This was highly unusual because the domain in question didn’t host Popcorn Time itself. Instead, the site posted news articles, as well as links to sites that offered the application.
Popcorn-time.no when it was still active
This broad takedown of a news-focused site raised concerns among digital rights activists and legal experts. They questioned whether the far-reaching measure, without a proper judicial review, was violating free speech.
Hoping to hold the authorities accountable, Electronic Frontier Norway (EFN) and the Norwegian Unix User Group (NUUG) took the case to court.
Initially, the court refused to take on the case, arguing that both parties lacked standing, since they were not sufficiently affected by the domain seizure. This decision was appealed together with the legal owner of the domain name, the Norwegian company IMCASREG8, the domain registrar.
After several new filings and hearings, the Appeal Court decided that the case had to be sent back to the District Court again, which will start a new trial next week.
TorrentFreak spoke with senior lawyer Kirill Miazine, who will act as the legal assistant for the digital rights groups. He is looking forward to the hearings.
“This is going to be like the revenge of the nerds, as the usual suspects, who are monitoring the Internet and bullying the users and ISPs, are now going to be asked uncomfortable questions,” Miazine says.
“We’re also considering whether there are grounds to file a criminal case against the people who filed the criminal complaint against the registrant. We are serious about this. It’s not about Popcorn Time.”
Since the beginning, this case has been one against the seizure process of the authorities, rather than the site in question. The person who operated the targeted website is not even involved in the case.
One of the key questions that will be brought up during the trial, is how Popcorn-Time.no’s activities were different from all the mainstream news sites that covered and linked to Popcorn Time.
The rights groups are being represented pro bono by law firm Føyen Torkildsen, who are confident that they can win the case, and prevent similar broad seizures in the future.
“For us, the matter is about three core aspects: Internet freedom, free speech, and free software,” Miazine says.
“When they attack a tool which could be used legally and illegally, we have to fight back, as their next step could target Tor and VPNs. Of course, the case is about justice too: the police should not be agents of the called copyright groups..,” he adds.
In early 2014, Popcorn Time turned the consumer end of the piracy world upside down. Utilizing a BitTorrent backend and a beautiful interface, Popcorn Time certainly lived up to its promise of being the Netflix for Pirates. Adopted by millions of users, it soon became a household name.
In the months and years to come, Popcorn Time grabbed hundreds of headlines. However, aside from the app’s success, much of what followed was negative in tone as the entertainment industries struggled to contain this new kid on the block.
Since then, of course, Kodi and its numerous illicit third-party addons have become massive news, stepping over Popcorn Time to become the most talked about and consumer-friendly of piracy tools. In the background, however, other applications have been making steady and indeed somewhat stealthy progress.
One of these applications is Terrarium TV. Built exclusively for the Android platform and equally at home on a phone, tablet, streaming stick or set-top box, this software has gained a cult but significant following. For those out of the loop, it will be the most important piracy app they’ve never heard of, despite its Facebook page alone attracting close to 200,000 members.
In many respects, Terrarium TV resembles Popcorn Time. It has a beautiful Netflix-style interface, pulling movie and TV show artwork and metadata from several sources to make what some consider to be the best all-in-one streaming app for Android, period. While Kodi is no doubt powerful and Popcorn Time has one hell of a reputation, Terrarium TV makes viewing simplicity itself. And it really does cater to everyone.
Terrarium TV – A category for everyone
If people are worried about Popcorn Time due to its BitTorrent-based streaming, Terrarium TV has that covered. Every single stream offered by the app is conjured up from public sources such as file-hosting sites and even GoogleVideo. On the whole, streaming is of an extremely high-quality with dozens of sources offered for most content, whether that’s the latest Hollywood movies, blockbuster TV shows, or decades-old rarities.
The quality is impressive too. While 4K rips are best left to the BitTorrent crowd with bandwidth to spare, Terrarium TV manages to conjure up a bewildering range of content in an impressive array of qualities. HD is commonplace and barely a search goes by without a corresponding source alongside. And with multi-language subtitle and Chromecast support, the icing is placed on top of what is an extremely competent cake.
But despite all the accolades, Terrarium TV has an uncertain future.
Over a week ago TerrariumTV.com – the site from where the application has been seamlessly delivered for some time – suddenly disappeared without trace. There was no announcement on Facebook, no announcement on Twitter. Even the moderators on the fairly active Terrarium TV subreddit seemed to have few ideas as to what was going on.
Theories are numerous but most center around the developer, who’s resident in Asia, going on some kind of hiatus. Why that would require the Terrarium TV website to be taken down isn’t clear. Neither does it explain why the Terrarium TV site Github repo was taken down too.
But alongside the ‘break’ theory is one that legal trouble, either actual or simply the fear of it, is what’s underlying the apparent limbo in which the app now sits. That was confirmed this week by the developer, who told one of the app’s subreddit moderators that he’d be lying low, at least for a while.
“I’ve decided to shut down the official website and maybe soon will also shut down the Github repository hosting the apk files in order to avoid any potential legal issues,” he said.
“There has been no cease and desist letters, no lawyers at the door, no seizing of the website. Ad free is not involved. It has been purely a precautionary measure. I want to take a break for a while (maybe a few weeks) first.”
After a short exchange in the summer, Terrarium TV’s developer didn’t return our recent requests for comment but if he had, we’d have certainly asked him about the future development of the app, framed around the Popcorn Time situation.
Despite many legal attacks, the open source nature of Popcorn Time allowed the project to ‘fork’ in several different directions, with various teams continuing development. Terrarium TV, on the other hand, is closed source meaning that when it’s gone, it’s possibly gone for good.
At the moment it’s still available for download from sources listed in the sidebar of its dedicated subreddit but whether the dev will decide to revisit the project again is unclear at this point. If he does not, it seems likely that the system will degrade over time although at the moment it carries out its tasks automatically, which is impressive in itself.
In the meantime, its hundreds of thousands of users will just have to cross everything – and wait.
On a regular basis, major media companies and their associates seek assistance from the authorities in order to curb copyright infringement.
In some cases, this has resulted in special police units that have piracy among their main objectives, such as The City of London Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) in the UK.
Over in Denmark, the Government greenlighted a similar initiative last week. Justice Minister Søren Pape Poulsen approved a new task force that will operate under police wings, with an exclusive focus on intellectual property crimes.
“This is the culmination of a joint effort among Danish trade organizations’ calls for public engagement in the enforcement of IP crime in Denmark,” Maria Fredenslund, CEO of the local anti-piracy group RettighedsAlliancen (Rights Alliance) tells TorrentFreak.
“Similar to the PIPCU unit in the UK the task force will be specialized in IP crime and will handle existing cases and develop digital enforcement,” she adds.
The new unit will consist of five or six investigators, who will be assisted by prosecutors. The main goal will be to tackle organized crime on as many levels as possible.
The new police task force will first operate on a trial basis. After the first half year, the Government will evaluate its progress and decide if the project will continue. If that happens, the unit may also get involved in website blocking efforts.
Pirate site blockades are not new in Denmark, but thus far these have been the result of civil procedures initiated by copyright holders. According to new plans, which still have to be approved, legislation that’s currently used to block terrorist content may be used against pirate sites as well.
“The Government will look into the possibility to give the police authority to carry out blockades of infringing websites,” Fredenslund says.
This would be possible under a provision in the Administration of Justice Act, which the Danish Parliament recently adopted. While the blocking requests would be submitted by the police unit, instead of copyright holders, a court still has to approve them.
“The decision to block a website is made with a court order by request of the police. The court order shall list the specific circumstances that prove the conditions for the blocking of the website have been met. The court order may be revoked at any time,” the relevant provision reads.
For the time being, the new anti-piracy task force will focus on handling other copyright infringement cases, which these are plenty of.
Rights Alliance is happy with the help they are getting. The anti-piracy group has been working on their own “piracy disruption machine” in recent months and with assistance from law enforcement, they hope to achieve some good results soon.
For now, however, the private blocking requests are continuing as well.
Just yesterday the District Court in Frederiksberg issued an order (pdf) in favor of the Rights Alliance, requiring a local ISP to block dozens of Popcorn Time related domain names. As part of a voluntary agreement, this block will be implemented by other Internet providers as well.
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.
Without a doubt, YouTube is one of the most important websites available on the Internet today.
Its massive archive of videos brings pleasure to millions on a daily basis but its centralized nature means that owner Google always exercises control.
Over the years, people have looked to decentralize the YouTube concept and the latest project hoping to shake up the market has a particularly interesting player onboard.
Until 2015, only insiders knew that Argentinian designer Federico Abad was actually ‘Sebastian’, the shadowy figure behind notorious content sharing platform Popcorn Time.
Now he’s part of the team behind Flixxo, a BitTorrent and blockchain-powered startup hoping to wrestle a share of the video market from YouTube. Here’s how the team, which features blockchain startup RSK Labs, hope things will play out.
The Flixxo network will have no centralized storage of data, eliminating the need for expensive hosting along with associated costs. Instead, transfers will take place between peers using BitTorrent, meaning video content will be stored on the machines of Flixxo users. In practice, the content will be downloaded and uploaded in much the same way as users do on The Pirate Bay or indeed Abad’s baby, Popcorn Time.
However, there’s a twist to the system that envisions content creators, content consumers, and network participants (seeders) making revenue from their efforts.
At the heart of the Flixxo system are digital tokens (think virtual currency), called Flixx. These Flixx ‘coins’, which will go on sale in 12 days, can be used to buy access to content. Creators can also opt to pay consumers when those people help to distribute their content to others.
“Free from structural costs, producers can share the earnings from their content with the network that supports them,” the team explains.
“This way you get paid for helping us improve Flixxo, and you earn credits (in the form of digital tokens called Flixx) for watching higher quality content. Having no intermediaries means that the price you pay for watching the content that you actually want to watch is lower and fairer.”
The Flixxo team
In addition to earning tokens from helping to distribute content, people in the Flixxo ecosystem can also earn currency by watching sponsored content, i.e advertisements. While in a traditional system adverts are often considered a nuisance, Flixx tokens have real value, with a promise that users will be able to trade their Flixx not only for videos, but also for tangible and semi-tangible goods.
“Use your Flixx to reward the producers you follow, encouraging them to create more awesome content. Or keep your Flixx in your wallet and use them to buy a movie ticket, a pair of shoes from an online retailer, a chest of coins in your favourite game or even convert them to old-fashioned cash or up-and-coming digital assets, like Bitcoin,” the team explains.
The Flixxo team have big plans. After foundation in early 2016, the second quarter of 2017 saw the completion of a functional alpha release. In a little under two weeks, the project will begin its token generation event, with new offices in Los Angeles planned for the first half of 2018 alongside a premiere of the Flixxo platform.
“A total of 1,000,000,000 (one billion) Flixx tokens will be issued. A maximum of 300,000,000 (three hundred million) tokens will be sold. Some of these tokens (not more than 33% or 100,000,000 Flixx) may be sold with anticipation of the token allocation event to strategic investors,” Flixxo states.
Like all content platforms, Flixxo will live or die by the quality of the content it provides and whether, at least in the first instance, it can persuade people to part with their hard-earned cash. Only time will tell whether its content will be worth a premium over readily accessible YouTube content but with much-reduced costs, it may tempt creators seeking a bigger piece of the pie.
“Flixxo will also educate its community, teaching its users that in this new internet era value can be held and transferred online without intermediaries, a value that can be earned back by participating in a community, by contributing, being rewarded for every single social interaction,” the team explains.
Of course, the elephant in the room is what will happen when people begin sharing copyrighted content via Flixxo. Certainly, the fact that Popcorn Time’s founder is a key player and rival streaming platform Stremio is listed as a partner means that things could get a bit spicy later on.
Nevertheless, the team suggests that piracy and spam content distribution will be limited by mechanisms already built into the system.
“[A]uthors have to time-block tokens in a smart contract (set as a warranty) in order to upload content. This contract will also handle and block their earnings for a certain period of time, so that in the case of a dispute the unfair-uploader may lose those tokens,” they explain.
That being said, Flixxo also says that “there is no way” for third parties to censor content “which means that anyone has the chance of making any piece of media available on the network.” However, Flixxo says it will develop tools for filtering what it describes as “inappropriate content.”
At this point, things start to become a little unclear. On the one hand Flixxo says it could become a “revolutionary tool for uncensorable and untraceable media” yet on the other it says that it’s necessary to ensure that adult content, for example, isn’t seen by kids.
“We know there is a thin line between filtering or curating content and censorship, and it is a fact that we have an open network for everyone to upload any content. However, Flixxo as a platform will apply certain filtering based on clear rules – there should be a behavior-code for uploaders in order to offer the right content to the right user,” Flixxo explains.
To this end, Flixxo says it will deploy a centralized curation function, carried out by 101 delegates elected by the community, which will become progressively decentralized over time.
“This curation will have a cost, paid in Flixx, and will be collected from the warranty blocked by the content uploaders,” they add.
There can be little doubt that if Flixxo begins ‘curating’ unsuitable content, copyright holders will call on it to do the same for their content too. And, if the platform really takes off, 101 curators probably won’t scratch the surface. There’s also the not inconsiderable issue of what might happen to curators’ judgment when they’re incentivized to block curate content.
Finally, for those sick of “not available in your region” messages, there’s good and bad news. Flixxo insists there will be no geo-blocking of content on its part but individual creators will still have that feature available to them, should they choose.
Protecting the interests of Hollywood, the MPAA has been heavily involved in numerous anti-piracy efforts around the world in recent years.
Through its involvement in the shutdowns of Popcorn Time, YIFY, isoHunt, Hotfile, Megaupload and several other platforms, the MPAA has worked hard to target piracy around the globe.
Perhaps just as importantly, the group lobbies lawmakers globally while managing anti-piracy campaigns both in and outside the US, including the Creative Content UK program.
All this work doesn’t come for free, obviously, so the MPAA relies on six major movie studios for financial support. After its revenues plummeted a few years ago, they have steadily recovered and according to its latest tax filing, the MPAA’s total income is now over $72 million.
The IRS filing, covering the fiscal year 2015, reveals that the movie studios contributed $65 million, the same as a year earlier. Overall revenue has stabilized as well, after a few years of modest growth.
Going over the numbers, we see that salaries make up a large chunk of the expenses. Former Senator Chris Dodd, the MPAA’s Chairman and CEO, is the highest paid employee with a total income of more than $3.5 million, including a $250,000 bonus.
It was recently announced that Dodd will leave the MPAA next month. He will be replaced by Charles Rivkin, another political heavyweight. Rivkin previously served as Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs in the Obama administration.
In addition to Dodd, there are two other employees who made over a million in 2015, Global General Counsel Steve Fabrizio and Diane Strahan, the MPAA’s Chief Operating Officer.
Looking at some of the other expenses we see that the MPAA’s lobbying budget remained stable at $4.2 million. Another $4.4 million went to various grants, while legal costs totaled $7.2 million that year.
More than two million dollars worth of legal expenses were paid to the US law firm Jenner & Block, which represented the movie studios in various court cases. In addition, the MPAA paid more than $800,000 to the UK law firm Wiggin, which assisted the group in local site-blocking efforts.
Finally, it’s worth looking at the various gifts and grants the MPAA hands out. As reported last year, the group handsomely contributes to various research projects. This includes a recurring million dollar grant for Carnegie Mellon’s ‘Initiative for Digital Entertainment Analytics’ (IDEA), which researches various piracy related topics.
IDEA co-director Rahul Telang previously informed us that the gift is used to hire researchers and pay for research materials. It is not tied to a particular project.
We also see $70,000+ in donations for both the Democratic and Republican Attorneys General associations. The purpose of the grants is listed as “general support.” Interestingly, just recently over a dozen Attorneys General released a public service announcement warning the public to stay away from pirate sites.
These type of donations and grants are nothing new and are a regular part of business across many industries. Still, they are worth keeping in mind.
It will be interesting to see which direction the MPAA takes in the years to come. Under Chris Dodd it has booked a few notable successes, but there is still a long way to go before the piracy situation is somewhat under control.
MPAA’s full form 990 was published in Guidestar recently and a copy is available here (pdf).
During the fall of 2015, the MPAA shut down one of the most prominent pirate streaming services, Popcorn Time fork PopcornTime.io.
While the service was found to be clearly infringing, many of the developers didn’t set out to break the law. Most of all, they wanted to provide the public with easy access to their favorite movies and TV-shows.
Fast forward nearly two years and several of these Popcorn Time developers are still on the same quest. The main difference is that they now operate on the safe side of the law.
The startup they’re working with is called Reelgood, which can be best described as a streaming service aggregator. The San-Francisco based company, founded by ex-Facebook employee David Sanderson, recently raised $3.5 million and has opened its doors to the public.
The goal of Reelgood is similar to Popcorn Time in the way that it aims to be the go-to tool for people to access their entertainment. Instead of using pirate sources, however, Reelgood stitches together content from various legal platforms, both paid and free.
TorrentFreak spoke to former Popcorn Time developer Luigi Poole, who’s leading the charge on the development of Reelgood’s web app. He stresses that the increasing fragmentation of streaming services, which drives some people to pirate sites, is one of the problems Reelgood hopes to fix.
“There’s a misconception that torrenting is done by bad people who don’t want to pay for content. I’d say, in the vast majority of cases, torrenting is a symptom of the massive fragmentation that’s been given as the only legal option to the consumer,” Poole says.
While people have many reasons to pirate, some stick to unauthorized services because it’s simply too cumbersome to dig through all the legal options. Pirate sites have a single interface to all popular movies and TV-shows and legal platforms don’t.
“The modern TV/movie ecosystem is made up of an increasing number of different services. This makes finding content like changing channels, only more complicated. Is that movie you’re about to buy or rent on a service you already pay for? Right now there’s no way to do this other than a cumbersome search using each service’s individual search. Time to go digging,” Poole says.
“We believe this is the main reason people torrent — it’s just easier, given that the legal options presented to us are essentially a ‘go fetch’ treasure hunt,” he adds.
Flipping that channel on an old school television often beats the online streaming experience. That is, for those who want more than Netflix alone.
And the problem isn’t going away anytime soon. As we reported earlier this week, there’s a trend towards more fragmentation, instead of less. Disney is pulling some of its most popular content from the US Netflix in 2019, keeping piracy relevant.
“The untold story is that consumers are throwing up their hands with all this fragmentation, and turning to torrenting not because it’s free, but because it’s intuitive and easy,” Poole says.
“Reelgood fixes this problem by acting as a pirate site interface for every legal option, sort of like a TV guide to anything streaming, also giving you notifications anytime something is new, letting you track when certain content becomes available, and not only telling you where it’s available but taking you straight there with one click to play.”
Reelgood can be seen as a defragmentation tool, creating a uniform interface for all the legal platforms people have access to. In addition to paid services such as Netflix and HBO, it also lists free content from Fox, CBS, Crackle, and many other providers.
TorrentFreak took it for a spin and it indeed works as advertised. Simply add your streaming service accounts and all will be bundled into an elegant and uniform interface that allows you to watch and track everything with a single click.
The service is still limited to US libraries but there are already plans to expand it to other countries, which is promising. While it may not eradicate piracy anytime soon, it does a good job of trying to organize the increasingly complex streaming landscape.
Unfortunately, it’s still not cheap to use more than a handful of paid services, but that’s a problem even Reelgood can’t fix. Not even with help from seven former Popcorn Time developers.
In the beginning, we were told that Kodi Boxes are probably going to destroy Hollywood, not to mention companies like Sky and The Premier League. But who cares about the big people in suits drinking champagne from gold swimming pools?
No, what the unwashed masses need to hear are stories that make us realize that these little plastic wonder boxes are going to ruin our miserable lives. Luckily, they’ve been appearing thick and fast this past couple of weeks.
It turns out that Kodi Boxes are not only likely to burn your house down, but they’re also part of a master plan to pick away at the delicate threads holding family life together.
Forget about the piracy, that doesn’t matter. The powers that be need you to understand that Kodi Boxes are Trojan horses of misery that people are willingly bringing in to their own homes. Can you believe people are being so stupid?
According to an article in this week’s The Mirror, for example, kids’ movies spewed out by these evil devices are now being interrupted by adverts for alcohol. Well, it makes a change from seeing Phil Mitchell smashed out of his mind at 8pm on BBC1, doesn’t it?
At the same time, Kodi Boxes are straining relationships between father and son, not to mention subjecting unsuspecting parents to malware threats. They include scams purporting to be from the ‘FBI’ which demand money for using Popcorn Time inside Kodi. The world truly has gone mad.
Of course, if only one person sees this nonsense it’s too much, and The Mirror piece is quite rightly filled with quotes from real people who gave up piracy as a result of their bad experiences. It also has plenty of useful advice from the UK’s leading anti-piracy outfit, as you’d expect.
Intrigued, we decided to carry out our own research among a handful of the millions of maniacs who are still prepared to plug one of these death devices into their UK mains supply. And we were shocked – not by a dodgy power adaptor from China – but by the huge numbers of other problems these Kodi Boxes can foist upon the honest working man.
A user called Neil told us that he’d bought a Kodi Box off eBay after hearing all the hype in the media. His plan was to watch Premier League football without paying a penny. However, instead of scooping up that forbidden 3pm kick-off excitement, all it did was ruin his enjoyment of the beautiful game.
“I’d been out drinking all day with the lads. I was proper, proper smashed. I got home and shoved the thing into the nearest telly to watch Liverpool versus Manchester United and although I felt really sick, couldn’t focus on the screen, and soon fell unconscious, I think the picture wasn’t too bad,” he said.
“I don’t think I saw that wheel thing spinning in the middle of the screen and everything stopping either, which is a big plus for me on a free box. And to top it all, Liverpool beat United 2:1, which was a real bonus.
“However, when discussing the game the next day with my dad who watched the game on Sky with a proper subscription, I was horrified to learn that Manchester United actually won the game 3:0 – against Arsenal! It just goes to show, you get what you pay for. My box is now where it should have been all along – in the bin.”
A man called Rich told us that he’d also heard good things about Kodi Boxes but was really upset after being completely misled by the person who sold him one.
“I used to be a subscriber to Sky’s top package, including those fifty channels nobody watches but they force you to have. I also forked out for all their boxing PPVs that come on at stupid o’clock in the morning, and bought several blu-ray discs each time I got paid. All in all I must’ve spent £140 a month.
“So, when a bloke down the pub who I’ve never met before told me that I could legally get the same stuff for free using a Kodi Box, I immediately believed him. I mean, what reasonable bloke wouldn’t? He had just one left as well, how lucky was that?”
But it didn’t take long for Rich’s enthusiasm to wane. The thought of owning a potential incendiary device filled with content provided by a Russian crime syndicate and funded by Columbian drug barons was too much.
“I watched a couple of films on it without my house burning down, but then I started reading horror stories in the paper about these boxes shoving drinks adverts in our kids’ faces,” he told us.
“Enough was enough. After being lied to by the seller the thought of my kids demanding toys and beer for Christmas was just too much, it just wasn’t worth the risk. So I went straight back to giving Sky over a grand a year and life’s never been better.”
Kodi Box user Peter told us that he could really relate to warnings published in the papers this week that set-top box users had been hit with popups demanding their bank details.
“I was hoping to watch the big fight last weekend but it only came on for a few minutes and then suddenly went off,” he explained. “Then a notice appeared telling me to ring a number with my credit card details. Well, I’d heard about these ransomware attacks and I wasn’t going to fall for that old trick.
“However, imagine my surprise when I realized that I’d accidentally put on my official satellite box instead of Kodi, and the message was actually from my pay-per-view provider. Just goes to show, everybody wants your money these days, and these crooks can rope you in for years, and make it really hard to cancel.”
Another chap called James told us that he never considered getting a Kodi Box until he saw an article in a UK tabloid explaining how Kodi Boxes pose a risk for families with children.
“The article quoted some anti-piracy company. They said that parents don’t realize that Kodi Boxes allow easy access to hardcore pornography. And it’s true, I had no idea,” James said.
“But I live alone, so I wasted no time buying one off eBay. I’m watching it in the shed with a fire extinguisher in the other hand, just to be safe.”
But while James clearly has his hands full, our last user is much less satisfied.
Sue told us that she was assured her Kodi box was a miracle device with endless uses. However, after its addons recently stopped working she decided to test the claim by sliding the failing unit under the leg of a wobbly table. It soon became clear the hardware had been massively oversold.
“They say these boxes can do anything but mine clearly wasn’t fit for purpose. It was way too thick so when I put it under the leg, the table sat at a really steep angle. If anything, it was more unstable than it was before.
“I dread to think what could’ve happened if I’d put a pot of boiling oil on it next to the baby. No wonder health and safety are up in arms.”
Tune in next week when we reveal how Kodi Boxes can cause unsightly hair growth and unwanted pregnancies.
Online streaming is booming, and applications such as Kodi, Popcorn Time and VLC have millions of daily users.
Some of these use pirated videos, often in combination with subtitles provided by third-party repositories.
While most subtitle makers do no harm, it appears that those with malicious intent can exploit these popular streaming applications to penetrate the devices and systems of these users.
Researchers from Check Point, who uncovered the problem, describe the subtitle ‘attack vector’ as the most widespread, easily accessed and zero-resistance vulnerability that has been reported in recent years.
“By conducting attacks through subtitles, hackers can take complete control over any device running them. From this point on, the attacker can do whatever he wants with the victim’s machine, whether it is a PC, a smart TV, or a mobile device,” they write.
“The potential damage the attacker can inflict is endless, ranging anywhere from stealing sensitive information, installing ransomware, mass Denial of Service attacks, and much more.”
In a demonstration video, using Popcorn Time, the researchers show how easy it is to compromise the system of a potential victim.
A demo of the subtitles vulnerability
XBMC Foundation’s Project lead Martijn Kaijser informs TorrentFreak that the Kodi team is aware of the situation, which they will address soon. “We will release 17.2 which will have the fix this week,” he told us.
VLC’s VideoLAN addressed the issue as well, and doesn’t expect that it is still exploitable.
“The VLC bug is not exploitable. The first big issue was fixed in 2.2.5. There are 2 other small issues, that will be fixed in 2.2.6,” VideoLAN informed us.
The team behind PopcornTime.sh applied a fix several months ago after the researchers approached them, TorrentFreak is informed. The Popcorn Time team trusts their subtitle provider OpenSubtitles but says that it now sanitizes malicious subtitle files, also those that are added by users.
The same applies to the Butter project, which is closely related to Popcorn Time. Butter was not contacted by Check Point but their fix is visible in a GitHub commit from February.
“None of the Butter Project developers were contacted by the research group. We’d love to have them talk to us if our code is still vulnerable. To the extent of our research it is not, but we’d like the ‘responsible disclosure’ terms to actually mean something,” The Butter project informs TorrentFreak.
Finally, another fork Popcorn-Time.to, also informed us that they are not affected by the reported vulnerability.
The Check Point researchers expect that other applications may also be affected. They do not disclose any technical details at this point, nor do they state which of the applications successfully addressed the vulnerability.
“Some of the issues were already fixed, while others are still under investigation. To allow the developers more time to address the vulnerabilities, we’ve decided not to publish any further technical details at this point,” the researchers state.
More updates will be added if more information becomes available. For now, however, people who regularly use subtitle files should remain vigilant.
On Wednesday, the European Court of Justice handed down its decision in the long-running case between Dutch anti-piracy group BREIN and Filmspeler.nl.
Filmspeler sold Android-type devices with Kodi software installed. However, it augmented otherwise legal setups with third-party addons designed to deliver infringing content to customers.
Filmspeler’s owners felt that its pre-configured devices were legal, but both BREIN and ultimately the ECJ disagreed, with the latter noting that their sale amounted to a “communication to the public” in respect of infringing content.
So what does this decision mean for the sale of so-called “fully-loaded” devices in the EU? In the very short term, probably very little. Longer term, some changes probably lie ahead.
There can be little doubt that one of the first places people turn to for such devices are places like eBay. But despite some recent UK tabloid claims that the auction site had banned their sale, a cursory search today reveals hundreds of listings for devices that are clearly configured for piracy.
Over time – whether due to eBay tightening its policies, more aggressive reporting of infringing listings by rights holders, or increased caution on the part of sellers due to prosecutions – it’s likely that these kinds of blatant ‘pirate’ listings will become much less common. However, sellers will find subtle ways to get their message across, without attracting too much attention.
For instance, people hoping to watch satellite TV without paying for an expensive subscription can head over to eBay and pop the otherwise benign terms “satellite” and “gift” into the search box. Hundreds of listings appear, the majority of which offer a pirate subscription to an illegal card-sharing service. ‘Pirate’ box sellers are likely to employ similar tactics in future.
While sprawling, eBay is relatively easy to police but the same cannot be said of the listings that appear in local classified papers. These ads are often placed by regular people who have nurtured a small cottage industry selling a few boxes per week. These people could find themselves targeted by authorities, but sheer numbers will dictate that most fly under the radar.
For suppliers still intent on shifting volume, safer strategies exist.
Pirate addons? Get ready for a DIY boom
This week’s ECJ ruling has nothing to do with the sale of basic hardware and everything to do with infringing software. In other words, if box suppliers sell devices with little other than an operating system installed, they are not breaking the law. This presents a problem, however.
A typical ‘pirate’ box buyer hasn’t got the knowledge to turn an Android device into a piracy machine, that’s why he bought the thing off eBay in the first instance. This means that these kinds of people will be much less likely to buy if they have to mess around themselves. However, if they only have to click a couple of links to get going, that probably won’t be too much of a problem.
That’s certainly the case with native Android apps such as Showbox, Popcorn Time, Mobdro, and Terrarium TV, which are all installed to a set-top device with a couple of clicks, even by the complete novice. With this in mind, it’s likely that sellers will very gently direct customers to sites offering the software and tutorials, rather than take the risk themselves.
Custom installers for Kodi (such as TVAddons’ Fusion) are also widely available and will no doubt gain further traction if the availability of pre-configured ‘pirate’ boxes is restricted. Expect there to be a lot of innovation in this area, with an emphasis on making this as close to a ‘one-click’ process as possible.
But will users be breaking the law using these setups?
But the ECJ’s decision published on Wednesday appears to have removed all doubt, noting that a “copyright-protected work obtained by streaming from a website belonging to a third party offering that work without the consent of the copyright holder” does not qualify for exemption from reproduction rights.
In other words, streaming copyrighted content from an illicit source is now just as illegal in the EU as downloading from an illicit source. So what does this mean for the average ‘pirate’ box user? In the short term, probably not a great deal.
When a user downloads or streams infringing content, whether that’s from a file-hosting site, streaming portal, or even YouTube, no third parties are legally able to get in the way to monitor what’s going on. The user’s connection is directly communicating with the source, and unlike BitTorrent, there are no easily monitored and potentially risky uploads going on.
So yes, streaming is now apparently confirmed illegal but will remain a hidden offense carried out by dozens of millions of people all around the EU. Even in the face of an ECJ ruling, only their consciences will stand between them and illicit content, whether a box seller installed the addons, or if they did the deed themselves.
As illustrated by the ruling handed down against ISP Bredbandsbolaget by the country’s Patent and Market Court of Appeal this week, piracy is still considered a big problem in Sweden.
Despite better access to legal services such as Spotify and Netflix, some citizens still prefer to get their fix from pirate sites. Whether that’s via The Pirate Bay and torrents or newer streaming-based portals, piracy is still a popular route for obtaining media.
According to figures just released by media industry consultants Mediavision, in January 2017 almost a quarter of all Swedes aged between 15 and 74 admitted either streaming or downloading movies from ‘pirate’ sites during the past month.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the tendency to do so is greater among the young. More than half of 15 to 24-year-olds said they’d used a torrent or streaming site during December. When concentrating that down to only young men in the same age group, the figure leaps to 70%
Mediavision has been tracking the piracy habits of Scandinavians since 2010 and actually reports an overall increase in piracy over the past seven years. However, piracy levels have remained relatively static during the past three years, with roughly 25% of citizens admitting to engaging in the practice.
The company, which previously reported on the activities of Popcorn Time users, says that illegal consumption of media is far more prevalent in Sweden than in the neighboring Nordic countries of Norway, Denmark and Finland.
“The ruling against Bredbandsbolaget is a big thing in this context,” says Natalia Borelius, Project Manager at Mediavision.
“The measures taken to date, with, for example, shutting down illegal websites, has been shown to have limited effect on illegal consumption. In Finland and Denmark, where site blocking has been in place for years, piracy is less than half as prevalent as in Sweden.”
As a result of this week’s decision, rightsholders now have the opportunity to obtain injunctions against all Swedish Internet service providers, barring them from providing customer access to not only The Pirate Bay, but other allegedly infringing sites worldwide.
While this may have some effect on the habits of casual pirates, it remains to be seen how the masses respond. Blocking a couple of sites via one ISP certainly won’t have the desired effect, a conclusion supported by various studies (1, 2). Expect more blocking then, sooner rather than later.
Since around 2003, torrent sites have plagued the MPAA. Hydra-like in their ability to withstand all kinds of attacks, from legal onslaughts to domain blocking, torrent platforms are still going strong today.
However, what BitTorrent lacks in its standard form is a living-room friendly interface. Regular torrent clients are functional at best, uninviting at worst, and lack the colorful Netflix-style interface demanded by today’s sophisticated media consumer.
At least to some extent, the advent of Popcorn Time solved that particular problem for pirates, but the software still performs better in the desktop environment, despite its ability to run on portable devices. Kodi, on the other hand, is a different beast altogether.
This entirely legal piece of media-playing software is equally at home running on a PC, tablet, mobile phone, or crucially, an Android-powered set-top box or stick. As a result and thanks to its colorful interface, Kodi is now a central entertainment component of millions of homes.
Kodi has always had an enthusiastic following, but its ability to run third-party addons has turned this media player into a piracy goliath. Users are understandably delighted by its ability to bring all kinds of video media directly into their homes, at zero cost. Those that make the media are less enthusiastic.
Legal battles over the misuse of the platform are ongoing, mainly in the UK and the Netherlands, where test cases have the ability to clarify the legal position, at least for sellers of so-called “fully loaded” devices.
Interestingly, up until now, the MPAA has stayed almost completely quiet, despite a dramatic rise in the use of Kodi for illicit streaming. Yesterday, however, the silence was broken.
In an interview with Variety during the Berlin Film Festival, MPAA chief Chris Dodd described the Kodi-with-addons situation as “new-generation piracy”.
“The $64,000 question is what can be done about such illegal use of the Kodi platform,” Dodd said.
While $64,000 is a tempting offer, responding to that particular question with a working solution will take much more than that. Indeed, one might argue that dealing with it in any meaningful way will be almost impossible.
First of all, Kodi is open source and has been since its inception in 2002. As a result, trying to target the software itself would be like stuffing toothpaste back in a tube. It’s out there, it isn’t coming back, and pissing off countless developers is extremely ill-advised.
Secondly, the people behind Kodi have done absolutely nothing wrong. Their software is entirely legal and if their public statements are to be believed, they’re as sick of piracy as the entertainment companies are.
The third problem is how Kodi itself works. While to the uninitiated it looks like one platform, a fully-modded ‘pirate’ Kodi setup can contain many third-party addons, each capable of aggregating content from dozens or even hundreds of sites. Not even the mighty MPAA can shut them all down, and even if it could, more would reappear later. It’s the ultimate game of whac-a-mole.
To give an example, Chris Dodd mentioned that the movie “Bridge of Spies” had 160 sources on a Kodi setup and to anyone familiar with how these things work, that is not an unusual position for the most popular content. For hosts based in the US and Europe, a takedown/staydown regime might help a little, but there is plenty of opposition (1,2,3) and a long time to go before anything like that could be put in place.
That being said, indirectly the problem is already being addressed. Due to the way content is pulled from the web, tackling Kodi piracy is in many ways the same as tackling any infringing web-based content. As a result, many regimes already in place (site-blocking, DMCA notices, etc) are already part of the solution, at least if the studios’ claims on effectiveness are to be believed.
On the consumer front, things are even more complex and indeed bleak. Despite a flood of mainstream UK news sites falsely claiming the opposite in recent weeks, people using Kodi setups to stream content won’t be the subject of warning notices from their ISPs. Only peer-to-peer systems like BitTorrent can be tackled this way, so contacting pirating users directly to “educate” them will be almost impossible.
Overall then, the present Kodi situation is more like a $64,000,000 question, and one that won’t be answered quickly, despite the price.
The International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) has released its latest 301 ‘watch list’ submission to the U.S. Government.
The IIPA, which includes a wide range of copyright groups including the MPAA, RIAA, and ESA, has listed its complaints against a whole host of countries. As in previous years, Canada is discussed in detail with the recommendation to put it on the 2017 Special 301 ‘watch list.’
One of the main criticisms is that, despite having been called out repeatedly in the past, the country still offers a home to many pirate sites.
“For a number of years, extending well into the current decade, Canada had a well-deserved reputation as a safe haven for some of the most massive and flagrant Internet sites dedicated to the online theft of copyright material,” IIPA writes.
The group notes that some progress has been made. For example, last year the Canadian authorities actively helped to shut down the popular torrent site KickassTorrents, which was partly hosted there. However, the rightsholders say that there’s more work to be done.
“Nonetheless, major online piracy operations still find a home in Canada. These include leading BitTorrent sites such as Sumotorrent.sx and Seedpeer.eu, and hybrid cloud storage services utilizing BitTorrents, such as cloudload.com.”
Another disturbing development, according to IIPA, is the emergence of stand-alone BitTorrent applications that allow users to stream content directly through an attractive and user-friendly interface, hinting at Popcorn Time.
In addition to the traditional pirate sites that remain in Canada, IIPA reports that several websites offering modified game console gear have also moved there in an attempt to escape liability under U.S. law.
“In a growing and problematic trend, sites selling circumvention devices that have been subject to DMCA takedown notices from right holders in the U.S. are moving to Canadian ISPs for hosting, to evade enforcement action under U.S. law. Canadian hosting services such as Hawk Host and Crocweb are particularly popular with such sites.”
The group specifically highlights R4cardmontreal.com, gamersection.ca and r4dscanada.com among the offenders, and notes that “This trend breathes new life into Canada’s problematic ‘safe haven’ reputation.”
The recommendation continues by stressing that Canada’s legal regime fails to deal with online piracy in a proper manner. This is also true for the “notice and notice” legislation that was adopted two years ago, which requires ISPs to forward copyright infringement notices to pirating subscribers.
IIPA notes that there is no evidence that this initiative has resulted in a significant change in consumer behavior, in part because there are no punishments involved for frequent offenders.
“…simply notifying ISP subscribers that their infringing activity has been detected is ineffective in deterring illegal activity, because receiving the notices lacks any meaningful consequences under the Canadian system,” IIPA writes.
This is even worse for hosting providers and other Internet services, who currently have no legal incentive to take infringing material down, IIPA argues.
“The ‘notice-and-takedown’ remedy that most other modern copyright laws provide is far from a panacea for online piracy, but it does, at a minimum, provide some incentives for cooperation, incentives that Canada’s laws simply lack.”
In addition, IIPA notes that a broad range of third-party services such as advertisers, payment processors, and domain name registrars are all too often abused to facilitate piracy. They believe that this is in part because Canadian law doesn’t offer enough “motivation” for these companies to cooperate.
The rightsholders hope that the U.S. Government can help to steer Canada in another direction and encourage more and better anti-piracy regulation. If not, they fear that Canada will remain a safe haven for pirates during the years to come.
IIPA’s full submission, which highlights a variety of countries which deserve a spot on the 301 Watch Lists per IIPA’s standards, is available here (pdf).
In January it was revealed that UK ISPs and the movie and music industries had finally reached their years-long goal of sending infringment notices to pirating subscribers.
The alerts, which are claimed to be educational in nature, are part of the larger Creative Content UK (CCUK) initiative, which includes PR campaigns targeted at the public and classroom.
Until now, no one has published details of the actual alerts in public but thanks to a cooperative member of the UK public, TorrentFreak has the lowdown. The system we’ll show below relates to Sky, so other ISPs may or may not operate slightly differently.
The initial warning email from Sky
The email above has been redacted to protect the identity of our tipster. The blacked-out areas contain his name, the date in DD/MM/YY format, an alleged time of infringement in the HH:MM format, and a seven-digit reference code for the shared content, which is the TV show Westworld.
There is also a pair of links, one to sign into the subscriber’s Sky account (presumably this ensures the person signing in is the account holder) and a link to the ‘Get it Right Information Portal’. The first page before hitting that site looks like this.
What is Creative Content UK?
Once on the GetItRight site, the user is informed that his or her account has been used to breach copyright and that further information is available on the following pages.
There’s a report coming up
Following the links, the alleged infringer is presented with a page which provides a lot more detail. The CIR ID shown below is the same as the seven-digit code on Sky’s website. The date and time are the same, although in different formats.
The all-important IP address is listed alongside details of the software used to share the content. Also included are the filename and filesize of the infringing content and the copyright owner that made the complaint.
The infringement data
Interestingly, the system’s ability to track repeat infringers is evident at the bottom of the screenshot where the “Total Instances Logged This Period” can be seen.
Since the purpose of the campaign is to “educate” infringers, we asked our tipster a little about his habits, his impressions of the system, and how this warning will affect his future behavior.
“I was expecting [a warning] sooner or later as a heavy BitTorrent user. I’m sharing everything from movies, TV shows to games, but this email was about watching a TV show on Popcorn Time,” he revealed.
“This surprised me because I don’t use Popcorn Time very often and yet after approximately 10 minutes of usage I got an email the very next day. Isn’t that funny?”
So in this case, the warning was not only accurate but was also delivered to the correct person, rather than merely the person who pays the bill. We asked our tipster if he was aware of the GetItRight campaign before receiving this warning and whether it would achieve its aims.
“Yes, I have read articles on TorrentFreak. Only what I have read on TorrentFreak,” he said.
“I don’t think [the warnings] will work, at least not on a big scale. Maybe they will educate some people who did it by mistake or did it just once but for someone like me there is no hope. But at least the campaign is not aggressive.”
Interestingly, the education factor in this particular case appears to have somewhat backfired. Our tipster said that thanks to news coverage of the warnings, he knew immediately that there would be no consequences for receiving one. That put his mind at rest.
However, he did indicate that he may change his habits after receiving the warning, particularly given Sky’s claim it will ask subscribers to remove file-sharing software if they’re caught multiple times.
“[The threat to remove software] upsets me as a long-term Sky customer. But I won’t comply, I will either subscribe to another ISP provider or start using VPNs,” he said.
“I might stop using Popcorn Time as I wasn’t using it too often anyway, but I will keep using BitTorrent,” he added. Of course, Popcorn Time has BitTorrent under the hood, so both can trigger warnings.
After a decade of torrent sites ruling the pirate seas, streaming sites are now all the rage. These sites are not always the friendliest places to navigate though, unless users get a little help.
What people are discovering in ever-increasing numbers is that the popular and entirely legal Kodi media player can present content from endless streaming sites in a TV friendly interface. This is achieved via third-party addons, often with questionable legal standing.
While people were previously happy to do their own software installations at home, traders are increasingly doing the work for them, bundling the whole package into set-top boxes and supplying them for a few pounds, dollars or euros. The people behind Kodi don’t like it. The addon makers don’t like it and streaming sites don’t like it.
Most importantly, copyright holders, broadcasters, and the police don’t like it either, and yet again today they showed that in the clearest of terms.
In what is being described as a “multi-agency day of action,” FACT, Greater Manchester Police (GMP), City of London Police’s Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) and the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) joined forces to target six individuals.
After executing warrants in Tameside, Bolton, Bootle, Manchester, Cheadle and Rhyl, four men aged 33, 36, 46 and 60, and a 36-year-old woman were arrested at their homes by PIPCU and GMP.
According to FACT, so-called “fully loaded” set-top boxes were seized from the homes of all five suspects, who are said to have made £250,000 from sales across “social media, online forums, as well as their own dedicated websites.”
Speaking with TorrentFreak, FACT confirmed that some of the seized devices are believed to have Kodi with third-party addons installed, while some will have “other software and/or infringing apps and add-ons that don’t require media player software.”
Software such as Popcorn Time, Showbox, CinemaBox, and Mobdro all fit that description and are used by huge numbers of people to receive movies, TV shows, and live sports without paying for them.
This is not only a massive thorn in the side of copyright holders, but distributors too. That could not be more evident today. Instead of the usual complaints from groups such as the MPAA, FACT reports that the operation was carried out on behalf of The Premier League, Sky, BT Sport and Virgin Media.
“This operation is aimed at taking out distributors of illegal set top boxes in the north west of England,” said DCI Pete Ratcliffe, Head of the City of London Police’s Intellectual Property Crime Unit.
“This industry undermines the legitimate sale of subscription television services which employ tens of thousands of people in the UK and whose contributions are key to the creative and sporting industries.”
Kieron Sharp, Director General of FACT, took the opportunity to warn other sellers of the consequences.
“Today’s day of action should send out a clear warning to anyone involved in the sale and distribution of illegal set-top boxes that law enforcement and industry take this matter very seriously,” he said.
As the dozens of listings on eBay and Amazon show, police can’t target everyone with a raid. However, it appears that other sellers have narrowly escaped police action and given a second chance to mend their ways.
“Officers from Greater Manchester Police, Merseyside Police and City of London Police also joined FACT investigators the day before (7 Feb) to issue three Cease and Desist Notices to other offenders on a lower scale. Two further investigations have also been passed on to HMRC for further action,” FACT reports.
With many sellers carrying out their business as a cottage industry sideline, the involvement of Revenue and Customs is an interesting development. There’s only one thing worse than a police visit and that’s a visit from the taxman, and if people receive benefits too, things can get extremely messy.
Back in 2011, Belgium was one of the first countries to implement a court-ordered Pirate Bay blockade. The action was the result of a lawsuit between the Belgian Anti-Piracy Foundation (BAF) and ISPs Belgacom and Telenet.
After being tested in many countries around Europe, especially the UK where thousands of domains are now inaccessible, the site-blocking train has returned to Belgium.
The Belgian Entertainment Association was formed nine years ago following a local merger of International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI, music industry), the Belgian Video Federation (BVF, videos), and the Belgian Luxembourg Interactive Software Association (BLISA, videogames).
On Wednesday, the organization filed a lawsuit at the French commercial court in Brussels. Belgian news outlet De Tijd reports that it wants local Internet service providers to block subscriber access to several ‘pirate’ sites.
Speaking with TorrentFreak, BEA director Olivier Maeterlinck says that several popular streaming sites are being targeted initially.
“Our action aims to block nine of the most popular streaming sites which offer copyright-protected content on a massive scale and without authorisation,” Maeterlinck says.
“In accordance with the principles established by the CJEU (UPC Telekabel and GS Media), BEA seeks a court order confirming the infringement and imposing site blocking measures on the ISPs, who are content providers as well.”
In common with earlier blocking cases elsewhere in Europe, the ISPs named in the case (Brutélé, Nethys, Proximus, Telenet) first want confirmation that the sites they’re being asked to block are acting illegally. That is the stated purpose of the BEA lawsuit.
“Site blocking is nothing new in Belgium. The Pirate Bay and Popcorn Time – which are not involved in the current action – have been blocked for a long time,” Maeterlinck continues.
“Studies and figures from abroad (e.g. UK, Portugal) have shown that site blocking has a positive impact on the legal offer while the visits to the blocked sites drop massively (approximately a 90% drop in Belgium with The Pirate Bay) and the overall piracy level decreases as well.
“Site blocking actions are effective and if we want to support the continuing development of the legal offer and increase consumer confidence in the online economy, these enforcement initiatives need to be continued,” Maeterlinck concludes.
In the UK, well over a thousand domains are blocked on copyright grounds and in Portugal, where a voluntary mechanism is in place, the current tally is more than 900.
Next door to Belgium in the Netherlands, the blocking process has been much more drawn out. Rather than being largely compliant, ISPs have dug in their heels and objected at every turn after being asked to block The Pirate Bay. That case was referred to the European Court of Justice and it will eventually fall to the Dutch Supreme Court to make a decision.
While the overall volume of lawsuits continues to fall, copyright trolling is still a live and viable business model in the United States. However, things don’t always go smoothly.
After demanding payments from alleged pirates for some time, last November it was reported that LHF Productions, the company behind the action movie London Has Fallen, was having difficulty with a spirited defendant in one of its cases.
In communications with LHF’s legal team, James Collins and his lawyer J. Christopher Lynch systematically took apart LHF’s claims, threatening to expose their foreign representatives, the notorious Guardaley, MaverickEye and Crystal Bay organizations, and their “fictitious witnesses.”
But just as LHF Productions were dismissing that case, new opportunities were opening up thousands of miles away. According to reports coming out of Norway this week, letters are now being sent out to locals accusing them of downloading London Has Fallen using Popcorn Time and other BitTorrent-based systems.
In common with similar claims elsewhere, the law firm involved (Denmark-based Njord Law) is demanding a cash payment to make a supposed lawsuit go away.
A copy of the letter obtained by Tek.no reveals that 2,700 NOK (around US$320) can make the case disappear. Failure to comply, on the other hand, could result in a court case and damages of around $12,000, the company warns.
Like the UK, where the Citizens Advice Bureau has taken an interest in the activities of copyright trolls, in Norway The Consumer Council (Forbrukerrådet) has also been commenting this week.
“This is a very funny way of working, we think. An IP address is not an indicator that can be used to determine that someone has done something illegal. At least not the specific person – so this would not hold up in court,” their technical director explained.
“First, we wondered if this was to do with fraud, then if the letters were part of a campaign by licensees to inform users that it is illegal to download movies,” he added.
While that was obviously not the case, even the local organization representing the rights of the major US movie studios was quick to distance itself from the activities of the trolls. Willy Johansen, chairman of Norwegian organization Rights Alliance, said the demands have nothing to do with them and his group had already refused to work with the law firm.
“Njord says they represent producer companies directly in the United States. We have told them clearly that in Norway we do not want to go against consumers in this way,” Johansen said.
So what should recipients of these letters do? According to the Consumer Council, the answer is to dispute the claim. Torgeir Waterhouse of Internet interest group ICT Norway suggests going a step further.
“They claim to have a case, but they have not – at best they have identified the correct broadband subscription at the time the movie was downloaded. I strongly recommend that everyone who receives this letter does not pay,” he told Side3.no.
“We want the Norwegian Data Protection Authority to look at this. One thing is the collection of information, but another thing is that we know nothing about the processing of the information and if it can be presented as evidence in a trial.”
While it is clearly scary for people to receive these kinds of letters, it is only because recipients cave in and pay that the business model keeps rolling. Whether in the US, Europe, or elsewhere, trolls like Guardaley will continue until the money dries up – or someone in authority stops them.
In an effort to curb online piracy, the movie and music industries reached an agreement with the UK’s leading ISPs to send “educational alerts” to alleged copyright infringers.
The piracy alerts program is part of the larger Creative Content UK (CCUK) initiative which already introduced several anti-piracy PR campaigns, targeted at the general public as well as the classroom.
The four ISPs who are confirmed to be participating are BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media, but other providers could join in at a later stage. Thus far CCUK hasn’t announced a lot of detail or specifics on how the program will operate exactly, but here’s what TorrentFreak has learned so far.
What will be monitored?
The “alerts” system will only apply to P2P file-sharing. In theory, this means that the focus will be almost exclusively on BitTorrent (including apps such as Popcorn Time), as other P2P networks have relatively low user bases.
Consequently, those who use Usenet providers, streaming services (such as 123movies), or file-hosters such as Zippyshare and 4Shared, are not at risk. In other words, the program only covers a part of all online piracy.
A spokesperson from CCUK’s “Get it Right” campaign stressed that the alerts represent only one part of the broader program, which also aims to reach other infringers through its other initiatives.
How many people will be targeted?
The system will apply to everyone whose Internet account has been used to share copyrighted material via P2P networks.
That said, copyright holders and ISPs have agreed to cap the warnings at 2.5 million over three years. This means that only a fraction of all UK pirates will receive a notice.
Some people may also receive multiple notices if their account is repeatedly used to share copyrighted material.
“This ensures that people who might have missed an earlier email receive another one – but also allows time for account holders to take steps to address the issue,” a Get It Right spokesperson informed us.
What’s in the notices?
While the exact language might differ between ISPs, the notices are primarily meant to inform subscribers that their accounts have been used to share infringing material, while pointing them to legal alternatives.
“The purpose is to educate UK consumers about the many sources of legal content available, highlight the value of the UK’s creative industries and reduce online copyright infringement,” we were told.
Who will be monitoring these copyright infringements?
While ISPs take part in the scheme, they will not monitor subscribers’ file-sharing activities. The tracking will be done by third-party company MarkMonitor, who are also the technology partner for the U.S. Copyright Alert System.
This tracking company collects IP-addresses from BitTorrent swarms and sends its findings directly to the Internet providers. The lists with infringing IP-addresses are not shared with any of the rightsholders.
Each ISP will keep a database of the alleged infringers and send them appropriate warnings. In compliance with local laws and the best practices of the Information Commissioner’s Office, recorded infringements will be stored for a limited time.
Will any Internet accounts be disconnected?
There are no disconnections or mitigation measures for repeat infringers under the UK copyright alerts program. Early reports suggested that alleged file-sharers will get up to four warnings after which all subsequent offenses will be ignored.
This is in line with the overall goal of the campaign which is not targeted at the most hardcore file-sharers. The program is mostly focused on educating casual infringers about the legal alternatives to piracy.
Can the monitoring be circumvented?
The answer to the previous questions already shows that users have plenty of options to bypass the program. They can simply switch to other means of downloading, but there are more alternatives.
BitTorrent users could hide their IP-addresses through proxy services and VPNs for example. After the U.S. Copyright Alert Program launched in the U.S. there was a huge increase in demand for this kind of anonymity services.
So how scary are the alerts?
CCUK’s “Get it Right” stresses that the main purpose of the system is to inform casual infringers about their inappropriate behavior and point them to legal alternatives.
The focus lies on education, although the warnings also serve as a deterrent by pointing out that people are not anonymous. For some, this may be enough to cause them to switch to legal alternatives.
All in all the proposed measures are fairly reasonable, especially when compared to other countries where fines and internet connections are on the table. Whether it will be successful is an entirely different question of course.
The Creative Content UK team is confident that they can drive some significant change. Several benchmark measurements were taken prior to the campaign, so its effectiveness can be properly measured once the first results come in.
While Popcorn Time was the hot news of 2014 and 2015, 2016 was taken by storm by an old kid on the block with a new lick of paint.
For TF readers, Kodi needs little introduction. It’s an open source media player that can, given select tweaks, be augmented with third-party addons that grant access to an Aladdin’s cave of pirate content.
Unlike most other kinds of unauthorized online sharing, the way content is delivered through Kodi has exposed a whole new legal gray area. While it’s definitely illegal in Europe and the US to share copyrighted content without permission using BitTorrent, no one is really clear whether streaming content via Kodi has the same status.
In recent weeks, this has led to the publication of dozens of articles which claim to answer that question. Upon review, none of them actually do, so the topic remains hot in the UK.
To that end, BBC Radio Five ran a pretty long feature this morning which had host Adrian Chiles discussing the topic with FACT chief Kieron Sharp, intellectual property lawyer Steve (whose surname wasn’t clear from the broadcast) and technical guy Tom Cheesewright who really knew what he was talking about.
The start of the interview was marked by Chiles noting that when he found out what a Kodi device could do, he immediately wanted one.
“I’d never heard of them,” he said. “I heard what they were and then I wanted one. And then someone told me that they’re probably illegal, so I better not get one.”
Chiles’ reaction is probably held in common with millions of others who’ve learned about what Kodi devices can do. There’s a clear and totally understandable attraction, and it was helpful for the broadcaster to acknowledge that.
After a brief technological description from Cheesewright, Chiles turned to IP lawyer Steve, who was asked where the law stands. His response was fairly lengthy but clearly focused on the people supplying the devices.
“You’ve got big content producers like HBO that are used to producing premium content that people pay for,” Steve said.
“Where they are directing their attention is on the people who sell these boxes loaded with software that lets you get around paying a subscription.”
The lawyer acknowledged that there are some ongoing cases in the UK which involve suppliers of devices which effectively allow users to get around copyright protection.
“That’s been the focus of the strategy and it’s a big, big, big issue,” he said.
But for those who know Chiles’ down-to-earth style, it was always obvious that he would want to know how the law views the man in the street.
“From the punter’s point of view, if you’re watching something made by HBO that Netflix would hope that you’d be paying them to watch, but you’re watching it for free via your Kodi stick, then are you going to get a knock on the door?” Chiles asked.
Chiles didn’t get a straight answer about the law, but after a breath, Steve offered the reality.
“In all likelihood, no,” the lawyer responded.
Noting that there have been cases against file-sharers, the IP expert said that there is a difference – a legal gray area – when it comes to streaming versus file-sharing.
“What tends to happen is that the content providers go after the ISPs, they go after platforms [offering pirate content], not the individual people,” he said, adding that getting a knock on the door at home would be fairly unlikely.
Interestingly, Chiles’ then admitted that in the past he also tried to get Premier League football on his laptop for free, but was unsuccessful in getting any content. The suggestion was that Chiles’ failure could be put down to anti-piracy crackdowns against sites, including site-blocking, a point on which the lawyer agreed.
“[Rightsholders] have been choking off access [to free content] rather than going to war with their own fans, which is never going to be good for publicity, which is only going to cause them a bigger problem,” the lawyer said.
At this point, FACT chief Keiron Sharp entered the conversation and immediately acknowledged that piracy is an ongoing problem that isn’t going to be solved overnight. However, he also revealed a little about their Kodi strategy.
“This will still keep coming up no matter which actions we take, but there is still a deterrent effect on people when they see that sellers and providers and distributors of these boxes are going to prison. Which they will do,” Sharp said.
The FACT chief said that people will make a connection between people being locked up for selling boxes and the use of these boxes at home, something which he hopes will result in less uptake.
“There will be a deterrent effect [from cases going through the court now] and I think your average punter, as you put it, are the ones who will see that deterrent effect and we will be able to move some people away,” he said.
Interestingly, Sharp then referred to pirates as “fans” who want access to a product and that content providers were trying to fulfill that demand. Lawyer Steve, who also used the word “fans,” added that people who pirate aren’t necessarily cheapskates either.
“The biggest problem the industry has is that it’s always been behind on design and user experience,” he said.
“People buy these boxes not necessarily because they’re cheapskates or want to break the law, but probably because it’s the only place they can get access to all the content they want in one place, in a good user experience, without buying separate subscriptions for Sky, for Netflix, for Amazon, for Hulu, for all of these different services,” he said.
This conclusion is an important one. While at some point the courts may decide (there’s a case in Europe) that knowingly watching pirate streams is indeed illegal, there is no way that a user that ONLY STREAMS content can be monitored by groups that would like to prosecute them.
So, to answer the million dollar question. Watching pirate Kodi streams may be deemed illegal sometime in the future but right now, no one is 100% sure. In any event, it’s impossible in any sensible scenario for anyone to get caught doing so.
With that in mind, content providers need to keep upping their game, or the Kodi content free-for-all (or whatever else comes along next) will continue.
After bursting onto the file-sharing scene to wave of publicity, Popcorn Time has settled down to become another established way of obtaining and sharing video content.
Often referred to as the Netflix For Pirates, Popcorn Time has seen more than its fair share of controversy, with several forks and developers having been targeted and in some cases shut down by the MPAA. One fork, however, is still going strong.
Popcorn-time.to remains one of, if not the most popular variant of the software. Its tagline from the beginning has been “This Popcorn Time service will never be taken down” and thus far it has lived up to that billing.
With 2016 drawing to a close, TorrentFreak caught up with its developers to listen to their thoughts and plans for 2017. What we didn’t expect was a broadside against what they refer to as the “US Content Monopolies [USCM],” aka the MPAA.
Noting that copyright is a relatively new framework, the team say that fast Internet and digitized media has enabled groups such as the MPAA to “tax end-users” in order to feed their “monstrous appetite.” Content is expensive, they say, and not everyone can afford to buy it.
“It’s obvious that watching one’s favorite TV series chapter as soon as it’s released, or buying a VOD, is cool, extremely convenient and fun. But it costs. US$99 (average) monthly in the US and more in Europe. The average monthly salary in the developed countries is between US$10,000 to US$1,200. In third world countries it’s significantly less,” the team says.
“People who struggle to support their families, cannot afford to pay cable, satellites, and VOD. They do manage to link to the internet. Thus Netflix, where available, P2P, Popcorn Time etc. are their only solution for content consumption. The USCM will never make a nickel from them, because their alternative is not to watch movies, TV shows or listen to music albums.”
The team says that while the MPAA fights people who can’t afford to buy tickets or pay for subscriptions, shutting down services like Popcorn Time or even regular torrents won’t solve that particular problem either. Where there’s no money available, no blood will come from stone, they say.
The team suggests that they’re providing a service to meet this demand, while at the same time providing a counter-balance to what they feel are the unfair business practices of a copyright-protected monopoly with power in high places.
“This brings about the conclusion that it is all about politics and political power and immoral tradeoffs between administrations and huge money interests,” they say.
“There cannot be any other reason for the Polish authorities keeping the Ukrainian citizen Artem Vaulin, the creator of KickAssTorrents, in custody, for almost six months, awaiting a decision to extradite him to the US, as if he was a war criminal.”
In addition to these tough words and the continued running of their own successful Popcorn Time project, the team are also bringing a valuable new addition to the file-sharing landscape in 2017.
Public trackers are in pretty short supply at the moment so a new one with capacity will be a welcome addition to the landscape. Of course, the platform itself is content-neutral, so anyone wishing to embed a tracker in a torrent of any kind will be able to do so without restrictions.
In closing, the Popcorn Time team see online sharing increasing next year, particularly since the content allowing that to happen is already out there, distributed among the public.
“The files containing content are out there, in huge numbers and throughout disbursed locations of sites, being the sites of sharing, P2P users,” they conclude.
Popcorn Tracker, billed as “A Public and Free BitTorrent Tracker That You Can Trust”, is available here.
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