Tag Archives: RAID

SAML Raider – SAML2 Security Testing Burp Extension

Post Syndicated from Darknet original http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/darknethackers/~3/uIEtvAVuRck/

SAML Raider is a Burp Suite extension for SAML2 security testing, it contains two core functionalities – Manipulating SAML Messages and managing X.509 certificates. The extension is divided into two parts, a SAML message editor and a certificate management tool. Features Message Editor Features of the SAML Raider message editor: Sign SAML Messages…

Read the full post at darknet.org.uk

Piracy Narrative Isn’t About Ethics Anymore, It’s About “Danger”

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/piracy-narrative-isnt-about-ethics-anymore-its-about-danger-170812/

Over the years there have been almost endless attempts to stop people from accessing copyright-infringing content online. Campaigns have come and gone and almost two decades later the battle is still ongoing.

Early on, when panic enveloped the music industry, the campaigns centered around people getting sued. Grabbing music online for free could be costly, the industry warned, while parading the heads of a few victims on pikes for the world to see.

Periodically, however, the aim has been to appeal to the public’s better nature. The idea is that people essentially want to do the ‘right thing’, so once they understand that largely hard-working Americans are losing their livelihoods, people will stop downloading from The Pirate Bay. For some, this probably had the desired effect but millions of people are still getting their fixes for free, so the job isn’t finished yet.

In more recent years, notably since the MPAA and RIAA had their eyes blacked in the wake of SOPA, the tone has shifted. In addition to educating the public, torrent and streaming sites are increasingly being painted as enemies of the public they claim to serve.

Several studies, largely carried out on behalf of the Digital Citizens Alliance (DCA), have claimed that pirate sites are hotbeds of malware, baiting consumers in with tasty pirate booty only to offload trojans, viruses, and God-knows-what. These reports have been ostensibly published as independent public interest documents but this week an advisor to the DCA suggested a deeper interest for the industry.

Hemanshu Nigam is a former federal prosecutor, ex-Chief Security Officer for News Corp and Fox Interactive Media, and former VP Worldwide Internet Enforcement at the MPAA. In an interview with Deadline this week, he spoke about alleged links between pirate sites and malware distributors. He also indicated that warning people about the dangers of pirate sites has become Hollywood’s latest anti-piracy strategy.

“The industry narrative has changed. When I was at the MPAA, we would tell people that stealing content is wrong and young people would say, yeah, whatever, you guys make a lot of money, too bad,” he told the publication.

“It has gone from an ethical discussion to a dangerous one. Now, your parents’ bank account can be raided, your teenage daughter can be spied on in her bedroom and extorted with the footage, or your computer can be locked up along with everything in it and held for ransom.”

Nigam’s stance isn’t really a surprise since he’s currently working for the Digital Citizens Alliance as an advisor. In turn, the Alliance is at least partly financed by the MPAA. There’s no suggestion whatsoever that Nigam is involved in any propaganda effort, but recent signs suggest that the DCA’s work in malware awareness is more about directing people away from pirate sites than protecting them from the alleged dangers within.

That being said and despite the bias, it’s still worth giving experts like Nigam an opportunity to speak. Largely thanks to industry efforts with brands, pirate sites are increasingly being forced to display lower-tier ads, which can be problematic. On top, some sites’ policies mean they don’t deserve any visitors at all.

In the Deadline piece, however, Nigam alleges that hackers have previously reached out to pirate websites offering $200 to $5000 per day “depending on the size of the pirate website” to have the site infect users with malware. If true, that’s a serious situation and people who would ordinarily use ‘pirate’ sites would definitely appreciate the details.

For example, to which sites did hackers make this offer and, crucially, which sites turned down the offer and which ones accepted?

It’s important to remember that pirates are just another type of consumer and they would boycott sites in a heartbeat if they discovered they’d been paid to infect them with malware. But, as usual, the claims are extremely light in detail. Instead, there’s simply a blanket warning to stay away from all unauthorized sites, which isn’t particularly helpful.

In some cases, of course, operational security will prevent some details coming to light but without these, people who don’t get infected on a ‘pirate’ site (the vast majority) simply won’t believe the allegations. As the author of the Deadline piece pointed out, it’s a bit like Reefer Madness all over again.

The point here is that without hard independent evidence to back up these claims, with reports listing sites alongside the malware they’ve supposed to have spread and when, few people will respond to perceived scaremongering. Free content trumps a few distant worries almost every time, whether that involves malware or the threat of a lawsuit.

It’ll be up to the DCA and their MPAA paymasters to consider whether the approach is working but thus far, not even having government heavyweights on board has helped.

Earlier this year the DCA launched a video campaign, enrolling 15 attorney generals to publish their own anti-piracy PSAs on YouTube. Thus far, interest has been minimal, to say the least.

At the time of writing the 15 PSAs have 3,986 views in total, with 2,441 of those contributed by a single video contributed by Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel. Despite the relative success, even that got slammed with 2 upvotes and 127 downvotes.

A few of the other videos have a couple of hundred views each but more than half have less than 70. Perhaps most worryingly for the DCA, apart from the Schimel PSA, none have any upvotes at all, only down. It’s unclear who the viewers were but it seems reasonable to conclude they weren’t entertained.

The bottom line is nobody likes malware or having their banking details stolen but yet again, people who claim to have the public interest at heart aren’t actually making a difference on the ground. It could be argued that groups advocating online safety should be publishing guides on how to stay protected on the Internet period, not merely advising people to stay away from certain sites.

But of course, that wouldn’t achieve the goals of the MPAA Digital Citizens Alliance.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

Seller of ‘Fully Loaded’ Kodi Boxes Pleads Guilty to Money Laundering

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/seller-of-fully-loaded-kodi-boxes-pleads-guilty-to-money-laundering-170806/

In June 2015, police and Trading Standards officers in the UK carried out raids on sellers of Android boxes configured to receive unauthorized content. One seller, operating from GeekyKit.com, told customers that his physical shops would be shutting down.

“As you may be aware we were visited yesterday by Sky [television] in conjunction with Trading Standards. Whilst we continue to investigate our position the stores will remain closed and support will remain suspended. Our sincere apologies for any inconvenience caused,” he explained.

Julian Allen was arrested after raids at ‘Geeky Kit’ premises in Billingham and Middlesbrough in the north of England. One of the locations is pictured below.

Despite the seriously incriminating storefront claims, Allen insisted that his businesses couldn’t be held responsible for copyrighted TV shows, movies and sports received by customers on boxes his company supplied.

“We do not control the content that is accessible on the internet via the product that we sell. We are currently working with Trading Standards to ensure that we can sell our products whilst adhering to UK copyright laws,” he said.

This January, Allen appeared before Teesside Crown Court charged with laundering £135,173, money said to have been generated via the sale of pre-loaded set-top boxes and premium packages over a 30-month period.

Allen was expected to appear for a week-long trial scheduled to start this Monday but that was scrapped after the 40-year-old pleaded guilty to using or acquiring criminal property.

According to Gazette Live, a proceeds of crime hearing has been scheduled for next year. In the meantime, Allen was granted unconditional bail until sentencing on October 20, where he faces a potential jail sentence.

“I don’t know what the sentence will be until all the matters are known,” the judge said.

Ever since a European Court of Justice ruling earlier this year that found that selling “fully-loaded” streaming boxes are illegal, people in a similar position to Allen have seen their cases take a turn for the worse.

One such case, involving Middlesbrough shopkeeper Brian Thompson, appears to be progressing under different legislation, however. Thompson stands accused of two offenses under section 296ZB of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, which deals with devices and services designed to circumvent technological measures.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

Police Confirm ‘Extra’ Illegal Spying on Kim Dotcom

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/police-confirms-extra-illegal-spying-on-kim-dotcom-170727/

Kim Dotcom has made headlines in the press again over the past week, but not for his own alleged misconduct.

Instead, there is a renewed focus on the unlawful surveillance practices of the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB).

During the months leading up to the raid, the GCSB carried out surveillance on Dotcom but failed to check his residency status. The outfit was not allowed to spy on its own residents and clearly crossed a line with its unlawful information gathering.

To find out what was collected, Dotcom asked the High Court for access to the surveilled information, but last week this request was denied. While this came as a disappointment, the court did reveal something else of interest.

As it turns out, the illegal spying on Dotcom didn’t stop on January 20, 2012, when Dotcom was arrested. Instead, it carried on for another two months, ending March 22, 2012.

Initially, some people thought that the High Court may have made a mistake in the timeline, but with pressure mounting, New Zealand police have now confirmed that this is not the case. The illegal spying did indeed continue for two more months.

“We’ve checked the file and can confirm that the dates you’ve highlighted were known to the Operation Grey team. They were considered as part of the investigation and decision-making about the outcome,” a police spokesman told NZ Herald.

While this is all news to the public, the police and others were well-aware of the additional spying. This raises a series of questions, which Megaupload’s founder would like to see answered.

“Does this mean that New Zealand Police knew that the GCSB affidavits were false? GCSB told the Courts under oath that the illegal spying ended two months earlier. Not in March but in January,” Dotcom says, commenting on the news.

The issue is more than a matter of oversight, Dotcom says, and he calls for a proper investigation where the people responsible will be held accountable.

“New Zealand Police investigated GCSB because of the illegal spying but nobody was ever charged with any crime. How is that possible if the Police knew that the GCSB lied to the New Zealand Courts? What else would we discover if we had a fair and open hearing instead of secret submissions in closed Court?

“The New Zealand Courts have been fooled by the GCSB and the Police. What’s next? What are the consequences?” Dotcom adds.

In recent years the Megaupload case has been a stumbling block for several politicians and the latest revelations have put Prime Minister Bill English under pressure. It’s clear that several high ranked officials would rather see Dotcom leave, but thus far the fiasco is more likely to help him stay.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

Kim Dotcom Spying Fiasco Puts Prime Minister Under Pressure

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/kim-dotcom-spying-fiasco-puts-prime-minister-under-pressure-170725/

In the lead up to the January 2012 raid on cloud storage site Megaupload, authorities in New Zealand used the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) agency to spy on Kim and Mona Dotcom, plus Megaupload co-defendant Bram van der Kolk. That should not have happened.

Intelligence agency GCSB was forbidden by law from conducting surveillance on its own citizens or permanent residents in the country. Former Prime Minister John Key later apologized for the glaring error but for Dotcom, that wasn’t enough. The entrepreneur launched legal action in pursuit of the information illegally obtained by GCSB and appropriate compensation.

Last week the High Court decided that Dotcom wouldn’t get access to the information but it also revealed something of much interest. Instead of confirming that the illegal spying on Dotcom took place December 16, 2011, through to January 20, 2012, the range was extended by two months to March 22, 2012.

The implications of the extension are numerous, not least that GCSB continued to spy on Dotcom even after it knew it was acting illegally. The reveal also undermines an earlier affidavit from a GCSB staff member, problems which are now returning to haunt New Zealand Prime Minister, Bill English.

When the spying was taking place, John Key was Prime Minister but when Key traveled overseas, English was left at the helm. As a result, when the possibility that Dotcom had been spied on was raised during court hearings in 2012, it was English who was approached by the GCSB with a request to have its involvement made a state secret.

According to NZHerald, English was briefed by then-GCSB director Ian Fletcher and former acting director Hugh Wolfensohn on GCSB’s assistance to the police in the Dotcom case.

The content of those discussion has not been made public but English appears to have been convinced of the need to keep the information private. He subsequently signed a ministerial certificate, which barred disclosure of GCSB activities, even by people asked to provide them in a court of law.

However, since GCSB had broken the law by illegally spying on the Dotcoms and van Der Kolk, the certificate subsequently collapsed. But, like a dog with a bone, Dotcom isn’t letting this go, claiming that acting Prime Minister English acted unlawfully by signing the certificate in an effort to suppress wrong-doing.

“The ministerial certificate was an attempted cover-up. Bill English must have been briefed that GCSB was facing legal troubles because of unlawful conduct,” he told NZHerald.

“And only after the attempted gag-order failed in the High Court did the Government admit unlawful spying with a fake narrative that it was all a big mistake, a misunderstanding of the law, an error.”

Following the judgment last week that revealed the extended spying period, Dotcom confirms that there will be fresh legal action to obtain information from GCSB.

“The new revelations completely undermine the government narrative and it raises new questions about what really happened,” Dotcom concludes.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

Kim Dotcom Denied Access to Illegally Obtained Spy Recordings

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/kim-dotcom-denied-access-to-illegally-obtained-spy-recordings-170720/

In the months leading up to the infamous raid on Kim Dotcom’s New Zealand mansion and his now defunct cloud storage site Megaupload, the entrepreneur was under surveillance.

Not only were the MPAA and RIAA amassing information, the governments of the United States and New Zealand were neck-deep in the investigation too, using the FBI and local police to gather information. What soon became evident, however, is that the authorities in New Zealand did so while breaking the rules.

Between 16 December 2011 to 22 March 2012, New Zealand used the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) agency to spy on the private communications of Kim and Mona Dotcom, plus Megaupload co-defendant Bram van der Kolk. This was hugely problematic.

GCSB is an intelligence agency of the New Zealand government responsible for spying on external entities. It is forbidden by law from conducting surveillance on its own citizens or permanent residents in the country. His standing in the country meant that Dotcom should not have been spied on.

“Of course I apologize to Mr Dotcom, and I apologize to New Zealanders,” then New Zealand Prime Minister John Key later said.

Since it was established that New Zealand illegally spied on Dotcom, the Megaupload founder has been trying to find out what information the GCSB gathered about him, then wife Mona, and former colleague Bram van der Kolk. According to Dotcom, there was a total of 87 breaches, all of which the government wants to keep secret.

Since then, Dotcom has been fighting to gain access to the information GCSB illegally obtained, while seeking compensation for the damages caused.

In a ruling handed down this morning, the High Court details its findings in respect of a three-day hearing that took place early April 2017, during which GCSB said the raw, unredacted information should be withheld from Dotcom on national security grounds.

GCSB and the government argued that the public interest in the disclosure of the material is outweighed by the public interest in withholding it, adding that the security and defense of New Zealand would be compromised on the world stage.

For their part, the Dotcoms said that nondisclosure of the unredacted documents breaches their rights under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. Given that any damages award is directly linked to the extent and nature of the illegal intrusions into their private lives, access to the documents is paramount.

That being the case, they argued that the public interest in disclosure outweighs any public interest in the information being withheld.

This morning, citing a 2013 Court of Appeal verdict that ruled the GCSB didn’t have to release the raw communications, Justice Murray Gilbert insisted that the recordings will not be released.

“A number of the redactions in the discovered documents are to protect the identity or contact details of personnel who were involved in or associated with the operation or copied into email communications concerning it,” Justice Gilbert wrote.

“It is hard to see how any of this information could be relevant to the relief that should be granted in this proceeding. Again, the public interest in withholding disclosure of this information far outweighs any public interest in its disclosure.”

In a statement, Kim Dotcom expressed his frustrations, noting that the government is doing everything it can to suppress details of the illegal surveillance.

“After being caught, the GCSB has fought to keep what it did, and how, a secret from me and from you, the New Zealand public. Worse, it seeks to hide behind ‘national security’ to keep the truth from us,” Dotcom said.

“To keep this secret, the GCSB applied to the High Court. It filed secret evidence and secret submissions. The GCSB’s lawyers were heard in a ‘closed’ court with the Judge, where they made secret submissions and secret witnesses gave secret evidence.”

Dotcom said neither his lawyers nor the public was allowed to be present during the hearing. And when his legal team could be heard, they were significantly hampered in their work.

“When my lawyers were heard, after that hearing, they had to make submissions as to why information they were not allowed to see, for reasons they were not allowed to know, should be disclosed. They were effectively shooting at a moving target, in the dark, with one hand tied behind their backs,” Dotcom said.

The Megaupload founder suggests there is there is a clear double-standard when he has to be tried in public for his alleged crimes, but when it comes to offenses carried out by the government, the process takes place behind closed doors.

“I will appeal this judgment and ask the Court of Appeal to shine some cleansing sunlight on what happened here. If there is transparency, there is accountability, and we can prevent this happening again,” he concludes.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

IPTV Service Raided By Police & Shutdown, Operator Arrested

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/iptv-service-raided-by-police-shutdown-operator-arrested-170719/

As torrents and regular streaming continue in the background, premium IPTV services are becoming increasingly popular.

Available for a few pounds, dollars or euros per month, these products offer a TV viewing service to rival and even beat those put out by the world’s leading entertainment distribution groups.

For an outlay of less than £8 in the UK, for example, it’s possible to receive more TV channels than Sky, Virgin and BT Sport have to offer – combined – and then much more on top.

The main providers (wholesalers, for want of a better term) cascade their products/channels down to smaller providers who act as retailers with direct contact with the public. These kinds of businesses are on the rise and often sell their products locally, via websites and social media, Facebook in particular.

Yesterday it appears that one of these ‘retailers’ found out what it’s like to be the low-hanging fruit in the piracy chain. During the course of the day, visitors to BulkyIPTV’s forums began complaining that the system had gone down.

“Is the bulkyiptv server down at the minute? If so can anyone tell me how long this is likely to take?” posted one.

“Yes mine is down too, v annoying. Also the website is redirecting to partycabs!” said another.

Indeed, the main website for BulkyIPTV had stopped offering various IPTV and similar TV-focused products and begun redirecting to a company offering a white London taxi cab experience for partygoers.

How BulkyIPTV looked before its disappearance

Questions on third-party forums went unanswered too.

“Hi guys, any one know what’s happened tonight? Facebook page gone,” a user asked.

A disappearing Facebook page in any ‘pirate’ setting is rarely a good sign. Many IPTV ‘companies’ use the social platform to interact with existing customers and generate new sales. When a page is deleted, many providers can do neither and that’s hardly compatible with good business.

But while the Facebook page may have been deleted, that didn’t happen before the owner of BulkyIPTV and other ‘Bulky’ branded services (including a hosting company and sites that sold other ‘unofficial’ TV products) had made a post detailing why there are problems. A post shared with TF by a member revealed all.

“Hi all. Today I was arrested. Everything has been shut down,” it read.

“They took everything – phone, laptop, PC and cash, as well as other stuff to gather evidence against me. I’m sorry it has come to this but i’m looking at a stretch inside.”

The Facebook post

The person, who is a regular poster to the Bulky Facebook page, has a name and credentials that match the WHOIS details on various ‘Bulky’ domains, plus matching photos posted elsewhere on social media, signed off with a note saying: “I’m not one to bullshit.”

With no announcement yet from the police, it’s unclear where the arrest took place but TF sources indicate the site owner is from the Derbyshire region of the UK. That was relatively easy to confirm using a number of publicly available sources.

Perhaps surprisingly, there appears to have been zero effort to stay anonymous online. The operator’s real name can be found across his business ventures ‘helpfully’ accompanied by detailed postings not only on Facebook but also Twitter and various image storage sites.

TorrentFreak’s requests for comment from the operator of the service remain unanswered.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

Pirate Bay Re-enters List of 100 Most Popular Sites on the Internet

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/pirate-bay-re-enters-list-of-100-most-popular-sites-on-the-internet-170708/

thepirateWhen the The Pirate Bay suffered over a month of downtime late 2014, many of the site’s regular visitors went elsewhere.

This resulted in a significant traffic dip afterwards, but in recent months the notorious torrent site has seen a massive uptick in visitors.

At the beginning of the year TPB was already the largest torrent site. Today, Internet traffic ranking service Alexa lists the site among the 100 most-visited domains in the world once again, in 99th place. That’s the first time in three years.

While external traffic measurements are far from perfect, the graph below shows a steady increase in ranking since last summer. Exactly how many visitors The Pirate Bay has remains unknown, but SimilarWeb estimates it at a quarter billion ‘visits’ per month.

Keep in mind that the estimates above don’t account for the dozens of Pirate Bay proxies that serve users in countries where the site is blocked. That will likely add several millions of monthly visitors, at least.

Whether Pirate Bay’s recent resurgence is something torrent users should be happy about is another question. The recent uptick in traffic is mostly caused by the demise of other torrent sites.

Last summer both KickassTorrents and Torrentz left the scene, and ExtraTorrent followed a few weeks ago. Many of these users have flocked to The Pirate Bay, which is the prime source for user uploaded torrents.

That the Pirate Bay is still around is somewhat of an achievement in itself. Over the years there have been numerous attempts to shut the site down.

It started in 2006, when Swedish authorities raided the site following pressure from the United States, only for the site to come back stronger. The criminal convictions of the site’s founders didn’t kill the site either, nor did any of the subsequent attempts to take it offline.

While many pirates have fallen in love with TPB’s deviant behavior, the recent downfall of other sites means that there’s a lot of pressure and responsibility on the shoulders of the site now. Many other indexers rely on TPB for their content, which is something not everyone realizes.

For now, however, TPB continues its reign.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

Some memorable levels

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2017/07/01/some-memorable-levels/

Another Patreon request from Nova Dasterin:

Maybe something about level design. In relation to a vertical shmup since I’m working on one of those.

I’ve been thinking about level design a lot lately, seeing as how I’ve started… designing levels. Shmups are probably the genre I’m the worst at, but perhaps some general principles will apply universally.

And speaking of general principles, that’s something I’ve been thinking about too.

I’ve been struggling to create a more expansive tileset for a platformer, due to two general problems: figuring out what I want to show, and figuring out how to show it with a limited size and palette. I’ve been browsing through a lot of pixel art from games I remember fondly in the hopes of finding some inspiration, but so far all I’ve done is very nearly copy a dirt tile someone submitted to my potluck project.

Recently I realized that I might have been going about looking for inspiration all wrong. I’ve been sifting through stuff in the hopes of finding something that would create some flash of enlightenment, but so far that aimless tourism has only found me a thing or two to copy.

I don’t want to copy a small chunk of the final product; I want to understand the underlying ideas that led the artist to create what they did in the first place. Or, no, that’s not quite right either. I don’t want someone else’s ideas; I want to identify what I like, figure out why I like it, and turn that into some kinda of general design idea. Find the underlying themes that appeal to me and figure out some principles that I could apply. You know, examine stuff critically.

I haven’t had time to take a deeper look at pixel art this way, so I’ll try it right now with level design. Here, then, are some levels from various games that stand out to me for whatever reason; the feelings they evoke when I think about them; and my best effort at unearthing some design principles from those feelings.

Doom II: MAP10, Refueling Base

Opening view of Refueling Base, showing a descent down some stairs into a room not yet visible

screenshots mine — map via doom wiki — see also textured perspective map (warning: large!) via ian albertpistol start playthrough

I’m surprising myself by picking Refueling Base. I would’ve expected myself to pick MAP08, Tricks and Traps, for its collection of uniquely bizarre puzzles and mechanisms. Or MAP13, Downtown, the map that had me convinced (erroneously) that Doom levels supported multi-story structures. Or at least MAP08, The Pit, which stands out for the unique way it feels like a plunge into enemy territory.

(Curiously, those other three maps are all Sandy Petersen’s sole work. Refueling Base was started by Tom Hall in the original Doom days, then finished by Sandy for Doom II.)

But Refueling Base is the level I have the most visceral reaction to: it terrifies me.

See, I got into Doom II through my dad, who played it on and off sometimes. My dad wasn’t an expert gamer or anything, but as a ten-year-old, I assumed he was. I watched him play Refueling Base one night. He died. Again, and again, over and over. I don’t even have very strong memories of his particular attempts, but watching my parent be swiftly and repeatedly defeated — at a time when I still somewhat revered parents — left enough of an impression that hearing the level music still makes my skin crawl.

This may seem strange to bring up as a first example in a post about level design, but I don’t think it would have impressed on me quite so much if the level weren’t designed the way it is. (It’s just a video game, of course, and since then I’ve successfully beaten it from a pistol start myself. But wow, little kid fears sure do linger.)

Map of Refueling Base, showing multiple large rooms and numerous connections between them

The one thing that most defines the map has to be its interconnected layout. Almost every major area (of which there are at least half a dozen) has at least three exits. Not only are you rarely faced with a dead end, but you’ll almost always have a choice of where to go next, and that choice will lead into more choices.

This hugely informs the early combat. Many areas near the beginning are simply adjacent with no doors between them, so it’s easy for monsters to start swarming in from all directions. It’s very easy to feel overwhelmed by an endless horde; no matter where you run, they just seem to keep coming. (In fact, Refueling Base has the most monsters of any map in the game by far: 279. The runner up is the preceding map at 238.) Compounding this effect is the relatively scant ammo and health in the early parts of the map; getting very far from a pistol start is an uphill battle.

The connections between rooms also yield numerous possible routes through the map, as well as several possible ways to approach any given room. Some of the connections are secrets, which usually connect the “backs” of two rooms. Clearing out one room thus rewards you with a sneaky way into another room that puts you behind all the monsters.

Outdoor area shown from the back; a large number of monsters are lying in wait

In fact, the map rewards you for exploring it in general.

Well, okay. It might be more accurate to say that that map punishes you for not exploring it. From a pistol start, the map is surprisingly difficult — the early areas offer rather little health and ammo, and your best chance of success is a very specific route that collects weapons as quickly as possible. Many of the most precious items are squirrelled away in (numerous!) secrets, and you’ll have an especially tough time if you don’t find any of them — though they tend to be telegraphed.

One particularly nasty surprise is in the area shown above, which has three small exits at the back. Entering or leaving via any of those exits will open one of the capsule-shaped pillars, revealing even more monsters. A couple of those are pain elementals, monsters which attack by spawning another monster and shooting it at you — not something you want to be facing with the starting pistol.

But nothing about the level indicates this, so you have to make the association the hard way, probably after making several mad dashes looking for cover. My successful attempt avoided this whole area entirely until I’d found some more impressive firepower. It’s fascinating to me, because it’s a fairly unique effect that doesn’t make any kind of realistic sense, yet it’s still built out of familiar level mechanics: walk through an area and something opens up. Almost like 2D sidescroller design logic applied to a 3D space. I really like it, and wish I saw more of it. So maybe that’s a more interesting design idea: don’t be afraid to do something weird only once, as long as it’s built out of familiar pieces so the player has a chance to make sense of it.

A similarly oddball effect is hidden in a “barracks” area, visible on the far right of the map. A secret door leads to a short U-shaped hallway to a marble skull door, which is themed nothing like the rest of the room. Opening it seems to lead back into the room you were just in, but walking through the doorway teleports you to a back entrance to the boss fight at the end of the level.

It sounds so bizarre, but the telegraphing makes it seem very natural; if anything, the “oh, I get it!” moment overrides the weirdness. It stops being something random and becomes something consciously designed. I believe that this might have been built by someone, even if there’s no sensible reason to have built it.

In fact, that single weird teleporter is exactly the kind of thing I’d like to be better at building. It could’ve been just a plain teleporter pad, but instead it’s a strange thing that adds a lot of texture to the level and makes it much more memorable. I don’t know how to even begin to have ideas like that. Maybe it’s as simple as looking at mundane parts of a level and wondering: what could I do with this instead?

I think a big problem I have is limiting myself to the expected and sensible, to the point that I don’t even consider more outlandish ideas. I can’t shake that habit simply by bolding some text in a blog post, but maybe it would help to keep this in mind: you can probably get away with anything, as long as you justify it somehow. Even “justify” here is too strong a word; it takes only the slightest nod to make an arbitrary behavior feel like part of a world. Why does picking up a tiny glowing knight helmet give you 1% armor in Doom? Does anyone care? Have you even thought about it before? It’s green and looks like armor; the bigger armor pickup is also green; yep, checks out.

A dark and dingy concrete room full of monsters; a couple are standing under light fixtures

On the other hand, the map as a whole ends up feeling very disorienting. There’s no shortage of landmarks, but every space is distinct in both texture and shape, so everything feels like a landmark. No one part of the map feels particularly central; there are a few candidates, but they neighbor other equally grand areas with just as many exits. It’s hard to get truly lost, but it’s also hard to feel like you have a solid grasp of where everything is. The space itself doesn’t make much sense, even though small chunks of it do. Of course, given that the Hellish parts of Doom were all just very weird overall, this is pretty fitting.

This sort of design fascinates me, because the way it feels to play is so different from the way it looks as a mapper with God Vision. Looking at the overhead map, I can identify all the familiar places easily enough, but I don’t know how to feel the way the map feels to play; it just looks like some rooms with doors between them. Yet I can see screenshots and have a sense of how “deep” in the level they are, how difficult they are to reach, whether I want to visit or avoid them. The lesson here might be that most of the interesting flavor of the map isn’t actually contained within the overhead view; it’s in the use of height and texture and interaction.

Dark room with numerous alcoves in the walls, all of them containing a hitscan monster

I realize as I describe all of this that I’m really just describing different kinds of contrast. If I know one thing about creative work (and I do, I only know one thing), it’s that effectively managing contrast is super duper important.

And it appears here in spades! A brightly-lit, outdoor, wide-open round room is only a short jog away from a dark, cramped room full of right angles and alcoves. A wide straight hallway near the beginning is directly across from a short, curvy, organic hallway. Most of the monsters in the map are small fry, but a couple stronger critters are sprinkled here and there, and then the exit is guarded by the toughest monster in the game. Some of the connections between rooms are simple doors; others are bizarre secret corridors or unnatural twisty passages.

You could even argue that the map has too much contrast, that it starts to lose cohesion. But if anything, I think this is one of the more cohesive maps in the first third of the game; many of the earlier maps aren’t so much places as they are concepts. This one feels distinctly like it could be something. The theming is all over the place, but enough of the parts seem deliberate.

I hadn’t even thought about it until I sat down to write this post, but since this is a “refueling base”, I suppose those outdoor capsules (which contain green slime, inset into the floor) could be the fuel tanks! I already referred to that dark techy area as “barracks”. Elsewhere is a rather large barren room, which might be where the vehicles in need of refueling are parked? Or is this just my imagination, and none of it was intended this way?

It doesn’t really matter either way, because even in this abstract world of ambiguity and vague hints, all of those rooms still feel like a place. I don’t have to know what the place is for it to look internally consistent.

I’m hesitant to say every game should have the loose design sense of Doom II, but it might be worth keeping in mind that anything can be a believable world as long as it looks consciously designed. And I’d say this applies even for natural spaces — we frequently treat real-world nature as though it were “designed”, just with a different aesthetic sense.

Okay, okay. I’m sure I could clumsily ramble about Doom forever, but I do that enough as it is. Other people have plenty to say if you’re interested.

I do want to stick in one final comment about MAP13, Downtown, while I’m talking about theming. I’ve seen a few people rag on it for being “just a box” with a lot of ideas sprinkled around — the map is basically a grid of skyscrapers, where each building has a different little mini encounter inside. And I think that’s really cool, because those encounters are arranged in a way that very strongly reinforces the theme of the level, of what this place is supposed to be. It doesn’t play quite like anything else in the game, simply because it was designed around a shape for flavor reasons. Weird physical constraints can do interesting things to level design.

Braid: World 4-7, Fickle Companion

Simple-looking platformer level with a few ladders, a switch, and a locked door

screenshots via StrategyWikiplaythroughplaythrough of secret area

I love Braid. If you’re not familiar (!), it’s a platformer where you have the ability to rewind time — whenever you want, for as long as you want, all the way back to when you entered the level.

The game starts in world 2, where you do fairly standard platforming and use the rewind ability to do some finnicky jumps with minimal frustration. It gets more interesting in world 3 with the addition of glowing green objects, which aren’t affected by the reversal of time.

And then there’s world 4, “Time and Place”. I love world 4, so much. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen in any other game, and it’s so simple yet so clever.

The premise is this: for everything except you, time moves forwards as you move right, and backwards as you move left.

This has some weird implications, which all come together in the final level of the world, Fickle Companion. It’s so named because you have to use one (single-use) key to open three doors, but that key is very easy to lose.

Say you pick up the key and walk to the right with it. Time continues forwards for the key, so it stays with you as expected. Now you climb a ladder. Time is frozen since you aren’t moving horizontally, but the key stays with you anyway. Now you walk to the left. Oops — the key follows its own path backwards in time, going down the ladder and back along the path you carried it in the first place. You can’t fix this by walking to the right again, because that will simply advance time normally for the key; since you’re no longer holding it, it will simply fall to the ground and stay there.

You can see how this might be a problem in the screenshot above (where you get the key earlier in the level, to the left). You can climb the first ladder, but to get to the door, you have to walk left to get to the second ladder, which will reverse the key back down to the ground.

The solution is in the cannon in the upper right, which spits out a Goomba-like critter. It has the timeproof green glow, so the critters it spits out have the same green glow — making them immune to both your time reversal power and to the effect your movement has on time. What you have to do is get one of the critters to pick up the key and carry it leftwards for you. Once you have the puzzle piece, you have to rewind time and do it again elsewhere. (Or, more likely, the other way around; this next section acts as a decent hint for how to do the earlier section.)

A puzzle piece trapped behind two doors, in a level containing only one key

It’s hard to convey how bizarre this is in just text. If you haven’t played Braid, it’s absolutely worth it just for this one world, this one level.

And it gets even better, slash more ridiculous: there’s a super duper secret hidden very cleverly in this level. Reaching it involves bouncing twice off of critters; solving the puzzle hidden there involves bouncing the critters off of you. It’s ludicrous and perhaps a bit too tricky, but very clever. Best of all, it’s something that an enterprising player might just think to do on a whim — hey, this is possible here, I wonder what happens if I try it. And the game rewards the player for trying something creative! (Ironically, it’s most rewarding to have a clever idea when it turns out the designer already had the same idea.)

What can I take away from this? Hm.

Well, the underlying idea of linking time with position is pretty novel, but getting to it may not be all that hard: just combine different concepts and see what happens.

A similar principle is to apply a general concept to everything and see what happens. This is the first sighting of a timeproof wandering critter; previously timeproofing had only been seen on keys, doors, puzzle pieces, and stationary monsters. Later it even applies to Tim himself in special circumstances.

The use of timeproofing on puzzle pieces is especially interesting, because the puzzle pieces — despite being collectibles that animate moving into the UI when you get them — are also affected by time. If the pieces in this level weren’t timeproof, then as soon as you collected one and moved left to leave its alcove, time would move backwards and the puzzle piece would reverse out of the UI and right back into the world.

Along similar lines, the music and animated background are also subject to the flow of time. It’s obvious enough that the music plays backwards when you rewind time, but in world 4, the music only plays at all while you’re moving. It’s a fantastic effect that makes the whole world feel as weird and jerky as it really is under these rules. It drives the concept home instantly, and it makes your weird influence over time feel all the more significant and far-reaching. I love when games weave all the elements of the game into the gameplaylike this, even (especially?) for the sake of a single oddball level.

Admittedly, this is all about gameplay or puzzle mechanics, not so much level design. What I like about the level itself is how simple and straightforward it is: it contains exactly as much as it needs to, yet still invites trying the wrong thing first, which immediately teaches the player why it won’t work. And it’s something that feels like it ought to work, except that the rules of the game get in the way just enough. This makes for my favorite kind of puzzle, the type where you feel like you’ve tried everything and it must be impossible — until you realize the creative combination of things you haven’t tried yet. I’m talking about puzzles again, oops; I guess the general level design equivalent of this is that players tend to try the first thing they see first, so if you put required parts later, players will be more likely to see optional parts.

I think that’s all I’ve got for this one puzzle room. I do want to say (again) that I love both endings of Braid. The normal ending weaves together the game mechanics and (admittedly loose) plot in a way that gave me chills when I first saw it; the secret ending completely changes both how the ending plays and how you might interpret the finale, all by making only the slightest changes to the level.

Portal: Testchamber 18 (advanced)

View into a Portal test chamber; the ceiling and most of the walls are covered in metal

screenshot mine — playthrough of normal mapplaythrough of advanced map

I love Portal. I blazed through the game in a couple hours the night it came out. I’d seen the trailer and instantly grasped the concept, so the very slow and gentle learning curve was actually a bit frustrating for me; I just wanted to portal around a big playground, and I finally got to do that in the six “serious” tests towards the end, 13 through 18.

Valve threw an interesting curveball with these six maps. As well as being more complete puzzles by themselves, Valve added “challenges” requiring that they be done with as few portals, time, or steps as possible. I only bothered with the portal challenges — time and steps seemed less about puzzle-solving and more about twitchy reflexes — and within them I found buried an extra layer of puzzles. All of the minimum portal requirements were only possible if you found an alternative solution to the map: skipping part of it, making do with only one cube instead of two, etc. But Valve offered no hints, only a target number. It was a clever way to make me think harder about familiar areas.

Alongside the challenges were “advanced” maps, and these blew me away. They were six maps identical in layout to the last six test chambers, but with a simple added twist that completely changed how you had to approach them. Test 13 has two buttons with two boxes to place on them; the advanced version removes a box and also changes the floor to lava. Test 14 is a live fire course with turrets you have to knock over; the advanced version puts them all in impenetrable cages. Test 17 is based around making extensive use of a single cube; the advanced version changes it to a ball.

But the one that sticks out the most to me is test 18, a potpourri of everything you’ve learned so far. The beginning part has you cross several large pits of toxic sludge by portaling from the ceilings; the advanced version simply changes the ceilings to unportalable metal. It seems you’re completely stuck after only the first jump, unless you happen to catch a glimpse of the portalable floor you pass over in mid-flight. Or you might remember from the regular version of the map that the floor was portalable there, since you used it to progress further. Either way, you have to fire a portal in midair in a way you’ve never had to do before, and the result feels very cool, like you’ve defeated a puzzle that was intended to be unsolvable. All in a level that was fairly easy the first time around, and has been modified only slightly.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this. I could say it’s good to make the player feel clever, but that feels wishy-washy. What I really appreciated about the advanced tests is that they exploited inklings of ideas I’d started to have when playing through the regular game; they encouraged me to take the spark of inspiration this game mechanic gave me and run with it.

So I suppose the better underlying principle here — the most important principle in level design, in any creative work — is to latch onto what gets you fired up and run with it. I am absolutely certain that the level designers for this game loved the portal concept as much as I do, they explored it thoroughly, and they felt compelled to fit their wilder puzzle ideas in somehow.

More of that. Find the stuff that feels like it’s going to burst out of your head, and let it burst.

Chip’s Challenge: Level 122, Totally Fair and Level 131, Totally Unfair

A small maze containing a couple monsters and ending at a brown button

screenshots mine — full maps of both levelsplaythrough of Totally Fairplaythrough of Totally Unfair

I mention this because Portal reminded me of it. The regular and advanced maps in Portal are reminiscent of parallel worlds or duality or whatever you want to call the theme. I extremely dig that theme, and it shows up in Chip’s Challenge in an unexpected way.

Totally Fair is a wide open level with a little maze walled off in one corner. The maze contains a monster called a “teeth”, which follows Chip at a slightly slower speed. (The second teeth, here shown facing upwards, starts outside the maze but followed me into it when I took this screenshot.)

The goal is to lure the teeth into standing on the brown button on the right side. If anything moves into a “trap” tile (the larger brown recesses at the bottom), it cannot move out of that tile until/unless something steps on the corresponding brown button. So there’s not much room for error in maneuvering the teeth; if it falls in the water up top, it’ll die, and if it touches the traps at the bottom, it’ll be stuck permanently.

The reason you need the brown button pressed is to acquire the chips on the far right edge of the level.

Several chips that cannot be obtained without stepping on a trap

The gray recesses turn into walls after being stepped on, so once you grab a chip, the only way out is through the force floors and ice that will send you onto the trap. If you haven’t maneuvered the teeth onto the button beforehand, you’ll be trapped there.

Doesn’t seem like a huge deal, since you can go see exactly how the maze is shaped and move the teeth into position fairly easily. But you see, here is the beginning of Totally Fair.

A wall with a single recessed gray space in it

The gray recess leads up into the maze area, so you can only enter it once. A force floor in the upper right lets you exit it.

Totally Unfair is exactly identical, except the second teeth has been removed, and the entrance to the maze looks like this.

The same wall is now completely solid, and the recess has been replaced with a hint

You can’t get into the maze area. You can’t even see the maze; it’s too far away from the wall. You have to position the teeth completely blind. In fact, if you take a single step to the left from here, you’ll have already dumped the teeth into the water and rendered the level impossible.

The hint tile will tell you to “Remember sjum”, where SJUM is the password to get back to Totally Fair. So you have to learn that level well enough to recreate the same effect without being able to see your progress.

It’s not impossible, and it’s not a “make a map” faux puzzle. A few scattered wall blocks near the chips, outside the maze area, are arranged exactly where the edges of the maze are. Once you notice that, all you have to do is walk up and down a few times, waiting a moment each time to make sure the teeth has caught up with you.

So in a sense, Totally Unfair is the advanced chamber version of Totally Fair. It makes a very minor change that force you to approach the whole level completely differently, using knowledge gleaned from your first attempt.

And crucially, it’s an actual puzzle! A lot of later Chip’s Challenge levels rely heavily on map-drawing, timing, tedium, or outright luck. (Consider, if you will, Blobdance.) The Totally Fair + Totally Unfair pairing requires a little ingenuity unlike anything else in the game, and the solution is something more than just combinations of existing game mechanics. There’s something very interesting about that hint in the walls, a hint you’d have no reason to pick up on when playing through the first level. I wish I knew how to verbalize it better.

Anyway, enough puzzle games; let’s get back to regular ol’ level design.

A 4×4 arrangement of rooms with a conspicuous void in the middle

maps via vgmaps and TCRFplaythrough with commentary

Link’s Awakening was my first Zelda (and only Zelda for a long time), which made for a slightly confusing introduction to the series — what on earth is a Zelda and why doesn’t it appear in the game?

The whole game is a blur of curiosities and interesting little special cases. It’s fabulously well put together, especially for a Game Boy game, and the dungeons in particular are fascinating microcosms of design. I never really appreciated it before, but looking at the full maps, I’m struck by how each dungeon has several large areas neatly sliced into individual screens.

Much like with Doom II, I surprise myself by picking Eagle’s Tower as the most notable part of the game. The dungeon isn’t that interesting within the overall context of the game; it gives you only the mirror shield, possibly the least interesting item in the game, second only to the power bracelet upgrade from the previous dungeon. The dungeon itself is fairly long, full of traps, and overflowing with crystal switches and toggle blocks, making it possibly the most frustrating of the set. Getting to it involves spending some excellent quality time with a flying rooster, but you don’t really do anything — mostly you just make your way through nondescript caves and mountaintops.

Having now thoroughly dunked on it, I’ll tell you what makes it stand out: the player changes the shape of the dungeon.

That’s something I like a lot about Doom, as well, but it’s much more dramatic in Eagle’s Tower. As you might expect, the dungeon is shaped like a tower, where each floor is on a 4×4 grid. The top floor, 4F, is a small 2×2 block of rooms in the middle — but one of those rooms is the boss door, and there’s no way to get to that floor.

(Well, sort of. The “down” stairs in the upper-right of 3F actually lead up to 4F, but the connection is bogus and puts you in a wall, and both of the upper middle rooms are unreachable during normal gameplay.)

The primary objective of the dungeon is to smash four support columns on 2F by throwing a huge iron ball at them, which causes 4F to crash down into the middle of 3F.

The same arrangement of rooms, but the four in the middle have changed

Even the map on the pause screen updates to reflect this. In every meaningful sense, you, the player, have fundamentally reconfigured the shape of this dungeon.

I love this. It feels like I have some impact on the world, that I came along and did something much more significant than mere game mechanics ought to allow. I saw that the tower was unsolvable as designed, so I fixed it.

It’s clear that the game engine supports rearranging screens arbitrarily — consider the Wind Fish’s Egg — but this is s wonderfully clever and subtle use of that. Let the player feel like they have an impact on the world.

The cutting room floor

This is getting excessively long so I’m gonna cut it here. Some other things I thought of but don’t know how to say more than a paragraph about:

  • Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins has a lot of levels with completely unique themes, backed by very simple tilesets but enhanced by interesting one-off obstacles and enemies. I don’t even know how to pick a most interesting one. Maybe just play the game, or at least peruse the maps.

  • This post about density of detail in Team Fortress 2 is really good so just read that I guess. It’s really about careful balance of contrast again, but through the lens of using contrasting amounts of detail to draw the player’s attention, while still carrying a simple theme through less detailed areas.

  • Metroid Prime is pretty interesting in a lot of ways, but I mostly laugh at how they spaced rooms out with long twisty hallways to improve load times — yet I never really thought about it because they all feel like they belong in the game.

One thing I really appreciate is level design that hints at a story, that shows me a world that exists persistently, that convinces me this space exists for some reason other than as a gauntlet for me as a player. But it seems what comes first to my mind is level design that’s clever or quirky, which probably says a lot about me. Maybe the original Fallouts are a good place to look for that sort of detail.

Conversely, it sticks out like a sore thumb when a game tries to railroad me into experiencing the game As The Designer Intended. Games are interactive, so the more input the player can give, the better — and this can be as simple as deciding to avoid rather than confront enemies, or deciding to run rather than walk.

I think that’s all I’ve got in me at the moment. Clearly I need to meditate on this a lot more, but I hope some of this was inspiring in some way!

Kim Dotcom Opposes US’s “Fugitive” Claims at Supreme Court

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/kim-dotcom-opposes-uss-fugitive-claims-supreme-court-170622/

megaupload-logoWhen Megaupload and Kim Dotcom were raided five years ago, the authorities seized millions of dollars in cash and other property.

The US government claimed the assets were obtained through copyright crimes so went after the bank accounts, cars, and other seized possessions of the Megaupload defendants.

Kim Dotcom and his colleagues were branded as “fugitives” and the Government won its case. Dotcom’s legal team quickly appealed this verdict, but lost once more at the Fourth Circuit appeals court.

A few weeks ago Dotcom and his former colleagues petitioned the Supreme Court to take on the case.

They don’t see themselves as “fugitives” and want the assets returned. The US Government opposed the request, but according to a new reply filed by Megaupload’s legal team, the US Government ignores critical questions.

The Government has a “vested financial stake” in maintaining the current situation, they write, which allows the authorities to use their “fugitive” claims as an offensive weapon.

“Far from being directed towards persons who have fled or avoided our country while claiming assets in it, fugitive disentitlement is being used offensively to strip foreigners of their assets abroad,” the reply brief (pdf) reads.

According to Dotcom’s lawyers there are several conflicting opinions from lower courts, which should be clarified by the Supreme Court. That Dotcom and his colleagues have decided to fight their extradition in New Zealand, doesn’t warrant the seizure of their assets.

“Absent review, forfeiture of tens of millions of dollars will be a fait accompli without the merits being reached,” they write, adding that this is all the more concerning because the US Government’s criminal case may not be as strong as claimed.

“This is especially disconcerting because the Government’s criminal case is so dubious. When the Government characterizes Petitioners as ‘designing and profiting from a system that facilitated wide-scale copyright infringement,’ it continues to paint a portrait of secondary copyright infringement, which is not a crime.”

The defense team cites several issues that warrant review and urges the Supreme Court to hear the case. If not, the Government will effectively be able to use assets seizures as a pressure tool to urge foreign defendants to come to the US.

“If this stands, the Government can weaponize fugitive disentitlement in order to claim assets abroad,” the reply brief reads.

“It is time for the Court to speak to the Questions Presented. Over the past two decades it has never had a better vehicle to do so, nor is any such vehicle elsewhere in sight,” Dotcom’s lawyers add.

Whether the Supreme Court accepts or denies the case will likely be decided in the weeks to come.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

Three Men Sentenced Following £2.5m Internet Piracy Case

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/three-men-sentenced-following-2-5m-internet-piracy-case-170622/

While legal action against low-level individual file-sharers is extremely rare in the UK, the country continues to pose a risk for those engaged in larger-scale infringement.

That is largely due to the activities of the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit and private anti-piracy outfits such as the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT). Investigations are often a joint effort which can take many years to complete, but the outcomes can often involve criminal sentences.

That was the profile of another Internet piracy case that concluded in London this week. It involved three men from the UK, Eric Brooks, 43, from Bolton, Mark Valentine, 44, from Manchester, and Craig Lloyd, 33, from Wolverhampton.

The case began when FACT became aware of potentially infringing activity back in February 2011. The anti-piracy group then investigated for more than a year before handing the case to police in March 2012.

On July 4, 2012, officers from City of London Police arrested Eric Brooks’ at his home in Bolton following a joint raid with FACT. Computer equipment was seized containing evidence that Brooks had been running a Netherlands-based server hosting more than £100,000 worth of pirated films, music, games, software and ebooks.

According to police, a spreadsheet on Brooks’ computer revealed he had hundreds of paying customers, all recruited from online forums. Using PayPal or utilizing bank transfers, each paid money to access the server. Police mentioned no group or site names in information released this week.

“Enquiries with PayPal later revealed that [Brooks] had made in excess of £500,000 in the last eight years from his criminal business and had in turn defrauded the film and TV industry alone of more than £2.5 million,” police said.

“As his criminal enterprise affected not only the film and TV but the wider entertainment industry including music, games, books and software it is thought that he cost the wider industry an amount much higher than £2.5 million.”

On the same day police arrested Brooks, Mark Valentine’s home in Manchester had a similar unwelcome visit. A day later, Craig Lloyd’s home in Wolverhampton become the third target for police.

Computer equipment was seized from both addresses which revealed that the pair had been paying for access to Brooks’ servers in order to service their own customers.

“They too had used PayPal as a means of taking payment and had earned thousands of pounds from their criminal actions; Valentine gaining £34,000 and Lloyd making over £70,000,” police revealed.

But after raiding the trio in 2012, it took more than four years to charge the men. In a feature common to many FACT cases, all three were charged with Conspiracy to Defraud rather than copyright infringement offenses. All three men pleaded guilty before trial.

On Monday, the men were sentenced at Inner London Crown Court. Brooks was sentenced to 24 months in prison, suspended for 12 months and ordered to complete 140 hours of unpaid work.

Valentine and Lloyd were each given 18 months in prison, suspended for 12 months. Each was ordered to complete 80 hours unpaid work.

Detective Constable Chris Glover, who led the investigation for the City of London Police, welcomed the sentencing.

“The success of this investigation is a result of co-ordinated joint working between the City of London Police and FACT. Brooks, Valentine and Lloyd all thought that they were operating under the radar and doing something which they thought was beyond the controls of law enforcement,” Glover said.

“Brooks, Valentine and Lloyd will now have time in prison to reflect on their actions and the result should act as deterrent for anyone else who is enticed by abusing the internet to the detriment of the entertainment industry.”

While even suspended sentences are a serious matter, none of the men will see the inside of a cell if they meet the conditions of their sentence for the next 12 months. For a case lasting four years involving such large sums of money, that is probably a disappointing result for FACT and the police.

Nevertheless, the men won’t be allowed to enjoy the financial proceeds of their piracy, if indeed any money is left. City of London Police say the trio will be subject to a future confiscation hearing to seize any proceeds of crime.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

US Opposes Kim Dotcom’s Supreme Court Petition Over Seized Millions

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/us-opposes-kim-dotcoms-supreme-court-petition-over-seized-millions-170613/

megaupload-logoFollowing the 2012 raid on Megaupload and Kim Dotcom, U.S. and New Zealand authorities seized millions of dollars in cash and other property.

Claiming the assets were obtained through copyright and money laundering crimes, the U.S. government launched a separate civil action in which it asked the court to forfeit the bank accounts, cars, and other seized possessions of the Megaupload defendants.

The U.S. branded Dotcom and his colleagues as “fugitives” and won their case. Dotcom’s legal team quickly appealed this verdict, but lost once more at the Fourth Circuit appeals court.

However, Dotcom didn’t give up and petitioned the US Supreme Court to hear the case. Together with the other defendants, he wants the Supreme Court to overturn the “fugitive disentitlement” ruling and the forfeiture of his assets.

The crux of the case is whether or not the District Court’s order to forfeit an estimated $67 million in assets was right. The defense argues that Dotcom and the other Megaupload defendants were wrongfully labeled as fugitives by the Department of Justice.

“If left undisturbed, the Fourth Circuit’s decision enables the Government to obtain civil forfeiture of every penny of a foreign citizen’s foreign assets based on unproven allegations of the most novel, dubious United States crimes,” Dotcom’s legal team wrote.

The United States Government disagrees with this assessment. In their opposition brief (pdf), submitted late last week and picked up by ARS, the Department of Justice asks the Supreme Court not to take on the case.

According to the US, the decision to label Dotcom and his colleagues as fugitives is how Congress intended the relevant section of the law to work. In addition, the current rulings are not incompatible with previous court decisions in similar cases.

“Petitioners also seek review of the court of appeals’ holding that they qualify as ‘fugitives’ under the federal fugitive-disentitlement statute […] because they declined to enter the United States with the specific intent to avoid prosecution,” DoJ writes in its brief.

“That contention does not warrant review. The court of appeals correctly construed Section 2466 in light of its text and purpose. Its holding applying the statute to the facts here does not conflict with any decision of another circuit,” the brief adds.

The full opposition brief responds in detail to the petition of Dotcom and his colleagues, with the US ultimately concluding that the Supreme Court should deny the request.

Dotcom and his legal team have previously stated that they need more resources to mount a proper defense against the criminal complaint. The case has been ongoing for more than half a decade and is being fought in several courts, which has proven to be rather expensive.

Whether the Supreme Court accepts or denies the case will likely be decided in the weeks to come. Until then, the waiting continues.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

Who’s To Blame For The Kodi Crackdown?

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/whos-to-blame-for-the-kodi-crackdown-170611/

Perfectly legal as standard, the Kodi media player can be easily modified to turn it into the ultimate streaming piracy machine.

Uptake by users has been nothing short of phenomenal. Millions of people are now consuming illicit media through third-party Kodi addons. With free movies, TV shows, sports, live TV and more on tap, it’s not difficult to see why the system is so popular.

As a result, barely a day goes by without Kodi making headlines and this week was no exception. On Monday, TorrentFreak broke the news that the ZEMTV addon and TV Addons, one of the most popular addon communities, were being sued by Dish Network for copyright infringement.

Within hours of the announcement and apparently as a direct result, several addons (including the massively popular Phoenix) decided to throw in the towel. Quite understandably, users of the platforms were disappointed, and that predictably resulted in people attempting to apportion blame.

The first comment to catch the eye was posted directly beneath our article. Interestingly, it placed the blame squarely on our shoulders.

“Thanks Torrentfreak, for ruining Kodi,” it read.

While shooting the messenger is an option, it’s historically problematic. Town criers were the original newsreaders, delivering important messages to the public. Killing a town crier was considered treason, but it was also pointless – it didn’t change the facts on the ground.

So if we can’t kill those who read about a lawsuit in the public PACER system and reported it, who’s left to blame? Unsurprisingly, there’s no shortage of targets, but most of them fall short.

The underlying theme is that most people voicing a negative opinion about the profile of Kodi do not appreciate their previously niche piracy system being in the spotlight. Everything was just great when just a few people knew about the marvelous hidden world of ‘secret’ XBMC/Kodi addons, many insist, but seeing it in the mainstream press is a disaster. It’s difficult to disagree.

However, the point where this all falls down is when people are asked when the discussion about Kodi should’ve stopped. We haven’t questioned them all, of course, but it’s almost guaranteed that while most with a grievance didn’t want Kodi getting too big, they absolutely appreciate the fact that someone told them about it. Piracy and piracy techniques spread by word of mouth so unfortunately, people can’t have it both ways.

Interestingly, some people placed the blame on TV Addons, the site that hosts the addons themselves. They argued that the addon scene didn’t need such a high profile target and that the popularity of the site only brought unwanted attention. However, for every critic, there are apparently thousands who love what the site does to raise the profile of Kodi. Without that, it’s clear that there would be fewer users and indeed, fewer addons.

For TV Addons’ part, they’re extremely clear who’s responsible for bringing the heat. On numerous occasions in emails to TF, the operators of the repository have blamed those who have attempted to commercialize the Kodi scene. For them, the responsibility must be placed squarely on the shoulders of people selling ‘Kodi boxes’ on places like eBay and Amazon. Once big money got involved, that attracted the authorities, they argue.

With this statement in mind, TF spoke with a box seller who previously backed down from selling on eBay due to issues over Kodi’s trademark. He didn’t want to speak on the record but admitted to selling “a couple of thousand” boxes over the past two years, noting that all he did was respond to demand with supply.

And this brings us full circle and a bit closer to apportioning blame for the Kodi crackdown.

The bottom line is that when it comes to piracy, Kodi and its third-party ‘pirate’ addons are so good at what they do, it’s no surprise they’ve been a smash hit with Internet users. All of the content that anyone could want – and more – accessible in one package, on almost any platform? That’s what consumers have been demanding for more than a decade and a half.

That brings us to the unavoidable conclusion that modified Kodi simply got too good at delivering content outside controlled channels, and that success was impossible to moderate or calm. Quite simply, every user that added to the Kodi phenomenon by installing the software with ‘pirate’ addons has to shoulder some of the blame for the crackdown.

That might sound harsh but in the piracy world it’s never been any different. Without millions of users, The Pirate Bay raid would never have happened. Without users, KickassTorrents might still be rocking today. But of course, what would be the point?

Users might break sites and services, but they also make them. That’s the piracy paradox.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

The Pirate Bay Remains Resilient, 11 Years After The Raid

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/the-pirate-bay-remains-on-top-11-years-after-the-raid-170531/

There are a handful of traditions we have at TorrentFreak, and remembering the first raid on The Pirate Bay is one of them.

Not only was it the first major story we covered, it also had a significant impact on how the piracy ecosystem evolved over the years, and the role TPB has taken on since then.

This is just as relevant today as it was a decade ago. Following a year in which KickassTorrents, Torrentz.eu and ExtraTorrent were all shut down, The Pirate Bay remains online.

While the site has had plenty of downtime issues in recent years, many people may not realize that without a few essential keystrokes in the site’s early years, The Pirate Bay may not have been here today.

This is what happened.

The Raid

May 31, 2006, less than three years after The Pirate Bay was founded, 65 Swedish police officers entered a datacenter in Stockholm. The policemen had instructions to shut down the Pirate Bay’s servers, which were already seen as a major threat to the entertainment industry.

At the time The Pirate Bay wasn’t the giant it is today though. And ironically, the raid only made the site bigger, stronger, and more resilient.

As the police were about to enter the datacenter, Pirate Bay founders Gottfrid and Fredrik got wind that something was up.

In the months before the raid they were already being watched by private investigators day and night, but this time something was about to happen to their trackers.

At around 10 am in the morning Gottfrid told Fredrik that there were police officers at their office, and asked him to get down to the co-location facility and get rid of the ‘incriminating evidence,’ although none of it, whatever it was, was related to The Pirate Bay.

As Fredrik was leaving, he suddenly realized that the problems might be linked to their tracker. He therefore decided to make a full backup of the site, just in case.

When he later arrived at the co-location facility, the concerns turned out to be justified. There were dozens of policemen floating around taking away dozens of servers, most of which belonged to clients unrelated to The Pirate Bay.

Footage from The Pirate Bay raid

In the days that followed, it became clear that Fredrik’s decision to create a backup of the site was probably the most pivotal moment in the site’s history. Because of this backup, Fredrik and the rest of the Pirate Bay team managed to resurrect the site within three days.

Of course, the entire situation was handled with the mockery TPB had become known for.

Unimpressed, the site’s operators renamed the site “The Police Bay”, complete with a new logo shooting cannon balls at Hollywood. A few days later this logo was replaced by a Phoenix, a reference to the site rising from its digital ashes.

Logos after the raid

tpb classic

Instead of shutting it down, the raid propelled The Pirate Bay into the mainstream press, not least due to its swift resurrection. All the publicity also triggered a huge traffic spike for TPB, exactly the opposite effect Hollywood had hoped for.

Despite a criminal investigation leading to convictions for the site’s founders, The Pirate Bay kept growing and growing in the years that followed.

The site’s assets, meanwhile, were reportedly transferred to the Seychelles-based company Reservella.

Under new ownership, several major technical changes occurred. In the fall of 2009 the infamous BitTorrent tracker was taken offline, turning The Pirate Bay into a torrent indexing site.

Early 2012 The Pirate Bay went even further when it decided to cease offering torrent files for well-seeded content. The site’s operators moved to magnet links instead, allowing them to save resources while making it easier for third-party sites to run proxies.

These proxies turned out to be much-needed, as The Pirate Bay is now the most broadly censored website on the Internet. In recent years, ISPs all around the world have been ordered by courts to block subscriber access to the torrent site.

While TPB swiftly recovered from the “original” raid, it did suffer nearly two months of downtime late 2014 when another raid took place.

Initially it was believed that some of the site’s crucial servers were taken by the police, but the TPB team later said that it was barely hit and that they took the site offline as a precaution.

While the first raid made The Pirate Bay stronger, the two-month stint of downtime was a big hit. The site initially lost a lot of traffic, but after other key torrent sites were shutdown, it is now the most dominant player once again.

Although domain problems, technical issues, and outages are a regular occurance nowadays, TPB is still here. But remember, if there hadn’t been a recent backup back in 2006, things might have turned out quite differently.

The question that remains now is how long The Pirate Bay can keep going. The site has weathered several storms, but now that most other large sites are gone the pressure is growing.

To some, TPB lost its shine in recent years and several “co-founders” would rather see it gone. For now, however, that doesn’t seem to bother the current TPB-team. They do all they can to keep the site online, just like the site’s operator did on May 31, 2006.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

Was The Disney Movie ‘Hacking Ransom’ a Giant Hoax?

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/was-the-disney-movie-hacking-ransom-a-giant-hoax-170524/

Last Monday, during a town hall meeting in New York, Disney CEO Bob Iger informed a group of ABC employees that hackers had stolen one of the company’s movies.

The hackers allegedly said they’d keep the leak private if Disney paid them a ransom. In response, Disney indicated that it had no intention of paying. Setting dangerous precedents in this area is unwise, the company no doubt figured.

After Hollywood Reporter broke the news, Deadline followed up with a report which further named the movie as ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales’, a fitting movie to parallel an emerging real-life swashbuckling plot, no doubt.

What the Deadline article didn’t do was offer any proof that Pirates 5 was the movie in question. Out of the blue, however, it did mention that a purported earlier leak of The Last Jedi had been revealed by “online chatter” to be a fake. Disney refused to comment.

Armed with this information, TF decided to have a dig around. Was Pirates 5 being discussed within release groups as being available, perhaps? Initially, our inquiries drew a complete blank but then out of the blue we found ourselves in conversation with the person claiming to be the Disney ‘hacker’.

“I can provide the original emails sent to Disney as well as some other unknown details,” he told us via encrypted mail.

We immediately asked several questions. Was the movie ‘Pirates 5’? How did he obtain the movie? How much did he try to extort from Disney? ‘EMH,’ as we’ll call him, quickly replied.

“It’s The Last Jedi. Bob Iger never made public the title of the film, Deadline was just going off and naming the next film on their release slate,” we were told. “We demanded 2BTC per month until September.”

TF was then given copies of correspondence that EMH had been having with numerous parties about the alleged leak. They included discussions with various release groups, a cyber-security expert, and Disney.

As seen in the screenshot, the email was purportedly sent to Disney on May 1. The Hollywood Reporter article, published two weeks later, noted the following;

“The Disney chief said the hackers demanded that a huge sum be paid in Bitcoin. They said they would release five minutes of the film at first, and then in 20-minute chunks until their financial demands are met,” HWR wrote.

While the email to Disney looked real enough, the proof of any leaked pudding is in the eating. We asked EMH how he had demonstrated to Disney that he actually has the movie in his possession. Had screenshots or clips been sent to the company? We were initially told they had not (plot twists were revealed instead) so this immediately raised suspicions.

Nevertheless, EMH then went on to suggest that release groups had shown interest in the copy and he proved that by forwarding his emails with them to TF.

“Make sure they know there is still work to be done on the CGI characters. There are little dots on their faces that are visible. And the colour grading on some scenes looks a little off,” EMH told one group, who said they understood.

“They all understand its not a completed workprint.. that is why they are sought after by buyers.. exclusive stuff nobody else has or can get,” they wrote back.

“That why they pay big $$$ for it.. a completed WP could b worth $25,000,” the group’s unedited response reads.

But despite all the emails and discussion, we were still struggling to see how EMH had shown to anyone that he really had The Last Jedi. We then learned, however, that screenshots had been sent to blogger Sam Braidley, a Cyber Security MSc and Computer Science BSc Graduate.

Since the information sent to us by EMH confirmed discussion had taken place with Braidley concerning the workprint, we contacted him directly to find out what he knew about the supposed Pirates 5 and/or The Last Jedi leak. He was very forthcoming.

“A user going by the username of ‘Darkness’ commented on my blog about having a leaked copy of The Last Jedi from a contact he knew from within Lucas Films. Of course, this garnered a lot of interest, although most were cynical of its authenticity,” Braidley explained.

The claim that ‘Darkness’ had obtained the copy from a contact within Lucas was certainly of interest ,since up to now the press narrative had been that Disney or one of its affiliates had been ‘hacked.’

After confirming that ‘Darkness’ used the same email as our “EMH,” we asked EMH again. Where had the movie been obtained from?

“Wasn’t hacked. Was given to me by a friend who works at a post production company owned by [Lucasfilm],” EMH said. After further prompting he reiterated: “As I told you, we obtained it from an employee.”

If they weren’t ringing loudly enough already, alarm bells were now well and truly clanging. Who would reveal where they’d obtained a super-hot leaked movie from when the ‘friend’ is only one step removed from the person attempting the extortion? Who would take such a massive risk?

Braidley wasn’t buying it either.

“I had my doubts following the recent [Orange is the New Black] leak from ‘The Dark Overlord,’ it seemed like someone trying to live off the back of its press success,” he said.

Braidley told TF that Darkness/EMH seemed keen for him to validate the release, as a member of a well-known release group didn’t believe that it was real, something TF confirmed with the member. A screenshot was duly sent over to Braidley for his seal of approval.

“The quality was very low and the scene couldn’t really show that it was in fact Star Wars, let alone The Last Jedi,” Braidley recalls, noting that other screenshots were considered not to be from the movie in question either.

Nevertheless, Darkness/EMH later told Braidley that another big release group had only declined to release the movie due to the possiblity of security watermarks being present in the workprint.

Since no groups had heard of a credible Pirates 5 leak, the claims that release groups were in discussion over the leaking of The Last Jedi intrigued us. So, through trusted sources and direct discussion with members, we tried to learn more.

While all groups admitted being involved or at least being aware of discussions taking place, none appeared to believe that a movie had been obtained from Disney, was being held for ransom, or would ever be leaked.

“Bullshit!” one told us. “Fake news,” said another.

With not even well-known release groups believing that leaks of The Last Jedi or Pirates 5 are anywhere on the horizon, that brought us full circle to the original statement by Disney chief Bob Iger claiming that a movie had been stolen.

What we do know for sure is that everything reported initially by Hollywood Reporter about a ransom demand matches up with statements made by Darkness/EMH to TorrentFreak, Braidley, and several release groups. We also know from copy emails obtained by TF that the discussions with the release groups took place well before HWR broke the story.

With Disney not commenting on the record to either HWR or Deadline (publications known to be Hollywood-friendly) it seemed unlikely that TF would succeed where they had failed.

So, without comprimising any of our sources, we gave a basic outline of our findings to a previously receptive Disney contact, in an effort to tie Darkness/EMH with the email address that he told us Disney already knew. Predictably, perhaps, we received no response.

At this point one has to wonder. If no credible evidence of a leak has been made available and the threats to leak the movie haven’t been followed through on, what was the point of the whole affair?

Money appears to have been the motive, but it seems likely that none will be changing hands. But would someone really bluff the leaking of a movie to a company like Disney in order to get a ‘ransom’ payment or scam a release group out of a few dollars? Perhaps.

Braidley informs TF that Darkness/EMH recently claimed that he’d had the copy of The Last Jedi since March but never had any intention of leaking it. He did, however, need money for a personal matter involving a family relative.

With this in mind, we asked Darkness/EMH why he’d failed to carry through with his threats to leak the movie, bit by bit, as his email to Disney claimed. He said there was never any intention of leaking the movie “until we are sure it wont be traced back” but “if the right group comes forward and meets our strict standards then the leak could come as soon as 2-3 weeks.”

With that now seeming increasingly unlikely (but hey, you never know), this might be the final chapter in what turns out to be the famous hacking of Disney that never was. Or, just maybe, undisclosed aces remain up sleeves.

“Just got another comment on my blog from [Darkness],” Braidley told TF this week. “He now claims that the Emoji movie has been leaked and is being held to ransom.”

Simultaneously he was telling TF the same thing. ‘Hacking’ announcement from Sony coming soon? Stay tuned…..

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

Thailand Arrests Brits Over Pirated Football Streams

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/thailand-arrests-brits-over-pirated-football-streams-170517/

In recent years there’s been an increase in the availability of unlicensed TV streams, with vendors offering virtually any channel imaginable, for free or in exchange for a small fee.

Many of these IPTV packages are unlicensed. That makes them a lot cheaper to the end users, which explains why their popularity is growing.

While the phenomenon remained under the radar for a long time, more recently we have seen several raids on vendors who sell these ‘pirate’ subscriptions. After arrests in Spain and Poland, Thai authorities have also joined in.

Last week the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) arrested two British men, William Lloyd, 39 and William Robinson, 35, for their alleged involvement in selling unlicensed IPTV subscriptions. The pair were arrested together with 33-year-old local man, Supatra Raksasat.

The enforcement action followed a complaint from the Football Association Premier League Ltd (FAPL) and was made public yesterday. According to the authorities, the men sold pirate subscriptions to dozens of TV-channels through 365sport.tv.

365sport.tv

The website in question was taken offline and is no longer operational. However, cached versions show that the outfit sold subscriptions for 10 or 22 premium sports channels for a monthly fee of 600 ($17) and 999 ($29) Thai Baht respectively.

During the raids DSI, which is a special department of the Ministry of Justice, seized mobile phones, nine computer servers, nine computers, and a total of 49 set-top boxes, local media reports.

DSI deputy chief Suriya Singhakamol said that the men were also accused of offering unauthorized content through a variety of other sites targeted at expats, including Thaiexpat.tv, Hkexpat.tv, Indoexpat.tv, Vietexpat.tv, and Euroexpat.tv.

Following the Premier League complaint, DSI’s cybercrime unit launched a special investigation which found that 365sport.tv offered the unlicensed streams through Thai servers.

The authorities subsequently obtained arrest warrants through the Central Intellectual Property and International Trade Court.

While the case remains open, the two British suspects have been handed over to officials from the British embassy, which requested their bail. All unlicensed IPTV streams, meanwhile, are no longer online.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

Streaming Site Operator Jailed For Three Years After Landmark Trial

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/streaming-site-operator-jailed-for-three-years-after-landmark-trial-170516/

Founded more than half a decade ago, Swefilmer grew to become Sweden’s most popular movie and TV show streaming site. It was credited alongside another streaming portal for serving up to 25% of all online video streaming in Sweden.

With this level of prominence, it was only a question of time before authorities stepped in to end the free streaming bonanza. In 2015, that happened when an operator of the site in his early twenties was raided by local police.

This was followed by the arrest of a now 26-year-old Turkish man in Germany, who was accused of receiving donations from users and setting up Swefilmer’s deals with advertisers.

The pair, who had never met in person, appeared at the Varberg District Court in January, together accused of making more than $1.5m from their activities between November 2013 and June 2015.

As the trial progressed, it was clear that the outcome was not likely to be a good one for the men.

Prosecutor Anna Ginner described the operation as being like “organized crime”, with lawyer Henrik Pontén of RightsAlliance claiming that the evidence only represented a small part of the money made by the pair.

From the beginning, it was always claimed that the 26-year-old was the main player behind the site, with the now 23-year-old playing a much smaller role. While the latter received an estimated $4,000 of the proceeds, the former was said to have enriched himself with more than $1.5m in advertising revenue.

The Varberg District Court has now handed down its ruling and it’s particularly bad news for the 26-year-old, who is reported to have led a luxury lifestyle with proceeds from the site.

In a short statement the court confirmed he had been convicted of 1,044 breaches of copyright law and serious money laundering offenses. He was sentenced to serve three years in prison and ordered to forfeit $1.59m. The Court was far more lenient with the younger man.

After being found guilty of four counts of copyright infringement but playing almost no role in the site’s revenue operations, no sentencing for money laundering was handed down. He was instead handed probation and ordered to complete 120 hours of community service, a sentence that was positively affected by his age when the offenses were committed.

It’s worth noting that the sentence received by the 26-year-old goes way beyond the sentences handed down even in the notorious Pirate Bay case, where defendants Fredrik Neij, Peter Sunde and Gottfrid Svartholm received 10 months, 12 months and 8 months respectively.

However, with Henrik Pontén describing the Swefilmer case as being primarily about money laundering, his group is clearly unhappy that copyright offenses aren’t considered serious enough to warrant lengthy sentences in their own right.

“We welcome the judgment, but it is clear that copyright law must be adapted to today’s serious piracy. The penalty for copyright infringement should in itself be enough to deter people from crime,” Pontén says.

“The low level of penalties allows foreign piracy organizations to locate their operations in Sweden. The trend is very worrying.”

An important factor in the case moving forward is that in determining whether infringement had taken place, the Court drew heavily on the GS Media ruling handed down by the European Court of Justice last September.

In that decision, the Court found that linking to copyrighted material is only allowed when there is no intent to profit and when the linker is unaware that the content is infringing.

When there is a profit motive, which there clearly was in the Swefilmer case, operators of a site are expected to carry out the “checks necessary” to ensure that linked works have not been illegally published.

The operators of Swefilmer failed on all counts, so the local court determined that the platform had communicated copyrighted works to the public, in breach of copyright law.

Speaking with TorrentFreak, the 23-year-old expressed relief at his relatively light sentence but noted it may not be over yet.

“I was really happy when the judgment came. The long wait is finally over,” he said.

“RightsAlliance will appeal because they did not receive any compensation for the trial. But the prosecutor is satisfied with the judgment so it is only RightsAlliance who are dissatisfied.”

According to IDG, the lawyer of the 26-year-old believes that his client’s sentence is far too severe, so there may be an appeal in that direction too.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

Kim Dotcom Says Family Trust Could Sue Mega Investor

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/kim-dotcom-says-family-trust-could-sue-mega-investor-170511/

One year after the raid on Megaupload and his sprawling mansion, Kim Dotcom fought back in grand fashion by launching new file-hosting site Mega.

It was a roaring success, signing up hundreds of thousands of users in the first few hours alone. Mega, it seemed, might soon be kicking at heels of the unprecedented traction of Megaupload.

While Mega continued to grow, in July 2015 Dotcom indicated that his previously warm connections with the site may have soured.

“I’m not involved in Mega anymore. Neither in a managing nor in a shareholder capacity,” he said.

Dotcom went on to claim that a then-unnamed Chinese investor (wanted in China for fraud) had used straw-men and businesses to accumulate more and more Mega shares, shares that were later seized as part of an investigation by the New Zealand government.

Mega bosses angrily denied that there had been any hostile takeover, noting that “those shareholders” who had decided not to subscribe to recent issues had “…been diluted accordingly. That has been their choice.”

But a year later and the war of words between Dotcom and Mega was still simmering, with the Chinese investor now being openly named as Bill Liu.

A notorious high-roller who allegedly gambled $293m at New Zealand’s SkyCity casino, Liu was soon being described by Dotcom as China’s “fifth most-wanted criminal” due to a huge investigation into the businessman’s dealings taking place back home.

Mega saw things a little differently, however.

“Mr Liu has a shareholding interest but has no management or board position so he certainly doesn’t control Mega,” the company insisted at the time.

Dotcom disagreed strongly with that assertion and this week, more than a year later, the topic has raised its head yet again.

“In a nutshell, Bill Liu has taken control of Mega by using straw men to buy shares for him, ultimately giving him the majority on the board,” Dotcom informs TF.

In common with the raid on Megaupload, the Mega/Liu backstory is like something out of a Hollywood movie.

This week the NZ Herald published an amazing report detailing Liu’s life since he first entered New Zealand in 2001. A section explains how he first got involved with Mega.

Tony Lentino, who was the founder of domain name registrar Instra, was also Mega’s first CEO. It’s reported that he later fell out with Dotcom and wanted to sell his shares in the company.

Bill Liu wanted to invest so Lentino went to meet him at his penthouse apartment on the 35th floor of the Metropolis tower in central Auckland.

Lentino later told police that Liu opened a bottle of Penfolds Grange wine during the meeting – no joke at $800 per bottle. That developed into a discussion about Liu buying Lentino’s stake in Mega and a somewhat interesting trip back home for Lentino.

“You want one of my cars to take home?” Liu allegedly asked Lentino.

The basement contained a Porsche, a Bentley and a Rolls-Royce – and Lentino was invited to take his pick. He took the NZ$400,000 Rolls as part of the NZ$4.2 million share in Mega he transferred to Liu.

Well, not quite to Liu, directly at least.

“When it came time to sign the deal, the shares were to be split into two parcels: one in the name of Zhao Wu Shen, a close friend of [Liu], and a trust company,” NZ Herald reports.

“It was the third transaction where Yan had been quietly buying into Mega – nothing was in his name, but he now controlled 18.8 per cent.”

It is not clear how much Liu currently owns but Lentino later told police (who believed that Liu was hiding his assets) that the Chinese businessman was the “invisible CEO” of Mega.

Speaking with TF this week, Dotcom says that Liu achieved his status by holding Mega back.

“Liu used his power to prevent Mega from monetizing its traffic via advertising sales or premium account sales and by doing so he created an artificial situation in which Mega had to raise more money to survive,” Dotcom says.

“He then pumped double-digit millions of dollars into the business via his straw men in order to dilute all other shareholders to almost zero.”

Dotcom says that Mega could’ve been “instantly profitable, ” but instead Liu intentionally forced the company into a loss-making situation, safe in the knowledge he could “turn on profitability at the push of a button.”

Dotcom says Liu chose not to do that until he directly or indirectly owned “almost all” of the shares in Mega. That, he says, came at the expense of his family, who had invested in Mega.

“The family trust that was setup for the benefit of my children owned the majority of Mega until Bill Liu entered the stage with his unlawful actions to take control of the company,” Dotcom says.

“He ran it at a loss when it could have been profitable, and then diluted other shareholders.”

According to Dotcom, the people behind his family trust are now considering their options, including legal action against Liu and others.

“The trustees of the family trust are now considering legal action against all parties involved in this dilution scam in light of the new information that has become public today from other court proceedings against Bill Liu,” Dotcom concludes.

It’s difficult to find a more colorful character than Dotcom, but Bill Liu certainly gives Dotcom a run for his money. His story can be found here, it’s almost unbelievable.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

Four Men Jailed For Running Pirate Movie Sites

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/four-men-jailed-running-pirate-movie-sites-170510/

In the wake of December 2014 action that closed down The Pirate Bay for weeks, Swedish police turned their focus to one of the country’s top streaming portals, Dreamfilm.se.

The site had been growing in popularity for a while, and together with defunct streaming site Swefilmer, whose admins also went on trial recently, the site accounted for up to 25% of online viewing in Sweden.

“After an administrator was detained and interrogated, it has been mutually agreed that dreamfilm.se will be shut down for good,” the site said in a January 2015 statement.

While the site later came back to life under a new name, Swedish police kept up the pressure. In February 2015, several more sites bit the dust including the country’s second largest torrent site Tankefetast, torrent site PirateHub, and streaming portal Tankefetast Play (TFPlay).

Image previously released by Tankafetasttankafetast

It took more than two years, but recently the key people behind the sites had their day in court. According to IDG, all of the men admitted to being involved in Dreamfilm, but none accepted they had committed any crimes.

Yesterday the Linköping District Court handed down its decision and it’s particularly bad news for those involved. Aged between 21 and 31-years-old, the men were sentenced to between six and 10 months in jail and ordered to pay damages of around $147,000 to the film industry.

A 23-year-old man who founded Dreamfilm back in 2012 was handed the harshest sentence of 10 months. He was due to receive a sentence of one year in jail but due to his age at the time of some of the offenses, the Court chose to impose a slightly lower term.

A member of the Pirate Party who reportedly handled advertising and helped to administer the site, was sentenced to eight months in prison. Two other men who worked in technical roles were told to serve between six and 10 months.

Image published by Dreamfilm after the raiddreamfilm

Anti-piracy outfit Rights Alliance, which as usual was deeply involved in the prosecution, says that the sites were significant players in the pirate landscape.

“The network that included Dream Movie, Tankafetast, TF Play and Piratehub was one of Europe’s leading players for illegal file sharing and streaming. The coordination of the network was carried out by two of the convicted,” the group said.

“This case is an example of how organized commercial piracy used Sweden as a base and target for its operations. They are well organized and earn a lot of money and the risks are considered small and punishments low in Sweden,” lawyer Henrik Pontén said.

While lenient sentences are now clearly off the agenda, the convicted men still have a chance to appeal. It is not yet clear whether they will do so. In the meantime the Dreamfilm.se domain will be seized until the District Court decision becomes final.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

Spotify’s Beta Used ‘Pirate’ MP3 Files, Some From Pirate Bay

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/spotifys-beta-used-pirate-mp3-files-some-from-pirate-bay-170509/

While some pirates will probably never be tempted away from the digital high seas, over the past decade millions have ditched or tapered down their habit with the help of Spotify.

It’s no coincidence that from the very beginning more than a decade ago, the streaming service had more than a few things in common with the piracy scene.

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek originally worked with uTorrent creator Ludvig ‘Ludde’ Strigeus before the pair sold to BitTorrent Inc. and began work on Spotify. Later, the company told TF that pirates were their target.

“Spotify is a new way of enjoying music. We believe Spotify provides a viable alternative to music piracy,” the company said.

“We think the way forward is to create a service better than piracy, thereby converting users into a legal, sustainable alternative which also enriches the total music experience.”

The technology deployed by Spotify was also familiar. Like the majority of ‘pirate’ platforms at the time, Spotify operated a peer-to-peer (P2P) system which grew to become one of the largest on the Internet. It was shut down in 2011.

But in the clearest nod to pirates, Spotify was available for free, supported by ads if the user desired. This was the platform’s greatest asset as it sought to win over a generation that had grown accustomed to gorging on free MP3s. Interestingly, however, an early Pirate Bay figure has now revealed that Spotify also had a use for the free content floating around the Internet.

As one of the early members of Sweden’s infamous Piratbyrån (piracy bureau), Rasmus Fleischer was also one of key figures at The Pirate Bay. Over the years he’s been a writer, researcher, debater and musician, and in 2012 he finished his PhD thesis on “music’s political economy.”

As part of a five-person team, Fleischer is now writing a book about Spotify. Titled ‘Spotify Teardown – Inside the Black Box of Streaming Music’, the book aims to shine light on the history of the famous music service and also spills the beans on a few secrets.

In an interview with Sweden’s DI.se, Fleischer reveals that when Spotify was in early beta, the company used unlicensed music to kick-start the platform.

“Spotify’s beta version was originally a pirate service. It was distributing MP3 files that the employees happened to have on their hard drives,” he reveals.

Rumors that early versions of Spotify used ‘pirate’ MP3s have been floating around the Internet for years. People who had access to the service in the beginning later reported downloading tracks that contained ‘Scene’ labeling, tags, and formats, which are the tell-tale signs that content hadn’t been obtained officially.

Solid proof has been more difficult to come by but Fleischer says he knows for certain that Spotify was using music obtained not only from pirate sites, but the most famous pirate site of all.

According to the writer, a few years ago he was involved with a band that decided to distribute their music on The Pirate Bay instead of the usual outlets. Soon after, the album appeared on Spotify’s beta service.

“I thought that was funny. So I emailed Spotify and asked how they obtained it. They said that ‘now, during the test period, we will use music that we find’,” Fleischer recalls.

For a company that has attracting pirates built into its DNA, it’s perhaps fitting that it tempted them with the same bait found on pirate sites. Certainly, the company’s history of a pragmatic attitude towards piracy means that few will be shouting ‘hypocrites’ at the streaming platform now.

Indeed, according to Fleischer the successes and growth of Spotify are directly linked to the temporary downfall of The Pirate Bay following the raid on the site in 2006, and the lawsuits that followed.

“The entire Spotify beta period and its early launch history is in perfect sync with the Pirate Bay process,” Fleischer explains.

“They would not have had as much attention if they had not been able to surf that wave. The company’s early history coincides with the Pirate Party becoming a hot topic, and the trial of the Pirate Bay in the Stockholm District Court.”

In 2013, Fleischer told TF that The Pirate Bay had “helped catalyze so-called ‘new business models’,” and it now appears that Spotify is reaping the benefits and looks set to keep doing so into the future.

An in-depth interview with Rasmus Fleischer will be published here soon, including an interesting revelation detailing how TorrentFreak readers positively affected the launch of Spotify in the United States.

Spotify Teardown – Inside the Black Box of Streaming Music will be published early 2018.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.