By now it’s hardly breaking news that for a small monthly fee, people can subscribe to pirate IPTV services supplying everything from live TV and sports to movies and TV shows.
These pay services have surged in popularity but millions of people still prefer to rely on websites that embed or link to pirate streams and offer them for free.
Legitimate content companies would like to see these platforms shut down but recent submissions to the European Commission show that the websites are part of an thriving ecosystem, one that allows people to view pirate streams and also share them with the masses.
Open Web Piracy vs Closed Web Piracy
Major sports rightsholder the Premier League describes subscription-based IPTV services as “Closed Network Piracy” because the content is only available to those who pay for access. “Open Web Piracy”, on the other hand, is described as freely accessible content available on the web without users having to pay anything.
The image below submitted to the European Commission provides a basic overview of how “Open Web Piracy” works.
The TV screen graphic top/left represents an official broadcast signal (such as a football match) being captured, often by a ‘professional’ pirate. According to the Premier League, this can be achieved by using an HDMI splitter connecting a legitimate set-top box to a computer or by other means. The graphics to the right represent the captured content being sent to a streaming platform (and its servers) from where it can be viewed by users on various devices.
It’s important to note that there is also an arrow pointing from the viewers to the streaming platforms. This indicates that users can also become content suppliers if they know how the system works. The Premier League’s report suggests that it’s not at all difficult.
Pirate Streams Can Be Viewed and Shared Too
To illustrate how internet users can create or capture video content before distributing it to the masses, one needs to look no further than YouTube. It’s the perfect example of how lone creators (or copiers) can reach millions of people with relatively little effort but, for pirates, YouTube is not ideal.
YouTube’s Content ID system (and Facebook’s Rights Manager) can quickly identify pirated content, a feature used by the Premier League to take down pirate streams from the platforms in near real-time. But these are not the only platforms that allow users to view pirate streams and upload their own for viewing by others.
The Premier League has a shortlist of problematic platforms and other rightsholders are weighing in too.
Streaming Platforms Used to Receive & Spread Content
The first platform to receive criticism is a blast from the past. Originally marketed under the name Torrent Stream, Ace Stream is a BitTorrent-based peer-to-peer service dedicated to streaming. In common with regular torrent magnet links, Ace Stream content is accessed using special URLs in the format ‘acestream://********’, with the asterisks representing the unique code for a specific stream.
Search engines exist for such content and in common with YouTube, the material can range from the entirely legal through to pirated streams. The latter can be found on dedicated indexing sites for those who simply wish to view but for those who have a stream to share, Ace Stream makes things pretty easy too.
As a result, the Premier League is unhappy with Ace Stream’s alleged Ukrainian operators. This type of sharing has been going on for years and there is no cooperation when it comes to takedowns.
“Despite thousands of notices being sent to the software operators over many years, and being included in the Premier League’s previous submissions to the Watch List, no action has ever been taken by Acestream to stop infringements,” they note.
Other platforms that offer similar but more centralized functionality include Wigistream.to which, in common with Ace Stream, also makes an appearance in the Audiovisual Anti-Piracy Alliance (AAPA) submission.
“The operator of the platform has taken extensive measures to obfuscate their identity, rendering any attempts to enforce against the platform or the streams it offers extremely challenging,” the Premier League complains.
The football organization also labels China-based ‘Just Fun’ (zhuafan.tech) as a threat. The platform looks a little like YouTube but appears to carry huge numbers of infringing live sports streams accessible on Just Fun itself and embedded in other sites around the web.
Again, users can simply view pirate streams or choose to upload their own for others to watch.
“The platform enables individuals to upload live and on-demand content to the platform, with live streams of Matches indexed and accompanied by commentators / anchors provided by the platform,” the submission continues.
The separate AAPA submission lists many more additional platforms that operate along similar lines including telerium.tv/teleriumtv.com, assia.tv/org, wstream.to, livestream.com, ezcdn462.net, uzcdn828.net, jokerswidget.com, cloudstream.to, stephn.xyz, wmsxx.com, streammart.club, ragnarp.net, worldwidestream.net and liveonlivetv.com.
At the time of writing, availability on some sites seems patchy but given their ability to leverage visitors as both viewers and suppliers of infringing streams, their popularity looks set to continue.