While the major Hollywood studios are very reluctant to bring a pirate site blocking case to their home turf, they are very active abroad.
The companies are the driving force behind lawsuits in Europe, Australia, and are also active in India, where they booked a new success last week.
Website blocking is by no means a new phenomenon in India. The country is known for so-called John Doe orders, where a flurry of websites are temporarily blocked to protect the release of a specific title.
The major Hollywood studios are taking a different approach. Disney Enterprises, Twentieth Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, Columbia Pictures, Universal, and Warner Bros. are requesting blockades, accusing sites of being structural copyright infringers.
One of the most recent targets is the popular torrent site Rarbg. The Hollywood studios describe Rarbg as a ‘habitual’ copyright infringer and demand that several Internet providers block access to the site.
“It is submitted that the Defendant Website aids and facilitates the accessibility and availability of infringing material, and induce third parties, intentionally and/or knowingly, to infringe through their websites by various means,’ the movie studios allege.
The complaint filed at the High Court of Delhi lists more than 20 Internet providers as co-defendants, and also includes India’s Department of Telecommunications and Department of Electronics and Information Technology in the mix.
The two Government departments are added because they have the power to enforce blocking orders. Specifically, the Hollywood studios note that the Department of Technology’s license agreement with ISPs requires these companies to ensure that copyright infringing content is not carried on their networks.
“It is submitted that the DoT itself acknowledges the fact that service providers have an obligation to ensure that no violation of third party intellectual property rights takes place through their networks and that effective protection is provided to right holders of such intellectual property,” the studios write.
Last week the court granted an injunction that requires local Internet providers including Bharti Airtel, Reliance Communications, Telenor, You Broadband, and Vodafone to block Rarbg.
As requested, the Department of Telecommunications and Department of Electronics and Information Technology are directed to notify all local internet and telecom service providers that they must block the torrent site as well.
The order is preliminary and can still be contested in court. However, given the history of similar blocking efforts around the world, it is likely that it will be upheld.
While there’s not much coverage on the matter, this isn’t the first blocking request the companies have filed in India. Last October, a similar case was filed against another popular torrent site, 1337x.to, with success.
TorrentFreak reached out to the law firm representing the Hollywood studios to get a broader overview of the blocking plans in India. At the time of writing, we have yet to hear back.
A copy of the order obtained by Disney Enterprises, Twentieth Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, Columbia Pictures, Universal, Warner Bros and the local Disney owned media conglomerate UTV Software, is available here (pdf).
After first targeting torrent and regular streaming platforms with blocking injunctions, last year Village Roadshow and studios including Disney, Universal, Warner Bros, Twentieth Century Fox, and Paramount began looking at a new threat.
The action targeted HDSubs+, a reasonably popular IPTV service that provides hundreds of otherwise premium live channels, movies, and sports for a relatively small monthly fee. The application was filed during October 2017 and targeted Australia’s largest ISPs.
In parallel, Hong Kong-based broadcaster Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB) launched a similar action, demanding that the same ISPs (including Telstra, Optus, TPG, and Vocus, plus subsidiaries) block several ‘pirate’ IPTV services, named in court as A1, BlueTV, EVPAD, FunTV, MoonBox, Unblock, and hTV5.
Due to the similarity of the cases, both applications were heard in Federal Court in Sydney on Friday. Neither case is as straightforward as blocking a torrent or basic streaming portal, so both applicants are having to deal with additional complexities.
The TVB case is of particular interest. Up to a couple of dozen URLs maintain the services, which are used to provide the content, an EPG (electronic program guide), updates and sundry other features. While most of these appear to fit the description of an “online location” designed to assist copyright infringement, where the Android-based software for the IPTV services is hosted provides an interesting dilemma.
ComputerWorld reports that the apps – which offer live broadcasts, video-on-demand, and catch-up TV – are hosted on as-yet-unnamed sites which are functionally similar to Google Play or Apple’s App Store. They’re repositories of applications that also carry non-infringing apps, such as those for Netflix and YouTube.
Nevertheless, despite clear knowledge of this dual use, TVB wants to have these app marketplaces blocked by Australian ISPs, which would not only render the illicit apps inaccessible to the public but all of the non-infringing ones too. Part of its argument that this action would be reasonable appears to be that legal apps – such as Netflix’s for example – can also be freely accessed elsewhere.
It will be up to Justice Nicholas to decide whether the “primary purpose” of these marketplaces is to infringe or facilitate the infringement of TVB’s copyrights. However, TVB also appears to have another problem which is directly connected to the copyright status in Australia of its China-focused live programming.
Justice Nicholas questioned whether watching a stream in Australia of TVB’s live Chinese broadcasts would amount to copyright infringement because no copy of that content is being made.
“If most of what is occurring here is a reproduction of broadcasts that are not protected by copyright, then the primary purpose is not to facilitate copyright infringement,” Justice Nicholas said.
One of the problems appears to be that China is not a party to the 1961 Rome Convention for the Protection of Performers, Producers of Phonograms and Broadcasting Organisations. However, TVB is arguing that it should still receive protection because it airs pre-recorded content and the live broadcasts are also archived for re-transmission via catch-up services.
The question over whether unchoreographed live broadcasts receive protection has been raised in other regions but in most cases, a workaround has been found. The presence of broadcaster logos on screen (which receive copyright protection) is a factor and it’s been reported that broadcasters are able to record the ‘live’ action and transmit a copy just a couple of seconds later, thereby broadcasting an already-copyrighted work.
While TVB attempts to overcome its issues, Village Roadshow is facing some of its own in its efforts to take down HDSubs+.
It appears that at least partly in response to the Roadshow legal action, the service has undergone some modifications, including a change of brand to ‘Press Play Extra’. As reported by ZDNet, there have been structural changes too, which means that Roadshow can no longer “see under the hood”.
According to Justice Nicholas, there is no evidence that the latest version of the app infringes copyright but according to counsel for Village Roadshow, the new app is merely transitional and preparing for a possible future change.
“We submit the difference to be drawn is reactive to my clients serving on the operators a notice,” counsel for Roadshow argued, with an expert describing the new app as “almost like a placeholder.”
In short, Roadshow still wants all of the target domains in its original application blocked because the company believes there’s a good chance they’ll be reactivated in the future.
None of the ISPs involved in either case turned up to the hearings on Friday, which removes one layer of complexity in what appears thus far to be less than straightforward cases.
For millions of people around the world, subtitles are the only way to enjoy media in languages other than that in the original production. For the deaf and hard of hearing, they are absolutely essential.
Movie and TV show companies tend to be quiet good at providing subtitles eventually but in line with other restrictive practices associated with their industry, it can often mean a long wait for the consumer, particularly in overseas territories.
For this reason, fan-made subtitles have become somewhat of a cottage industry in recent years. Where companies fail to provide subtitles quickly enough, fans step in and create them by hand. This has led to the rise of a number of subtitling platforms, including the now widely recognized Undertexter.se in Sweden.
The platform had its roots back in 2003 but first hit the headlines in 2013 when Swedish police caused an uproar by raiding the site and seizing its servers.
“The people who work on the site don’t consider their own interpretation of dialog to be something illegal, especially when we’re handing out these interpretations for free,” site founder Eugen Archy said at the time.
Vowing to never give up in the face of pressure from the authorities, anti-piracy outfit Rättighetsalliansen (Rights Alliance), and companies including Nordisk Film, Paramount, Universal, Sony and Warner, Archy said that the battle over what began as a high school project would continue.
“No Hollywood, you played the wrong card here. We will never give up, we live in a free country and Swedish people have every right to publish their own interpretations of a movie or TV show,” he said.
It took four more years but in 2017 the Undertexter founder was prosecuted for distributing copyright-infringing subtitles while facing a potential prison sentence.
Things didn’t go well and last September the Attunda District Court found him guilty and sentenced the then 32-year-old operator to probation. In addition, he was told to pay 217,000 Swedish krona ($26,400) to be taken from advertising and donation revenues collected through the site.
Eugen Archy took the case to appeal, arguing that the Svea Hovrätt (Svea Court of Appeal) should acquit him of all the charges and dismiss or at least reduce the amount he was ordered to pay by the lower court. Needless to say, this was challenged by the prosecution.
On appeal, Archy agreed that he was the person behind Undertexter but disputed that the subtitle files uploaded to his site infringed on the plaintiffs’ copyrights, arguing they were creative works in their own right.
While to an extent that may have been the case, the Court found that the translations themselves depended on the rights connected to the original work, which were entirely held by the relevant copyright holders. While paraphrasing and parody might be allowed, pure translations are completely covered by the rights in the original and cannot be seen as new and independent works, the Court found.
The Svea Hovrätt also found that Archy acted intentionally, noting that in addition to administering the site and doing some translating work himself, it was “inconceivable” that he did not know that the subtitles made available related to copyrighted dialog found in movies.
In conclusion, the Court of Appeal upheld Archy’s copyright infringement conviction (pdf, Swedish) and sentenced him to probation, as previously determined by the Attunda District Court.
Last year, the legal status of user-created subtitles was also tested in the Netherlands. In response to local anti-piracy outfit BREIN forcing several subtitling groups into retreat, a group of fansubbers decided to fight back.
After raising their own funds, in 2016 the “Free Subtitles Foundation” (Stichting Laat Ondertitels Vrij – SLOV) took the decision to sue BREIN with the hope of obtaining a favorable legal ruling.
In 2017 it all fell apart when the Amsterdam District Court handed down its decision and sided with BREIN on each count.
The Court found that subtitles can only be created and distributed after permission has been obtained from copyright holders. Doing so outside these parameters amounts to copyright infringement.
Following complaints from Disney, 20th Century Fox, Paramount, Sony, Universal and Warner, a court in Spain recently ordered local ISPs to block HDFull.tv and Repelis.tv, a pair of popular pirate sites.
Citing changes in local law which helped facilitate the action, the MPA welcomed the blockades as necessary to prevent further damage to the creative industries. Now, just a week later, it seems that Spain really has the bit between its teeth.
An announcement from the Guardia Civil (Civil Guard), the oldest law enforcement agency in the country, reveals that almost two dozen websites have just been blocked for infringing intellectual property rights.
“The Civil Guard, within the framework of the ‘Operation CASCADA’, has initiated a campaign to block websites that allow people to download content protected by copyright and disseminate them through links in P2P networks, that is, networks of computers that work without fixed servers,” the Civil Guard said in a statement.
“In this first phase, a total of 23 web domains have been blocked from which direct download links of all kinds of protected audiovisual material such as movies, series, music and video games were accessed, many of them of recent creation and without being released yet in our country.
“High-quality versions of films available on the cinema billboards of our country were offered, although they had not yet been sold in physical or digital format and dubbed with audio in several languages.”
A full list of websites and domains hasn’t yet been provided by the authorities but familiar names including divxtotal.com and gamestorrents.com are confirmed to be included in the first wave.
The Civil Guard, which is organized as a military force under the authority of the Ministry of the Interior and Ministry of Defense, said that the administrators of the sites operate their platforms from abroad, generating advertising revenue from Spanish visitors who are said to make up 80% of the sites’ traffic.
In common with similar sites, the authorities accuse their owners of taking evasive action to avoid being shut down, including hiding the true location of their servers while moving them from country to country and masking domain registration data.
“Cases have been detected in which previously judicially blocked domains were reactivated in a matter of hours, with practically identical domain names or even changing only the extension thereof. In this way, and even if several successive blocks were made, they were able to ‘resurrect’ the web pages again in a very short space of time,” the Civil Guard reports.
“For all these reasons, components of the Department of Telematic Crimes of the Central Operative Unit of the Civil Guard, responsible for the investigation, were forced to implement a series of measures tending to cause a total blockade of them that would be effective and definitive, being currently inaccessible web pages or lacking download links.”
According to the authorities, the sites are now being continuously monitored, with replacement domains being blocked in less than three hours. That doesn’t appear to have been the case yesterday, however.
It’s claimed that the blocked sites were created by “a person of Spanish origin” who subsequently sold them to a company in Argentina. On Thursday, Argentina-based site Dixv.com.ar fired back against the blockade with a new site called Yadivx.com, which is reportedly serving all of the former’s content to users in Spain.
The sites’ owners continue to administer the rogue sites from Argentina, Spanish authorities believe. Only time will tell who will emerge victorious but at least for now, the sites are remaining defiant.
This is part one of a series. The second part will be posted later this week. Use the Join button above to receive notification of future posts in this series.
Though most of us have never set foot inside of a data center, as citizens of a data-driven world we nonetheless depend on the services that data centers provide almost as much as we depend on a reliable water supply, the electrical grid, and the highway system. Every time we send a tweet, post to Facebook, check our bank balance or credit score, watch a YouTube video, or back up a computer to the cloud we are interacting with a data center.
In this series, The Challenges of Opening a Data Center, we’ll talk in general terms about the factors that an organization needs to consider when opening a data center and the challenges that must be met in the process. Many of the factors to consider will be similar for opening a private data center or seeking space in a public data center, but we’ll assume for the sake of this discussion that our needs are more modest than requiring a data center dedicated solely to our own use (i.e. we’re not Google, Facebook, or China Telecom).
Data center technology and management are changing rapidly, with new approaches to design and operation appearing every year. This means we won’t be able to cover everything happening in the world of data centers in our series, however, we hope our brief overview proves useful.
What is a Data Center?
A data center is the structure that houses a large group of networked computer servers typically used by businesses, governments, and organizations for the remote storage, processing, or distribution of large amounts of data.
While many organizations will have computing services in the same location as their offices that support their day-to-day operations, a data center is a structure dedicated to 24/7 large-scale data processing and handling.
Depending on how you define the term, there are anywhere from a half million data centers in the world to many millions. While it’s possible to say that an organization’s on-site servers and data storage can be called a data center, in this discussion we are using the term data center to refer to facilities that are expressly dedicated to housing computer systems and associated components, such as telecommunications and storage systems. The facility might be a private center, which is owned or leased by one tenant only, or a shared data center that offers what are called “colocation services,” and rents space, services, and equipment to multiple tenants in the center.
A large, modern data center operates around the clock, placing a priority on providing secure and uninterrrupted service, and generally includes redundant or backup power systems or supplies, redundant data communication connections, environmental controls, fire suppression systems, and numerous security devices. Such a center is an industrial-scale operation often using as much electricity as a small town.
Types of Data Centers
There are a number of ways to classify data centers according to how they will be used, whether they are owned or used by one or multiple organizations, whether and how they fit into a topology of other data centers; which technologies and management approaches they use for computing, storage, cooling, power, and operations; and increasingly visible these days: how green they are.
Data centers can be loosely classified into three types according to who owns them and who uses them.
Exclusive Data Centers are facilities wholly built, maintained, operated and managed by the business for the optimal operation of its IT equipment. Some of these centers are well-known companies such as Facebook, Google, or Microsoft, while others are less public-facing big telecoms, insurance companies, or other service providers.
Managed Hosting Providers are data centers managed by a third party on behalf of a business. The business does not own data center or space within it. Rather, the business rents IT equipment and infrastructure it needs instead of investing in the outright purchase of what it needs.
Colocation Data Centers are usually large facilities built to accommodate multiple businesses within the center. The business rents its own space within the data center and subsequently fills the space with its IT equipment, or possibly uses equipment provided by the data center operator.
Backblaze, for example, doesn’t own its own data centers but colocates in data centers owned by others. As Backblaze’s storage needs grow, Backblaze increases the space it uses within a given data center and/or expands to other data centers in the same or different geographic areas.
Availability is Key
When designing or selecting a data center, an organization needs to decide what level of availability is required for its services. The type of business or service it provides likely will dictate this. Any organization that provides real-time and/or critical data services will need the highest level of availability and redundancy, as well as the ability to rapidly failover (transfer operation to another center) when and if required. Some organizations require multiple data centers not just to handle the computer or storage capacity they use, but to provide alternate locations for operation if something should happen temporarily or permanently to one or more of their centers.
Organizations operating data centers that can’t afford any downtime at all will typically operate data centers that have a mirrored site that can take over if something happens to the first site, or they operate a second site in parallel to the first one. These data center topologies are called Active/Passive, and Active/Active, respectively. Should disaster or an outage occur, disaster mode would dictate immediately moving all of the primary data center’s processing to the second data center.
While some data center topologies are spread throughout a single country or continent, others extend around the world. Practically, data transmission speeds put a cap on centers that can be operated in parallel with the appearance of simultaneous operation. Linking two data centers located apart from each other — say no more than 60 miles to limit data latency issues — together with dark fiber (leased fiber optic cable) could enable both data centers to be operated as if they were in the same location, reducing staffing requirements yet providing immediate failover to the secondary data center if needed.
This redundancy of facilities and ensured availability is of paramount importance to those needing uninterrupted data center services.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a rating system devised by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) for the design, construction, and operation of green buildings. Facilities can achieve ratings of certified, silver, gold, or platinum based on criteria within six categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation and design.
Green certification has become increasingly important in data center design and operation as data centers require great amounts of electricity and often cooling water to operate. Green technologies can reduce costs for data center operation, as well as make the arrival of data centers more amenable to environmentally-conscious communities.
The ACT, Inc. data center in Iowa City, Iowa was the first data center in the U.S. to receive LEED-Platinum certification, the highest level available.
ACT Data Center exterior
ACT Data Center interior
Factors to Consider When Selecting a Data Center
There are numerous factors to consider when deciding to build or to occupy space in a data center. Aspects such as proximity to available power grids, telecommunications infrastructure, networking services, transportation lines, and emergency services can affect costs, risk, security and other factors that need to be taken into consideration.
The size of the data center will be dictated by the business requirements of the owner or tenant. A data center can occupy one room of a building, one or more floors, or an entire building. Most of the equipment is often in the form of servers mounted in 19 inch rack cabinets, which are usually placed in single rows forming corridors (so-called aisles) between them. This allows staff access to the front and rear of each cabinet. Servers differ greatly in size from 1U servers (i.e. one “U” or “RU” rack unit measuring 44.50 millimeters or 1.75 inches), to Backblaze’s Storage Pod design that fits a 4U chassis, to large freestanding storage silos that occupy many square feet of floor space.
Location will be one of the biggest factors to consider when selecting a data center and encompasses many other factors that should be taken into account, such as geological risks, neighboring uses, and even local flight paths. Access to suitable available power at a suitable price point is often the most critical factor and the longest lead time item, followed by broadband service availability.
With more and more data centers available providing varied levels of service and cost, the choices increase each year. Data center brokers can be employed to find a data center, just as one might use a broker for home or other commercial real estate.
Websites listing available colocation space, such as upstack.io, or entire data centers for sale or lease, are widely used. A common practice is for a customer to publish its data center requirements, and the vendors compete to provide the most attractive bid in a reverse auction.
Business and Customer Proximity
The center’s closeness to a business or organization may or may not be a factor in the site selection. The organization might wish to be close enough to manage the center or supervise the on-site staff from a nearby business location. The location of customers might be a factor, especially if data transmission speeds and latency are important, or the business or customers have regulatory, political, tax, or other considerations that dictate areas suitable or not suitable for the storage and processing of data.
Local climate is a major factor in data center design because the climatic conditions dictate what cooling technologies should be deployed. In turn this impacts uptime and the costs associated with cooling, which can total as much as 50% or more of a center’s power costs. The topology and the cost of managing a data center in a warm, humid climate will vary greatly from managing one in a cool, dry climate. Nevertheless, data centers are located in both extremely cold regions and extremely hot ones, with innovative approaches used in both extremes to maintain desired temperatures within the center.
Geographic Stability and Extreme Weather Events
A major obvious factor in locating a data center is the stability of the actual site as regards weather, seismic activity, and the likelihood of weather events such as hurricanes, as well as fire or flooding.
Backblaze’s Sacramento data center describes its location as one of the most stable geographic locations in California, outside fault zones and floodplains.
Sometimes the location of the center comes first and the facility is hardened to withstand anticipated threats, such as Equinix’s NAP of the Americas data center in Miami, one of the largest single-building data centers on the planet (six stories and 750,000 square feet), which is built 32 feet above sea level and designed to withstand category 5 hurricane winds.
Equinix “NAP of the Americas” Data Center in Miami
Most data centers don’t have the extreme protection or history of the Bahnhof data center, which is located inside the ultra-secure former nuclear bunker Pionen, in Stockholm, Sweden. It is buried 100 feet below ground inside the White Mountains and secured behind 15.7 in. thick metal doors. It prides itself on its self-described “Bond villain” ambiance.
Bahnhof Data Center under White Mountain in Stockholm
Usually, the data center owner or tenant will want to take into account the balance between cost and risk in the selection of a location. The Ideal quadrant below is obviously favored when making this compromise.
Risk mitigation also plays a strong role in pricing. The extent to which providers must implement special building techniques and operating technologies to protect the facility will affect price. When selecting a data center, organizations must make note of the data center’s certification level on the basis of regulatory requirements in the industry. These certifications can ensure that an organization is meeting necessary compliance requirements.
Electrical power usually represents the largest cost in a data center. The cost a service provider pays for power will be affected by the source of the power, the regulatory environment, the facility size and the rate concessions, if any, offered by the utility. At higher level tiers, battery, generator, and redundant power grids are a required part of the picture.
Fault tolerance and power redundancy are absolutely necessary to maintain uninterrupted data center operation. Parallel redundancy is a safeguard to ensure that an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) system is in place to provide electrical power if necessary. The UPS system can be based on batteries, saved kinetic energy, or some type of generator using diesel or another fuel. The center will operate on the UPS system with another UPS system acting as a backup power generator. If a power outage occurs, the additional UPS system power generator is available.
Many data centers require the use of independent power grids, with service provided by different utility companies or services, to prevent against loss of electrical service no matter what the cause. Some data centers have intentionally located themselves near national borders so that they can obtain redundant power from not just separate grids, but from separate geopolitical sources.
Higher redundancy levels required by a company will of invariably lead to higher prices. If one requires high availability backed by a service-level agreement (SLA), one can expect to pay more than another company with less demanding redundancy requirements.
Stay Tuned for Part 2 of The Challenges of Opening a Data Center
That’s it for part 1 of this post. In subsequent posts, we’ll take a look at some other factors to consider when moving into a data center such as network bandwidth, cooling, and security. We’ll take a look at what is involved in moving into a new data center (including stories from Backblaze’s experiences). We’ll also investigate what it takes to keep a data center running, and some of the new technologies and trends affecting data center design and use. You can discover all posts on our blog tagged with “Data Center” by following the link https://www.backblaze.com/blog/tag/data-center/.
The second part of this series on The Challenges of Opening a Data Center will be posted later this week. Use the Join button above to receive notification of future posts in this series.
Determined to reduce levels of piracy globally, Hollywood has become one of the main proponents of site-blocking on the planet. To date there have been multiple lawsuits in far-flung jurisdictions, with Europe one of the primary targets.
Following complaints from Disney, 20th Century Fox, Paramount, Sony, Universal and Warner, Spain has become one of the latest targets. According to the studios a pair of sites – HDFull.tv and Repelis.tv – infringe their copyrights on a grand scale and need to be slowed down by preventing users from accessing them.
HDFull is a platform that provides movies and TV shows in both Spanish and English. Almost 60% its traffic comes from Spain and after a huge surge in visitors last July, it’s now the 337th most popular site in the country according to Alexa. Visitors from Mexico, Argentina, United States and Chile make up the rest of its audience.
Repelis.tv is a similar streaming portal specializing in movies, mainly in Spanish. A third of the site’s visitors hail from Mexico with the remainder coming from Argentina, Columbia, Spain and Chile. In common with HDFull, Repelis has been building its visitor numbers quickly since 2017.
The studios demanding more blocks
With a ruling in hand from the European Court of Justice which determined that sites can be blocked on copyright infringement grounds, the studios asked the courts to issue an injunction against several local ISPs including Telefónica, Vodafone, Orange and Xfera. In an order handed down this week, Barcelona Commercial Court No. 6 sided with the studios and ordered the ISPs to begin blocking the sites.
“They damage the legitimate rights of those who own the films and series, which these pages illegally display and with which they profit illegally through the advertising revenues they generate,” a statement from the Spanish Federation of Cinematographic Distributors (FEDECINE) reads.
FEDECINE General director Estela Artacho said that changes in local law have helped to provide the studios with a new way to protect audiovisual content released in Spain.
“Thanks to the latest reform of the Civil Procedure Law, we have in this jurisdiction a new way to exercise different possibilities to protect our commercial film offering,” Artacho said.
“Those of us who are part of this industry work to make culture accessible and offer the best cinematographic experience in the best possible conditions, guaranteeing the continuity of the sector.”
The development was also welcomed by Stan McCoy, president of the Motion Picture Association’s EMEA division, which represents the plaintiffs in the case.
“We have just taken a welcome step which we consider crucial to face the problem of piracy in Spain,” McCoy said.
“These actions are necessary to maintain the sustainability of the creative community both in Spain and throughout Europe. We want to ensure that consumers enjoy the entertainment offer in a safe and secure environment.”
After gaining experience from blockades and subsequent circumvention in other regions, the studios seem better prepared to tackle fallout in Spain. In addition to blocking primary domains, the ruling handed down by the court this week also obliges ISPs to block any other domain, subdomain or IP address whose purpose is to facilitate access to the blocked platforms.
News of Spain’s ‘pirate’ blocks come on the heels of fresh developments in Germany, where this week a court ordered ISP Vodafone to block KinoX, one of the country’s most popular streaming portals.
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.
After being founded more than half a decade ago, Swefilmer grew to become Sweden’s most popular movie and TV show streaming site. It was only a question of time before authorities stepped in to bring the show to an end.
In 2015, a Swedish operator of the site in his early twenties was raided by local police. A second man, Turkish and in his late twenties, was later arrested in Germany.
The pair, who hadn’t met in person, appeared before the Varberg District Court in January 2017, accused of making more than $1.5m from their activities between November 2013 and June 2015.
The prosecutor described Swefilmer as “organized crime”, painting the then 26-year-old as the main brains behind the site and the 23-year-old as playing a much smaller role. The former was said to have led a luxury lifestyle after benefiting from $1.5m in advertising revenue.
The sentences eventually handed down matched the defendants’ alleged level of participation. While the younger man received probation and community service, the Turk was sentenced to serve three years in prison and ordered to forfeit $1.59m.
Very quickly it became clear there would be an appeal, with plaintiffs represented by anti-piracy outfit RightsAlliance complaining that their 10m krona ($1.25m) claim for damages over the unlawful distribution of local movie Johan Falk: Kodnamn: Lisa had been ruled out by the Court.
With the appeal hearing now just a couple of weeks away, Swedish outlet Breakit is reporting that media giant Bonnier Broadcasting has launched an action of its own against the now 27-year-old former operator of Swefilmer.
According to the publication, Bonnier’s pay-TV company C More, which distributes for Fox, MGM, Paramount, Universal, Sony and Warner, is set to demand around 24m krona ($3.01m) via anti-piracy outfit RightsAlliance.
“This is about organized crime and grossly criminal individuals who earned huge sums on our and others’ content. We want to take every opportunity to take advantage of our rights,” says Johan Gustafsson, Head of Corporate Communications at Bonnier Broadcasting.
C More reportedly filed its lawsuit at the Stockholm District Court on January 30, 2018. At its core are four local movies said to have been uploaded and made available via Swefilmer.
“C More would probably never even have granted a license to [the operator] to make or allow others to make the films available to the public in a similar way as [the operator] did, but if that had happened, the fee would not be less than 5,000,000 krona ($628,350) per film or a total of 20,000,000 krona ($2,513,400),” C More’s claim reads.
Speaking with Breakit, lawyer Ansgar Firsching said he couldn’t say much about C More’s claims against his client.
“I am very surprised that two weeks before the main hearing [C More] comes in with this requirement. If you open another front, we have two trials that are partly about the same thing,” he said.
Firsching said he couldn’t elaborate at this stage but expects his client to deny the claim for damages. C More sees things differently.
“Many people live under the illusion that sites like Swefilmer are driven by idealistic teens in their parents’ basements, which is completely wrong. This is about organized crime where our content is used to generate millions and millions in revenue,” the company notes.
The appeal in the main case is set to go ahead February 20th.
After cutting their teeth on blocking injunctions against torrent and regular streaming sites, last November it was revealed that Australian movie outfit Village Roadshow and a coalition of movie studios (Disney, Universal, Warner Bros, Twentieth Century Fox, and Paramount) had switched to a new threat.
Their action targeted HDSubs+, a fairly well-known IPTV service that provides hundreds of otherwise premium live channels, movies, and sports for a relatively small monthly fee.
The application for injunction was filed October 2017 and in common with earlier requests, it targets Australia’s largest ISPs. Telstra, Optus, TPG, and Vocus, plus their subsidiaries, were asked to prevent the ‘pirate’ service being accessed by their customers.
In December, a parallel action was revealed, this time by Hong Kong-based broadcaster Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB). The company is also demanding that local ISPs block Android-based ‘pirate’ IPTV services, named in court as the A1, BlueTV, EVPAD, FunTV, MoonBox, Unblock, and hTV5.
During a case management hearing in Federal Court today, Justice Nicholas told Roadshow Films that its application would be pushed back from March to mid-April so that it can be hard alongside the application made by TVB. The relative complexity of the cases appears to have played a role.
While blocking demands for these kinds of services may seem similar to those targeted at torrent sites, the situation is more complex, and the Judge clearly wants to have a good grip on the matter.
“I will need to be satisfied by evidence so that I have a good understanding of how it works, I know what the precise relationship is between this box, the apps, and the site from which [content is] downloaded,” the Judge told lawyers appearing for Roadshow and TVB.
One of the issues revolves around the structure of these IPTV services. A number of URLs are required to maintain them, each with a specific role.
A total of 21 URLs were listed in the TVB case and at least another ten for the single service listed in the Roadshow application. The URLs are used for various aspects of the service including the provision of an EPG (electronic program guide), the software itself (such as an Android app), subsequent updates, and sundry other services.
The Judge warned the companies that he will need to be able to understand them all and if he does not, then blocking injunctions may not even be granted.
“I don’t want the evidence in any respect to be scant on those issues; otherwise, you might find the orders won’t be made,” he told them.
Only complicating matters is that the HDSubs+ service isn’t static. In what appeared to be a response to being named in legal action, last year the service appeared to be undergoing some kind of transformation, directing subscribers to update to a new software version (PressPlayPlus) that works in a more evasive manner.
As reported by ZDNet, counsel for Roadshow and TVB argued that “the changing nature of this system” means that HDSubs+ has diverted users to various different apps over the past several months.
“[In late December] the HDSubs+ app updated to send users to a different app … in early January we noticed that the system reverted back to the HDSubs+ app,” counsel explained.
Roadshow added that since its filing for an injunction, HDSubs+ operators had also removed access to films and TV shows listed in Roadshow’s application. This was grounds for the application to be heard more quickly, the company said.
In order to obtain an injunction, the companies will have to convince the Judge that each URL (or “online location”) either infringes or facilitates the infringement of their copyrighted content. They will also have to show that the primary purpose of such “online locations” is to infringe or facilitate the infringement of their copyrights.
While apps and direct streams shouldn’t pose the court with too many difficulties, EPGs – which simply provide metadata – may be more difficult to classify.
The hearings for both the Roadshow and the TVB applications will now go ahead on April 13, 2018.
The Motion Picture Distributors’ Association (MPDA) is a non-profit organisation which represents major international film studios in New Zealand.
With companies including Fox, Sony, Paramount, Roadshow, Disney, and Universal on the books, the MPDA sings from the same sheet as the MPAA and MPA. It also hopes to achieve in New Zealand what its counterparts have achieved in Europe and Australia but cannot on home soil – mass pirate site blocking.
In a release heralding the New Zealand screen industry’s annual contribution of around NZ$1.05 billion to GDP and NZ$706 million to exports, MPDA Managing Director Matthew Cheetham says that despite the successes, serious challenges lie ahead.
“When we have the illegal file sharing site the Pirate Bay as New Zealand’s 19th most popular site in New Zealand, it is clear that legitimate movie and TV distribution channels face challenges,” Cheetham says.
MPDA members in New Zealand
In common with movie bosses in many regions, Cheetham is hoping that the legal system will rise to the challenge and assist distributors to tackle the piracy problem. In New Zealand, that might yet require a change in the law but given recent changes in Australia, that doesn’t seem like a distant proposition.
Last December, the New Zealand government announced an overhaul of the country’s copyright laws. A review of the Copyright Act 1994 was announced by the previous government and is now scheduled to go ahead this year. The government has already indicated a willingness to consider amendments to the Act in order to meet the objectives of New Zealand’s copyright regime.
“In New Zealand, piracy is almost an accepted thing, because no one’s really doing anything about it, because no one actually can do anything about it,” Cheetham said last month.
It’s quite unusual for Hollywood’s representatives to say nothing can be done about piracy. However, there was a small ray of hope this morning when Cheetham said that there is actually one option left.
“There’s nothing we can do in New Zealand apart from site blocking,” Cheetham said.
So, as the MPDA appears to pin its hopes on legislative change, other players in the entertainment industry are testing the legal system as it stands today.
Last September, Sky TV began a pioneering ‘pirate’ site-blocking challenge in the New Zealand High Court, applying for an injunction against several local ISPs to prevent their subscribers from accessing several pirate sites.
The boss of Vocus, one of the ISP groups targeted, responded angrily, describing Sky’s efforts as “dinosaur behavior” and something one would expect in North Korea, not in New Zealand.
“It isn’t our job to police the Internet and it sure as hell isn’t SKY’s either, all sites should be equal and open,” General Manager Taryn Hamilton said.
The response from ISPs suggests that even when the matter of site-blocking is discussed as part of the Copyright Act review, introducing specific legislation may not be smooth sailing. In that respect, all eyes will turn to the Sky process, to see if some precedent can be set there.
Finally, another familiar problem continues to raise its head down under. So-called “Kodi boxes” – the now generic phrase often used to describe set-top devices configured for piracy – are also on the content industries’ radar.
There are a couple of cases still pending against sellers, including one in which a budding entrepreneur sent out marketing letters claiming that his service was better than Sky’s offering. For seller Krish Reddy, this didn’t turn out well as the company responded with a NZ$1m lawsuit.
Generally, however, both content industries and consumers are having a good time in New Zealand but the MPDA’s Cheetham says that taking on pirates is never easy.
“It’s been called the golden age of television and a lot of premium movies have been released in the last 12 or 18 months. Content providers and distributors have really upped their game in the last five or 10 years to meet what people want but it’s very difficult to compete with free,” Cheetham concludes.
Following Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet reshuffle earlier this month, Matt Hancock replaced Karen Bradley as Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
Hancock, the 39-year-old MP for West Suffolk, was promoted from his role as Minister for Digital and Culture, a position he’d held since July 2016.
“Thrilled to become DCMS Secretary. Such an exciting agenda, so much to do, and great people. Can’t wait to get stuck in,” he tweeted.
Of course, the influence held by the Culture Secretary means that the entertainment industries will soon come calling, seeking help and support in a number of vital areas. No surprise then that Stan McCoy, president and managing director at the Motion Picture Association’s EMEA division, has just jumped in with some advice for Hancock.
In an open letter published on Screen Daily, McCoy begins by reminding Hancock that the movie industry contributes considerable sums to the UK economy.
“We are one of the country’s most valuable economic and cultural assets – worth almost £92bn, growing at twice the rate of the economy, and making a positive contribution to the UK’s balance of payments,” McCoy writes.
“Britain’s status as a center of excellence for the audiovisual sector in particular is no accident: It results from the hard work and genius of our creative workforce, complemented by the support of governments that have guided their policies toward enabling continued excellence and growth.”
McCoy goes on to put anti-piracy initiatives at the very top of his wishlist – and Hancock’s to-do list.
“A joined-up strategy to curb proliferation of illegal, often age-inappropriate and malware-laden content online must include addressing the websites, environments and apps that host and facilitate piracy,” McCoy says.
“In addition to hurting one of Britain’s most important industries, they are overwhelmingly likely to harm children and adult consumers through nasty ads, links to adult content with no age verification, scams, fraud and other unpleasantness.”
That McCoy begins with the “piracy is dangerous” approach is definitely not a surprise. This Hollywood and wider video industry strategy is now an open secret. However, it feels a little off that the UK is being asked to further tackle pirate sites.
Through earlier actions, facilitated by the UK legal system and largely sympathetic judges, many thousands of URLs and domains linking to pirate sites, mirrors and proxies, are impossible to access directly through the UK’s major ISPs. Although a few slip through the net, directly accessing the majority of pirate sites in the UK is now impossible.
That’s already a considerable overseas anti-piracy position for the MPA who, as the “international voice” of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), represents American corporations including Disney, Paramount, Sony Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Universal, and Warner Bros.
There’s no comparable blocking system for these companies to use in the United States and rightsholders in the UK can even have extra sites blocked without going back to court for permission. In summary, these US companies arguably get a better anti-piracy deal in the UK than they do at home in the United States.
In his next point, McCoy references last year’s deal – which was reached following considerable pressure from the UK government – between rightsholders and search engines including Google and Bing to demote ‘pirate’ results.
“Building on last year’s voluntary deal with search engines, the Government should stay at the cutting edge of ensuring that everyone in the ecosystem – including search engines, platforms and social media companies – takes a fair share of responsibility,” McCoy says.
While this progress is clearly appreciated by the MPA/MPAA, it’s difficult to ignore that the voluntary arrangement to demote infringing content is somewhat special if not entirely unique. There is definitely nothing comparable in the United States so keeping up the pressure on the UK Government feels a little like getting the good kid in class to behave, while his rowdy peers nearer the chalkboard get ignored.
The same is true for McCoy’s call for the UK to “banish dodgy streaming devices”.
“Illegal streaming devices loaded with piracy apps and malware – not to mention the occasional electrical failure – are proliferating across the UK, to the detriment of consumers and industry,” he writes.
“The sector is still waiting for the Intellectual Property Office to publish the report on its Call for Views on this subject. This will be one of several opportunities, along with the promised Digital Charter, to make clear that these devices and the apps and content they supply are unacceptable, dangerous to consumers, and harmful to the creative industry.”
Again, prompting the UK to stay on top of this game doesn’t feel entirely warranted.
With dozens of actions over the past few years, the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit and the Federation Against Copyright Theft (which Hollywood ironically dumped in 2016) have done more to tackle the pirate set-top box problem than any group on the other side of the Atlantic.
Admittedly the MPAA is now trying to catch up, with recent prosecutions of two ‘pirate’ box vendors (1,2), but largely the work by the studios on their home turf has been outpaced by that of their counterparts in the UK.
Maybe Hancock will mention that to Hollywood at some point in the future.
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.
During 2017, Kodi and its sea of third-party addons hit the headlines hundreds of times.
Streaming in this fashion became a massive deal throughout the year and eventually, copyright holders decided to take action, cracking down on groups such as TVAddons, ZemTV, and addons offered by jsergio123 and The_Alpha.
In November, the problems continued when the Ares Project, the group behind the hugely popular Ares Wizard and Kodi repository, threw in the towel after being threatened by the MPA-led anti-piracy coalition Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment.
The combined might of Columbia, Disney, Paramount, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal, Warner, Netflix, Amazon, and Sky TV was too much, leading to Ares Project leader Tekto shutting everything down.
This was a significant development. Over a two year period, Ares serviced an estimated 100 million users. After interviewing Tekto last month, today we catch up with the developer again, listening to his thoughts on how the scene might further develop in 2018 and what threats lie ahead.
TF: Could you tell us a bit about Kodi’s suitability as an unauthorized streaming platform moving forward? Is it flexible enough to deal with threats, is its current development effort sufficient, do addon developers like the way it works, and how could it be improved?
Tekto: The public awareness of Kodi and the easy ways with which it can be customised via builds and its open source nature makes it the perfect platform for Python coders. It’s easy to fork, copy, adapt and learn, and it’s good for “builders” who modify, personalize, and “brand”.
It’s also easy for users to obtain, install, and work with the plethora of wizards and addons etc, all backed by up blogs and YouTube tutorials. It’s the perfect open source platform to develop and customise to access a massive range of content. Content that may well be contentious but regardless, it is publicly available all over the web.
TF: Obviously Kodi is the big thing at the moment but other apps, such as Showbox, TerrariumTV, and similar products are carving a decent niche for themselves. Where do you see the market sitting on these kinds of products moving forward and are they a threat to Kodi’s dominance?
Tekto: The apps and other services don’t offer the same level of personalization. That’s what will keep a certain dedicated following happy with Kodi. We’ve had Plex, Streamio, Emby and so on, but none offer the flexibility of Kodi.
TF: Does Kodi have any major weaknesses that you know of? Is it under threat from other systems perhaps?
Tekto: Lets not forget we had CCcam [card sharing] for a decade and with Sky [UK TV provider] changing their encryption to end that source, a myriad of IPTV providers sprung up to replace it. All that killing the CCcam method has done, is moved people off CCcam to IPTV. It hasn’t stopped piracy or access to “premium content”, it just moved somewhere else. It probably also makes the providers more money than CCcam accounts ever did.
TF: There have been a lot of legal threats in 2017. Are third-party addon developers and their community under serious threat?
Tekto: If Kodi third-party devs “stopped”, something else would take over. All the Android apps that have sprung up (some have been around a while anyway) are already filling some gaps or giving options for those looking to stream.
Having tried some of these, I have to say for non-tech users there are two or three apps that will suit them perfectly. Others need more work and fewer invasive ads to be more successful. Will Kodi stop? No. It is evolving and finding a new path. It has to. Well, the coders have to, at least.
TF: What is your overall assessment of the various legal attacks this year?
Tekto: What is being missed by all these legal “efforts” is the removal of the sources being accessed. Whilst the sources exist, apps and Kodi add-ons will find ways to access them.
Did taking out a few Kodi devs and a wizard remove any content? Did it stop just one movie from being accessed? No. It did nothing to stop piracy. It did, however, give those receiving HUGE fees to act for the various movie and broadcasters, something to write on their “success” boards and reports.
It just upset users for a few days whilst things adapted to the new situation. The Kodi builds listed on Ares all had their own wizards anyway – so they all carried on working. All the add-ons on Ares were mostly linked to Github, so they carried on working anyway.
The takedown of guys working on the URL resolver for Covenant didn’t work at all. The code still works and if you add, let’s say, Real Debrid, it won’t ever stop working, even Exodus still works! Let’s add to this that Covenant was then forked five or six times and re-marketed.
I’d say it probably increased “acts of copyright infringement” or at least access to “copyright infringing material”. TV Addons immediately took over development of the “URL resolver”, so it will be maintained and fixes for it released.
The URL resolver module uses regex – regular expressions to emulate a web browser (for the most part). Let that sink in; A URL resolver is a way to bypass a web browser, as most of the content is hosted on “publicly accessible” websites, that still remain publicly available with or without Covenant or whatever the forks are called.
TF: Sp there isn’t a Doomsday scenario?
Tekto: If the Kodi third-party scene is somehow stopped – all Wizards, builds, etc were all stopped this very second – there would be a dozen new apps for Android in weeks. Meanwhile, there are hundreds of websites you could switch to, to watch the same content. ACE, MPA etc need to wake up to that fact.
TF: One of the big deals this year, as far as the legal position goes, has been the clarification of “communication to the public” following cases at the European level featuring [pirate box seller] Filmspeler and The Pirate Bay. How do you think this will affect the addon and build scenes moving forward?
Tekto: I’ve long believed that Kodi wizards and scraper addons operated in a way that wasn’t illegal, in that they never provided content, never actually handled the copyright protected files themselves.
It still remains my belief that the recent efforts to use the Ziggo [Pirate Bay] ruling concerning “communicating to the public” is directly linked to torrents or at the very least actually providing content itself. It may be legal “saber rattling” – however standing your ground in the face of a well-funded legal behemoth is beyond hobbyists.
TF: An addon developer I spoke with recently said that fellow addon developers will need to be smarter in future, perhaps by developing addons that aren’t so obviously infringing and are more general in their functionality. Do you feel this is a route they’re likely to take and will it make any difference? How do you think a more ‘underground’ scene will affect the situation on the ground?
Tekto: Going Underground? Most will say grab a VPN and you’re safe – take note that a VPN isn’t enough. They may not get your logs, but they will get your payment info, or the times you are online tagged against another log etc. Anything like PayPal, Gmail, AdSense, etc is 100% out too – they will give people up in a heartbeat. People will have to avoid Facebook, Twitter and so on, as again, they will also link back to the “real you”.
I expect more will move to Tor as a first level of hiding their identities. Hosting via Tor-only sites might be a way to avoid some obvious methods of tracing people. Add-on devs could access Github and release code without ever having to reveal who they are.
Let’s not get into the whole “freedom of speech” etc scenario, however. It should mean that any developer should realistically make much greater efforts to hide their identities.
TF: Thank you for your time, Tekto. Any final messages for the readers?
After more than a decade and a half in existence, public pirate sites, services, and apps remain a thorn in the side of entertainment industry groups who are determined to close them down.
That trend continued last week when French anti-piracy group ALPA teamed up with police in the Bordeaux region to raid and arrest the founder and administrator of piracy service ARTV.
According to the anti-piracy group, the ARTV.watch website first appeared during April 2017 but quickly grew to become a significant source of streaming TV piracy. Every month the site had around 150,000 visitors and in less than eight months amassed 800,000 registered users.
“Artv.watch was a public site offering live access to 176 free and paid French TV channels that are members of ALPA: Canal + Group, M6 Group, TF1 Group, France Télévision Group, Paramount, Disney, and FOX. Other thematic and sports channels were broadcast,” an ALPA statement reads.
This significant offering was reportedly lucrative for the site’s operator. While probably best taken with a grain of salt, ALPA estimates the site generated around 3,000 euros per month from advertising revenue. That’s a decent amount for anyone but even more so when one learns that ARTV’s former operator is just 16 years old.
“ARTV.WATCH it’s over. ARTV is now closed for legal reasons. Thank you for your understanding! The site was indeed illegal,” a notice on the site now reads.
“Thank you all for this experience that I have acquired in this project. And thanks to you who have believed in me.”
Closure formalities aside, ARTV’s founder also has a message for anyone else considering launching a similar platform.
“Notice to anyone wanting to do a site of the same kind, I strongly advise against it. On the criminal side, the punishment can go up to three years of imprisonment and a 300,000 euro fine. If [individual] complaints of channels (or productions) are filed against you, it will be more complicated to determine,” ARTV’s owner warns.
ALPA says that in addition to closing down the site, ARTV’s owner also deactivated the site’s Android app, which had been available for download on Google Play. The anti-piracy group adds that this action against IPTV and live streaming was a first in France.
For anyone who speaks French, the 16-year-old has published a video on YouTube talking about his predicament.
As movie and TV show piracy has migrated from the desktop towards mobile and living room-based devices, copyright holders have found the need to adapt to a new enemy.
Dealing with streaming services is now high on the agenda, with third-party Kodi addons and various Android apps posing the biggest challenge. Alongside is the much less prevalent but rapidly growing pay IPTV market, in which thousands of premium channels are delivered to homes for a relatively small fee.
In Australia, copyright holders are treating these services in much the same way as torrent sites. They feel that if they can force ISPs to block them, the problem can be mitigated. Most recently, movie and TV show giants Village Roadshow, Disney, Universal, Warner Bros, Twentieth Century Fox, and Paramount filed an application targeting HDSubs+, a pirate IPTV operation servicing thousands of Australians.
Filed in October, the application for the injunction targets Australia’s largest ISPs including Telstra, Optus, TPG, and Vocus, plus their subsidiaries. The movie and TV show companies want them to quickly block HDSubs+, to prevent it from reaching its audience.
HDSubs+ IPTV package
However, blocking isn’t particularly straightforward. Due to the way IPTV services are setup a number of domains need to be blocked, including their sales platforms, EPG (electronic program guide), software (such as an Android app), updates, and sundry other services. In HDSubs+ case around ten domains need to be restricted but in court today, Village Roadshow revealed that probably won’t deal with the problem.
HDSubs+ appears to be undergoing some kind of transformation, possibly to mitigate efforts to block it in Australia. ComputerWorld reports that it is now directing subscribers to update to a new version that works in a more evasive manner.
If they agree, HDSubs+ customers are being migrated over to a service called PressPlayPlus. It works in the same way as the old system but no longer uses the domain names cited in Village Roadshow’s injunction application. This means that DNS blocks, the usual weapon of choice for local ISPs, will prove futile.
Village Roadshow says that with this in mind it may be forced to seek enhanced IP address blocking, unless it is granted a speedy hearing for its application. This, in turn, may result in the normally cooperative ISPs returning to court to argue their case.
“If that’s what you want to do, then you’ll have to amend the orders and let the parties know,” Judge John Nicholas said.
“It’s only the former [DNS blocking] that carriage service providers have agreed to in the past.”
As things stand, Village Roadshow will return to court on December 15 for a case management hearing but in the meantime, the Federal Court must deal with another IPTV-related blocking request.
In common with its Australian and US-based counterparts, Hong Kong-based broadcaster Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB) has launched a similar case asking local ISPs to block another IPTV service.
“Television Broadcasts Limited can confirm that we have commenced legal action in Australia to protect our copyright,” a TVB spokesperson told Computerworld.
TVB wants ISPs including Telstra, Optus, Vocus, and TPG plus their subsidiaries to block access to seven Android-based services named as A1, BlueTV, EVPAD, FunTV, MoonBox, Unblock, and hTV5.
Court documents list 21 URLs maintaining the services. They will all need to be blocked by DNS or other means, if the former proves futile. Online reports suggest that there are similarities among the IPTV products listed above. A demo for the FunTV IPTV service is shown below.
For many years, the members of the MPAA have flexed their muscles all around the globe, working to prevent people from engaging in online piracy. If the last 17 years ‘progress’ is anything to go by, it’s a war that will go on indefinitely.
With Columbia, Disney, Paramount, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal, and Warner on board, the MPAA has historically relied on sheer power to intimidate opponents. That has certainly worked in many large piracy cases but for many peripheral smaller-scale pirates, their presence is largely ignored.
This week, however, several players in the Kodi scene discovered that these giants – and more besides – have the ability to literally turn up at their front door. As reported Thursday, UK-based Kodi addon developer The_Alpha received a hand-delivered cease-and-desist letter from all of the above, accompanied by new faces Netflix, Amazon and Sky TV.
These companies are part of the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE), a massive and recently-formed anti-piracy coalition comprised of 30 global entertainment brands. TorrentFreak reached out to The_Alpha for his thoughts on coming under such a dazzling spotlight but perhaps understandably he didn’t want to comment.
The leader of the Ares Project was willing to go on the record, however, after he too received a hand-delivered threat during the week. His decision was to immediately comply and shutdown but TF is informed that others might not be so willing to follow suit.
A Kodi addon developer living in the UK who spoke to us on condition of anonymity told us that most people operating in the scene expected some kind of trouble – just not on this scale.
“Did you see the [company logos] across the top of Alpha’s letter? That’s some serious shit right there. The film companies are no surprise but Amazon delivers my groceries so I don’t expect this shit from them,” he said.
When the ACE partnership was formed earlier this year, it seemed pretty clear that the main drive was towards the pooling of anti-piracy resources to be more effective and efficient. However, it can’t have escaped ACE that such a broad and powerful alliance could also have a profound psychological effect on its adversaries.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that they’re turning up mob-handed to put the shits up people like Alpha and the rest of us,” the developer said. “It’s hardly a fair dust-up is it? What have we got to fight back with, a giro [state benefits]? It’s a show of force, ‘look how important we are’!”
Interestingly, however, the dev told us that it isn’t necessarily the size of the coalition that has him most concerned. What caught his eye was the inclusion of two influential UK-based companies in the alliance.
“Having Sly [a local derogatory nickname for Sky TV] and the Premier League on the letter makes it much more serious to me than seeing Warner or whatever,” he commented.
“I don’t get involved in footie but Sly is everywhere round here and I think it’s something the Brit dev scene might take notice of, even if most say ‘fuck it’ and carry on anyway.”
When questioned whether that’s likely, our source said that while ACE might be able to tackle some of the bigger targets like Ares Project or Colossus, they fundamentally misunderstand how the Kodi scene works.
“If you want a good example of a scattered pirate scene, I give you Kodi. They can bomb the base or whatever but nobody lives there,” he explained.
“There’s some older blokes like me who can do without the stress but a lot of younger coders, builders and YouTubers who thrive on it. They’re used to running around council estates with real-life problems. A faffy letter from some toff in a suit means literally nothing. Like I said, all they have to lose is a giro.”
Whether this is just bravado will remain to be seen, but our earlier discussions with others in the scene indicate a particular weakness in the UK, with many players vulnerable to being found after failing to hide their identities in the past. To a point, our source agrees that this is a problem.
“People are saying that Alpha was found after trying to raise some charity money related to his disabled son but I don’t know for sure and nor does anybody else. What strikes me is that none of us really thought things would get this on top here because all you ever hear about is America this, Canada that, whatever. Does this means that more of us are getting done in England? You tell me,” he said.
Only time will tell but stamping out the pirate Kodi scene is going to be hard work.
Within hours of several projects disappearing Wednesday and Thursday, YouTube and myriad blogs were being flooded with guides detailing immediate replacements. This ad-hoc network of enthusiasts makes the exchange of information happen at an alarming rate and it’s hard to see how any company – no matter how powerful – will ever be able to keep up.
Data security is paramount in many industries. Organizations that shift their IT infrastructure to the cloud must ensure that their data is protected and that the attack surface is minimized. This post focuses on a method of securely loading a subset of data from one Amazon Redshift cluster to another Amazon Redshift cluster that is located in a different AWS account. You can accomplish this by dynamically controlling the security group ingress rules that are attached to the clusters.
The case for creating a segregated data loading account
From a security perspective, it is easier to restrict access to sensitive infrastructure if the respective stages (dev, QA, staging, and prod) are each located in their own isolated AWS account. Another common method for isolating resources is to set up separate virtual private clouds (VPCs) for each stage, all within a single AWS account. Because many services live outside the VPC (for example, Amazon S3, Amazon DynamoDB, and Amazon Kinesis), it requires careful thought to isolate the resources that should be associated with dev, QA, staging, and prod.
The segregated account model setup does create more overhead. But it gives administrators more control without them having to create tags and use cumbersome naming conventions to define a logical stage. In the segregated account model, all the data and infrastructure that are located in an account belong to that particular stage of the release pipeline (dev, QA, staging, or prod).
But where should you put infrastructure that does not belong to one particular stage?
Infrastructure to support deployments or to load data across accounts is best located in another segregated account. By deploying infrastructure or loading data from a separate account, you can’t depend on any existing roles, VPCs, subnets, etc. Any information that is necessary to deploy your infrastructure or load the data must be captured up front. This allows you to perform repeatable processes in a predictable and secure manner. With the recent addition of the StackSets feature in AWS CloudFormation, you can provision and manage infrastructure in multiple AWS accounts and Regions from a single template. This four-part blog series discusses different ways of automating the creation of cross-account roles and capturing account-specific information.
Loading OpenFDA data into Amazon Redshift
Before you get started with loading data from one Amazon Redshift cluster to another, you first need to create an Amazon Redshift cluster and load some data into it. You can use the following AWS CloudFormation template to create an Amazon Redshift cluster. You need to create Amazon Redshift clusters in both the source and target accounts.
Description: This template creates a Redshift cluster given with the supplied username and password.
Description: The master username for the Redshift cluster.
Description: The master password for the Redshift cluster.
Description: The endpoint address of the Redshift cluster.
After you create your Amazon Redshift clusters, you can go ahead and load some data into the cluster that is located in your source account. One of the great benefits of AWS is the ability to host and share public datasets on Amazon S3. When you test different architectures, these datasets serve as useful resources to get up and running without a lot of effort. For this post, we use the OpenFDA food enforcement dataset because it is a relatively small file and is easy to work with.
In the source account, you need to spin up an Amazon EMR cluster with Apache Spark so that you can unzip the file and format it properly before loading it into Amazon Redshift. The following AWS CloudFormation template provides the EMR cluster that you need.
Description: This template creates an EMR cluster to load OpenFDA data into the source Redshift cluster.
Description: The name of the KeyPair to SSH into the EMR instances.
- Name: Hadoop
- Name: Spark
- Name: Zeppelin
- Name: Livy
Note: As an alternative, you can load the data using AWS Glue, which now supports Scala.
Now that your EMR cluster is up and running, you can submit this Scala code over a REST API call to Apache Livy. You also have the option of running this code inside of an Apache Zeppelin notebook.
Connect to your source Amazon Redshift cluster in your source account, and verify that the data is present by running a quick query:
select count(*) from public.food_enforcement;
Opening up the security groups
Now that the data has been loaded in the source Amazon Redshift cluster, it can be moved over to the target Amazon Redshift cluster. Because the security groups that are associated with the two clusters are very restrictive, there is no way to load the data from the centralized data loading AWS account without modifying the ingress rules on both security groups. Here are a few possible options:
Add an ingress rule to allow all traffic to port 5439 (the default Amazon Redshift port).
This option is not recommended because you are widening your attack surface significantly and exposing yourself to a potential attack.
Peer the VPC in the data loader account to the source and target Amazon Redshift VPCs, and modify the ingress rule to allow all traffic from the private IP range of the data loader VPC.
This solution is reasonably secure but does require some manual setup. Because the ingress rules in the source and target Amazon Redshift clusters allow access from the VPC private IP range, any resources in the data loader account can access both clusters, which is suboptimal.
Leave long-running Amazon EC2 instances or EMR clusters in the data loader AWS account and manually create specific ingress rules in the source and target Amazon Redshift security groups to allow for those specific IPs.
This option creates a lot of wasted cost because it requires leaving EC2 instances or an EMR cluster running indefinitely whether or not they are actually being used.
None of these three options is ideal, so let’s explore another option. One of the more powerful features of running EC2 instances in the cloud is the ability to dynamically manage and configure your environment using instance metadata. The AWS Cloud is dynamic by nature and incentivizes you to reduce costs by terminating instances when they are not being used. Therefore, instance metadata can serve as the glue to performing repeatable processes to these dynamic instances.
To load the data from the source Amazon Redshift cluster to the target Amazon Redshift cluster, perform the following steps:
Spin up an EC2 instance in the data loader account.
Use instance metadata to look up the IP of the EC2 instance.
Run a simple Python or Java program to perform a simple transformation and unload the data from the source Amazon Redshift cluster. Then load the results into the target Amazon Redshift cluster.
UNLOAD('select case when product_description ilike ''%milk%'' then 1 else 0 end as milk_flag
where left(recall_initiation_date, 4) >= 2016')
TO 's3://<Your S3 Bucket>/milk-food-enforcement.csv'
IAM_ROLE '<Your Redshift Role>'
FROM 's3://<Your S3 Bucket>/milk-food-enforcement.csv'
IAM_ROLE '<Your Redshift Role>'
Assume roles in the source and target accounts using AWS STS, and remove the ingress rules that were created in step 3.
Once step 5 is completed, you should see that the security groups for both Amazon Redshift clusters don’t allow traffic from any IP. Manually add your IP as an ingress rule to the target Amazon Redshift cluster’s security group on port 5439. When you run the following query, you should see that the data has been populated within the target Amazon Redshift cluster.
This post highlighted the importance of loading data in a secure manner across accounts. It mentioned reasons why you might want to provision infrastructure and load data from a centralized account. Several candidate solutions were discussed. Ultimately, the solution that we chose involved opening up security groups for a single IP and then closing them back up after the data was loaded. This solution minimizes the attack surface to a single IP and can be completely automated.
This week has been particularly bad for those involved in the Kodi addon scene. Following cease-and-desist notices from the MPA-led anti-piracy coalition Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment, several addon developers and repositories shut down.
With Columbia, Disney, Paramount, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal, Warner, Netflix, Amazon and Sky TV all lined up for war, the third-party developers had little choice but to quit. One of those affected was the leader of the hugely popular Ares Project, which quietly disappeared mid-week.
The Ares Wizard was an extremely popular and important piece of software which allowed people to switch Kodi builds, install third-party addons, install popular repositories, change system settings, and carry out backups. It’s installed on huge numbers of machines worldwide but it will soon fall into disrepair.
The mighty Ares Wizard in action
“[This week] I was subject to a hand-delivered notice to cease-and-desist from MPA & ACE,” Ares Project leader Tekto informs TorrentFreak.
“Given the notice, we obviously shut down the repo and wizard as requested.”
The news that Ares Project is done and never coming back will be a huge blow to the community. The project just celebrated its second birthday and has grown exponentially since it first arrived on the scene.
“Ares Project started in Oct 2015. Originally it was to be a tool to setup up the video cache on Kodi correctly. However, many ideas were thrown into the pot and it became a wee bit more; such as a wizard to install community provided builds, common addons and few other tweaks and options,” Tekto says.
“For my own part I started blogging earlier that year as part of a longer-term goal to be self-funding. I always disliked seeing begging bowls out to support ‘server’ costs, many of which were cheap £5-10 per month servers that were used to gain £100s in donations.
“The blog, via affiliate links and ads, could and would provide the funds to cover our hosting costs without resorting to begging for money every weekend.”
Intrigued by this first wave of actions by ACE in Europe, TorrentFreak asked for a copy of the MPA/ACE cease-and-desist notice but unfortunately, Tekto flat-out refused. All he would tell us is that he’d agreed not to give out any copies or screenshots and that he was adhering to that 100%.
That only leaves speculation as to what grounds the MPA/ACE cited for closing the project but to be fair, it doesn’t take much thought to find a direct comparison. Earlier this year, in the BREIN v Filmspeler case, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that selling “fully-loaded” Kodi boxes amounted to illegally communicating copyrighted content to the public.
With that in mind, it doesn’t take much of a leap to see how this ruling could also apply to someone distributing “fully-loaded” Kodi software builds or addons via a website. It had previously been considered a legal gray area, of course, and it was in that space that the Ares team believed it operated. After all, it took ECJ clarification for local courts in the Netherlands to be satisfied with the legal position.
“There was never any question that what we were doing was illegal. We didn’t and never have hosted any content, we always prevented discussions about illegal paid services, and never sold any devices, pre-loaded or otherwise. That used to be enough to occupy the ‘gray’ area which meant we were safe to develop our applications. That changed in 2017 as we were to discover,” Tekto notes.
Up until this week and apparently oblivious to how the earlier ECJ ruling might affect their operation, things had been going extremely well for Ares. In mid-2016, the group moved to its own support forum that attracted 100,000 signed-up members and 300,000 visitors every month.
“This was quite an achievement in terms of viral marketing but ultimately this would become part of our downfall,” Tekto says.
“The recent innovation of the ‘basket driven’ Ares Portal system seems to have triggered the legal move to shut the project down completely. This simple system gave access to hundreds of add-ons. The system removed the need for builds, blogs and YouTubers – you just shopped on the site for addons and then installed them to your device with a simple 6 digit code.”
While Ares and Tekto still didn’t believe they were doing anything illegal (addons were linked, not hosted) it is now pretty clear to them that the previous gray area has been well and truly closed, at least as far as the MPA/ACE alliance is concerned. And with that in mind, the show is over. Done. Finished.
“We are not criminals or malicious hackers, we weren’t even careful about hiding our identities. You couldn’t meet a more ordinary bunch of folks in truth,” he says.
“There was never any question we would close our doors if what we were doing crossed any boundaries of legality. So with the notice served on us, we are closing our doors and removing all our websites and applications. It’s a sad day in many ways, but nobody wants to be facing court or a potential custodial sentence, for what is essentially a hobby.”
Finally, Tekto says that others like him might want to consider their positions carefully, before they too get a knock at the door. In the meantime, he gives thanks to the project’s supporters, who have remained loyal over the past two years.
“It just leaves me to thank our users for their support and step away from the Kodi scene,” he concludes.
While Kodi is undoubtedly the most popular media player software in the world right now, it’s also the most hated by entertainment industry groups. On its own its an extremely decent and legal piece of software but with third-party add-ons it becomes a piracy powerhouse.
Earlier this year, following the legal attack on the TVAddons repository, several addon developers decided to call it quits. Facing a multi-million dollar lawsuit was something none of them fancied so shutting down became the preferred option for some. But while others kept going, there are now clear signs that the fallout isn’t over yet.
Last evening news began to emerge of fresh upheaval in the Kodi addon scene. In a posting on Twitter, Kodi addon developer jsergio123 delivered the first blow, effectively announcing his retirement.
“Sorry to say but I am stopping all development of the urlresolver, metahandler, and my other addons,” he said.
Early reports indicate that the retirement was the result of Hollywood threats but as the dust settled there, another clearer case emerged in Europe.
UK-based Kodi addon developer The_Alpha was believed to be involved in the popular Colossus repository, having previously been part of an addon called Bennu, which many view as the successor to the resurrected Phoenix addon.
Yesterday The_Alpha also threw in the towel after receiving a letter at his home in the UK, hand-delivered by the world’s most powerful anti-piracy coalition – the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (1,2).
“This letter is addressed to you by companies of the six-major United States film studios represented by the Motion Picture Association (MPA), namely Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc., Disney Enterprises, Inc., Paramount Pictures Corporation, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, Universal City Studios LLLP and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., Netflix, Inc. and Amazon Studios LLC (represented by MPA via the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE)), Sky UK Limited, and The Football Association Premier League Limited,” the breathless opening paragraph reads.
“We are writing to you concerning your development, distribution and/or involvement in the operation of certain third party Kodi add-ons under the moniker ‘The Alpha’. The infringing addons provide unlawful access to protected copyright works, including works owned by, or exclusively licensed to, the Content Companies.”
The letter, a copy of which was obtained by TVAddons, also notes The_Alpha’s involvement in the popular Colossus Kodi addon repository, which shut down last evening, taking dozens of popular addons with it.
The letter: shut down – or else
The shutdown of the Colossus repo and the two developers’ addons is undoubtedly a severe blow to the Kodi scene. But, while many casual users might be familiar with Colossus and Bennu, most won’t appreciate the importance of URLResolver. Most recently maintained by jsergio12 and distributed via TVAddons, this is an extremely important addon. Here’s how it works.
When Kodi plays content using addons, whether that’s a movie or TV show, links to that content have to be obtained (scraped) from sites hosting it. This means that all addons would ordinarily have to have their own code in order to find the URLs where that content can be obtained. It can be a different process for every video host, a big job for any developer. That’s where URLResolver comes in.
This clever tool helps other addons access content by resolving video hosting site URLs to enable related content to be played in Kodi. URLResolver is a really important tool but since it comes packaged with addons that rely on it, most users won’t even know it’s already on their system.
They’ll definitely miss it when it’s gone, since among other things it was utilized by the extremely popular Covenant addon. All may not be lost though, since TVAddons indicate they’ll try to keep URLResolver alive.
“TV ADDONS has been distributing URLResolver from our community repository since our return in August. We plan on continuing to provide updates, although we expect things to be slowed a bit by jsergio123’s sudden retirement,” the site said.
While also useful, MetaHandler is a different beast. The addon queries sites such as thetvdb.com, themoviedb.org and imdb.com, extracts relevant metadata (such artwork and summaries etc) and installs it in a database for local use in Kodi.
Adding to his retirement announcement, Jsergio123 took to Twitter to confirm problems over in the UK.
“I am not responsible for Covenant and Bennu but Colossus has agreed to delete the repo too,” Jsergio123 confirmed.
The Colossus repo has been taken offline, taking the addons above and many others with it. The fallout from this could be pretty significant so it will interesting to see how the community responds.
There’s no publicly confirmed reason for Jsergio123 discontinuing development but given the obvious problems in the UK and a subsequent tweet, everything points to the whole affair being linked to the same threats of legal action.
The community needs to support @tvaddonsco legal battle. That's all I'm going to say.
Early 2014, a new craze was sweeping the piracy world. Instead of relatively cumbersome text-heavy torrent sites, people were turning to a brand new application called Popcorn Time.
Dubbed the Netflix for Pirates due to its beautiful interface, Popcorn Time was soon a smash hit all over the planet. But with that fame came trouble, with anti-piracy outfits all over the world seeking to shut it down or at least pour cold water on its popularity.
In the meantime, however, the popularity of Kodi skyrocketed, something which pushed Popcorn Time out of the spotlight for a while. Nevertheless, the application in several different forms never went away and it still enjoys an impressive following today. This means that despite earlier action in several jurisdictions, Hollywood still has it on the radar.
The latest development comes out of Norway, where Disney Entertainment, Paramount Pictures Corporation, Columbia Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, Universal City Studios and Warner Bros. have just taken 14 local Internet service providers to court.
The studios claimed that the ISPs (including Telenor, Nextgentel, Get, Altibox, Telia, Homenet, Ice Norge, Eidsiva Bredbånd and Lynet Internet) should undertake broad blocking action to ensure that three of the most popular Popcorn Time forks (located at popcorn-time.to, popcorntime.sh and popcorn-time.is) can no longer function in the region.
Since site-blocking necessarily covers the blocking of websites, there appears to have been much discussion over whether a software application can be considered a website. However, the court ultimately found that wasn’t really an issue, since each application requires websites to operate.
“Each of the three [Popcorn Time variants] must be considered a ‘site’, even though users access Popcorn Time in a way that is technically different from the way other pirate sites provide users with access to content, and although different components of the Popcorn Time service are retrieved from different domains,” the Oslo District Court’s ruling reads.
In respect of all three releases of Popcorn Time, the Court weighed the pros and cons of blocking, including whether blocking was needed at all. However, it ultimately decided that alternative methods for dealing with the sites do not exist since the rightsholders tried and ultimately failed to get cooperation from the sites’ operators.
“All sites have as their main purpose the purpose of facilitating infringement of protected works by giving the public unauthorized access to movies and TV shows. This happens without regard to the rights of others and imposes major losses on the licensees and the cultural industry in general,” the Court writes.
The Court also supported compelling ISPs to introduce the blocks, noting that they are “an appropriate and proportionate measure” that does not interfere with the Internet service providers’ freedom to operate nor anyone’s else’s right to freedom of expression.
But while the websites in question are located in three places (popcorn-time.to, popcorntime.sh and popcorn-time.is) the Court’s blocking order goes much further. Not only does it cover these key domains but also other third-party sites that Popcorn Time utilizes, such as platforms offering subtitles.
Popcorn-time.to related domains to be blocked: popcorn-time.to, popcorn-time.xyz, popcorn-time.se, iosinstaller.com, video4time.info, thepopcorntime.net, timepopcorn.info, time-popcorn.com, the-pop-corn-time.net, timepopcorn.net, time4videostream.com, ukfrnlge.xyz, opensubtitles.org, onlinesubtitles.com, popcorntime-update.xyz, plus subdomains.
Popcorntime.sh related domains to be blocked: Popcorntime.sh, api-fetch.website, yts.ag, opensubtitles.org, plus subdomains.
Popcorn-time.is related domains to be blocked: popcorn-time.is, yts.ag, yify.is, yts.ph, api-fetch.website, eztvapi.ml and opensubtitles.org, plus subdomains.
Separately, the Court ordered the ISPs to block torrent site YTS.ag and onlinesubtitles.com, opensubtitles.org, plus their subdomains.
Since no one appeared to represent the sites and the ISPs can’t be held responsible if they cooperate, the Court found that the studios had succeeding in their action and are entitled to compensation.
“The Court’s conclusions mean that the plaintiffs have won the case and, in principle, are entitled to compensation for their legal costs from the operators of the sites,” the Court notes. “This means that the operators of sites are ordered to pay the plaintiffs’ costs.”
Those costs amount to 570,000 kr (around US$70,000), an amount which the Court chose to split equally between the three Popcorn Time forks ($23,359 each). It seems unlikely the amounts will ever be recovered although there is still an opportunity for the parties to appeal.
In the meantime the ISPs have just days left to block the sites listed above. Once they’ve been put in place, the blocks will remain in place for five years.
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