Last November, following a year of upheaval for third-party addon creators and distributors, yet more turmoil hit the community in the form of threats from the world’s most powerful anti-piracy coalition – the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE).
Comprised of 30 companies including the studios of the MPAA, Amazon, Netflix, CBS, HBO, BBC, Sky, Bell Canada, CBS, Hulu, Lionsgate, Foxtel, Village Roadshow, and many more, ACE warned several developers to shut down – or else.
The letter: shut down – or else
Now it appears that ACE is on the warpath again, this time targeting a broader range of individuals involved in the Kodi addon scene, from developers and distributors to those involved in the production of how-to videos on YouTube.
The first report of action came from TVAddons, who noted that the lead developer at the Noobs and Nerds repository had been targeted with a cease-and-desist notice, adding that people from the site had been “visited at their homes.”
As seen in the image below, the Noobs and Nerds website is currently down. The site’s Twitter account has also been disabled.
Noobs and Nerds – gone
While TVAddons couldn’t precisely confirm the source of the threat, information gathered from individuals involved in the addon scene all point to the involvement of ACE.
In particular, a man known online as Teverz, who develops his own builds, runs a repo, and creates Kodi-themed YouTube videos, confirmed that ACE had been in touch.
An apparently unconcerned Teverz….
“I am not a dev so they really don’t scare me lmao,” he added.
Teverz claims to be from Canada and it appears that others in the country are also facing cease and desist notices. An individual known as Doggmatic, who also identifies as Canadian and has Kodi builds under his belt, says he too was targeted.
Another target in Canada
Doggmatic, who appears to be part of the Illuminati repo, says he had someone call the people who sent the cease-and-desist but like Teverz, he doesn’t seem overly concerned, at least for now.
“I have a legal representative calling them. The letters they sent aren’t legal documents. No lawyer signed them and no law firm mentioned,” Doggmatic said.
But the threats don’t stop there. Blamo, the developer of the Neptune Rising addon accessible from the Blamo repo, also claims to have been threatened.
SpinzTV, who offers unofficial Kodi builds and an associated repository, is also under the spotlight. Unlike his Canadian counterparts, he has already thrown in the towel, according to a short announcement on Twitter.
For SpinzTV it’s all over…
TorrentFreak contacted the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment, asking them if they could confirm the actions and provide any additional details. At the time of publication they had no information for us but we’ll update if and when that comes in.
Online streaming piracy is on the rise and many people now use dedicated media players to watch content through their regular TVs.
This is a thorn in the side of various movie companies, who have launched a broad range of initiatives to curb this trend.
One of these initiatives is the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE), an anti-piracy partnership between Hollywood studios, Netflix, Amazon, and more than two dozen other companies.
Last year, ACE filed a lawsuit against the Georgia-based company Tickbox TV, which sells Kodi-powered set-top boxes that stream a variety of popular media.
ACE sees these devices as nothing more than pirate tools so the coalition asked the court for an injunction to prevent Tickbox from facilitating copyright infringement, demanding that it removes all pirate add-ons from previously sold devices.
Last month, a California federal court issued an initial injunction, ordering Tickbox to keep pirate addons out of its box and halt all piracy-inducing advertisements going forward. In addition, the court directed both parties to come up with a proper solution for devices that were already sold.
The movie companies wanted Tickbox to remove infringing addons from previously sold devices, but the device seller refused this initially, equating it to hacking.
This week, both parties were able to reach an ‘agreement’ on the issue. They drafted an updated preliminary injunction which replaces the previous order and will be in effect for the remainder of the lawsuit.
The new injunction prevents Tickbox from linking to any “build,” “theme,” “app,” or “addon” that can be indirectly used to transmit copyright-infringing material. Web browsers such as Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Safari, and Firefox are specifically excluded.
In addition, Tickbox must also release a new software updater that will remove any infringing software from previously sold devices.
“TickBox shall issue an update to the TickBox launcher software to be automatically downloaded and installed onto any previously distributed TickBox TV device and to be launched when such device connects to the internet,” the injunction reads.
“Upon being launched, the update will delete the Subject [infringing] Software downloaded onto the device prior to the update, or otherwise cause the TickBox TV device to be unable to access any Subject Software downloaded onto or accessed via that device prior to the update.”
All tiles that link to copyright-infringing software from the box’s home screen also have to be stripped. Going forward, only tiles to the Google Play Store or to Kodi within the Google Play Store are allowed.
In addition, the agreement also allows ACE to report newly discovered infringing apps or addons to Tickbox, which the company will then have to remove within 24-hours, weekends excluded.
“This ruling sets an important precedent and reduces the threat from piracy devices to the legal market for creative content and a vibrant creative economy that supports millions of workers around the world,” ACE spokesperson Zoe Thorogood says, commenting on the news.
The new injunction is good news for the movie companies, but many Tickbox customers will not appreciate the forced changes. That said, the legal battle is far from over. The main question, whether Tickbox contributed to the alleged copyright infringements, has yet to be answered.
Ultimately, this case is likely to result in a landmark decision, determining what sellers of streaming boxes can and cannot do in the United States.
A copy of the new Tickbox injunction is available here (pdf).
Following intense pressure from entertainment industry groups, in 2014 Australia began developing legislation which would allow ‘pirate’ sites to be blocked at the ISP level.
In March 2015 the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015 (pdf) was introduced to parliament and after just three months of consideration, the Australian Senate passed the legislation into law.
Soon after, copyright holders began preparing their first cases and in December 2016, the Australian Federal Court ordered dozens of local Internet service providers to block The Pirate Bay, Torrentz, TorrentHound, IsoHunt, SolarMovie, plus many proxy and mirror services.
Since then, more processes have been launched establishing site-blocking as a permanent fixture on the Aussie anti-piracy agenda. But with yet more applications for injunction looming on the horizon, how is the mechanism performing and does anything else need to be done to improve or amend it?
Those are the questions now being asked by the responsible department of the Australian Government via a consultation titled Review of Copyright Online Infringement Amendment. The review should’ve been carried out 18 months after the law’s introduction in 2015 but the department says that it delayed the consultation to let more evidence emerge.
“The Department of Communications and the Arts is seeking views from stakeholders on the questions put forward in this paper. The Department welcomes single, consolidated submissions from organizations or parties, capturing all views on the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Act 2015 (Online Infringement Amendment),” the consultation paper begins.
The three key questions for response are as follows:
– How effective and efficient is the mechanism introduced by the Online Infringement Amendment?
– Is the application process working well for parties and are injunctions operating well, once granted?
– Are any amendments required to improve the operation of the Online Infringement Amendment?
Given the tendency for copyright holders to continuously demand more bang for their buck, it will perhaps come as a surprise that at least for now there is a level of consensus that the system is working as planned.
“Case law and survey data suggests the Online Infringement Amendment has enabled copyright owners to work with [Internet service providers] to reduce large-scale online copyright infringement. So far, it appears that copyright owners and [ISPs] find the current arrangement acceptable, clear and effective,” the paper reads.
Thus far under the legislation there have been four applications for injunctions through the Federal Court, notably against leading torrent indexes and browser-based streaming sites, which were both granted.
The other two processes, which began separately but will be heard together, at least in part, involve the recent trend of set-top box based streaming.
Village Roadshow, Disney, Universal, Warner Bros, Twentieth Century Fox, and Paramount are currently presenting their case to the Federal Court. Along with Hong Kong-based broadcaster Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB), which has a separate application, the companies have been told to put together quality evidence for an April 2018 hearing.
With these applications already in the pipeline, yet more are on the horizon. The paper notes that more applications are expected to reach the Federal Court shortly, with the Department of Communications monitoring to assess whether current arrangements are refined as additional applications are filed.
Thus far, however, steady progress appears to have been made. The paper cites various precedents established as a result of the blocking process including the use of landing pages to inform Internet users why sites are blocked and who is paying.
“Either a copyright owner or [ISP] can establish a landing page. If an [ISP] wishes to avoid the cost of its own landing page, it can redirect customers to one that the copyright owner would provide. Another precedent allocates responsibility for compliance costs. Cases to date have required copyright owners to pay all or a significant proportion of compliance costs,” the paper notes.
But perhaps the issue of most importance is whether site-blocking as a whole has had any effect on the levels of copyright infringement in Australia.
The Government says that research carried out by Kantar shows that downloading “fell slightly from 2015 to 2017” with a 5-10% decrease in individuals consuming unlicensed content across movies, music and television. It’s worth noting, however, that Netflix didn’t arrive on Australian shores until May 2015, just a month before the new legislation was passed.
Research commissioned by the Department of Communications and published a year later in 2016 (pdf) found that improved availability of legal streaming alternatives was the main contributor to falling infringement rates. In a juicy twist, the report also revealed that Aussie pirates were the entertainment industries’ best customers.
“The Department is aware that other factors — such as the increasing availability of television, music and film streaming services and of subscription gaming services — may also contribute to falling levels of copyright infringement,” the paper notes.
Submissions to the consultation (pdf) are invited by 5.00 pm AEST on Friday 16 March 2018 via the government’s website.
Note to readers! Starting next month, we will be publishing our monthly Hot Startups blog post on the AWS Startup Blog. Please come check us out.
As visual communication—whether through social media channels like Instagram or white space-heavy product pages—becomes a central part of everyone’s life, accessible design platforms and tools become more and more important in the world of tech. This trend is why we have chosen to spotlight three design-related startups—namely Canva, Figma, and InVision—as our hot startups for the month of February. Please read on to learn more about these design-savvy companies and be sure to check out our full post here.
Canva (Sydney, Australia)
For a long time, creating designs required expensive software, extensive studying, and time spent waiting for feedback from clients or colleagues. With Canva, a graphic design tool that makes creating designs much simpler and accessible, users have the opportunity to design anything and publish anywhere. The platform—which integrates professional design elements, including stock photography, graphic elements, and fonts for users to build designs either entirely from scratch or from thousands of free templates—is available on desktop, iOS, and Android, making it possible to spin up an invitation, poster, or graphic on a smartphone at any time.
Figma is a cloud-based design platform that empowers designers to communicate and collaborate more effectively. Using recent advancements in WebGL, Figma offers a design tool that doesn’t require users to install any software or special operating systems. It also allows multiple people to work in a file at the same time—a crucial feature.
As the need for new design talent increases, the industry will need plenty of junior designers to keep up with the demand. Figma is prepared to help students by offering their platform for free. Through this, they “hope to give young designers the resources necessary to kick-start their education and eventually, their careers.”
Founded in 2011 with the goal of helping improve every digital experience in the world, digital product design platform InVision helps users create a streamlined and scalable product design process, build and iterate on prototypes, and collaborate across organizations. The company, which raised a $100 million series E last November, bringing the company’s total funding to $235 million, currently powers the digital product design process at more than 80 percent of the Fortune 100 and brands like Airbnb, HBO, Netflix, and Uber.
Kodi-powered set-top boxes are a great way to to stream video content to a TV, but sellers who ship these devices with unauthorized add-ons give them a bad reputation.
According to the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE), an anti-piracy partnership comprised of Hollywood studios, Netflix, Amazon, and more than two dozen other companies, Tickbox TV is one of these bad actors.
Last year, ACE filed a lawsuit against the Georgia-based company, which sells Kodi-powered set-top boxes that stream a variety of popular media.
According to ACE, these devices are nothing more than pirate tools, allowing buyers to stream copyright-infringing content and being advertised as such. The coalition, therefore, asked the court for an injunction to prevent Tickbox from facilitating copyright infringement by removing all pirate add-ons from previously sold devices.
This week US District Court Judge Michael Fitzgerald issued a preliminary injunction, which largely sides with the movie companies. According to the Judge, there is sufficient reason to believe that Tickbox can be held liable for inducing copyright infringement.
One of the claims is that Tickbox promoted its service for piracy purposes, and according to the Judge the movie companies provided enough evidence to make this likely. This includes various advertising messages the box seller used.
“There is ample evidence that, at least prior to Plaintiffs’commencement of this action, TickBox explicitly advertised the Device as a means to accessing unauthorized versions of copyrighted audiovisual content,” Judge Fitzgerald writes.
In its defense, Tickbox argued that it merely offered a computer which users can then configure to their liking. However, the Judge points out that the company went further, as it actively directed its users to install certain themes (builds) to watch movies, TV and sports.
“Thus, the fact that the Device is just a ‘computer’ that can be used for infringing and noninfringing purposes does not insulate TickBox from liability if [..] the Device is actually used for infringing purposes and TickBox encourages such use.”
Taking these and several other factors into account, the Court ruled that a preliminary injunction is warranted at this stage. After the lawsuit was filed, Tickbox already voluntarily removed much of the inducing advertisements and addons, and this will remain so.
The preliminary injunction compels TickBox to the current version of the user interface, without easy access to pirate add-ons. The devices should no longer contain links to any of the themes and addons that the movie companies have flagged as copyright infringing.
Tickbox had argued that a broad injunction could shut down its business, but the court counters this. Customers will still be able to use the box for legitimate purposes. If they are no longer interested it suggests that piracy was the main draw.
“[A]n injunction of this scope will not ‘shut down Defendant’s business’ as TickBox contends. In the event that such an injunction does shut TickBox down, that will be indicative not of an unjustifiably burdensome injunction, but of a nonviable business model,” Judge Fitzgerald writes.
The preliminary injunction is not final yet as there are several questions still unanswered.
It’s unclear, for example, if and how Tickbox should remove addons from previously sold devices. The Court, therefore, instructs both parties to attempt to reach agreement on these outstanding issues, to include them in an updated injunction.
The above findings are preliminary and apply specifically to the injunction request and the case itself will continue. However, the Court’s early opinion suggests that Tickbox has plenty of work ahead to prove its innocence.
A copy of the preliminary injunction is available here (pdf), and Judge Fitzgerald’s findings can be found here (pdf).
Traditionally, devices that were tied to logins tended to indicate that in some way – turn on someone’s xbox and it’ll show you their account name, run Netflix and it’ll ask which profile you want to use. The increasing prevalence of smart devices in the home changes that, in ways that may not be immediately obvious to the majority of people. You can configure a Philips Hue with wall-mounted dimmers, meaning that someone unfamiliar with the system may not recognise that it’s a smart lighting system at all. Without any actively malicious intent, you end up with a situation where the account holder is able to infer whether someone is home without that person necessarily having any idea that that’s possible. A visitor who uses an Amazon Echo is not necessarily going to know that it’s tied to somebody’s Amazon account, and even if they do they may not know that the log (and recorded audio!) of all interactions is available to the account holder. And someone grabbing an egg out of your fridge is almost certainly not going to think that your smart egg tray will trigger an immediate notification on the account owner’s phone that they need to buy new eggs.
Things get even more complicated when there’s multiple account support. Google Home supports multiple users on a single device, using voice recognition to determine which queries should be associated with which account. But the account that was used to initially configure the device remains as the fallback, with unrecognised voices ended up being logged to it. If a voice is misidentified, the query may end up being logged to an unexpected account.
To be clear, I’m not arguing against the design choices involved in the implementation of these devices. In many cases it’s hard to see how the desired functionality could be implemented without this sort of issue arising. But we’re gradually shifting to a place where the data we generate is not only available to corporations who probably don’t care about us as individuals, it’s also becoming available to people who own the more private spaces we inhabit. We have social norms against bugging our houseguests, but we have no social norms that require us to explain to them that there’ll be a record of every light that they turn on or off. This feels like it’s going to end badly.
(Thanks to Nikki Everett for conversations that inspired this post)
(Disclaimer: while I work for Google, I am not involved in any of the products or teams described in this post and my opinions are my own rather than those of my employer’s)
More than a decade ago, Hollywood was struggling to get to grips with the file-sharing phenomenon. Sharing via BitTorrent was painted as a disease that could kill the movie industry, if it was allowed to take hold. Tough action was the only way to defeat it, the suits concluded.
In 2007, however, a most unusual turn of events showed that piracy could have a magical effect on the success of a movie.
After being produced on a tiny budget, a then little-known independent sci-fi film called “The Man from Earth” turned up on pirate sites, to the surprise of its creators.
“Originally, somebody got hold of a promotional screener DVD of ‘Jerome Bixby’s The Man from Earth’, ripped the file and posted the movie online before we knew what was even happening,” Man from Earth director Richard Schenkman informs TorrentFreak.
“A week or two before the DVD’s ‘street date’, we jumped 11,000% on the IMDb ‘Moviemeter’ and we were shocked.”
With pirates fueling interest in the movie, a member of the team took an unusual step. Producer Eric Wilkinson wrote to RLSlog, a popular piracy links site – not to berate pirates – but to thank them for catapulting the movie to fame.
“Our independent movie had next to no advertising budget and very little going for it until somebody ripped one of the DVD screeners and put the movie online for all to download. Most of the feedback from everyone who has downloaded ‘The Man From Earth’ has been overwhelmingly positive. People like our movie and are talking about it, all thanks to piracy on the net!” he wrote.
Richard Schenkman told TF this morning that availability on file-sharing networks was important for the movie, since it wasn’t available through legitimate means in most countries. So, the team called out to fans for help, if they’d pirated the movie and had liked what they’d seen.
“Once we realized what was going on, we asked people to make donations to our PayPal page if they saw the movie for free and liked it, because we had all worked for nothing for two years to bring it to the screen, and the only chance we had of surviving financially was to ask people to support us and the project,” Schenkman explains.
“And, happily, many people around the world did donate, although of course only a tiny fraction of the millions and millions of people who downloaded pirated copies.”
Following this early boost The Man from Earth went on to win multiple awards. And, a decade on, it boasts a hugely commendable 8/10 score on IMDb from more than 147,000 voters, with Netflix users leaving over 650,000 ratings, which reportedly translates to well over a million views.
It’s a performance director Richard Schenkman would like to repeat with his sequel: The Man from Earth: Holocene. This time, however, he won’t be leaving the piracy aspect to chance.
Yesterday the team behind the movie took matters into their own hands, uploading the movie to The Pirate Bay and other sites so that fans can help themselves.
“It was going to get uploaded regardless of what we did or didn’t do, and we figured that as long as this was inevitable, we would do the uploading ourselves and explain why we were doing it,” Schenkman informs TF.
“And, we would once again reach out to the filesharing community and remind them that while movies may be free to watch, they are not free to make, and we need their support.”
The release, listed here on The Pirate Bay, comes with detailed notes and a few friendly pointers on how the release can be further shared. It also informs people how they can show their appreciation if they like it.
The Man from Earth: Holocene on The Pirate Bay
“It’s a revolutionary global experiment in the honor system. We’re asking people: ‘If you watch our movie, and you like it, will you pay something directly to the people who made it?’,” Schenkman says.
“That’s why we’re so grateful to all of you who visit ManFromEarth.com and make a donation – of any size – if you’ve watched the movie without paying for it up front.”
In addition to using The Pirate Bay – which is often and incorrectly berated as a purely ‘pirate’ platform with no legitimate uses – the team has also teamed up with OpenSubtitles, so translations for the movie are available right from the beginning.
Other partners include MovieSaints.com, where fans can pay to see the movie from January 19 but get a full refund if they don’t enjoy it. It’s also available on Vimeo (see below) but the version seen by pirates is slightly different, and for good reason, Schenkman says.
“This version of the movie includes a greeting from me at the beginning, pointing out that we did indeed upload the movie ourselves, and asking people to visit manfromearth.com and make a donation if they can afford to, and if they enjoyed the film.
“The version we posted is very high-resolution, although we are also sharing some smaller files for those folks who have a slow Internet connection where they live,” he explains.
“We’re asking people to share ONLY this version of the movie — NOT to edit off the appeal message. And of course we’re asking people not to post the movie at YouTube or any other platform where someone (other than us) could profit financially from it. That would not be fair, nor in keeping with the spirit of what we’re trying to do.”
It’s not often we’re able to do this so it’s a pleasure to say that The Man from Earth: Holocene can be downloaded from The Pirate Bay, in various qualities and entirely legally, here. For those who want to show their appreciation, the tip jar is here.
The rising popularity of piracy streaming boxes has turned into Hollywood’s main piracy concern in recent months.
While the hardware and media players such as Kodi are not a problem, sellers who ship devices with unauthorized add-ons turn them into fully-fledged piracy machines.
According to the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE), an anti-piracy partnership comprised of Hollywood studios, Netflix, Amazon, and more than two dozen other companies, Tickbox TV is one of these bad actors.
Last year, ACE filed a lawsuit against the Georgia-based company, which sells set-top boxes that allow users to stream a variety of popular media. The Tickbox devices use the Kodi media player and comes with instructions on how to add various add-ons.
According to ACE, these devices are nothing more than pirate tools, allowing buyers to stream copyright-infringing content. The coalition, therefore, asked the court for a permanent injunction to remove all infringing add-ons from previously sold devices.
Tickbox maintained its innocence, however. The company informed the court that its box is a simple computer like any other, which is perfectly legal.
According to Tickbox, they don’t have anything to do with the infringing “Themes” that users can select on their device. These themes feature several addons that link to infringing content.
This explanation doesn’t sit well with the movie companies, which submitted a reply to the court late last week. They claim that Tickbox is deliberately downplaying their own role, as they are the ones who decided to make these themes accessible through their boxes.
“TickBox falsely claims that the presence of these ‘Themes’ on TickBox devices ‘have nothing to do with Defendant’,” ACE’s reply reads.
“To the contrary, TickBox intentionally chooses which ‘Themes’ to include on its ‘Select your Theme’ menu for the TickBox TV interface, and TickBox pushes out automatic software updates to its customers’ TickBox TV devices.”
The movie companies also dispute Tickbox’s argument that they don’t induce copyright infringement because their device is “simply a small computer” that has many legitimate uses.
This liability question isn’t about whether Tickbox stores any infringing material or runs pirate streams through their servers, they counter. It’s about the intended use and how Tickbox promotes its product.
“TickBox’s liability arises based on its advertising and promoting TickBox TV as a tool for infringing use, and from designing and including software on the device that encourages access to infringing streams from third-party sources.”
ACE notes that, unlike Tickbox claims, the current case shows a lot of parallels with previous landmark cases including Grokster and Fung [isoHunt].
The isoHunt website didn’t store and infringing material, nor was it crucial in the torrent piracy ecosystem. However, it was liable because the operator willingly facilitated copyright infringing activity. This is what Tickbox does too, according to ACE.
“TickBox ‘competes’ with legitimate services by telling customers that they can access the same content available from legitimate distributors ‘ABSOLUTELY FREE’ and that customers therefore ‘will find that you no longer need those subscriptions’.”
The movie companies therefore ask the court to issue the requested injunction. They want all existing devices to be impounded and Tickbox should, through an update, remove infringing addons from already sold devices.
Tickbox argued that this would require them to “hack into” their customers’ boxes and delete content. ACE, however, says that this is a simple update and nothing different from what the company has done in the past.
“The proposed injunction would merely obligate TickBox to make good on its halfhearted and ineffective efforts to do what it claims to have already done: remove Kodi builds with illicit addons from TickBox TV,” ACE writes.
“As demonstrated by TickBox’s own, repeated software updates since the filing of Plaintiffs’ Complaint, TickBox has the means and ability to easily and remotely change what options users see and can access on their TickBox TVs.”
After having heard the arguments from both sides, it’s now up to the California federal court to decide who’s right.
The current case should set an important precedent. In addition to Tickbox, ACE also filed a similar lawsuit against Dragon Box. Clearly, the coalition is determined to get these alleged pirate devices off the market.
In 2017, anti-piracy enforcement went global when companies including Disney, HBO, Netflix, Amazon and NBCUniversal formed the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE).
Soon after the Coalition Against Piracy (CAP) was announced. With a focus on Asia and backed by CASBAA, CAP counts many of the same companies among its members in addition to local TV providers such as StarHub.
From the outset, CAP has shown a keen interest in tackling unlicensed streaming, particularly that taking place via illicit set-top boxes stuffed with copyright-infringing apps and add-ons. One country under CAP’s spotlight is Singapore, where relevant law is said to be fuzzy at best, insufficient at worst. Now, however, a line in the sand might not be far away.
According to a court listing discovered by Singapore’s TodayOnline, today will see the Coalition Against Piracy’s general manager Neil Kevin Gane attempt to launch a pioneering private prosecution against set-top box distributor Synnex Trading and its client and wholesale goods retailer, An-Nahl.
Gane and CAP are said to be acting on behalf of four parties, one which is TV giant StarHub, a company with a huge interest in bringing media piracy under control in the region. It’s reported that they have also named Synnex Trading director Jia Xiaofen and An-Nahl director Abdul Nagib as defendants in their private criminal case after the parties failed to reach a settlement in an earlier process.
Contacted by TodayOnline, an employee of An-Nahl said the company no longer sells the boxes. However, Synnex is reportedly still selling them for S$219 each ($164) plus additional fees for maintenance and access to VOD. The company’s Facebook page is still active with the relevant offer presented prominently.
The importance of the case cannot be understated. While StarHub and other broadcasters have successfully prosecuted cases where people unlawfully decrypted broadcast signals, the provision of unlicensed streams isn’t specifically tackled by Singapore’s legislation. It’s now a major source of piracy in the region, as it is elsewhere around the globe.
Only time will tell how the process will play out but it’s clear that CAP and its members are prepared to invest significant sums into a prosecution for a favorable outcome. CAP believes that the supply of the boxes falls under Section 136 (3A) of the Copyright Act but only time will tell.
“Within the Asia-Pacific region, Singapore is the worst in terms of availability of illicit streaming devices,” said CAP General Manager Neil Gane. “They have access to hundreds of illicit broadcasts of channels and video-on-demand content.”
CAP’s 21 members want the authorities to block the software inside devices that enables piracy but it’s far from clear how that can be achieved.
Update: The four companies taking the action are confirmed as Singtel, Starhub, Fox Network, and the English Premier League
More and more people are starting to use Kodi-powered set-top boxes to stream video content to their TVs.
While Kodi itself is a neutral platform, sellers who ship devices with unauthorized add-ons give it a bad reputation.
In recent months these boxes have become the prime target for copyright enforcers, including the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE), an anti-piracy partnership between Hollywood studios, Netflix, Amazon, and more than two dozen other companies.
After suing Tickbox last year a group of key ACE members have now filed a similar lawsuit against Dragon Media Inc, which sells the popular Dragon Box. The complaint, filed at a California federal court, also lists the company’s owner Paul Christoforo and reseller Jeff Williams among the defendants.
According to ACE, these type of devices are nothing more than pirate tools, allowing buyers to stream copyright infringing content. That also applies to Dragon Box, they inform the court.
“Defendants market and sell ‘Dragon Box,’ a computer hardware device that Defendants urge their customers to use as a tool for the mass infringement of the copyrighted motion pictures and television shows,” the complaint, picked up by HWR, reads.
The movie companies note that the defendants distribute and promote the Dragon Box as a pirate tool, using phrases such as “Watch your Favourites Anytime For FREE” and “stop paying for Netflix and Hulu.”
When users follow the instructions Dragon provides they get free access to copyrighted movies, TV-shows and live content, ACE alleges. The complaint further points out that the device uses the open source Kodi player paired with pirate addons.
“The Dragon Media application provides Defendants’ customers with a customized configuration of the Kodi media player and a curated selection of the most popular addons for accessing infringing content,” the movie companies write.
“These addons are designed and maintained for the overarching purpose of scouring the Internet for illegal sources of copyrighted content and returning links to that content. When Dragon Box customers click those links, those customers receive unauthorized streams of popular motion pictures and television shows.”
One of the addons that are included with the download and installation of the Dragon software is Covenant.
This addon can be accessed through a preinstalled shortcut which is linked under the “Videos” menu. Users are then able to browse through a large library of curated content, including a separate category of movies that are still in theaters.
According to a statement from Dragon owner Christoforo, business is going well. The company claims to have “over 250,000 customers in 50 states and 4 countries and growing” as well as “374 sellers” across the world.
With this lawsuit, however, the company’s future has suddenly become uncertain.
The movie companies ask the California District for an injunction to shut down the infringing service and impound all Dragon Box devices. In addition, they’re requesting statutory damages which can go up to several million dollars.
At the time of writing the Dragon Box website is still in on air and the company has yet to comment on the allegations.
Robert O’Callahan notes
an important development in the fight for media codecs without patent
issues. “Apple joining the Alliance for Open Media is a really big
deal. Now all the most powerful tech companies — Google, Microsoft, Apple,
Mozilla, Facebook, Amazon, Intel, AMD, ARM, Nvidia — plus content providers
like Netflix and Hulu are on board. I guess there’s still no guarantee
Apple products will support AV1, but it would seem pointless for Apple to
join AOM if they’re not going to use it: apparently AOM membership obliges
Apple to provide a royalty-free license to any ‘essential patents’ it holds
for AV1 usage.”
Ten years ago the Internet was an entirely different place. Piracy was rampant, as it is today, but the people behind the largest torrent sites were more vocal then.
There was a battle going on for the right to freely share content online. This was very much a necessity at the time, as legal options were scarce, but for many it was also an idealistic battle.
As the spokesperson of The Pirate Bay, Peter Sunde was one of the leading voices at the time. He believed, and still does, that people should be able to share anything without restrictions. Period.
For Peter and three others associated with The Pirate Bay, this eventually resulted in jail sentences. They were not the only ones to feel the consequences. Over the past decade, dozens of torrent sites were shut down under legal pressure, forcing those operators that remain to go into hiding.
Today, ten years after we spoke to Peter about the future of torrent sites and file-sharing, we reach out to him again. A lot has changed, but how does The Pirate Bay’s co-founder look at things now?
“On the personal side, all is great, and I’m working on a TV-series about activism that will air next year. On top of that of course working on Njalla, Ipredator and other known projects,” Peter says.
“In general, I think that projects for me are still about the same thing as a decade ago, but just trying different approaches!”
While Peter stays true to his activist roots, fighting for privacy and freedom on the Internet, his outlook is not as positive as it once was.
He is proud that The Pirate Bay never caved and that they fought their cases to the end. The moral struggle was won, but he also realizes that the greater battle was lost.
“I’m proud and happy to be able to look myself in the mirror every morning with a feeling of doing right. A lot of corrupt people involved in our cases probably feel quite shitty. Well, if they have feelings,” Peter says.
The Pirate Bay’s former spokesperson doesn’t have any regrets really. The one thing that comes to mind, when we ask about things that he would have done differently, is to tell fellow Pirate Bay founder Anakata to encrypt his hard drive.
Brokep (Peter) and Anakata (Gottfrid)
Looking at the current media climate, Peter doesn’t think we are better off. On the contrary. While it might be easier in some counties to access content legally online, this also means that control is now firmly in the hands of a few major companies.
The Pirate Bay and others always encouraged free sharing for creators and consumers. This certainly hasn’t improved. Instead, media today is contained in large centralized silos.
“I’m surprised that people are so short-sighted. The ‘solution’ to file sharing was never centralizing content control back to a few entities – that was the struggle we were fighting for.
“Netflix, Spotify etc are not a solution but a loss. And it surprises me that the pirate movement is not trying to talk more about that,” he adds.
The Netflixes and Spotifies of this world are often portrayed as a solution to piracy. However, Peter sees things differently. He believes that these services put more control in the hands of powerful companies.
“The same companies we fought own these platforms. Either they own the shares in the companies, or they have deals with them which makes it impossible for these companies to not follow their rules.
“Artists can’t choose to be or not to be on Spotify in reality, because there’s nothing else in the end. If Spotify doesn’t follow the rules from these companies, they are fucked as well. The dependence is higher than ever.”
The first wave of mass Internet piracy well over a decade ago was a wake-up call to the entertainment industry. The immense popularity of torrent sites showed that people demanded something they weren’t offering.
In a way, these early pirate sites are the reason why Netflix and Spotify were able to do what they do. Literally, in the case of Spotify, which used pirated music to get the service going.
Peter doesn’t see them as the answer though. The only solution in his book is to redefine and legalize piracy.
“The solution to piracy is to re-define piracy. Make things available to everyone, without that being a crime,” Peter says.
In this regard, not much has changed in ten years. However, having witnessed this battle closer than anyone else, he also realizes that the winners are likely on the other end.
Piracy will decrease over time, but not the way Peter hopes it will.
“I think we’ll have less piracy because of the problems we see today. With net neutrality being infringed upon and more laws against individual liberties and access to culture, instead of actually benefiting people.
“The media industry will be happy to know that their lobbying efforts and bribes are paying off,” he concludes.
This is the second and final post in our torrent pioneers series. The first interview with isoHunt founder Gary Fung is available here.
For more than ten years TorrentFreak has documented a continuous stream of piracy battles so it’s natural that, every now and then, we pause to consider when this war might stop. The answer is always “no time soon” and certainly not in 2018.
When swapping files over the Internet first began it wasn’t a particularly widespread activity. A reasonable amount of content was available, but it was relatively inaccessible. Then peer-to-peer came along and it sparked a revolution.
From the beginning, copyright holders felt that the law would answer their problems, whether that was by suing Napster, Kazaa, or even end users. Some industry players genuinely believed this strategy was just a few steps away from achieving its goals. Just a little bit more pressure and all would be under control.
Then, when the landmark MGM Studios v. Grokster decision was handed down in the studios’ favor during 2005, the excitement online was palpable. As copyright holders rejoiced in this body blow for the pirating masses, file-sharing communities literally shook under the weight of the ruling. For a day, maybe two.
For the majority of file-sharers, the ruling meant absolutely nothing. So what if some company could be held responsible for other people’s infringements? Another will come along, outside of the US if need be, people said. They were right not to be concerned – that’s exactly what happened.
Ever since, this cycle has continued. Eager to stem the tide of content being shared without their permission, rightsholders have advocated stronger anti-piracy enforcement and lobbied for more restrictive interpretations of copyright law. Thus far, however, literally nothing has provided a solution.
One would have thought that given the military-style raid on Kim Dotcom’s Megaupload, a huge void would’ve appeared in the sharing landscape. Instead, the file-locker business took itself apart and reinvented itself in jurisdictions outside the United States. Meanwhile, the BitTorrent scene continued in the background, somewhat obliviously.
With the SOPA debacle still fresh in relatively recent memory, copyright holders are still doggedly pursuing their aims. Site-blocking is rampant, advertisers are being pressured into compliance, and ISPs like Cox Communications now find themselves responsible for the infringements of their users. But has any of this caused any fatal damage to the sharing landscape? Not really.
Instead, we’re seeing a rise in the use of streaming sites, each far more accessible to the newcomer than their predecessors and vastly more difficult for copyright holders to police.
Systems built into Kodi are transforming these platforms into a plug-and-play piracy playground, one in which sites skirt US law and users can consume both at will and in complete privacy. Meanwhile, commercial and unauthorized IPTV offerings are gathering momentum, even as rightsholders try to pull them back.
Faced with problems like these we are now seeing calls for even tougher legislation. While groups like the RIAA dream of filtering the Internet, over in the UK a 2017 consultation had copyright holders excited that end users could be criminalized for simply consuming infringing content, let alone distributing it.
While the introduction of both or either of these measures would cause uproar (and rightly so), history tells us that each would fail in its stated aim of stopping piracy. With that eventuality all but guaranteed, calls for even tougher legislation are being readied for later down the line.
In short, there is no law that can stop piracy and therefore no law that will stop the entertainment industries coming back for harsher measures, pursuing the dream. This much we’ve established from close to two decades of litigation and little to no progress.
But really, is anyone genuinely surprised that they’re still taking this route? Draconian efforts to maintain control over the distribution of content predate the file-sharing wars by a couple of hundred years, at the very least. Why would rightsholders stop now, when the prize is even more valuable?
No one wants a minefield of copyright law. No one wants a restricted Internet. No one wants extended liability for innovators, service providers, or the public. But this is what we’ll get if this problem isn’t solved soon. Something drastic needs to happen, but who will be brave enough to admit it, let alone do something about it?
During a discussion about piracy last year on the BBC, the interviewer challenged a caller who freely admitted to pirating sports content online. The caller’s response was clear:
For far too long, broadcasters and rightsholders have abused their monopoly position, charging ever-increasing amounts for popular content, even while making billions. Piracy is a natural response to that, and effectively a chance for the little guy to get back some control, he argued.
Exactly the same happened in the music market during the late 1990s and 2000s. In response to artificial restriction of the market and the unrealistic hiking of prices, people turned to peer-to-peer networks for their fix. Thanks to this pressure but after years of turmoil, services like Spotify emerged, converting millions of former pirates in the process. Netflix, it appears, is attempting to do the same thing with video.
When people feel that they aren’t getting ripped off and that they have no further use for sub-standard piracy services in the face of stunning legal alternatives, things will change. But be under no illusion, people won’t be bullied there.
If we end up with an Internet stifled in favor of rightsholders, one in which service providers are too scared to innovate, the next generation of consumers will never forget. This will be a major problem for two key reasons. Not only will consumers become enemies but piracy will still exist. We will have come full circle, fueled only by division and hatred.
It’s a natural response to reject monopolistic behavior and it’s a natural response, for most, to be fair when treated with fairness. Destroying freedom is far from fair and will not create a better future – for anyone.
Laws have their place, no sane person will argue against that, but when the entertainment industries are making billions yet still want more, they’ll have to decide whether this will go on forever with building resentment, or if making a bit less profit now makes more sense longer term.
Ten years ago, November 2007 to be precise, we published an article featuring the four leading torrent site admins at the time.
Niek van der Maas of Mininova, Justin Bunnell of TorrentSpy, Pirate Bay’s Peter Sunde and isoHunt’s Gary Fung were all kind enough to share their vision of BitTorrent’s future.
This future is the present today, and although the predictions were not all spot-on, there are a few interesting observations to make.
For one, these four men were all known by name, despite the uncertain legal situation they were in. How different is that today, when the operators of most of the world’s largest torrent sites are unknown to the broader public.
Another thing that stands out is that none of these pioneers are still active in the torrent space today. Niek and Justin have their own advertising businesses, Peter is a serial entrepreneur involved in various startups, while Gary works on his own projects.
While they have all moved on, they also remain a part of Internet history, which is why we decided to reach out to them ten years on.
Gary Fung was the first to reply. Those who’ve been following torrent news for a while know that isoHunt was shut down in 2013. The shutdown was the result of a lawsuit and came with a $110 million settlement with the MPAA, on paper.
Today the Canadian entrepreneur has other things on his hands, which includes “leveling up” his now one-year-old daughter. While that can be a day job by itself, he is also finalizing a mobile search app which will be released in the near future.
“The key is speed, and I can measure its speedup of the whole mobile search experience to be 10-100x that of conventional mobile web browsers,” Gary tells us, noting that after years of development, it’s almost ready.
The new search app is not one dedicated to torrents, as isoHunt once was. However, looking back, Gary is proud of what he accomplished with isoHunt, despite the bitter end.
“It was a humbling experience, in more ways than one. I’m proud that I participated and championed the rise of P2P content distribution through isoHunt as a search gateway,” Gary tells us.
“But I was also humbled by the responsibility and power at play, as seen in the lawsuits from the media industry giants, as well as the even larger picture of what P2P technologies were bringing, and still bring today.”
Decentralization has always been a key feature of BitTorrent and Gary sees this coming back in new trends. This includes the massive attention for blockchain related projects such as Bitcoin.
“2017 was the year Bitcoin became mainstream in a big way, and it’s feeling like the Internet before 2000. Decentralization is by nature disruptive, and I can’t wait to see what decentralizing money, governance, organizations and all kinds of applications will bring in the next few years.
“dApps [decentralized apps] made possible by platforms like Ethereum are like generalized BitTorrent for all kinds of applications, with ones we haven’t even thought of yet,” Gary adds.
Not everything is positive in hindsight, of course. Gary tells us that if he had to do it all over again he would take legal issues and lawyers more seriously. Not doing so led to more trouble than he imagined.
As a former torrent site admin, he has thought about the piracy issue quite a bit over the years. And unlike some sites today, he was happy to look for possible solutions to stop piracy.
One solution Gary suggested to Hollywood in the past was a hash recognition system for infringing torrents. A system to automatically filter known infringing files and remove these from cooperating torrent sites could still work today, he thinks.
“ContentID for all files shared on BitTorrent, similar to YouTube. I’ve proposed this to Hollywood studios before, as a better solution to suing their customers and potential P2P technology partners, but it obviously fell on deaf ears.”
In any case, torrent sites and similar services will continue to play an important role in how the media industry evolves. These platforms are showing Hollywood what the public wants, Gary believes.
“It has and will continue to play a role in showing the industry what consumers truly want: frictionless, convenient distribution, without borders of country or bundles. Bundles as in cable channels, but also in any way unwanted content is forced onto consumers without choice.”
While torrents were dominant in the past, the future will be streaming mostly, isoHunt’s founder says. He said this ten years ago, and he believes that in another decade it will have completely replaced cable TV.
Whether piracy will still be relevant then depends on how content is offered. More fragmentation will lead to more piracy, while easier access will make it less relevant.
“The question then will be, will streaming platforms be fragmented and exclusive content bundled into a hundred pieces besides Netflix, or will consumer choice and convenience win out in a cross-platform way?
“A piracy increase or reduction will depend on how that plays out because nobody wants to worry about ten monthly subscriptions to ten different streaming services, much less a hundred,” Gary concludes.
Perhaps we should revisit this again next decade…
The second post in this series, with Peter Sunde, will be published this weekend. The other two pioneers did not respond or declined to take part.
Gaining free access to copyrighted material is not a difficult task in today’s online world. Movies, TV shows, music, games, and eBooks are all just a few clicks away, either using torrent, streaming, or direct download services.
Over the years, however, the growth of piracy has been at least somewhat slowed due to the advent of official services. Where there was once a content vacuum, official platforms such as Netflix, Spotify, HBO, TIDAL, Steam, and others, are helping users to find the content they want.
While most services present reasonable value, subscribing to them all would be a massive strain on even the most expansive of budgets. But what if there was a way to access every single one of them, for just a few dollars a year – in total? Believe it or not, such services exist and have done for some time.
Described as ‘Account Generators’, these platforms grant members with access to dozens of premium services, without having to pay anything like the headline price. The main ones often major on access to a Netflix subscription as a base, with access to other services thrown in on top.
How much a year?
The screenshot above shows one ‘generator’ service as it appeared this week. On the far right is a Netflix offer for $2.99 per year or $4.99 for a lifetime ‘private’ account (more on that later). That is of course ridiculously cheap.
On the near left is the ‘All Access’ plan, which offers access to Netflix plus another 69 online services for just $6.99 per month or $16.99 per year. The range of services available is impressive, to say the least.
Movies and TV Shows: Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, HBO Now, Crunchyroll, DIRECTV/Now, Stream TV Live, CBS All Access, Funimation, Slingbox, Xfinity.
On the sports front: BT Sports, Fubo.tv, F1 Access, MLB.TV, NBA League Pass, NFL Game Pass, UFC Fight Pass, WWE Network.
For music, access is provided to Spotify, Deezer, Napster, Pandora, Saavn, SoundCloud, and TIDAL.
A small selection of the services available
How these services gain access to all of these accounts is shrouded in a level of secrecy but there’s little doubt that while some are obtained legitimately (perhaps through free trials or other account sharing), the roots of others are fairly questionable.
For example, when these services talk about ‘shared and ‘private’ Netflix accounts, the former often appear set up for someone else, with individual user accounts in other people’s names and suggestions for what to watch next already in place. In other words, these are live accounts already being paid for by someone, to which these services somehow gain access.
Indeed, there are notices on account generator platforms warning people not to mess with account passwords or payment details, since that could alert the original user or cause an account to get shut down for other reasons.
“Origin brings you great PC and Mac games. Play the latest RPGs, Shooters, Sim games, and more. These accounts are private (1 per person), however you MUST NOT change passwords,” one warning reads.
Since Origin has just come up, it’s probably a suitable juncture to mention the games services on offer. In addition to EA’s offering, one can gain access to Xbox Live, ESL Gaming, Good Old Games, League of Legends, Minecraft Premium, Steam (game keys) and Uplay.
And it doesn’t stop there.
Need a BitDefender key? No problem. Access to Creative Market? You got it. Want to do some online learning? Queue up for Chegg, CourseHero, Lynda, Mathway, Udemy, and more. There’s even free access to NYTimes Premium. As the image below shows, thousands of accounts are added all the time.
Thousands of accounts, all the time…
While these generator platforms are undoubtedly popular with people on a budget, almost everything about them feels wrong. Staring into someone’s private Netflix account, with what appear to be family names, is unsettling. Looking at their private email addresses and credit card details feels flat-out criminal.
Quite how these services are able to prosper isn’t clear but perhaps the big question is why the platforms whose accounts are being offered haven’t noticed some kind of pattern by now. Maybe they have, but it’s probably a pretty difficult task to sweep up the mess without a lot of false positives, not to mention the risks of ensnaring those who pay for their accounts officially.
The video below, from late 2016, gives a decent overview of how an account generator platform works. Even for many hardcore pirates, especially those who demand privacy and respect the same for others, parts of the viewing will be uncomfortable.
For as long as piracy has been mainstream, people have tried to find ways to monetize the system. While many have had good intentions, only models focusing on the negative (copyright trolling, for example) have enjoyed any level of success.
Blockchain startup White Rabbit is hoping to buck that trend but it’s not going to be easy. Then again, nothing worthwhile is, so what do they have to offer?
White Rabbit begins with the assumption that while they love their pirate sites, a many as 60% of pirates would happily reward creators if it was made easy enough. The startup deals with this by inviting pirates to carry on using the kinds of unauthorized sites and services they’re using already, but with a twist.
By installing the White Rabbit browser plug-in, the company will be able to see what content the user is accessing. It will then attempt to match that download to deals it’s made with the companies behind those movies or TV shows. They’ll then get paid a set amount.
“White Rabbit is a content ecosystem accessed through a plugin that recognizes the film and series you stream. The streaming sites are P2P or open server, meaning users can choose where they want to stream,” White Rabbit CEO Alan R. Milligan informs TF.
“We already have a library of films that have won and been nominated for Oscars, Cannes, Berlin and Venice film festival best film prizes – but will continue adding more films and series as we near launch.”
It’s envisioned that this mechanism will prove popular with reluctant pirates since instead of paying Netflix, Amazon, and dozens of other services, users can pay for content through one channel. And, since White Rabbit uses blockchain technology, rights holders can be ensured complete financial transparency, with user payments going straight to them without delay, cutting out the middleman.
“Users are anonymous but can offer filmmakers, artists or other content right holders (investors, distributors, sales agents) our tokens (WRT) as good faith that they are willing to pay for the content. Should the rights holders accept, we enter into a contract with the rights holder that allows them to receive revenue – and accept P2P streaming. We find, and research shows, that most people that are forced to piracy [do so] because they are just not able to access content,” Milligan adds.
White Rabbit’s CEO, who is a filmmaker himself, also sees opportunities to bring fans and filmmakers closer together. Once users have paid for content, they continue to get access via something called the Rabbit Hole, an interface which provides extras that are normally found on a DVD, such as deleted scenes etc.
The team behind White Rabbit describe themselves as “responsible rebels” hoping to spark a revolution. While that’s clearly the goal, by any measure there is a mountain to climb, not least on the content front.
When TorrentFreak first started speaking with the startup in October last year, we were told they were “closing in on 500 films” with contracts, although they wouldn’t elaborate on who might be on board. Nevertheless, that is quite a lot of movies, especially given the mainstream studios’ hatred of pirate sites and anything they might be involved in.
However, subsequent discussion suggests that those with more niche tastes might be White Rabbit’s initial target audience.
“I believe timing is of big relevance and right now a lot of producers are scared of where they´re going to go now that Netflix is enforcing its 50/50 policy. There are also so many amazing films out there that get no or little digital distribution at all,” Milligan says.
“As a Norwegian film producer there is little chance of the film being streamed in my home country – even if we won awards in Cannes and Venice. My latest film Valley of Shadows got US digital distribution, but in Norway – nada.
“My colleagues around the world are suffering the same way, not to mention all the fans who cant watch local films and series. So the indie part of the industry – which is most of us (and still representing 20-30% of cinema sales) – are very ready for change.”
But while indie producers could benefit nicely from White Rabbit, Milligan highlights problems that the big studios have, and suggests that they might like to see the startup succeed too.
“The studios will likely want to see our business model work – but they also have a problem with Netflix which has become a studio. So they´re competitors now, but Netflix has a 100M subscriber advantage. Will they all break out and create each their streaming site for their content only? That would be terrible for fans,” he notes.
That would indeed be a huge problem and it’s an issue we’ve raised here on TF on several occasions. However, if White Rabbit is to succeed, it needs to overcome significant hurdles. We raised just a handful of these with its CEO. First up, Partner Streaming Sites (PSS).
PSS sites appear to be pirate sites that will partner with White Rabbit, so the latter can tap into the formers’ userbases. When White Rabbit users stream ‘pirate’ content from a PSS, that content will be monetized, with the creator getting paid quickly and transparently. At that point, it seems, the content will become non-infringing.
But while that sounds intriguing in theory, plenty of questions remain. White Rabbit says it will share “up to $1M” from its token sale “with the most innovative, brand conscious, film and series loving streaming sites either already out there, planned or about to launch.”
The start-up says the best projects could get $100,000 each but, since its goal is to convert pirates, that necessarily means doing business with pirate sites.
So we asked; how will it be possible to do business with people that are regularly described as criminals? How will it then become possible to secure deals with filmmakers that will undoubtedly come under huge pressure from industry players not to participate in the White Rabbit scheme?
“What we are trying to do is to change digital distribution to everyone´s benefit. We have no interest in financing illegal content, we are interested in spurring innovation in streaming, access for fans and due payment for the rights holders,” Milligan explains.
“That´s what PSS can help us achieve using the WRT (White Rabbit Token) – that helps us find out who wants to be part of this model. No revenue exchanges hands until rights holders accept the token. What is important for rights holders is that we generate more revenue for them than current business models, and we haven´t even included the Rabbit Hole revenue yet.”
So what happens if a White Rabbit user tries to stream something that isn’t part of the program? According to Milligan, PSS sites must remove the content and let White Rabbit users know they must get the content legally elsewhere.
Clearly, the vast majority of pirate site users aren’t White Rabbit users now, nor will they be so in the future, so the removal of content is massively counter-productive for pirate sites. Indeed, it’s this reluctance to take down infringing content that causes them most of their problems.
So, hypothetically, what happens when the operators of streaming site X (that previously partnered with White Rabbit) get arrested and their site shut down for distributing Hollywood content that isn’t part of the program?
“PSS´s would never distribute illegal content, we are offering an opportunity to monetize. We are allowing a platform to those that see monetized P2P as beneficial to their income stream,” Milligan says.
“Hollywood is tricky though, I admit. The proof is in the pudding, so if we have to prove the value through indie and arthouse films first that´s OK. That is still 30% of the multi-billion dollar film market, so we are OK to start with that.”
The final issue is the price and where revenue goes. White Rabbit envisions a user paying $2 for film and $1 for a TV show, although producers are free to set their own price. That means 11 TV shows or five movies per month, given the Netflix model/budget of roughly $11.00 for the same period.
Revenue generated would then be split, with 75% going to the rightsholders, 15% to White Rabbit, and 10% to PSS sites. There’s also a provision for non-PSS sites to be a part of the program, but they would only get 5%, with the remaining 5% going to White Rabbit.
With an incredibly ambitious project like this, it’s easy to find reasons why it might not succeed or even fail to get off the ground. But the team behind the operation have lots of experience in relevant fields and from what we’ve seen are putting considerable effort into getting things moving, as their white paper (pdf) explains.
Currently, White Rabbit is seeking conversation with prospective Partner Streaming Sites, who will provide the content on which White Rabbit will survive. It will certainly be interesting to see which sites put themselves forward for consideration.
This is one of those projects that raises a dizzying volume of questions, with each living up to their billing as part of the Rabbit Hole. The big question is whether the Rabbit Hole will eventually lead to Wonderland or will render everyone who ventures inside feeling surreal and disorientated.
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.
On dozens of occasions during the past year, TF has been compelled to cover the latest entertainment industry anti-piracy scare campaigns. We never have a problem doing so since news is to be reported and we’re all adults with our own minds to evaluate what we’re reading.
Unfortunately, many people behind these efforts seem to be under the impression that their target audience is comprised of simpletons, none of whom are blessed with a brain of their own. Frankly it’s insulting but before we go on, let’s get a few things clear.
Copyright infringement – including uploading, downloading, sharing or streaming – is illegal in most countries. That means that copyright holders are empowered under law to do something about those offenses, either through the civil or criminal courts. While unpalatable to some, most people accept that position and understand that should they be caught in the act, there might be some consequences.
With that said, there are copyright holders out there that need to stop treating people like children at best, idiots at worst. At this point in 2017, there’s no adult out there with the ability to pirate that truly believes that obtaining or sharing the latest movies, TV shows and sports is likely to be completely legal.
If you don’t believe me, ask a pirate why he or she is so excited by their fully-loaded Kodi setup. Hint: It’s because they’re getting content for free and they know full well that isn’t what the copyright holder wants. Then ask them if they want the copyright holder to know their name, address and everything they’ve downloaded. There. That’s your answer.
The point is that these people are not dumb. They know what they’re doing and understand that getting caught is something that might possibly happen. They may not understand precisely how and they may consider the risk to be particularly small (they’d be right too) but they know that it’s something best kept fairly quiet when they aren’t shouting about it to anyone who will listen down the pub.
Copyright holders aren’t dumb either. They know only too well that pirates recognize what they’re doing is probably illegal but they’re at a loss as to what to do about it. For reputable content owners, suing is expensive, doesn’t scale, is a public relations nightmare and, moreover, isn’t effective in solving the problem.
So, we now have a concerted effort to convince pirates that piracy is not only bad for their computers but also bad for their lives. It’s a stated industry aim and we’re going to see more of it in 2018.
If pirate sites aren’t infecting people’s computers with malware from God-knows-where, they’re stealing their identities and emptying their bank accounts, the industries warned in 2017. And if somehow people manage to run this gauntlet of terror without damaging their technology or their finances, then they’ll probably have their house burnt down by an exploding set-top box.
Look, the intention is understandable. Entertainment companies need to contain the piracy problem because if they don’t, it only gets worse. Again, there are few people out there who genuinely expect them to do anything different but this current stampede towards blatant scaremongering is disingenuous at best and utterly ridiculous at worst.
And it won’t work.
While piracy can be engaged in as a solo activity, it’s inherently a social phenomenon. That things can be pirated from here and there, in this way and that, is the stuff of conversations between friends and colleagues, in person and via social media. The information is passed around today like VHS and compact cassettes were passed around three decades ago and people really aren’t talking about malware or their houses catching fire.
In the somewhat unlikely event these topics do get raised for more than a minute, they get dealt with in the same way as anything else.
People inquire whether their friends have ever had their bank accounts emptied or houses burnt down, or if they know anyone who has. When the answer comes back as “no” from literally everyone, people are likely to conclude that the stories are being spread by people trying to stop them getting movies, TV shows, and live sports for free. And they would be right.
That’s not to say that these scare stories don’t have at least some basis in fact, they do.
Many pirate sites do have low-tier advertising which can put users at risk. However, it’s nothing that a decent anti-virus program and/or ad blocker can’t handle, which is something everyone should be running when accessing untrusted sites. Also, being cautious about all electronics imported from overseas is something people should be aware of too, despite the tiny risk these devices appear to pose in the scheme of things.
So, what we have here is the modern day equivalent of Reefer Madness, the 1930’s propaganda movie that tried to scare people away from marijuana with tales of car accidents, suicide, attempted rape and murder.
While somewhat more refined, these modern-day cautionary messages over piracy are destined to fall on ears that are far more shrewd and educated than their 20th-century counterparts. Yet they’re all born out of the same desire, to stop people from getting involved in an activity by warning them that it’s dangerous to them, rather than it having a negative effect on someone else – an industry executive, for example.
It’s all designed to appeal to the selfish nature of people, rather than their empathy for others, but that’s a big mistake.
Most people really do want to do the right thing, as the staggering success of Netflix, iTunes, Spotify, and Amazon show. But the ridiculous costs and/or inaccessibility of live sports, latest movies, or packaged TV shows mean that no matter what warnings get thrown out there, some people will still cut corners if they feel they’re being taken advantage of.
Worst still, if they believe the scare stories are completely ridiculous, eventually they’ll also discount the credibility of the messenger. When that happens, what little trust remains will be eroded.
Then, let’s face it, who wants to buy something from people you can’t trust?
Georgia-based TickBox TV is a provider of set-top boxes that allow users to stream all kinds of popular content. Like other similar devices, Tickboxes use the popular Kodi media player alongside instructions how to find and use third-party addons.
Of course, these types of add-ons are considered a thorn in the side of the entertainment industries and as a result, Tickbox found itself on the receiving end of a lawsuit in the United States.
Filed in a California federal court in October, Universal, Columbia Pictures, Disney, 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros, Amazon, and Netflix accused Tickbox of inducing and contributing to copyright infringement.
“TickBox sells ‘TickBox TV,’ a computer hardware device that TickBox urges its customers to use as a tool for the mass infringement of Plaintiffs’ copyrighted motion pictures and television shows,” the complaint reads.
“TickBox promotes the use of TickBox TV for overwhelmingly, if not exclusively, infringing purposes, and that is how its customers use TickBox TV. TickBox advertises TickBox TV as a substitute for authorized and legitimate distribution channels such as cable television or video-on-demand services like Amazon Prime and Netflix.”
The copyright holders reference a TickBox TV video which informs customers how to install ‘themes’, more commonly known as ‘builds’. These ‘builds’ are custom Kodi-setups which contain many popular add-ons that specialize in supplying pirate content. Is that illegal? TickBox TV believes not.
In a response filed yesterday, TickBox underlined its position that its device is not sold with any unauthorized or illegal content and complains that just because users may choose to download and install third-party programs through which they can search for and view unauthorized content, that’s not its fault. It goes on to attack the lawsuit on several fronts.
TickBox argues that plaintiffs’ claims, that TickBox can be held secondarily liable under the theory of contributory infringement or inducement liability as described in the famous Grokster and isoHunt cases, is unlikely to succeed. TickBox says the studios need to show four elements – distribution of a device or product, acts of infringement by users of Tickbox, an object of promoting its use to infringe copyright, and causation.
“Plaintiffs have failed to establish any of these four elements,” TickBox’s lawyers write.
Firstly, TickBox says that while its device can be programmed to infringe, it’s the third party software (the builds/themes containing addons) that do all the dirty work, and TickBox has nothing to do with them.
“The Motion spends a great deal of time describing these third-party ‘Themes’ and how they operate to search for and stream videos. But the ‘Themes’ on which Plaintiffs so heavily focus are not the [TickBox], and they have absolutely nothing to do with Defendant. Rather, they are third-party modifications of the open-source media player software [Kodi] which the Box utilizes,” the response reads.
TickBox says its device is merely a small computer, not unlike a smartphone or tablet. Indeed, when it comes to running the ‘pirate’ builds listed in the lawsuit, a device supplied by one of the plaintiffs can accomplish the same task.
“Plaintiffs have identified certain of these thirdparty ‘builds’ or ‘Themes’ which are available on the internet and which can be downloaded by users to view content streamed by third-party websites; however, this same software can be installed on many different types of devices, even one distributed by affiliates of Plaintiff Amazon Content Services, LLC,” the company adds.
Referencing the Grokster case, TickBox states that particular company was held liable for distributing a device (the Grokster software) “with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright.” In the isoHunt case, it argues that the provision of torrent files satisfied the first element of inducement liability.
“In contrast, Defendant’s product – the Box – is not software through which users can access unauthorized content, as in Grokster, or even a necessary component of accessing unauthorized content, as in Fung [isoHunt],” TickBox writes.
“Defendant offers a computer, onto which users can voluntarily install legitimate or illegitimate software. The product about which Plaintiffs complain is third-party software which can be downloaded onto a myriad of devices, and which Defendant neither created nor supplies.”
From defending itself, TickBox switches track to highlight weaknesses in the studios’ case against users of its TickBox device. The company states that the plaintiffs have not presented any evidence that buyers of the TickBox streaming unit have actually accessed any copyrighted material.
Interestingly, however, the company also notes that even if people had streamed ‘pirate’ content, that might not constitute infringement.
First up, the company notes that there are no allegations that anyone – from TickBox itself to TickBox device owners – ever violated the plaintiffs’ exclusive right to perform its copyrighted works.
TickBox then further argues that copyright law does not impose liability for viewing streaming content, stating that an infringer is one who violates any of the exclusive rights of the copyright holder, in this case, the right to “perform the copyrighted work publicly.”
“Plaintiffs do not allege that Defendant, Defendant’s product, or the users of Defendant’s product ‘transmit or otherwise communicate a performance’ to the public; instead, Plaintiffs allege that users view streaming material on the Box.
“It is clear precedent [Perfect 10 v Google] in this Circuit that merely viewing copyrighted material online, without downloading, copying, or retransmitting such material, is not actionable.”
Taking this argument to its logical conclusion, TickBox insists that if its users aren’t infringing copyright, it’s impossible to argue that TickBox induced its customers to violate the plaintiffs’ rights. In that respect, plaintiffs’ complaints that TickBox failed to develop “filtering tools” to diminish its customers’ infringing activity are moot, since in TickBox’s eyes no infringement took place.
TickBox also argues that unlike in Grokster, where the defendant profited when users’ accessed infringing content, it does not. And, just to underline the earlier point, it claims that its place in the market is not to compete with entertainment companies, it’s actually to compete with devices such as Amazon’s Firestick – another similar Android-powered device.
Finally, TickBox notes that it has zero connection with any third-party sites that transmit copyrighted works in violation of the plaintiffs’ rights.
“Plaintiff has not alleged any element of contributory infringement vis-à-vis these unknown third-parties. Plaintiff has not alleged that Defendant has distributed any product to those third parties, that Defendant has committed any act which encourages those third parties’ infringement, or that any act of Defendant has, in fact, caused those third parties to infringe,” its response adds.
But even given the above defenses, TickBox says that it “voluntarily took steps” to remove links to the allegedly infringing Kodi builds from its device, following the plaintiffs’ lawsuit. It also claims to have modified its advertising and webpage “to attempt to appease Plaintiffs and resolve their complaint amicably.”
Given the above, TickBox says that the plaintiffs’ application for injunction is both vague and overly broad and would impose “imperssible hardship” on the company by effectively shutting it down while requiring it to “hack into and delete content” which TickBox users may have downloaded to their boxes.
TickBox raises some very interesting points around some obvious weaknesses so it will be intriguing to see how the Court handles its claims and what effect that has on the market for these devices in the US. In particular, the thorny issue of how they are advertised and promoted, which is nearly always the final stumbling block.
The major movie studios are doing everything in their power to stop the public from copying films.
While nearly every movie and TV-show leaks on the Internet, these companies still see DRM as a vital tool to prevent piracy from spiraling out of control.
Technically speaking it’s not hard to rip a DVD or Blu-Ray disc nowadays, and the same is true for ripping content from Netflix or YouTube. However, people who do this are breaking the law.
The DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions specifically forbid it. There are some exemptions, for educational use for example, and to allow for other types of fair use, but the line between legal and illegal is not always clear.
Interestingly, filmmakers are not happy with the current law either. They often want to use small pieces of other videos in their films, but under the current exemptions, this is only permitted for documentaries.
The International Documentary Association, Kartemquin Films, Independent Filmmaker Project, University of Film and Video Association and several other organizations hope this will change.
In a comment to the Copyright Office, which is currently considering updates to the exemptions, they argue that all filmmakers should be allowed by break DRM and rip Blu-Rays.
According to the filmmakers, the documentary genre is vaguely defined. This leads to a lot of confusion whether or not the exemptions apply. They, therefore, suggest to apply it to all filmmakers, instead of criminalizing those who don’t identify themselves as documentarians.
“Since 2010, exemptions applicable to documentary filmmaking have been in effect. This exemption has helped many filmmakers, and there has been neither evidence nor any allegation that this exemption has harmed rightsholders in any way.
“There is no reason this would change if the ‘documentary’ limitation were removed. All filmmakers regularly need access to footage on DVDs and without an exemption to DVDs, many non-infringing uses simply cannot be made,” the groups add.
The submission includes letters from several filmmakers who explain why an exemption would be crucial to them.
Filmmakers Steve Boettcher and Mike Trinklein explain that they refrained from making a film how they wanted it to be, fearing legal trouble. Their film included a lot of drama elements and was not a typical documentary.
“Given the significant amount of drama in the film [we are working on], we decided early on that our storytelling toolbox could not include fair use of materials from DVD or Blu-ray, because the exemption did not cover accessing that material for use in a drama,” they write
“Already, we were hindered in our ability to tell these stories. So, there is already a chilling effect in that a drama-heavy documentary might be seen as a drama outright, and thus under a different set of rules.”
Another filmmaker, who wants to remain anonymous, plans on making a hybrid documentary/narrative feature about a famous film duo. Without ripping the clips he needs, this movie is never going to be made.
“I am unsure of whether my project would fall under the exemption because it is a combination of documentary and narrative, and my fear of a lawsuit once my project is publicly viewed and distributed stops me from ripping from these sources.”
These are just two of many examples where filmmakers show that they need to break DRM and rip content to make the work they want.
The MPAA and others have previously argued that these changes are not required. Instead, they pointed out that people could point their cameras or phones at the screen to record something, or use screen capture software.
However, these are not viable alternatives according to the filmmakers, as the quality is inferior. They, therefore, call on the Copyright Office to expand the exemption to cover all films and filmmakers.
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