbed-down piracy world, access can be switched off in an instant, sometimes by hitting just one component in a system.
At this point, the more seasoned pirate will argue that none of these things present a problem for them. Add-ons can be reconfigured, new sites pop up to replace the last, new app makers fill in the gaps, and so on and so forth. Which, generally speaking, is correct. However, for the less well informed, these things are much more of a headache.
Casual pirates – the friend or colleague who bought a “loaded Firestick” off Craigslist or eBay – make up a huge proportion of today’s pirating masses. And the vast majority haven’t a clue how anything really works. To cite McCoy, “95 percent of TV piracy is driven by purpose-built set-top boxes.”
Of course, this doesn’t mean that 100% of these boxes are owned by tech-illiterates, far from it. However, it seems very likely that the screaming majority have little to no idea how their device works, or what to do when it all goes wrong. The ‘blame’ for this can be placed squarely at the feet of technology and plug-and-play culture.
As piracy has grown more sophisticated, partly due to evolution and partly due to anti-piracy measures, much of the brainpower has become entrenched behind the scenes. Like the people who fix modern cars using a laptop and a ‘black magic’ cable, many pirates rely completely on the wizardry of a tiny minority to get them out of a jam.
To put it another way, Joe Public’s ability to carry out the equivalent of a simple oil change is being lost, largely due to pirated content being presented to them as a sophisticated pre-cooked meal on a plate, made using a recipe that few know about or even care to understand.
To an extent, piracy has always been like this. In general terms, the brains have always been at the top while those at the bottom take what’s available. That said, today’s prevalence of “click-and-get” apps and services means that few have the motivation to learn anything technical while those that do can run into trouble.
Thanks to pirate sites and apps being downranking and removed from search results (sometimes after a lawsuit), combined with the opportunism of the malicious-minded, it’s now harder than ever for the novice to separate the wheat from the chaff.
“Try looking for alternatives on a search engine and you’re more likely than ever to get malware and clickbait sites posing as pirates. Are you feeling lucky?” McCoy asked this week.
While the more technically advanced will dismiss the above paragraph as scare tactics, McCoy’s comments can hold true for the casual user. It’s becoming a minefield out there for novices and unless people take the time to study and do their own research, bad things always have the potential to happen.
It will probably take many more years for the piracy ‘brain drain’ to show its full effects but the popularity and ease of today’s ultra-simple and feature-rich pirate apps and services could potentially end up as a positive for entertainment companies.
Will the casual pirating masses spend days, months or years learning how to do piracy the ‘old school’ way when things go pear-shaped, or dump a few dollars a month into a couple of legal services and get the headaches over and done with?
On June 13, 2019, the Covert Development and Disruption Team of the UK’s North West Regional Organised Crime Unit arrested an individual said to be responsible for an allegedly-infringing Kodi add-on.
The unit revealed that the 40-year-old man was detained in Winsford, Cheshire, following an investigation in cooperation with the Federation Against Copyright Theft. The add-on was unnamed but was reportedly configured to supply illegal online streams.
When TorrentFreak tried to fill in the gaps, considerable circumstantial evidence pointed to the likelihood that the arrested man was connected to the Supremacy add-on repository. Today we are in a position to confirm that belief following discussion with FACT director general Kieron Sharp.
Since there are limitations on what can be discussed when a case is ongoing, we asked Sharp why the matter had been referred to the authorities. There have been numerous instances of add-on developers in the UK being served with private cease-and-desist notices so why was this case different and why did it warrant an organized crime unit getting involved?
“This was a decision taken by FACT who advised rights holders such as PL [Premier League], Sky, BT Sport and VM [Virgin Media] that police action was the most proportionate response to the level of damage and harm that was being caused by these entities,” Sharp explains.
“Other industry groups have used different tactics which are reasonable in certain circumstances, but FACT have the partnerships in LEA’s [law enforcement agencies] to enable this type of action to be considered.”
Sharp says that when FACT presented its evidence to the police, they considered the case serious enough to take action, which resulted in the individual operating as ‘Supremacy’ being arrested.
FACT’s director general rejects the notion that handing a case over to the police is the easy option, insisting that a referral to the authorities requires that an investigation takes place to particular standards.
“To get any LEA to act in these matters requires a high level of evidence. Given the pressure on LEA resources and many other priorities, FACT are very careful in which cases they will approach LEA’s with and have many other strategies for disrupting illegal activity which are used constantly,” Sharp says.
In the wake of the arrest, several other Kodi add-on repositories shut down, presumably due to fears of similar action. This hasn’t gone unnoticed by FACT, with Sharp noting that several strategies to disrupt piracy are deployed with the results taken on board.
“[I]t would appear, from their own comments, that the action has panicked the others. This is not uncommon but more often seen after a criminal conviction. It shows that action needs to be taken and that it can have an impact on the piracy problem. There is no one solution so a range of tactics have to be tried and implemented and the outcomes monitored,” Sharp concludes.
There can be little doubt that the involvement of the police in the shutdown of a Kodi repository and associated add-ons is somewhat of a game-changer in the UK. Where once a sternly-worded letter may have been a warning sign, there is now a worrying precedent for those engaged in similar activity.
What the final charges will be in this case, if any, remain unclear. However, FACT has a history of pursuing convictions under the Fraud Act, which can carry harsher sentences than those actioned under copyright law.
Developers of Kodi add-ons, including those who maintain places to download them (repositories), have long been at risk of legal action, should they provide access to infringing content.
Many have been targeted directly, having received cease-and-desist letters from groups including the massive Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE). Until recently, action through the civil courts has been the assumed course of action for rightsholders but that changed with the news that police in the UK became involved.
As per our report published yesterday, the Covert Development and Disruption Team of the UK’s North West Regional Organised Crime Unit recently arrested a 40-year-old man on suspicion of developing and maintaining an add-on designed to facilitate access to infringing content.
Nobody has yet been able to publicly verify the precise target but on the same day the arrest took place, the popular Supremacy repository (repo) went down in mysterious yet coincidental circumstances. During the past few hours, news of the arrest appears to have prompted other developers to rethink their futures.
Given its popularity, Kodi add-on enthusiasts will be disappointed to hear that the Exodus-forked 13 Clowns add-on is one of the casualties. The end of the add-on was announced via Twitter and also in a slightly unorthodox fashion, via the Kodi software itself.
Rather than take the associated repo down, the developer pushed an update which reportedly disabled the add-on and delivered a shutdown message.
The Maverick TV add-on also disappeared last evening. No disabling ‘update’ of the add-on appears to have been pushed but the associated repository was deleted. That was followed by an announcement on Twitter which indicated the show is over.
Another casualty is the Exodus-forked Overeasy add-on. That tool was previously available from the Eggman repo but both have gone down, with the latter currently displaying an empty directory.
Some of the now-discontinued repos also contained add-ons in addition to their own, so the full fallout may not be known for a while. Some add-ons will find new homes but others may yet decide to throw in the towel.
It’s important to note that none of the above cited the arrest as a reason for closure but again, in common with the disappearance of the Supremacy repo, there are a number of coincidences that appear to fit recent developments.
Whatever the reasons for the closures, having an organized crime unit become involved in taking down a Kodi add-on developer is a massive escalation in the UK and will certainly prompt pause for thought among those in a similar position.
While overall interest in Kodi appears to be on a downward trend, millions of people still use the software to organize their media.
Larger numbers still augment Kodi with software add-ons which allow them to stream movies, TV shows, and sports events, often in a way that infringes copyright. As a result, entertainment companies and their agents are keen to reduce the use of such tools.
With little fanfare, the Covert Development and Disruption Team of the UK’s North West Regional Organised Crime Unit recently announced that there had been an arrest in connection with this kind of activity.
According to police, a 40-year-old man was detained in Winsford, Cheshire, following a joint investigation with anti-piracy outfit Federation Against Copyright Theft. The unit said that man was arrested in connection with creating and maintaining a Kodi add-on configured to supply illegal online streams.
“The scale of the offending was significant and affected broadcasters and rights owners in the UK and worldwide. Police searched an address, seized evidence, and interviewed the suspect has later been released on police bail pending investigation,” a statement reads.
Typically for this kind of announcement, details are scarce. Other than location and age, no further details were made available on the alleged offender, or the add-on that had triggered the referral from FACT. As a result, it’s not currently possible to positively identify the person or the add-on in question.
What we do know is that last Friday, on the very same day that the police say they carried out the arrest of the man in Cheshire, a very popular add-on and associated repository (repo) went down without warning or explanation.
Supremacy is a popular Kodi add-on that provides access to a wide range of content, from movies and TV shows to live sports. The add-on works by ‘scraping’ or aggregating content from existing online sources, presenting them inside the add-on for users to select.
While other repos have also offered the add-on, Supremacy was once available for download from the Supremacy repo, previously located at https://2Supremacy.uk. That domain was registered with Namecheap on March 25, 2019 and isn’t set to expire until March 25, 2021.
However, there is an additional note in the domain’s WHOIS which suggests something is wrong.
Other signs of changes on June 13, 2019 can be found on the repo itself.
While no longer accessible, cached versions of the site show that the repo did indeed disappear on the same day, with the /addon and /repo directories both modified at 08:01 am. An associated Facebook page and Telegram group also disappeared in a similar fashion.
TorrentFreak contacted several sources, none of which were able or willing to provide us with the precise location of the Supremacy developer or his exact age, so definitively connecting the dots isn’t possible. We were told that there are rumors of an arrest but that’s a common occurrence when established and thriving projects go down with no explanation.
Returning to the confirmed arrest last week, it’s unclear why FACT chose to refer the add-on developer, whoever he is, to the police. There is yet to be a successful criminal prosecution of an add-on developer in the UK or elsewhere. Several have been threatened privately, however.
TorrentFreak requested comment from the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit and FACT but at the time of publication neither had responded.
When the pirate streaming box hype reached new heights early 2017, the third-party Kodi add-on “Exodus” was at the center of the action.
Exodus was widely praised as one of the most useful add-ons to access streaming video. This included many pirated movies and TV-shows.
The open source software was maintained by “Lambda,” one of the most prolific developers in the community. However, this meant that when rightsholders started to tighten the screws, Exodus became one of the main targets.
It all started when the popular add-on repository TVAddons mysteriously disappeared. Since Exodus was distributed through the repository, many people experienced trouble updating it.
Initially, it was unknown what was going on with TVAddons but when the site returned more than a month later, it became clear that it was being sued by Bell Canada, TVA, Videotron, and Rogers. This complaint also listed Exodus, alongside 17 other add-ons.
Not much later, development of the Exodus add-on was discontinued. This meant that from one day to another, millions of users found out that their pirate streaming boxes had become useless. At least, in their more recent configuration.
It didn’t take long before others stepped up to fill this void. Interestingly, many of the Exodus alternatives were based on the original Exodus code, which was open source. Even today, nearly two years after the add-on was discontinued, its code lives on.
The top one appears to be the aptly named “Exodus Redux,” which is available through GitHub and maintained by a developer known as I-A-C.
However, there are many more add-ons based on the same code. This includes “Yoda,” “Exodus 8,” “Overeasy,” and “13Clowns,” to name a few. All of these allow users to stream video through an easy-to-use interface.
While the open source code is easy to fork, these add-ons can’t operate with complete impunity, of course. Several other Exodus based add-ons have already been discontinued, often following pressure from groups such as anti-piracy group ACE.
The Covenant add-on, developed by Team Colossus, threw in the towel after one of the main developers received a house visit, for example,. The Placenta add-on was discontinued following a cease and desist letter.
This begs the question: if new forks keep appearing, does it mean that rightsholders’ actions are futile?
According to TVAddons, which has banned these forks from its own platform, takedown efforts may help in the short term. However, when open source software is taken down, many alternate versions usually pop-up.
“The Rights holders efforts to destroy dual-use technologies seem to be effective in the very short-term. However, those enforcements only result in software and tools being spread out in a way that becomes uncontrollable in the long term, as we’ve seen with Kodi addons,” a TVAddons spokesperson told us.
In theory, this is indeed true. TVAddons listed just seven active Exodus forks, but there are many more out there. It’s a problem that’s hard to eradicate.
However, the continued efforts from rightsholders to shut down these add-ons may have a more subtle effect. While hardcore pirates will always find a new fork, there’s also a group of people who will get frustrated by the repeated shutdowns, and give up eventually.
If we take a look at the popularity of the Google search term “Kodi add-ons” we see that interest started to drop after the major enforcement efforts started. This may be a coincidence of course, but it could also be a sign of people giving up.
Google searches for “Kodi add-ons”
It’s hard to deny that open source software can’t be easily eradicated, but the ease of access also play a role.
We’ve also seen that with other popular open source applications, such as Popcorn Time. When one of the most popular forks was taken out following pressure from Hollywood, others remained available. Still, as time went on, interest began to wane.
Similarly, when Limewire shut down years ago, the Frostwire fork remained available. However, this never reached the same audience as its predecessor.
All in all, it’s safe to conclude that, while Exodus has left the scene a long time ago, its code still thrives. Whether the total audience is still as large as it once was, remains a question.
In recent years, millions of users around the world have turned to Android-based applications for their piracy fix.
They’re mostly free and easy to install, quickly providing access to the latest movies, TV shows, live sports, and PPV events.
Entertainment industry groups have long insisted that users of these applications are putting themselves at risk of malware and similar issues, but it’s fairly uncommon for them to go into much detail.
That changed today with the publication of a study carried out by the Digital Citizens Alliance in conjunction with network security company Dark Wolfe Consulting. Some of the key findings concern the popular live streaming application known as Mobdro.
The researchers say that after installing the Android application, it forced an update and then forwarded their Wi-Fi name and password to a server that identified as being located in Asia. Mobdro then started to seek access to media content and other legitimate apps on the researchers’ network.
“Researchers observed that the app that sent the user’s wireless name and password up to an external server in Indonesia then began probing the network and talking to any file-sharing services on the Local Area Network. It also ‘port knocked,’ a process to look for other active malware,” they write.
“[A]fter the initial update, the device accepted commands from a threat actor. Those commands may come from the app itself or from the movie streams. With each selection of content, the user opens the door to a new set of commands and malicious payloads from a threat actor to a device in use.”
It’s not explained how the video streams themselves could contain malware. Mobdro is believed to scrape the web for content, much like Kodi add-ons do, and security experts haven’t seen malware in video streams.
However, the researchers state that the “commands in the apps or from the movie streams” were “either encrypted or encoded, making it difficult to analyze for infection.” It’s a vague statement that the study builds on, noting that encrypted commands could perform an update, retrieve malware, take part in a DDoS attack, or obtain files stored on the device or network – such as images, movies or documents.
There’s little doubt that the behavior highlighted above is not something the average person would expect from a video streaming app. However, it should be noted that the Mobdro software actually asks the user to grant permission to their photos, media, files and device location.
Most will blindly grant those permissions instead of declining, of course, and it sounds like the researchers followed that lead.
Furthermore, in view of the researchers’ findings, it’s also worth highlighting the chaotic situation that surrounds Mobdro and many similar apps that facilitate access to illicit streams of movies and TV shows. Crucially, these aren’t allowed on official platforms like Google Play.
So, where it was once pretty obvious where the ‘official’ app could be obtained, there are now a large number of ‘fake’ sites also offering ‘hacked’ variants of the software, any one of which could have experienced tampering. The researchers do not reveal the source of their installation files.
Another point of interest is raised when the researchers note that the software they installed also makes it possible for a “threat actor” to log in to a user’s device and then navigate away from the device to the Internet, effectively posing as the user online.
While this initially seems like a shocking claim, anyone who reads the official app’s EULA before installing the software will see for themselves that Mobdro is pretty upfront about this unpopular ‘feature’. Users of the software that choose not to see adverts find themselves agreeing to become peers on the (in)famous Luminati network, meaning that their bandwidth and IP address can indeed be used by others.
It’s far from ideal (who wants their connections used by others apart from Hola users?) but the site that hosts the software makes this clear, to those who bother to read the small print at least. Which is probably very few people indeed, sadly.
TorrentFreak requested comment from the operators of the official Mobdro client but at the time of publication, we were yet to hear back.
The full report, ‘Fishing in the Piracy Stream: How the Dark Web of Entertainment is Exposing Consumers to Harm’ also contains information previously covered in earlier TorrentFreak articles. It can be found here (pdf)
Back in March and just a few hours before the Anthony Joshua v Joseph Parker fight, I got chatting with some fellow fans in the local pub. While some were intending to pay for the fight, others were going down the Kodi route.
Soon after the conversation switched to IPTV. One of the guys had a subscription and he said that his supplier would be along shortly if anyone wanted a package to watch the fight at home. Of course, I was curious to hear what he had to say since it’s not often this kind of thing is offered ‘offline’.
The guy revealed that he sold more or less exclusively on eBay and called up the page on his phone to show me. The listing made interesting reading.
In common with hundreds of similar IPTV subscription offers easily findable on eBay, the listing offered “All the sports and films you need plus VOD and main UK channels” for the sum of just under £60 per year, which is fairly cheap in the current market. With a non-committal “hmmm” I asked a bit more about the guy’s business and surprisingly he was happy to provide some details.
Like many people offering such packages, the guy was a reseller of someone else’s product. He also insisted that selling access to copyrighted content is OK because it sits in a “gray area”. It’s also easy to keep listings up on eBay, he assured me, as long as a few simple rules are adhered to. Right, this should be interesting.
First of all, sellers shouldn’t be “too obvious” he advised, noting that individual channels or channel lists shouldn’t be listed on the site. Fair enough, but then he said the most important thing of all is to have a disclaimer like his in any listing, written as follows:
“PLEASE NOTE EBAY: THIS IS NOT A DE SCRAMBLER SERVICE, I AM NOT SELLING ANY ILLEGAL CHANNELS OR CHANNEL LISTS NOR DO I REPRESENT ANY MEDIA COMPANY NOR HAVE ACCESS TO ANY OF THEIR CONTENTS. NO TRADEMARK HAS BEEN INFRINGED. DO NOT REMOVE LISTING AS IT IS IN ACCORDANCE WITH EBAY POLICIES.”
Apparently, this paragraph is crucial to keeping listings up on eBay and is the equivalent of kryptonite when it comes to deflecting copyright holders, police, and Trading Standards. Sure enough, a few seconds with Google reveals the same wording on dozens of eBay listings and those offering IPTV subscriptions on external platforms.
It is, of course, absolutely worthless but the IPTV seller insisted otherwise, noting he’d sold “thousands” of subscriptions through eBay without any problems. While a similar logic can be applied to garlic and vampires, a second disclaimer found on many other illicit IPTV subscription listings treads an even more bizarre path.
“THE PRODUCTS OFFERED CAN NOT BE USED TO DESCRAMBLE OR OTHERWISE ENABLE ACCESS TO CABLE OR SATELLITE TELEVISION PROGRAMS THAT BYPASSES PAYMENT TO THE SERVICE PROVIDER. RECEIVING SUBSCRIPTION/BASED TV AIRTIME IS ILLEGAL WITHOUT PAYING FOR IT.”
This disclaimer (which apparently no sellers displaying it have ever read) seems to be have been culled from the Zgemma site, which advertises a receiving device which can technically receive pirate IPTV services but wasn’t designed for the purpose. In that context, the disclaimer makes sense but when applied to dedicated pirate IPTV subscriptions, it’s absolutely ridiculous.
It’s unclear why so many sellers on eBay, Gumtree, Craigslist and other platforms think that these disclaimers are useful. It leads one to the likely conclusion that these aren’t hardcore pirates at all but regular people simply out to make a bit of extra cash who have received bad advice.
What is clear, however, is that selling access to thousands of otherwise subscription channels without permission from copyright owners is definitely illegal in the EU. The European Court of Justice says so (1,2) and it’s been backed up by subsequent cases in the Netherlands.
While the odds of getting criminally prosecuted or sued for reselling such a service are relatively slim, it’s worrying that in 2018 people still believe that doing so is made legal by the inclusion of a paragraph of text. It’s even more worrying that these individuals apparently have no idea of the serious consequences should they become singled out for legal action.
Even more surprisingly, TorrentFreak spoke with a handful of IPTV suppliers higher up the chain who also told us that what they are doing is legal. A couple claimed to be protected by communication intermediary laws, others didn’t want to go into details. Most stopped responding to emails on the topic. Perhaps most tellingly, none wanted to go on the record.
The big take-home here is that following some important EU rulings, knowingly linking to copyrighted content for profit is nearly always illegal in Europe and leaves people open for targeting by copyright holders and the authorities. People really should be aware of that, especially the little guy making a little extra pocket money on eBay.
Of course, people are perfectly entitled to carry on regardless and test the limits of the law when things go wrong. At this point, however, it’s probably worth noting that IPTV provider Ace Hosting recently handed over £600,000 rather than fight the Premier League (1,2) when they clearly had the money to put up a defense.
Given their effectiveness, perhaps they should’ve put up a disclaimer instead?
Over the past several years, anyone looking for a piracy-configured set-top box could do worse than search for one on Amazon or eBay.
Historically, people deploying search terms including “Kodi” or “fully-loaded” were greeted by page after page of Android-type boxes, each ready for illicit plug-and-play entertainment consumption following delivery.
Although the problem persists on both platforms, people are now much less likely to find infringing devices than they were 12 to 24 months ago. Under pressure from entertainment industry groups, both Amazon and eBay have tightened the screws on sellers of such devices. Now, however, both companies have received requests to stem sales from a completetey different direction.
In a letter to eBay CEO Devin Wenig and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos first spotted by Ars, FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly calls on the platforms to take action against piracy-configured boxes that fail to comply with FCC equipment authorization requirements or falsely display FCC logos, contrary to United States law.
“Disturbingly, some rogue set-top box manufacturers and distributors are exploiting the FCC’s trusted logo by fraudulently placing it on devices that have not been approved via the Commission’s equipment authorization process,” O’Rielly’s letter reads.
“Specifically, nine set-top box distributors were referred to the FCC in October for enabling the unlawful streaming of copyrighted material, seven of which displayed the FCC logo, although there was no record of such compliance.”
While O’Rielly admits that the copyright infringement aspects fall outside the jurisdiction of the FCC, he says it’s troubling that many of these devices are used to stream infringing content, “exacerbating the theft of billions of dollars in American innovation and creativity.”
As noted above, both Amazon and eBay have taken steps to reduce sales of pirate boxes on their respective platforms on copyright infringement grounds, something which is duly noted by O’Rielly. However, he points out that devices continue to be sold to members of the public who may believe that the devices are legal since they’re available for sale from legitimate companies.
“For these reasons, I am seeking your further cooperation in assisting the FCC in taking steps to eliminate the non-FCC compliant devices or devices that fraudulently bear the FCC logo,” the Commissioner writes (pdf).
“Moreover, if your company is made aware by the Commission, with supporting evidence, that a particular device is using a fraudulent FCC label or has not been appropriately certified and labeled with a valid FCC logo, I respectfully request that you commit to swiftly removing these products from your sites.”
In the event that Amazon and eBay take action under this request, O’Rielly asks both platforms to hand over information they hold on offending manufacturers, distributors, and suppliers.
Amazon was quick to respond to the FCC. In a letter published by Ars, Amazon’s Public Policy Vice President Brian Huseman assured O’Rielly that the company is not only dedicated to tackling rogue devices on copyright-infringement grounds but also when there is fraudulent use of the FCC’s logos.
Noting that Amazon is a key member of the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE) – a group that has been taking legal action against sellers of infringing streaming devices (ISDs) and those who make infringing addons for Kodi-type systems – Huseman says that dealing with the problem is a top priority.
“Our goal is to prevent the sale of ISDs anywhere, as we seek to protect our customers from the risks posed by these devices, in addition to our interest in protecting Amazon Studios content,” Huseman writes.
“In 2017, Amazon became the first online marketplace to prohibit the sale of streaming media players that promote or facilitate piracy. To prevent the sale of these devices, we proactively scan product listings for signs of potentially infringing products, and we also invest heavily in sophisticated, automated real-time tools to review a variety of data sources and signals to identify inauthentic goods.
“These automated tools are supplemented by human reviewers that conduct manual investigations. When we suspect infringement, we take immediate action to remove suspected listings, and we also take enforcement action against sellers’ entire accounts when appropriate.”
Huseman also reveals that since implementing a proactive policy against such devices, “tens of thousands” of listings have been blocked from Amazon. In addition, the platform has been making criminal referrals to law enforcement as well as taking civil action (1,2,3) as part of ACE.
“As noted in your letter, we would also appreciate the opportunity to collaborate further with the FCC to remove non-compliant devices that improperly use the FCC logo or falsely claim FCC certification. If any FCC non-compliant devices are identified, we seek to work with you to ensure they are not offered for sale,” Huseman concludes.
While users of older peer-to-peer based file-sharing systems have to work relatively hard to obtain content, users of the Kodi media player have things an awful lot easier.
As standard, Kodi is perfectly legal. However, when augmented with third-party add-ons it becomes a media discovery powerhouse, providing most of the content anyone could desire. A system like this can be set up by the user but for many, buying a so-called “fully-loaded” box from a seller is the easier option.
As a result, hundreds – probably thousands – of cottage industries have sprung up to service this hungry market in the UK, with regular people making a business out of setting up and selling such devices. Until three years ago, that’s what Michael Jarman and Natalie Forber of Colwyn Bay, Wales, found themselves doing.
According to reports in local media, Jarman was arrested in January 2015 when police were called to a disturbance at Jarman and Forber’s home. A large number of devices were spotted and an investigation was launched by Trading Standards officers. The pair were later arrested and charged with fraud offenses.
While 37-year-old Jarman pleaded guilty, 36-year-old Forber initially denied the charges and was due to stand trial. However, she later changed her mind and like Jarman, pleaded guilty to participating in a fraudulent business. Forber also pleaded guilty to transferring criminal property by shifting cash from the scheme through various bank accounts.
The pair attended a sentencing hearing before Judge Niclas Parry at Caernarfon Crown Court yesterday. According to local reporter Eryl Crump, the Court heard that the couple had run their business for about two years, selling around 1,000 fully-loaded Kodi-enabled devices for £100 each via social media.
According to David Birrell for the prosecution, the operation wasn’t particularly sophisticated but it involved Forber programming the devices as well as handling customer service. Forber claimed she was forced into the scheme by Jarman but that claim was rejected by the prosecution.
Between February 2013 and January 2015 the pair banked £105,000 from the business, money that was transferred between bank accounts in an effort to launder the takings.
Reporting from Court via Twitter, Crump said that Jarman’s defense lawyer accepted that a prison sentence was inevitable for his client but asked for the most lenient sentence possible.
Forber’s lawyer pointed out she had no previous convictions. The mother-of-two broke up with Jarman following her arrest and is now back in work and studying at college.
Sentencing the pair, Judge Niclas Parry described the offenses as a “relatively sophisticated fraud” carried out over a significant period. He jailed Jarman for 21 months and Forber for 16 months, suspended for two years. She must also carry out 200 hours of unpaid work.
The pair will also face a Proceeds of Crime investigation which could see them paying large sums to the state, should any assets be recoverable.
Noting that six out of ten people report seeing inappropriate or harmful content online, the Government said that work already underway with social media companies to protect users had borne fruit but overall industry response has been less satisfactory.
As a result, the Government will now carry through with its threat to introduce new legislation, albeit with the assistance of technology companies, children’s charities and other stakeholders.
“Digital technology is overwhelmingly a force for good across the world and we must always champion innovation and change for the better,” said Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
“At the same time I have been clear that we have to address the Wild West elements of the Internet through legislation, in a way that supports innovation. We strongly support technology companies to start up and grow, and we want to work with them to keep our citizens safe.”
While emphasis is being placed on hot-button topics such as cyberbullying and online child exploitation, the Government is clear that it wishes to tackle “the full range” of online harms. That has been greeted by UK music group BPI with a request that the Government introduces new measures to tackle Internet piracy.
In a statement issued this week, BPI chief executive Geoff Taylor welcomed the move towards legislative change and urged the Government to encompass the music industry and beyond.
“This is a vital opportunity to protect consumers and boost the UK’s music and creative industries. The BPI has long pressed for internet intermediaries and online platforms to take responsibility for the content that they promote to users,” Taylor said.
“Government should now take the power in legislation to require online giants to take effective, proactive measures to clean illegal content from their sites and services. This will keep fans away from dodgy sites full of harmful content and prevent criminals from undermining creative businesses that create UK jobs.”
The BPI has published four initial requests, each of which provides food for thought.
The demand to “establish a new fast-track process for blocking illegal sites” is not entirely unexpected, particularly given the expense of launching applications for blocking injunctions at the High Court.
“The BPI has taken a large number of actions against individual websites – 63 injunctions are in place against sites that are wholly or mainly infringing and whose business is simply to profit from criminal activity,” the BPI says.
Those injunctions can be expanded fairly easily to include new sites operating under similar banners or facilitating access to those already covered, but it’s clear the BPI would like something more streamlined. Voluntary schemes, such as the one in place in Portugal, could be an option but it’s unclear how troublesome that could be for ISPs. New legislation could solve that dilemma, however.
Another big thorn in the side for groups like the BPI are people and entities that post infringing content. The BPI is very good at taking these listings down from sites and search engines in particular (more than 600 million requests to date) but it’s a game of whac-a-mole the group would rather not engage in.
With that in mind, the BPI would like the Government to impose new rules that would compel online platforms to stop content from being re-posted after it’s been taken down while removing the accounts of repeat infringers.
Thirdly, the BPI would like the Government to introduce penalties for “online operators” who do not provide “transparent contact and ownership information.” The music group isn’t any more specific than that, but the suggestion is that operators of some sites have a tendency to hide in the shadows, something which frustrates enforcement activity.
Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, the BPI is calling on the Government to legislate for a new “duty of care” for online intermediaries and platforms. Specifically, the BPI wants “effective action” taken against businesses that use the Internet to “encourage” consumers to access content illegally.
While this could easily encompass pirate sites and services themselves, this proposal has the breadth to include a wide range of offenders, from people posting piracy-focused tutorials on monetized YouTube channels to those selling fully-loaded Kodi devices on eBay or social media.
Overall, the BPI clearly wants to place pressure on intermediaries to take action against piracy when they’re in a position to do so, and particularly those who may not have shown much enthusiasm towards industry collaboration in the past.
“Legislation in this Bill, to take powers to intervene with respect to operators that do not co-operate, would bring focus to the roundtable process and ensure that intermediaries take their responsibilities seriously,” the BPI says.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport and the Home Office will now work on a White Paper, to be published later this year, to set out legislation to tackle “online harms”. The BPI and similar entities will hope that the Government takes their concerns on board.
In a report last weekend, we documented what appear to be the final days of pirate IPTV provider Ace Hosting.
From information provided by several sources including official liquidation documents, it became clear that a previously successful and profitable Ace had succumbed to pressure from the Premier League, which accused the service of copyright infringement.
The company had considerable funds in the bank – £255,472.00 to be exact – but it also had debts of £717,278.84, including £260,000 owed to HMRC and £100,000 to the Premier League as part of a settlement agreement.
Information received by TF late Sunday suggested that £100K was the tip of the iceberg as far as the Premier League was concerned and in a statement yesterday, the football outfit confirmed that was the case.
“A renowned pirate of Premier League content to consumers has been forced to liquidate after agreeing to pay £600,000 for breaching the League’s copyright,” the Premier League announced.
“Ace IPTV, run by Craig Driscoll and Ian Isaac, was selling subscriptions to illegal Premier League streams directly to consumers which allowed viewing on a range of devices, including notorious Kodi-type boxes, as well as to smaller resellers in the UK and abroad.”
Sources familiar with the case suggest that while Ace Hosting Limited didn’t have the funds to pay the Premier League the full £600K, Ace’s operators agreed to pay (and have already paid, to some extent at least) what were essentially their own funds to cover amounts above the final £100K, which is due to be paid next year.
But that’s not the only thing that’s been handed over to the Premier League.
“Ace voluntarily disclosed the personal details of their customers, which the League will now review in compliance with data protection legislation. Further investigations will be conducted, and action taken where appropriate,” the Premier League added.
So, the big question now is how exposed Ace’s former subscribers are.
The truth is that only the Premier League knows for sure but TF has been able to obtain information from several sources which indicate that former subscribers probably aren’t the Premier League’s key interest and even if they were, information obtained on them would be of limited use.
According to a source with knowledge of how a system like Ace’s works, there is a separation of data which appears to help (at least to some degree) with the subscriber’s privacy.
“The system used to manage accounts and take payment is actually completely separate from the software used to manage streams and the lines themselves. They are never usually even on the same server so are two very different databases,” he told TF.
“So at best the only information that has voluntarily been provided to the [Premier League], is just your email, name and address (assuming you even used real details) and what hosting package or credits you bought.”
While this information is bad enough, the action against Ace is targeted, in that it focuses on the Premier League’s content and how Ace (and therefore its users) infringed on the football outfit’s copyrights. So, proving that subscribers actually watched any Premier League content would be an ideal position but it’s not straightforward, despite the potential for detailed logging.
“The management system contains no history of what you watched, when you watched it, when you signed in and so on. That is all contained in a different database on a different server.
“Because every connection is recorded [on the second server], it can create some two million entries a day and as such most providers either turn off this feature or delete the logs daily as having so many entries slows down the system down used for actual streams,” he explains.
Our source says that this data would likely to have been the first to be deleted and is probably “long gone” by now. However, even if the Premier League had obtained it, it’s unlikely they would be able to do much with it due to data protection laws.
“The information was passed to the [Premier League] voluntarily by ACE which means this information has been given from one entity to another without the end users’ consent, not part of the [creditors’ voluntary liquidation] and without a court order to support it. Data Protection right now is taken very seriously in the EU,” he notes.
At this point, it’s probably worth noting that while the word “voluntarily” has been used several times to explain the manner in which Ace handed over its subscribers’ details to the Premier League, the same word can be used to describe the manner in which the £600K settlement amount will be paid.
No one forces someone to pay or hand something over, that’s what the courts are for, and the aim here was to avoid that eventuality.
Other pieces of information culled from various sources suggest that PayPal payment information, limited to amounts only, was also handed over to the Premier League. And, perhaps most importantly (and perhaps predictably) as far as former subscribers are concerned, the football group was more interested in Ace’s upwards supplier chain (the ‘wholesale’ stream suppliers used, for example) than those buying the service.
Finally, while the Premier League is now seeking to send a message to customers that these services are risky to use, it’s difficult to argue with the assertion that it’s unsafe to hand over personal details to an illegal service.
“Ace IPTV’s collapse also highlighted the risk consumers take with their personal data when they sign up to illegal streaming services,” Premier League notes.
TF spoke with three IPTV providers who all confirmed that they don’t care what names and addresses people use to sign up with and that no checks are carried out to make sure they’re correct. However, one concedes that in order to run as a business, this information has to be requested and once a customer types it in, it’s possible that it could be handed over as part of a settlement.
“I’m not going to tell people to put in dummy details, how can I? It’s up to people to use their common sense. If they’re still worried they should give Sky their money because if our backs are against the wall, what do you think is going to happen?” he concludes.
In 2015, Middlesbrough-based shopkeeper Brian ‘Tomo’ Thompson shot into the headlines after being raided by police and Trading Standards in the UK.
Thompson had been selling “fully-loaded” piracy-configured Kodi boxes from his shop but didn’t think he’d done anything wrong.
“All I want to know is whether I am doing anything illegal. I know it’s a gray area but I want it in black and white,” he said.
Thompson started out with a particularly brave tone. He insisted he’d take the case to Crown Court and even to the European Court. His mission was show what was legal and what wasn’t, he said.
Very quickly, Thompson’s case took on great importance, with observers everywhere reporting on a potential David versus Goliath copyright battle for the ages. But Thompson’s case wasn’t straightforward.
The shopkeeper wasn’t charged with basic “making available” under the Copyrights, Designs and Patents Acts that would have found him guilty under the earlier BREIN v Filmspeler case. Instead, he stood accused of two offenses under section 296ZB of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, which deals with devices and services designed to “circumvent technological measures”.
In the end it was all moot. After entering his official ‘not guilty’ plea, last year Thompson suddenly changed his tune. He accepted the prosecution’s version of events, throwing himself at the mercy of the court with a guilty plea.
In October 2017, Teeside Crown Court heard that Thompson cost Sky around £200,000 in lost subscriptions while the shopkeeper made around £38,500 from selling the devices. But despite the fairly big numbers, Judge Peter Armstrong decided to go reasonably light on the 55-year-old, handing him an 18-month prison term, suspended for two years.
“I’ve come to the conclusion that in all the circumstances an immediate custodial sentence is not called for. But as a warning to others in future, they may not be so lucky,” the Judge said.
But things wouldn’t end there for Thompson.
In the UK, people who make money or obtain assets from criminal activity can be forced to pay back their profits, which are then confiscated by the state under the Proceeds of Crime Act (pdf). Almost anything can be taken, from straight cash to cars, jewellery and houses.
However, it appears that whatever cash Thompson earned from Kodi Box activities has long since gone.
During a Proceeds of Crime hearing reported on by Gazette Live, the Court heard that Thompson has no assets whatsoever so any confiscation order would have to be a small one.
In the end, Judge Simon Hickey decided that Thompson should forfeit a single pound, an amount that could increase if the businessman got lucky moving forward.
“If anything changes in the future, for instance if you win the lottery, it might come back,” the Judge said.
With that seeming particularly unlikely, perhaps this will be the end for Thompson. Considering the gravity and importance placed on his case, zero jail time and just a £1 to pay back will probably be acceptable to the 55-year-old and also a lesson to the authorities, who have gotten very little out of this expensive case.
Who knows, perhaps they might sum up the outcome using the same eight-letter word that Thompson can be seen half-covering in this photograph.
Once upon a time, Internet users’ voices would be heard in limited circles, on platforms such as Usenet or other niche platforms.
Then, with the rise of forum platforms such as phpBB in 2000 and Invision Power Board in 2002, thriving communities could gather in public to discuss endless specialist topics, including file-sharing of course.
When dedicated piracy forums began to gain traction, it was pretty much a free-for-all. People discussed obtaining free content absolutely openly. Nothing was taboo and no one considered that there would be any repercussions. As such, moderation was limited to keeping troublemakers in check.
As the years progressed and lawsuits against both sites and services became more commonplace, most sites that weren’t actually serving illegal content began to consider their positions. Run by hobbyists, most didn’t want the hassle of a multi-million dollar lawsuit, so links to pirate content began to diminish and the more overt piracy tutorials began to disappear underground.
Those that remained in plain sight became much more considered. Tutorials on how to pirate specific Hollywood blockbusters were no longer needed, a plain general tutorial would suffice. And, as communities matured and took time to understand the implications of their actions, those without political motivations realized that drawing attention to potential criminality was neither required nor necessary.
Then YouTube and social media happened and almost overnight, no one was in charge and anyone could say whatever they liked.
In this new reality, there were no irritating moderator-type figures removing links to this and that, and nobody warning people against breaking rules that suddenly didn’t exist anymore. In essence, previously tight-knit and street-wise file-sharing and piracy communities not only became fragmented, but also chaotic.
This meant that anyone could become a leader and in some cases, this was the utopia that many had hoped for. Not only couldn’t the record labels or Hollywood tell people what to do anymore, discussion site operators couldn’t either. For those who didn’t abuse the power and for those who knew no better, this was a much-needed breath of fresh air. But, like all good things, it was unlikely to last forever.
Where most file-sharing of yesterday was carried out by hobbyist enthusiasts, many of today’s pirates are far more casual. They’re just as thirsty for content, but they don’t want to spend hours hunting for it. They want it all on a plate, at the flick of a switch, delivered to their TV with a minimum of hassle.
With online discussions increasingly seen as laborious and old-fashioned, many mainstream pirates have turned to easy-to-consume videos. In support of their Kodi media player habits, YouTube has become the educational platform of choice for millions.
As a result, there is now a long line of self-declared Kodi piracy specialists scooping up millions of views on YouTube. Their videos – which in many cases are thinly veiled advertisements for third party addons, Kodi ‘builds’, illegal IPTV services, and obscure Android APKs – are now the main way for a new generation to obtain direct advice on pirating.
Many of the videos are incredibly blatant, like the past 15 years of litigation never happened. All the lessons learned by the phpBB board operators of yesteryear, of how to achieve their goals of sharing information without getting shut down, have been long forgotten. In their place, a barrage of daily videos designed to generate clicks and affiliate revenue, no matter what the cost, no matter what the risk.
It’s pretty clear that these videos are at least partly responsible for the phenomenal uptick in Kodi and Android-based piracy over the past few years. In that respect, many lovers of free content will be eternally grateful for the service they’ve provided. But like many piracy movements over the years, people shouldn’t get too attached to them, at least in their current form.
Thanks to the devil-may-care approach of many influential YouTubers, it won’t be long before a whole new set of moderators begin flexing their muscles. While your average phpBB moderator could be reasoned with in order to get a second chance, a determined and largely faceless YouTube will eject offenders without so much as a clear explanation.
When this happens (and it’s only a question of time given the growing blatancy of many tutorials) YouTubers will not only lose their voices but their revenue streams too. While YouTube’s partner programs bring in some welcome cash, the profitable affiliate schemes touted on these channels for external products will also be under threat.
Perhaps the most surprising thing in this drama-waiting-to-happen is that many of the most popular YouTubers can hardly be considered young and naive. While some are of more tender years, most – with their undoubted skill, knowledge and work ethic – should know better for their 30 or 40 years on this planet. Yet not only do they make their names public, they feature their faces heavily in their videos too.
Still, it’s likely that it will take some big YouTube accounts to fall before YouTubers respond by shaving the sharp edges off their blatant promotion of illegal activity. And there’s little doubt that those advertising products (which is most of them) will have to do so sooner rather than later.
Just this week, YouTube made it clear that it won’t tolerate people making money from the promotion of illegal activities.
“YouTube creators may include paid endorsements as part of their content only if the product or service they are endorsing complies with our advertising policies,” YouTube told the BBC.
“We will be working with creators going forward so they better understand that in video promotions [they] must not promote dishonest activity.”
That being said, like many other players in the piracy and file-sharing space over the past 18 years, YouTubers will eventually begin to learn that not only can the smart survive, they can flourish too.
Sure, there will be people out there who’ll protest that free speech allows citizens to express themselves in a manner of their choosing. But try PM’ing that to YouTube in response to a strike, and see how that fares.
When they say you’re done, the road back is a long one.
Back in 2016, an article appeared in Kiwi media discussing the rise of a new company pledging to beat media giant Sky TV at its own game.
My Box NZ owner Krish Reddy told the publication he was selling Android boxes loaded with Kodi software and augmented with third-party addons.
Without any hint of fear, he stated that these devices enabled customers to access movies, TV shows and live channels for free, after shelling out a substantial US$182 for the box first, that is.
“Why pay $80 minimum per month for Sky when for one payment you can have it free for good?” a claim on the company’s website asked.
Noting that he’d been importing the boxes from China, Reddy suggested that his lawyers hadn’t found any problem with the business plan.
“I don’t see why [Sky] would contact me but if they do contact me and … if there’s something of theirs that they feel I’ve unlawfully taken then yeah … but as it stands I don’t [have any concerns],” he said.
At this point, Reddy said he’d been selling the boxes for just six weeks and had shifted around 80 units. To get coverage from a national newspaper at this stage of the game must’ve been very much appreciated but Reddy didn’t stop there.
In a bulk advertising email sent out to 50,000 people, Reddy described his boxes as “better than Sky”. However, by design or misfortune, the email managed to land in the inboxes of 50 Sky TV staff and directors, something that didn’t go unnoticed by the TV giant.
With Reddy claiming sales of 8,000 units, Sky ran out of patience last April. In a letter from its lawyers, the pay-TV company said Reddy’s devices breached copyright law and the Fair Trading Act. Reddy responded by calling the TV giant “a playground bully”, again denying that he was breaking the law.
“From a legal perspective, what we do is completely within the law. We advertise Sky television channels being available through our website and social media platforms as these are available via streams which you can find through My Box,” he said.
“The content is already available, I’m not going out there and bringing the content so how am I infringing the copyright… the content is already there, if someone uses the box to search for the content, that’s what it is.”
The initial compensation demand from Sky against Reddy’s company My Box ran to NZD$1.4m, around US$1m. It was an amount that had the potential rise by millions if matters got drawn out and/or escalated. But despite picking a terrible opponent in a battle he was unlikely to win, Reddy refused to give up.
“[Sky’s] point of view is they own copyright and I’m destroying the market by giving people content for free. To me it is business; I have got something that is new … that’s competition,” he said.
The Auckland High Court heard the case against My Box last month with Judge Warwick Smith reserving his judgment and Reddy still maintaining that his business is entirely legal. Sales were fantastic, he said, with 20,000 devices sold to customers in 12 countries.
Then something truly amazing happened.
A company up to its eyeballs in litigation, selling a commodity product that an amateur can buy and configure at home for US$40, reportedly got a chance of a lifetime. Reddy revealed to Stuff that a Chinese investor had offered to buy his company for an eye-watering NZ$10 million (US$7.06m).
“We have to thank Sky,” he said. “If they had left us alone we would just have been selling a few boxes, but the controversy made us world famous.”
Reddy noted he’d been given 21 days to respond to the offer, but refused to name the company. Interestingly, he also acknowledged that if My Box lost its case, the company would be liable for damages. However, that wouldn’t bother the potential investor.
“It makes no difference to them whether we win or lose, because their operations won’t be in New Zealand,” Reddy said.
According to the entrepreneur, that’s how things are playing out.
The Chinese firm – which Reddy is still refusing to name – has apparently accepted a counter offer from Reddy of US$8.8m for My Box. As a result, Reddy will wrap up his New Zealand operations within the next 90 days and his six employees will be rendered unemployed.
Given that anyone with the ability to install Kodi and a few addons before putting a box in the mail could replicate Reddy’s business model, the multi-million dollar offer for My Box was never anything less than a bewildering business proposition. That someone carried through with it an even higher price is so fantastic as to be almost unbelievable.
In a sea of unhappy endings for piracy-enabled Kodi box sellers globally, this is the only big win to ever grace the headlines. Assuming this really is the end of the story (and that might not be the case) it will almost certainly be the last.
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