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?
Back in January, a coalition of companies and organizations with ties to the entertainment industries called on local telecoms regulator CRTC to implement a national website blocking regime.
Under the banner of Fairplay Canada, members including Bell, Cineplex, Directors Guild of Canada, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, Movie Theatre Association of Canada, and Rogers Media, spoke of an industry under threat from marauding pirates. But just how serious is this threat?
The results of a new survey commissioned by Innovation Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) in collaboration with the Department of Canadian Heritage (PCH) aims to shine light on the problem by revealing the online content consumption habits of citizens in the Great White North.
While there are interesting findings for those on both sides of the site-blocking debate, the situation seems somewhat removed from the Armageddon scenario predicted by the entertainment industries.
Carried out among 3,301 Canadians aged 12 years and over, the Kantar TNS study aims to cover copyright infringement in six key content areas – music, movies, TV shows, video games, computer software, and eBooks. Attitudes and behaviors are also touched upon while measuring the effectiveness of Canada’s copyright measures.
General Digital Content Consumption
In its introduction, the report notes that 28 million Canadians used the Internet in the three-month study period to November 27, 2017. Of those, 22 million (80%) consumed digital content. Around 20 million (73%) streamed or accessed content, 16 million (59%) downloaded content, while 8 million (28%) shared content.
Music, TV shows and movies all battled for first place in the consumption ranks, with 48%, 48%, and 46% respectively.
According to the study, the majority of Canadians do things completely by the book. An impressive 74% of media-consuming respondents said that they’d only accessed material from legal sources in the preceding three months.
The remaining 26% admitted to accessing at least one illegal file in the same period. Of those, just 5% said that all of their consumption was from illegal sources, with movies (36%), software (36%), TV shows (34%) and video games (33%) the most likely content to be consumed illegally.
Interestingly, the study found that few demographic factors – such as gender, region, rural and urban, income, employment status and language – play a role in illegal content consumption.
“We found that only age and income varied significantly between consumers who infringed by downloading or streaming/accessing content online illegally and consumers who did not consume infringing content online,” the report reads.
“More specifically, the profile of consumers who downloaded or streamed/accessed infringing content skewed slightly younger and towards individuals with household incomes of $100K+.”
Licensed services much more popular than pirate haunts
It will come as no surprise that Netflix was the most popular service with consumers, with 64% having used it in the past three months. Sites like YouTube and Facebook were a big hit too, visited by 36% and 28% of content consumers respectively.
Overall, 74% of online content consumers use licensed services for content while 42% use social networks. Under a third (31%) use a combination of peer-to-peer (BitTorrent), cyberlocker platforms, or linking sites. Stream-ripping services are used by 9% of content consumers.
“Consumers who reported downloading or streaming/accessing infringing content only are less likely to use licensed services and more likely to use peer-to-peer/cyberlocker/linking sites than other consumers of online content,” the report notes.
Attitudes towards legal consumption & infringing content
In common with similar surveys over the years, the Kantar research looked at the reasons why people consume content from various sources, both legal and otherwise.
Convenience (48%), speed (36%) and quality (34%) were the most-cited reasons for using legal sources. An interesting 33% of respondents said they use legal sites to avoid using illegal sources.
On the illicit front, 54% of those who obtained unauthorized content in the previous three months said they did so due to it being free, with 40% citing convenience and 34% mentioning speed.
Almost six out of ten (58%) said lower costs would encourage them to switch to official sources, with 47% saying they’d move if legal availability was improved.
Canada’s ‘Notice-and-Notice’ warning system
People in Canada who share content on peer-to-peer systems like BitTorrent without permission run the risk of receiving an infringement notice warning them to stop. These are sent by copyright holders via users’ ISPs and the hope is that the shock of receiving a warning will turn consumers back to the straight and narrow.
The study reveals that 10% of online content consumers over the age of 12 have received one of these notices but what kind of effect have they had?
“Respondents reported that receiving such a notice resulted in the following: increased awareness of copyright infringement (38%), taking steps to ensure password protected home networks (27%), a household discussion about copyright infringement (27%), and discontinuing illegal downloading or streaming (24%),” the report notes.
While these are all positives for the entertainment industries, Kantar reports that almost a quarter (24%) of people who receive a notice simply ignore them.
Once upon a time, people obtaining music via P2P networks was cited as the music industry’s greatest threat but, with the advent of sites like YouTube, so-called stream-ripping is the latest bogeyman.
According to the study, 11% of Internet users say they’ve used a stream-ripping service. They are most likely to be male (62%) and predominantly 18 to 34 (52%) years of age.
“Among Canadians who have used a service to stream-rip music or entertainment, nearly half (48%) have used stream-ripping sites, one-third have used downloader apps (38%), one-in-seven (14%) have used a stream-ripping plug-in, and one-in-ten (10%) have used stream-ripping software,” the report adds.
Set-Top Boxes and VPNs
Few general piracy studies would be complete in 2018 without touching on set-top devices and Virtual Private Networks and this report doesn’t disappoint.
More than one in five (21%) respondents aged 12+ reported using a VPN, with the main purpose of securing communications and Internet browsing (57%).
A relatively modest 36% said they use a VPN to access free content while 32% said the aim was to access geo-blocked content unavailable in Canada. Just over a quarter (27%) said that accessing content from overseas at a reasonable price was the main motivator.
One in ten (10%) of respondents reported using a set-top box, with 78% stating they use them to access paid-for content. Interestingly, only a small number say they use the devices to infringe.
“A minority use set-top boxes to access other content that is not legal or they are unsure if it is legal (16%), or to access live sports that are not legal or they are unsure if it is legal (11%),” the report notes.
“Individuals who consumed a mix of legal and illegal content online are more likely to use VPN services (42%) or TV set-top boxes (21%) than consumers who only downloaded or streamed/accessed legal content.”
Kantar says that the findings of the report will be used to help policymakers evaluate how Canada’s Copyright Act is coping with a changing market and technological developments.
“This research will provide the necessary information required to further develop copyright policy in Canada, as well as to provide a foundation to assess the effectiveness of the measures to address copyright infringement, should future analysis be undertaken,” it concludes.
Warning: a GIF used in today’s blog contains flashing images.
Students at the University of Bremen, Germany, have built a wearable camera that records the seconds of vision lost when you blink. Augenblick uses a Raspberry Pi Zero and Camera Module alongside muscle sensors to record footage whenever you close your eyes, producing a rather disjointed film of the sights you miss out on.
Blink and you’ll miss it
The average person blinks up to five times a minute, with each blink lasting 0.5 to 0.8 seconds. These half-seconds add up to about 30 minutes a day. What sights are we losing during these minutes? That is the question asked by students Manasse Pinsuwan and René Henrich when they set out to design Augenblick.
Blinking is a highly invasive mechanism for our eyesight. Every day we close our eyes thousands of times without noticing it. Our mind manages to never let us wonder what exactly happens in the moments that we miss.
Capturing lost moments
For Augenblick, the wearer sticks MyoWare Muscle Sensor pads to their face, and these detect the electrical impulses that trigger blinking.
Two pads are applied over the orbicularis oculi muscle that forms a ring around the eye socket, while the third pad is attached to the cheek as a neutral point.
Biology fact: there are two muscles responsible for blinking. The orbicularis oculi muscle closes the eye, while the levator palpebrae superioris muscle opens it — and yes, they both sound like the names of Harry Potter spells.
The sensor is read 25 times a second. Whenever it detects that the orbicularis oculi is active, the Camera Module records video footage.
Pressing a button on the side of the Augenblick glasses set the code running. An LED lights up whenever the camera is recording and also serves to confirm the correct placement of the sensor pads.
The Pi Zero saves the footage so that it can be stitched together later to form a continuous, if disjointed, film.
Learn more about the Augenblick blink camera
You can find more information on the conception, design, and build process of Augenblickhere in German, with a shorter explanation including lots of photos here in English.
In January, a coalition of Canadian companies called on local telecoms regulator CRTC to implement a website-blocking regime in Canada.
The coalition, Fairplay Canada, is a collection of organizations and companies with ties to the entertainment industries and includes Bell, Cineplex, Directors Guild of Canada, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, Movie Theatre Association of Canada, and Rogers Media. Its stated aim is to address Canada’s online piracy problems.
While CTRC reviews FairPlay Canada’s plans, the coalition has been seeking to drum up support for the blocking regime, encouraging a diverse range of supporters to send submissions endorsing the project. Of course, building a united front among like-minded groups is nothing out of the ordinary but a situation just uncovered by Canadian law Professor Micheal Geist, one of the most vocal opponents of the proposed scheme, is bound to raise eyebrows.
Geist discovered a submission by Brian Hutchings, who works as Vice-President, Administration at Brock University in Ontario. Dated March 22, 2018, it notes that one of the university’s most sought-after programs is Sports Management, which helps Brock’s students to become “the lifeblood” of Canada’s sport and entertainment industries.
“Our University is deeply alarmed at how piracy is eroding an industry that employs so many of our co-op students and graduates. Piracy is a serious, pervasive threat that steals creativity, undermines investment in content development and threatens the survival of an industry that is also part of our national identity,” the submission reads.
“Brock ardently supports the FairPlay Canada coalition of more than 25 organizations involved in every aspect of Canada’s film, TV, radio, sports entertainment and music industries. Specifically, we support the coalition’s request that the CRTC introduce rules that would disable access in Canada to the most egregious piracy sites, similar to measures that have been taken in the UK, France and Australia. We are committed to assist the members of the coalition and the CRTC in eliminating the theft of digital content.”
The letter leaves no doubt that Brock University as a whole stands side-by-side with Fairplay Canada but according to a subsequent submission signed by Michelle Webber, President, Brock University Faculty Association (BUFA), nothing could be further from the truth.
Noting that BUFA unanimously supports the position of the Canadian Association of University Teachers which opposes the FairPlay proposal, Webber adds that BUFA stands in opposition to the submission by Brian Hutchings on behalf of Brock University.
“Vice President Hutching’s intervention was undertaken without consultation with the wider Brock University community, including faculty, librarians, and Senate; therefore, his submission should not be seen as indicative of the views of Brock University as a whole.”
BUFA goes on to stress the importance of an open Internet to researchers and educators while raising concerns that the blocking proposals could threaten the principles of net neutrality in Canada.
While the undermining of Hutching’s position is embarrassing enough, via access to information laws Geist has also been able to reveal the chain of events that prompted the Vice-President to write a letter of support on behalf of the whole university.
It began with an email sent by former Brock professor Cheri Bradish to Mark Milliere, TSN’s Senior Vice President and General Manager, with Hutchings copied in. The idea was to connect the pair, with the suggestion that supporting the site-blocking plan would help to mitigate the threat to “future work options” for students.
What followed was a direct email from Mark Milliere to Brian Hutchings, in which the former laid out the contributions his company makes to the university, while again suggesting that support for site-blocking would be in the long-term interests of students seeking employment in the industry.
On March 23, Milliere wrote to Hutchings again, thanking him for “a terrific letter” and stating that “If you need anything from TSN, just ask.”
This isn’t the first time that Bell has asked those beholden to the company to support its site-blocking plans.
Back in February it was revealed that the company had asked its own employees to participate in the site-blocking submission process, without necessarily revealing their affiliations with the company.
Despite being one of the more popular set-top box platforms, until last year Roku managed to stay completely out of the piracy conversation.
However, due to abuse of its system by third-parties, last June the Superior Court of Justice of the City of Mexico banned the importation and distribution of Roku devices in the country.
The decision followed a complaint filed by cable TV provider Cablevision, which said that some Roku channels and their users were infringing its distribution rights.
Since then, Roku has been fighting to have the ban lifted, previously informing TF that it expressly prohibits copyright infringement of any kind. That led to several more legal processes yet last month and after considerable effort, the ban was upheld, much to Roku’s disappointment.
“It is necessary for Roku to make adjustments to its software, as other online content distribution platforms do, so that violations of copyrighted content do not take place,” Cablevision said.
In a series of emails with TF, the company declined to offer further details but there is plenty of online speculation that the decision was a move towards the “adjustments” demanded by Cablevision. Today yet more fuel is being poured onto that same fire with Roku’s decision to ban the popular cCloud TV service from its platform.
For those unfamiliar with cCloud TV, it’s a video streaming platform that relies on users to contribute media links found on the web, whether they’re movie and TV shows or live sporting events.
“Project cCloud TV is known as the ‘Popcorn Time for Live TV’. The project started with 50 channels and has grown over time and now has over 4000 channels from all around the world,” its founder ‘Bane’ told TF back in 2016.
“The project was inspired by Popcorn Time and its simplicity for streaming torrents. The service works based on media links that can be found anywhere on the web and the cCloud project makes it easier for users to stream.”
Aside from the vast array of content cCloud offers, its versatility is almost unrivaled. In an addition to working via most modern web browsers, it’s also accessible using smartphones, tablets, Plex media server, Kodi, VLC, and (until recently at least) Roku.
But cCloud and USTVnow aren’t the only services suffering bans at Roku.
cCloud has had problems on Kodi too. Back in September 2017, TVAddons announced that it had been forced to remove the cCloud addon from its site.
“cCloud TV has been removed from our web site due to a complaint made by Bell, Rogers, Videotron and TVA on June 12th, 2017 as part of their lawsuit against our web site,” the site announced.
“Prior to hearing of the lawsuit, we had never received a single complaint relating to the cCloud TV addon for Kodi. cCloud TV for Kodi was developed by podgod, and was basically an interface for the community-based web service that goes by the same name.”
Last week, TVAddons went on to publish an “blacklist” that lists addons that have the potential to deliver content not authorized by rightsholders. Among many others, the list contains cCloud, meaning that potential users will now have to obtain it directly from the Kodi Bae Repository on Github instead.
At the time of publication, Roku had not responded to TorrentFreak’s request for comment.
Speaking at a news conference last month, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that the Japanese government is considering measures to prohibit access to pirate sites, initially to protect the country’s manga and anime industries.
“The damage is getting worse. We are considering the possibilities of all measures including site blocking,” he said.
But Japan has a problem.
The country has no specific legislation that allows for site-blocking of any kind, let alone on copyright infringement grounds. In fact, the constitution expressly supports freedom of speech and expressly forbids censorship.
“Freedom of assembly and association as well as speech, press and all other forms of expression are guaranteed,” Article 21 reads.
“No censorship shall be maintained, nor shall the secrecy of any means of communication be violated,” the constitution adds.
Nevertheless, the government appears determined to do something about the piracy threat. As detailed last month, that looks like manifesting itself in a site-blocking regime. But how will this be achieved?
Mainichi reports that the government will argue there are grounds for “averting present danger”, a phrase that’s detailed in Article 37 of Japan’s Penal Code.
“An act unavoidably performed to avert a present danger to the life, body, liberty
or property of oneself or any other person is not punishable only when the harm
produced by such act does not exceed the harm to be averted,” the Article (pdf) begins.
It’s fairly clear that this branch of Japanese law was never designed for use against pirate sites. Furthermore, there is also a clause noting that where an act (in this case blocking) causes excessive harm it may lead “to the punishment being reduced or may exculpate the offender in light of the circumstances.”
How, when, or if that ever comes into play will remain to be seen but in common with most legal processes against pirate site operators elsewhere, few turn up to argue in their defense. A contested process is therefore unlikely.
It appears that rather than forcing Internet providers into compliance, the government will ask for their “understanding” on the basis that damage is being done to the anime and manga industries. ISPs reportedly already cooperate to censor child abuse sites so it’s hoped a similar agreement can be reached on piracy.
Initially, the blocking requests will relate to just three as-yet-unnamed platforms, one local and two based outside the country. Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg and if ISPs agree to block this trio, more demands are sure to follow.
Meanwhile, the government is also working towards tightening up the law to deal with an estimated 200 local sites that link, but do not host pirated content. Under current legislation, linking isn’t considered illegal, which is a major problem given the manner in which most file-sharing and streaming is carried out these days.
However, there are also concerns that any amendments to tackle linking could fall foul of the constitutional right to freedom of expression. It’s a problem that has been tackled elsewhere, notably in Europe, but in most cases the latter has been trumped by the former. In any event, the government will need to tread carefully.
The proposals are expected to be formally approved at a Cabinet meeting on crime prevention policy later this month, Mainichi reports.
With The Pirate Bay the most famous pirate site in Swedish history still in full swing, a lesser known streaming platform started to gain traction more than half a decade ago.
From humble beginnings, Swefilmer eventually grew to become Sweden’s most popular movie and TV show streaming site. At one stage it was credited alongside another streaming portal for serving up to 25% of all online video streaming in Sweden.
But in 2015, everything came crashing down. An operator of the site in his early twenties was raided by local police and arrested. An older Turkish man, who was accused of receiving donations from users and setting up Swefilmer’s deals with advertisers, was later arrested in Germany.
Their activities between November 2013 and June 2015 landed them an appearance before the Varberg District Court last January, where they were accused of making more than $1.5m in advertising revenue from copyright infringement.
The prosecutor described the site as being like “organized crime”. The then 26-year-old was described as the main player behind the site, with the then 23-year-old playing a much smaller role. The latter received an estimated $4,000 of the proceeds, the former was said to have pocketed more than $1.5m.
As expected, things didn’t go well. The older man, who was described as leading a luxury lifestyle, was convicted of 1,044 breaches of copyright law and serious money laundering offenses. He was sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to forfeit 14,000,000 SEK (US$1.68m).
Due to his minimal role, the younger man was given probation and ordered to complete 120 hours of community service. Speaking with TorrentFreak at the time, the 23-year-old said he was relieved at the relatively light sentence but noted it may not be over yet.
Indeed, as is often the case with these complex copyright prosecutions, the matter found itself at the Court of Appeal of Western Sweden. On Wednesday its decision was handed down and it’s bad news for both men.
“The Court of Appeal, like the District Court, judges the men for breach of copyright law,” the Court said in a statement.
“They are judged to have made more than 1,400 copyrighted films available through the Swefilmer streaming service, without obtaining permission from copyright holders. One of the men is also convicted of gross money laundering because he received revenues from the criminal activity.”
In respect of the now 27-year-old, the Court decided to hand down a much more severe sentence, extending the term of imprisonment from three to four years.
There was some better news in respect of the amount he has to forfeit to the state, however. The District Court set this amount at 14,000,000 SEK (US$1.68m) but the Court of Appeal reduced it to ‘just’ 4,000,000 SEK (US$482,280).
The younger man’s conditional sentence was upheld but community service was replaced with a fine of 10,000 SEK (US$1,200). Also, along with his accomplice, he must now pay significant damages to a Norwegian plaintiff in the case.
“Both men will jointly pay damages of NOK 2.2 million (US$283,000) together with interest to Nordisk Film A / S for copyright infringement in one of the films posted on the website,” the Court writes in its decision.
But even now, the matter may not be closed. Ansgar Firsching, the older man’s lawyer, told SVT that the case could go all the way to the Supreme Court.
“I have informed my client about the content of the judgment and it is highly likely that he will turn to the Supreme Court,” Firsching said.
It appears that the 27-year-old will argue that at the time of the alleged offenses, merely linking to copyrighted content was not a criminal offense but whether this approach will succeed is seriously up for debate.
While linking was previously considered by some to sit in a legal gray area, the District Court drew heavily on the GS Media ruling handed down by the European Court of Justice in September 2016.
In that case, the EU Court found that those who post links to content they do not know is infringing in a non-commercial environment usually don’t commit infringement. The Swefilmer case doesn’t immediately appear to fit either of those parameters.
When attempting to deal with the flood of pirate content on the Internet, companies have many options at their disposal.
One of the most controversial is site-blocking, but despite its unpopularity with consumers, dozens of countries around the world are now involved in the practice. Quite regularly new countries consider getting involved, Canada for example. The latest new addition is Japan.
Speaking at a news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that the Japanese government is considering taking measures to prohibit access to pirate sites, largely to protect the country’s manga and anime industries.
“The damage is getting worse. We are considering the possibilities of all measures including site blocking,” he said.
“Manga and anime are important types of content that represent the ‘Cool Japan’ initiative. I would like to take countermeasures as soon as possible under the cooperation of the relevant ministries and agencies.”
Cool Japan is a campaign to promote Japan, its culture, products and businesses both at home and overseas, in order to generate interest in the country while boosting investment and tourism.
Outline of the Cool Japan initiative
According to a lawyer cited by the Sankei news outlet, piracy in Japan is largely facilitated by roughly two kinds of sites – hosting and linking.
While the former can be anywhere but can be dealt with locally, Japan has an estimated 200 sites that link to pirated content. Their legal status doesn’t appear to be as clear as many would like.
“In the conventional theory the link itself is not illegal,” the lawyer notes. “There is no legal basis to declare the act of facilitating piracy of other sites as ‘illegal’. Without a [linking] site, many users can not reach pirated versions, [so the government] needs to define malicious [linking] sites properly and regulate them.”
It appears that like many nations, Japan doesn’t view piracy as a predominantly domestic issue, at least on the supply front. In common with the UK, Australia and many other ‘blocking’ nations, it sees the problem as being fueled by overseas actors over which it has limited control. Site-blocking locally, therefore, could stop the problem at the borders.
Whether any plan will be any more effective than the programs elsewhere will remain to be seen but since the Japanese hold both anime and manga close to their hearts, the debate is bound to get emotional.
“As long as the normal business model of content is undermined, the number of people trying to become new professional creators will decrease, and if you are an animator, know-how such as drawing, editing and reviewing may be lost. There is a danger that you will be unable to read interesting cartoons in future, as the biggest victim of piracy is actually the reader himself,” the lawyer concludes.
This past week saw perhaps the single wildest display of copyright infringement ever directed at Japanese culture by those in authority. Local governments across South America defied the Japanese government by airing the latest episode of Dragon Ball Super in public places to tens of thousands of people, all without obtaining the necessary licensing.
This is part one of a series. The second part will be posted later this week. Use the Join button above to receive notification of future posts in this series.
Though most of us have never set foot inside of a data center, as citizens of a data-driven world we nonetheless depend on the services that data centers provide almost as much as we depend on a reliable water supply, the electrical grid, and the highway system. Every time we send a tweet, post to Facebook, check our bank balance or credit score, watch a YouTube video, or back up a computer to the cloud we are interacting with a data center.
In this series, The Challenges of Opening a Data Center, we’ll talk in general terms about the factors that an organization needs to consider when opening a data center and the challenges that must be met in the process. Many of the factors to consider will be similar for opening a private data center or seeking space in a public data center, but we’ll assume for the sake of this discussion that our needs are more modest than requiring a data center dedicated solely to our own use (i.e. we’re not Google, Facebook, or China Telecom).
Data center technology and management are changing rapidly, with new approaches to design and operation appearing every year. This means we won’t be able to cover everything happening in the world of data centers in our series, however, we hope our brief overview proves useful.
What is a Data Center?
A data center is the structure that houses a large group of networked computer servers typically used by businesses, governments, and organizations for the remote storage, processing, or distribution of large amounts of data.
While many organizations will have computing services in the same location as their offices that support their day-to-day operations, a data center is a structure dedicated to 24/7 large-scale data processing and handling.
Depending on how you define the term, there are anywhere from a half million data centers in the world to many millions. While it’s possible to say that an organization’s on-site servers and data storage can be called a data center, in this discussion we are using the term data center to refer to facilities that are expressly dedicated to housing computer systems and associated components, such as telecommunications and storage systems. The facility might be a private center, which is owned or leased by one tenant only, or a shared data center that offers what are called “colocation services,” and rents space, services, and equipment to multiple tenants in the center.
A large, modern data center operates around the clock, placing a priority on providing secure and uninterrrupted service, and generally includes redundant or backup power systems or supplies, redundant data communication connections, environmental controls, fire suppression systems, and numerous security devices. Such a center is an industrial-scale operation often using as much electricity as a small town.
Types of Data Centers
There are a number of ways to classify data centers according to how they will be used, whether they are owned or used by one or multiple organizations, whether and how they fit into a topology of other data centers; which technologies and management approaches they use for computing, storage, cooling, power, and operations; and increasingly visible these days: how green they are.
Data centers can be loosely classified into three types according to who owns them and who uses them.
Exclusive Data Centers are facilities wholly built, maintained, operated and managed by the business for the optimal operation of its IT equipment. Some of these centers are well-known companies such as Facebook, Google, or Microsoft, while others are less public-facing big telecoms, insurance companies, or other service providers.
Managed Hosting Providers are data centers managed by a third party on behalf of a business. The business does not own data center or space within it. Rather, the business rents IT equipment and infrastructure it needs instead of investing in the outright purchase of what it needs.
Colocation Data Centers are usually large facilities built to accommodate multiple businesses within the center. The business rents its own space within the data center and subsequently fills the space with its IT equipment, or possibly uses equipment provided by the data center operator.
Backblaze, for example, doesn’t own its own data centers but colocates in data centers owned by others. As Backblaze’s storage needs grow, Backblaze increases the space it uses within a given data center and/or expands to other data centers in the same or different geographic areas.
Availability is Key
When designing or selecting a data center, an organization needs to decide what level of availability is required for its services. The type of business or service it provides likely will dictate this. Any organization that provides real-time and/or critical data services will need the highest level of availability and redundancy, as well as the ability to rapidly failover (transfer operation to another center) when and if required. Some organizations require multiple data centers not just to handle the computer or storage capacity they use, but to provide alternate locations for operation if something should happen temporarily or permanently to one or more of their centers.
Organizations operating data centers that can’t afford any downtime at all will typically operate data centers that have a mirrored site that can take over if something happens to the first site, or they operate a second site in parallel to the first one. These data center topologies are called Active/Passive, and Active/Active, respectively. Should disaster or an outage occur, disaster mode would dictate immediately moving all of the primary data center’s processing to the second data center.
While some data center topologies are spread throughout a single country or continent, others extend around the world. Practically, data transmission speeds put a cap on centers that can be operated in parallel with the appearance of simultaneous operation. Linking two data centers located apart from each other — say no more than 60 miles to limit data latency issues — together with dark fiber (leased fiber optic cable) could enable both data centers to be operated as if they were in the same location, reducing staffing requirements yet providing immediate failover to the secondary data center if needed.
This redundancy of facilities and ensured availability is of paramount importance to those needing uninterrupted data center services.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a rating system devised by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) for the design, construction, and operation of green buildings. Facilities can achieve ratings of certified, silver, gold, or platinum based on criteria within six categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation and design.
Green certification has become increasingly important in data center design and operation as data centers require great amounts of electricity and often cooling water to operate. Green technologies can reduce costs for data center operation, as well as make the arrival of data centers more amenable to environmentally-conscious communities.
The ACT, Inc. data center in Iowa City, Iowa was the first data center in the U.S. to receive LEED-Platinum certification, the highest level available.
ACT Data Center exterior
ACT Data Center interior
Factors to Consider When Selecting a Data Center
There are numerous factors to consider when deciding to build or to occupy space in a data center. Aspects such as proximity to available power grids, telecommunications infrastructure, networking services, transportation lines, and emergency services can affect costs, risk, security and other factors that need to be taken into consideration.
The size of the data center will be dictated by the business requirements of the owner or tenant. A data center can occupy one room of a building, one or more floors, or an entire building. Most of the equipment is often in the form of servers mounted in 19 inch rack cabinets, which are usually placed in single rows forming corridors (so-called aisles) between them. This allows staff access to the front and rear of each cabinet. Servers differ greatly in size from 1U servers (i.e. one “U” or “RU” rack unit measuring 44.50 millimeters or 1.75 inches), to Backblaze’s Storage Pod design that fits a 4U chassis, to large freestanding storage silos that occupy many square feet of floor space.
Location will be one of the biggest factors to consider when selecting a data center and encompasses many other factors that should be taken into account, such as geological risks, neighboring uses, and even local flight paths. Access to suitable available power at a suitable price point is often the most critical factor and the longest lead time item, followed by broadband service availability.
With more and more data centers available providing varied levels of service and cost, the choices increase each year. Data center brokers can be employed to find a data center, just as one might use a broker for home or other commercial real estate.
Websites listing available colocation space, such as upstack.io, or entire data centers for sale or lease, are widely used. A common practice is for a customer to publish its data center requirements, and the vendors compete to provide the most attractive bid in a reverse auction.
Business and Customer Proximity
The center’s closeness to a business or organization may or may not be a factor in the site selection. The organization might wish to be close enough to manage the center or supervise the on-site staff from a nearby business location. The location of customers might be a factor, especially if data transmission speeds and latency are important, or the business or customers have regulatory, political, tax, or other considerations that dictate areas suitable or not suitable for the storage and processing of data.
Local climate is a major factor in data center design because the climatic conditions dictate what cooling technologies should be deployed. In turn this impacts uptime and the costs associated with cooling, which can total as much as 50% or more of a center’s power costs. The topology and the cost of managing a data center in a warm, humid climate will vary greatly from managing one in a cool, dry climate. Nevertheless, data centers are located in both extremely cold regions and extremely hot ones, with innovative approaches used in both extremes to maintain desired temperatures within the center.
Geographic Stability and Extreme Weather Events
A major obvious factor in locating a data center is the stability of the actual site as regards weather, seismic activity, and the likelihood of weather events such as hurricanes, as well as fire or flooding.
Backblaze’s Sacramento data center describes its location as one of the most stable geographic locations in California, outside fault zones and floodplains.
Sometimes the location of the center comes first and the facility is hardened to withstand anticipated threats, such as Equinix’s NAP of the Americas data center in Miami, one of the largest single-building data centers on the planet (six stories and 750,000 square feet), which is built 32 feet above sea level and designed to withstand category 5 hurricane winds.
Equinix “NAP of the Americas” Data Center in Miami
Most data centers don’t have the extreme protection or history of the Bahnhof data center, which is located inside the ultra-secure former nuclear bunker Pionen, in Stockholm, Sweden. It is buried 100 feet below ground inside the White Mountains and secured behind 15.7 in. thick metal doors. It prides itself on its self-described “Bond villain” ambiance.
Bahnhof Data Center under White Mountain in Stockholm
Usually, the data center owner or tenant will want to take into account the balance between cost and risk in the selection of a location. The Ideal quadrant below is obviously favored when making this compromise.
Risk mitigation also plays a strong role in pricing. The extent to which providers must implement special building techniques and operating technologies to protect the facility will affect price. When selecting a data center, organizations must make note of the data center’s certification level on the basis of regulatory requirements in the industry. These certifications can ensure that an organization is meeting necessary compliance requirements.
Electrical power usually represents the largest cost in a data center. The cost a service provider pays for power will be affected by the source of the power, the regulatory environment, the facility size and the rate concessions, if any, offered by the utility. At higher level tiers, battery, generator, and redundant power grids are a required part of the picture.
Fault tolerance and power redundancy are absolutely necessary to maintain uninterrupted data center operation. Parallel redundancy is a safeguard to ensure that an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) system is in place to provide electrical power if necessary. The UPS system can be based on batteries, saved kinetic energy, or some type of generator using diesel or another fuel. The center will operate on the UPS system with another UPS system acting as a backup power generator. If a power outage occurs, the additional UPS system power generator is available.
Many data centers require the use of independent power grids, with service provided by different utility companies or services, to prevent against loss of electrical service no matter what the cause. Some data centers have intentionally located themselves near national borders so that they can obtain redundant power from not just separate grids, but from separate geopolitical sources.
Higher redundancy levels required by a company will of invariably lead to higher prices. If one requires high availability backed by a service-level agreement (SLA), one can expect to pay more than another company with less demanding redundancy requirements.
Stay Tuned for Part 2 of The Challenges of Opening a Data Center
That’s it for part 1 of this post. In subsequent posts, we’ll take a look at some other factors to consider when moving into a data center such as network bandwidth, cooling, and security. We’ll take a look at what is involved in moving into a new data center (including stories from Backblaze’s experiences). We’ll also investigate what it takes to keep a data center running, and some of the new technologies and trends affecting data center design and use. You can discover all posts on our blog tagged with “Data Center” by following the link https://www.backblaze.com/blog/tag/data-center/.
The second part of this series on The Challenges of Opening a Data Center will be posted later this week. Use the Join button above to receive notification of future posts in this series.
While there’s no shortage of people who advocate free sharing of movies and music, passions are often raised when it comes to the availability of educational information.
Significant numbers of people believe that learning should be open to all and that texts and associated materials shouldn’t be locked away by copyright holders trying to monetize knowledge. Of course, people who make a living creating learning materials see the position rather differently.
A clash of these ideals is brewing in the United States where online learning platform Udemy has been trying to have some of its courses taken down from FreeTutorials.us, a site that makes available premium tutorials and other learning materials for free.
“Pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 512(c)(3)(A) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (‘DMCA’), this communication serves as a notice of infringement and request for removal of certain web content available on freetutorials.us,” the letter reads.
“I hereby request that you remove or disable access to the material listed in Exhibit A in as expedient a fashion as possible. This communication does not constitute a waiver of any right to recover damages incurred by virtue of any such unauthorized activities, and such rights as well as claims for other relief are expressly retained.”
A small sample of Exhibit A
On January 10, 2018, the same law firm wrote to Cloudflare, which provides services to FreeTutorials. The DMCA notice asked Cloudflare to disable access to the same set of infringing content listed above.
It seems likely that whatever happened next wasn’t to Udemy’s satisfaction. On January 16, an attorney from the same law firm filed a DMCA subpoena at a district court in California. A DMCA subpoena can enable a copyright holder to obtain the identity of an alleged infringer without having to file a lawsuit and without needing a signature from a judge.
The subpoena was directed at Cloudflare, which provides services to FreeTutorials. The company was ordered to hand over “all identifying information identifying the owner, operator and/or contact person(s) associated with the domain www.freetutorials.us, including but not limited to name(s), address(es), telephone number(s), email address(es), Internet protocol connection records, administrative records and billing records from the time the account was established to the present.”
On January 26, the date by which Cloudflare was ordered to hand over the information, Cloudflare wrote to FreeTutorials with a somewhat late-in-the-day notification.
“We received the attached subpoena regarding freetutorials.us, a domain managed through your Cloudflare account. The subpoena requires us to provide information in our systems related to this website,” the company wrote.
With that deadline passing last Friday, it’s safe to say that Cloudflare has complied with the subpoena as the law requires. However, TorrentFreak spoke with FreeTutorials who told us that the company doesn’t hold anything useful on them.
“No, they have nothing,” the team explained.
Noting that they’ll soon dispense with the services of Cloudflare, the team confirmed that they had received emails from Udemy and its instructors but hadn’t done a lot in response.
“How about a ‘NO’? was our answer to all the DMCA takedown requests from Udemy and its Instructors,” they added.
FreeTutorials (FTU) are affiliated with FreeCoursesOnline (FCO) and seem passionate about what they do. In common with others who distribute learning materials online, they express a belief in free education for all, irrespective of financial resources.
“We, FTU and FCO, are a group of seven members assorted as a team from different countries and cities. We are JN, SRZ aka SunRiseZone, Letap, Lihua Google Drive, Kaya, Zinnia, Faiz MeemBazooka,” a spokesperson revealed.
“We’re all members and colleagues and we also have our own daily work and business stuff to do. We have been through that phase of life when we didn’t have enough money to buy books and get tuition or even apply for a good course that we always wanted to have, so FTU & FCO are just our vision to provide Free Education For Everyone.
“We would love to change our priorities towards our current and future projects, only if we manage to get some faithful FTU’ers to join in and help us to grow together and make FTU a place it should be.”
TorrentFreak requested comment from Udemy but at the time of publication, we were yet to hear back. However, we did manage to get in touch with Jonathan Levi, an Udemy instructor who sent this takedown notice to the site in October 2017:
“I’m writing to you on behalf of SuperHuman Enterprises, LLC. You are in violation of our copyright, using our images, and linking to pirated copies of our courses. Remove them IMMEDIATELY or face severe legal action….You have 48 hours to comply,” he wrote, adding:
“And in case you’re going to say I don’t have evidence that I own the files, it’s my fucking face in the videos.”
Levi says that the site had been non-responsive so now things are being taken to the next level.
“They don’t reply to takedowns, so we’ve joined a class action lawsuit against FTU lead by Udemy and a law firm specializing in this type of thing,” Levi concludes.
Late 2017, Boing Boing co-editor Xena Jardin posted an article in which he linked to an archive containing every Playboy centerfold image to date.
“Kind of amazing to see how our standards of hotness, and the art of commercial erotic photography, have changed over time,” Jardin noted.
While Boing Boing had nothing to do with the compilation, uploading, or storing of the Imgur-based archive, Playboy took exception to the popular blog linking to the album.
Noting that Jardin had referred to the archive uploader as a “wonderful person”, the adult publication responded with a lawsuit (pdf), claiming that Boing Boing had commercially exploited its copyrighted images.
Last week, with assistance from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Boing Boing parent company Happy Mutants filed a motion to dismiss in which it defended its right to comment on and link to copyrighted content without that constituting infringement.
“This lawsuit is frankly mystifying. Playboy’s theory of liability seems to be that it is illegal to link to material posted by others on the web — an act performed daily by hundreds of millions of users of Facebook and Twitter, and by journalists like the ones in Playboy’s crosshairs here,” the company wrote.
EFF Senior Staff Attorney Daniel Nazer weighed in too, arguing that since Boing Boing’s reporting and commenting is protected by copyright’s fair use doctrine, the “deeply flawed” lawsuit should be dismissed.
Now, just a week later, Playboy has fired back. Opposing Happy Mutants’ request for the Court to dismiss the case, the company cites the now-famous Perfect 10 v. Amazon/Google case from 2007, which tried to prevent Google from facilitating access to infringing images.
Playboy highlights the court’s finding that Google could have been held contributorily liable – if it had knowledge that Perfect 10 images were available using its search engine, could have taken simple measures to prevent further damage, but failed to do so.
Turning to Boing Boing’s conduct, Playboy says that the company knew it was linking to infringing content, could have taken steps to prevent that, but failed to do so. It then launches an attack on the site itself, offering disparaging comments concerning its activities and business model.
“This is an important case. At issue is whether clickbait sites like Happy Mutants’ Boing Boing weblog — a site designed to attract viewers and encourage them to click on links in order to generate advertising revenue — can knowingly find, promote, and profit from infringing content with impunity,” Playboy writes.
“Clickbait sites like Boing Boing are not known for creating original content. Rather, their business model is based on ‘collecting’ interesting content created by others. As such, they effectively profit off the work of others without actually creating anything original themselves.”
Playboy notes that while sites like Boing Boing are within their rights to leverage works created by others, courts in the US and overseas have ruled that knowingly linking to infringing content is unacceptable.
Even given these conditions, Playboy argues, Happy Mutants and the EFF now want the Court to dismiss the case so that sites are free to “not only encourage, facilitate, and induce infringement, but to profit from those harmful activities.”
Claiming that Boing Boing’s only reason for linking to the infringing album was to “monetize the web traffic that over fifty years of Playboy photographs would generate”, Playboy insists that the site and parent company Happy Mutants was properly charged with copyright infringement.
Playboy also dismisses Boing Boing’s argument that a link to infringing content cannot result in liability due to the link having both infringing and substantial non-infringing uses.
First citing the Betamax case, which found that maker Sony could not be held liable for infringement because its video recorders had substantial non-infringing uses, Playboy counters with the Grokster decision, which held that a distributor of a product could be liable for infringement, if there was an intent to encourage or support infringement.
“In this case, Happy Mutants’ offending link — which does nothing more than support infringing content — is good for nothing but promoting infringement and there is no legitimate public interest in its unlicensed availability,” Playboy notes.
In its motion to dismiss, Happy Mutants also argued that unless Playboy could identify users who “in fact downloaded — rather than simply viewing — the material in question,” the case should be dismissed. However, Playboy rejects the argument, claiming it is based on an erroneous interpretation of the law.
Citing the Grokster decision once more, the adult publisher notes that the Supreme Court found that someone infringes contributorily when they intentionally induce or encourage direct infringement.
“The argument that contributory infringement only lies where the defendant’s actions result in further infringement ignores the ‘or’ and collapses ‘inducing’ and ‘encouraging’ into one thing when they are two distinct things,” Playboy writes.
As for Boing Boing’s four classic fair use arguments, the publisher describes these as “extremely weak” and proceeds to hit them one by one.
In respect of the purpose and character of the use, Playboy discounts Boing Boing’s position that the aim of its post was to show “how our standards of hotness, and the art of commercial erotic photography, have changed over time.” The publisher argues that is the exact same purpose of Playboy magazine, while highliting its publication Playboy: The Compete Centerfolds, 1953-2016.
Moving on to the second factor of fair use – the nature of the copyrighted work – Playboy notes that an entire album of artwork is involved, rather than just a single image.
On the third factor, concerning the amount and substantiality of the original work used, Playboy argues that in order to publish an opinion on how “standards of hotness” had developed over time, there was no need to link to all of the pictures in the archive.
“Had only representative images from each decade, or perhaps even each year, been taken, this would be a very different case — but Happy Mutants cannot dispute that it knew it was linking to an illegal library of ‘Every Playboy Playmate Centerfold Ever’ since that is what it titled its blog post,” Playboy notes.
Finally, when considering the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work, Playbody says its archive of images continues to be monetized and Boing Boing’s use of infringing images jeopardizes that.
“Given that people are generally not going to pay for what is freely available, it is disingenuous of Happy Mutants to claim that promoting the free availability of infringing archives of Playboy’s work for viewing and downloading is not going to have an adverse effect on the value or market of that work,” the publisher adds.
While it appears the parties agree on very little, there is agreement on one key aspect of the case – its wider importance.
On the one hand, Playboy insists that a finding in its favor will ensure that people can’t commercially exploit infringing content with impunity. On the other, Boing Boing believes that the health of the entire Internet is at stake.
“The world can’t afford a judgment against us in this case — it would end the web as we know it, threatening everyone who publishes online, from us five weirdos in our basements to multimillion-dollar, globe-spanning publishing empires like Playboy,” the company concludes.
Playboy’s opposition to Happy Mutants’ motion to dismiss can be found here (pdf)
Following Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet reshuffle earlier this month, Matt Hancock replaced Karen Bradley as Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
Hancock, the 39-year-old MP for West Suffolk, was promoted from his role as Minister for Digital and Culture, a position he’d held since July 2016.
“Thrilled to become DCMS Secretary. Such an exciting agenda, so much to do, and great people. Can’t wait to get stuck in,” he tweeted.
Of course, the influence held by the Culture Secretary means that the entertainment industries will soon come calling, seeking help and support in a number of vital areas. No surprise then that Stan McCoy, president and managing director at the Motion Picture Association’s EMEA division, has just jumped in with some advice for Hancock.
In an open letter published on Screen Daily, McCoy begins by reminding Hancock that the movie industry contributes considerable sums to the UK economy.
“We are one of the country’s most valuable economic and cultural assets – worth almost £92bn, growing at twice the rate of the economy, and making a positive contribution to the UK’s balance of payments,” McCoy writes.
“Britain’s status as a center of excellence for the audiovisual sector in particular is no accident: It results from the hard work and genius of our creative workforce, complemented by the support of governments that have guided their policies toward enabling continued excellence and growth.”
McCoy goes on to put anti-piracy initiatives at the very top of his wishlist – and Hancock’s to-do list.
“A joined-up strategy to curb proliferation of illegal, often age-inappropriate and malware-laden content online must include addressing the websites, environments and apps that host and facilitate piracy,” McCoy says.
“In addition to hurting one of Britain’s most important industries, they are overwhelmingly likely to harm children and adult consumers through nasty ads, links to adult content with no age verification, scams, fraud and other unpleasantness.”
That McCoy begins with the “piracy is dangerous” approach is definitely not a surprise. This Hollywood and wider video industry strategy is now an open secret. However, it feels a little off that the UK is being asked to further tackle pirate sites.
Through earlier actions, facilitated by the UK legal system and largely sympathetic judges, many thousands of URLs and domains linking to pirate sites, mirrors and proxies, are impossible to access directly through the UK’s major ISPs. Although a few slip through the net, directly accessing the majority of pirate sites in the UK is now impossible.
That’s already a considerable overseas anti-piracy position for the MPA who, as the “international voice” of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), represents American corporations including Disney, Paramount, Sony Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Universal, and Warner Bros.
There’s no comparable blocking system for these companies to use in the United States and rightsholders in the UK can even have extra sites blocked without going back to court for permission. In summary, these US companies arguably get a better anti-piracy deal in the UK than they do at home in the United States.
In his next point, McCoy references last year’s deal – which was reached following considerable pressure from the UK government – between rightsholders and search engines including Google and Bing to demote ‘pirate’ results.
“Building on last year’s voluntary deal with search engines, the Government should stay at the cutting edge of ensuring that everyone in the ecosystem – including search engines, platforms and social media companies – takes a fair share of responsibility,” McCoy says.
While this progress is clearly appreciated by the MPA/MPAA, it’s difficult to ignore that the voluntary arrangement to demote infringing content is somewhat special if not entirely unique. There is definitely nothing comparable in the United States so keeping up the pressure on the UK Government feels a little like getting the good kid in class to behave, while his rowdy peers nearer the chalkboard get ignored.
The same is true for McCoy’s call for the UK to “banish dodgy streaming devices”.
“Illegal streaming devices loaded with piracy apps and malware – not to mention the occasional electrical failure – are proliferating across the UK, to the detriment of consumers and industry,” he writes.
“The sector is still waiting for the Intellectual Property Office to publish the report on its Call for Views on this subject. This will be one of several opportunities, along with the promised Digital Charter, to make clear that these devices and the apps and content they supply are unacceptable, dangerous to consumers, and harmful to the creative industry.”
Again, prompting the UK to stay on top of this game doesn’t feel entirely warranted.
With dozens of actions over the past few years, the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit and the Federation Against Copyright Theft (which Hollywood ironically dumped in 2016) have done more to tackle the pirate set-top box problem than any group on the other side of the Atlantic.
Admittedly the MPAA is now trying to catch up, with recent prosecutions of two ‘pirate’ box vendors (1,2), but largely the work by the studios on their home turf has been outpaced by that of their counterparts in the UK.
Maybe Hancock will mention that to Hollywood at some point in the future.
In its annual “Out-of-Cycle Review of Notorious Markets” the office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) has listed a long list of websites said to be involved in online piracy.
The list is compiled with high-level input from various trade groups, including the MPAA and RIAA who both submitted their recommendations (1,2) during early October last year.
With the word “allegedly” used more than two dozen times in the report, the US government notes that its report does not constitute cast-iron proof of illegal activity. However, it urges the countries from where the so-called “notorious markets” operate to take action where they can, while putting owners and facilitators on notice that their activities are under the spotlight.
“A goal of the List is to motivate appropriate action by owners, operators, and service providers in the private sector of these and similar markets, as well as governments, to reduce piracy and counterfeiting,” the report reads.
“USTR highlights the following marketplaces because they exemplify global counterfeiting and piracy concerns and because the scale of infringing activity in these marketplaces can cause significant harm to U.S. intellectual property (IP) owners, consumers, legitimate online platforms, and the economy.”
The report begins with a page titled “Issue Focus: Illicit Streaming Devices”. Unsurprisingly, particularly given their place in dozens of headlines last year, the segment focus on the set-top box phenomenon. The piece doesn’t list any apps or software tools as such but highlights the general position, claiming a cost to the US entertainment industry of $4-5 billion a year.
In common with previous years, the USTR goes on to list several of the world’s top torrent sites but due to changes in circumstances, others have been delisted. ExtraTorrent, which shut down May 2017, is one such example.
As the world’s most famous torrent site, The Pirate Bay gets a prominent mention, with the USTR noting that the site is of “symbolic importance as one of the longest-running and most vocal torrent sites. The USTR underlines the site’s resilience by noting its hydra-like form while revealing an apparent secret concerning its hosting arrangements.
“The Pirate Bay has allegedly had more than a dozen domains hosted in various countries around the world, applies a reverse proxy service, and uses a hosting provider in Vietnam to evade further enforcement action,” the USTR notes.
Other torrent sites singled out for criticism include RARBG, which was nominated for the listing by the movie industry. According to the USTR, the site is hosted in Bosnia and Herzegovina and has changed hosting services to prevent shutdowns in recent years.
1337x.to and the meta-search engine Torrentz2 are also given a prime mention, with the USTR noting that they are “two of the most popular torrent sites that allegedly infringe U.S. content industry’s copyrights.” Russia’s RuTracker is also targeted for criticism, with the government noting that it’s now one of the most popular torrent sites in the world.
Streaming & Cyberlockers
While torrent sites are still important, the USTR reserves considerable space in its report for streaming portals and cyberlocker-type services.
4Shared.com, a file-hosting site that has been targeted by dozens of millions of copyright notices, is reportedly no longer able to use major US payment providers. Nevertheless, the British Virgin Islands company still collects significant sums from premium accounts, advertising, and offshore payment processors, USTR notes.
Cyberlocker Rapidgator gets another prominent mention in 2017, with the USTR noting that the Russian-hosted platform generates millions of dollars every year through premium memberships while employing rewards and affiliate schemes.
Due to its increasing popularity as a hosting and streaming operation, Openload.co (Romania) is now a big target for the USTR. “The site is used frequently in combination with add-ons in illicit streaming devices. In November 2017, users visited Openload.co a staggering 270 million times,” the USTR writes.
Owned by a Swiss company and hosted in the Netherlands, the popular site Uploaded is also criticized by the US alongside France’s 1Fichier.com, which allegedly hosts pirate games while being largely unresponsive to takedown notices. Dopefile.pk, a Pakistan-based storage outfit, is also highlighted.
On the video streaming front, it’s perhaps no surprise that the USTR focuses on sites like FMovies (Sweden), GoStream (Vietnam), Movie4K.tv (Russia) and PrimeWire. An organization collectively known as the MovShare group which encompasses Nowvideo.sx, WholeCloud.net, NowDownload.cd, MeWatchSeries.to and WatchSeries.ac, among others, is also listed.
Unauthorized music / research papers
While most of the above are either focused on video or feature it as part of their repertoire, other sites are listed for their attention to music. Convert2MP3.net is named as one of the most popular stream-ripping sites in the world and is highlighted due to the prevalence of YouTube-downloader sites and the 2017 demise of YouTube-MP3.
“Convert2MP3.net does not appear to have permission from YouTube or other sites and does not have permission from right holders for a wide variety of music represented by major U.S. labels,” the USTR notes.
Given the amount of attention the site has received in 2017 as ‘The Pirate Bay of Research’, Libgen.io and Sci-Hub.io (not to mention the endless proxy and mirror sites that facilitate access) are given a detailed mention in this year’s report.
“Together these sites make it possible to download — all without permission and without remunerating authors, publishers or researchers — millions of copyrighted books by commercial publishers and university presses; scientific, technical and medical journal articles; and publications of technological standards,” the USTR writes.
But it’s not only sites that are being put under pressure. Following a growing list of nominations in previous years, Swiss service provider Private Layer is again singled out as a rogue player in the market for hosting 1337x.to and Torrentz2.eu, among others.
“While the exact configuration of websites changes from year to year, this is the fourth consecutive year that the List has stressed the significant international trade impact of Private Layer’s hosting services and the allegedly infringing sites it hosts,” the USTR notes.
“Other listed and nominated sites may also be hosted by Private Layer but are using
reverse proxy services to obfuscate the true host from the public and from law enforcement.”
The USTR notes Switzerland’s efforts to close a legal loophole that restricts enforcement and looks forward to a positive outcome when the draft amendment is considered by parliament.
Perhaps a little surprisingly given its recent anti-piracy efforts and overtures to the US, Russia’s leading social network VK.com again gets a place on the new list. The USTR recognizes VK’s efforts but insists that more needs to be done.
Social networking and e-commerce
“In 2016, VK reached licensing agreements with major record companies, took steps to limit third-party applications dedicated to downloading infringing content from the site, and experimented with content recognition technologies,” the USTR writes.
“Despite these positive signals, VK reportedly continues to be a hub of infringing activity and the U.S. motion picture industry reports that they find thousands of infringing files on the site each month.”
Finally, in addition to traditional pirate sites, the US also lists online marketplaces that allegedly fail to meet appropriate standards. Re-added to the list in 2016 after a brief hiatus in 2015, China’s Alibaba is listed again in 2017. The development provoked an angry response from the company.
Describing his company as a “scapegoat”, Alibaba Group President Michael Evans said that his platform had achieved a 25% drop in takedown requests and has even been removing infringing listings before they make it online.
“In light of all this, it’s clear that no matter how much action we take and progress we make, the USTR is not actually interested in seeing tangible results,” Evans said in a statement.
The full list of sites in the Notorious Markets Report 2017 (pdf) can be found below.
In July 2015, Portugal’s Ministry of Culture announced the signing of a memorandum between its own General Inspection of Cultural Activities (IGAC), the Portuguese Association of Telecommunication Operators (APRITEL), various rightsholder groups, the body responsible for administering Portugal’s .PT domain, and representatives from the advertising industry.
The memorandum laid out a new mechanism for blocking so-called ‘pirate’ sites. In common with similar frameworks elsewhere, the process can be triggered by a complaint from a rightsholder association. Local anti-piracy group MAPINET then collates evidence that a site is engaged in the unlawful distribution of copyright works and has failed to cease its activities.
The system was quickly utilized by rightsholders seeking to block access to their content. Within six months, 330 sites had been blocked by ISPs, but that was only the beginning. In the months and years that followed, hundreds more sites were rendered inaccessible but in common with similar programs elsewhere, no official list of blocked sites was made available. People are keeping watch, however.
SitesBloqueados (Blocked Sites) is a web portal run by Revolução dos Bytes (Bytes’ Revolution), a group of like-minded anti-censorship activists in Portugal. Created a few months after blocking began in the region, their comprehensive database now contains almost 1,400 domains, the majority of which have been blocked on copyright grounds.
“SitesBloqueados was mainly created because, although the Memorandum of Understanding contained certain requirements to make a site eligible to be blocked – such as 500 items [or links] to copyright content or one third of the site containing copyrighted material – there was no official way to validate that data and make sure that these ‘rules’ are being respected,” team member Henrique Mouta informs TF.
The manner in which the list is maintained is quite unique. As mentioned earlier, there are no official sources listing blocked domains so the people behind SitesBloqueados had to get creative. Alongside this project they also run Ahoy!, a Chrome and Firefox extension that allows users to circumvent censorship in Portugal and it’s through that tool they gather information.
“Ahoy! basically bypasses any traffic to a blocked site through our own proxies, allowing the users to navigate in a free, uncensored internet,” Henrique explains.
As this extension works on a whitelist basis, we had to create a mechanism to automatically detect and whitelist sites that have been blocked, so if a user accesses a blocked site that is not on our list yet, we get a notification so we can review the site and add it to the list. That is the list that is also powering SitesBloqueados.pt.”
When the voluntary agreement was first announced, local ISPs came under intense criticism for agreeing to work with copyright holders without need for a court process. However, Henrique says they are actually in a precarious position.
“We usually see the ISPs as the bad guys, blocking sites, throttling our internet and, more recently, going against the Internet Neutrality. But, in this particular case, all the major ISPs are forced to block any sites that have been requested in 15 days, or they might pay fines for every single day after the deadline.
“MAPiNET (MOVIMENTO CÍVICOANTI PIRATARIA NA INTERNET) is the organization, alongside with IGAC (Inspecção Geral Das Actividades Culturais), that compiles the lists of sites and sends them to the ISP. It’s usually two lists per month. Of course, I’m not excusing the ISPs, as they should stand up against censorship. But we all know that’s asking too much of them,” Henrique adds.
Interestingly, the first site blockade in Portugal wasn’t actioned on copyright grounds. It was, in fact, targeted at Uber.com.
“This happened in June 2015, after a court order to suspend all Uber activity in Portugal. This opened a huge precedent, with all these anti-piracy organizations seeing how easy is to block a site, technically speaking.
“So, at the end of August of that same year, the [anti-piracy] Memorandum was signed by all the parties and, since then, both MAPiNET and IGAC have the power to request any site block, without any court order, without any legal order,” Henrique notes.
This lit a fire under the team and two and half years later, Ahoy! is now being used by 100k people to unblock almost 1,400 sites, while feeding back information on newly blocked domains. These are then added to the blocklist database and considered for unblocking methods via the addon.
Currently, around 50 new domains are blocked every month in Portugal and Henrique and the team are determined to document every one of them. They believe that by keeping an eye on things publicly, it lets the anti-piracy groups know they are being watched and cannot act with impunity. Around 90% of all blocked domains are restricted on copyright grounds but some also fall foul of new gambling laws that forbid unlicensed sites.
From the beginning, the big question has surrounded potential abuse. So, given the lack of a court process, have any players attempted to game the system?
“So far, we haven’t seen any signs of intentional abuse. There have been a few problems with sites being wrongly blocked. The most popular case is Carbon Games site that was blocked nearly two years ago, and it was mistaken for a different site, a Gambling site, named Carbon Gaming,” Henrique says.
“A few months later, we detected another case. A Spanish journalist had a website where he was posting videoclips of the latest releases. All of these releases were originally on YouTube, uploaded by the respective owners, however that was not enough to keep the site alive.”
Under pressure from Revolução dos Bytes this block was reversed but it’s not the only instance of errors. Non-existent sites have been blocked as have sites publishing headlines and linking to the respective online newspapers.
With blocking continuing at a steady pace, dozens of new domains are restricted every month. But Henrique and the team believe it won’t achieve anything positive and only serves to harm the Internet and democracy.
“Blocking sites to prevent piracy is the same as being on a sinking submarine, trying to patch every leaking hull hole with duct tape. If they want to fight piracy, they should try to understand, in the first place, why it happens and what they can do to change it.
“It’s well known that having cheap and quality services like Netflix and Spotify helped Internet piracy levels drop to record lows, DRM issues aside, of course. And the worst of it is the timing: these organizations see the decreasing levels of piracy as a signal that their stupid censorship is actually working. I’m really afraid that this is now an unstoppable snowball. The Internet in Portugal has seen much better days,” Henrique concludes.
But while he’s pessimistic over current developments, it appears that the Ahoy! movement is only set to grow. The team say they want to bring the browser-based system to other countries that are suffering from similar blockades and that suggestions from the public are welcome.
In the previous article of this series, I discussed how to use eBPF to safely run code supplied by
user space inside of the kernel. Yet one of eBPF’s biggest challenges
for newcomers is that writing programs requires compiling and linking to
the eBPF library from the kernel source. Kernel developers might always
have a copy of the kernel source within reach, but that’s not so for
engineers working on production or customer machines.
Back in 2016, so-called copyright-trolling landed in Sweden for the first time via an organization calling itself Spridningskollen (Distribution Check). Within months, however, it was all over, with the operation heading for the hills after much negative publicity.
February this year, another wave of trolling hit the country, with Danish law firm Njord Law targeting the subscribers of several ISPs, including Telia, Tele2 and Bredbandsbolaget. Thousands of IP addresses had been harvested by its media company partners, potentially linking to thousands of subscribers.
“We have sent out a few thousand letters, but we have been given the right to obtain information behind many more IP addresses that we are waiting to receive from the telecom operators. So there are more,” lawyer Jeppe Brogaard Clausen said in October.
But while Internet users in Sweden wait for news of how this campaign is progressing, multiple new threats are appearing on the horizon. Swedish publication Breakit reports that several additional law firms in Sweden are also getting in on the action with one, Innerstans Advokatbyrå, already sending out demands to alleged file-sharers.
“By downloading and uploading the movie without permission from the copyright holder, you have committed a copyright infringement,” its letter warns.
“However, the rightsholder wishes to propose a conciliation solution consisting of paying a flat rate of 7,000 kronor [$831] in one payment for all of the copyright infringements in question.”
The demand for 7,000 kronor is significantly more than 4,500 kronor ($535) demanded by Njord Law but Innerstans Advokatbyrå warns that this amount will only be the beginning, should an alleged pirate fail to pay up and the case goes to court.
“If this happens, the amount will not be limited to 7,000 kronor but will compensate for the damage suffered and will include compensation for investigative costs, application fees and attorney fees,” the company warns.
Breakit spoke with Alex Block at Innerstans Advokatbyrå who wouldn’t reveal how many letters had been sent out. However, he did indicate that while damages amounts will be decided by the court, a license for a shared film can cost 80,000 kronor ($12,800).
“This will last for a long time, and to a large extent,” he said.
Of course, we’ve reported on plenty of these campaigns before and their representatives all state that people will be taken to court if they don’t pay. This one is no different, with Block assuring the public that if they don’t pay, court will follow. The credibility of the campaign is at stake, he notes.
“It’s our intention [to go to court], even if we prefer to avoid it. We must make reality of our requirements, otherwise it will not work,” he says.
Breakit says it has seen a copy of one letter from the lawfirm, which reveals a collaboration between US film company Mile High Distribution Inc. and Mircom International Content Management & Consulting Ltd.
Mircom is extremely well known in trolling circles having conducted campaigns in several areas of the EU. German outfit Media Protector is also involved, having tracked the IP addresses of the alleged pirates. This company also has years of experience working with copyright trolls.
With several other law firms apparently getting in on the action, Swedish authorities need to ensure that the country doesn’t become another Germany where trolls have run rampant for a number of years, causing misery for thousands.
While that help may not necessarily be forthcoming, it’s perhaps a little surprising that given Sweden’s proud and recent history of piracy activism, there appear to be very few signs of a visible and organized pushback from the masses. That will certainly please the trolls, who tend to thrive when unchallenged.
There are only a few things more integrated into my day-to-day life than Alexa. I use my Echo device and the enabled Alexa Skills for turning on lights in my home, checking video from my Echo Show to see who is ringing my doorbell, keeping track of my extensive to-do list on a weekly basis, playing music, and lots more. I even have my family members enabling Alexa skills on their Echo devices for all types of activities that they now cannot seem to live without. My mother, who is in a much older generation (please don’t tell her I said that), uses her Echo and the custom Alexa skill I built for her to store her baking recipes. She also enjoys exploring skills that have the latest health and epicurean information. It’s no wonder then, that when I go to work I feel like something is missing. For example, I would love to be able to ask Alexa to read my flash briefing when I get to the office.
For those of you that would love to have Alexa as your intelligent assistant at work, I have exciting news. I am delighted to announce Alexa for Business, a new service that enables businesses and organizations to bring Alexa into the workplace at scale. Alexa for Business not only brings Alexa into your workday to boost your productivity, but also provides tools and resources for organizations to set up and manage Alexa devices at scale, enable private skills, and enroll users.
Making Workplaces Smarter with Alexa for Business
Alexa for Business brings the Alexa you know and love into the workplace to help all types of workers to be more productive and organized on both personal and shared Echo devices. In the workplace, shared devices can be placed in common areas for anyone to use, and workers can use their personal devices to connect at work and at home.
End users can use shared devices or personal devices. Here’s what they can do from each.
Join meetings in conference rooms: You can simply say “Alexa, start the meeting”. Alexa turns on the video conferencing equipment, dials into your conference call, and gets the meeting going.
Help around the office: access custom skills to help with directions around the office, finding an open conference room, reporting a building equipment problem, or ordering new supplies.
Enable calling and messaging: Alexa helps make phone calls, hands free and can also send messages on your behalf.
Automatically dial into conference calls: Alexa can join any meeting with a conference call number via voice from home, work, or on the go.
Intelligent assistant: Alexa can quickly check calendars, help schedule meetings, manage to-do lists, and set reminders.
Find information: Alexa can help find information in popular business applications like Salesforce, Concur, or Splunk.
Here are some of the controls available to administrators:
Provision & Manage Shared Alexa Devices: You can provision and manage shared devices around your workplace using the Alexa for Business console. For each device you can set a location, such as a conference room designation, and assign public and private skills for the device.
Configure Conference Room Settings: Kick off your meetings with a simple “Alexa, start the meeting.” Alexa for Business allows you to configure your conference room settings so you can use Alexa to start your meetings and control your conference room equipment, or dial in directly from the Amazon Echo device in the room.
Manage Users: You can invite users in your organization to enroll their personal Alexa account with your Alexa for Business account. Once your users have enrolled, you can enable your custom private skills for them to use on any of the devices in their personal Alexa account, at work or at home.
Manage Skills: You can assign public skills and custom private skills your organization has created to your shared devices, and make private skills available to your enrolled users. You can create skills groups, which you can then assign to specific shared devices.
Build Private Skills & Use Alexa for Business APIs: Dig into the Alexa Skills Kit and build your own skills. Then you can make these available to the shared devices and enrolled users in your Alexa for Business account, all without having to publish them in the public Alexa Skills Store. Alexa for Business offers additional APIs, which you can use to add context to your skills and automate administrative tasks.
Let’s take a quick journey into Alexa for Business. I’ll first log into the AWS Console and go to the Alexa for Business service.
Once I log in to the service, I am presented with the Alexa for Business dashboard. As you can see, I have access to manage Rooms, Shared devices, Users, and Skills, as well as the ability to control conferencing, calendars, and user invitations.
First, I’ll start by setting up my Alexa devices. Alexa for Business provides a Device Setup Tool to setup multiple devices, connect them to your Wi-Fi network, and register them with your Alexa for Business account. This is quite different from the setup process for personal Alexa devices. With Alexa for Business, you can provision 25 devices at a time.
Once my devices are provisioned, I can create location profiles for the locations where I want to put these devices (such as in my conference rooms). We call these locations “Rooms” in our Alexa for Business console. I can go to the Room profiles menu and create a Room profile. A Room profile contains common settings for the Alexa device in your room, such as the wake word for the device, the address, time zone, unit of measurement, and whether I want to enable outbound calling.
The next step is to enable skills for the devices I set up. I can enable any skill from the Alexa Skills store, or use the private skills feature to enable skills I built myself and made available to my Alexa for Business account. To enable skills for my shared devices, I can go to the Skills menu option and enable skills. After I have enabled skills, I can add them to a skill group and assign the skill group to my rooms.
Something I really like about Alexa for Business, is that I can use Alexa to dial into conference calls. To enable this, I go to the Conferencing menu option and select Add provider. At Amazon we use Amazon Chime, but you can choose from a list of different providers, or you can even add your own provider if you want to.
Once I’ve set this up, I can say “Alexa, join my meeting”; Alexa asks for my Amazon Chime meeting ID, after which my Echo device will automatically dial into my Amazon Chime meeting. Alexa for Business also provides an intelligent way to start any meeting quickly. We’ve all been in the situation where we walk into a meeting room and can’t find the meeting ID or conference call number. With Alexa for Business, I can link to my corporate calendar, so Alexa can figure out the meeting information for me, and automatically dial in – I don’t even need my meeting ID. Here’s how you do that:
Alexa can also control the video conferencing equipment in the room. To do this, all I need to do is select the skill for the equipment that I have, select the equipment provider, and enable it for my conference rooms. Now when I ask Alexa to join my meeting, Alexa will dial-in from the equipment in the room, and turn on the video conferencing system, without me needing to do anything else.
Let’s switch to enrolled users next.
I’ll start by setting up the User Invitation for my organization so that I can invite users to my Alexa for Business account. To allow a user to use Alexa for Business within an organization, you invite them to enroll their personal Alexa account with the service by sending a user invitation via email from the management console. If I choose, I can customize the user enrollment email to contain additional content. For example, I can add information about my organization’s Alexa skills that can be enabled after they’ve accepted the invitation and completed the enrollment process. My users must join in order to use the features of Alexa for Business, such as auto dialing into conference calls, linking their Microsoft Exchange calendars, or using private skills.
Now that I have customized my User Invitation, I will invite users to take advantage of Alexa for Business for my organization by going to the Users menu on the Dashboard and entering their email address. This will send an email with a link that can be used to join my organization. Users will join using the Amazon account that their personal Alexa devices are registered to. Let’s invite Jeff Barr to join my Alexa for Business organization.
After Jeff has enrolled in my Alexa for Business account, he can discover the private skills I’ve enabled for enrolled users, and he can access his work skills and join conference calls from any of his personal devices, including the Echo in his home office.
We’ve only scratched the surface in our brief review of the Alexa for Business console and service features. You can learn more about Alexa for Business by viewing the Alexa for Business website, reading the admin and API guides in the AWS documentation, or by watching the Getting Started videos within the Alexa for Business console.
You can learn more about Alexa for Business by viewing the Alexa for Business website, watching the Alexa for Business overview video, reading the admin and API guides in the AWS documentation, or by watching the Getting Started videos within the Alexa for Business console.
Following a long-running case, in 2015 Austrian ISPs were ordered by the Commercial Court to block The Pirate Bay and other “structurally-infringing” sites including 1337x.to, isohunt.to, and h33t.to.
The decision was welcomed by the music industry, which looked forward to having more sites blocked in due course.
Soon after, local music rights group LSG sent its lawyers after several other large ISPs urging them to follow suit, or else. However, the ISPs dug in and a year later, in May 2016, things began to unravel. The Vienna Higher Regional Court overruled the earlier decision of the Commercial Court, meaning that local ISPs were free to unblock the previously blocked sites.
The Court concluded that ISP blocks are only warranted if copyright holders have exhausted all their options to take action against those actually carrying out the infringement. This decision was welcomed by the Internet Service Providers Austria (ISPA), which described the decision as an important milestone.
The ISPs argued that only torrent files, not the content itself, was available on the portals. They also had a problem with the restriction of access to legitimate content.
“A problem in this context is that the offending pages also have legal content and it is no longer possible to access that if barriers are put in place,” said ISPA Secretary General Maximilian Schubert.
Taking the case to its ultimate conclusion, the music companies appealed to the Supreme Court. Another year on and its decision has just been published and for the rightsholders, who represent 3,000 artists including The Beatles, Justin Bieber, Eric Clapton, Coldplay, David Guetta, Iggy Azalea, Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga, Metallica, George Michael, One Direction, Katy Perry, and Queen, to name a few, it was worth the effort.
The Court looked at whether “the provision and operation of a BitTorrent platform with the purpose of online file sharing [of non-public domain works]” represents a “communication to the public” under the EU Copyright Directive. Citing the now-familiar BREIN v Filmspeler and BREIN v Ziggo and XS4All cases that both received European Court of Justice rulings earlier this year, the Supreme Court concluded it was.
Citing another Dutch case, in which Playboy publisher Sanoma took on the blog GeenStijl.nl, the Court noted that linking to copyrighted content hosted elsewhere also amounted to a “communication to the public”, a situation mirrored on torrent sites like The Pirate Bay.
“The similarity of the technical procedure in this case when compared to BitTorrent platforms lies in the fact that in both cases the operators of the website did not provide any copyrighted works themselves, but merely provided further information on sites where the protected works were available,” the Court notes in its ruling.
In respect of the potential for blocking legitimate content as well as that infringing copyright, the Court turned the ISPs’ own arguments against them somewhat.
The ISPs had previously argued that blocking The Pirate Bay and other sites was pointless since the torrents they host would still be available elsewhere. The Court noted that point and also found that people can easily upload their torrents to sites that aren’t blocked, since there’s plenty of choice.
The ISPA criticized the Supreme Court’s ruling, noting that in future ISPs will still find themselves being held responsible for decisions concerning blocking.
“We do not support illegal content on the Internet in any way, but consider it extremely questionable that the decision on what is illegal and what is not falls to ISPs, instead of a court,” said ISPA Secretary General Maximilian.
“Although we find it positive that a court of last resort has taken the decision, the assessment of the website in the first instance continues to be left to the Internet provider. The Supreme Court’s expansion of the circle of sites that be potentially blocked further complicates this task for the operator and furthers the privatization of law enforcement.
“It is extremely unpleasant that even after more than 10 years of fierce discussion, there is still no compelling legal basis for a court decision on Internet blocking, which puts providers in the role of both judge and hangman.”
Also of interest is ISPA’s stance on how blocking of content fails to solve the underlying issue. When content is blocked, rather than removed, it simply displaces the problem, leaving others to pick up the pieces, the Internet body argues.
“Illegal content is permanently removed from the network by deletion. Everything else is a placebo with extremely dangerous side effects, which can easily be bypassed by both providers and consumers. The only thing that remains is a blocking infrastructure that can be misused for many purposes and, unfortunately, will be used in many places,” Schubert says.
“The current situation, where providers have to block the rightsholders quasi on the spot, if they do not want to engage in a time-consuming and cost-intensive litigation, is really not sustainable so we issue a call to action to the legislature.”
The domains that were listed in the case, many of which are already defunct, are: thepiratebay.se, thepiratebay.gd, thepiratebay.la, thepiratebay.mn, thepiratebay.mu, thepiratebay.sh, thepiratebay.tw, thepiratebay.fm, thepiratebay.ms, thepiratebay.vg, isohunt.to, 1337x.to and h33t.to.
Whether it will be added later is unclear, but the only domain currently used by The Pirate Bay (thepiratebay.org) is not included in the list.
In 2017, there can be little doubt that streaming is the big piracy engine of the moment. Dubbed Piracy 3.0 by the MPAA, the movement is causing tremendous headaches for rightsholders on a global scale.
One of the interesting things about this phenomenon is the distributed nature of the content on offer. Sourced from thousands of online locations, from traditional file-hosters to Google Drive, the big challenge is to aggregate it all into one place, to make it easy to find. This is often achieved via third-party addons for the legal Kodi software.
One company offering such a service was MovieStreamer.nl in the Netherlands. Via its website MovieStreamer the company offered its Easy Use Interface 2.0, a piece of software that made Kodi easy to use and other streams easy to find for 79 euros. It also sold ‘VIP’ access to thousands of otherwise premium channels for around 20 euros per month.
MovieStreamer Easy Interface 2.0
“Thanks to the unique Easy Use Interface, we have the unique 3-step process,” the company’s marketing read.
“Click tile of choice, activate subtitles, and play! Fully automated and instantly the most optimal settings. Our youngest user is 4 years old and the ‘oldest’ 86 years. Ideal for young and old, beginner and expert.”
Of course, being based in the Netherlands it wasn’t long before MovieStreamer caught the attention of BREIN. The anti-piracy outfit says it tried to get the company to stop offering the illegal product but after getting no joy, took the case to court.
From BREIN’s perspective, the case was cut and dried. MovieStreamer had no right to provide access to the infringing content so it was in breach of copyright law (unauthorized communication to the public) and should stop its activities immediately. MovieStreamer, however, saw things somewhat differently.
At the core of its defense was the claim that did it not provide content itself and was merely a kind of middleman. MovieStreamer said it provided only a referral service in the form of a hyperlink formatted as a shortened URL, which in turn brought together supply and demand.
In effect, MovieStreamer claimed that it was several steps away from any infringement and that only the users themselves could activate the shortener hyperlink and subsequent process (including a corresponding M3U playlist file, which linked to other hyperlinks) to access any pirated content. Due to this disconnect, MovieStreamer said that there was no infringement, for-profit or otherwise.
A judge at the District Court in Utrecht disagreed, ruling that by providing a unique hyperlink to customers which in turn lead to protected works was indeed a “communication to the public” based on the earlier Filmspeler case.
The Court also noted that MovieStreamer knew or indeed ought to have known the illegal nature of the content being linked to, not least since BREIN had already informed them of that fact. Since the company was aware, the for-profit element of the GS Media decision handed down by the European Court of Justice came into play.
In an order handed down October 27, the Court ordered MovieStreamer to stop its IPTV hyperlinking activities immediately, whether via its Kodi Easy Use Interface or other means. Failure to do so will result in a 5,000 euro per day fine, payable to BREIN, up to a maximum of 500,000 euros. MovieStreamer was also ordered to pay legal costs of 17,527 euros.
“Moviestreamer sold a link to illegal content. Then you are required to check if that content is legally on the internet,” BREIN Director Tim Kuik said in a statement.
“You can not claim that you have nothing to do with the content if you sell a link to that content.”
Speaking with Tweakers, MovieStreamer owner Bernhard Ohler said that the packages in question were removed from his website on Saturday night. He also warned that other similar companies could experience the same issues with BREIN.
“With this judgment in hand, BREIN has, of course, a powerful weapon to force them offline,” he said.
Ohler said that the margins on hardware were so small that the IPTV subscriptions were the heart of his company. Contacted by TorrentFreak on what this means for his business, he had just two words.
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