Tag Archives: set-top box

Hollywood Giants Sue Kodi-powered ‘TickBox TV’ Over Piracy

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/hollywood-giants-sue-kodi-powered-tickbox-tv-over-piracy-171014/

Online streaming piracy is booming and many people use dedicated media players to bring this content to their regular TVs.

The bare hardware is not illegal and neither is media player software such as Kodi. When these devices are loaded with copyright-infringing addons, however, they turn into an unprecedented piracy threat.

It becomes even more problematic when the sellers of these devices market their products as pirate tools. This is exactly what TickBox TV does, according to Hollywood’s major movie studios, Netflix, and Amazon.

TickBox is a Georgia-based provider of set-top boxes that allow users to stream a variety of popular media. The company’s devices use the Kodi media player and come with instructions on how to add various add-ons.

In a complaint filed in a California federal court yesterday, Universal, Columbia Pictures, Disney, 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros, Amazon, and Netflix accuse Tickbox of inducing and contributing to copyright infringement.

“TickBox sells ‘TickBox TV,’ a computer hardware device that TickBox urges its customers to use as a tool for the mass infringement of Plaintiffs’ copyrighted motion pictures and television shows,” the complaint, picked up by THR, reads.

While the device itself does not host any infringing content, users are informed where they can find it.

The movie and TV studios stress that Tickbox’s marketing highlights its infringing uses with statements such as “if you’re tired of wasting money with online streaming services like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime.”

Sick of paying high monthly fees?

“TickBox promotes the use of TickBox TV for overwhelmingly, if not exclusively, infringing purposes, and that is how its customers use TickBox TV. TickBox advertises TickBox TV as a substitute for authorized and legitimate distribution channels such as cable television or video-on-demand services like Amazon Prime and Netflix,” the studios’ lawyers write.

The complaint explains in detail how TickBox works. When users first boot up their device they are prompted to download the “TickBox TV Player” software. This comes with an instruction video guiding people to infringing streams.

“The TickBox TV instructional video urges the customer to use the ‘Select Your Theme’ button on the start-up menu for downloading addons. The ‘Themes’ are curated collections of popular addons that link to unauthorized streams of motion pictures and television shows.”

“Some of the most popular addons currently distributed — which are available through TickBox TV — are titled ‘Elysium,’ ‘Bob,’ and ‘Covenant’,” the complaint adds, showing screenshots of the interface.

Covenant

The movie and TV studios, which are the founding members of the recently launched ACE anti-piracy initiative, want TickBox to stop selling their devices. In addition, they demand compensation for the damages they’ve suffered. Requesting the maximum statutory damages of $150,000 per copyright infringement, this can run into the millions.

The involvement of Amazon, albeit the content division, is notable since the online store itself sells dozens of similar streaming devices, some of which even list “infringing” addons.

The TickBox lawsuit is the first case in the United States where a group of major Hollywood players is targeting a streaming device. Earlier this year various Hollywood insiders voiced concerns about the piracy streaming epidemic and if this case goes their way, it probably won’t be the last.

A copy of the full complaint is available here (pdf)

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

‘China Should Crack Down on Pirate Streaming Box Distributors’

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/china-should-crack-down-on-pirate-streaming-box-distributors-171001/

The International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) has informed the U.S. Government that China must step up its game to better protect the interests of copyright holders.

The US Trade Representative is reviewing whether China has done enough to comply with its WTO obligations, but IIPA members including RIAA and MPAA believe there is still work to be done.

One of the areas to which the Chinese Government should pay more attention is enforcement. Although a lot of progress has been made in recent years, especially in combating music piracy, new threats have emerged.

One of the areas highlighted by IIPA is the streaming box ecosystem, aptly dubbed as “piracy 3.0” by the Motion Picture Association. This appeals to a new breed of pirates who rely on set-top boxes which are filled with pirate add-ons.

Industry groups often refer to these boxes as Illicit Streaming Devices (ISDs) and they see China as a major hub through which these are shipped around the world.

“ISDs are media boxes, set-top boxes or other devices that allow users, through the use of piracy apps, to stream, download, or otherwise access unauthorized content from the Internet,” IIPA writes.

“These devices have emerged as a significant means through which pirated motion picture and television content is accessed on televisions in homes in China as well as elsewhere in Asia and increasingly around the world. China is a hub for the manufacture of these devices.”

Although the hardware and media players are perfectly legal, things get problematic when they’re loaded with pirate add-ons and promoted as tools to facilitate copyright infringement.

IIPA states that the Chinese Government should do more to stop these devices from being sold. Cracking down on the main distribution points would be a good start, they say.

“However it is done, the Chinese government must increase enforcement efforts, including cracking down on piracy apps and on device retailers and/or distributors who preload the devices with apps that facilitate infringement.

“Moreover, because China is the main source of this problem spreading across Asia, the Chinese government should take immediate actions against key distribution points for devices that are being used illegally,” IIPA adds.

In addition to pirate boxes, the industry groups also want China to beef up its enforcement against online journal piracy, pirate apps, unauthorized camcording, and unlicensed streaming platforms.

IIPA intends to explain the above and several other shortcomings in detail during a hearing in Washington, DC, next Wednesday. The group has submitted an overview of its testimony to the Trade Representative, which is available here (pdf).

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

Roku Is Building Its Own Anti-Piracy Team

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/roku-building-anti-piracy-team/

Online streaming piracy is on the rise and many people use dedicated media players to watch unauthorized content through their regular TV.

Although the media players themselves can be used for perfectly legal means, third-party add-ons turn them into pirate machines, providing access to movies, TV-shows and more.

The entertainment industry isn’t happy with this development and is trying to halt further growth wherever possible.

Just a few months ago, Roku was harshly confronted with this new reality when a Mexican court ordered local retailers to take its media player off the shelves. This legal battle is still ongoing, but it’s clear that Roku itself is now taking a more proactive role.

While Roku never permitted any infringing content, the company is taking steps to better deal with the problem. The company has already begun warning users of copyright-infringing third-party channels, but that was only the beginning.

Two new job applications posted by Roku a few days ago reveal that the company is putting together an in-house anti-piracy team to keep the problem under control.

One of the new positions is that of Director Anti-Piracy and Content Security. Roku stresses that this is a brand new position, which involves shaping the company’s anti-piracy strategy.

“The Director, Anti-Piracy and Content Security is responsible for defining the technology roadmap and overseeing implementation of anti-piracy and content security initiatives at Roku,” the application reads.

“This role requires ability to benchmark Roku against best practices (i.e. MPAA, Studio & Customer) but also requires an emphasis on maintaining deep insight into the evolving threat landscape and technical challenges of combating piracy.”

The job posting

The second job listed by Roku is that of an anti-piracy software engineer. One of the main tasks of this position is to write software for the Roku to monitor and prevent piracy.

“In this role, you will be responsible for implementing anti-piracy and content protection technology as it pertains to Roku OS,” the application explains.

“This entails developing software features, conducting forensic investigations and mining Roku’s big data platform and other threat intelligence sources for copyright infringement activities on and off platform.”

While a two-person team is relatively small, it’s possible that this will grow in the future, if there aren’t people in a similar role already. What’s clear, however, is that Roku takes piracy very seriously.

With Hollywood closely eyeing the streaming box landscape, the company is doing its best to keep copyright holders onside.

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

A Million ‘Pirate’ Boxes Sold in the UK During The Last Two Years

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/a-million-pirate-boxes-sold-in-the-uk-during-the-last-two-years-170919/

With the devices hitting the headlines on an almost weekly basis, it probably comes as no surprise that ‘pirate’ set-top boxes are quickly becoming public enemy number one with video rightsholders.

Typically loaded with the legal Kodi software but augmented with third-party addons, these often Android-based pieces of hardware drag piracy out of the realm of the computer savvy and into the living rooms of millions.

One of the countries reportedly most affected by this boom is the UK. The consumption of these devices among the general public is said to have reached epidemic proportions, and anecdotal evidence suggests that terms like Kodi and Showbox are now household terms.

Today we have another report to digest, this time from the Federation Against Copyright Theft, or FACT as they’re often known. Titled ‘Cracking Down on Digital Piracy,’ the report provides a general overview of the piracy scene, tackling well-worn topics such as how release groups and site operators work, among others.

The report is produced by FACT after consultation with the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit, Intellectual Property Office, Police Scotland, and anti-piracy outfit Entura International. It begins by noting that the vast majority of the British public aren’t involved in the consumption of infringing content.

“The most recent stats show that 75% of Brits who look at content online abide by the law and don’t download or stream it illegally – up from 70% in 2013. However, that still leaves 25% who do access material illegally,” the report reads.

The report quickly heads to the topic of ‘pirate’ set-top boxes which is unsurprising, not least due to FACT’s current focus as a business entity.

While it often positions itself alongside government bodies (which no doubt boosts its status with the general public), FACT is a private limited company serving The Premier League, another company desperate to stamp out the use of infringing devices.

Nevertheless, it’s difficult to argue with some of the figures cited in the report.

“At a conservative estimate, we believe a million set-top boxes with software added
to them to facilitate illegal downloads have been sold in the UK in the last couple
of years,” the Intellectual Property Office reveals.

Interestingly, given a growing tech-savvy public, FACT’s report notes that ready-configured boxes are increasingly coming into the country.

“Historically, individuals and organized gangs have added illegal apps and add-ons onto the boxes once they have been imported, to allow illegal access to premium channels. However more recently, more boxes are coming into the UK complete with illegal access to copyrighted content via apps and add-ons already installed,” FACT notes.

“Boxes are often stored in ‘fulfillment houses’ along with other illegal electrical items and sold on social media. The boxes are either sold as one-off purchases, or with a monthly subscription to access paid-for channels.”

While FACT press releases regularly blur the lines when people are prosecuted for supplying set-top boxes in general, it’s important to note that there are essentially two kinds of products on offer to the public.

The first relies on Kodi-type devices which provide on-going free access to infringing content. The second involves premium IPTV subscriptions which are a whole different level of criminality. Separating the two when reading news reports can be extremely difficult, but it’s a hugely important to recognize the difference when assessing the kinds of sentences set-top box suppliers are receiving in the UK.

Nevertheless, FACT correctly highlights that the supply of both kinds of product are on the increase, with various parties recognizing the commercial opportunities.

“A significant number of home-grown British criminals are now involved in this type of crime. Some of them import the boxes wholesale through entirely legal channels, and modify them with illegal software at home. Others work with sophisticated criminal networks across Europe to bring the boxes into the UK.

“They then sell these boxes online, for example through eBay or Facebook, sometimes managing to sell hundreds or thousands of boxes before being caught,” the company adds.

The report notes that in some cases the sale of infringing set-top boxes occurs through cottage industry, with suppliers often working on their own or with small groups of friends and family. Invetiably, perhaps, larger scale operations are reported to be part of networks with connections to other kinds of crime, such as dealing in drugs.

“In contrast to drugs, streaming devices provide a relatively steady and predictable revenue stream for these criminals – while still being lucrative, often generating hundreds of thousands of pounds a year, they are seen as a lower risk activity with less likelihood of leading to arrest or imprisonment,” FACT reports.

While there’s certainly the potential to earn large sums from ‘pirate’ boxes and premium IPTV services, operating on the “hundreds of thousands of pounds a year” scale in the UK would attract a lot of unwanted attention. That’s not saying that it isn’t already, however.

Noting that digital piracy has evolved hugely over the past three or four years, the report says that the cases investigated so far are just the “tip of the iceberg” and that many other cases are in the early stages and will only become known to the public in the months and years ahead.

Indeed, the Intellectual Property Office hints that some kind of large-scale enforcement action may be on the horizon.

“We have identified a significant criminal business model which we have discussed and shared with key law enforcement partners. I can’t go into detail on this, but as investigations take their course, you will see the scale,” an IPO spokesperson reveals.

While details are necessarily scarce, a source familiar with this area told TF that he would be very surprised if the targets aren’t the growing handful of commercial UK-based IPTV re-sellers who offer full subscription TV services for a few pounds per month.

“They’re brazen. Watch this space,” he said.

FACT’s full report, Cracking Down on Digital Piracy, can be downloaded here (pdf)

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

Kodi ‘Trademark Troll’ Has Interesting Views on Co-Opting Other People’s Work

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/kodi-trademark-troll-has-interesting-views-on-co-opting-other-peoples-work-170917/

The Kodi team, operating under the XBMC Foundation, announced last week that a third-party had registered the Kodi trademark in Canada and was using it for their own purposes.

That person was Geoff Gavora, who had previously been in communication with the Kodi team, expressing how important the software was to his sales.

“We had hoped, given the positive nature of his past emails, that perhaps he was doing this for the benefit of the Foundation. We learned, unfortunately, that this was not the case,” XBMC Foundation President Nathan Betzen said.

According to the Kodi team, Gavora began delisting Amazon ads placed by companies selling Kodi-enabled products, based on infringement of Gavora’s trademark rights.

“[O]nly Gavora’s hardware can be sold, unless those companies pay him a fee to stay on the store,” Betzen explained.

Predictably, Gavora’s move is being viewed as highly controversial, not least since he’s effectively claiming licensing rights in Canada over what should be a free and open source piece of software. TF obtained one of the notices Amazon sent to a seller of a Kodi-enabled device in Canada, following a complaint from Gavora.

Take down Kodi from Amazon, or pay Gavora

So who is Geoff Gavora and what makes him tick? Thanks to a 2016 interview with Ali Salman of the Rapid Growth Podcast, we have a lot of information from the horse’s mouth.

It all began in 2011, when Gavora began jailbreaking Apple TVs, loading them with XBMC, and selling them to friends.

“I did it as a joke, for beer money from my friends,” Gavora told Salman.

“I’d do it for $25 to $50 and word of mouth spread that I was doing this so we could load on this media center to watch content and online streams from it.”

Intro to the interview with Ali Salman

Soon, however, word of mouth caused the business to grow wings, Gavora claims.

“So they started telling people and I start telling people it’s $50, and then I got so busy so I start telling people it’s $75. I’m getting too busy with my work and with this. And it got to the point where I was making more jailbreaking these Apple TVs than I was at my career, and I wasn’t very happy at my career at that time.”

Jailbreaking was supposed to be a side thing to tide Gavora over until another job came along, but he had a problem – he didn’t come from a technical background. Nevertheless, what Gavora did have was a background in marketing and with a decent knowledge of how to succeed in customer service, he majored on that front.

Gavora had come to learn that while people wanted his devices, they weren’t very good at operating XBMC (Kodi’s former name) which he’d loaded onto them. With this in mind, he began offering web support and phone support via a toll-free line.

“I started receiving calls from New York, Dallas, and then Australia, Hong Kong. Everyone around the world was calling me and saying ‘we hear there’s some kid in Calgary, some young child, who’s offering tech support for the Apple TV’,” Gavora said.

But with things apparently going well, a wrench was soon thrown into the works when Apple released the third variant of its Apple TV and Gavorra was unable to jailbreak it. This prompted him to market his own Linux-based set-top device and his business, Raw-Media, grew from there.

While it seems likely that so-called ‘Raw Boxes’ were doing reasonably well with consumers, what was the secret of their success? Podcast host Salman asked Gavora for his ‘networking party 10-second pitch’, and the Canadian was happy to oblige.

“I get this all the time actually. I basically tell people that I sell a box that gives them free TV and movies,” he said.

This was met with laughter from the host, to which Gavora added, “That’s sort of the three-second pitch and everyone’s like ‘Oh, tell me more’.”

“Who doesn’t like free TV, come on?” Salman responded. “Yeah exactly,” Gavora said.

The image below, taken from a January 2016 YouTube unboxing video, shows one of the products sold by Gavora’s company.

Raw-Media Kodi Box packaging (note Kodi logo)

Bearing in mind the offer of free movies and TV, the tagline on the box, “Stop paying for things you don’t want to watch, watch more free tv!” initially looks quite provocative. That being said, both the device and Kodi are perfectly capable of playing plenty of legal content from free sources, so there’s no problem there.

What is surprising, however, is that the unboxing video shows the device being booted up, apparently already loaded with infamous third-party Kodi addons including PrimeWire, Genesis, Icefilms, and Navi-X.

The unboxing video showing the Kodi setup

Given that Gavora has registered the Kodi trademark in Canada and prints the official logo on his packaging, this runs counter to the official Kodi team’s aggressive stance towards boxes ready-configured with what they categorize as banned addons. Matters are compounded when one visits the product support site.

As seen in the image below, Raw-Media devices are delivered with a printed card in the packaging informing people where to get the after-sales services Gavora says he built his business upon. The cards advise people to visit No-Issue.ca, a site setup to offer text and video-based support to set-top box buyers.

No-Issue.ca (which is hosted on the same server as raw-media.ca and claimed officially as a sister site here) now redirects to No-Issue.is, as per a 2016 announcement. It has a fairly bland forum but the connected tutorial videos, found on No Issue’s YouTube channel, offer a lot more spice.

Registered under Gavora’s online nickname Gombeek (which is also used on the official Kodi forums), the channel is full of videos detailing how to install and use a wide range of addons.

The No-issue YouTube Channel tutorials

But while supplying tutorial videos is one thing, providing the actual software addons is another. Surprisingly, No-Issue does that too. Filed away under the URL http://solved.no-issue.is/ is a Kodi repository which distributes a wide range of addons, including many that specialize in infringing content, according to the Kodi team.

The No-Issue repository

A source familiar with Raw-Media’s devices informs TF that they’re no longer delivered with addons installed. However, tools hosted on No-Issue.is automate the installation process for the customer, with unlisted YouTube Videos (1,2) providing the instructions.

XBMC Foundation President Nathan Betzen says that situation isn’t ideal.

“If that really is his repo it is disappointing to see that Gavora is charging a fee or outright preventing the sale of boxes with Kodi installed that do not include infringing add-ons, while at the same time he is distributing boxes himself that do include the infringing add-ons like this,” Betzen told TF.

While the legality of this type of service is yet to be properly tested in Canada and may yet emerge as entirely permissible under local law, Gavora himself previously described his business as operating in a gray area.

“If I could go back in time four years, I would’ve been more aggressive in the beginning because there was a lot of uncertainty being in a gray market business about how far I could push it,” he said.

“I really shouldn’t say it’s a gray market because everything I do is completely above board, I just felt it was more gray market so I was a bit scared,” he added.

But, legality aside (which will be determined in due course through various cases 1,2), the situation is still problematic when it comes to the Kodi trademark.

The official Kodi team indicate they don’t want to be associated with any kind of questionable addon or even tutorials for the same. Nevertheless, several of the addons installed by No-Issue (including PrimeWire, cCloud TV, Genesis, Icefilms, MoviesHD, MuchMovies and Navi-X, to name a few), are present on the Kodi team’s official ban list.

The fact remains, however, that Gavora successfully registered the trademark in Canada (one month later it was transferred to a brand new company at the same address), and Kodi now have no control over the situation in the country, short of a settlement or some kind of legal action.

Kodi matters aside, though, we get more insight into Gavora’s attitudes towards intellectual property after learning that he studied gemology and jewelry at school. He’s a long-standing member of jewelry discussion forum Ganoskin.com (his profile links to Gavora.com, a domain Gavora owns, as per information supplied by Amazon).

Things get particularly topical in a 2006 thread titled “When your work gets ripped“. The original poster asked how people feel when their jewelry work gets copied and Gavora made his opinions known.

“I think that what most people forget to remember is that when a piece from Tiffany’s or Cartier is ripped off or copied they don’t usually just copy the work, they will stamp it with their name as well,” Gavora said.

“This is, in fact, fraud and they are deceiving clients into believing they are purchasing genuine Tiffany’s or Cartier pieces. The client is in fact more interested in purchasing from an artist than they are the piece. Laying claim to designs (unless a symbol or name is involved) is outrageous.”

Unless that ‘design’ is called Kodi, of course, then it’s possible to claim it as your own through an administrative process and begin demanding licensing fees from the public. That being said, Gavora does seem to flip back and forth a little, later suggesting that being copied is sometimes ok.

“If someone copies your design and produces it under their own name, I think one should be honored and revel in the fact that your design is successful and has caused others to imitate it and grow from it,” he wrote.

“I look forward to the day I see one of my original designs copied, that is the day I will know my design is a success.”

From their public statements, this opinion isn’t shared by the Kodi team in respect of their product. Despite the Kodi name, software and logo being all their own work, they now find themselves having to claw back rights in Canada, in order to keep the product free in the region. For now, however, that seems like a difficult task.

TorrentFreak wrote to Gavora and asked him why he felt the need to register the Kodi trademark, but we received no response. That means we didn’t get the chance to ask him why he’s taking down Amazon listings for other people’s devices, or about something else that came up in the podcast.

“My biggest weakness, I guess, is that I’m too ethical about how I do my business,” he said, referring to how he deals with customers.

Only time will tell how that philosophy will affect Gavora’s attitudes to trademarks and people’s desire not to be charged for using free, open source software.

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

Kodi Declares ‘War’ on Trademark Trolls

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/kodi-declares-war-on-trademark-trolls-170908/

More and more people are starting to use Kodi-powered set-top boxes to stream video content to their TVs.

While Kodi itself is a neutral platform, unauthorized add-ons give it a bad name. This is one of the reasons why the Kodi team is actively going after vendors who sell “fully loaded” pirate boxes and YouTubers who misuse their name to promote copyright infringement.

However, these “pirates” are not the only intellectual property problem the team is facing; trademark trolls are a serious threat as well.

When XBMC changed its name to Kodi, they noticed that several parties swiftly registered the Kodi trademark around the world, presumably to make money off it. This came as a total surprise to the foundation, which never faced any trademark issues before, and it continues to cause problems today.

The Kodi team has since convinced some of these “trolls” to hand over the trademarks, but not all are willing to give in. This is causing problems, particularly in Canada, where the local trademark owner is actively blackmailing hardware vendors and removing content from Amazon, the Kodi team says.

The Canadian trademark is owned by Geoff Gavora, who is no stranger to the XBMC Foundation. Before the trouble started, Gavora had already sent several emails to the Kodi team, expressing how important the software was to his sales. After the trademark registration, however, the friendly tone changed.

“We had hoped, given the positive nature of his past emails, that perhaps he was doing this for the benefit of the Foundation. We learned, unfortunately, that this was not the case,” XBMC Foundation President Nathan Betzen notes.

“Instead, companies like Mygica and our sponsor Minix have been delisted by Gavora on Amazon, so that only Gavora’s hardware can be sold, unless those companies pay him a fee to stay on the store,” he adds.

Gavora is actively using his trademark to stop the sales of other Kodi based devices in Canada, the XBMC Foundation warns. This means that people who buy a Kodi product in the local Amazon store may end up filling the pocket of the local trademark owner.

“Now, if you do a search for Kodi on Amazon.ca, there’s a very real chance that every box you see is giving Gavora money to advertise that they can run what should be the entirely free and open Kodi. Gavora and his company are behaving in true trademark troll fashion,” Betzen writes.

There are several reasons why the Kodi team is making this problem public now. For one, they want the public to be aware of the situation. At some point, trademark trolls may even try to stop Kodi from distributing the software through their own site, they warn.

However, the foundation is not going to let this happen without a fight. They are ready to deal with the problem head on. Trademark trolls should not be allowed to exploit the Kodi name for financial profit.

“We want to let the trolls know that we have caught on to this game and will not accept it. We are actively taking the necessary steps to ensure that the Kodi trademark trolls are dealt with appropriately. There is no value proposition in trolling the Kodi name,’ Betzen writes.

If this means that the foundation has to go to court, they are prepared to do so, hoping that the community will have their back.

“While our goal has always been to avoid going to the court to ensure Kodi remains free in countries where trolls are attempting to get rich off of the Kodi name, we will not back down from protecting the free, open source nature of our software.

“If that time comes for legal action, we hope to have the community’s support,” Betzen concludes.

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

New UK IP Crime Report Reveals Continued Focus on ‘Pirate’ Kodi Boxes

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/new-uk-ip-crime-report-reveals-continued-focus-on-pirate-kodi-boxes-170908/

The UK’s Intellectual Property Office has published its annual IP Crime Report, spanning the period 2016 to 2017.

It covers key events in the copyright and trademark arenas and is presented with input from the police and trading standards, plus private entities such as the BPI, Premier League, and Federation Against Copyright Theft, to name a few.

The report begins with an interesting statistic. Despite claims that many millions of UK citizens regularly engage in some kind of infringement, figures from the Ministry of Justice indicate that just 47 people were found guilty of offenses under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act during 2016. That’s down on the 69 found guilty in the previous year.

Despite this low conviction rate, 15% of all internet users aged 12+ are reported to have consumed at least one item of illegal content between March and May 2017. Figures supplied by the Industry Trust for IP indicate that 19% of adults watch content via various IPTV devices – often referred to as set-top, streaming, Android, or Kodi boxes.

“At its cutting edge IP crime is innovative. It exploits technological loopholes before they become apparent. IP crime involves sophisticated hackers, criminal financial experts, international gangs and service delivery networks. Keeping pace with criminal innovation places a burden on IP crime prevention resources,” the report notes.

The report covers a broad range of IP crime, from counterfeit sportswear to foodstuffs, but our focus is obviously on Internet-based infringement. Various contributors cover various aspects of online activity as it affects them, including music industry group BPI.

“The main online piracy threats to the UK recorded music industry at present are from BitTorrent networks, linking/aggregator sites, stream-ripping sites, unauthorized streaming sites and cyberlockers,” the BPI notes.

The BPI’s website blocking efforts have been closely reported, with 63 infringing sites blocked to date via various court orders. However, the BPI reports that more than 700 related URLs, IP addresses, and proxy sites/ proxy aggregators have also been rendered inaccessible as part of the same action.

“Site blocking has proven to be a successful strategy as the longer the blocks are in place, the more effective they are. We have seen traffic to these sites reduce by an average of 70% or more,” the BPI reports.

While prosecutions against music pirates are a fairly rare event in the UK, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) Specialist Fraud Division highlights that their most significant prosecution of the past 12 months involved a prolific music uploader.

As first revealed here on TF, Wayne Evans was an uploader not only on KickassTorrents and The Pirate Bay, but also some of his own sites. Known online as OldSkoolScouse, Evans reportedly cost the UK’s Performing Rights Society more than £1m in a single year. He was sentenced in December 2016 to 12 months in prison.

While Evans has been free for some time already, the CPS places particular emphasis on the importance of the case, “since it provided sentencing guidance for the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, where before there was no definitive guideline.”

The CPS says the case was useful on a number of fronts. Despite illegal distribution of content being difficult to investigate and piracy losses proving tricky to quantify, the court found that deterrent sentences are appropriate for the kinds of offenses Evans was accused of.

The CPS notes that various factors affect the severity of such sentences, not least the length of time the unlawful activity has persisted and particularly if it has done so after the service of a cease and desist notice. Other factors include the profit made by defendants and/or the loss caused to copyright holders “so far as it can accurately be calculated.”

Importantly, however, the CPS says that beyond issues of personal mitigation and timely guilty pleas, a jail sentence is probably going to be the outcome for others engaging in this kind of activity in future. That’s something for torrent and streaming site operators and their content uploaders to consider.

“[U]nless the unlawful activity of this kind is very amateur, minor or short-lived, or in the absence of particularly compelling mitigation or other exceptional circumstances, an immediate custodial sentence is likely to be appropriate in cases of illegal distribution of copyright infringing articles,” the CPS concludes.

But while a music-related trial provided the highlight of the year for the CPS, the online infringement world is still dominated by the rise of streaming sites and the now omnipresent “fully-loaded Kodi Box” – set-top devices configured to receive copyright-infringing live TV and VOD.

In the IP Crime Report, the Intellectual Property Office references a former US Secretary of Defense to describe the emergence of the threat.

“The echoes of Donald Rumsfeld’s famous aphorism concerning ‘known knowns’ and ‘known unknowns’ reverberate across our landscape perhaps more than any other. The certainty we all share is that we must be ready to confront both ‘known unknowns’ and ‘unknown unknowns’,” the IPO writes.

“Not long ago illegal streaming through Kodi Boxes was an ‘unknown’. Now, this technology updates copyright infringement by empowering TV viewers with the technology they need to subvert copyright law at the flick of a remote control.”

While the set-top box threat has grown in recent times, the report highlights the important legal clarifications that emerged from the BREIN v Filmspeler case, which found itself before the European Court of Justice.

As widely reported, the ECJ determined that the selling of piracy-configured devices amounts to a communication to the public, something which renders their sale illegal. However, in a submission by PIPCU, the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit, box sellers are said to cast a keen eye on the legal situation.

“Organised criminals, especially those in the UK who distribute set-top boxes, are aware of recent developments in the law and routinely exploit loopholes in it,” PIPCU reports.

“Given recent judgments on the sale of pre-programmed set-top boxes, it is now unlikely criminals would advertise the devices in a way which is clearly infringing by offering them pre-loaded or ‘fully loaded’ with apps and addons specifically designed to access subscription services for free.”

With sellers beginning to clean up their advertising, it seems likely that detection will become more difficult than when selling was considered a gray area. While that will present its own issues, PIPCU still sees problems on two fronts – a lack of clear legislation and a perception of support for ‘pirate’ devices among the public.

“There is no specific legislation currently in place for the prosecution of end users or sellers of set-top boxes. Indeed, the general public do not see the usage of these devices as potentially breaking the law,” the unit reports.

“PIPCU are currently having to try and ‘shoehorn’ existing legislation to fit the type of criminality being observed, such as conspiracy to defraud (common law) to tackle this problem. Cases are yet to be charged and results will be known by late 2017.”

Whether these prosecutions will be effective remains to be seen, but PIPCU’s comments suggest an air of caution set to a backdrop of box-sellers’ tendency to adapt to legal challenges.

“Due to the complexity of these cases it is difficult to substantiate charges under the Fraud Act (2006). PIPCU have convicted one person under the Serious Crime Act (2015) (encouraging or assisting s11 of the Fraud Act). However, this would not be applicable unless the suspect had made obvious attempts to encourage users to use the boxes to watch subscription only content,” PIPCU notes, adding;

“The selling community is close knit and adapts constantly to allow itself to operate in the gray area where current legislation is unclear and where they feel they can continue to sell ‘under the radar’.”

More generally, pirate sites as a whole are still seen as a threat. As reported last month, the current anti-piracy narrative is that pirate sites represent a danger to their users. As a result, efforts are underway to paint torrent and streaming sites as risky places to visit, with users allegedly exposed to malware and other malicious content. The scare strategy is supported by PIPCU.

“Unlike the purchase of counterfeit physical goods, consumers who buy unlicensed content online are not taking a risk. Faulty copyright doesn’t explode, burn or break. For this reason the message as to why the public should avoid copyright fraud needs to be re-focused.

“A more concerted attempt to push out a message relating to malware on pirate websites, the clear criminality and the links to organized crime of those behind the sites are crucial if public opinion is to be changed,” the unit advises.

But while the changing of attitudes is desirable for pro-copyright entities, PIPCU says that winning over the public may not prove to be an easy battle. It was given a small taste of backlash itself, after taking action against the operator of a pirate site.

“The scale of the problem regarding public opinion of online copyright crime is evidenced by our own experience. After PIPCU executed a warrant against the owner of a streaming website, a tweet about the event (read by 200,000 people) produced a reaction heavily weighted against PIPCU’s legitimate enforcement action,” PIPCU concludes.

In summary, it seems likely that more effort will be expended during the next 12 months to target the set-top box threat, but there doesn’t appear to be an abundance of confidence in existing legislation to tackle all but the most egregious offenders. That being said, a line has now been drawn in the sand – if the public is prepared to respect it.

The full IP Crime Report 2016-2017 is available here (pdf)

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

How Much Does ‘Free’ Premier League Piracy Cost These Days?

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/how-much-does-free-premier-league-piracy-cost-these-days-170902/

Right now, the English Premier League is engaged in perhaps the most aggressively innovative anti-piracy operation the Internet has ever seen. After obtaining a new High Court order, it now has the ability to block ‘pirate’ streams of matches, in real-time, with no immediate legal oversight.

If the Premier League believes a server is streaming one of its matches, it can ask ISPs in the UK to block it, immediately. That’s unprecedented anywhere on the planet.

As previously reported, this campaign caused a lot of problems for people trying to access free and premium streams at the start of the season. Many IPTV services were blocked in the UK within minutes of matches starting, with free streams also dropping like flies. According to information obtained by TF, more than 600 illicit streams were blocked during that weekend.

While some IPTV providers and free streams continued without problems, it seems likely that it’s only a matter of time before the EPL begins to pick off more and more suppliers. To be clear, the EPL isn’t taking services or streams down, it’s only blocking them, which means that people using circumvention technologies like VPNs can get around the problem.

However, this raises the big issue again – that of continuously increasing costs. While piracy is often painted as free, it is not, and as setups get fancier, costs increase too.

Below, we take a very general view of a handful of the many ‘pirate’ configurations currently available, to work out how much ‘free’ piracy costs these days. The list is not comprehensive by any means (and excludes more obscure methods such as streaming torrents, which are always free and rarely blocked), but it gives an idea of costs and how the balance of power might eventually tip.

Basic beginner setup

On a base level, people who pirate online need at least some equipment. That could be an Android smartphone and easily installed free software such as Mobdro or Kodi. An Internet connection is a necessity and if the EPL blocks those all important streams, a VPN provider is required to circumvent the bans.

Assuming people already have a phone and the Internet, a VPN can be bought for less than £5 per month. This basic setup is certainly cheap but overall it’s an entry level experience that provides quality equal to the effort and money expended.

Equipment: Phone, tablet, PC
Comms: Fast Internet connection, decent VPN provider
Overal performance: Low quality, unpredictable, often unreliable
Cost: £5pm approx for VPN, plus Internet costs

Big screen, basic

For those who like their matches on the big screen, stepping up the chain costs more money. People need a TV with an HDMI input and a fast Internet connection as a minimum, alongside some kind of set-top device to run the necessary software.

Android devices are the most popular and are roughly split into two groups – the small standalone box type and the plug-in ‘stick’ variant such as Amazon’s Firestick.

A cheap Android set-top box

These cost upwards of £30 to £40 but the software to install on them is free. Like the phone, Mobdro is an option, but most people look to a Kodi setup with third-party addons. That said, all streams received on these setups are now vulnerable to EPL blocking so in the long-term, users will need to run a paid VPN.

The problem here is that some devices (including the 1st gen Firestick) aren’t ideal for running a VPN on top of a stream, so people will need to dump their old device and buy something more capable. That could cost another £30 to £40 and more, depending on requirements.

Importantly, none of this investment guarantees a decent stream – that’s down to what’s available on the day – but invariably the quality is low and/or intermittent, at best.

Equipment: TV, decent Android set-top box or equivalent
Comms: Fast Internet connection, decent VPN provider
Overall performance: Low to acceptable quality, unpredictable, often unreliable
Cost: £30 to £50 for set-top box, £5pm approx for VPN, plus Internet

Premium IPTV – PC or Android based

At this point, premium IPTV services come into play. People have a choice of spending varying amounts of money, depending on the quality of experience they require.

First of all, a monthly IPTV subscription with an established provider that isn’t going to disappear overnight is required, which can be a challenge to find in itself. We’re not here to review or recommend services but needless to say, like official TV packages they come in different flavors to suit varying wallet sizes. Some stick around, many don’t.

A decent one with a Sky-like EPG costs between £7 and £15 per month, depending on the quality and depth of streams, and how far in front users are prepared to commit.

Fairly typical IPTV with EPG (VOD shown)

Paying for a year in advance tends to yield better prices but with providers regularly disappearing and faltering in their service levels, people are often reluctant to do so. That said, some providers experience few problems so it’s a bit like gambling – research can improve the odds but there’s never a guarantee.

However, even when a provider, price, and payment period is decided upon, the process of paying for an IPTV service can be less than straightforward.

While some providers are happy to accept PayPal, many will only deal in credit cards, bitcoin, or other obscure payment methods. That sets up more barriers to entry that might deter the less determined customer. And, if time is indeed money, fussing around with new payment processors can be pricey, at least to begin with.

Once subscribed though, watching these streams is pretty straightforward. On a base level, people can use a phone, tablet, or set-top device to receive them, using software such as Perfect Player IPTV, for example. Currently available in free (ad supported) and premium (£2) variants, this software can be setup in a few clicks and will provide a decent user experience, complete with EPG.

Perfect Player IPTV

Those wanting to go down the PC route have more options but by far the most popular is receiving IPTV via a Kodi setup. For the complete novice, it’s not always easy to setup but some IPTV providers supply their own free addons, which streamline the process massively. These can also be used on Android-based Kodi setups, of course.

Nevertheless, if the EPL blocks the provider, a VPN is still going to be needed to access the IPTV service.

An Android tablet running Kodi

So, even if we ignore the cost of the PC and Internet connection, users could still find themselves paying between £10 and £20 per month for an IPTV service and a decent VPN. While more channels than simply football will be available from most providers, this is getting dangerously close to the £18 Sky are asking for its latest football package.

Equipment: TV, PC, or decent Android set-top box or equivalent
Comms: Fast Internet connection, IPTV subscription, decent VPN provider
Overal performance: High quality, mostly reliable, user-friendly (once setup)
Cost: PC or £30/£50 for set-top box, IPTV subscription £7 to £15pm, £5pm approx for VPN, plus Internet, plus time and patience for obscure payment methods.
Note: There are zero refunds when IPTV providers disappoint or disappear

Premium IPTV – Deluxe setup

Moving up to the top of the range, things get even more costly. Those looking to give themselves the full home entertainment-like experience will often move away from the PC and into the living room in front of the TV, armed with a dedicated set-top box. Weapon of choice: the Mag254.

Like Amazon’s FireStick, PC or Android tablet, the Mag254 is an entirely legal, content agnostic device. However, enter the credentials provided by many illicit IPTV suppliers and users are presented with a slick Sky-like experience, far removed from anything available elsewhere. The device is operated by remote control and integrates seamlessly with any HDMI-capable TV.

Mag254 IPTV box

Something like this costs around £70 in the UK, plus the cost of a WiFi adaptor on top, if needed. The cost of the IPTV provider needs to be figured in too, plus a VPN subscription if the provider gets blocked by EPL, which is likely. However, in this respect the Mag254 has a problem – it can’t run a VPN natively. This means that if streams get blocked and people need to use a VPN, they’ll need to find an external solution.

Needless to say, this costs more money. People can either do all the necessary research and buy a VPN-capable router/modem that’s also compatible with their provider (this can stretch to a couple of hundred pounds) or they’ll need to invest in a small ‘travel’ router with VPN client features built in.

‘Travel’ router (with tablet running Mobdro for scale)

These devices are available on Amazon for around £25 and sit in between the Mag254 (or indeed any other wireless device) and the user’s own regular router. Once the details of the VPN subscription are entered into the router, all traffic passing through is encrypted and will tunnel through web blocking measures. They usually solve the problem (ymmv) but of course, this is another cost.

Equipment: Mag254 or similar, with WiFi
Comms: Fast Internet connection, IPTV subscription, decent VPN provider
Overall performance: High quality, mostly reliable, very user-friendly
Cost: Mag254 around £75 with WiFi, IPTV subscription £7 to £15pm, £5pm for VPN (plus £25 for mini router), plus Internet, plus patience for obscure payment methods.
Note: There are zero refunds when IPTV providers disappoint or disappear

Conclusion

On the whole, people who want a reliable and high-quality Premier League streaming experience cannot get one for free, no matter where they source the content. There are many costs involved, some of which cannot be avoided.

If people aren’t screwing around with annoying and unreliable Kodi streams, they’ll be paying for an IPTV provider, VPN and other equipment. Or, if they want an easy life, they’ll be paying Sky, BT or Virgin Media. That might sound harsh to many pirates but it’s the only truly reliable solution.

However, for those looking for something that’s merely adequate, costs drop significantly. Indeed, if people don’t mind the hassle of wondering whether a sub-VHS quality stream will appear before the big match and stay on throughout, it can all be done on a shoestring.

But perhaps the most important thing to note in respect of costs is the recent changes to the pricing of Premier League content in the UK. As mentioned earlier, Sky now delivers a sports package for £18pm, which sounds like the best deal offered to football fans in recent years. It will be tempting for sure and has all the hallmarks of a price point carefully calculated by Sky.

The big question is whether it will be low enough to tip significant numbers of people away from piracy. The reality is that if another couple of thousand streams get hit hard again this weekend – and the next – and the next – many pirating fans will be watching the season drift away for yet another month, unviewed. That’s got to be frustrating.

The bottom line is that high-quality streaming piracy is becoming a little bit pricey just for football so if it becomes unreliable too – and that’s the Premier League’s goal – the balance of power could tip. At this point, the EPL will need to treat its new customers with respect, in order to keep them feeling both entertained and unexploited.

Fail on those counts – especially the latter – and the cycle will start again.

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

Police Confiscate 245 ‘Pirate’ Media Players

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/police-confiscate-245-pirate-media-players-170829/

More and more people are starting to use “fully-loaded” set-top boxes to stream video content directly to their TVs.

Although the media players themselves can be used for perfectly legal means, third-party add-ons turn them into pirate machines, providing access to movies, TV-shows and IPTV channels.

Over the past several years, there has been little enforcement effort on this front. However, this changed earlier this year, when the European Court of Justice ruled that selling devices pre-configured to obtain copyright-infringing content is illegal.

The hardware can still be sold and media player software such as Kodi is legal too, but vendors who ship boxes with pirate add-ons could get a letter or visit from rightsholders. Dutch anti-piracy outfit BREIN is particularly active on this front and has convinced hundreds of sellers to clean up shop.

One of these vendors, located in The Hague, recently promised that it would stop offering these boxes. However, BREIN discovered that while the pirate media players disappeared from the online store, they were still sold in the bricks-and-mortar store.

The anti-piracy group obviously wasn’t happy with this and reported the shop owner to the local police, who went in and confiscated 245 “pirate” media players a few days ago.

“We summoned this merchant to stop but, despite his promise to do so, he continued. We have therefore reported it to the police. These players cause great damage because people no longer pay for the movies and series they watch,” BREIN director Tim Kuik says.

It is now up to the authorities to determine if any further action is needed. BREIN expects that the prosecutor’s office will try to settle the case with a fine, but if the vendor refuses to pay it may also lead to a prosecution. At the same time, BREIN also has the option to file a civil case.

Although BREIN’s actions usually don’t result in criminal prosecutions, the anti-piracy group continues to pressure people who are involved in selling and developing these platforms. Ultimately, they hope that this will deter others from getting involved.

Earlier this year the Motion Picture Association described pirate media players as a major threat, dubbing them “Piracy 3.0.” While this threat is far from over, it has definitely become riskier for people to get involved in developing and selling these boxes.

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

Mystery Codes Appear in ‘Pirate’ Mayweather v McGregor Streams

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/mystery-codes-appear-in-pirate-mayweather-v-mcgregor-streams-170827/

For many hardcore boxing fans, it was the fight that should never have taken place. But last night, undefeated legend Floyd Mayweather stepped into the ring against UFC lightweight champion and supposed boxing novice, Conor McGregor.

A known slow starter, Mayweather came out true to form, arguably losing the first three rounds to the brash Irishman who had previously promised to bounce the 40-year-old’s head off the canvas in round one. But by round 10 it was all over, with McGregor running out of gas and with no answer to Mayweather’s increasingly vicious punches. TKO Mayweather.

While viewing figures won’t be in for some time, the event is likely to have been a massive PPV success all over the world, with millions tuning in for what turned out to be a value-for-money event. But despite widespread availability, it’s likely that hundreds of thousands – maybe even millions – tuned into the fight from unofficial sources. Interestingly, some of those had a little extra something thrown in for free.

During the fight, TF received an unsubstantiated report that an unusual watermark was being embedded into streams originally broadcast by Sky Box Office in the UK. The message we received simply told us there were codes on the screen, but we were unable to get any further information from the source who had already gone offline.

Quick inquiries with two other sources watching pirate streams confirmed that codes had appeared on their screens too. One managed to take a series of photographs which are included below. (Note: portions of the code are redacted to protect the source)

The mystery sequence of numbers

The letter and number combinations briefly appeared in 20 to 23 sets of pairs, which according to the images seen by TF stayed the same throughout the broadcast. It is possible there was some variation but nothing we’ve seen suggests that. The big question, of course, is why they were put there and by whom.

According to our sources, these codes didn’t appear when the main action was taking place but when the camera turned to people in each corner. Since no digits appeared over the top of the fight itself, it might suggest that they were put there by a broadcaster, in this instance Sky Box Office, who were licensed to show the fight in the UK.

If that was indeed the case, it’s certainly possible that the sequence of numbers would allow Sky to track the illicit stream back to a subscriber and/or a set-top box tied to a particular account. Since that subscriber has then re-streamed that content back online illegally, the code would act as a homing beacon and could spell bad news for the individual involved.

The other possibility is that the codes were not put there by Sky or another official broadcaster in the chain, but by someone in the illicit streaming market. Pirate streams are vulnerable to being ‘stolen’ in much the same way that official streams are, so it’s possible that a provider wanted to keep tabs on where its streams were ending up.

The big question is why, with all the sophisticated technology available in 2017, were the watermark codes so visible? It’s possible to track content pretty much invisibly these days, so this overt display isn’t really necessary, if it was put there by professionals, that is.

Of course, by being this obvious there might be a little bit of psychological warfare at play by whoever put the codes on the screen. Or, indeed, there might be a more benign explanation relating to certain equipment used in the process.

Only time will tell, but it’s safe to say that neither Mayweather nor McGregor will be too worried, having bagged hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue from the showpiece event.

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

Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit Secures Funding Until 2019

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/police-intellectual-property-crime-unit-secures-funding-until-2019-170823/

When compared to the wide range of offenses usually handled by the police, copyright infringement is a relatively rare offense.

Historically most connected to physical counterfeiting, in recent years infringement has regularly featured a significant online component.

Formed four years ago and run by the City of London Police, the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) has a mission to tackle IP crime wherever it may take place but with a special online focus. It is tightly linked to the music, movie, and publishing industries so can most often be viewed protecting their products from infringement.

PIPCU announced its arrival in the summer of 2013 and officially launched a few months later in December 2013, complete with £2.56million in funding from the UK government’s Intellectual Property Office (IPO). However, the unit had been already in operation for some time, writing warning letters to torrent and streaming site advising them to shut down – or else.

PIPCU’s initial funding secured the future of the unit until June 2015 but in October 2014, well in advance of that deadline, PIPCU secured another £3m from the IPO to fund the unit to September 2017.

Having received £5.56 million in public funds over three years, PIPCU needed to show some bang for its buck. As a result, the unit publicised numerous actions including streaming arrests, attempted domain seizures, torrent site closures and advertising disruptions. PIPCU also shut down several sports streaming and ebook sites plus a large number of proxies

With August 2017 already upon us, PIPCU should be officially out of funds in a month’s time but according to the Law Gazette, the unit is going nowhere.

An Intellectual Property Office (IPO) spokesperson told the publication that PIPCU has received £3.32m in additional funding from the government which runs from July 1, 2017, to June 30, 2019 – the unit’s sixth anniversary.

Much of PIPCU’s more recent activity appears to have been focused in two key areas, both operated under its ‘Operation Creative’ banner. The first concerns PIPCU’s Infringing Website List, which aims to deter advertisers from inadvertently finding ‘pirate’ sites.

Earlier this year, PIPCU claimed success after revealing a 64% drop in “mainstream advertising” revenue on 200 unauthorized platforms between January 2016 and January 2017. More recently, PIPCU revealed that gambling advertising, which is often seen on ‘pirate’ platforms, had reduced by 87% on IWL sites over the previous 12 months.

Finally, PIPCU has been taking action alongside local police forces, FACT, Sky, Virgin, BT, and The Premier League, against suppliers of so-called ‘fully loaded’ set-top boxes, many featuring Kodi bundled with illicit third party addons. However, after a fairly sustained initial flurry, the last publicized operation was in February 2017.

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.

TV Box Seller Emails Sky TV Bosses With ‘Pirate’ Offer, Gets Sued for $1m

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/tv-box-seller-emails-sky-tv-bosses-with-pirate-offer-gets-sued-for-1m-170804/

After relatively quiet treatment in the media, last year press in New Zealand began reporting on the booming ‘pirate’ set-top box business sweeping the world.

Often based around legal Kodi software boosted with third-party addons, the devices are known for providing free movies, TV shows, and sports.

Last November, ‘My Box NZ’ owner Krish Reddy, who said he would take on Sky in its own backyard with his custom streaming boxes, hit the headlines. The 27-year-old told NZHerald that “it seemed like a great idea so we decided to do it ourselves.”

The boxes offered some local free-to-air channels but also the all-important premium offerings from Sky, including Sky Movies and Sky Sports, an expensive proposition for an official subscriber.

“Why pay $80 minimum per month for Sky when for one payment you can have it free for good?” Reddy’s advertising said.

Reddy was confident in the abilities of his product but was also confident he wasn’t breaking the law.

“I don’t see why [Sky] would contact me but if they do contact me and … if there’s something of theirs that they feel I’ve unlawfully taken then yeah … but as it stands I don’t [have any concerns],” he told the Herald.

As things moved on, Reddy’s business really took off. He admitted to having sold 8,000 of the devices and then April this year, Sky appeared to ruh out of patience. In a letter from its lawyers, the pay TV company said Reddy’s devices breached copyright law and the Fair Trading Act. Reddy responded by calling the TV giant “a playground bully” and denied again that he was breaking the law.

“From a legal perspective, what we do is completely within the law. We advertise Sky television channels being available through our website and social media platforms as these are available via streams which you can find through My Box,” he said.

“The content is already available, I’m not going out there and bringing the content so how am I infringing the copyright… the content is already there, if someone uses the box to search for the content, that’s what it is.”

Stuff reports that the initial compensation demand from Sky against Reddy’s company My Box runs to NZD$1.4m (US$1m), an amount that could “rise by millions” by the time a judgment is reached.

“They have given us until September 24 to respond. We are not going to sit and take it,” Reddy told the publication. “How many people can say they went up against a multimillion dollar giant like Sky?”

And it seems that Reddy is absolutely determined to fight back. Earlier this year he said that his father always encouraged him as a child to seek out the big guy for a fight, something that is now playing out with one of the world’s biggest broadcasters.

“[Sky’s] point of view is they own copyright and I’m destroying the market by giving people content for free. To me it is business; I have got something that is new … that’s competition,” he said.

In Europe, where these kinds of cases have already been tested at the highest level, comments like these would be extremely ill-advised and enough to give any defending lawyer a high temperature, but Reddy really doesn’t seem to care.

In fact, a bulk email he sent out to 50,000 people advertising his product as “being better than Sky”, actually found the inboxes of 50 Sky TV staff and directors. He believes this triggered the legal action from the company.

While Reddy was on Sky’s radar long before the mailshot, the blatancy of his advertising and its targets won’t have helped his case one bit. Sky, for its part, is determined to get a ruling against a large player and Reddy seems the perfect catch.

“Anyone selling these boxes are within our sights. You have got to go after the big fish first,” said Sky spokeswoman Kirsty Way.

No case like this has ever gone to court in New Zealand so it could be important for setting the ground rules on several aspects of copyright law, including the making available right.

In addition to prosecutions, Way told Stuff that it could also be possible to introduce site-blocking laws such as those already in place in Australia and the UK. These would aim to render Kodi-powered devices less effective at providing copyrighted content from unauthorized sources.

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

China Says It Will “Severely Strike” Websites Involved in Piracy

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/china-says-it-will-severely-strike-websites-involved-in-piracy-170729/

When it comes to the protection of intellectual property, China is often viewed as one of the world’s leading scofflaws. Everything is copied in the country, from designer watches to cars. Not even major landmarks can escape the replica treatment.

In more recent times, however, there have been signs that China might be at least warming to the idea that IP protection should be given more priority.

For example, every few months authorities announce a new crackdown on Internet piracy, such as the “Jian Wang 2016” program which shuttered 290 piracy websites in the final six months of last year.

Maintaining the same naming convention, this week China’s National Copyright Administration revealed the new “Jian Wang 2017” anti-piracy program. During a meeting in Beijing attended by other state bodies, copyright groups, rights organizations, and representatives from the news media, the administration detailed its latest plans.

The anti-piracy program will focus on protecting the copyrights of the film, television, and news industries in China. Infringing websites, e-commerce and cloud storage services, social networks, plus mobile Internet applications will all be put under the spotlight, with authorities investigating and prosecuting major cases.

The program, which will run for the next four months, has a mission to improve compliance in three key areas.

The first aims to assist the film and TV industries by cracking down on ‘pirate’ websites, the unlawful use of file-sharing software, plus “forum communities and other channels that supply infringing film and television works.”

Also on the cards is a blitz against users of the hugely popular social media and instant messaging app, WeChat.

Released in 2011, WeChat now has more than 930 million users, some of which use the platform to republish news articles without permission from creators. Chinese authorities want to reduce this activity, noting that too many articles are stripped from their sources and reproduced on personal blogs and similar platforms.

The second area for attention is the booming market for pirate apps. Chinese authorities say that cracked app stores and the software they provide are contributing to a huge rise in the unlawful spread of films, TV shows, music, news and other literature. Set-top boxes that utilize such apps will also be targeted in the crackdown.

Finally, there will be a “strengthening of copyright supervision” on large-scale e-commerce platforms that supply audio and video products, eBooks, and other publications. Cloud storage platforms will also be subjected to additional scrutiny, as these are often used to share copyright works without permission.

What kind of effect the program will have on overall copyrighted content availability will remain to be seen, but if previous patterns are maintained, the National Copyright Administration should reveal the results of its blitz in December.

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

Kodi Security Risk Emerges After TVAddons Shutdown

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/kodi-security-risk-emerges-after-tvaddons-shutdown-170723/

Formerly known as XBMC, the popularity of the entirely legal Kodi media player has soared in recent years.

Controversial third-party addons that provide access to infringing content have thrust Kodi into the mainstream and the product is now a household name.

Until recently, TVAddons.ag was the leading repository for these addons. During March, the platform had 40 million unique users connected to the site’s servers, together transferring an astounding petabyte of addons and updates.

Everything was going well until news broke last month that the people behind TVAddons were being sued in a federal court in Texas. Shortly after the site went dark and hasn’t been back since.

This was initially a nuisance to the millions of Kodi devices that relied on TVAddons for their addons and updates. With the site gone, none were forthcoming. However, the scene recovered relatively quickly and for users who know what they’re doing, addons are now available from elsewhere.

That being said, something very unusual happened this week. Out of the blue, several key TVAddons domains were transferred to a Canadian law firm. TVAddons, who have effectively disappeared, made no comment. The lawyer involved, Daniel Drapeau, ignored requests for an explanation.

While that’s unusual enough, there’s a bigger issue at play here for millions of former TVAddons users who haven’t yet wiped their devices or upgraded them to work with other repositories.

Without going into huge technical detail, any user of an augmented Kodi device that relied on TVAddons domains (TVAddons.ag, Offshoregit.com) for updates can be reasonably confident that the domains their device is now accessing are not controlled by TVAddons anymore. That is not good news.

When a user installs a Kodi addon or obtains an update, the whole system is based on human trust. People are told about a trustworthy source (repository or ‘repo’) and they feel happy getting their addons and updates from it.

However, any person in control of a repo can make a Kodi addon available that can do pretty much anything. When that’s getting free movies, people tend to be happy, but when that’s making a botnet out of set-top boxes, enthusiasm tends to wane a bit.

If the penny hasn’t yet dropped, consider this.

TVAddons’ domains are now being run by a law firm which refuses to answer questions but has the power to do whatever it likes with them, within the law of course. Currently, the domains are lying dormant and aren’t doing anything nefarious, but if that position changes, millions of people will have absolutely no idea anything is wrong.

TorrentFreak spoke to Kodi Project Manager Nathan Betzen who agrees that the current security situation probably isn’t what former TVAddons users had in mind.

“These are unsandboxed Python addons. The person [in control of] the repo could do whatever they wanted. You guys wrote about the addon that created a DDoS event,” Betzen says.

“If some malware author wanted, he could easily install a watcher that reports back the user’s IP address and everything they were doing in Kodi. If the law firm is actually an anti-piracy group, that seems like the likeliest thing I can think of,” he adds.

While nothing can be ruled out, it seems more likely that the law firm in question has taken control of TVAddons’ domains in order to put them out of action, potentially as part of a settlement in the Dish Network lawsuit. However, since it refuses to answer any questions, everything is open to speculation.

Another possibility is that the domains are being held pending sale, which then raises questions over who the buyer might be and what their intentions are. The bottom line is we simply do not know and since nobody is talking, it might be prudent to consider the worst case scenario.

“If it’s just a holding group, then people [in control of the domain/repo] could do whatever they can think of. Want a few million incredibly inefficient bit mining boxes?” Betzen speculates.

While this scenario is certainly a possibility, one would at least like to think of it as unlikely. That being said, plenty of Internet security fails can be attributed to people simply hoping for the best when things go bad. That rarely works.

On the plus side, Betzen says that since Python code is usually pretty easy to read, any nefarious action could be spotted by vigilant members of the community fairly quickly. However, Martijn Kaijser from Team Kodi warns that it’s possible to ship precompiled Python code instead of the readable versions.

“You can’t even see what’s in the Python files and what they do,” he notes.

Finally, there’s a possibility that TVAddons may be considering some kind of comeback. Earlier this week a new domain – TVAddons.co – was freshly registered, just after the old domains shifted to the law firm. At this stage, however, nothing is known about the site’s plans.

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

BREIN Takes Down 231 Pirate Sites in Six Months, But That’s Not All

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/brein-takes-down-231-pirate-sites-in-six-months-but-thats-not-all-170722/

Over the years, the MPAA and RIAA have grabbed hundreds of headlines for their anti-piracy activities but recently their work has been more subtle. The same cannot be said of Dutch anti-piracy group BREIN.

BREIN is the most prominent outfit of its type in the Netherlands but it’s not uncommon for its work to be felt way beyond its geographical borders. The group’s report for the first six months of 2017 illustrates that in very clear terms.

In its ongoing efforts to reduce piracy on movies, music, TV shows, books and games, BREIN says it carried out 268 investigations during the first two quarters of 2017. That resulted in the takedown of 231 piracy-focused sites and services.

They included 45 cyberlocker linking sites, 30 streaming sites and 9 torrent platforms. The last eDonkey site in the Netherlands was among the haul after its operators reached a settlement with BREIN. The anti-piracy outfit reports that nearly all of the sites were operated anonymously so in many instances hosting providers were the ones to pull the plug, at BREIN’s request.

BREIN has also been actively tracking down people who make content available on file-sharing networks. These initial uploaders are considered to be a major part of the problem, so taking them out of the equation is another of BREIN’s goals.

In total, 14 major uploaders to torrent, streaming, and Usenet platforms were targeted by BREIN in the first six months of this year, with each given the opportunity to settle out of court or face legal action. Settlements typically involved a cash payment of between 250 and 7,500 euros but in several instances, uploaders were also required to take down the content they had uploaded.

In one interesting case, BREIN obtained an ex parte court order against a person running a “live cinema” on Facebook. He later settled with the anti-piracy group for 7,500 euros.

BREIN has also been active in a number of other areas. The group says it had almost 693,000 infringing results removed from Google search, pushing its total takedowns to more than 15.8 million. In addition, more than 2,170 listings for infringing content and devices were removed from online marketplaces and seven piracy-focused Facebook groups were taken down.

But while all of these actions have an effect locally, it is BREIN’s persistence in important legal cases that have influenced the copyright landscape across Europe.

Perhaps the most important case so far is BREIN v Filmspeler, which saw the anti-piracy group go all the way to the European Court of Justice for clarification on the law surrounding so-called “fully loaded” set-top boxes.

In a ruling earlier this year, the ECJ not only determined that selling such devices is a breach of copyright law, but also that people streaming content from an illicit source are committing an offense. Although the case began in the Netherlands, its effects will now be felt right across Europe, and that is almost completely down to BREIN.

But despite the reach of the ruling, BREIN has already been making good use of the decision locally. Not only has the operator of the Filmspeler site settled with BREIN “for a substantial amount”, but more than 200 sellers of piracy-configured set-top boxes have ceased trading since the ECJ decision. Some of the providers are the subject of further legal action.

Finally, a notable mention must go to BREIN’s determination to have The Pirate Bay blocked in the Netherlands. The battle against ISPs Ziggo and XS4ALL has been ongoing for seven years and like the Filmspeler case, required the attention of the European Court of Justice. While it’s still not over yet, it seems likely that the Supreme Court will eventually rule in BREIN’s favor.

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

Game of Thrones Premiere Ignites Annual Piracy Bonanza

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/game-of-thrones-premiere-ignites-annual-piracy-bonanza-170717/

Yesterday, the first episode of Game of Thrones’ seventh season made its way onto the Internet. Like every year, this generated quite a bit of activity on various torrent sites.

People from all over the world virtually gathered around the various pirated copies of the show, with the first torrents appearing within minutes of the official broadcast and dozens of others soon after.

At the time of writing, more than 130,000 people are actively sharing one of the three most-popular torrents.

Part of this unofficial audience prefers piracy over a paid subscription. However, the fact that pirate copies are available before the official release in many countries doesn’t help either.

The most-shared torrent at the moment, with tens of thousands of peers, is a 772.3 MB rip from TBS uploaded by the ettv distribution group. Like every year, the total number of downloads is eventually expected to run to several million per episode.

Tracker stats for Game.of.Thrones.S07E01.WEB.h264-TBS[ettv]

Regarding the piracy numbers, Game of Thrones still beats every other TV-show by a landslide. That said, it’s worth noting that torrent activity has leveled off somewhat.

The last swarm record, when over a quarter million people were simultaneously sharing a single file, dates back two years. Based on the numbers we’ve seen thus far, it’s not likely to be broken anytime soon, if ever.

That doesn’t mean that the interest from pirates is waning. Not at all. Over the past two years, streaming sites and services have exploded, and Game of Thrones is topping the charts there as well.

TorrentFreak spoke to a source at one of the larger streaming portals who informed us that some episodes get up to a million views each. This morning, the Game of Thrones season premiere generated close to 20,000 views per hour on that site. And that’s just on a single platform.

This massive demand is also reflected in the “most viewed” lists on many streaming sites, where GoT often comes out on top. In fact, on Fmovies the first six seasons of the show were all among the most viewed titles this week, soon to be followed by season 7.

Most-viewed on FMovies during the past week

Since streaming has overtaken torrents in terms of popularity, it’s safe to say that the majority of all Game of Thrones piracy is generated there as well.

In a way, pirate streaming sites and set-top boxes provide an even bigger threat to HBO’s hit series. They are generally easier and more convenient to use, which significantly broadens the audience.

Streaming aside, a lot of the mainstream attention remains directed at torrents. Over in India, for example, local broadcaster Hotstar launched a massive billboard campaign called “Torrents Morghulis,” which translated means “torrents must die.”

Ironically, however, Indians had access to pirated Game of Thrones copies before the official premiere. When it finally became available on Hotstar the service crashed, something which also happened with Foxtel in Australia and HBO in several other countries.

Perhaps these broadcasters should consider peer-to-peer assisted streaming next time, we’ve heard it works quite well.

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

Could Pirate TV Box Users Be Prosecuted For Fraud?

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/could-pirate-tv-box-users-be-prosecuted-for-fraud-170709/

With the issue of piracy-enabled set-top boxes still making the headlines, the English Premier League (EPL) has emerged as the most likely organization to prosecute sellers of infringing boxes in the UK.

However, last month the Federation Against Copyright Theft, who provide anti-piracy services for the EPL, revealed that mere users of boxes (such as those containing augmented Kodi setups) could be targeted for prosecution sometime in the future.

As noted in our earlier coverage, people who merely stream pirated content into their own homes are difficult to track online. They pose much greater challenges than BitTorrent users, for example, who can lead investigators straight to their door. But for FACT chief executive Kieron Sharp, there are opportunities to find people via non-technical means.

“When we’re working with the police against a company that’s selling IPTV boxes or illicit streaming devices on a large scale, they have records of who they’ve sold them to,” Sharp said.

The suggestion here is that box sellers’ customer lists contain the personal details of people who obtain Premier League and other content for free so, once identified, could be open to prosecution.

With conventional thinking under copyright law, prosecuting a set-top box/Kodi user for streaming content to his own home is a bit of a daunting prospect, not to mention an expensive one. Copyright cases are notoriously complicated and an individual putting up a spirited defense could cause problems for the prosecution. The inevitable light sentence wouldn’t provide much of a deterrent either.

With all that in mind, it appears that FACT is more interested in prosecuting under other legislation.

During an interview with BBC Radio 5 Live’s Chris Warburton this week, Sharp said that people streaming into their own homes are committing a criminal offense, i.e., something that could interest the police and attract a fine or custodial sentence.

“The law has always been the case that people who are doing something illegal, streaming in their own homes, through these devices, are committing a crime. What’s happened recently is that’s been clarified by an EU judge in one case and by a civil judge in another,” Sharp said.

The EU case was BREIN v Filmspeler, which in part determined that people who stream content from an illegal source do so in breach of copyright law. The judge in the civil case was Justice Arnold, who in a UK Premier League blocking case reached the same conclusion.

While it’s now fairly clear that streaming pirate content in the EU is indeed illegal, is a civil wrong, and can be dealt with by suing someone, it’s not immediately clear how that turns into a criminal offense. It wasn’t clear in the interview either, so Warburton pressed Sharp again.

“What is the bit of the law that you are breaking when you’re streaming, how are you committing a criminal act?” he asked Sharp.

“There are various pieces of legislation,” the FACT chief said. “The one we’ve been looking at is under the Fraud Act which would say you are committing a fraud by streaming these football matches through to your television, watching them at home, and not paying for the license to do so.”

At this point, everything begins to slot into place.

For the past several years through several high-profile Internet piracy cases, FACT has shied away from prosecutions under copyright law. Each time it has opted for offenses under the Fraud Act 2006, partly because longer sentences were available at the time, i.e., up to 10 years in prison.

However, earlier this year FACT’s lawyer revealed that prosecutions under the Fraud Act can be easier for a jury to understand than those actioned under copyright law.

With this wealth of experience in mind, it’s easy to see why FACT would take this route in set-top box cases, especially when fraud legislation is relatively easy to digest.

Possession etc. of articles for use in frauds

“A person is guilty of an offense if he has in his possession or under his control any article for use in the course of or in connection with any fraud,” the Fraud Act reads.

To clarify, an ‘article’ includes “any program or data held in electronic form,” which is perfect for infringing Kodi addons etc.

Given the above, it seems that if the Court can be convinced that the person knowingly possessed a pirate set-top box programmed for fraudulent purposes, there could, in theory, be a successful prosecution resulting in a prison sentence and/or a fine.

Obtaining services dishonestly

“A person is guilty of an offense under this section if he obtains services for himself or another….by a dishonest act, and….he [knowingly] obtains them without any payment having been made for or in respect of them or without payment having been made in full,” the relevant section of the Act reads.

There are probably other angles to this under the Fraud Act but these seem to fit so well that others might not be needed. But how likely is it that someone could be prosecuted in this manner?

Sharp reiterated to the BBC that FACT could get the identities of box buyers as part of investigations into sellers, and as part of that “would see what the situation is” with their customers.

“It may well be that in the future, somebody who is an end-user may well get prosecuted,” he said.

But while the possibilities are there, Sharp really didn’t seem that keen to commit to the hounding of stream consumers in the future, and certainly not now. FACT’s strategy appears to be grounded in getting the word out that people are breaking the law.

“[People] think they can get away with it and that’s an important message from our perspective, that they must understand that they are committing offenses, apart from all the other issues of why they should be paying for the legal product. This is something that should be of concern to them, that they are committing offenses,” Sharp said.

The big question that remains is whether FACT and the English Premier League would ever take a case against a regular end-user to court. History tells us that this is fairly unlikely, but if any case did end up in court, it would definitely be hand-picked for best results.

For example, someone who bought a box from eBay would probably be of no real interest, but someone who had extended email exchanges with a seller, during which they discussed in detail how to pirate English Premier League games specifically, would provide a more useful test subject.

And then, when there are two people involved (the knowingly infringing buyer and the seller, who would also be prosecuted) that also raises the question of whether there had been an element of conspiracy.

Overall though, what people probably want to know is whether lots of people are going to get prosecuted for fraud and the answer to that is almost certainly ‘no.’ Prosecutions against the little guy are resource hungry, expensive, offer little return, and tend to generate negative publicity if they’re perceived as vindictive.

A single highly publicized case is a possible outcome if FACT and the EPL got really desperate, but there’s no guarantee that the Crown Prosecution Service would allow the case to go ahead.

“Prosecutors should guard against the criminal law being used as a debt collection agency or to protect the commercial interests of companies and organizations,” recent CPS advice reads.

“However, prosecutors should also remain alert to the fact that such organizations can become the focus of serious and organized criminal offending.”

FACT could, of course, conduct a private prosecution, which they have done several times in the past. But that is a risk too, so it seems likely that education efforts will come first, to try and slow things down.

“Our desire has always been that sports fans, football fans, would pay for the commercial package, they would pay a fee to watch and that is still our position,” Sharp told the BBC.

“But working with our clients and members such as the Premier League and Sky and BT Sports, we have to consider all the options available to us, to put a bit of a brake on this problem because it’s growing all the time.”

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

Hardcore UK Pirates Dwindle But Illegal Streaming Poses New Threat

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/hardcore-uk-pirates-dwindle-but-illegal-streaming-poses-new-threat-170707/

For as many years as ‘pirate’ services have been online it has been clear that licensed services need to aggressively compete to stay in the game.

Both the music and movie industries were initially slow to get off the mark but in recent years the position has changed. Licensed services such as Spotify and Netflix are now household names and doing well, even among people who have traditionally consumed illicit content.

This continuing trend was highlighted again this morning in a press release by the UK’s Intellectual Property Office. In a fairly upbeat tone, the IPO notes that innovative streaming models offered by both Netflix and Spotify are helping to keep online infringement stable in the UK.

“The Online Copyright Infringement (OCI) Tracker, commissioned by the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO), has revealed that 15 per cent of UK internet users, approximately 7 million people, either stream or download material that infringes copyright,” the IPO reports.

The full tracking report, which is now on its 7th wave, is yet to be released but the government has teased a few interesting stats. While the 7 million infringer number is mostly unchanged from last year, the mix of hardcore (only use infringing sources) and casual infringers (also use legal sources) has changed.

“Consumers accessing exclusively free content is at an all-time low,” the IPO reveals, noting that legitimate streaming is also on the up, with Spotify increasing its userbase by 7% since 2016.

But despite the positive signs, the government says that there are concerns surrounding illicit streaming, both of music and video content. Unsurprisingly, ‘pirate’ set-top boxes get a prominent mention and are labeled a threat to positive trends.

“Illicitly adapted set top boxes, which allow users to illegally stream premium TV content such as blockbuster movies, threaten to undermine recent progress. 13 per cent of online infringers are using streaming boxes that can be easily adapted to stream illicit content,” the IPO says.

Again, since the report hasn’t yet been published, there are currently no additional details to be examined. However, the “boxes that can be easily adapted” comment could easily reference Amazon Firesticks, for example, that are currently being used for entirely legitimate means.

The IPO notes that an IPTV consultation is underway which may provide guidance on how the devices can be dealt with in the future. A government response is due to be published later in the summer.

Also heavily on the radar is a fairly steep reported increase in stream-ripping, which is the unlicensed downloading of music from streaming sources so that it can be kept on a user’s hard drive or device.

A separate report, commissioned by the IPO and PRS for Music, reveals that 15% of Internet users have stream-ripped in some way and the use of ripping services is on the up.

“The use of stream-ripping websites increased by 141.3% between 2014 and 2016,” the IPO notes.

“In a survey of over 9000 people, 57% of UK adults claimed to be aware of stream-ripping services. Those who claimed to have used a stream-ripping service were significantly more likely to be male and between the ages of 16 to 34 years.”

PRS goes into a little more detail, claiming that stream-ripping is now “the most prevalent and fastest growing form of music piracy in the UK.” The music licensing outfit claims that almost 70% of music-specific infringement is accounted for by stream-ripping.

The survey, carried out by INCOPRO and Kantar Media, looked at 80 stream-ripping services, which included apps, websites, browser plug-ins and other stand-alone software. Each supplied content from a range of sources including SoundCloud, Spotify and Deezer, but YouTube was found to be the most popular source, accounting for 75 of the 80 services.

There are several reported motivations for users to stream-rip but interestingly the number one reason involves what some people consider to be ‘honest’ piracy. A total of 31% of stream-rippers said that since they already own the music, and only use ripping services to obtain it in another format.

Just over a quarter (26%) said they wanted to listen to music while not connected to the Internet while 25% said that a permanent copy helps them while on the move. Around one in five people who stream-rip say that music is either unaffordable or overpriced.

“We hope that this research will provide the basis for a renewed and re-focused commitment to tackling online copyright infringement,” says Robert Ashcroft, Chief Executive, PRS for Music.

“The long term health of the UK’s cultural and creative sectors is in everyone’s best interests, including those of the digital service providers, and a co-ordinated industry and government approach to tackling stream ripping is essential.”

Ros Lynch, Copyright and IP Enforcement Director at the IPO, took the opportunity to praise the widespread use of legitimate platforms. However, he also noted that innovation also continues in piracy circles, with stream-ripping a prime example.

“It’s great that legal streaming sites continue to be a hugely popular choice for consumers. The success and popularity of these platforms show the importance of evolution and innovation in the entertainment industry,” Lynch said.

“Ironically it is innovation that also benefits those looking to undermine IP rights and benefit financially from copyright infringement. There has never been more choice or flexibility for consumers of TV and music, however illicit streaming devices and stream-ripping are threatening this progress.”

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