Pirate sites with tens of millions of visits each month are large enough to consider themselves global players yet some achieve these levels in a tighter geographic niche.
Founded in 2014 by two Taiwanese software engineers, movie and TV show piracy site 8maple is a prime example. Initially, the site was promoted as a commercial advertising platform but soon transformed into a full-blown piracy portal pulling in millions of visitors each month and generating large sums in advertising revenue.
Spending an estimated US$9,800 on server hosting in the United States, Canada, Ukraine, France and Romania each month, early estimates suggested the men behind 8maple may have been generating around US$65,600 in monthly revenues. By early 2020, the site’s main domain at 8maple.ru was pulling around 35 million visits per month, generating around US$133,000 per month in revenue.
Investigation and Shutdown
Following an investigation carried out by the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment, the Asia-Pacific division of the Motion Picture Association (MPA-APC), Japan-based Content Overseas Distribution Association (CODA), and local TV network Sanli TV, Taiwan’s Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) shut down 8maple.ru late March 2020.
Two men in their early thirties (Chen Su, 33, and Zhuang Su, 32) were arrested and around $1.9m in illegal gains were seized from their bank accounts. Domains including 8maple.ru, 8maple.com, 8drama.com, 8drama.ru, 8duck.ru, 8video.tv, eyny.is, and eyny.tv, were shut down.
The suspects were arrested for copyright infringement offenses with Taiwan’s Telecommunications Investigation Corps estimating that 8maple caused around NT$1 billion (US$33.2m) in damages to the entertainment industries.
Court Sentences Men in Taiwan
More than two years after their arrest, the Taoyuan District Court has now sentenced the two men to serve 18 months in prison for “jointly committing the crime of infringing copyright property rights under Article 92 of the Copyright Law.”
TorrentFreak obtained a copy of the official verdict from Taiwan prosecutor Harris Chen. It reveals a highly complex case and what appears to be the involvement of other suspects in mainland China who assisted Chen Su and Zhuang Su but are yet to be identified.
The convicted men are described as “highly educated” but possessing a “weak sense of the rule of law.”
“They failed to respect the intellectual property rights of the copyright owners who spent a lot of money to make the films, which were reproduced without authorization and transmitted in public,” the verdict reads.
The men not only damaged the economic interests of the copyright holders but also damaged Taiwan’s international reputation for the protection of intellectual property rights, the document adds.
ACE Welcomes Verdict
A statement by the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment welcomes the sentencing of the men, which includes the confiscation of NT$ 58.8 million (US$1.97 million) in illicit gains.
“I’d like to congratulate the Criminal Investigation Bureau and the Taoyuan District Prosecutor’s Office for the successful prosecution of the 8maple operators,” says Jan van Voorn, Executive Vice President and Chief of Global Content Protection for the Motion Picture Association and Head of ACE.
“The deterrent sentence is testament to the seriousness of the crime. The 8maple prosecution is another example of ACE’s effective partnerships with the local video industry and law enforcement and strengthens our commitment to reducing piracy and protecting the global legal ecosystem for creative content.”
Other Sites Attempt to Exploit Gap in Market
Since the shutdown of 8maple, other sites with similar branding have attempted to exploit the gap in the market. Two apparently connected platforms, 8maple.biz and 9maple.org, currently attract just under four million visits per month and appear to be the most significant players.
Several others, operating under imaple and imaple8 branding, appear to be part of a ring. They currently receive around three million visits per month but even if the traffic of both sets of sites are combined, their exposure comes nowhere near that of the original 8maple platforms, representing success for the movie and TV studios and authorities in Taiwan.