Over the past decade, online piracy has presented itself as a massive problem for the U.S. and its entertainment industries.
It has become a global issue that’s hard to contain, but Hollywood and the major record labels are doing what they can.
One of the key strategies they’ve employed in recent years is website blocking. US companies have taken ISPs to court around the world and also lobbied lawmakers to pave the way for website blocking.
While these companies have a tight grip on international developments, there’s one element that often remains unmentioned. The country that sends the most traffic to pirate sites is the U.S. itself.
This has been the case for years and the latest data, shared by piracy tracking company MUSO, shows that this is still the case.
With 1.2 billion pirate site visits in December 2019, the U.S. is firmly in the lead, followed by Russia (737 million), India (627 million), China (608 million) and Brazil (559 million). The U.S also happens to be the only country that doesn’t block any pirate sites.
Relatively speaking the U.S. also trumps all these countries with 4.17 visits per internet user in a month, except for Russia which has an even higher average (7.21).
Looking at the types of pirate sites we see that streaming is particularly popular in the U.S. Two-thirds of all pirate site traffic goes to streaming sites, followed by direct download portals (19%), torrent sites (8%) and stream rippers (5%).
Compared to two years ago, streaming sites have grown in relative popularity in the US, mostly at the expense of torrent sites.
U.S. pirate site marketshare December 2019
Piracy habits can be quite different around the world, as we highlighted in an earlier article. However, it’s clear that streaming continues to dominate in many countries.
In China, for example, streaming site visits rose from 22% to more than 40% in the space of two years. In Brazil, there was also a rise, with streaming visits going from 47% to 53%.
In Russia, there was a small dip, but streaming is still on top there as well with nearly 60%.
India appears to be somewhat of an outlier among the countries with the most traffic. Direct download sites are most popular there, accounting for 50% of all pirate site visits, which is up from 43% two years ago.
Worldwide, roughly 60% of all pirate site traffic goes to streaming sites, which is about the same as two years ago. The percentage of visits to direct download sites is up a bit, with a quarter of all visits, while torrent sites witnessed a small drop.
While scanning through the data we couldn’t help looking at South Africa, a country that is currently under fire from major US copyright groups. These rightsholders repeatedly pointed out that piracy is rampant, urging the government to do something about it.
Interestingly, the average number of pirate site visits per Internet user is lower in South Africa than it is in the U.S. This means that even when taking the population size into account, South Africa’s piracy problems are actually less in comparison.
This is something to keep in mind when U.S. rightsholders demand tough anti-piracy actions abroad in the future.
Conor McGregor is without doubt the biggest star the world of mixed martial arts has ever seen. Often controversial but always entertaining, the Irishman’s name on a pay-per-view event represents a financial windfall for everyone involved.
As a result, any card displaying McGregor’s name as one half of the main event attracts huge attention and last Saturday’s UFC 246 was no different. Taking place in a sold-out T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas and broadcast live on PPV, millions of people parted with money to enjoy the extravaganza. Of course, countless thousands didn’t pay a penny to the UFC or its official broadcasting partners.
UFC 246 was widely available on ‘pirate’ IPTV services and unlicensed sports streaming sites over the weekend. However, it was also broadcast on platforms that have less of a bad reputation for piracy such as Twitch, for example, with one particular instance ending in disaster for the person behind the illicit stream.
On Saturday night and for reasons best known to him, Twitch user SkarrsWorld streamed the UFC 246 PPV on his channel to what appears to have been a fairly limited audience. However, during a promo section of the event featuring UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, a personal message notification popped up on screen and was immediately broadcast along with the pirated PPV.
While the text in the message raises all sorts of questions, this disaster had the potential to go unnoticed to the wider public. However, an eagle-eyed viewer of the stream noticed the error and turned the section into a clip which was then shared around on social media.
Just a few hours ago it had already been seen at least 100,000 times and at the time of writing, more than 146,000 views are being reported. That’s a huge audience for what was originally a niche broadcast and while amusing for some, undoubtedly represents a serious breach for the streamer. Having private matters paraded in public is undesirable but in combination with intentional piracy of a PPV event, the gravity increases.
This rookie mistake raises questions of how easy it has become for Joe Public to get into live pirate streaming and the possible consequences for those who get into the game without considering their own security. This type of online infringement has traditionally been carried out by ‘professionals’ with experience of obtaining streams and broadcasting them securely but this Twitch debacle is miles apart. But the issues go deeper than that.
The clip featuring the private message is obviously terribly embarrassing but due to the manner in which the fight played out, the implications of streaming the Conor McGregor vs Donald Cerrone main event on a platform like Twitch are an even bigger cause for concern for the UFC.
From the moment the bell rang to the moment referee Herb Dean called off the fight following a McGregor onslaught, just 40 seconds had passed. To put that into perspective, a fight that had been hyped for weeks (and had dozens of hours of official broadcasting dedicated to it in the lead-up) was over in the space of a GIF. Or, more conveniently, in the Twitch clips that immediately spread like wildfire, even before McGregor could make his victory speech.
While those 40 seconds were just a small part of the pay-per-view, the rest of the card was relatively weak, especially for the casual fans the UFC hopes to scoop up every time McGregor fights. So, when viewed through the prism of considerable dollar costs to view, particularly in the United States, value for money probably wasn’t on the lips of many paying fans at the end of Saturday night.
A pirate Twitch stream or clip, on the other hand, is likely to have proven more than adequate for the passer-by looking for 40 seconds of pure mixed martial arts excitement. In a world where revenue is king, that’s not what the UFC ever wants to hear.
When the hugely pirate site IndoXII announced that it would shut down a few weeks ago, drama ensued in Indonesia where most of its multi-million-user audience was based.
This fuss was hardly noticeable in other countries, where even some of the most die-hard piracy ‘experts’ had never heard of it.
Apparently, piracy habits are not as global as the Internet itself. Many countries have their local favorites. Sometimes because these are in the native tongue, but different piracy habits also play a role.
Today we’re going to illustrate this phenomenon by pointing out the most popular pirate sites in a wide variety of regions. Helped by data from piracy tracking firm MUSO and public tracking websites, highlight some local favorites.
Our quest starts in Europe, Bulgaria to be precise, where torrent site Zamunda.net takes the lead. This is a typical example of a local pirate site, with most visitors coming from Bulgaria, where it’s listed among the country’s 10 most-visited websites.
If we cross the border into Romania, a different picture emerges. Local streaming site Filmeserialeonline.org comes out on top there. More than two-thirds of the site’s visitors come from Albania, making it the most popular pirate site in the country.
Staying in the region, we find that Albania favors Filma24.cc, which appears to be a linking site. More than half of the site’s visitors come from Albania.
Local favorites emerge in other European countries as well. In France, Zone-telechargement.net is very popular, Spain goes for Elitetorrent.li, and Portugal favors Mrpiracy.site. All these sites are not commonly known outside these borders.
Moving to another continent, Africa, we see a similar trend in several countries. In Nigeria, for example, 9jaflaver.com, is extremely popular. The site also offers news but is listed as a pirate site by industry experts.
In Nigeria’s neighbor Chad, sports streaming site Yalla-shoot.com comes out on top. This is also the most-visited site in Egypt. Libya, which sits between Chad and Egypt, prefers the streaming site Cimaclub.com, which is also loved in Saudi Arabia.
Over in the Middle East, we see that Iranians prefer the local site Nex1music.ir. On the other side of the border, in Iraq, Kurdcinama.com is doing very well as the country’s 33rd most visited website.
Going further east, we see more of the same. Many countries have clear local favorites, which are often in native languages. This includes torrent portal torrentwal2.com in South Korea, as well as b9good.com in Japan.
When we move over to the Americas things get less interesting. While there are local pirate sites there as well, it is mostly familiar names that come out on top.
In the US the most popular ‘pirate’ site is Kissanime.ru, for example. Mexico also favors an anime site with animeflv.net coming out on top there. In fact, if we go further south, anime sites are on top in pretty much every country, all the way to Argentina.
Haiti is one of the few exceptions, as torrent9.pl is most popular there. While it’s not a local site, Haiti is the site’s second-largest traffic source, close behind Cameroon.
The above clearly shows that even though the Pirate Bays of the world make most news headlines, smaller sites can still be massively popular locally, perhaps more than most people realize. It also reveals that preferences for different types of piracy vary from country to country.
Online piracy is an issue that affects many industries and indie game development is certainly no exception.
Some developers see piracy as an evil that needs to be rooted out as soon as possible. However, others are more open to some of the motivations behind it and are willing to experiment.
Game developer Shota Bobokhidze, aka ‘ShotX,’ falls in the latter category. The indie developer from Tiblisi, Georgia, runs his one-man company ShotX Studio which just released a new shooter game titled ‘Danger Gazers.’
The release is available on Steam where it currently sells at $9.99. While that’s not an extremely steep price, ShotX realizes the average game fan may not have the financial means to try out all the new titles that come out every month.
This prompted the developer to release a special edition targeting the pirate community. It’s something he already planned to do with the game Kontrakt in 2018, but that idea was canned after The Pirate Bay kept returning server errors.
This time he was more successful. Late last week the torrent made its way onto The Pirate Bay, carrying a special message from the creator.
“This is the latest DRM-free version of Danger Gazers (1.1.0), there’s no catch here, no Steam only features, just the fully functional game,” ShotX writes on The Pirate Bay.
The game can be downloaded for free, no strings attached. The developer’s only request is that people consider buying it if they like what they see, or to support the project in any other way. The same message was later repeated on Reddit where ShotX highlighted his release.
Ironically, the developer’s first post on Reddit was removed, presumably because the moderators assumed it was a pirated version. However, that’s certainly not the case.
This is not the first time that a game developer has plugged his work on a pirate site, but it remains a rarity. To find out more about ShotX’s motivations, we decided to reach out for some additional comments.
The developer informs us that he is all too familiar with piracy. He grew up in a situation where piracy was often the only option to get new software. Today he also sees the other side of the story, as he relies on sales to make a living. However, he still understands that not everyone can easily buy his work.
“The decision to release a torrent came along with the memories of my time spent with pirated software,” ShotX says.
“I remember that I didn’t feel any guilt at all as there was simply no other choice for me at that moment, moreover, had I known that there were other options I could have supported developers with, I’d have done all I could without a second thought.”
Releasing the game on The Pirate Bay allows people to try it out for free. This comes with the added advantage of free exposure, which is welcome too, as it’s becoming harder and harder for new games to get noticed.
ShotX says that this certainly wasn’t a planned PR campaign. He just wanted to get the word out and give the free torrent a chance. That said, he does believe that piracy can have a positive exposure impact, which was also the case here.
“It wouldn’t have been effective if it was a planned PR move to get people to buy the product. It was just a kind act that I was lucky enough to get noticed. I’m sure it would have been apparent if it wasn’t so,” he says.
ShotX’s approach worked well. The Reddit post promoting the official torrent reached a broad audience. This resulted in a lot of free downloads but also motivated people to buy the game and spread the word.
“The response so far was amazing,” ShotX says. While he didn’t expect anything in return, the free release actually resulted in a significant revenue boost.
“There was a noticeable boost in sales, some kind individuals even donated twice as much and most importantly all the rest supported me in their own ways by sharing my game and respecting my decision,” the developer adds.
The developer didn’t promote the torrent on his social media or on his official site, as he specifically wanted to reach out to the pirate community. Given the results, this was quite successful.
This shows that some ‘pirates’ are definitely willing to pay under the rights conditions but it doesn’t mean that this is easily repeatable. If all indie developers started releasing torrents it would no longer be something special and could become harder to get noticed once again.
That Google knows every detail of what its users search for is no secret – after all, the company itself processes all of the requests.
Armed with this data, Google publishes its annual ‘Year in Search‘ report, the latest of which appeared yesterday. From our perspective, there were very few – if any – piracy-related aspects to report, something which should be encouraging to rightsholders.
However, after the BBC published its take on Google’s UK search statistics, noting that several questions in the “How to” category were directed at how to watch sports events and TV shows, the Federation Against Copyright Theft took to Twitter to issue a warning.
“Whether it’s a re-stream on social media, a piracy site, or using a TV-connected device, avoiding official providers to access content is illegal,” FACT wrote, linking to the BBC article.
Of course, it is FACT’s job to draw attention to such things but we wondered, given that Google is quite specific about the top titles searched for in 2019, whether Google’s search results were worthy of particular panic. Or, indeed, whether “where to watch” searches should always be considered dangerous and piracy related. But first, some background.
Over the past several years, copyright holders and anti-piracy groups have regularly complained that Google and other search engines help people find content online in a way that prioritizes pirated over legitimate content.
That isn’t the company’s intention, of course, but there have been numerous instances of pirate sites appearing higher in searches than those offering licensed content. In the UK, Google and various industry players agreed to tackle this and similar issues with the signing of a voluntary anti-piracy agreement back in 2017.
So, when placed alongside these top “how to” searches, has it worked?
#1: How to watch Champions League Final
This search clearly related to the match between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool from which the latter emerged victorious, two goals to nil. However, the related Google search is particularly interesting since all of the top results showed users how to watch the match for free.
While that might sound like a cause for concern, these results linked exclusively to completely legal streams offered via established broadcasters. Clearly, the incentive to pirate had been mostly eliminated by giving consumers what they want.
#2: How to watch Game of Thrones
As one of the most popular shows in living memory, it’s no surprise that Game of Thrones appears in Google’s top search lists for the UK. In past years, this kind of search would’ve likely displayed ‘pirate’ results prominently but that is no longer the case. In our tests we had to go through several pages of Google results with links to either buy the show or articles detailing how to watch the show legally first. Pirate results were not prominent.
#5: How to watch KSI vs. Logan
Given the controversy surrounding this pair of YouTube celebrities, searches on how to watch the fight were bound to score highly. However, a search for the fight yet again yielded pages and pages of legitimate sources or articles detailing how to access the bout legally.
#10: How to watch Chernobyl
The results displayed following a “where to watch Chernobyl” search are very similar to those that are returned following a similar Game of Thrones query. One has to skip through pages and pages of legitimate results to find any pirate sources and, on the way, the emphasis to go legal is clear.
The legal choices, as they appear in Google’s results, are as follows: YouTube, Google Play, Amazon, NowTV, HBO, Sky, Hulu, iTunes, Showmax, DirectTV, HBONordic, HBOGo, and Verizon. Admittedly, not all of those are available to UK users, but that’s four pages deep into the results and not one pirate link in sight.
While this is a very limited sample, there does appear to have been a notable change in the way that Google displays its results in the UK when faced with a basic query of “where to watch X”. There is now a pretty clear bias towards legitimate sources in results presented in the first few pages.
Of course, those that wish to refine their searches to actively seek out pirated content will have more immediate success, that’s the way searches work. However, it’s now more difficult to argue that users will be diverted to pirated sources when they’re seeking out legal options, at least for the samples listed above.
It’s worth noting, however, that pirate users’ viewing habits are probably shifting. There is now less reliance on search engines and more emphasis on apps and tools that are designed to produce infringing results by default, which is the exact opposite of what Google offers in respect of the above.
With the rise of convenient web-based live streaming, in recent years the Premier League has found itself on the front lines of anti-piracy enforcement.
While a significant proportion of its actions are targeted at illicit offerings available in the UK, the Premier League doesn’t shy away from tackling those who offer live games in other areas of the world too.
The group, which operates top-tier football in England, says it launched an investigation which was taken on by Thailand’s Department of Special Investigation in 2015. That developed into a covert investigation in Hong Kong during 2017 targeting individuals behind various websites operating under the banner Expat.tv.
The trail eventually led back to an operation in Thailand which offered pirate streams and preloaded set-top boxes across southeast Asia including Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam and Malaysia.
Raids were subsequently carried out by Thailand’s DSI at five locations including a residential address in Bangkok on May 11, 2017. Two British men were arrested and a Thai woman was detained at a later date.
One of the men subsequently skipped bail but the remaining pair faced charges, including copyright infringement, relating to the unlicensed distribution of Premier League content and running a major ‘piracy network’ across Asia. Both pleaded guilty and have now been sentenced.
The Premier League reports the pair have paid damages to them totaling THB 15 million (around £385,000) which, according to the League, is one of the highest damages awards for copyright infringement ever paid in Thailand.
This is an addition to funds of almost THB 7 million (£180,000) that were seized by the state, THB 3 million (£76,800) in fines, plus suspended prison sentences totaling 3.5 years.
“This is one of the most substantial compensations for piracy-related crimes in Thailand and is a stark warning to anyone involved in the illegal supply of Premier League streams,” says Premier League Director of Legal Services Kevin Plumb.
“Attitudes towards, and acceptance of, these types of operators in Asia is changing, which is good news for fans who watch Premier League content through legitimate channels.”
Telegram was founded in 2013 by brothers Nikolai and Pavel Durov, who previously launched Russian social network VK (vKontakte).
The messaging service has grown from strength to strength and currently has around 300 million users. However, Telegram is increasingly associated with the spread of copyright-infringing material, as highlighted in October by the RIAA.
“Telegram offers many user-created channels which are dedicated to the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted recordings, with some channels focused on particular genres or artists,” the RIAA wrote in its submission to the USTR.
While one submission to US authorities is problematic, Telegram could soon face a few more coming from Russia itself, where a court order exists to prevent ISPs from providing access to the service. The threat comes from the Internet Copyright Protection Association (AZAPI) which represents copyright holders including some of the largest book publishers.
AZAPI says it has identified at least 170 Telegram channels that help to distribute pirated content to an audience of several million users. A letter reportedly sent by AZAPI to Telegram (obtained by local news outlet Kommersant) has the anti-piracy outfit complaining that most channels, and indeed Telegram itself, are not responding to copyright complaints.
It’s a position shared by Aleksey Byrdin, Director General of the Internet Video Association.
“Since 2016, we have repeatedly encountered the absolute neglect of the Telegram administration to the claims of copyright holders on audiovisual content,” Byrdin says.
As a result, AZAPI wants Telegram to introduce digital fingerprinting technology to assist with the identification and removal of allegedly infringing content. However, the whole matter is being further complicated by Telegram’s cryptocurrency business plans.
According to AZAPI, Telegram’s upcoming TON Blockchain network (and its token ‘gram’) “will be an ideal tool for monetizing counterfeit content on an anonymous basis.”
As a result, if anti-piracy measures aren’t taken, AZAPI says it will be left with no choice but to file complaints with the US Chamber of Commerce, the SEC, the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF) and the American Book Publishers Association.
Whether any such referrals can deepen the quagmire Telegram already finds itself in the US is another matter, however.
On October 11, the SEC announced that it had “filed an emergency action and obtained a temporary restraining order against two offshore entities conducting an alleged unregistered, ongoing digital token offering in the U.S. and overseas that has raised more than $1.7 billion of investor funds.”
The two companies – Telegram Group and TON issuer – filed a response to the SEC just a day later, requesting that the court throw out the SEC’s case.
The underlying data forms the basis of a new research article where two nearly identical piracy surveys from 2012 and 2017 were compared. This allowed the researchers to look at changes in media consumption and piracy habits among the Dutch public over the years.
The respondents were asked about both legal and unauthorized consumption of music, movies and TV, games, and books. One of the overall findings was that between 2012 and 2017 the interest in physical goods plummeted.
For example, the number of people who bought physical music carriers was slashed in half to 20% and for movies/TV the decline was even more pronounced, falling from 45% to 20%. Physical books saw the smallest drop, with 60% still buying real books, down from 69%.
This trend coincides with a massive boost in digital sales. The number of people who bought digital entertainment increased across all categories, nearly tripling for movies and TV, which is likely due to Netflix. That’s a positive sign for the entertainment industries, which is also reflected in the piracy frequencies.
The survey found that the percentage of people who still download or stream content from unauthorized sources decreased for nearly every category. This effect is most significant for music and games, while movie and TV piracy remained relatively stable.
The only category for which the piracy rate went up was Ebooks. Between 2012 and 2017 the number of Ebook pirates increased from 6.3% to 7.7%, which is marginally significant.
According to the researchers, this shows that these book pirates are missing something in the current legal offering. A good subscription service for example, where people can access an unlimited number of books for a fixed price.
“Looking at the other markets, access-based subscriptions appear to be the most promising, where a large increase in the number of transactions compensates a lower average return per transaction,” the researchers write.
While not mentioned in the article, the massive increase in Ebook consumers may also play a role in the increased piracy rate. The number of people who bought Ebooks, and thus have e-readers, increased by 80% between 2012 and 2017.
Part of this new e-reader userbase apparently showed an interest in pirated books as well, which likely impacted the piracy rate. With that in mind, the piracy increase is relatively modest.
The research also looked at various pirate demographics and how these changed over time. This shows that between 2012 and 2017, women started to pirate more books and fewer games and music. These changes are more pronounced than for men.
In addition, the data reveal that, overall, less educated people pirate less. This is the case across all categories but the biggest difference can be found in the books category.
If anything, the findings show that generic statements about piracy rates and the average pirate are relatively meaningless. It is the finer detail that helps us to understand what’s really happening.
The present survey data shows that physical media is quickly losing popularity as more people consume legal content digitally. At the same time, piracy rates are dropping significantly for music and games, at least in the Netherlands, while Ebook piracy slowly increases.
A copy of the paper (in Dutch) titled “Polderpiraten voor anker” written by Joost Poort, Martin van der Ende, and Anastasia Yagafarova is available here.
This week, Adobe delivered a worrying message to legitimate users of its software and services in Venezuela.
In response to a sanctions-related executive order (pdf) handed down by the US Government, the software company said it would have to terminate business relations with subscribers in the country.
This means that legitimate users of Photoshop and other Adobe software and services will lose access to the tools they’ve paid for. With all accounts set to be terminated on October 29, 2019, many customers will be left high and dry, with only a refund to look forward to – hopefully.
“If you purchased directly from Adobe, we will refund you by the end of the month for any paid, but unused services. We are working with our partners on the same,” the company announced.
The withdrawal of Adobe from Venezuela will no doubt deliver serious inconvenience for the country’s licensed users. However, they are in the minority. Licensing software doesn’t appear to be a mainstream activity, even in the face of decreasing price tags for Adobe products, for example.
According to Giampiero Posa of Posa Studio Creativo, a certified Adobe training center in Venezuela, the annual $200 fee for Adobe suite is still a luxury given the dire economic situation in the country. Just a few years ago, the cost was $1,780, a headline figure which did nothing to help piracy rates in the country.
The most recent Global Software Survey (pdf) published in 2018 by the Software Alliance (BSA) shows that in the previous year, Venezuela had the world’s joint second-highest rate of unlicensed software installation. At 89%, the country tied with Zimbabwe and was edged out only by Libya with 90%.
Figures from the trade group show that the situation hasn’t improved at all in eight years. In 2011, unlicensed installs accounted for 88% of the Venezuelan market, a figure that remained stubbornly stable until a 1% increase in 2017 made the situation marginally worse.
Clearly, the removal of offerings from Adobe and other companies offers no hope of a decline anytime soon but of course, alternatives do exist. Open-source tools provide a legal alternative but given high piracy rates and the comfort with which unlicensed software is apparently consumed, even more piracy seems the likely outcome.
And the possibility of consequences for that, especially factoring in hostility from the United States, seem more distant than ever.
A review of Venezuelan copyright litigation, published by Manuel Rodriguez of the Antequera Parilli & Rodriguez law firm, states that to date “there have been few cases of copyright infringements being sued before the courts.”
Last week the illicit IPTV market was thrown into turmoil when Italian authorities teamed up with law enforcement groups in the EU.
Their operation, dubbed ‘Black IPTV‘, targeted individuals and equipment behind at least one Italy-based IPTV provider. More importantly, however, it also targeted Xtream Codes, a management system utilized by many providers and sellers of IPTV services.
While Xtream Codes claimed to be a content-agnostic system, its popularity in the unlicensed market is hard to understate. With an estimated 5,000 providers of varying kinds on its books servicing around 50 million end-users, its closure had an immediate and dramatic impact.
In the immediate aftermath of the raids, suppliers reported an inability to sign up new customers or renew customer subscriptions. Within several hours, it became clear that anyone reliant on the system would be more seriously affected, with IPTV services going dark and paying customers seeing red.
As soon as news of the raids appeared on our radar, we contacted several previously responsive players in the IPTV market. Precisely zero responded to our requests for comment amid the chaos, which was widespread and by some estimates affected up to 90% of the market. Data from Google Trends does seem to indicate that plenty of people hit its search engine for news.
With no obvious central source for information on the impact of the operation, the day after the raids TorrentFreak contacted Sandvine, a networking equipment company that has previously provided detailed analysis on general Internet and piracy-related traffic.
An external source that requested anonymity told us that due to technical issues the full force of the raid may not be felt until Thursday or Friday, the two days directly after the raids took place. So, we asked Sandvine if the company had noticed any significant drop in illicit streaming traffic during that period – it had.
This week a spokesperson for the company told TorrentFreak that on Friday September 20, Sandvine estimated that illicit streaming traffic had decreased 50% from the levels seen on Thursday, a massive drop by any standards.
That many illicit IPTV providers had been seriously affected by Xtream Codes’ removal from the market didn’t really come as a shock. Equally, it wasn’t really a surprise when providers began to adapt to the loss either.
Slowly but surely, some providers and sellers began migrating to alternative management systems, as detailed in emails to subscribers seen by TF. By Saturday, better news for them began to filter through, with services not only returning but also with subscriber payment and subscription information intact.
Sandvine gave TF a brief list of five providers, all of which went down completely between the 19th and 21st of September. By 21st/22nd all were recovering to a greater or lesser extent, with only one failing to return at all.
That being said, the overall market is huge, so it’s almost impossible to say how many have now returned, in whole or in part. It isn’t difficult to find complaints that services are still down even today but there are also several reports of providers that weren’t affected at all by the Xtream Codes situation.
Typically, there are individuals and groups out there trying to make hay even before the storm clouds have cleared. TF has heard of a handful of hopeful end-users who believed they were paying to access a service that was still up, only to have their ‘supplier’ cut and run.
Equally, we were pointed to a service that claims to be an Xtream Codes replacement but is probably nothing more than an elaborate scam. Since the prices were so high, we didn’t feel tempted to test that theory out.
On the other hand, real Xtream Codes alternatives are out there but how vulnerable they are to similar action will remain to be seen. In particular, one service seems happy to take orders and is reportedly in use by a number of previously stranded providers and resellers.
If nothing else, most of those in the chain should now be more prepared if there’s similar action in the future. Or less surprised at least.
When Disney announced that it would launch its own streaming service, two years ago, some noted that this would keep piracy relevant.
People had just become used to having access to a broad movie and TV library in one or two places, and any increased fragmentation appeared to be a step backward.
Fast forward to 2019 and Disney is about to launch its new service. At the same time, more and more streaming subscription platforms are coming up with exclusive releases. If you want to see those, you have to sign up.
While that may not be a problem for some, there is an audience of millions who don’t want to or simply can’t pay for a handful of streaming subscriptions. This means that they have to pick the ones they want the most.
That’s the hard reality for modern consumers, at least, for those who don’t want to break the law.
As it turns out, many people are willing to cross the line, and the increased fragmentation of video streaming service is indeed driving people back to pirate sites. This problem may actually be worse than some think, based on new research that was just published by Broadband Genie.
The broadband comparison/advice site conducted a survey among UK streaming users and found that 18% confessed to using pirate sites on the side. However, this number could more than double to 37% if the legal streaming subscription market continues to fragment.
The cost of these services is the driving factor behind the findings. Two thirds (67%) of the surveyed UK streamers feel that they are already paying too much. The average expenditure is roughly £15 a month, where a maximum of £10 is seen as ideal.
Interestingly, those people who consider becoming pirates are not doing so without taking precautions. More than half (60%) of the prospective pirates say they will invest in a VPN to prevent copyright holders from tracing their steps.
Alex Tofts, Broadband Expert at Broadband Genie, notes that we’re still a long way from having all video entertainment in one place. People have options to save costs, through family discounts, for example. But instead, many people prefer to pay for a VPN so they can go the pirate route.
“It’s disheartening that consumers are prepared to turn to streams and file sharing to access the content they want. The price consumers are willing to pay is the equivalent of subscribing to one service,” Tofts says.
Rightsholders, meanwhile, keep repeating that availability is no longer a problem. They are right. In most countries, people can watch pretty much everything they want, but it comes at a price which, according to the survey, they are not willing to pay.
If fragmentation increases most people will still pay for legal services, but an increasing number will additionally use pirate services to watch content that’s otherwise only available at platforms they don’t have access to.
Availability is no longer the key issue. Instead, the focus has shifted to convenience and affordability. The prospect of signing up and using four or even five different streaming service is not affordable for many people, nor is it convenient.
The solution would be to provide universal access to a multitude of services through a single interface at a decent price. That’s what people also get at pirate sites. But this is easier said than done, as it won’t bring in enough revenue, at least not at the subscription rates we have now.
For as long as peer-to-peer (P2P) networks such as BitTorrent have existed, anti-piracy companies have been monitoring the activities of those who use them.
This is to be expected. Not only do the companies have a vested interest in keeping an eye on what’s going on, by their very nature P2P networks are open and easily trackable.
The rise of streaming piracy – computer servers streaming video directly to end-users – has presented a new problem, however. Unlike P2P systems, there’s no easy way for an anti-piracy company to get in between the user and the server to see what’s going on. Only ISPs can see that data, which is why a recent interview caught our eye.
Friend MTS (FMTS) is an anti-piracy company based in Birmingham, UK. They’re perhaps best known for their live IPTV blocking work carried out on behalf of the Premier League, for which they have to partner to a greater or lesser extent with ISPs in the UK. FMTS tells them which servers to block, and the ISPs carry out it, broadly speaking.
However, in a recent interview, Simon Hanna of FMTS spoke about a different type of collaboration with ISPs, one that has the potential to raise eyebrows among privacy advocates, especially those who hoped all of their Internet traffic would remain completely their business.
Quite soon into the interview, Hanna correctly points out that broad availability of pirated content online tends to give an indication of how popular particular content is but isn’t always a great indicator of how much is actually being consumed.
“Consumption is a much more valuable indicator than pure availability of content and consumption has always been very difficult to monitor. People often throw numbers out but they are guesswork at best and we don’t really put a lot of faith in the numbers that have been made available in the past,” Hanna said.
With this in mind, FMTS say they have developed a system that allows them to work with content owners and ISPs to form a greater understanding of the consumption of media from online ‘pirate’ sources. The company does this by first tracking the servers down from where the content is being streamed and handing this information to the ISPs.
“We can see through our monitoring activities the range of servers that are available globally delivering this pirate content and we can provide that information to an ISP who are monitoring the flows of data requests in and out of the networks all day long,” Hanna explained.
“They can use these lists of IP addresses to really focus on consumption of content from those servers by the broadband subscribers within the ISP network and that will then give information around the scale of the problem.”
That’s probably a bit of a “wow” moment for many Internet subscribers who believed that once their traffic entered their ISP’s network it wouldn’t be closely monitored until it left to access a BitTorrent swarm, for example.
If FMTS’ statement is what it seems, some ISPs might be following their customers’ broadband usage habits a little bit more intimately than previously thought.
On the plus side, at least as far as individual subscribers are concerned, FMTS say they don’t look at or care about “the individuals themselves”. They’re not looking for any personally identifiable information and are just trying to get a handle on the volume of content being consumed.
Whether dual broadband/TV supplying companies are more interested in this data remains open to question, however.
“Because inevitably, if a large proportion of the ISP’s broadband subscribers are actually consuming content, they are not paying for the associated operator’s TV services,” Hanna added.
In many cases, of course, the broadband provider/ISP is also a supplier of TV content to the same customers – Sky, Virgin Media, and BT in the UK, for example. There’s no claim that these ISPs are indeed teaming up with FMTS in this project but any and all might be interested in the information it reportedly makes available.
“We work with content owners to basically go out and find pirate sources of the content. We can then real-time update these lists, feed this information into the ISPs and the ISPs can then use this information to generate the reporting real-time but with the flow monitoring, more in-depth reports of three-months plus worth of data, to actually get a real picture of consumption habits, both of TV channels but also specific events and pieces of content,” Hanna revealed.
FMTS says that monitoring consumption is important because it allows action previously taken to reduce availability to be measured at the end where it really matters.
“If you can then reduce the availability, then inevitably you should be able to reduce the consumption but you keep monitoring to observe that you do actually have this effect. If you can reduce the availability and reduce the consumption, chances are you would expect you would then preserve and reinforce your pay-TV revenues,” Hanna concluded.
The full interview, which covers many aspects of anti-piracy activity, from general enforcement to fingerprinting and watermarking, can be viewed here.
The report provides an overview of the latest anti-piracy achievements of copyright holders and also signals some emerging threats. It seems to be written mostly based on input from large rightsholders, which can make it a bit one-sided.
The overall theme is that piracy and counterfeiting remain a major problem and that, as a “world class IP enforcement regime,” the UK takes a leading role in the world to tackle it going forward.
A few days ago we reported on an exemplary section from the report where the Premier League highlighted its key successes. The full document is filled with similar examples and is worth a read, but there is one issue that stood out which we would like to highlight separately.
In the section where the results of PRS for Music, the UK’s leading collection society, are summarized there is a hint of self-reflection. As reported in the past, there were signs that BitTorrent piracy is increasing again, and according to the UK Government’s report, the industry may be to blame.
Apparently, piracy traffic may be rising again because the content that’s being offered on legal platforms is becoming more and more fragmented.
In other words, as more legal services have exclusive releases, it’s harder for people to get everything they want in one place. Instead of signing up for paid subscriptions at a handful of services, these people could then turn back to piracy.
Or as the Annual IP crime and enforcement report puts it:
“There also appears to be a resurgence in torrent traffic, notwithstanding the apparent demise of peer-to-peer file sharing a few years ago. A likely reason for this is the fact that more legitimate platforms are hosting exclusive content and subscribers may not necessarily have access to all the content they want to consume.”
The paragraph above is listed in the PRS section of the report which leads us to believe that it comes directly from the music group. We reached out to PRS to find out more but the organization said that it couldn’t comment on it. A subsequent request to clarify whether this is PRS’s position returned a “no comment” as well.
Again, we should stress that the fragmentation comment is just a tiny quote from a 132-page report. It doesn’t reflect the general theme that piracy needs to be addressed through comprehensive and multi-faceted enforcement strategies. However, at least there appears to be some room for self-reflection.
This isn’t the first time that increased fragmentation has been mentioned as a potential problem, but these type of comments generally don’t originate from governments or rightsholders.
Exclusive releases are particularly prevalent in the video industry today, where there’s a myriad of exclusive streaming services. How this will affect overall piracy rates in the years to come remains to be seen, but it’s certainly not something that can be easily ignored.
A little while back, Bijan Stephen over at The Verge published a well-received piece on the topic of Plex, the popular media server software. It’s well worth a read for those who aren’t already familiar with this incredibly sleek tool.
For those in need of a quick summary, Plex comes in two parts. A server component that does all the hard work behind the scenes on the host computer and a client, which can be typically run on a smart TV, Firestick-like device, tablet, phone or indeed another computer. The latter is used to access the former.
In brief (and from a video consumption perspective) people can dump all of their properly named movies and TV shows into a folder, adjust a few settings, wait a minute or three and have this uninspiring bleak landscape…
….transformed into something like this:
Users of software like Popcorn Time or Showbox will probably wonder what all the fuss is about – but that’s only if they haven’t used Plex.
When properly configured (and it isn’t hard) its search and curation features blow Netflix’s out of the water. Search by genre, actor, director, running time – almost anything is possible. As a bonus, Plex has one of the most beautiful interfaces ever made for media consumption.
What Plex doesn’t have, when people first install it, is any movie or TV show content in its library – especially of the kind shown above. The company behind Plex is completely above board, providing a tool that’s no more responsible for piracy than Windows or Android. Nevertheless, plenty of users build their own self-hosted Netflix-beaters with Plex, sometimes with the help of others.
The article in The Verge explains how some Plex users solve this problem by teaming up with other Plex users to share their own libraries. It a system that operates in a manner not dissimilar to the way smaller BBS admins of yesteryear traded and obtained content for their own platforms.
As The Verge put it, “as streaming offerings become more expensive and convoluted, people are setting up their own smaller, more intimate platforms.” And indeed they are, but there’s more to this rodeo.
There is a side to Plex use (copyright holders and indeed Plex itself will argue ‘abuse’) that isn’t small at all. It doesn’t involve sharing any of your own content either, it’s a simple case of handing over a few dollars, euros, or pounds and suddenly everything is a click away.
If one knows where to look, so-called P4S (Plex For Share) services are available that make Netflix’s multi-billion dollar offering look like a second-class citizen. And after handing over the cash or requesting a free trial, users can be accessing huge – HUGE – libraries of content in a matter of minutes.
The smaller and cheaper shares (a few hundred movies and TV shows, a handful of simultaneous users) are probably being run on home connections. The bigger and more expensive ones are entirely more professional, offering thousands of video files to many concurrent users.
Just as an example, one particular service (for less than $10) per month, lists more than 11,000 movies in HD and above (including 4K) plus 2,000 TV shows. Others prefer to list content in terabytes, with more than 200TB not being particularly uncommon. These big boys utilize CDNs to ensure content is delivered seamlessly to subscribers, wherever they may be.
The big deal here isn’t just the volume of content available, it’s the nature and breadth. Given that professional P4S offers don’t have politics to deal with or business models to protect, the movies on offer range from old classics to the very latest blockbusters. And Friends will not be removed because somebody offered a better deal.
The world of Plex shares is nothing new and for those thinking that their existence should be kept under the radar, it’s already too late. Dutch anti-piracy outfit BREIN, which is affiliated with Hollywood studios, has already taken action against people offering these services to the public. The cat is well and truly out of the bag, it’s just a question of how far it will run.
But while Plex might be a pirate’s dream, the company is doing some very interesting things to ensure that rightsholders get in on the act. Late last month, Plex announced it had struck a deal with Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution to supply free, ad-supported movies and TV shows to Plex users.
The company reportedly has plans for its software to become a “one-stop-shop” for content and has grand plans to begin reselling subscription content in 2020 along with video on demand products. This opens up the possibility of introducing pirates to premium products in an interface they are already very familiar with.
While some will naturally object, this could be clever bridge-building in action. Big content companies would never try to tempt pirates by putting movies or TV shows on The Pirate Bay, for example, but Plex and the company behind it are so neutral, politics can be kept to a minimum. Let’s see how it plays out, things could get very interesting.
Last year Cox settled its piracy liability lawsuit with music rights company BMG.
The ink on this agreement was barely dry when the ISP faced a similar and additional complaint. This time, it was up against 53 music companies, including Capitol Records, Warner Bros, and Sony Music.
The rightsholders complained that Cox categorically failed to terminate repeat copyright infringers and that it substantially profited from this ongoing ‘piracy’ activity. All at the expense of the record labels and other rightsholders.
A year later, thousands of pages of legal paperwork have been processed and the case is gearing up to a trial. However, if it’s up to Cox, there is little left to discuss there because the music companies’ evidence is fatally flawed.
A few days ago, the ISP submitted a motion for summary judgment, requesting summary judgment on several key elements. Among other things, Cox argues that it’s not vicariously liable or directly liable for any copyright-infringing activity carried out by its users.
Cox’s arguments are in large part directed at the proof the music companies have. Or to be more specific, the lack thereof. The company points out that the infringement notices, which were sent on behalf of the RIAA, are far from solid. In addition, the ISP says it never received any proper notices for more of the allegedly-infringed works.
“Plaintiffs’ claims suffer from a fundamental and fatal flaw: a distinct paucity of proof. They simply cannot prove their case,” Cox writes.
“In short, Plaintiffs seek damages for works they cannot prove were infringed, based on notices that did not identify fully 80% of those works. Moreover, they have no evidence that Cox knew about the infringement, obtained any direct financial benefit from it, or had the practical ability to prevent it, such that it could be secondarily liable.”
Cox’s arguments can be quite technical at times, and some pages are completely redacted, but there are some interesting observations.
For example, the company argues that the file-sharing evidence from BitTorrent users can’t prove that any subscriber actually distributed the infringing files. The evidence, provided by BitTorrent tracking outfit MarkMonitor, only ‘shows’ the metadata of a file in possession of a subscriber, matches that of a copyrighted track.
“Here, Plaintiffs cannot prove ‘actual dissemination’ of any work to anyone—including their agent, MarkMonitor,” Cox notes.
Another issue Cox raises is that for many of the claimed infringements in the suit, Cox never received a single notice.
“Although Plaintiffs seek damages for alleged direct infringements of 7,057 sound recordings and 3,421 compositions, the RIAA Notices for recordings sent during the Claims Period contain only 1,998 unique Title and Artist combinations.”
Based on these and a variety of other arguments, the ISP requests summary judgment. This means that, if granted, these will no longer be contested at trial.
However, the pendulum, in this case, can swing the other way as well. The 53 music companies also filed a request for summary judgment. They ask the court to rule that Cox is contributory and vicariously liable for its pirating subscribers.
The companies wave away any concerns and say that Cox willingly kept pirates on board to increase its profits.
“[T]he record is clear that Cox had knowledge of its subscribers’ blatant infringement of Plaintiffs’ works and nonetheless assisted them with it. By consciously continuing to provide Internet service to known infringers, while ignoring its own copyright policies as written, Cox materially contributed to that infringing activity, and reaped substantial financial benefits as a result,” their request reads.
“Accordingly, summary judgment should be granted holding Cox liable for contributory infringement and vicarious infringement, and the Court should reject its frivolous defenses.”
Both sides’ arguments directly oppose each other and it will be up to the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia to determine if it grants any of the motions. If the Court grants neither motion, it will be up to a jury to decide during trial.
A copy of Cox’s motion for summary judgment is available here (pdf) and the music companies’ motion can be found here (pdf).
Even when one has visited many countries around the world, subtleties of cultural differences can be difficult to grasp.
What’s funny or makes sense in one country may draw a blank expression in another, which is why a recent set of stories from Nigeria catch the eye.
Music industry group IFPI describes Africa as a whole as an emerging opportunity for business, with digital music services sometimes available alongside mobile phone services. Nevertheless, the physical music market, while dwindling, is still going strong – even if piracy remains a big problem.
Enter stage left popular musician and comedian Koffi Idowu, who in sits on the board of the Copyright Society of Nigeria. COSON, as it’s known locally, describes itself as Africa’s fastest-growing copyright collective management organization.
While ‘Koffi’ is known locally for his comedy, one might think that joking about piracy would be off-limits, considering his position. However, it’s almost impossible for outsiders to determine whether his recent comments are serious or not.
Content leaks from manufacturing and distribution processes can sometimes be tackled using watermarking, for example. However, Koffi is publicly advocating the use of a “modern technology” that actually debuted in the 1970s.
“Modern trends need to be applied by the right commissions to successfully combat piracy. People in the creative industry need to start barcoding their works,” he said, according to several local sources.
“We also need to start tracing these works from the sources where they were being stolen. We cannot monitor them physically but with technology, we can go a long way,” he added.
Without being disrespectful to Nigeria’s position as an emerging nation (and, of course, presuming this isn’t a joke that doesn’t translate across borders), it seems bizarre to think that a barcode could prevent music piracy in any way. One CD out, and it gets copied, barcode or not.
But then Koffi advocates getting the military involved to deal with the problem.
“When we discover warehouses where piracy is being carried out, arrests and sanctions can only be done by the appropriate officials,” he said.
It all sounds real enough, but it’s only when one takes a look at articles on Nigeria’s market published in the West that one gets a grip on just how different things are in the African nation. Not just different, but also bizarre.
An article in Billboard published in April describes how local digital music streaming service uduX is making progress in Nigeria. We’re all used to installing apps for music and banking, for example, but what if they were the same thing?
“Through GTBank’s Habari app, a platform for shopping and lifestyle content, uduX, whose name derives from a musical instrument played in Nigeria called udu, will gain access to a community of 16.8 million users,” the Billboard piece reads.
“Since consumers have already entered their banking information, they can subscribe to the streaming platform in a few clicks.”
Now while this makes sense on a basic level, the privacy-conscious among us might be thinking “what could possibly go wrong?” As it turns out, those fears appear to be not only well-founded but considered a feature in Nigeria.
That’s according to Chidi Okeke, the CEO of Groove Platforms, the company behind uduX.
“I want to get people to pay for my service and for that, I just needed to be close to where the money is,” Okeke said.
And thanks to the partnership with the bank, the streaming service can get information on the bank’s customers, including their ages and location, and perhaps a whole lot more.
“We know how they spend their money, so it’s easier for us to target people,” said Okeke.
That doesn’t sound like a joke. But the barcodes and military are up for debate, potentially. Or maybe not.
Manga comics and novels are huge. Not just in Japan but all over the world.
People used to read them on paper, but digital is the standard today. While that makes these comics more accessible, they’re also easier to pirate.
For years there has been an active ‘scanlation’ community. These are fan-made translations that are shared online. Sharing can begin innocently, by posting a copy on a message board, but sometimes things get out of hand.
Enter MangaRock. Most people who are not into manga have probably never heard of the site, but it easily dwarfs the most well-established pirate sites. According to data from MUSO, it’s more popular that The Pirate Bay, or any Hollywood-blockbuster streaming site.
In addition, SimilarWeb lists it as the 2nd most popular site in the ‘books and literature‘ category, just behind Wattpad. That’s rather impressive, especially when you consider that many users don’t use the site, but its dedicated Android and iOS apps instead.
Up until a few days ago, the site had been running smoothly, but apparently the operators had a change of heart. In an interview with J-Cast News, picked up by Animenewsnetwork, Manga Rock owner “Not a Basement Studio” recently said the site and apps would shut down.
Initially, it appeared that nothing much had changed, but today people started to notice that the Manga Rock app had disappeared from the Play store. The iOS version will reportedly follow soon.
And if there was any confusion left, a new statement confirms that MangaRock.com will shut down as well. “It’s official: We’re taking Manga Rock down,” Not A Basement Studio writes.
Not utilizing this type of traffic from dedicated manga fans would be a shame, a point not lost on ‘Not A Basement Studio’. Behind the scenes, they’ve been working hard putting together a legal alternative while negotiating deals with several publishers.
The original plan was to remove all unauthorized content from the site at once and present the new and legal alternative to its users. This appeared to be the best option for all, and could even work well for the rightsholders, as it would be an excellent setup to convert ‘pirates’ into customers.
However, this plan was scrapped recently, and Manga Rock has decided to shut down now and launch its legal platform named “MR Comics” later.
“As we made contact with more publishers and creators, we realized that by keeping Manga Rock around while developing the new platform, we are still inadvertently hosting and supporting the practices of piracy,” Manga Rock explains.
“Until we can fully make the switch to become a 100% official comics platform and convert all the free readers into supporters of legitimate content, creators and publishers are being hurt by our practices & all the other scanlations sites,” they add.
While ‘Not A Basement Studio’ doesn’t mention anything specific, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the shutdown request is motivated, at least in part, by requests from rightsholders. After operating the site for years, a few more weeks can’t make that much of a difference.
Whatever the motivations are, one of the largest ‘pirate’ operations online today is now folding. According to a timeline published by Manga Rock, the apps were to be taken down during the first week of September. The site will follow next week and this will redirect to the new but unfinished “MR Comics” platform.
The aforementioned site has a detailed overview of how the Manga Rock team began and how it grew to the point where it is now. It is rather apologetic to the publishers, as its closing words make pretty clear.
“Thank you to everyone who has supported us over the years. Once again, we’re deeply sorry for everything,” they write.
The site’s users, on the other hand, are mostly shocked and disappointed. They will have to do without their favorite scanlation site. While some will be interested in trying out the new legal platform, when it arrives, others are already scouring the web for the next best thing.
Apple always carefully curates what type of apps people can download through the official iOS App Store.
Certain adult apps are actively banned, for example, and those that potentially infringe copyrights are not welcome either.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t get these apps on an iOS device at all. Whether Apple likes it or not, deviant developers have come up with various workarounds. Initially, those required a so-called Jailbreak, but today users have other options as well.
TweakBox is one of these alternatives. After some initial configurations, the third-party ‘app store’ allows anyone to put ‘unofficial’ apps on an iOS device. These include, tweaked versions of Whatsapp and Twitter, for example, but also emulators, a torrent client, and various movie streaming apps.
Apple and some official app developers are against this. They have taken some countermeasures in the past, which worked temporarily, but TweakBox remains functional. However, the same can’t be said about some of the most popular apps that were hosted in its sideload library.
A few days ago, TweakBox announced on Twitter that some movies apps “had to be removed,” from their site, later adding that this was not their choice.
The platform didn’t elaborate which apps were removed and who’s choice it was to delete them, but after some digging, we have a pretty clear picture of what went down.
Federal court documents reveal that the company behind the action movie “Hellboy” obtained a subpoena, indirectly targeting the app store. This court order requires hosting providers Digital Ocean and Hivelocity to share the personal details of the account holder connected to TweakBox.
The requested information includes all documents that show the name, address, telephone number, and email address, as well as payment records from the past three years.
TorrentFreak obtained copies of the letters Hellboy’s attorney sent to Digital Ocean and Hivelocity. The movie company argues that TweakBox induces copyright infringement by offering the “Popcorn Time,” “CotoMovies,” and “Mediabox HD” apps.
It’s not clear whether the hosting providers have handed over any information, but TweakBox certainly was alerted. Shortly after the subpoena was issued, the three movie piracy apps were removed from the site.
A closer inspection of TweakBox’s current video app listings shows that another potentially problematic app, MediaBox, was removed as well.
The legal pressure would explain why it was not TweakBox’s “choice” to remove the video apps, as mentioned previously in its (now removed) tweet. TorrentFreak reached out to the platform for further comments, but at the time of writing, we have yet to hear back.
Although TweakBox managed to bypass Apple’s restrictions for a long time, these recent actions show that a relatively basic DMCA subpoena can be quite effective for copyright holders.
Needless to say, many of the platform’s users are not happy. Soon after the announcement on Twitter, there was a stream of replies from people who mourned the ‘loss,’ with some demanding an immediate reinstatement.
And since TweakBox previously confessed to being a Popcorn Time ‘aficionado’ as well, the people behind the platform may not be too happy either.
While the apps may be gone from the TweakBox site, they have not been wiped from the Internet completely. As always, there are still other sources where the same can be found.
Piracy is an intriguing phenomenon. On the one hand, it is seen as an existential threat by the entertainment industries. However, pirates are often heavy consumers of legal content as well.
Over the past several years, a vast array of studies have tried to determine to what extent piracy hurts legitimate revenue streams and, equally importantly, how it can be stopped.
There are no definitive answers but each study adds a small piece of the puzzle. One recent article, published by University of Amsterdam researchers João Pedro Quintais and Joost Poort, suggests that affordability and availability are key drivers.
The researchers analyzed a wealth of data and conducted surveys among 35,000 respondents, in thirteen countries. What they found was that, between 2014 and 2017, self-reported piracy rates have dropped in all the European countries that were surveyed, except Germany.
In a 70-page paper, published in American University International Law Review, the researchers try to pinpoint the most likely explanation for this decline, starting with enforcement.
In a detailed literature overview, the paper begins by discussing various enforcement activities, ranging from pirate site blockades, criminal enforcement, to civil suits against individual file-sharers. While some of these studies suggest that enforcement works, others reveal a limited effect or nothing at all.
This article doesn’t have space for a full review of all the literature, but the conclusion from the report’s authors is clear. Enforcement is not the silver bullet that will stop piracy.
“Despite the abundance of enforcement measures, their perceived effectiveness is uncertain. Therefore, it is questionable whether the answer to successfully tackling online copyright infringement lies in additional rights or enforcement measures,” the report notes.
Instead, the researchers believe that other factors are likely responsible for the decline in piracy rates. Specifically, they point to affordability and availability of legal content.
Through the extensive surveys, conducted in France, Germany, Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden, UK, Brazil, Canada, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, and Thailand, they find several clues that this may indeed be the case.
Many of the data presented by the researchers have been published before. For example, they show that piracy rates are higher when the gross national income of a country is lower. This effect is particularly visible for lower incomes, as shown below.
The authors further observe a clear increase in spending on legal content where piracy rates dropped. In addition, they point to an earlier study that shows how music piracy declined in the Netherlands between 2008 and 2012, while piracy rates were still increasing for films and series. By 2012, Spotify had been introduced in the Netherlands (early 2010) but Nexflix not yet and HBO only just.
Based on their analysis, the researchers conclude that affordability and availability are indeed key drivers for declining piracy rates. In particular, they found no conclusive evidence that anti-piracy enforcement is effective.
“The main takeaway from our research is that online piracy is declining. The key driver for this decline is the increasing availability of affordable legal content, rather than enforcement measures,” their paper concludes.
When the conditions are right, people will eventually consume more content legally, it’s argued. This is also backed by the finding that 95% of the self-proclaimed pirates in their survey were legal consumers as well. Many of these turn to piracy due to lacking availability or high costs.
“Where the legal supply of content is affordable, convenient and diverse, there is increasing consumer demand for it. Under the right conditions, consumers are willing to pay for copyright-protected content and to abandon piracy,” the paper reads.
This means that policymakers and copyright holders should direct their efforts more to the supply side, instead of enforcement activities.
“The crucial policy implication here is that policy makers should focus their resources and legislative efforts on improving those conditions. In particular, they ought to shift their focus from repressive approaches to tackle online infringement towards policies and measures that foster lawful remunerated access to copyright-protected content,” the researchers conclude.
This isn’t a new thought. Over the past several years, many people have hammered on the importance of appealing legal options. The new research confirms this. However, it is worth noting that the paper itself doesn’t provide any data showing that the recent drop in piracy is in fact caused by improved legal availability.
In other words, the empirical evidence doesn’t back either anti-piracy strategy conclusively.
For example, when we look at a graph of the piracy rates among legal users and the gross national income in different countries between 2014 and 2017 (shown above), we see that Sweden experienced the most pronounced piracy drop. However, there’s no clear change in legal availability compared to other countries, as far as we know.
TorrentFreak spoke to Joost Poort, one of the authors of the paper, who agreed that the lack of direct evidence is indeed a weak point. While there are several hints that the recent drop in piracy is mostly caused by better legal options, there is no hard data to back it up in this specific case.
Analyzing the effects of piracy is complicated, and there are signs that enforcement might also work in some cases. For example, just last week we reported on a study that showed how website blocking can motivate some pirates to sign up for a paid streaming service.
For many, however, it’s tempting to conclude that focusing on the carrot rather than the stick is the way forward.
That said, it’s also possible that the solution to piracy includes a little bit of both. While one may be more effective than the other, it’s safe to conclude that the puzzle isn’t solved yet.
The full paper by João Pedro Quintais and Joost Poort titled: “The Decline of Online Piracy: How Markets – Not Enforcement – Drive Down Copyright Infringement”, is available here.
For as long as piracy and counterfeiting have existed, there have been claims that groups engaged in the practices have links to other, more serious crimes.
Over the past couple of decades the claims have persisted but even the most serious legal cases (ones for which people have been jailed for many years) have failed to turn up evidence that people running pirate sites, services, and similar platforms are connected to even more serious crimes.
This week, however, following news from FACT that it had targeted numerous IPTV sellers and providers in the UK, Lesley Donovan – the National Coordinator for the multi-agency Government Agency Intelligence Network (GAIN) – repeated similar claims.
Referencing even the smaller players – those who re-sell access to larger IPTV providers – Donovan said that they are contributing to what many people consider to be some of the most serious crimes.
“This type of activity is also often a cog in a larger criminal machine, often ultimately funding drugs, weapons and people trafficking,” Donovan said.
Clearly, most members of the general public wouldn’t want to feel that they’re funding drug supply, helping to encourage the flow of weapons, or contributing to the suffering of those trafficked illegally across or even within borders.
However, these claims are rarely (if ever) backed up with references to cases where people can see evidence of that happening for themselves in Internet cases. And with the word “often” being used twice in the GAIN statement, one might be forgiven for thinking it’s commonplace.
Several weeks ago, while in discussion with the operator of an IPTV service based in Europe, this very topic raised its head. Our contact, while acknowledging that what goes on the IPTV space isn’t exactly legal, bemoaned claims that links to wider crime are rampant.
“The truth is that most IPTV services that I know of only do IPTV. The other half have normal jobs that they do day in, day out,” he explained.
Indeed, TF is informed from several sources that IT professionals, both former and current (and particularly those in the networking space), have close interests in supplying IPTV services to the public. “A natural progression and salary supplement,” is how one described it recently.
Interestingly, one provider spoke of how supplying IPTV to the public has actually become an alternative option for those who may have become involved in other types of crime. Nevertheless, gun-running and people trafficking aren’t part of the equation.
“I’m not saying they are whiter than white but they certainly aren’t some mobster gangsters involved in human trafficking,” he said.
Another thing that seems to have irritated IPTV suppliers is the claim by anti-piracy groups that members of the public open themselves up to being stolen from when they deal with ‘pirate’ IPTV providers.
It’s often claimed that handing over personal information along with payment details can result in people being deprived of their cash through ancillary fraudulent transactions. But again, this is something rarely reported in public by any alleged victims, or backed up by evidence from law enforcement.
“Nobody is forced to give real details when signing up [to an IPTV service]. In fact we don’t care what name or address you put as we aren’t going verify the information,” one source told TF.
“We use third-party gateways for payment such as PayPal or Stripe and so on, so none of us ever see card details [enabling us to] commit fraud.”
Of course, it could also be argued that in common with the thus-far unsubstantiated claims that IPTV providers are involved in more serious crime, the claims of these providers are also without supporting evidence.
Nevertheless, they seem keen to distance themselves from the claims and in the main, approached us first to dispel the narrative they’re involved in anything other than the supply of illegal streams.
In the interim, it will be for the public to decide who to believe and a court case showing otherwise to run its course and reveal if such connections are both real and substantiated. Until then, the business will remain in the shadows, with both claims and counterclaims up for debate.
Finally, we spoke to one lower-tier reseller and asked him about the recent involvement of organized crime units and whether “organized crime” was an accurate description of his reseller sideline.
“I’ve got about 250 customers,” he told TF. “It’s too many for me really and if it is crime it’s VERY disorganized. So no.”
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