Earlier this year the General Publishers Group (GAU) discovered that several eBooks belonging to its members were being sold illegally on Google Play.
Using the handle Flamanca Hollanda / Dragonletebooks, a Google Play ‘publisher’ was selling eBooks far below the regular price.
The publishers reached out to local anti-piracy group BREIN, who successfully asked Google to remove the files. However, Google refused to a separate request to identify the account holder.
Citing privacy concerns, Google noted that it would not hand over any data without a court order, which is a common stance for the company. This left BREIN with little other alternative than to take the case to court.
Yesterday a The Hague Court ruled that Google must hand over the personal details tied to the Google Play account as well as the Google account that was used to sign up.
The data includes the IP-address, home address, names, emails and bank account information, even if the person resides outside the European Union.
In its defense, Google had argued that BREIN’s request could violate international privacy laws, if the account holder turns out to be foreign. However, the court noted that it could not be the case that possible international violations prevent Dutch law from being applied.
The court further concluded that in this case the rights of copyright holders outweigh other rights, such as freedom of expression. However, the affected user will be given the opportunity to appeal the handover within two weeks, which the court will then review separately.
The order opens the door for BREIN and Dutch copyright holders to police Google Play and other online services more aggressively.
In the past BREIN has succeeded in obtaining the personal details of torrent site owners from hosting providers and payment providers, often without a direct court order.
The beauty of BitTorrent is that thousands of people can share a single file simultaneously to speed up downloading. In order for this to work, trackers announce the IP-addresses of all file-sharers in public.
The downside of this approach is that anyone can see who’s sharing a particular file. It’s not even required for monitoring outfits to actively participate.
This ‘vulnerability’ is used by dozens of tracking companies around the world, some of which send file-sharers warning letters, or worse. However, the “spies” are not just getting info from trackers, they also use BitTorrent’s DHT.
Through DHT, BitTorrent users share IP-addresses with other peers. Thus far, little was known about the volume of monitoring through DHT, but research from Peersm’s Aymeric Vitte shows that it’s rampant.
Through various experiments Vitte consistently ran into hundreds of thousands of IP-addresses that show clear signs of spying behavior.
The spies are not hard to find and many monitor pretty much all torrents hashes they can find. Blocking them is not straightforward though, as they frequently rotate IP-addresses and pollute swarms.
“The spies are organized to monitor automatically whatever exists in the BitTorrent network, they are easy to find but difficult to follow since they might change their IP addresses and are polluting the DHT with existing peers not related to monitoring activities,” Vitte writes.
The research further found that not all spies are actively monitoring BitTorrent transfers. Vitte makes a distinction between level 1 and level 2 spies, for example.
The first group is the largest and spreads IP-addresses of random peers and the more dangerous level 2 spies, which are used to connect file-sharers to the latter group. They respond automatically, and even return peers for torrents that don’t exist.
The level 2 spies are the data collectors, some if which use quickly changing IP-addresses. They pretend to offer a certain file and wait for BitTorrent users to connect to them.
The image below shows how rapidly the spies were discovered in one of the experiments and how quickly they rotate IP-addresses.
Interestingly, only very few of the level 2 spies actually accept data from an alleged pirate, meaning that most can’t proof without a doubt that pirates really shared something (e.g. they could just be checking a torrent without downloading).
According to Vitte, this could be used by accused pirates as a defense.
“That’s why people who receive settlement demands while using only DHT should challenge this, and ask precisely what proves that they downloaded a file,” he says.
After months of research and several experiments Vitte found that there are roughly 3,000 dangerous spies. These include known anti-piracy outfits such as Trident Media Guard, but also unnamed spies that use rotating third party IPs so they are harder to track.
Since many monitoring outfits constantly change their IP-addresses, static blocklists are useless. At TF we are no fans of blocklists in general, but Vitte believes that the dynamic blocklist he has developed provides decent protection, with near instant updates.
This (paid) blocklist is part of the Open Source Torrent-Live client which has several built in optimizations to prevent people from monitoring downloads. People can also use it to built and maintain a custom blocklist.
In his research paper Vitte further proposes several changes to the BitTorrent protocol which aim to make it harder to spy on users. He hopes other developers will pick this up to protect users from excessive monitoring.
Another option to stop the monitoring is to use an anonymous VPN service or proxy, which hides ones actual IP-address.
For the privacy-conscious Internet user, VPNs and similar services are now considered must-have tools. In addition to providing much needed security, VPNs also allow users to side-step geo-blocking technology, a useful ability for today’s global web-trotter.
While VPNs are often associated with file-sharing activity, it may be of interest to learn that they are also used by groups looking to crack down on the practice. Just like file-sharers it appears that anti-piracy groups prefer to work undetected, as events during the past few days have shown.
Earlier this week while doing our usual sweep of the world’s leading torrent sites, it became evident that at least two popular portals were refusing to load. Finding no complaints that the sites were down, we were able to access them via publicly accessible proxies and as a result thought no more of it.
A day later, however, comments began to surface on Twitter that some VPN users were having problems accessing certain torrent sites. Sure enough, after we disabled our VPN the affected sites sprang into action. Shortly after, reader emails to TF revealed that other users were experiencing similar problems.
Eager to learn more, TF opened up a dialog with one of the affected sites and in return for granting complete anonymity, its operator agreed to tell us what had been happening.
“The IP range you mentioned was used for massive DMCA crawling and thus it’s been blocked,” the admin told us.
Intrigued, we asked the operator more questions. How do DMCA crawlers manifest themselves? Are they easy to spot and deal with?
“If you see 15,000 requests from the same IP address after integrity checks on the IP’s browsers for the day, you can safely assume its a [DMCA] bot,” the admin said.
From the above we now know that anti-piracy bots use commercial VPN services, but do they also access the sites by other means?
“They mostly use rented dedicated servers. But sometimes I’ve even caught them using Hola VPN,” our source adds. Interestingly, it appears that the anti-piracy activities were directed through the IP addresses of Hola users without them knowing.
Once spotted the IP addresses used by the aggressive bots are banned. The site admin wouldn’t tell TF how his system works. However, he did disclose that sizable computing resources are deployed to deal with the issue and that the intelligence gathered proves extremely useful.
Of course, just because an IP address is banned at a torrent site it doesn’t necessarily follow that a similar anti-DMCA system is being deployed. IP addresses are often excluded after being linked to users uploading spam, fakes and malware. Additionally, users can share IP addresses, particularly in the case of VPNs. Nevertheless, the banning of DMCA notice-senders is a documented phenomenon.
Earlier this month Jonathan Bailey at Plagiarism Today revealed his frustrations when attempting to get so-called “revenge porn” removed from various sites.
“Once you file your copyright or other notice of abuse, the host, rather than remove the material at question, simply blocks you, the submitter, from accessing the site,” Bailey explains.
“This is most commonly done by blocking your IP address. This means, when you come back to check and see if the site’s content is down, it appears that the content, and maybe the entire site, is offline. However, in reality, the rest of the world can view the content, it’s just you that can’t see it,” he notes.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bailey advises a simple way of regaining access to a site using these methods.
“I keep subscriptions with multiple VPN providers that give access to over a hundred potential IP addresses that I can use to get around such tactics,” he reveals.
The good news for both file-sharers and anti-piracy groups alike is that IP address blocks like these don’t last forever. The site we spoke with said that blocks on the VPN range we inquired about had already been removed. Still, the cat and mouse game is likely to continue.
Every day, DMCA-style notices are sent to regular Internet users who use BitTorrent to share copyrighted material. These notices are delivered to users’ Internet service providers who pass them on in the hope that customers correct their behavior.
The most well-known notice system in operation in the United States is the so-called “six strikes” scheme, in which the leading recording labels and movie studios send educational warning notices to presumed pirates. Not surprisingly, six-strikes refers to users receiving a maximum of six notices. However, content providers outside the scheme are not bound by its rules – sometimes to the extreme.
According to a lawsuit filed this week in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania (pdf), one unlucky Comcast user was subjected not only to a barrage of copyright notices on an unprecedented scale, but during one of the narrowest time frames yet.
The complaint comes from Rotten Records who state that the account holder behind a single Comcast IP address used BitTorrent to share the discography of Dog Fashion Disco, a long-since defunct metal band previously known as Hug the Retard.
“Defendant distributed all of the pieces of the Infringing Files allowing others to assemble them into a playable audio file,” Rotten Records’ attorney Flynn Wirkus Young explain.
Considering Rotten Records have been working with Rightscorp on other cases this year, it will come as no surprise that the anti-piracy outfit is also involved in this one. And boy have they been busy tracking this particular user. In a single 48 hour period, Rightscorp hammered the Comcast subscriber with more than two DMCA notices every hour over a single torrent.
“Rightscorp sent Defendant 112 notices via Defendant’s ISP Comcast from June 15, 2015 to June 17, 2015 demanding that Defendant stop illegally distributing Plaintiff’s work,” the lawsuit reads.
“Defendant ignored each and every notice and continued to illegally distribute Plaintiff’s work.”
While it’s clear that the John Doe behind IP address 126.96.36.199 shouldn’t have been sharing the works in question (if he indeed was the culprit and not someone else), the suggestion to the Court that he or she systematically ignored 112 demands to stop infringing copyright is stretching the bounds of reasonable to say the least.
In fact, Court documents state that after infringement began sometime on June 15, the latest infringement took place on June 16 at 11:49am, meaning that the defendant may well have acted on Rightscorp’s notices within 24 hours – and that’s presuming that Comcast passed them on right away, or even at all.
Either way, the attempt here is to portray the defendant as someone who had zero respect for Rotten Record’s rights, even after being warned by Rightscorp more than a hundred and ten times. Trouble is, all of those notices covered an alleged infringing period of less than 36 hours – hardly a reasonable time in which to react.
Still, it’s unlikely the Court will be particularly interested and will probably issue an order for Comcast to hand over their subscriber’s identity so he or she can be targeted by Rotten Records for a cash settlement.
Rotten has targeted Comcast users on several earlier occasions, despite being able to sue the subscribers of any service provider. Notably, while Comcast does indeed pass on Rightscorp’s DMCA takedown notices, it strips the cash settlement demand from the bottom.
One has to wonder whether Rightscorp and its client are trying to send the ISP a message with these lawsuits.
So-called copyright trolls were a common occurrence in the UK half a decade ago, when many Internet subscribers received settlement demands for allegedly downloading pirated files.
After one of the key players went bankrupt the focus shifted to other countries, but now they’re back. One of the best known trolling outfits has just announced the largest anti-piracy push in the UK for many years.
The renewed efforts began earlier this year when the makers of “The Company You Keep” began demanding cash from many Sky Broadband customers.
This action was spearheaded by Maverick Eye, a German outfit that tracks and monitors BitTorrent piracy data that forms the basis of these campaigns. Today, the company says that this was just the beginning.
Framed as one of the largest anti-piracy campaigns in history, Maverick Eye says it teamed up with law firm Hatton & Berkeley and other key players to launch a new wave of settlement demands.
“Since July this year, Hatton & Berkeley and Maverick Eye have been busy working with producers, lawyers, key industry figures, investors, partners, and supporters to develop a program to protect the industry and defend the UK cinema against rampant piracy online,” Maverick Eye says.
“The entertainment industry can expect even more from these experts as they continue the fight against piracy in the UK.”
The companies have yet to announce which copyright holders are involved, but Maverick Eye is already working with the makers of the movies Dallas Buyers Club, The Cobbler and Survivor in other countries.
Hatton & Berkeley commonly offers administrative services and says it will provide “essential infrastructure” for the UK anti-piracy campaign.
“Hatton and Berkeley stands alongside our colleagues in an international operation that has so far yielded drastic reductions in streaming, torrenting and illegal downloads across Europe,” the company announces.
In the UK it is relatively easy for copyright holders to obtain the personal details of thousands of subscribers at once, which means that tens of thousands of people could be at risk of being targeted.
When the anti-piracy activities of Rightscorp became a topic for public discussion around four years ago (under the name Digital Rights Corp), the company was taking a fresh look at solving the piracy problem.
Rather than going down the RIAA route of aggressive and ruinous litigation, the company began asking for $10 from Internet users found to be downloading and sharing their clients’ content.
Ten bucks was hardly a big deal but it took just 12 months for the fees to be increased to $20 when the company felt account holders could be squeezed for a bit more cash.
The company is currently going through a financial crisis and as a result wants $30 for each alleged offense. The escalation is an indication of a business under pressure and a fresh announcement from Rightscorp suggests that it’s about to get even more aggressive in order to force settlement.
Yesterday the company revealed it has signed an agreement with lawyer Carl D. Crowell of Crowell Law in Salem, Oregon. While he works with other companies too, Crowell is perhaps best known for his work with notorious copyright troll Dallas Buyers Club.
According to Rightscorp, Crowell will be working with the anti-piracy firm’s clients to raise awareness and “educate people” about the effects of piracy. He will also be sending notices to infringers while pursuing litigation against “persistent and egregious infringers.”
Retaining Crowell might be the clearest sign yet that Rightscorp understands the current limitations of its “pay $30″ business model. Rightscorp sends its notices via ISPs and has no idea of the true identity of the people they’re trying to force a payment from. As a result and without a credible threat of litigation, Rightscorp’s targets are simply free to ignore the company’s emailed threats.
Should they subsequently receive correspondence from Mr Crowell, however, who has a track record with companies like Dallas Buyers Club, then the situation could very well take on a more urgent tone, forcing a payment and keeping Rightscorp and its clients happy.
“Crowell has been recognized by the courts for his successful targeting of the worst offenders that illegally download films and TV shows to make sure they are held accountable for their actions with dozens of judgments and injunctions against infringers,” says Rightscorp CEO Christopher Sabec.
“This agreement will be beneficial to both parties and our clients and we hope with our continued efforts to see an increase in public awareness and recognition of the problems with online piracy and greater respect and appreciation for the value and work of the artists we represent.”
The team up with Crowell, who last month claimed it was impossible for BitTorrent users to remain anonymous online, is the second legal partnership publicly announced by Rightscorp.
In August the company said it had signed an agreement with lawfirm Flynn Wirkus Young to target users who ignore DMCA notices and settlement offers sent by copyright holders. Cases filed earlier in the year on behalf of Rotten Records targeted Comcast users, among others.
While Rightscorp appeared to start out with fresh ideas, it appears that the company is now well and truly on the path to becoming yet another aggressive copyright troll outfit. The big question now is how this new approach will sit with ISPs in the United States, many of whom willingly forward Rightscorp DMCA notices settlement threats to their customers.
Earlier this month, news of an upcoming piece of music software began to cause waves.
Centered around a media player supporting a wide array of audio formats, Aurous will leverage content on the BitTorrent network and other web sources to bring a Spotify-like experience to users.
With its clean and tidy interface, it’s no wonder that Aurous has already been likened to a “Popcorn Time for music”, a branding that could yet prove to be both blessing and curse in equal amounts, depending on one’s perspective.
The software, which TF tested in pre-alpha, is not yet available to the public but that hasn’t stopped anti-piracy outfit Rightscorp jumping into the fray with both feet. Last Friday the troubled company issued a press release, claiming to have a solution to the threat supposedly posed by Aurous.
Highlighting the decentralized approach taken by developer Andrew Sampson, Rightscorp warned potential customers that Aurous could not be dealt with by regular means. Monetizing piracy will be their only chance, the company argued.
“Aurous’ technology will be unaffected by take-down notices, site blocking and will not use Pirate Bay or any domain names that can be blocked,” the company warned.
“It will distribute the music search metadata via the peer-to-peer networks, allowing the ability to stream large amounts of free music illegally and providing a very easy-to-use interface to the BitTorrent network.”
Rightscorp CEO Christopher Sabec added that there is a “lot of concern” over the impending Aurous launch but noted that his company can provide a solution.
“The Aurous app allows for access to a large amount of free music, acting like a Spotify, however, offering zero payments to the rightsholder,” Sabec said.
“Rightscorp’s ability to get individual seeders to stop seeding will be the only scalable way to stop this next explosion of free music,” he added.
TorrentFreak asked Sampson to comment on Rightscorp’s announcement and the somewhat irritated developer responded.
“Rightscorp has no idea how our technology works, nor our plans at protecting right holders from copyright infringement and giving copyright holders the tools for managing their content, monetizing and/or protecting work their work,” he told TF.
“We announced earlier through Twitter [well before the Rightscorp announcement] that we will be creating a content-id system and DMCA portal so we can ensure Aurous does not infringe on anyone’s copyrights. Because this system is still so premature in its development, we can’t give more details, however, we can assure you Rightscorp is wrong.”
Sampson insists that first and foremost Aurous is a music player, albeit one with search engines that leverage existing APIs from “completely legal and licensed services” backed up by the power of P2P.
“The P2P portion of Aurous is nothing more than a comprehensive and cached list of these searches so results can be delivered faster to users as spoken about in our tech blog. While you can search across P2P, it is not a default option, our P2P search option is there for hard to find copy-left content, but in that regard, is still a search engine.”
Sampson feels that by announcing an anti-piracy solution for a product that hasn’t even been released yet Rightscorp has jumped the gun somewhat. However, the likelihood that this is almost certainly an attempt to grab publicity isn’t lost on the developer.
“The fear mongering by Rightscorp is nothing more than babble and attempts to garner clients to ‘protect’ them from our application which hasn’t even been released,” Sampson says.
“Maybe Rightscorp should read this piece. A French economist predicted the current state of music 40 years ago. The music industry is killing itself. We live in a world were licensed material can be streamed close to 200,000,000 times from Spotify and the writer for that song receives a pitiful $5,600.
“But according to many studies, sells are still at an all time high. Aurous is here to change the music industry for the better,” Sampson concludes.
This isn’t the first time that Rightscorp has attempted to ride on the tails of a ‘new’ sharing phenomenon. Late August the company launch its Popcorn Time ‘mitigation service’ but in reality its offering was the same old model with a new coat of promotional paint.
In recent years various copyright holder groups have adopted a “follow-the-money” approach in the hope of cutting off funding to so-called pirate sites.
Thus far this has resulted in some notable developments. In the UK hundreds of advertising agencies are actively banning pirate sites and similar initiatives are popping up elsewhere.
This week came another breakthrough when GroupM, the world’s largest advertising media company, adopted a set of anti-piracy guidelines. As a result it now requires media partners to agree to strict standards and ban pirate sites.
The MPAA applauded the initiative and expressed hope that other stakeholders in the ad industry will follow suit.
“The issues of ad-supported piracy is an important one for creative industries everywhere, and it is an important one for businesses whose brands are being hurt by having their advertisements associated with these illegal activities,” the MPAA’s Howard Gantman wrote.
GroupM’s announcement will definitely have an impact on the higher echelons of the ad industry. However, at the bottom and outside the public gaze, several companies are fighting for the grace of pirate sites.
Most regular visitors of pirate sites are probably familiar with the adult advertisements, gambling promotions and other dubious offers that are sometimes bordering on fraud.
These brands have a hard time finding banner space on legitimate sites but not on file-sharing services. The added benefit is that the cost per 1000 impressions is much lower on pirate sites, not to mention the opportunities for intrusive ad formats such as popunders and interstitials.
There are several ad companies that specialize in this area. They act as the middlemen between pirate sites and advertisers in return for a significant stake of the proceeds.
At TorrentFreak we have seen several emails from ad networks advertising their services. Instead of being wary of pirate partnerships, these companies proudly promote their cooperation with these sites hoping to convince others to join.
Below is an example of a company that offers “amazing results” with its popups, mentioning KickassTorrents as one of its top clients.
Email sent by ad company A
Another advertising outfit already assigned an account manager, boasting streaming sites Watchseries, Movshare and Videoweed as partners.
Email sent by ad company B
The above shows that the anti-piracy efforts are not going to stop money from flowing to these sites. What it will do is limit the already minimal presence of mainstream brands, trading them in for more dubious ones.
Whether that will have a significant impact on revenues is unclear, but it does make visits to pirate sites without an ad-blocker more risky.
That leads to a rather grim conclusion that the anti-piracy measures are helping the vendors and advertisers who peddle shady and malicious ads, instead of really hurting pirate sites.
Considering its massive rise to fame in the past 18 months it’s little wonder that Popcorn Time is still causing controversy. With millions of users in dozens of countries the ‘Netflix for Pirates’ is firmly on the radar of Hollywood.
Just lately, however, Popcorn Time has attracted the attention of copyright trolls, the anti-piracy enforcers that inhabit the very bottom of the rightsholder food chain.
Infamous U.S. studio Voltage Pictures recently began targeting Popcorn Time users who downloaded the movie Dallas Buyers Club and in recent weeks troubled piracy monetization outfit Rightscorp launched its own questionable anti-Popcorn service.
Now users of the software in Scandinavia are coming under fire, with hundreds of Danish Internet account holders being hit with cash demands after their connections were linked with infringements of the Michael Douglas movie ‘And So It Goes‘.
The demands for compensation are being issued by lawfirm Opus Law acting on behalf of the Denmark division of Scanbox Entertainment. They appear to average around $320, a much lower sum than is usually demanded in the United States, for example, but still a considerable amount for a single movie.
Of course, in the background of what is portrayed as a generous initial offer, trolls often indicate that worse could be round the corner if Internet users don’t agree to settle. This case is no different.
“It’s clear that we did not start the case with the intention of ending up in court, but at the same time it is also clear that when we are ultimately faced with a case where we can not agree [to settle], then we need to go to court,” Opus lawyer Niels Hald-Nielsen told DR.dk.
As the publication notes, there have been no file-sharing related civil actions in Denmark since 2011, which means there is no precedent to indicate what kind of punishment a court might settle on in such a case.
Nevertheless, Hald-Nielsen feels that the settlement offer is a generous one and even suggests that Popcorn Time users are more damaging than users of other file-sharing software.
“The reason why I think that the amount I suggest – [$320] – is reasonable, is that when you distribute a film through Popcorn Time, it goes out to a much wider circle of people and the harm is just so much bigger,” the lawyer says.
These legal threats come on the heels of other recent Popcorn Time related events in Denmark. In March a local producer threatened to target users of the software and during August two men running Popcorn Time information websites were arrested by police.
Last year BMG Rights Management and Round Hill Music sued Cox Communications, arguing that the ISP fails to terminate the accounts of subscribers who frequently pirate content.
The companies, which control publishing rights to songs by Katy Perry, The Beatles and David Bowie among others, claim that Cox gave up its DMCA safe harbor protections due to this inaction.
The case revolves around data gathered by Rightscorp and Cox believes that the anti-piracy company is the driving force behind it, in part to retaliate for Cox’s refusal to forward their infringement notices.
The case is scheduled to go to trial soon but Cox hopes to avoid that. The company has now submitted a motion for summary judgment (pdf) in which it explains why the copyright holders don’t have a case.
For one, Cox explains that there is no evidence of any relevant actual direct infringement. Rightscorp’s system is flawed, they claim, and the IP-addresses could be used by persons other than the account holders.
“Plaintiffs made no effort to determine whether Cox account holders personally committed any infringements, and they cannot tie IP addresses to specific infringers. Plaintiffs tellingly but wrongly argue it is ‘not required for [them] to prove direct infringement’,” the lawyers write.
Cox cites several cases in which judges concluded that IP-addresses are not a person, and notes that the same applies here. In addition, the ISP argues that there is no evidence in support of contributory infringement or vicarious liability either.
Moving on, Cox says that the copyright holders have “unclean hands” because they turn a blind eye to misconduct by solely relying on Rightscorp, “whose business rests on extortion and falsehoods.”
The ISP highlights an interesting element of Rightscorp’s practice. To track down infringers the monitoring outfit has downloaded thousands of files themselves, without permission from all copyright holders.
“In its work for Plaintiffs Rightscorp downloaded files of thousands of sound recordings over the BitTorrent protocol, evidently to create evidence of infringements over Cox’s network. But copyrights in sound recordings are separate from copyrights in musical compositions.”
Indeed, the companies Rightscorp works for often only own part of the rights, those held by the composer of a track for example. This means that the company doesn’t have permission from all copyright holders involved.
Technically, Rightscorp may rely on “fair use,” but if that’s the case then the alleged downloaders may use this as a defense as well.
“Rightscorp either committed massive infringements of the sound recording copyrights or must have relied on the fair use doctrine. If the latter, that fact is an admission that activity over BitTorrent may constitute fair use, but there is no evidence that Rightscorp considered the possibility of fair use in generating millions of notices of claimed infringement,” Cox lawyers add.
Cox goes on to highlight that Rightscorp targets elderly and disabled consumers, instructing its employees to disregard protests from alleged infringers.
“When a consumer denies infringement, the phone script instructs the enforcer to state that the consumer must obtain a police report, and that the police may ‘take your device and hold it for ~5 days to investigate the matter’.”
Finally, Cox highlights that the copyright holders have failed to directly address the alleged damage downloaders are causing. Instead of sending takedown notices to torrent sites asking them to remove infringing content, Rightscorp relies on these torrents to conduct its business.
“Far from seeking their removal, Rightscorp uses these .torrent files, tolerates them, and relies on their availability on the Internet in order to set up its enforcement and shakedown scheme,” Cox writes.
“Plaintiffs’ failure to mitigate their actual damages, through simple and reasonable steps available to them, reduces or bars entirely their claims for relief based on statutory damages,” they add.
It is now up to the court to decide whether the arguments presented by Cox are sufficient to issue a summary judgment, or whether the case will proceed to trial.
It’s no secret that the major record labels and their Hollywood counterparts are less than satisfied with the framework designed to facilitate the removal of infringing content on the Internet.
The DMCA and its European equivalent allow rightsholders to send notices to service providers which mandate the removal of allegedly infringing content in a timely manner. While some sites, The Pirate Bay for example, completely ignore takedown notices, most other services such as Google are quick to comply.
Nevertheless, the burden remains on copyright holders to not only report infringing content when it appears on a site, but to also keep reporting it when the same content reappears time and time again. Under the law, providers only have to keep responding to complaints in order to avoid liability, but copyright holders complain that the process is exhausting. Once content is taken down it should stay down, they argue.
In a Forbes op-ed discussing the value of content in the digital age, RIAA chairman and CEO Cary Sherman has again been highlighting the problems his members face, describing the current enforcement system as “seriously antiquated” and criticizing those who take advantage of it.
“Unfortunately, while the system worked when isolated incidents of infringement occurred on largely static web pages — as was the case when the [DMCA] was passed in 1998 — it is largely useless in the current world where illegal links that are taken down reappear instantaneously,” Sherman says.
“The result is a never-ending game that is both costly and increasingly pointless.”
But while dedicated piracy sites are clearly a thorn in the side of the RIAA, Sherman doesn’t limit his criticism to services that operate on the boundaries of the law. Although they remain unnamed, the music group CEO also appears to take aim at user-generated content sites such as YouTube and Soundcloud.
“Compounding the harm is that some major online music distributors are taking advantage of this flawed system. Record companies are presented with a Hobson’s choice: Accept below-market deals or play that game of whack-a-mole,” Sherman says.
These kinds of allegations are not new. In April, IFPI chief executive Frances Moore accused YouTube of effectively gaming copyright law in order to avoid fair licensing negotiations with rightsholders.
“We want to ensure that services that make our content available, including by curating and monetizing it, are licensed on the same basis,” IFPI told TorrentFreak.
While platforms such as Spotify and Deezer are fully licensed by the labels, the RIAA suggests that others prefer to leverage illicit user uploads instead. While their response to DMCA notices keeps them safe, they are in effect obtaining Spotify-style licensing deals at a fraction of the price.
“The notice and takedown system — intended as a reasonable enforcement mechanism — has instead been subverted into a discount licensing system where copyright owners and artists are paid far less than their creativity is worth,” Sherman says.
In a twist on historical accusations that the music industry failed to innovate quickly enough during the last decade, Sherman says that it’s those taking advantage of a “broken” takedown system that are now living in the past.
“While the music industry has embraced new technology and business models, the beneficiaries of this broken system cling to this antiquated law that was enacted at the turn of the century, well before the modern Internet and today’s most advanced (and unimagined) technologies,” the RIAA chief concludes.
For the world’s largest music labels the future must now offer a modified copyright regime in which “take down” means “stay down” – or face the consequences. Wary of liability, companies like Google are likely to fight that all the way.
Pirates of the UK have this morning been issued with a stern warning. Walking into a cinema next month with the intent of recording the latest Bond film ‘Spectre’ and uploading it to the Internet will prove a particularly hazardous occupation.
That’s according to the Federation Against Copyright Theft, the anti-piracy group that looks after Hollywood’s interests in the UK and had a key hand in the arrest of a ‘cammer’ just last Friday.
Due to the national and international importance of Bond’s latest outing, FACT have issued a somewhat unusual proactive anti-piracy statement, presumably to deter would-be pirates from leaking the movie.
“James Bond is a big risk and we will be working with cinema operators and the distributors making sure we will keep that as tight as possible. We really don’t want to see that recorded,” says FACT director general Kieron Sharp.
“The bigger the film and the more anticipated it is, the higher risk it is. We have staff on extra alert for that. They are on alert, particularly with the bigger films like James Bond, to really drill down to who is in the auditorium and who might possibly be recording.”
One of the measures being employed is the use of night-vision goggles. The devices have been in use in the UK, US and elsewhere for several years and are extremely useful when trying to spot the telltale ‘glow’ and other lighting that emanates from mobile phones, camcorders and other recording devices.
Even when most of the glow is obscured, night vision goggles still allow suspicious seating arrangements and cloaking mechanisms to be observed at a distance and then tackled, either during the performance or when a suspected pirate attempts to leave.
While FACT are always keen to deter pirates, why the special fuss over Bond? The profile of the movie and its commercial importance are obviously key factors since Spectre is likely to be one of the biggest box-office hits this year. Bond is also something of a British icon, so protecting that image will be important to the filmmakers. But there is another element that isn’t being discussed.
Spectre is enjoying its world premiere at London’s Royal Albert Hall on Monday October 26. With stars Daniel Craig and Christoph Waltz attending alongside the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry it’s probably a safe bet that it won’t be pirated then. However, on the very same day the movie will be released nationwide and other locations will provide much greater opportunity.
The real surprise here is that UK pirates are being given almost two weeks to record Spectre and begin online distribution before it hits cinemas in the United States and the rest of the world on October 6. That probably goes a long way to explaining why FACT are being forced to implement extraordinary security measures – a U.S. pre-release is exactly what the anti-piracy group is trying to avoid.
But why take the chance that someone slips through the net? Hollywood knows that these windows fuel ‘camming’ yet MGM and Columbia are apparently prepared to risk “the most damaging form of piracy” by leaving the entire world dangling for 12 days while potentially millions of illicit copies of Spectre float around the Internet.
It makes very little sense. Why not have the premiere in London immediately followed by a worldwide release, thereby fulfilling customer demand and soothing notoriously impatient pirates? Of course, other scheduling factors could be at play, but if ‘cam’ piracy is as serious as the studios claim, why take unnecessary risks?
“Security measures are adopted for all new releases to protect from piracy,” a FACT spokesperson told TorrentFreak.
“Together with industry we work towards heightening awareness for films that are predicted to be of higher risk and sometimes additional security measures are put in place.”
Over the past several years hundreds of thousands of Internet subscribers have been sued in the United States for allegedly sharing copyrighted material, mostly video.
The cases are generally targeted at “BitTorrent” users in general, not focusing on any file-sharing client in particular.
Starting last month this changed, with two cases singling out groups of Popcorn Time users. The first case was filed by the filmmakers behind “The Cobbler,” quickly followed by Pierce Brosnan’s “Survivor.”
Today, the Oscar-winning Dallas Buyers Club enters the fray with a new suit filed at an Oregon federal court, accusing ten Comcast subscribers of using Popcorn Time to pirate their movie.
Through the lawsuit the filmmakers hope to reveal the identity of the alleged pirates so they can settle the case for a few thousands dollars, usually outside of court.
The anonymous Popcorn Time users
“Popcorn Time exists for one purpose and one purpose only: to steal copyrighted content,” the filmmakers write in their complaint (pdf), alleging that the defendants are fully aware of their wrongdoing.
Taking it up a notch, the complaint suggests that merely having the application installed could already be a crime under Oregon law.
“The mere possession with intent to use a software program like Popcorn Time is the type of conduct that the State of Oregon has criminalized,” they write, claiming that the software can be characterized as a burglary tool.
Interestingly, the filmmakers also note that many of the defendants have received warnings from Rightscorp, the anti-piracy company which launched a “Popcorn Time protection” service earlier this month.
Despite the illegality claims, the developers of the targeted fork of Popcorn Time maintain that their software doesn’t break any laws but admit that their users are at risk.
“Popcorn Time isn’t illegal. However, the use people make of the application can be illegal, depending on their country and local laws,” they previously informed TF.
“You’d think with all our warnings, the anti-piracy laws, the explanations given in the media and the common sense, users would be aware of their actions by now. Pinning a ‘Popcorn Time’ label over such a lawsuit seems a little inflated,” they added.
The Popcorn Time team has a point. In this lawsuit Popcorn Time could be replaced with any other file-sharing application that uses BitTorrent to pirate films, they all allow users to share from the same sources.
That said, Popcorn Time’s focus on pirated video does make it rather easy to do so, and significantly different from more neutral file-sharing applications that do not actively organize and select content.
In general, the Dallas Buyers Club complaint itself follows the same format as the previous Popcorn Time lawsuits and given the recent attention we can expect more of these to follow in the near future.
To even get off the ground, file-sharing type sites need competent people behind them. A minority learn ‘on the job’ while others already have experience in parallel web projects. Either way, technical experience is an absolute must.
In one way or another, site operators also need to be able to handle finances. Sites don’t run on fresh air, so whether the aim is to operate a hobby-type platform or an ad-supported behemoth, keeping control of the purse strings is paramount.
But successfully bringing together the technical and financial aspects requires a third element, an element so important that a site may as well not exist without out it. Like other ‘AFK’ businesses – whether for or non-profit – sites need customers, or ‘users’ as they’re more commonly known.
In most torrent site environments (particularly in the public scene), these are the real powerhouses behind the site. Sure, the site admin and his staff provide and maintain the platform, but the majority of content is provided by the users and it is their bandwidth that provides the virtual infrastructure for the distribution. After all, an ant-hill without ants is just a pile of dirt.
To put it into perspective, many of the top torrent sites have a few staff but many millions of users. One such site, The Pirate Bay, grew so huge that it attracted the attention of authorities in every corner of the world. It’s worth repeating that the size of the target on the site’s back was directly linked to the number of users it had, not the size of its management team.
If TPB had just a couple of thousand users, few anti-piracy outfits would be interested – there are bigger fish to fry. But since millions of people decided to jump on board it meant that the site’s operators got the blame for everything those people did. And in the end they all went to jail, largely for crimes they personally didn’t commit.
So who is to blame for their incarceration? Arguments against copyright law aside, were Gottfrid, Fredrik and Peter the criminals for providing the platform? Or were their millions of law-breaking users, who insisted on sharing copyrighted content, the ones that should be shouldering the responsibility?
In a Finnish interview this week, Peter Sunde provided a small inkling of how he was perceived during his recent prison sentence. His comments are quite revealing in respect of how prison staff viewed his crime through the prism of what appears to be their own contributions to the infamous torrent site.
“The people who worked there called me Jesus, because I sat there for their sins,” Sunde said.
“It was totally sick. One is locked up in a room while signing autographs for those who lock one in. I do not think many people have experienced this situation,” he added.
It’s a curious situation indeed. There can be few hardcore file-sharing fans who wouldn’t grab an autograph, ‘selfie’ or two minutes lively discussion with Peter, Gottfrid or Fredrik if they had the chance, and few that wouldn’t sympathize with the jail sentences they received.
But how many of those same users sit around thinking, “I was partly responsible for those huge numbers cited by Hollywood during the trial. I contributed to the swarms, rampant sharing, and alleged industry losses. It was our crimes, the users, that put the admins in jail.”
Rest assured, in the case of Pirate Bay the founders wouldn’t place a second’s blame on any user, but it is food for thought. In most cases file-sharers go about their daily business without a care in the world, although some probably pause occasionally to scowl at the latest admin arrest.
It’s a fact that thanks to the millions of others in a similar position, torrent users remain largely safe, even though it is their actions that contribute most to the distribution of copyright content. That said, someone has to pay. Someone has to have their head stuffed on the end of a pike. Most are simply glad that the head isn’t theirs.
Likening Peter Sunde to a religious icon is going a bit far, but there’s little doubt that without the actions of the millions he aimed to serve, his life today would be minus a jail sentence. Not getting involved in the Pirate Bay might’ve helped him too, but not even Jesus himself could see that perfectly into the future.
There’s a theory among anti-piracy organizations that if unauthorized sites like The Pirate Bay can be separated from their finances they’ll eventually become a burden to their operators and close down.
This “follow the money” approach is gaining momentum worldwide and is largely centered on the companies financing pirate sites with their advertising spend.
Last week Sweden became the latest country to launch an initiative designed to stop ads appearing on torrent, streaming and other related sites. A partnership between anti-piracy outfit Rights Alliance and advertising association Swedish Advertisers, the partnership has clear aims.
“The aim of the project is to raise awareness, so that advertisers/brands don´t end up on the wrong sites and also to try to stop money from legal companies flowing to illegal sites,” Sara Lindbäck from Rights Alliance informs TorrentFreak.
To that end, Swedish Advertisers have come up with a set of recommendations designed to keep ads away from unlicensed sites. They include observing good ethics, avoiding advertising contracts that include bulk sales, and considering where ads are ultimately placed, beyond simply targeting a specific audience at a certain price.
According to the advertising association the initiative has been well received. As a result they’ve publicly announced the first batch of sites to be added to their fledgling ‘pirate blacklist’, a boycott which will be observed by around 600 advertisers.
“The recommendations have become very popular so now we are taking this a step further by naming movie sites where serious advertisers’ brands certainly should not be seen,” says Anders Ericson, CEO of Swedish Advertisers.
Topping the list in terms of popularity is The Pirate Bay, the Swedish born torrent site that simply refuses to die. Nine others currently being named are Dreamfilmhd.org, Sweflix.to, Swefilmer.ws, Swefilm.tv, Swesub.tv, Laddanerfilmer.com, Svenskafilmer.nu, Undertexter.se and film365.se.
“There has been an evolvement over time where the illegal sites are getting more and more commercial and getting substantial amounts from advertisements,” Lindbäck says.
“For example in the Swefilmer case where 13 million SEK ($1.57m) has been traced through the advertisement broker/platforms.”
The majority of the sites present on the blacklist do indeed contain large amounts of advertising, sometimes to the point where they become somewhat irritating to use. Nevertheless, that doesn’t stop big brands from advertising on them.
Dreamfilmhd, for example, carries advertising for Bet365 and Coral, two well-known gambling companies regularly featured on other pirate sites.
Interestingly, another ‘offender’ is Sky Bet. This gambling outfit is owned by British Sky Broadcasting, a massive media company whose parent is 21st Century Fox. Their somewhat hypocritical popup ad is shown below.
In order to suffer the full onslaught of advertisers, TF fired up an unprotected browser and deliberately clicked around on the sites in question to see what kind of ads we could discover. Major advertisers already seem few and far between but there is work to be done.
Largely though it’s a miserable user experience, with popups, popunders, ads for scammy fake download sites, plus get-rich-quick schemes regularly bombarding the senses. As schemes like this one in Sweden and others around the world really begin to bite, expect more of the same.
Pirate sites will almost certainly be able to find advertisers willing to put hands in pockets but as times get tough, the quality of those ads is likely to deteriorate even further still. With that, user experience will also decline. Will pirates put up with the junk? Time will tell.
In the latter years of the previous decade a new idea for dealing with piracy was gathering momentum. Known as “three strikes” or “graduated response”, the system was based on the understanding that pirates could be persuaded to change their ways – if they believed they were being watched.
After years of planning, in the fall of 2010 France became one of the pioneers of the warning system. Its introduction was controversial. Since the initial rules dictated that persistent offenders (and potentially innocent account holders) should be kicked off the Internet, fears persisted that thousands of families could be denied Internet access.
This week marks the five year anniversary of the French program and the event has been commemorated by the overseeing Hadopi agency with the release of statistics relating to the past 60 months of anti-piracy activities.
Since September 2010, more than 5,400,000 initial warning notices have been sent to French Internet account holders. In the same period 504,000 individuals received a second notice, which indicates that less than 10% of first time offenders managed to get caught twice.
Perhaps most impressive at first view is the number of account holders receiving a third notice. According to Hadopi just 2,900 received a final ‘strike’, that’s just 0.57% of those who failed to heed the second warning.
In the months and years that followed 2,336 “third strike” investigations took place, with just 400 of reportedly the most serious cases being referred for prosecution.
Hadopi detailed the outcome of some of those cases this week. They include a persistent film pirate who was fined 300 euros and a uTorrent user who admitted distributing pre-release content (300 euros). An account holder who failed to appear at a hearing to discuss both music (a Rihanna track) and movie piracy (Despicable Me 2) picked up two fines of 500 euros each.
In theory fines under Hadopi can reach 1,500 euros but it appears that no case has been considered serious enough to impose the full amount.
So, given the apparent tiny numbers of repeat offenders, is France on its way to solving the piracy riddle? That’s very difficult to say but what we do know is that the figures cited above aren’t the full story.
Back in July the agency revealed that it had received more than 37 million complaints but had only managed to process a fraction of them. This means that it’s possible that many first, second and third time offenders have actually been ‘caught’ by anti-piracy monitoring companies but the notices have not been sent through the system.
Hadopi estimates that it currently processes around 50% of all reports, around 50,000 notifications every day. This means that around 100,000 notices are sent by rightsholders but 50,000 potential first, second and third strikes are thrown away.
Hadopi says its target is to process every notice it receives but whether that will be achieved next year or in another five years time will remain to be seen.
The General Publishers Group (GAU) is a trade organization that represents the interests of dozens of book publishers in the Netherlands.
Earlier this year GAU discovered that eBooks belong to some of its clients were being made available illegally on Google Play. According to the trade group the titles, which were being touted under the fictitious publisher name of Flamanca Hollanda / Dragonletebooks, were being sold at a price level considerably lower than the official versions.
GAU subsequently referred the matter to Dutch anti-piracy group BREIN for investigation. In turn, BREIN reported the illegal seller to Google who immediately removed the rogue account thereby preventing further unauthorized sales.
Early June, GAU reported that Google appeared to be taking steps to prevent rogue sellers from offering illegal content via its Play store. The group also noted that BREIN was attempting to obtain the personal details of the ‘pirate’ seller from Google.
Unsurprisingly that wasn’t a straightforward exercise, with Google refusing to hand over the personal details of its user on a voluntary basis. If BREIN really wanted the seller’s identity it would have to obtain it via a court order. Yesterday the anti-piracy group began the process to do just that.
Appearing before the Court of The Hague, BREIN presented its case, arguing that the rogue seller was not merely a user of Google, but actually a commercial partner of Google Play, a partnership that earned revenue for both parties.
“The case is clear,” BREIN said in a statement.
BREIN says that ultimately Google is responsible for the unauthorized distribution and sales carried out via its service.
“There is no right to anonymously sell illegal stuff, not even on Google Play while Google earns money,” the anti-piracy group concludes.
GAU’s partnership with BREIN dates back to April 2010. With its members complaining about the growing availability of ‘cracked’ and ‘scanned’ titles, GAU said that strong anti-piracy measures were required to protect creativity.
“With BREIN, GAU has found a partner that has a lot of know how in the fight against piracy,” the group said.
BREIN did not immediately respond to TF’s request for comment.
Four years ago New Zealand introduced new copyright legislation under which illegal file-sharers would be monitored, warned, and eventually punished.
The country was one of the first to have a Government mandated “strikes” policy, but of the initial enthusiasm among copyright holders very little is left.
While monitoring online pirates is relatively cheap, copyright holders are required to pay Internet providers a $25 fee to forward the warnings to their customers.
This means that three strikes costs copyright holders $75, and if they decide to lodge an official complaint after that an additional $200 is added. To put it bluntly, the warnings themselves may be more expensive than the harm online pirates cost the industry.
Talking to Stuff, Recorded Music NZ general counsel Kristin Bowman says that piracy remains a problem, because fighting it is too expensive.
“We haven’t got rid of it as the regime, unfortunately, is too costly. It’s really disappointing,” she notes.
Because of the high costs the music industry has lowered the number of notices it’s sending. There are hundreds of thousands of people in New Zealand who pirate content every week, but only a tiny fraction can be reached.
“Every time we send a notice it costs us $25. We would love to do 1000 of those a week, but we just can’t afford it,” Bowman says.
In addition, the music group has completely scrapped filing cases to the tribunal, so they won’t pursue any punishments for online pirates. Despite the downscaling efforts the music group isn’t giving up just yet.
“We definitely won’t give up though, because we constantly want to get the message out there that piracy is illegal,” Bowman notes.
Most copyright holders appear to have done the same. Thus far in 2015 only one complaint has been filed at the copyright tribunal, compared to four last year and 18 the year before. If this trend continues New Zealand’s much debated “three-strikes” regime may soon exist only on paper.
This week Paul Mahoney, the former operator of streaming links site FastPassTV and discussion and linking forum BedroomMedia, was sentenced to jail by Judge Philip Babington.
According to figures provided by the prosecution, Mahoney ‘could’ have cost the movie industry £120m in lost revenue. Ultimately, however, the claims of a film industry out for blood ended up somewhat watered down.
In the cold light of day the court accepted a figure closer to £12m – quite an ‘achievement’ for a “partially blind recluse” who lived in a bedroom in his parents’ particularly modest home.
Given the tendency of the prosecution in these cases to blow losses figures wildly out of proportion, it’s perhaps more prudent to look at numbers backed up by evidence.
It doesn’t appear to be in question that Mahoney made £280,000 in advertising revenue from his sites and he was found in possession of £82,390 in cash when he was raided. That’s a decent amount by almost anyone’s standards and was never likely to be looked upon lightly by the court.
So, on the basis that Mahoney made large sums of money illegally it should come as no surprise that having pleaded guilty to substantial fraud he should’ve expected a custodial sentence this week. Such is the current climate in the UK and few people watching the case expected anything different.
But while some might argue that the term should have been limited to a few weeks or a handful of months, on Thursday the court handed Mahoney a four-year sentence, one of the toughest in UK pirate prosecution history.
For someone of Mahoney’s standing that term seems overly cruel and it appears that Mahoney’s lawyers feel so too. On Thursday they announced that the 29-year-old will be mounting an appeal, presumably to ensure that any punishment received fits the crime.
As we wait for the legal basis of that appeal to be made public, readers might be interested to hear of another fraud case that was concluded this week.
It involved businessman Nicholas Marcou from London, who used his legitimate businesses and contracts with supermarkets such as Aldi, Lidl, Sainsbury’s and Asda to fraudulently obtain millions from Barclays Bank.
According to figures provided by City of London Police, actual losses to Barclays Bank (versus the hypothetical losses conjured up in the Mahoney case) were £8,576,811.
Unlike Mahoney, who appears to have spent most of his adult life in a bedroom at his parents’ house, Marcou enjoyed ‘his’ money. According to a local news report he bought two homes worth more than £1.4m and £650,000 worth of cars including three Bentleys, three Aston Martins, a Porsche 911, and a Rolls Royce Silver Spirit.
While Marcou appears to have been driven by greed, Mahoney appears to have given much of his money away. According to a court report he “did not exhibit any of the features of a lavish lifestyle and his spending was concerned only to paying employees, running the site and accessing adult websites.”
It’s also worth bearing in mind that even if we take the previously mentioned £12m figure as accurate, those presumed losses were racked up by users of Mahoney’s site, not Mahoney himself. Site users were the ones who turned up and clicked ‘play’ and didn’t pay for whatever it was they watched. Although he clearly played a part, Mahoney didn’t take that money from the studio’s pockets, the public did. Marcou alone took the money from the bank.
Finger pointing aside, Mahoney ended up with a four-year sentence. For the record, Marcou the bank defrauder received just 3.5 years.
While anti-piracy groups such as FACT, who investigated the case, view Mahoney’s actions as extremely serious, something feels fundamentally wrong here.
Make no mistake, Mahoney should receive some punishment, if only because he knowingly and deliberately broke laws he knew could get him into serious trouble.
But should this man living on the fringes of society be given a more punishing sentence than a man who systematically stole £8.5m in cash from a bank in order to fund a dream lifestyle?
Perhaps in due course Mahoney’s defense team will raise the same questions. Until then he remains behind bars.
Every single week, hundreds of sites across the Internet receive DMCA-style notices in response to copyrighted content being made available via their domains. Google alone receives more than 10 million.
No matter where these notices are sent, the majority have something in common. For a DMCA notice to be valid it has to report an infringement that is ongoing, or at the very least has taken place. Rightsholders can’t send a DMCA notice just because they think that an infringement might be on the horizon.
To tackle potential future infringement it is possible to obtain an injunction and a prime example of that appeared this week when Showtime went to court in the United States to try and prevent a site from broadcasting this weekend’s Mayweather v Berto fight.
While the company hasn’t gone to court, UK-based anti-piracy group KLipCorp is also taking a pre-emptive approach to dealing with expected piracy of Mayweather’s final fight. After being retained by UK pay TV outfit BoxNation, KLipCorp has been writing to sites warning them not to offer the fight illegally.
TorrentFreak was shown a copy of the notice by the operator of streaming links portal StreamSports.me, a site that appeared in the wake of the Wiziwig closure earlier this year.
He told us that while DMCA notices are commonplace, pre-emptive notices such as this are a new experience for him.
“Have you seen something like this? Basically, they say they are watching us, and warn us about listing the event prior to the event itself,” he explains.
KLipCorp says that the letter’s purpose is to “politely remind” sites of their obligations under UK copyright law, the DMCA, and the WIPO Copyright Treaty 1996, and to invite them to assist in the fight against piracy.
“The purpose of this notice is to place you in a position where you have actual knowledge of the intended infringement through your network, infrastructure and/or website and to seek your cooperation to ensure that legal action is only required against those who continue to facilitate infringement,” the notice reads.
“We invite you to co-operate with us in both the monitoring and protection of our Client’s intellectual property in respect of this Event.”
TorrentFreak caught up with KLipCorp founder Peter Lewinton who told us that the purpose of the pre-emptive notice is to make it clear that distribution or linking to streams of the fight is not approved by BoxNation.
“We are not trying to be heavy handed but simply want to draw attention to the ownership of the rights and limit piracy levels,” Lewinton explains.
“From our analysis DMCA notices have limited impact against the high audience non-compliant pirate sites in the live sports sector so a different approach is required.”
Another unique aspect of the KLipCorp notices is that they indirectly highlight an apparent ‘weakness’ in EU copyright law.
“We draw your attention to the fact that Box Nation’s intellectual property rights extend without limitation to the graphics, commentary and music associated with the live and recorded broadcast of the Event and in particular to the graphics of the BoxNation logo which appears in the broadcast feed produced by and on behalf of BoxNation,” the notice reads.
In a nutshell, this refers to the fact that following a Court of Justice of the European Union decision in 2011, live sporting events in themselves don’t qualify for copyright protection in the EU. While this essentially means that KLipCorp has no power to protect the video of the fight itself, it can protect IP owned by BoxNation which is transmitted over the top of the fight, such as graphics, audio commentary, music and logos.
“The overall event [may not be protected by copyright] but copyright exists in the items mentioned within the broadcast,” Lewinton told TF.
The big question now is whether the notices will be effective. Another KLipCorp letter recipient told TF on condition of anonymity that they are taking the threats seriously and won’t be allowing the fight to be streamed from their network on Saturday night.
“After being put on notice it raises the temperature for us so we’ll let others stream the fight instead,” we were told.
StreamSports.me, on the other hand, say their response will be somewhat different.
“The notice served one purpose: it informed me that actually there’s a big boxing event upcoming. I do not follow boxing usually, and wouldn’t have known otherwise. So I’d like to thank them for the pre-emptive DMCA warning, as now I will make sure this popular event is properly represented on StreamSports,” the site’s operator said.
Lewinton wouldn’t say exactly how many sites and services had received the letter but he indicated that it isn’t a large number.
“This is not intended to be a threat – just to draw attention to the possibility that in the final analysis [legal action] may be unavoidable,” Lewinton concludes.
Early September the Oslo District Court followed in the footsteps of other courts around Europe by ordering local ISPs to block several pirate sites.
The action came after Hollywood studios including Warner, Paramount, Fox, Universal, Sony, Disney and Columbia successfully argued that The Pirate Bay, ExtraTorrent, Viooz, PrimeWire, Swefilmer, DreamFilm and Movie4K should be off-limits to Norwegian consumers.
While ISPs are yet to fully implement the international headline-grabbing blockade, it appears that the message that these sites are effectively banned hasn’t reached some prominent advertisers.
For example, in what is likely to be an embarrassment to local authorities, during the past few days adverts for NSB, the Norwegian government-owned national railway system, have been appearing on prominent unauthorized streaming portal PrimeWire.
Furthermore, ads for Norway’s leading tourist attraction, the Kristiansand Zoo and Amusement Park, have also being appearing on the popular and soon-to-be-blocked site.
Interestingly enough they feature a character known as Captain Sabertooth. The star of the most expensive children’s movie in Norwegian history, Sabertooth is also the country’s most famous pirate and the centerpiece of kids’ TV series, stage plays and books.
Speaking with NRK, the outlet that spotted the bloopers, Rights Alliance chief Willy Johansen says that legitimate companies are inadvertently helping to fund pirate sites.
“Illegal websites earn big money from advertising. This is not good at all,” the anti-piracy chief says.
“The media agencies around Europe are spreading ads to hit a certain number of people, without looking at where they’re placing them. In this respect media agencies need to sharpen their approach.”
The revelations are also proving a disappointment to the companies whose ads appeared on PrimeWire.
Annie B. Schjøtt, Sales and Marketing Manager at Kristiansand Zoo and Amusement Park, says it was never their intention to place ads on pirate sites.
“We totally renounce such [pirate] sites. We are a cultural operation ourselves, and we absolutely did not want to be involved in supporting people who copy other people’s work,” Schjøtt says.
A communications manager at government-owned railway company NSB described the situation as “regrettable.”
While no one is suggesting that the companies deliberately targeted pirate sites, somehow their advertising spend is being funneled to sites that have been deemed to operate illegally. So how did they get there? Apparently that’s the indirect responsibility of Carat, the media agency which handled the ads.
Digital Strategy Director Erik Solberg says that the ads were placed through an intermediary but the company is working hard to ensure there are no more embarrassments.
“We can only deplore this. We have closed all the activity of the subcontractor in the network,” Solberg explains. “We are working diligently to make sure this does not happen again. The supplier is a major international advertising network.”
The timing of these revelations could prompt a more urgent approach to tackling the pirate site advertising issue in Norway. Just yesterday in neighboring Sweden, Rights Alliance and national advertising association Swedish Advertisers announced new guidelines to help companies keep their ads off illicit sites.
“It appears that advertisers’ logos, trademarks and advertisements – often without the advertiser’s knowledge – are ending up on illegal sites,” said Swedish Advertisers legal advisor Tobias Eltell.
“It may be a question of sites that provide video, images, text and music without the rights holders’ consent. For serious advertisers, this may become a huge problem and therefore Swedish Advertisers have developed recommendations that may be helpful for advertisers.”
The guidelines (Swedish) include observing good ethics, boycotting advertising contracts that include bulk sales, and insisting that ads are not only targeted at a specific audience at a certain price, but also determining where those ads are ultimately placed.
Following an investigation carried out by the Hollywood-funded anti-piracy group Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT), police in Northern Ireland raided a Londonderry home in May 2011.
They were searching for Paul Mahoney, the operator of streaming links site FastPassTV and discussion and linking forum BedroomMedia. Police arrested Mahoney while seizing computer equipment and cash totaling £83,000.
After being charged in February 2015, Mahoney pleaded not guilty. Several months later, however, he had a change of heart.
At a June hearing the 30-year-old pleaded guilty to all four charges against him including allowing the public to view copyrighted movies without rightsholder permission, conspiracy, and generating up to £300,000 in advertising revenue.
During a pre-sentence hearing last month, Judge Philip Babington was told by the prosecution that Mahoney could have cost the movie industry £120 million.
Mahoney appeared at Londonderry Crown Court this morning at 11:00am for sentencing and it’s bad news for the partially sighted man. The Court sentenced Mahoney to four years in prison, two of which will be spent on license.
“These offenses represent offending which undoubtedly put at risk very many millions of pounds as far as the greater entertainment industry was concerned,” Judge Philip Babington said.
“Offending such as this affects everyone in society at the end of the day although primarily the interests of those involved in film production, the results of which we all enjoy.”
Judge Babington said that Mahoney had put together “a very sophisticated scheme” which had allowed people to “view films on very many millions of occasions for nothing” while generating money from advertising.
He added that he had been left with no other alternative than to pass a custodial sentence “to show that behavior of this nature does not go unpunished.”
FACT Director General Kieron Sharp said that the case was an important one.
“Committing crime using the Internet is viewed by some as being less serious than more ‘traditional’ offending, which is particularly true of film and television piracy. This prosecution and sentence show that you cannot hide behind the supposed anonymity of the cyber world and that you will be identified, caught and convicted,” Sharp said.
PSNI investigating officer Detective Constable Yolande Healey said that Mahoney had been operating his sites for years.
“He thought he could collect substantial amounts of advertising revenue from his site and distance himself from the actual hosting of an illicit copy of a film by using unrelated third party websites,” Healey said.
“From his bedroom in Carnhill, Mahony thought he could make money from advertisers who were attracted by the volume of traffic from across the world on his website. He thought his form of cyber-crime was untouchable. He was wrong. Working with partner agencies, police will investigate any reports of criminality online.”
Early last Thursday morning the UK’s Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) were again mobilizing against online piracy.
Following a joint investigation with licensing outfit PRS for Music, officers from PIPCU and Merseyside police raided an address in Everton, Liverpool. Their target was a 38-year-old man believed to be involved in the unlawful distribution of music online.
In addition to uploading the UK’s Top 40 Singles to various torrent sites each week, police said the man also ran his own website offering ‘acapella’ audio tracks. Police further added that the man generated “significant” advertising revenue from his endeavors while possibly costing the industry “millions” in lost revenue.
A tip received by TF indicated that the man was connected to several accounts on the world’s major torrent sites, including The Pirate Bay and KickassTorrents. We can now reveal that the accounts were registered in the name of ‘OldSkoolScouse’. For those outside the UK, the term ‘scouse’ refers to the accent found primarily in and around the Liverpool area.
As shown in the KickassTorrents screenshot above, the profile links to a domain – www.oldskoolscouse.co.uk. Up until last Friday (the day after the raid) the domain linked to another site, www.deejayportal.com, which was billed as the “Number #1 community and resource, for DJs & Producers.”
As can be seen from the image below, DeeJayPortal featured acapella tracks as described by the police.
It remains unclear how many users each domain had, but in the bigger picture the numbers are very small indeed. At its height DeeJayPortal appears to have barely scraped the world’s top 200,000 most popular sites while OldSkoolScouse is currently outside the top three million.
Both domains went down last Friday, as did the OldSkoolScouse Twitter account and Facebook page. As illustrated below, the former regularly announced torrent uploads of the UK Top 40 to DeeJayPortal.
Yet again it appears that the arrest last week was a case of rightsholders and police targeting low-hanging fruit. Using widely available research tools we were able to quickly uncover important names plus associated addresses, both email and physical. It seems likely that he made close to no effort to conceal his identity.
Due to being in the police spotlight it will come as little surprise that there was no weekly upload of the UK’s Top 40 most-popular tracks from OldSkoolScouse last Friday, something which probably disappointed the releaser’s fans. However, any upset would have been very temporary indeed.
As shown below, at least four other releases of exactly the same content were widely available on public torrent sites within hours of the UK chart results being announced last Friday, meaning the impact on availability was almost non-existent.
However, perhaps of more interest to the police and rightsholders is the impact the arrest will have on the public’s perception of how risky it is to engage in online piracy in the UK. Certainly, more people are being arrested in the UK file-sharing scene than in the United States currently, quite a surprise considering the aggressive anti-piracy stance usually taken in the U.S.
Finally, it will be really interesting to see if the arrest last week will conclude with a case going to court. PIPCU have made many arrest announcements connected to online piracy in the past two years, yet to our knowledge not one person has gone to trial.
Google’s public records for DMCA notices received date back to a single week in July 2011 and as far as the trends at the time were concerned, it was a pretty busy period.
According to the company’s Transparency Report a little under 130,000 notices were processed, with the next batch in August ’11 a little busier at 158,000.
By November ’12 things had really begun to heat up, with 2.88m notices handled in a single week. What followed was a steady increase month on month interspersed with massive spikes, such as the 11.68m URL deluge witnessed during a week in October 2014.
In July 2015, records were broken again, with another highly unusual week in which 12.5m notices were processed by the search giant. Or, to put it another way, Google dealt with requests to remove 18 ‘pirate’ links every second.
And now, just weeks later, that staggering record has been shattered again.
In a single week (beginning August 18, 2015) Google processed a mind-boggling 13,685,322 allegedly infringing URLs. That’s almost 23 copyright complaints handled by the search giant every single second – or 100 URLs in the time it took to read this sentence.
In the most recently reported month, 5,991 copyright holders and 2,683 reporting organizations requested the removal of 55,702,393 URLs from 80,256 domains.
The most complained about services were all file-hosting sites including Chomikuj.pl (1,089,458 URLs), Rapidgator.net (711,175) and Uploaded.net (664,299).
The big question is what’s been driving these massive figures. Are pirates flooding the Internet with more content than ever before? Or perhaps anti-piracy outfits are simply becoming more adept at discovering it?
Both of those things are indeed a possibility but two other sets of circumstances are undoubtedly inflating the figures reported by Google. Interestingly, they’re both a direct result of copyright holder actions.
While domain takedowns have inconvenienced several large sites in recent times, those affected are increasingly using multiple domains to mitigate the problem. It’s a strategy now being employed by many of the leading torrent sites – cut one head from the hydra and another appears, as the saying goes.
This means that for a piece of content previously found on a single URL on ThePirateBay.se alone, rightsholders now have to send a similar notice for every other domain the site decides to put into action. It’s a never-ending battle that’s causing millions of additional takedown demands.
Another big issue is caused by site blocking. Again taking The Pirate Bay as an example, there are now dozens if not hundreds of active proxies, mirrors and clones, each of which attract their own sets of takedown demands. As can be seen from the image below (which shows only part of the problem), this also causes millions of additional notices to be sent to Google.
Overall there seems to be very little that anyone can do to stop the tide of notices being sent to Google but perhaps most importantly they appear to be having almost no effect on content availability. All popular movies and music tracks remain just a few clicks away. Let’s not forget, Google takes down links to content, not the content itself.
Admittedly search results for the same are becoming less useful (and are even driving people towards malware), but of course Google is only part of a much bigger puzzle and pirates adapt very quickly.
This success directly translates to illegitimate channels where over a million people downloaded the first episode quickly after its release.
AMC is not ignoring this unauthorized audience and has started to send out warnings to ISPs across the United States. TF has seen several warning letters targeted at U.S. Internet users.
The company wants the affected subscribers to “remove or delete all unauthorized copies” and ensure that their account is “no longer used to copy or distribute” the episode(s).
The warnings are sent through AMC’s anti-piracy partner MarkMonitor. They’re formatted as DMCA notices and their main purpose is to inform subscribers that someone is using their Internet connection to pirate the show.
“AMC believes that subscribers have a right to know when their Internet accounts are being used for content theft, or if they are otherwise unwittingly downloading or distributing files that are subject to copyright protection,” the notices read.
In addition to users of standard BitTorrent clients and Popcorn Time, they’re also targeting the eDonkey network as the example below shows.
The notices further suggests that file-sharing can expose users to great dangers. It specifically mentions a consumer alert that was issued by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) a few years ago.
“Online content theft can expose a family’s home network and the computers connected to it to dangerous viruses, spyware and identity theft,” the notices explain.
While some casual file-sharers may be spooked by the warning, these types of DMCA notices are quite standard. The copyright holder doesn’t know the identity of the alleged pirates, so there are no legal strings attached.
Nonetheless, AMC hopes that the warnings will deter some from downloading future episodes. And indeed, some users may panic when they see that their downloads are being flagged.
Others may respond by hiding their ISP IP-address from showing up in public, which appears to be quite effective in this case.
In addition to targeting torrent users AMC also targets torrent sites directly. Many original uploads of the first two episodes have disappeared from KickassTorrents and other sites in recent days.
Unfortunately for AMC torrents are like zombies, in a way; they keep coming back to life and are nearly impossible to kill.
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