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  1. WhatsApp Does Not Have To Immediately Suspend Accounts Reported For Piracy Last month the High Court in Delhi ordered WhatsApp to suspend accounts that allegedly shared a pirated movie. The Court also told WhatsApp to take similar action against other accounts following demands from a copyright holder. While WhatsApp did suspend accounts, the company has now convinced the Court that due to end-to-end encryption, copyright holders shouldn't have "unfettered discretion" over account suspensions. Following the release of the movie ‘Radhe: Your Most Wanted Bhai’ in India, rightsholder Zee Entertainment Enterprises said that it had found pirated copies being circulated via WhatsApp and Telegram. Zee filed official complaints with cybercrime police and took its battle to the Delhi High Court, filing an application for interim relief against a number of defendants who either distributed the movie online or helped to facilitate such transfers. One of the defendants in the case is WhatsApp, which informed the Court that it has policies in place to deal with copyright infringement, including by suspending or terminating user accounts. In an order handed down May 20, Justice Sanjeev Narula awarded an ex-parte injunction against eight alleged pirates and ordered WhatsApp to suspend the accounts of two yet-to-be personally identified users. He also informed WhatsApp that when instructed by Zee, it must suspend the accounts of any other user alleged to have pirated the movie within 24 hours. WhatsApp Suspends Users But Objects To Future Suspensions At a video conference hearing on June 1, it was revealed that service providers for eight defendants had handed over their personal details to the plaintiffs. Counsel for four of the alleged pirates indicated that they wish to “amicably settle the matter” with Zee but whether the media company is open to settlement is not yet clear. In respect of WhatsApp, counsel Mukul Rohatgi told the Court that his client had suspended two accounts per its May order but raised concerns over the instruction to suspend future accounts based simply on the allegations of Zee. Rohatgi argued that as an “intermediary” under the Information Technology Act, 2000, WhatsApp is immune from liability for making available or hosting content circulated on the WhatsApp Service. The only situation where it could be held liable is if the company obtains “actual knowledge” that specific content is unlawful yet refuses to take down or disable that content. According to Rohatgi, mere receipt of allegations of copyright infringement from Zee does not constitute “actual knowledge” of unlawful content. Furthermore, since communications between WhatsApp accounts are encrypted end-to-end, WhatsApp cannot see what the messages contain. This means that it cannot validate the claims from Zee which effectively gives the broadcaster “unfettered discretion” to remove WhatsApp accounts as and when it chooses. Zee Entertainment Argues in Favor of Account Suspensions Representing Zee, counsel Amit Sibal said that the directions for WhatsApp to suspend accounts were “just and proper” since Zee is a responsible company and can be trusted not to misuse the order. In any event, any request by Zee can be subjected to judicial scrutiny. Sibal also welcomed additional safeguards if that would mean the injunction could remain in place. In his order, Justice Narula told the companies that the issue would require additional consideration but in the meantime, WhatsApp will not have to suspend accounts based on mere allegations of copyright infringement. The Court will make that decision instead. “This Court has been issuing such directions in relation to infringement of copyright, especially in matters where the content is published on the websites which are also referred to as ‘rogue websites’,” the Judge writes. “However, the Court prima facie finds merit in the contention of Mr. Rohatgi that since the messages between WhatsApp users are protected with an end-to-end encryption protocol, [WhatsApp] would not be in a position to review any accounts reported by the Plaintiff in the future to confirm that they are in fact selling pirated copies of the film in question. “Thus, it would be appropriate that any further direction for suspension of WhatsApp accounts be issued by the Court. Accordingly, the direction contained in the order dated 20th May, 2021 insofar as it directs [WhatsApp] to suspend the accounts, on the request of the Plaintiff, is kept in abeyance till the next date of hearing.” Justice Narula’s order can be found here (pdf) WhatsApp Does Not Have To Immediately Suspend Accounts Reported For Piracy
  2. Nintendo Wins $2.1 Million Judgment Against Pirate Site Operator Nintendo has won a $2.1 million summary judgment against the owner and operator of the now-defunct pirate site RomUniverse. A California federal court ruled that the man, a Los Angeles resident, uploaded and distributed pirated Nintendo games. In addition, he profited from mass-scale copyright infringement by charging paid subscriptions. In September 2019, gaming giant Nintendo filed a lawsuit against the game download portal RomUniverse. The website facilitated massive online copyright infringement of many popular Nintendo titles, according to the complaint filed at a California district court. Nintendo said that RomUniverse made things worse by profiting from these copyright infringements by selling paid premium accounts that allowed users to download as many games as they wanted. RomUniverse Fought Back The site’s operator, Los Angeles resident Matthew Storman, clearly disagreed with these allegations. Without an attorney, he decided to defend himself in court. In his view, the site wasn’t breaking any laws and he asked the court to dismiss the case. Nintendo picked this defense apart and found the court on its side. This meant that Storman had to face the charges, as well as millions of dollars in potential damages. The RomUniverse site also remained online initially but last summer, after discussions with Nintendo’s legal team, the operator agreed to shut it down. However, that didn’t end the case. Nintendo Requests Summary Judgment After investing a substantial amount in legal fees, the gaming giant moved for a summary judgment and $15 million in damages. “This is a straightforward video game piracy case, and the material facts are undisputed,” Nintendo informed the court. “For over a decade, defendant Matthew Storman owned and operated the website RomUniverse.com. He populated the website with pirated copies of thousands of different Nintendo games and distributed hundreds of thousands of copies of those pirated games.” Storman, who continued in court without a lawyer, clearly disagreed. In his opposition brief, he denied that RomUniverse offered for download and distributed pirated ROMs of thousands of Nintendo games. Storman also argued that he never uploaded any games himself. Earlier this week, US District Court Judge Consuelo Marshall ruled on the matter, largely siding with Nintendo. Court Sides With Nintendo According to the court, Nintendo provided sufficient evidence to show that Storman is liable for direct, contributory, and vicarious copyright infringement. In addition, trademark infringement claims were also accepted. Storman’s denials failed to convince the court as he admitted to uploading content to the site in a previous deposition. “Defendant filed a declaration in opposition to the Motion wherein he declares that he ‘denies and disputes that he uploaded any files to said website and at no time did he verify the content of said ROM file’, which is directly contradictory to his sworn deposition testimony wherein he testified that he uploaded the ROM files onto his website,” Judge Marshall notes. “Furthermore, Defendant testified at his deposition that his website ‘indicated’ that copies of Nintendo’s copyrighted video games were available for download on the website.” Storman also profited from the infringements of users by charging for premium access to the site. He testified that, during 2019, the site generated between $30,000-36,000 in revenue, which was his main source of income at the time. Substantially Lower Damages Nintendo requested more than $15 million in copyright and trademark infringement damages, but the court doesn’t want to go this far. Judge Marshall believes that $35,000 statutory damages for each of the 49 copyrighted works is sufficient. This adds up to $1.7 million, which is substantially lower than the $90,000 per work requested by Nintendo. “Considering Defendant’s willful infringement, the Court finds $35,000 statutory damages for each infringed copyright […] would compensate Plaintiff for its lost revenue and deter Defendant who is currently unemployed and has already shut down the website,” Judge Marshall writes. The trademark damages are also much lower than requested. Nintendo’s original motion asks for $400,000 for each of the 29 trademarks, but the court awarded $400,000 for all combined, which could be an oversight. “The Court finds the requested $400,000 in statutory damages, which equals approximately $14,286 in statutory damages for each of the 28 counterfeit marks, is appropriate,” the order reads. Finally, Judge Marshall decided not to issue a permanent injunction against Storman. Nintendo failed to show that it suffered irreparable harm, and the fact that Storman already shut down the site shows that there’s no imminent threat of further infringements. All in all, the court orders (pdf) the former RomUniverse operator to pay a total of $2,115,000 in damages. “The Court Grants Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment as to Plaintiff’s copyright infringement, unfair competition and Lanham Act claims, and awards Plaintiff $1,715,000 in statutory damages under the Copyright Act and $400,000 in statutory damages under the Lanham Act for a total of $2,115,000 in statutory damages.” Nintendo Wins $2.1 Million Judgment Against Pirate Site Operator
  3. Court Orders WhatsApp to Suspend Users Sharing Pirated Movie The High Court in Delhi has handed down an interesting order aimed at preventing piracy of the new action movie 'Radhe'. Following an application from Zee Entertainment and parallel criminal referrals, a judge has ordered WhatsApp to suspend allegedly infringing user accounts and take similar action against all other accounts subsequently reported for piracy. Radhe: Your Most Wanted Bhai’ is a new action film directed by Prabhu Deva. Originally scheduled for a May 2020 release, like many others it was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. With no clear end to the virus in sight, the decision was made to release ‘Radhe’ in India via premium VOD on Zee Plex and digitally through ZEE5 on May 13, 2021. It was immediately pirated. Last week, Zee Entertainment Enterprises revealed that it had found copies of the movie being circulated online, including via WhatsApp and Telegram. “Officials are actively tracking down phone numbers involved in the act of piracy and taking required legal action,” the Zee statement read. “Zee has also appealed to the public at large, seeking their support in bringing an end to piracy, not just for the film ‘Radhe’, but for any kind of content.” Zee Entertainment Files Complaints Describing piracy as bad for everyone, Zee reported that it had filed official complaints with cybercrime police in India, one with the Inspector General of Police at the Maharashtra Cyber Digital Crime Unit and another with the Additional Commissioner of Police, Central Region, Cyber Cell. ‘Radhe’ producer Salman Khan also took to Twitter, complaining that despite offering the movie at a reasonable price, it was still being distributed illegally online using various platforms. “Cyber Cell is taking action against all these illegal pirated sites,” he wrote. “Please don’t participate in piracy or the cyber cell will take action against you as well.” Zee Entertainment also took its battle to the Delhi High Court, filing an application for interim relief against a number of defendants who either distributed the movie online, including via social media platforms, or helped to facilitate such transfers by providing the means to do so. One of those defendants is WhatsApp. According to Zee, the pay-TV platform reached out to the Facebook-owned company and provided the telephone numbers of at least eight individuals who allegedly viewed, downloaded and stored the movie on the platform without permission. No response was received. Citing the terms and conditions of WhatsApp, Zee’s counsel told the court copyright infringement is expressly forbidden and the platform has policies in place to disable and/or terminate infringing accounts. On the basis that the eight users are clearly infringing, WhatsApp should take action against their accounts, Zee argued. High Court Judge Finds In Favor of Zee In an order handed down by Justice Sanjeev Narula, the Court found that Zee had established a prima facie case in its favor. The Judge awarded an ex-parte injunction against the eight defendants restraining them from storing, reproducing, communicating, disseminating, circulating, copying, selling, or offering for sale any copies of the film, via WhatsApp or any other means. Turning to WhatsApp itself, Justice Narula directed the company to suspend the accounts of two of the yet-to-be personally identified users. It also told WhatsApp that when provided with evidence showing that any other WhatsApp user is infringing Zee’s copyrights by selling copies of its film, WhatsApp must suspend the corresponding accounts within 24 hours. Furthermore, three service providers were also ordered to disclose the contact details of the eight alleged movie pirates to Zee, within 72 hours. The case is scheduled to resume on June 1, 2021. At this stage it’s unknown whether piracy will be blamed for any future commercial disappointments related to ‘Radhe’. However, with a current rating of just 1.8 following 151,000 reviews on the Internet Movie Database, it’s clear that more fundamental barriers to success are already baked into the product. Justice Narula’s order can be viewed here (pdf) Court Orders WhatsApp to Suspend Users Sharing Pirated Movie
  4. Disney Patents Blockchain-Based Movie Distribution System to Stop Pirates As a prime content producer, Disney has a vested interest in keeping pirates at bay. The entertainment company is involved in various enforcement initiatives and a few days ago, added a new anti-piracy patent to its arsenal. With a blockchain-based distribution system, Disney hopes to make it harder for pirates to intercept films being distributed to movie theaters. Disney is one of the best known brands in the world and the owner of an impressive collection of movies and TV shows. New and old releases earn the company a healthy stream of revenue, both in movie theaters and through its own movie streaming service Disney+. While there is plenty of competition from other movie studios, Disney’s single biggest threat appears to be piracy. To tackle this issue, Disney’s in-house anti-piracy team works around the clock, and the company takes part in the ACE coalition as well. Disney’s Blockchain Anti-Piracy Patent Through these anti-piracy efforts, Disney has helped to take down dozens of piracy sites and services. However, the media giant is also trying to be more proactive. A newly awarded patent proposes a blockchain-based media distribution system that aims to prevent early piracy leaks. The patent in question, titled “Blockchain configuration for secure content delivery,” focuses on the distribution of content to movie theaters. This is a vulnerable process where pirates with the right connections can make copies during or after delivery. There are already several security mechanisms in place to prevent leaks from happening. Theaters have to adhere to strict rules, for example, and movies are all watermarked. Nevertheless, Disney believes that this isn’t sufficient to stop pirates. “(s)uch security mechanisms are often reactive rather than preventative. For example, watermarking configurations insert a watermark into content to track piracy after the piracy has already occurred. As a result, current configurations do not adequately prevent piracy,” the company explains. Verifying Rights Disney argues that by implementing a secure blockchain-based system, the distribution process can be more tightly controlled. Among other things, it will make it impossible for a movie to be played before it arrives at the intended location. “In contrast with previous configurations, the blockchain configuration verifies that the content is received at the intended destination prior to allowing playback of the content at that destination,” the patent reads. The system can also be configured with other anti-piracy features. For example, it can track the number of times a movie is played to prevent bad actors from showing it more often than they should. “Further, the blockchain configuration has an automated auditing mechanism that tracks playback of the content at the destination to ensure that the quantity of playbacks is accurately recorded. Therefore, piracy by the intended recipient, in the form of a greater quantity of actual playbacks than reported playbacks, is prevented.’ Other Playback Environments While Disney regularly refers to movie theaters and projectors, it specifically states that the patent also applies to other ‘playback environments.’ For example, when Disney content is sent to other streaming providers, which will need the proper credentials to play the content. There are several possible practical implementations but whether Disney has concrete plans to use these in the real world is unknown. That said, it’s certainly intriguing to see that the company is seriously considering the blockchain. It is worth noting that this anti-piracy system is focused on the content distribution and delivery process. This will, in theory, help to prevent pre-release leaks. However, it won’t stop pirates from ripping movies and TV shows directly from Disney+. Disney is not the only media company that has an interest in blockchain technology. Earlier this year, DISH Network secured a patent for a system that online services can use to check if an uploader has the proper rights to share something. — A copy of the “Blockchain configuration for secure content delivery” patent, awarded late last month, is available here (pdf) Disney Patents Blockchain-Based Movie Distribution System to Stop Pirates
  5. Movie Tycoon Sues YouTube over Piracy and Exposes Content-ID ‘Caveat’ Movie tycoon Carlos Vasallo is suing YouTube for widespread copyright infringement. Despite sending over 10,000 takedown notices, pirated copies of his movies continue to appear. YouTube did offer access to its Content-ID system but the movie magnate refused, as that would require him to release the video platform from all possible piracy claims that took place in the past. To protect copyright holders, YouTube uses an advanced piracy recognition system that flags and disables videos that are uploaded without permission. This copyright filter, known as Content-ID, works reasonably well but its use is limited to a select group of major copyright holders. The Spanish-born movie tycoon Carlos Vasallo should fall into this category. Through several companies, the actor and producer owns the rights to the world’s largest collection of Mexican and Latin American movies. Unfortunately, many of these are illegally shared on YouTube. In 2015, Vasallo reached out to YouTube, hoping to fix this piracy problem. The video platform was open to explore several options and Mr. Juanjo Duran, Google’s Director of Latin Media and Entertainment, suggested the “Content-ID” system as an ideal solution. This sounds like a typical approach YouTube would have when dealing with major copyright holders. However, unlike others, Vasallo refused to use Content-ID system because it came with a major caveat. Mr. Vasallo had to release YouTube from all possible piracy claims that took place in the past. Movie Tycoon Sues YouTube in Florida Instead, the movie tycoon opted to send old-fashioned DMCA takedown notices. However, according to a lawsuit filed in a Florida federal court this week, that did little to stop people from pirating his films. Vasallo hired a New York law firm to police YouTube and send takedown notices when pirated copies appeared. While the takedown process worked, new copies were added constantly. Even banned users reportedly returned using new names. “Once a pirated movie was found, Mr. Vasallo and Plaintiff would send YouTube a takedown notice. YouTube would then remove the pirated video movie in its entirety. However, YouTube would not remove all matching videos, as YouTube would specifically only remove the one video from the one infringer related to the single infringing upload identified in the takedown notice. “The same infringer would be free to upload the video again until three takedown notices were filed against him within a ninety-day period. Then and only then, would YouTube cancel the infringer’s username. The same infringer could then create a new username and begin the process of posting the pirated videos all over again,” the complaint notes. Over the past several years, the law firm sent over 10,000 takedown notices for pirated films that were viewed more than 500 million times on YouTube. The video service maintains that this is how the DMCA works, but the movie tycoon argued that the company should do more. Content-ID Comes With a Caveat The complaint mentions the earlier discussions with YouTube about joining the Content-ID platform. At the time, YouTube said that it could “very easily” detect and block infringing content. However, in order to join, the movie tycoon had to sign a release. Under U.S. law, YouTube is not obliged to actively monitor for pirated content. The company told the movie tycoon that it’s protected by the DMCA. But what is the purpose of the release then, Vasallo wonders. “(i)f Defendants confidently rely on the protections afforded to them by the DMCA, then why did Defendants adamantly insist that Mr. Vasallo, as well as Plaintiff, release Defendants from all claims associated with Defendants’ prior acts of piracy? “The clear answer to this question is the following: Defendants consistently use the DMCA as both a shield and sword against the average copyright owner, such as Plaintiff in this case,” the complaint adds. ‘YouTube Should Proactively Monitor Piracy’ The lawsuit argues that YouTube should be required to take reasonable steps to anticipate and filter potential copyright infringements. This effectively means opening up the Content-ID system to all rightsholders without caveats. According to the movie mogul, YouTube has intentionally decided not to use the Content-ID process for all rightsholders. By doing so, it can monetize the billions of views these videos generate. “Accordingly, Defendants knowingly and willingly induced, facilitated, engaged, and promoted the infringement of Plaintiff’s copyrighted materials for their own financial benefit,” the complaint reads. Through the lawsuit, Vasallo requests damages for YouTube’s alleged copyright infringing activity. With over 700 copyrighted titles, the potential statutory damages add up to more than $100 million. In addition to ruling that YouTube willfully infringed copyrights, the movie tycoon also requests a permanent injunction to require the video platform to implement reasonable technologies to prevent or limit copyright infringement going forward. That sounds a lot like the EU’s ‘upload filter’ requirement. — A copy of the complaint Mr. Vasallo’s company Athos Overseas filed against YouTube at the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida is available here (pdf) Movie Tycoon Sues YouTube over Piracy and Exposes Content-ID ‘Caveat’
  6. Court Orders Paypal to Freeze VPN Company’s Funds in Piracy Case A federal court in Virginia has signed a temporary restraining order that requires PayPal to freeze the assets of VPN provider VPN.ht. The company is being sued by several movie studios and stands accused of facilitating piracy. The court also signed off on a request to lock the domain name of a Popcorn Time fork, which already appears to have thrown the towel. Hawaiian attorney Kerry Culpepper has made a habit of putting pressure on key players in the piracy ecosystem. Representing the makers of films such as “Hunter Killer,” “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” and “London Has Fallen,” he’s gone after individual file-sharers, apps such as Popcorn Time and Showbox, and pirate sites including YTS. Most recently, Culpepper and his clients expanded their reach to VPN services. Last month, they filed lawsuits against LiquidVPN and VPN.ht, accusing the companies of promoting and facilitating online piracy. VPN.ht and Popcorn Time Lawsuit Generally speaking, VPN providers are neutral services. However, these VPNs allegedly crossed a line by explicitly encouraging people to use the service for unauthorized activity. VPN.ht, for example, advised people to use the piracy app Popcorn Time with a VPN “to avoid getting in trouble.” These allegations have yet to be backed up in court but, before VPN.ht responded to the complaint, the movie studios moved for a temporary restraining order (TRO) to freeze the company’s PayPal funds. The rightsholders believe that this measure is warranted as VPN.ht’s alleged operator, Mohamed Amine Faouani, previously dissolved another company after it came under fire in a Canadian Popcorn Time lawsuit. They believe that the same could happen with “Wicked Technology,” which currently owns the VPN service. Freezing PayPal Funds In an order released late last week, Virginia District Court Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr. agrees that this is indeed likely. As such, he granted the motion to freeze VPN.ht’s PayPal funds. The court concludes that jurisdiction is appropriate and mentions that Popcorn Time poses a significant threat to the copyright holders. And without a restraining order, VPN.ht could indeed move its PayPal funds outside of the court’s reach. “Plaintiffs would be irreparably harmed absent a TRO because Defendants would have the incentive and capacity to transfer their assets from any account within the United States, depriving Plaintiffs of the ability to obtain monetary relief,” Judge Alston Jr. writes. No Harm? According to the court, there is a strong likelihood that the movie companies will win this case anyway, which weighs in favor of granting the request. At the same time, the VPN provider isn’t really harmed by this decision, the order notes. “Defendants are unlikely to suffer any cognizable harm from the TRO as they will merely be prevented from profiting from past infringement and moving their funds beyond the reach of the Court.” While the court suggests otherwise, seizing the assets of a company can seriously impede its operation. That said, PayPal is just one of the payment options used by the VPN and several other alternatives remain available. Discovery and Locked Domain Name In addition to freezing the PayPal funds, the court also allows the movie companies to request further information from PayPal, Cloudfare and GitHub. This could help to find out more about VPN.ht’s operation as well as the Popcorntime.app software, which is part of the same lawsuit. Finally, the court also signed off on a request to order Google or its reseller to lock the Popcorntime.app domain name, so that it can’t be transferred outside of the court’s reach. At the time of writing VPN.ht remains online and the operator has yet to respond in court. The pressure on Popcorntime.app appears to have paid off, however, as the domain now redirects to a “goodbye” message on Medium. Meanwhile, the movie companies have just requested yet another temporary restraining order, this time keeping it away from public view. However, it is likely that the copyright holders want to freeze additional funds or assets. — A copy of the order issued by Virginia District Court Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr. is available here (pdf) Court Orders Paypal to Freeze VPN Company’s Funds in Piracy Case
  7. YouTube Class Action: Plaintiff Can’t Identify Piracy Without Access to Content ID Maria Schneider's class action lawsuit against YouTube has taken another unusual turn. The complaint alleges massive infringement but thus far identifies no infringing videos. YouTube wants to know exactly what it's dealing with but Schneider says that since she has no access to Content ID - a big part of why the complaint was originally filed - she can't easily provide that information. In 2020, Grammy award-winning musician Maria Schneider filed a class action lawsuit against YouTube, claiming massive infringement on the platform and serious deficiencies in copyright enforcement measures. Schneider’s grievances are numerous, including that YouTube restricts access to its takedown tools, profits from infringement, and fails to terminate repeat infringers. Furthermore, since 98% of YouTube copyright issues are reportedly resolved with Content ID, Schneider says that YouTube has “entirely insulated” huge numbers of users from its repeat infringer policies. The case thus far is notable for its oddities, including that co-plaintiff Pirate Monitor claimed that many of its copyrighted works had appeared on YouTube in breach of copyright but was later said to have uploaded those works itself before sending corresponding takedown notices. Earlier this month the matter took another unusual turn when Schneider asked the court to order YouTube to hand over masses of information that would allow her to identify every user that had had a takedown notice filed against their account since 2015, to determine whether YouTube’s repeat infringer policies come up to scratch. YouTube: Schneider Needs to Clarify Her Claims While Schneider alleges massive infringement on YouTube, the Google-owned platform is now complaining that Schneider’s claims are unspecific. YouTube insists that Schneider should identify the copyrighted works she is complaining about and where infringements have taken place on YouTube, so that it has a “fair opportunity” to look into every single claim. However, YouTube says that since Schneider is refusing to agree to a deadline or even acknowledge this dispute, it is now seeking relief from the court. “Schneider’s Complaint alleges she owns three copyrighted works that were infringed on YouTube. It does not identify a single YouTube video that she claims is infringing. Instead, Schneider contends that her potential copyright claims against YouTube are boundless. She insists that she is allowed to put at issue dozens of unpleaded works and allegedly infringing videos, and that she can do so whenever she wants,” YouTube informs the court. “Plaintiff’s approach is misguided. Defendants need to know, sufficiently before the end of discovery, the full universe of copyrighted works and alleged infringements at issue. Without that information, Defendants will be unable to take discovery to support their defenses, most of which are necessarily work- or video-specific.” As background, YouTube says that in interrogatory response, Schneider has thus far purported to add 75 more works to the case, but hasn’t amended her complaint. The musician also agreed to identify all currently known infringements. These reportedly amounted to 51 videos but they only involved 24 works – a “moving target” according to YouTube. “For most of the works that Schneider has not pleaded but contends are at issue, no infringement has been identified,” the video platform adds. With that, YouTube demands that Schneider amends her complaint to identify the copyrighted works and all instances of infringement of those works on YouTube. Schneider, it appears, does not want to play ball. Schneider: No Obligation to Detail Infringed All Infringed Works In a response to YouTube’s motion, Schneider states that YouTube is wrong to say that the allegedly infringed works must be identified. “A plaintiff in a copyright infringement action has no obligation to include in the complaint a complete listing of all of the works at issue,” her response to the motion reads, noting that since 75 such works were supplied to YouTube back in March, “there can be no debate that Defendants are on notice about what works are involved in the dispute.” But Schneider goes further still, arguing that case law shows that “plaintiffs are not required to specify each and every instance of infringement” including the “who, what, where, when and why.” Describing YouTube’s deadline to detail instances of infringement as “invented” and lacking in legal support, Schneider says that an issue at the very core of her complaint (YouTube’s refusal to grant her with access to Content ID) renders any deadline both “unfair and impractical”. “To even attempt to identify every infringement, Plaintiff would have to constantly search for infringing videos using manual keyword searches that hit upon the specific words chosen by the uploading infringer. Such an endeavor would be futile and unduly burdensome,” her response reads. “Absent access to Content ID, Defendants’ digital fingerprinting tool which automatically scans for infringing videos prior to upload, Plaintiff cannot meaningfully search for or identify the infringing videos. But Defendants easily can. “Defendants’ position that Plaintiff must identify the URL of all infringing videos is thus the height of irony — the impossibility of manually locating all instances of infringement of her works without access to Content ID motivated this lawsuit.” While Schneider does not directly demand access to Content ID to comply with YouTube’s deadline, her motion strongly suggests that the task could easily be achieved by YouTube, since it has access to Content ID. To force her to identify all of the infringing videos manually prior to the close of discovery “would be patently unfair” she argues, adding that the court should deny YouTube’s motion in its entirety. YouTube’s motion to set a case schedule and Schneider’s response can be found here and here (pdf) YouTube Class Action: Plaintiff Can’t Identify Piracy Without Access to Content ID
  8. UK Pirates Remain Driven by Convenience, Availability and Cost A report published by the UK Intellectual Property Office shows that a quarter of all online entertainment consumers downloaded or streamed content illegally last year. Many pirates pay for content but turn to illegal sources when availability is lacking or when the costs become too high. Every year the UK Government publishes a new edition of its Online Copyright Infringement Tracker. This report is the result of an annual survey that polls the piracy habits of people twelve years old and above. Earlier this week the UK Intellectual Property Office published the tenth wave of the report. As always, there are some positive changes compared to earlier years, as well as some negative ones. Fewer Pirates Starting with the good news, the study finds that the overall level of copyright infringement across all content categories has dropped. In previous years this number was stuck at 25% but has now reduced to 23%. This means that nearly a quarter of the people who consumed online content have used illegal sources. While this is a big number, the survey also shows that many of these pirates consume content legally as well. For example, 20% of all film fans occasionally pirate content, but only 3% use piracy services exclusively. The same effect can be found in other content categories, including music consumers of which 18% used unauthorized sources last year, but only 2% did so exclusively. For games, these numbers are 10% and 2% respectively. For the above categories, a relatively small percentage of the pirating public used illegal sources exclusively. However, that picture is the other way around for software and digital magazines, where the majority of all pirates never purchased anything legally. Sports Piracy is Booming Similar to last year, the highest percentage of pirates can be found among the live sports streamers. Of all the people who consumed sports streaming content last year, 37% used illegal channels. That is up from 34% last year. Roughly a third of the sports streaming pirates never used legal services. This brings us to the motivation people have to pirate content. Here we see a familiar picture emerge as well. People pirate because something is not available or because they can’t or don’t want to pay additional costs. Movie fans, for example, may not want to pay for yet another monthly streaming subscription to see a film. Or, the content they desire may not be legally available at all, as we have seen with some of this year’s Oscar contenders. COVID Had a Limited Impact Despite some small shifts in piracy levels not much has changed. There is a small decline in music, movie and TV piracy, while the proportion of sports, gaming and software pirates increased a bit. Interestingly, the COVID pandemic doesn’t appear to have a strong or lasting effect. Some people reported that their piracy activity increased, but there aren’t necessarily more people who pirate. “In terms of levels of infringement, the findings from the qualitative phase showed that while many reported no change in their use of illegal sources, some noted that owing to their general consumption in entertainment increasing, so too did their use of illegal sources,” the report notes. How to Stop Pirates? While the yearly reports help to track how piracy trends develop over time, it does little to address the problem. However, the latest report does give some advice on how to motivate pirates to ‘go legal.’ The study tested a variety of messages focused on the negative consequences of piracy, to see what would make pirates change their behavior. This leads to some interesting insights. For example, mentioning the financial losses of big corporations or the broader economy has virtually no impact. People don’t seem to care that the revenue of major movie studios or sports organizations is impacted. A more effective approach, according to the study, would be to focus on the financial impact piracy has on individual artists and employees who work in the creative industries. Those messages even impacted hardcore pirates, who also showed concern about their own risks, including malware and viruses. Finally, hasher punishment could work as well, according to one of the report’s conclusions. “There is potential to explore messages around risk of greater legal action and consequences for those who infringe – this is not currently seen as a viable threat but was mentioned by a few as a potential deterrent if enforced more widely.” A summary of the tenth copyright infringement tracker survey is available on the UK Intellectual Property Office website. While not mentioned, it may also make sense for the entertainment industries to change something themselves. After all, harsher publishment is not going to improve the convenience, availability, and cost of legal alternatives. UK Pirates Remain Driven by Convenience, Availability and Cost
  9. RIAA: Twitter Must License Music & Fight Piracy Without Charge The RIAA and NMPA are putting Twitter under pressure to do something about the platform's piracy problem. Slamming the company for allowing pre-release music to be distributed to the public, the industry groups say that Twitter is failing to meet its legal obligations when responding to takedown notices. Licensing is the answer, they suggest, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Over the years, a number of music industry players have taken on some of the largest content distribution platforms on the Internet over alleged copyright infringement, with varying success. Services such as Napster and LimeWire were effectively destroyed through litigation but more recent problems aren’t easily solvable in the same way. YouTube and Facebook, for example, have very deep pockets and an abundance of lawyers but perhaps more importantly, they also have the potential to become formidable long-term music distribution partners. A similar case can be made for Twitter but it is becoming increasingly clear that while the music industry would like to partner with the social platform, it’s currently disappointed with Twitter’s attitude towards copyright infringement. Last December, RIAA chairman and CEO Mitch Glazier said that while YouTube and Facebook had developed anti-piracy tools, Twitter had done nothing and things needed to change. It appears that a few months on, little has. RIAA and NMPA Chiefs Slam Twitter In an op-ed just published in Billboard, Mitch Glazier and National Music Publishers Association president David Israelite lay into Twitter again, stating that music creators and music fans deserve better from the social networking service. Noting that Twitter can be innovative when it wants to be, Glazier and Israelite say that when it comes to piracy, it’s a whole different game. “(i)n one important respect Twitter remains ‘old school’ and stubbornly refuses to use even the most basic tools when it comes to combating piracy or helping music creators prevent theft of their works on its platform. Unfortunately, the company’s efforts to innovate only seem to go so far,” they begin. With the basics out of the way, the pair swiftly turn to Twitter’s business model, implying that without music and music fans, Twitter wouldn’t be where it is today. The authors say that record companies and music publishers want the “partnership” with Twitter to work, even going as far as expressing pride in powering Twitter’s success. But unfortunately, that’s when the pleasantries end. “[T]he viral immediacy and global reach of the Twitter platform presents a double-edged sword – one that cuts especially deep for artists, songwriters, and music rightsholders who see their work leaked, copied, distributed, and monetized on the platform with almost no recourse,” they write, sounding the alarm. “Last year music creators sent more than 2 million notices to Twitter of unlicensed and infringing appearances of copyrighted music on the platform – more than 200,000 of which dealt with the especially harmful presence of not yet released stolen songs.” Twitter’s Response is “Totally Inadequate” While many platforms have been criticized by the music industry for not doing enough to combat piracy, in Twitter’s case there appears to be more under the hood. Complaining that Twitter can take “days or longer” to respond to a complaint, the industry leaders flat-out accuse Twitter of failing to meet its legal obligations – strong words when that could theoretically form the basis of a lawsuit. There is no clear suggestion of legal action at this stage but Glazier and Israelite imply that a compromise of sorts could be reached with Twitter. Interestingly the parameters being suggested seem to push Twitter much further than its legal obligations require. For example, in respect of pre-release music leaks, the music bosses want takedowns actioned almost immediately. “With pre-release leaks, takedowns must come in seconds or minutes, not days,” they write. Building upon the requirement for a real-time response, the RIAA and NMPA want Twitter to proactively find pirated music on its platform, without first having to be notified that infringement has taken place. “While Twitter’s response to takedown notices fails to meet its legal obligations, even worse is the company’s refusal to take affirmative steps to more effectively police its own platform and find unlicensed music before it is widely circulated and without waiting for a rightsholder to do the work and notice the infringement for them,” they note. “No one can see better than Twitter what happens on its system or has the access and technical capacity to address problems at the speed and scale of the network. There is much Twitter could do to address this problem.” So What Should Twitter Do? Given that the RIAA and NMPA strongly suggest they would like Twitter to be a partner, it will come as no surprise that they would like Twitter to buy its way out of its current predicament. “Most fundamentally, [Twitter] could license music and pay creators for the songs and recordings that it distributes. This is what many other services have done and it is the single most important thing the company could do to meet its obligations to artists and songwriters,” the RIAA and NMPA chiefs write. On the anti-piracy front, the industry bosses would like Twitter to be more like YouTube and Facebook by introducing automated tools and content protection technologies. These should be able to take down unlicensed copies of works before they even appear on Twitter, negating the need for “artists, songwriters, and their representatives to scour the five hundred million tweets that are posted to the platform every day.” An interesting element of the RIAA and NMPA criticism is that Twitter does have the ability to help right now but will only do so for a price. They accuse the platform of demanding “massive payments” from music creators in return for access to the company’s data flow and with that the ability to spot pirated content. “Twitter could easily provide an API with sufficient capacity and speed to allow for monitoring at scale, just as it provides to other users like researchers who it hopes will help publicize and vouch for the company’s operations and to third party vendors who sell Twitter analytics. Incredibly, despite many requests it has refused to provide it to music creators without charge,” the groups write. “Charging music creators for access to the data they need to find infringement of their own work is just another Silicon Valley shakedown – moving fast and breaking music.” In summary, the RIAA and NMPA are demanding “serious and immediate changes” to Twitter’s response to unlicensed music appearing on the platform. There are currently no indications of what might happen if those changes aren’t delivered as requested. RIAA: Twitter Must License Music & Fight Piracy Without Charge
  10. YouTube Class Action Lawsuit Wants to Identify Every ‘Pirate’ Uploader Since 2015 Grammy award-winning musician Maria Schneider wants a court to order YouTube to hand over huge amounts of data relating to copyright infringement on the platform. In summary, Schneider wants to identify all users who had a takedown notice filed against their account since 2015 to determine whether YouTube's repeat infringer policies come up to scratch. Last summer, Grammy award-winning musician Maria Schneider filed a class action lawsuit against YouTube, claiming massive deficiencies in its copyright enforcement measures. Schneider claims that YouTube restricts access to its takedown tools, profits from infringement, and fails to terminate repeat infringers. Noting that 98% of YouTube copyright issues are resolved with Content ID, Schneider says that YouTube has “entirely insulated” huge numbers of users from its repeat infringer policies. “This two-tiered system essentially trains YouTube’s billions of uploading users that there is essentially minimal risk to uploading to their hearts’ content,” the complaint reads. As previously reported, Schneider was joined in the class action by a company called Pirate Monitor, which alleged that many of its copyrighted works appeared on YouTube in breach of copyright. YouTube, however, claims that the company itself uploaded those works before sending its own takedown notices. Lawsuit Claims That Content ID Should Not Shield Repeat Infringers Determined to show that YouTube’s approach to copyright enforcement is lacking, Schneider’s legal team is demanding that the video platform hands over information about infringement on the platform. This should include information about actions carried out under Content ID and following regular takedown notices. “Both elements of this two-tiered system are relevant to the claims here including because of their role in establishing whether Defendants should be prohibited from taking advantage of safe harbors against copyright liability granted by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, 17 U.S.C. § 512 (‘DMCA’),” a new filing from Schneider reads. “Those safe harbors are not available absent ‘a policy that provides for the termination in appropriate circumstances of’ uploaders ‘who are repeat infringers’.” The issue of how Internet services deal with repeat infringers is a thorny one that can lead to huge damages awards, as illustrated by the $1 billion award in the RIAA’s lawsuit against Cox Communications. Schneider’s lawsuit aims to show that YouTube is negligent too, since infringements dealt with under Content ID do not result in action against uploaders’ accounts. “Infringement caught by Content ID is excluded entirely. Defendants’ failure to assess penalties, including copyright strikes and termination for these repeat infringers: (i) fails to satisfy the reasonableness requirement to track and terminate repeat infringers as required for the safe harbors; (ii) encourages and incentivizes users to continue posting infringing content; and (iii) creates the constructive (if not actual) knowledge of infringement that is an independent basis to deny access to the DMCA safe harbors,” the filing reads. Lawsuit Demands Massive Access to YouTube Infringement Records To show the scale of infringement on YouTube (and YouTube’s alleged failure to properly deal with repeat infringers), Schneider is demanding that YouTube hands over large amounts of data. Precisely how large remains to be seen but describing the request as ‘broad’ is likely to underestimate the request. In summary, Schneider initially asked YouTube to provide copies of every single takedown notice filed with the platform. That request was rejected, with YouTube instead agreeing to only hand over notices filed by the plaintiffs, claiming that beyond that would amount to a huge burden, even if it had the information in a deliverable format. In what appears to be a counteroffer, Schneider narrowed her demands – but not by much. She now wants YouTube to identify EVERY person that has filed a copyright takedown notice since January 1, 2015. That information should include information such as dates, the works allegedly infringed, and the URL of the targeted content. Schneider also wants the details of EVERY YouTube user targeted by these takedown notices including their account names, email addresses, and IP addresses used to upload the content targeted by the notices. Schneider further demands a full accounting by YouTube detailing all steps taken to resolve every takedown notice, any evidence the platform holds on registrations of copyright works listed in notices, the outcome in every case, and whether YouTube still holds copies of the works listed in notices. YouTube Refuses to Play Ball YouTube appears to be less than impressed with Schneider’s demands. Indeed, according to Friday’s filing, the Google-owned platform is only prepared to hand over one month’s worth of takedown notices but according to Schneider, that “ignores the purpose and need of this discovery and thus is not a meaningful compromise.” Indeed, in its responses to Schneider’s requests for information, YouTube describes the demands as “overly broad” and “unduly burdensome” almost three dozen times. Whether the judge will agree with that position remains to be seen. The discovery brief can be found here (pdf) YouTube Class Action Lawsuit Wants to Identify Every ‘Pirate’ Uploader Since 2015
  11. The Oscars Will Boost Piracy, Especially Without Legal Options The Academy Awards ceremony is just a few weeks away but several of the top movie contenders are not available in many countries around the world. These release delays indirectly drive people to pirate sites. UK piracy tracking firm MUSO warns Hollywood that this may trigger a costly piracy boom that could have been avoided. The Oscars is the most watched award show of the year, closely followed by hundreds of millions of movie fans around the world. The 93rd Academy Awards ceremony was originally scheduled to take place on February 28, but due to the Covid pandemic, it was postponed to late April. After the nominations were announced earlier this month to movie press has been buzzing. There’s a clear absence of blockbuster titles in the best picture category, so various options are considered. The bookies currently have “Nomadland” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7” as the top favorites. Legal Availability of Oscar Contenders Unfortunately, however, not all movie fans are able to join this discussion. While all contenders have premiered in the United States, not all countries are that lucky. For example, Nomadland has yet to premiere in the UK, Canada, France, and many other countries. This is a problem for fans who are eager to watch the film. They have no other option than to wait or resort to unauthorized sources. This is what the UK piracy tracking firm MUSO noted as well this week. “When a title is not available in a country or region, the audience will find it via piracy because piracy is often driven by access; this is evident in social-media commentary,” MUSO writes, sharing various examples. MUSO looked at the popularity of all best picture nominees on pirate sites until mid-February. It found that, until then, “Promising Young Woman” was pirated the most while “Judas and the Black Messiah” had the highest peak on a single day. Needless to say, these numbers are in part boosted by lacking legal availability. Piracy Peak Has Yet to Come While piracy is already widespread, history tells us that the real piracy boom has yet to come. Looking at last year’s best picture winner “Parasite,” we see that the demand on pirate sites skyrocketed right after it won an Oscar on February 10th. Last Year’s Parasite Piracy Peak (Data from MUSO.com) This isn’t a new phenomenon as we have previously shown how Oscar winners see rising interest from pirates. That said, this massive peak could have been much lower if people from all over the world were able to watch the film legally. With this in mind, the piracy interest for this year’s winner is expected to be significant as well, MUSO predicts. “If Parasite, which was widely released prior to the Oscar ceremony on February 10th, experienced significant piracy after its nomination, MUSO data suggests that 2021’s nominees will experience similar piracy demand. This demand will be magnified by the lack of availability in some countries.” Window of Missed Revenue Opportunity Overall, the lacking availability may lead to dozens of millions of extra downloads and streams on pirate sites. While these don’t translate to direct losses, it’s easy to see how release delays can cost many millions of dollars. “This is a lot of lost revenue due to a windowing decision,” MUSO notes. Based on its own data, MUSO predicts that the best picture Oscar will go to either “Judas and the Black Messiah” or “Promising Young Women.” However, that’s purely based on the demand from pirates, which is far from an ideal predictor. The overall takeaway message from the data is that Hollywood may seriously want to consider whether release delays do more harm than good. The Oscars Will Boost Piracy, Especially Without Legal Options
  12. Reddit Users Targeted For Pirating OnlyFans and Other Subscription Model Images Platforms such as OnlyFans allow content creators, including those working in the adult space, to post content and earn money from fans. Others prefer to go it alone with their own subscription-based services but inevitably some consumers prefer to get that content for free, via illegal uploads to sites like Reddit. That, however, is not without legal risk. The growth of the Internet has enabled millions of content creators to more directly address their fans. Platforms such as YouTube, for example, create a more personal fan experience but content of a more risqué nature is better placed elsewhere. Founded in 2012, OnlyFans is a subscription content platform based in the UK. Content creators using the service can earn money from subscribing fans, who pay for content on an ongoing basis and may also contribute valuable additional tips. Importantly (and unlike YouTube), OnlyFans doesn’t shy away from adult-orientated content such as more explicit photographs and videos. Of course, any content that can be uploaded to OnlyFans can be re-uploaded elsewhere without the creator’s permission. It’s the same type of piracy experienced by almost every player in the multimedia space but due to the small filesizes in content such as pictures, pirated content is very easily spread. The question is what to do about that, if anything. Uploading to Social Media Since many people sharing OnlyFans content do so fairly casually, social media platforms such as Reddit are an easy option. The site accepts image uploads and there are large quantities of sub-Reddits dedicated to specific content creators, who are also trying to sell their work on OnlyFans. While this exposure may help sales in some instances, when dozens of photographs are uploaded for free, there’s less of an incentive for people to subscribe. Also, since legal action against unlicensed uploaders is not commonplace, there’s little incentive for people to stop pirating either. This week, however, TF spotted a couple of actions filed in a US court that may give some pirates pause for thought. DMCA Subpoena Filed in California Against Reddit On March 9, 2020, lawyer Jason Fischer sent a DMCA takedown notice to Reddit, informing the platform that his client, adult performer Natasha Noel (NSFW), is the copyright owner of various photographs and video content published through her OnlyFans account and other social media platforms. According to the notice, dozens of these items were uploaded to Reddit illegally and as a result, Reddit should take the content down. While that is nothing out of the ordinary, it appears that Noel and her lawyer want to take things further. On March 23, 2020, Fischer filed a DMCA subpoena application on Noel’s behalf in a California district court, listing the same set of URLs detailed in the Reddit DMCA takedown notice. This time around, however, the lawyer was seeking more than just content removal. “This law firm has the privilege of representing Natasha Noel, owner of the copyrights in and to certain materials that been infringed through use of the online services provided by Reddit, INC,” the document reads. “Pursuant to the DMCA, we respectfully request that you execute the enclosed subpoena directing Reddit’s records custodian to disclose users’ identities.” The information requested is described as “any and all information” in Reddit’s possession pertaining to the identity of the “individuals who posted the images and content previously appearing [at the URLs in the DMCA takedown notice].” For the sake of clarity, Fischer then lists everything he expects Reddit to hand over, including usernames, account names, users’ actual names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, IP addresses (including dates and times of access), and all billing information. What Fischer and Noel intend to do with this information isn’t clear but having gone this far, it seems likely that some kind of legal action or pressure will follow. Identifying a leaker will be useful in its own right but deterring further leaks among Noel’s community of fans might prove more valuable. Second DMCA Subpoena Filed Against Reddit On the same day, Fischer filed another DMCA subpoena application, again against Reddit, this time on behalf of model and MMA fighter Valerie Loureda. Unlike Noel, Loureda does not sell her content on OnlyFans but goes direct to her audience via her new website loveloureda.com. Ordinarily, fans would need to pay $9.99 to see Loureda’s glamour shots but visitors to Reddit’s /r/Valoureda have been getting that content for free – until the sub-Reddit was banned for generating “excessive copyright removals.” Precisely when the sub-Reddit was banned isn’t clear but Fischer sent DMCA notices containing dozens of infringing URLs on March 20 and March 22. In common with the DMCA subpoena filed on behalf of Noel, he is now seeking to identify in detail the Reddit users who uploaded the content, including their email and IP addresses. Again, it’s unclear what Fischer and his client intend to do with the information but having put in some effort, it’s unlikely to end particularly well for any uploaders who Reddit is available to identify. TorrentFreak contacted Jason Fischer for additional information, including whether he’s representing other independent content creators and details of his plan for the uploaders, but at the time of writing we were yet to receive a response. The DMCA subpoena applications and supporting documents can be found here (1,2,3) Reddit Users Targeted For Pirating OnlyFans and Other Subscription Model Images
  13. Search Engines Won’t Face Monopoly Investigation Over Pirated Content Pirated eBooks and similar content will remain in search results after Russia's Federal Antimonopoly Service declined to take action following a complaint from an anti-piracy group. According to FAS, Yandex and Mail.ru did not abuse their dominant positions by denying access to takedown tools because unfair competition can only take place when the parties operate in the same market. Sending DMCA takedown notices for infringing content is something that happens millions of times every week in the West and while copyright holders feel the process is labored, huge quantities of content are quickly removed from search results. In Russia the process has been streamlined following the signing of an anti-piracy memorandum and the introduction of a centralized takedown system. The signatories, which include the country’s largest tech and media companies, agreed to the creation of a database of infringing content, with the tech companies querying it and taking content down automatically. While this system appears to be working as planned, publishers are currently excluded from the scheme, something which prompted them to file an unusual complaint in 2020. Publishers File Complaints With Federal Antimonopoly Service Under the umbrella of the Association for the Protection of Copyright in the Internet (AZAPI), last year major publishers Eksmo and AST (which together control 30% of the market), Alpina Publisher, Hachette subsidiary Azbuka Atticus, Mann, plus Ivanov and Ferber, filed complaints with the Federal Antimonopoly Service, claiming anti-competitive behavior by Yandex and Mail.ru. Signed by AZAPI chief Maxim Ryabyko, the complaints alleged that Yandex, Russia’s leading search engine, was “abusing its dominant position” by not removing pirating eBooks from search results. This encouraged “unfair competition” from pirated content to flourish in its indexes. The publishers said that while they have a site-blocking initiative underway with the assistance of the Moscow Court, pirate sites keep deploying mirrors to counter blocking. These quickly appear in Yandex’s indexes, undermining their work. Mail.ru was accused of similar failings. As the owner of social media giants vKontakte, Odnoklassniki (Classmates) and Moi Mir, the company implements anti-piracy fingerprinting technology on vKontakte but AZAPI wants that to be expanded to other services and Mail.ru is currently not complying. According to AZAPI, this creates discriminatory conditions for copyright holders. Federal Antimonopoly Service Rejects AZAPI’s Complaints The recently published decision by FAS, as reviewed by Kommersant, states that while the publishers are not allowed to participate in the anti-piracy memorandum (and therefore have access to the expedited takedown program) that does not amount to discrimination on the part of Yandex. The publishers are still able to file takedown notices with Yandex against pirated content via the company’s regular complaints system, FAS notes, which means that the companies aren’t left without an option to tackle infringing content. More fundamentally, the Federal Antimonopoly Service found that since Yandex and Mail.ru operate in completely different markets to the publishers, there are no reasons to initiate proceedings against either for acting in an anti-competitive manner. Yandex and Mail.ru Welcome The Decision As expected, both companies welcome the decision by FAS not to open cases against them, arguing that the conclusion drawn by the anti-monopoly service makes perfect sense. “We support the FAS decision and are confident that AZAPI’s accusations of unfair competition are groundless. Yandex is not a participant in the book market and does not distribute electronic or audio books,” Yandex’s press office said in a statement. The search giant added that while it takes down copyrighted content as part of the memorandum, all other copyright holders can make use of its regular takedown system. Mail.ru noted that the monopoly service is not the correct platform for this type of dispute. “In our opinion, the FAS decision is obvious: we said earlier that AZAPI’s requirements are not subject to antimonopoly regulation. We always strictly comply with copyright protection legislation,” Mail.ru’s statement reads. Publishers Demand Inclusion Predictably, AZAPI is not happy with the FAS decision and has already indicated it will file an appeal. However, the problem from an enforcement perspective appears to lie with the exclusion of the publishers from participation in the memorandum, the terms of which are being written into law. On that front, progress is on the horizon. During a meeting last December, Maksut Shadayev of the Ministry of Digital Development received a request for publishers to be included in the memorandum and the draft legislation based on it, when it is eventually passed into law. In January 2021, telecoms watchdog Roscomnadzor confirmed that when the bill is eventually passed, it will enable copyright holders who were previously excluded – including publishers – to take part. “With the adoption of the bill, the mechanisms of combating pirated content worked out during the Memorandum’s validity will be extended to companies that have not signed this document,” the watchdog said. Search Engines Won’t Face Monopoly Investigation Over Pirated Content
  14. Reddit Piracy Takedowns and Subreddit Bans Skyrocketed in 2020 Reddit's latest transparency report reveals that the number of copyright takedown notices it receives continues to rise. Last year, 375,774 pieces of content were removed following copyright holder complaints. This is a 300% increase compared to the year before. At the same time, Reddit's repeat infringer policy resulted in 303 users and 514 subreddits being banned. With millions of daily users, Reddit is without a doubt one of the most visited sites on the Internet. The community-oriented platform has “subreddits” dedicated to pretty much every topic one can think of, including several that are linked to online piracy and related issues. A few years ago copyright holders paid little attention to these discussions. In 2017, the site ‘only’ removed 4,352 pieces of content in response to copyright holders’ complaints. Three years later, however, this number has skyrocketed to hundreds of thousands. This surge in takedowns is highlighted in the social media platform’s latest transparency report, published just a few hours ago. The company reports that it received a total of 86,866 takedown notices, which resulted in 375,774 pieces of content being removed. This is a 300% increase compared to the previous year. While the number of takedown notices and removed content has skyrocketed, Reddit also rejected many complaints. Last year, the site decided not to remove roughly 27 percent of the 517,054 items that were flagged. The reasons to reject takedown requests vary. The vast majority were duplicate requests, but Reddit also refused takedowns because an entire subreddit was targeted, the reported link wasn’t a Reddit URL, or simply because no infringement was found. In addition to links and other content taken down, Reddit also reports how many users and subreddits were removed from the platform on copyright grounds. This typically happens when they are classified as repeat copyright infringers. “We have a policy that includes the removal of any infringing material from the Services and for the termination, in appropriate circumstances, of users of our Services who are repeat infringers,” Reddit writes. In 2020, Reddit removed 303 users following repeat copyright infringement complaints, which is a small increase compared to last year. The number of subreddits that were taken down under this policy saw nearly a fourfold increase, from 137 in 2019 to 514 last year. In the past we have seen several instances of subreddits being removed for repeat copyright infringements, including /r/mmastreams. Other subreddits, such as /r/piracy, were repeatedly warned and had to clean house in order to survive. Finally, Reddit also received several 143 counternotices from users who argued that their content had been removed without a proper reason. It’s not clear how many of these were reinstated. All in all, copyright takedowns only result in a small fraction of all content that’s removed from the platform. In total, Reddit admins and moderators removed more than 225 million pieces of content for a variety of reasons. — The full 2020 transparent report, which also covers law enforcement requests, is available here Reddit Piracy Takedowns and Subreddit Bans Skyrocketed in 2020
  15. Software Pirates Using Comcast Face Unmasking, $150,000 in Damages People who downloaded and/or used pirated software owned by Siemens are about to become part of a copyright infringement lawsuit in the United States. According to the company, 142 yet-to-identified Comcast users were observed using unlicensed software. As a result, the developer wants Comcast to hand over their personal details so they can be pursued for damages that could reach $150,000. Downloading and streaming copyrighted movies, TV shows and music accounts for the majority of online infringement but there are large numbers of Internet users who pirate software products too. These can include operating systems such as Windows 10 or the popular range of image and video editing tools available from Adobe, for example. They often require greater skills to consume than standard media and there is always a chance that software vendors will be available to identify ‘cracked’ software when there is an online component. Siemens Files Lawsuit in a Texas Court Last Thursday, Siemens Industry Software Inc (SISW) filed a copyright infringement lawsuit in a Texas court against 142 ‘Doe’ defendants. The complaint says that to date, SISW has been able to match their ISP IP address to infringing activity but does not currently know their full identities. What SISW is saying, however, is that the alleged infringing behavior has taken place in the court’s district, either by a defendant downloading its software illegally and/or using its software when using an ISP in the district. Specifically, Siemens points to a number of its product ranges, including NX, Solid Edge, Femap, Star CCM, and FloTHERM, accusing all 142 ‘Does’ of breaching SISW’s rights by using a “computer with an Internet connection” to download and/or use its copyrighted works. “Plaintiff is informed and believes that the foregoing acts of infringement have been willful, intentional, and in disregard of and with indifference to the rights of Plaintiff,” the complaint reads, noting that the company is entitled to statutory damages of up to $150,000 per work. In the alternative, SISW requests actual damages, in which case each defendant must provide an accounting of their use and/or downloading of the software, including the revenues and profits obtained as a result. In addition, SISW says it is entitled to injunctive relief to prevent any additional copyright infringement. Putting Names to IP Addresses, With Help From Comcast SISW notes that while it has the IP addresses of the alleged pirates “and/or accompanying network information” associated with them, the company has not yet discovered their true identities. However, with the help of Comcast it believes it can do so. “SISW has contacted Comcast to inquire on its policy and procedure related to seeking information sufficient to identify the persons associated with certain IP addresses identified as having illegally downloaded SISW’s software. Comcast has indicated that they will comply with our request if SISW obtains a Court Order accompanying any subpoena requesting such information,” the complaint reads. “(s)ISW’s discovery request is specific. It seeks only the names, addresses, telephone numbers and email addresses, of the persons associated with the IP addresses that SISW has collected. Notably, SISW is not seeking any content of any emails or other communications associated with these individuals.” How Did Siemens Track Down The Alleged Pirates? In similar cases, where a copyright holder seeks the identity of an alleged pirate, the companies in question tend to obtain IP addresses from BitTorrent swarms where the content was shared. However, Siemens does not allege any peer-to-peer sharing, does not mention BitTorrent, and specifically mentions downloading and/or use of pirated software. “To protect its investment in the Software and its intellectual property rights, SISW investigates unauthorized downloads. Through this process, SISW can identify certain IP addresses associated with each illicit use and download,” the company writes. At this stage then, there is insufficient information to determine how Siemens obtained the IP addresses in question. However, it seems possible that the software listed in the complaint may have the ability to ‘phone home’ with information that could include the type of software being used, its licensing status, along with the IP addresses of the machines where the software was installed. In any event, SISW proposes that after identifying the subscribers behind the IP addresses, Comcast should be given seven days to notify those individuals that their details are being sought by Siemens. In turn, those subscribers should then be allocated 21 days to contest the Siemens subpoena, should it be granted by the court. Quite what Siemens will do with these personal details remains a question for now but could become apparent should the company decide to file lawsuits against non-cooperative alleged infringers. The complaint & discovery documents can be found here and here (1,2) (pdf) Software Pirates Using Comcast Face Unmasking, $150,000 in Damages
  16. IOC is Extremely Concerned About the Impact of Piracy on the Olympics The International Olympic Committee is extremely concerned about the impact online piracy could have on the planned Tokyo Olympics. The committee highlights Saudi Arabia as a problem area and it asks the US Government to intervene by placing the Middle Eastern country on its Special 301 Priority Watch List. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is known to maintain a tight grip on its intellectual property rights. Using an image of the Olympic rings or even just the word ‘Olympic’ can already result in legal trouble, especially when it’s used in a commercial context. Most valuable, however, are the broadcasting rights. With literally billions of dollars at stake, the IOC and its licensing partners are doing everything in their power to prevent people from streaming their events without permission. Olympic Piracy Woes This stance was made clear once again in a recent submission to the US Trade Representative (USTR). While it’s still uncertain whether the delayed Tokyo summer Olympics will actually take place, the IOC has other worries as well. The organization fears that piracy could spoil the “magic” of the world’s largest sports event. “We are extremely concerned of the impact that online piracy could create during the next 12 months, which will include extensive broadcast coverage of not only the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, but also the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing,” IOC writes. While piracy is a global phenomenon, the organization appears to be most worried about Saudi Arabia, where beIN Media Group acquired the broadcast rights. Saudi Arabia’s piracy challenges are well-known and even prominent Saudis have been accused of promoting illicit streaming services in the past. Lacking Enforcement in Saudi Arabia The most egregious offender was the streaming service beoutQ, which disappeared in 2019. By then, however, many Saudis had become used to cheap streaming options and many unlicensed services remain available today. This is a problem and the IOC calls for stronger enforcement in the region. “Robust enforcement efforts by Saudi Arabia against piracy are therefore essential to protect the exclusive rights of beIN in the region, support athletes and safeguard the goals of the Olympic movement,” IOC writes. The Olympic Committee is worried that if piracy remains rampant the value of their broadcasting rights will decrease. It notes that this threatens the long-term funding of the Olympic movement, part of which indirectly flows back to the sporters. From Torrents to Streaming This isn’t the first time the IOC has voiced its concerns over piracy. Our first reports date back more than a decade ago, when the Committee targeted The Pirate Bay. Over the years, the stakes clearly changed as there are now hundreds if not thousands of high-quality pirate streaming services online. IOC hopes that the US Trade Representative can help to address this problem. It requests Priority Watch List status for Saudi Arabia in the upcoming Special 301 Report and urges the US to ensure that the Middle Eastern country takes the problem seriously. “The IOC respectfully requests that the USTR maintains Saudi Arabia’s position on the Priority Watch List, engages with the Kingdom to protect and enforce the intellectual property rights of rightsholders and considers taking further appropriate steps in order to address the ongoing harm caused to rightsholders and broadcasters from copyright infringements and piracy activities,” it writes. Olympic Committee is Not Alone The IOC is not the only rightsholder to identify Saudi Arabia as a problem area. The country’s piracy issues are also brought up by several other industry groups, sports leagues, and other companies. That includes beIN, which owns the local sports broadcasting rights. BeIN notes that beoutQ has indeed shut down, but not with help from the Saudi Government, which failed to go after the operators. Also, following beoutQ’s demise, many other pirate services have stepped up to fill the gap. “The effects of the beoutQ piracy remain as IPTV applications downloaded onto beoutQ boxes continue to offer thousands of pirated movies, TV shows, and TV channels from the United States, Europe, and across the globe. “Despite repeated complaints by beIN and other rights holders, Saudi Arabia has never taken criminal or other action against beoutQ, or its Saudi facilitators and supporters,” beIN adds in its letter to the USTR. These and other submissions will be used as input for the forthcoming Special 301 Report, which is used by the U.S. as a diplomatic tool to encourage other countries to improve copyright enforcement and legislation. — A copy of IOC’s letter to the US Trade Representative is available here (pdf) IOC is Extremely Concerned About the Impact of Piracy on the Olympics
  17. Piracy: Most Germans unaware of hidden dangers Two out of three people in Germany (64%) are unaware of the hidden dangers of piracy – fraud, identity theft and malware – or its links to criminal gangs, according to new research by intellectual property protection organisation FACT. The research, which focused on consumer behaviour and attitudes to piracy, found that with restrictions in place across the country, the nation has turned to home TV and entertainment tech to keep themselves occupied, with a third of Germans (32%) buying or receiving devices to watch films, TV shows and sports during the Christmas 2020 period. Despite awareness of the illegalities surrounding piracy being high (68%), the majority of consumers (64%) were unaware of broader risks associated with it. Half (50%) were initially tempted to use their new devices purchased during the festive season to access premium content like sports or films for free, unwittingly putting themselves, and their gadgets, at risk of the hidden dangers of piracy. Once warned of the wider risks of fraud, identity theft and malware, as well as piracy’s links to criminal gangs, consumers admitted it changed their perceptions of piracy and those behind it. In fact, 51% said they would now advise friends and family against it. “While it’s good to see that so many people are aware of the illegality of piracy, there appears to be a lack of understanding about the very real risks consumers face, with many unwittingly putting themselves in danger as a result. Identity theft, fraud and exposure to malware and viruses as a result of piracy are all too real,” said Kieron Sharp, CEO of FACT. “I’d ask anyone who is considering turning to illegal content to think twice about whether it’s worth risking giving criminals access to your devices and bank accounts.” The research was conducted by Opinium with 1,000 consumers in Germany on January 4/5, 2021. Source: Piracy: Most Germans unaware of hidden dangers
  18. Police, anti-piracy groups, and sports companies are fighting a battle, not only to prevent pirate IPTV services from operating but also to stop fans from becoming illegal streaming customers. Interestingly, a potent part of their arsenal consists only of carefully constructed words that, when delivered into the hands of the lazy and unscrupulous, can be amplified to distort and mislead. As a publication entirely dedicated to reporting on copyright, piracy, torrent and streaming sites (plus all things closely related), here at TorrentFreak we aim to tell all ‘sides’ of the story. We do not shy away from reports that show that piracy hurts sales and we have no problem publishing research projects that show completely the opposite. It’s called balanced reporting and it hurts absolutely no one. Indeed, the whole idea is to present people with facts and allow them to make informed decisions. Generally, it’s all wrapped up in a desire not to treat our valued readers with contempt. Yesterday we published a piece with ideas about how pirate IPTV might prove less popular with consumers during 2021. But there’s another element too, one that deserves a closer look. Legal Basics To clear a few things up before we begin, there’s no doubt that some piracy operations amount to organized crime. Large IPTV providers, with many staff and hundreds of thousands of customers generating millions in profit, could easily fall into that category. This isn’t a surprise to them, they know what they’re doing, and may or may not be ready to do the time. Their choice, their problem. Also worthy of pointing out is that people who watch unlicensed streaming services are most probably committing an offense too under civil law in the EU and more specifically in the UK too, now that Brexit has been done. In some cases where they have clear intent, it’s also possible that they’re committing a crime too, i.e one punishable by the Crown. So, let’s move on to the rant in hand. Relying on the Tabloids to Send Messages is Irresponsible British tabloids have a terrible record when it comes to reporting unbiased news. They regularly report in favor of specific political parties, ignore any positives presented by the ‘other side’, and always sensationalize the most mundane of topics while treating their readers as mindless morons. But, arguably worse still, there are entities out there that seem happy to exploit this embarrassing blot on our society for their own ends. Anti-piracy groups have done it for some time but to see the authorities potentially stoking the fire too is not a great look and only detracts from their overall message, which is undoubtedly well-intentioned. The ‘Kodi Box’ Cringefest This tabloid feeding frenzy began when UK-based anti-piracy outfits were looking for media exposure. Not only for their own business promotion purposes, but also as part of entertainment company and broadcaster campaigns to drive awareness of the terrible things that could happen to so-called ‘Kodi Box’ owners if they were caught. The problem, however, was that none of the journalists had a clue what they were writing about so simply spouted whatever they were told. Eventually, everyone in the country knew what ‘Kodi Boxes’ and similar devices could do, thanks to these ‘adverts’ in the mainstream press. It seems safe to say that this ill-conceived campaign failed to achieve its goals, unless those goals were to advise people on ways to avoid paying for content. Tabloids Interest in Piracy Reignited For many months the tabloids got bored with their sensational ‘Kodi Box’ reporting but then, fueled by press releases by the Federation Against Copyright Theft and Premier League, took an interest again. However, it wasn’t until the police got involved that their insatiable desire for ridiculous headlines and scare-pieces got the best of them and they started to appear all over again in 2020. As reported here in September, police in the UK took down an illegal IPTV provider, noting quite correctly that the operators of such services face considerable legal implications. Of course they do, they’re running a criminal operation that probably involves all sorts of other offenses too, including money laundering. However, it was the fact that the police were sending out emails to customers of that service, advising them that they too could be held criminally liable, that became the focus of the headlines. And boy did the tabloids deliver. In response to the police claiming that mere subscribers of these services could get a five-year jail sentence, the tabloids went into overdrive with sensational headlines that were repeated again recently when another illegal service received similar treatment. The first problem is that the tabloids are around to sell newspapers and generate clicks, not to supply sensible or measured information. The second is that the police in the UK should be only too aware of the tabloids’ track record for scandal and if we take that as being the case, they could’ve been more responsible with the information provided to them. Ultimately, everything hinged on a single paragraph. “Persons whom subscribe to services like the service provided by GE Hosting also commit a criminal offense contrary to s.11 of the Fraud Act which carries a maximum sentence of up to five years imprisonment, and/or a fine, and consequently results in a criminal record,” the police announcement read. Or in tabloid-speak, IPTV customers are running the risk of getting locked up behind bars until 2025. While technically accurate, this is obvious hyperbole. The big worry is that those formulating the press releases may have considered the tabloids’ predictable handling of the information and recognized it as a valuable tool for keeping the public in line. Comparison With Similar Law Breaking Activities If we take the law on possession of drugs, for example, we can see that possession of a Class B substance (such as cannabis) can also result in a five-year prison sentence and/or an unlimited fine. On the facts, possession of a small amount suitable for a few joints could mean a five-year stretch (at least if the tabloids decide to run with it) but in reality, police are able to issue a warning or an on-the-spot fine. So do the police generally go around warning small-scale stoners via the tabloids that half a decade in jail awaits them for their crimes? Absolutely not. But for the relatively unknown offense of receiving a TV service without intending to pay for it, the opposite appears to be true. To be clear, the fraudulent offense in question is similar to someone jumping over the wall of a football stadium without a ticket or making off from a restaurant without paying. The point is there are levels to crimes like fraud and subscribing to a pirate IPTV service is not something that is going to put someone behind bars for five years. Here’s just one example that shows how ludicrous that proposition is. In June 2020, Daniel Aimson, who was serving a six-year sentence for running a cannabis farm, was handed an additional 12 months inside for running a pirate streaming operation. Not subscribing to one – operating one. Unlike IPTV subscribers who, under Section 11 of the Fraud Act are being threatened with five years inside for obtaining a service with an intent to avoid payment, Daniel Aimson pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud, which could’ve carried a ten-year sentence. Just to add more meat to the bones, at the time Aimson was shifting 1,640 illegal IPTV boxes, making at least £300,000 in illicit profits (none of which was declared to HMRC), and causing Sky an alleged £2.12 million in losses, he was a serving police officer with Greater Manchester Police. Bottom Line – Be Honest and Don’t Trust The Tabloids The point of this overly-long rant is simple. Knowingly subscribing to a pirate IPTV service with the intent of depriving a broadcaster is a crime in the UK but that information needs to be put into the public domain carefully. The police can’t be held responsible for how information gets used by the tabloids but there should be at least some duty of care when talking about the legal consequences. The truth is that a simple subscriber to an IPTV service, absent of any seriously aggravating factors, is not going to prison in the current sentencing climate, let alone for five years. However, any conviction for fraud (no matter how small) has the potential to be a life-changing matter, especially when it comes to gaining or even keeping meaningful employment. This latter fact cannot be disputed and it has the added bonus of being 100% accurate with zero elements of scaremongering. Even without the tabloid elements, those who place a value on their own quality of life should sit up and listen if given the facts. What this approach doesn’t have is the propaganda factor that copyright holders and the tabloids absolutely thrive on. And that, unfortunately, could be the major drawback against it being adopted. The secret weapon in this war is the tabloids taking a grain of information and turning it into a scandal, and they don’t even have to be in on the secret or the operational details to do so. They just do what they do best – insult readers’ intelligence on a daily basis. What the police and anti-piracy groups might consider moving forward is that they have the power to push them in the right direction when it comes to the news being delivered. It’s certainly worth a try and may even result in people taking the threats seriously, rather than dismissing them out of hand as scaremongering nonsense. Source: TorrentFreak
  19. The Polk County Sheriff’s Office held a press conference a few days ago to announce the results of an undercover operation stat started months ago. Detectives busted four sellers of 'pirate' Amazon Fire Sticks, including an 88-year-old suspect. According to the police, selling jailbroken devices is a crime. Online piracy is traditionally associated with a young and tech-savvy audience, but that image doesn’t always hold up. Piracy has reached the masses with the help of online streaming and easy-to-use devices. In fact, it’s now mainstream enough to have made it all the way to local flea markets. We’re not talking about bootleg DVDs or CDs that have been sold under the counter for decades. No, we’re referring to pirate streaming boxes and sticks that provide a portal into the world of streaming piracy. A few days ago, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office hosted a press conference on the topic that offers a fascinating perspective on today’s piracy landscape. Undercover Operation Addressing the local press, Sheriff Grady Judd announced that his department started a sting operation in October targeting sellers of ‘pirate’ Amazon Firesticks. The authorities were tipped off by a concerned citizen who noticed that these devices were being sold at the International Market World Flea Market near Auburndale. The Polk County Sheriff Office picked this tip up and sent its detectives to the flea market to track down the alleged criminals. This eventually resulted in four arrests, with suspects ranging in age from 34 to 88. Sheriff Judd informed the local press that the sellers were not particularly tech-minded and their descriptions don’t fit the typical pirate profile either. For example, the 59-year-old Mrs. Yarborough usually makes her money selling custom cups, but offered ‘jail broke’ Firesticks on the side. “If you don’t want a custom cup she’ll sell you a jail broke fire stick. She gets 100 dollars for the fire stick she doesn’t charge any taxes,” the Sheriff said. This comment is confusing since Amazon Firesticks don’t have to be jailbroken. The owner can simply toggle a switch to allow the installation of third-party software. However, the Police has a different definition of jailbreaking. “Jail broken refers to modifying an electronic device with added software and plugins in such a way that it allows the user to view movies and TV shows they would have had to pay for,” the Polk County Sheriff’s office clarified. The 88-year-old Mr. Bongwoo Roe is the oldest of the targets. He could explain how the unauthorized Fire Sticks operate but didn’t jailbreak them himself. Instead, he resold devices he purchased at the Webster flea market. During the press release, police revealed some of the ‘promotional’ material used by the sellers. The ‘ads’ were not very sophisticated, but apparently quite effective. The youngest defendant, Mr. Vazquez (34) did jailbreak the sticks himself. He is also the only one with a criminal history, according to Sheriff Judd, which means that he may be in more trouble than the others. The 71-year-old Mrs. Holm is the final suspect. She is one of the most tech-savvy of the group and offered to jailbreak devices herself for $50. “Holm is probably one of the more technologically savvy of the group. She jailbreaks her own fire sticks but, being the all-purpose service kind of lady she is, if you take her your legal fire stick she’ll break it for fifty dollars. “She would also coach and counsel you. She recommends that you get a VPN so that the internet provider can’t see just how much traffic you have and how much theft you’re conducting,” Sheriff Judd added. Again, there appears to be some confusion about the terminology here. Apart from using the term “jailbroken” where it’s clearly not appropriate, the police seem confused about VPNs too The suggestion that a VPN can somehow prevent an Internet provider from tracking how much data a subscriber uses is incorrect. Sheriff Judd nonetheless said that selling jailbroken Firesticks is a felony and he warned that his detectives will continue to monitor the situation at local flea markets and elsewhere. “Our detectives, who are simply the very best, did a lot of work on this but the investigation’s not over. It’s just beginning,” he said. “If you don’t want to get caught up in round two or round three or round four quit stealing stuff quit stealing quit possessing quit jailbreaking fire sticks.” The four defendants are all charged with one count of unauthorized reception of communications. This is a felony of the third degree with a potential prison sentence of up to five years. However, since the Sheriff considered them ‘casual criminals,’ the actual sentences will likely be more forgiving. Source: TorrentFreak
  20. Online piracy remains widespread all over the world, including African countries. The Nigerian Copyright Commission, which is trying to curb this problem, has estimated that over $1 billion is lost due to piracy per year. To help local authorities fight back, the U.S. embassy in Nigeria has donated 50 laptops and other gadgets. The United States Government is taking the lead role when it comes to copyright policies and enforcement around the globe. Through diplomatic pressure and positive reinforcement, it tries to steer foreign governments in the right direction. Assistance is also provided in a more hands-on form. For example, US delegations regularly host workshops for foreign enforcement authorities, to show them how to fight piracy. In addition to knowledge, concrete tools are provided as well. U.S. Embassy Donates Laptops While these types of assistance generally don’t reach the headlines, a gesture from the U.S. embassy in Nigeria caught our eye this week. The U.S. Embassy has donated 50 laptops and other ‘gadgets’ to the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC). The equipment was donated by U.S. representative James Jewett, to aid the local fight against piracy. The Copyright Commission is pleased with the gift. Director-General John Asie said that these new tools will be used to assist the online monitoring department in tracking down online piracy activity. Tracing Pirates “The copyright inspectors, especially the online inspectors, will now track and trace copyright infringement through the deployment of these tools,” Asie said. “We must be able to trace and match [pirates] with technology since copyright infringement occurs mostly online. Not only for the good of the creative industry of the country, but to also provide the right ambience, a safe place for all creative works.” The comments indirectly suggest that there was a shortage of laptops at the Nigerian Government. With the new gear and the other ‘gadgets,’ this problem will be tackled. And, according to local media, the Commission also promises to do more. Previously, the government body estimated that Nigeria lost over $1 billion annually to movie piracy alone, so there is plenty of work still to be done. New Copyright bill The generous gift will challenge the Nigerian Copyright Commission to do more to protect the creative sector, Asie commented. This includes signing a new copyright bill into law, which is expected to happen later this year. Just a few months ago, several US copyright holders urged Nigeria to make sure that the new bill requires ISPs to take action against persistent pirates, limits private copying exceptions, while extending the copyright term for sound recordings to 70 years. The comments make it clear that copyright enforcement remains a hot topic in Nigeria. Whether the new laptops will result in any radical enforcement actions remains a question, of course. In any case, it won’t be as radical as the proposal of a local artist to simply amputate the fingers of persistent pirates. Source: TorrentFreak
  21. Kingdom Leaks, a music piracy site that has been leaking new music to the Internet for the past seven years, has announced its imminent demise. Due to personal reasons, from January 1, 2021, the site will permanently close down, taking all user data and content with it. While a disappointment to its followers, the site's self-deletion won't be discouraged by recording labels. According to the music industry, the main threat to artists and labels from a piracy perspective is the availability of stream-ripping platforms and tools. On the other hand, however, a much more traditional threat also remains an issue. Recording labels have long lamented the fact that insiders and other people with access to new music have made it available to others in advance of commercial release. Whether those are promo copies, so-called ‘dubplates’ in the vinyl scene, or even CDs liberated from the packing department of a manufacturing facility, early leaks can cause headaches – especially when they make it online. Of course, leaks appearing online has been the standard for two decades already. The availability of music releases on streaming platforms simultaneously across borders has helped dampen the problem but it still hasn’t eradicated it. In fact, some sites specialize in ensuring content gets online as quickly as possible. Kingdom Leaks – Leaking Music For Seven Years While there is no shortage of music leaking sites, Kingdom Leaks (in one form or another) has been around for roughly seven years. That’s quite a feat considering the content on offer. And, despite operating in a niche, the site still manages to pull in an estimated two million visits per month, with many users looking to grab music as far in advance of release as possible. While this particular party was enjoyed by fans while it lasted, it’s clear that Kingdom Leaks will soon be pulling down the shutters for the last time. “It is with a heavy heart and great sorrow that today I announce the shutdown of Kingdom Leaks. This was not a decision made lightly or abruptly, nor was this choice made because of legal pressure, a data breach, or anything of that nature,” site operator Lord Kingdom says in a final statement. “The simple but unfortunate reason is this: mR12 and I have decided to move on, and there is no safe way to hand over the website to another party out of concern for the safety of everyone involved since the site’s inception 7 years ago.” Shutting Down For Personal Reasons, Jan 1, 2021 While many site operators can run on to ripe old ages without a hitch, Lord Kingdom says he has other ‘real-life’ matters on the agenda that require him to move on, with Kingdom Leaks (KL) firmly behind him. “With a baby on the way and getting married next year, this is something that I need to put in the past, officially,” he writes. “This reality has left us at the following decision: we will be permanently shutting down our servers on January 1st, 2021. All user and site data, including that which is stored on PassTheLeaks, will be permanently deleted.” Those familiar with the site will recognize PassTheLeaks as one of the domains offered as an option for people trying to download music from KL, which is presented via related service Filecrypt. The news that all of this content is set to be deleted will come as a disappointment to users but according to Lord Kingdom, the topic won’t be revisited and the decision to close “is final”. Not Everyone is Disappointed That Kingdown Leaks is Closing For many years, copyright holders and their anti-piracy partners have been working hard to have content uploaded by Kingdom Leaks delisted from Google. It will come as no surprise that the BPI takes the lead in the sheer volume of content targeted, closely followed by French music group SCPP and international music organization IFPI. One of the other anti-piracy companies regularly trying to suppress KL is UK-based anti-piracy company AudioLock. If Kingdom Leaks keeps its word and closes down in just over a month’s time, AudioLock will have less work to do. Speaking with TorrentFreak, however, company founder Ben Rush says that he won’t be sad to see the site go. “Kingdom Leaks has been around a long time and has a strong user base who are kept updated through various social media feeds of every new release. It covers a lot more rock and metal content than other similar sites and protects links from automated tools that take them down,” Rush says. AudioLock’s owner says that Kingdom Leaks’ utilization of link encryption (Filecrypt) has meant that the site has been able to keep itself alive, driving its popularity but at the expense of artists who are struggling in the current climate. “Now without the revenue from live events [due to COVID-19], we are seeing labels seeking to boost existing stream and download revenue by protecting it from piracy. This pressure combined with the site’s popularity will have made it a prime target,” he explains. Kingdom Leaks Admin Asks Users To Consider Spotify In what could be an important departing post, Kingdom Leaks admin mR12 (who is also a VIP uploader on The Pirate Bay) has penned an ‘essay’ on why people should be considering Spotify in their music consumption habits moving forward. “As Kingdom Leaks comes to an unfortunate but inevitable close, you may be considering how your music needs will be sustainably met in the future. Many will understandably and reasonably move to other music blogs, other download sites, and with good cause,” he writes. “I am not writing to condone these moves; however, I would like to argue, through a serious and practical consideration of the actual need that must be filled, that Spotify is the solution many people are looking for but simply don’t know it or haven’t given it enough consideration. “I want to show that, yes, Spotify is worth $120 per year, and perhaps more importantly for those of you reading this, that Spotify is compatible with partial music piracy, which I believe is the most optimal and hassle-free solution for the vast majority of people.” Time will tell how many soon-to-be-former users of KL find his arguments persuasive but Ben Rush is hoping that Kingdom Leaks’ passionate music-fan users will move to legal platforms rather than pirate sites. “The harsh reality is that if these users want to have releases made by the labels and artists they enjoy, then they need to support them now. Without this support, there will be many labels who will no longer exist, and many artists unable to continue to create music,” he says. “Show your appreciation and support to the labels and artists that mean so much to you. Secure their future by purchasing directly from the label itself or from legitimate platforms.” It may have taken seven years but at this point (and if only partially), some kind of consensus appears to have been reached. Source: TorrentFreak
  22. Private universities in the US are more expensive than public ones and tend to attract 'wealthier' students. On average, these students should be able to afford legal streaming services, which they do. However, at the same time, new research shows that these students are also more likely to pirate. Two decades ago, piracy was booming at university campuses where high-speed Internet access was readily available. This threat was quickly recognized by copyright holders, who swiftly took action in response. The RIAA and MPAA, for example, helped to lobby in favor of more strict legislation including the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA). This law requires institutions to issue an annual anti-piracy warning to all students and to create a policy to “effectively combat” infringement. Despite these measures, piracy hasn’t disappeared from campuses completely. A new paper published by researchers from Texas Christian University and the University of North Texas shows that it remains a common pastime. Piracy Habits Among Private and Public University Students The researchers conducted a survey among public and private university students and specifically focused on the legal and illegal consumption of movies online. This allowed them to see how common piracy is and if there are any differences between private and public universities. Generally speaking, private university students are believed to have more money at their disposal. As such, they should be less likely to pirate, assuming that cost is a critical factor. “The logic is that students who have more disposable income who come from a more affluent family and can attend an expensive private university should easily be able to legally stream or buy movies,” the researchers write. “Conversely, students who come from a lower SES background would be assumed to have less disposable income and therefore piracy would be a good ‘free’ alternative,” they add. A Counterintuitive Finding However, the researchers found the exact opposite. While the data indeed show that students in private universities are tied to wealthier families, they also pirate more. In some cases, twice as much. “This study finds that students sampled from the expensive private university pirated significantly more than from the public university, even when considering different factors,” the paper reads. A quick glance at the statistics indeed shows a clear difference. Among the private university students, more than 40% admits to downloading movies from unauthorized sources. For students from public universities, this was just 19%. Similar differences are also observed for streaming movies from unauthorized sources (48% vs. 28%). For movies downloaded through peer-to-peer networks, the difference is smaller (18% vs. 14%) but that question only covered movies that were not yet available for purchase. The paper doesn’t give any overall piracy statistics, but it shows that piracy remains prevalent, particularly among private university students. The same students who tend to be wealthier and on average have a higher socioeconomic background. What About Paid Streaming Services? That cost is not a crucial factor becomes clear from the fact that students at the private university also have more access to paid streaming services. More than 94% have access to Netflix, and roughly a third have access to HBO, Amazon Prime, and Hulu. At public schools, fewer students have access to these paid streaming services. However, they are more frequent YouTube users, which is free. The research also found the known gender effect. That is, men are more likely to pirate than women. However, the differences between private and public university students remain intact. In fact, female students at the private university downloaded more than men at the private one. Legal Options Help to Curb Piracy Finally, while piracy remains common at universities, there’s also some positive news for copyright holders. As it turns out, legal viewing options do help to lower the piracy rates. “Nearly half of respondents indicated they have to some degree stopped pirating movies due to the availability of inexpensive streaming services compared to only approximately 17% who was relatively not affected.” It’s worth noting that the data come from two universities, so the results should not be generalized to the entire population without caution. The survey data also can’t explain the difference in piracy habits, which is something follow up research may be able to delve into. However, it does confirm that piracy is more complex than most people assume. It’s certainly not just about money. — The paper titled: “A comparison of a public and private university of the effects of low-cost streaming services and income on movie piracy” is available here Source: TorrentFreak
  23. Disney's Mulan is a smash hit on pirate sites, where millions of people streamed and downloaded pirate copies of the film over the past week and a half. For days on end, the film has been pirated many times more than the competition, which is a rare sight. This 'success' is the result of a volatile mix of steep costs, low availability, and high-quality pirate alternatives. Online movie piracy has plagued Hollywood for roughly two decades now. Despite numerous enforcement efforts, the problem only appears to get worse. Ten years ago, the threat mostly came from torrent sites which proved to be a hurdle for the impatient or tech illiterates. Today, there are hundreds of streaming sites and apps that rival Netflix, Disney, and other legal platforms. We can’t say that the movie industry hasn’t changed. Responding to rampant piracy figures, movies have appeared online more swiftly after their theatrical release. During the current pandemic, several prominent titles even premiered online. However, that appears to have had little impact. The release of Mulan illustrates this perfectly. After several delays, the film skipped the box office in most countries. Instead, it was released on Disney+ where viewers had to pay an extra fee to see it. The exact price differs per region but in the US it’s roughly $30 on top of the regular subscription. That’s a steep price or a bargain, depending on who you ask. Disney would argue that two box-office tickets plus drinks and popcorn would cost more. And you’ll save on gas too. Then again, compared to the dozens of other titles you can watch on Disney+ for the regular monthly subscription fee, it’s quite expensive. Without arguing over who’s right or wrong, the online premiere of Mulan had a major side-effect. For days on end, it’s been the most pirated movie, crushing all competition by a wide margin. Over the past several days, we’ve collected various samples of download figures from public torrent trackers with help from I Know. We don’t like to publish hard numbers as it’s impossible to capture all downloads perfectly. However, it’s clear that Mulan was downloaded millions of times through torrent sites alone. We have seen many pirated movies appear online over the past decade but seldomly do the download figures stand out like this. For example, on the first full day that it was online, September 5, Mulan was downloaded 900% more than the second most downloaded film (The Owners). This dominance continued throughout the week when no other movie came close, not even newer releases. To give an indication, here are the download estimates of the five most-downloaded movies in our sample on September 5. Pirated torrent download sample September 5 And here’s the same list a week later on September 12, more than a week after the first pirated copies appeared online. The download numbers in our sample dropped significantly but remain higher than the competition, with 300% more downloads than runner-up Ava. Pirated torrent download sample September 12 We should stress that these numbers are based on data from public torrent trackers; direct download sites and pirate streaming views are not considered. However, it clearly shows how popular Mulan is. Another good reference point is a comparison to last year’s hit release from Disney, The Lion King. That was very popular on torrent sites as well but the number of downloads was roughly 50% lower than Mulan on the first day, and also 50% lower the week after. There are several reasons that contributed to Mulan’s popularity and we’ll discuss a few here. Various surveys have shown that the most common motivation for pirates is “because it’s free.” This cost factor definitely plays a role in Mulan’s release. The pricing differs from country to country but in the US it’s $29.99, which sits on top of the $6.99 monthly subscription. Needless to say, this is a bigger hurdle to overcome when compared to regular movies that come out on Netflix or Disney+. The costs are not too far away from those associated with a visit to a movie theater for two people, but that’s where the second argument comes into play. When a movie usually premieres at the box office there are no high quality pirated copies. If there’s a release it’s usually a ‘camcorded’ version, which we saw with Tenet recently. In this case particularly, pirates prefer to pay for quality. With Mulan the situation is different. Soon after the movie appeared on Disney+, high quality pirated copies were widely shared. These are direct competitors to, and substitutes for, the official release. Finally, there are many regions where Mulan is simply not legally available. This means that for some the only option is to wait for several months avoiding all spoilers, or go down the illegal route. There may be other factors that play a role as well but steep costs, low availability, and high-quality pirate alternatives certainly play a major role. While it may be tempting to conclude that Disney’s strategy backfired, that conclusion is too easy to reach. Game of Thrones was widely known as the most pirated TV-show for years, but all the buzz surrounding the show also resulted in many new HBO subscriptions. Disney may hope for the same. The company has a dedicated anti-piracy department and knew what to expect. Perhaps they didn’t anticipate this piracy bonanza, but if it resulted in an equal boost in new subscriptions, they likely won’t complain. Source: TorrentFreak
  24. Several pirated copies of the sci-fi thriller 'Tenet' have appeared online. The leaks, which were recorded in theaters, appear to have at least two sources. One has badly cropped Korean subtitles and the other, which is sponsored by a gambling company, reveals partial German subtitles. Whether Warner Bros. should be overly concerned about these leaks is up for debate. In recent months many films have skipped the box office or faced delays due to the coronavirus pandemic. This was also the case for Christopher Nolan’s highly anticipated sci-fi thriller ‘Tenet,’ which was initially scheduled to premiere in July. After several delays, Warner Bros. eventually chose a staggered release schedule, which started last week. The film came out in Australia, Canada, Germany, the UK, and South Korea, among others, with the US, Russia and China following in a few days. In the lead up to the official premiere, there was a lot of piracy chatter. The highly anticipated movie and the staggered release could create a perfect piracy storm, one anti-piracy expert predicted. Warner Bros. was also on high alert. The company took down several copies of leaked Tenet footage that appeared in theaters during the re-release of Inception. In addition, it also took down many ‘fake’ pirate releases of Tenet that surfaced on torrent sites and elsewhere. Pirated Copies of Tenet Appear Online These fake releases were not really much of a threat to the movie studio. However, several pirated copies of the real Tenet film started to surface yesterday, and those are a much bigger concern. At the moment there are various ‘camcorded’ (CAM) leaks of Tenet in circulation. These are copies of the film that were recorded in a movie theater, which tend to be very low in quality. That’s no different here. As we’ve seen more often in recent years, some of the leaked copies are “sponsored” by a gaming brand. In this case, the URL of the casino referral site Slotslights.com appears throughout the film, inviting viewers to take a gamble. On closer inspection, it appears that there are at least two different sources floating around. One release is tagged as a Korean CAM, and indeed, in some parts of the movie badly cropped Korean subtitles are visible. Other copies, which don’t have any location tags, reveal parts of German subtitles, as shown below. This is also the release with the visible sponsored messages, that appear throughout the film. It’s clear that Warner Bros. won’t be happy with these leaks and the company will likely send out hundreds of takedown requests in the days to come. That said, thus far, the download numbers are relatively modest. It’s certainly not the most downloaded movie at the moment. This can be easily explained by the fact that one important factor for a ‘perfect piracy storm’ is missing; there is no high-quality leak available. Not Everyone Likes Low Quality Releases While so-called CAM releases draw plenty of attention from a subset of curious viewers, many film fans stay far away from them. They don’t fancy watching a good film in bad quality, especially not one that has advertisements and partial foreign subtitles. When we were browsing through various comment threads, several people rated the quality of these leaks as decent. However, that means decent for a film that’s recorded in a movie theater. Others prefer to wait. “Some movies deserve to be viewed in the best possible quality, some deserve the patience needed to be viewed. This is one such movie, I’ll be waiting,” one commenter notes. Generally speaking, a movie’s big piracy boom comes when the first high-quality copy appears online. This was also the case with ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ and we have no reason to believe that it will be different here. Source: TorrentFreak
  25. The Spanish pirate streaming giant Megadede will shut down within a week. The site's operators announced their surprise decision without providing any further detail. Megadede is among the 100 most visited sites in the country and will be missed by many. However, there certainly is no shortage of alternatives, as other sites are queuing up to welcome stranded pirates. Spain is an interesting country when it comes to piracy. On the one hand, it has one of the highest piracy rates worldwide, but there is no shortage of enforcement actions either. In recent years there have been several criminal investigations into unauthorized IPTV streaming, torrent and streaming portals have been taken to court, and ISPs have been ordered to block pirate sites as well. It appears that, despite all the legal pressure and threats, new pirate sites and services continue to appear online. Unlike in some other countries, these are often localized as well. Names such as “Don Torrent,” “DivxTotaL,” and “Megadede” are relatively unknown in most parts of the world. However, in Spain, they are listed among the 100 most visited sites in the country, mixed in with major brands such as Google, Wikipedia, Amazon, Facebook, and Netflix. Local Piracy Giant Megadede Shuts Down This week one of these giants announced its demise. In a message posted on the site, Megadede.com’s operators write that they are “forced” to announce that the site shuts down within a week. “The members of the team are forced to announce that in less than a week megadede will come to an end. We hope you have enjoyed this time with us and take the opportunity to download your lists. Thanks for everything #megabye.” It’s not clear who forced the operators to take action, but it is possible that legal pressure played a role. Unlike many other streaming sites, Megadede required an account to view all content. It didn’t rely on search traffic but had a dedicated user base. Megadede is one of the largest sites in Spain but has only been around for two years. It took over from Plusdede in 2018 after that site was ordered to shut down by the authorities. Plusdede, wasn’t unique either, as it was reportedly built based on the database of Pordede, which shut down after being hacked. Takeover is an Option While Megadede will soon be gone, there is room for a takeover of the domain name or even the entire project. In the site’s help and support section the operators write that they are willing to sell to a good bidder. “If someone wants to buy the domain or the project, you can send an offer through the contact page. We will only answer offers that may interest us,” they write. This means that Megadede may possibly continue under new ownership. However, there is no shortage of alternatives either. After the site announced its shutdown decision several competitors said they were ready to take over the traffic. Some, including DivMax.com, even offered to enable support for Megadede user ‘playlists’ to enable a smooth transition. “The DixMax administration welcomes you. Due to the recent closure of Megadede we invite you to meet and discover DixMax.com and all its applications available for free. Downloaded Megadede playlists will soon be added,” the site writes on Twitter. Source: TorrentFreak
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