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  1. Copyright Management Services Ltd, a UK-based company that helped front the BitTorrent piracy lawsuit factory known as Guardaley, is attempting to shut itself down, accounts overdue. After fronting controversial 'copyright troll' lawsuits all over Europe, CMS leaves behind an almost impenetrable matrix of companies, interlinked directors, and movie company partnerships. Copyright Management Services Ltd (CMS) was incorporated in the United Kingdom in October 2014. Its founding director was Patrick Achache, who later rose to fame as the boss of Germany-based BitTorrent tracking company, MaverickEye. Both companies operated as parts of Guardaley, the international lawsuit factory that to date has targeted scores of thousands of alleged BitTorrent pirates in the United States, UK, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Brazil, among others. In a sample period spanning 2016/2017, Danish law firm Njord Law represented CMS Ltd in legal action targeting telecoms giant Telia. Using data captured by Maverickeye, more than 82,000 Telia subscribers in Sweden, Finland and Denmark faced being unmasked on behalf of the companies behind London Has Fallen and Mechanic: Resurrection, among others. This small sample is just the tip of an extremely large and well-documented iceberg, which as a business model is continuously active today. For now, however, it’s time to say farewell to CMS as it seeks to shut itself down and disappear into the night. Copyright Management Services Wants Out According to UK Companies House data, Patrick Achache stopped being a director and the significant controller of CMS on November 19, 2019. On the same day, Lubesly Tellidua – a beauty queen from the Philippines with links to Achache and Guardaley – became the controlling party When Tellidua inspected the CMS accounts she would’ve seen a company barely breaking even, a surprise given the scale of the business. Accounts filed for 2020 showed cash at hand of £1.00, significantly down on the £25 in hand listed a year earlier. In July 2022, Lubesly Tellidua filed an application for CMS to be struck off the register of companies. CMS hasn’t yet filed its accounts made up to October 31, 2021, but they’re only three months late, HM Revenue and Customs probably won’t mind, and since all the cash is long gone, nobody in government is likely to get excited about it. A few people might even celebrate the demise of CMS but, given the circumstances, that would be missing the bigger picture. In Brief: CMS is No Longer Needed When Patrick Achache was in control of CMS, Maverickeye and Guardaley, he formed a copyright settlement partnership in the UK with Robert Croucher of Hatton & Berkeley. From 2015, as part of their promised ‘anti-piracy invasion‘, they sent letters to alleged movie pirates demanding cash, in the same way as CMS did in Scandinavia, using the same Maverickeye tracking data, under the Guardaley umbrella. Late 2019, we discovered that Hatton & Berkeley’s Robert Croucher had teamed up with FACT Worldwide Ltd, an anti-piracy company directly connected to the Federation Against Copyright Theft. The partnership was made under an existing entity called H&B Administration LLP and its earliest member, dating all the way back to 2016, was a company called Copyright Management Services Ltd. By 2021, FACT Administration LLP was in full swing, pressuring internet subscribers for cash settlements yet again. CMS wasn’t needed anymore since the ‘protective wrapper‘, insurance in the event of a lawsuit going wrong, would be provided by the FACT Administration limited liability partnership. Everyone is Related to Each Other A few quick observations and connections to sum things up: Patrick Achache operated Copyright Management Services Ltd, Maverickeye, and Guardaley. Copyright Management Services Ltd was the entity with significant control over H&B Administration LLP. Robert Croucher is the director and person with significant control at Hatton & Berkeley Management Ltd. In turn, Hatton & Berkeley Management Ltd was the entity with significant control at FACT Administration LLP, despite it being declared dormant as of March 31, 2021, with just £100 to its name. And then there’s Guardaley itself. In a U.S. court in 2011, Guardaley was reported as having two employees, Patrick Achache and Benjamin Perino. Perino resigned his Guardaley directorship in 2018 and a day later he was replaced by Thomas Nowak, the managing director of piracy data collection outfit Maverickeye. Guardaley Limited continues to live on in the UK under Nowak but, unlike many of its partners and subsidiaries, including the outgoing and apparently broke CMS, Guardaley doesn’t seem to have problems making money. The company filed its most recent accounts last month, public information for anyone interested. But the UK operation isn’t the end of the Guardaley empire. A company is registered in Germany under the same name, also run by Tomas Nowak, and elsewhere in Europe too. On June 1, 2019, Guardaley Technologies Limited was incorporated in Cyprus under the directorship of former Guardaley employee, Benjamin Perino. Three months earlier American Films LLC, a company described by Bloomberg as having “no significant operations”, said it had taken over Guardaley’s US-based operations. “GuardaLey Ltd., the leading data investigation company combating online piracy on peer to peer file sharing networks, has selected American Films, Inc. to take over the USA operations through its Joint Venture formed at the beginning of February. American Films, Inc. will own 100% of this joint venture company,” American Films announced. “The partnership with American Films will combine the resources of GuardaLey and American Films, to monitor peer-to-peer file sharing networks, search for illegally downloaded digital media files and provide the resources to enforce against repeat offenders.” Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…. Piracy Lawsuit Front Company Tries to Shut Down, Accounts Overdue
  2. The U.S. Trade Representative has started collecting input for its annual list of notorious piracy markets. In 2022, there's a special focus on the impact of online piracy on US workers. This will likely lead to detailed reports on hundreds of thousands of estimated job losses. But will jobs created by piracy get a mention as well? Every year, the US Trade Representative (USTR) issues an updated review of “Notorious Markets” that facilitate copyright infringement. This overview is compiled with help from copyright holders and is used to motivate the targets and foreign authorities to take action. The USTR recently issued a call for comments on the 2022 Review of Notorious Markets. This will undoubtedly trigger responses from the RIAA, MPA, and many other rightsholders, calling out various pirate sites and services. Piracy & U.S. workers There has been a lot of overlap between these annual reviews. Some sites and services, such as The Pirate Bay, have made the list for more than a decade, without any significant changes. However, the USTR selects a “focus issue” each year that receives extra attention. In 2022, the focus issue is the impact of online piracy on U.S. workers. In the request for comments, USTR asks stakeholders to provide background information, studies, and other research on how piracy affects U.S. jobs. “USTR also invites written comments for the Notorious Markets List issue focus that highlights an issue related to the facilitation of substantial trademark counterfeiting or copyright piracy. The issue focus for the 2022 Notorious Markets List will examine the impact of online piracy on U.S. workers.” Copyright holders typically submit the vast majority of responses. These have already cited evidence on ‘lost jobs’ over the past years but this issue focus allows them to go into more detail. Half a Million Lost Jobs a Year? By reviewing previously submitted data, it’s possible to get an idea of the figures that are likely to be presented this time around. Although estimates have changed over time, piracy is often linked to hundreds of thousands of estimated annual job ‘losses’. And that’s just for U.S. jobs in the video industry. The music industry reports lower losses. According to a recent report, music piracy costs the U.S. economy $12.5 billion per year and the loss of 71,060 jobs. These numbers tend not to reflect actual people losing their jobs but are an extrapolation based on estimated revenue losses to piracy, which run to billions of dollars per year. As such, the loss estimates also include jobs that were never created. Anti-Piracy Industry Jobs Losses aside, we wonder whether anyone will mention the jobs that are created by piracy. Most big media companies have in-house piracy teams and legal professionals billing thousands of hours. There are also numerous specialized anti-piracy outfits, takedown departments, and copyright enforcement units across the US. Without piracy, these jobs would not exist It will be interesting to see the numbers reported to the USTR and how these compare to previous studies. While most research has shown that piracy does affect sales negatively, the entertainment industry as a whole is doing quite well regardless. Timing-wise, USTR’s focus on American workers is interesting as it coincides with historically low unemployment figures in the United States. That said, these numbers can always be lower of course. U.S. Wants to Know How Online Piracy Impacts the Workforce
  3. Japanese manga publisher Shueisha has launched new legal action in the United States as a prelude to filing lawsuits against pirate site operators located elsewhere. While it is likely to prevail in the U.S., a closer look at Shueisha's targets reveals a mass of moving parts and connected entities that may keep its investigators busy for some time. In recent years, publishers of Japanese manga comics have been sending a sustained and clear message that content piracy will not be tolerated, wherever it takes place in the world. The problems faced by companies including Shueisha, Kadowaka, Kodansha, and Shogakukan, are easy to describe but much more difficult to counter. Japan-based pirate site operators serving a domestic audience face experienced local investigators, law enforcement agencies, and a relatively high prospect of criminal sanctions. Those based overseas still have the ability to reach Japanese users but identifying them presents new legal challenges for the publishers. That’s also the case when sites are administered from Japan but utilize international infrastructure. As a result, cross-border investigations and accompanying jurisdiction issues are now common in piracy cases. Thousands of pirate sites use the services of American companies, so whether they have connections to Cloudflare or process payments in the U.S., the risk of the publishers seeking assistance from local courts is now high, as the successful prosecution of MangaBank’s operator showed. Shueisha Seeks Assistance from U.S. Court Following the playbook deployed in the MangaBank case, Shueisha has just filed another ex parte application at the same California district court seeking discovery of information for use in a foreign proceeding (28 U.S. Code § 1782). Shueisha is investigating several manga piracy sites, listed in the application as follows: mangagohan.com, mangapro.top, gokumanga.com, doki1001.com, manga1001.in, comick.top The publisher’s legal team says that the sites published infringing copies of Shueisha’s copyrighted works soon after commercial release, adding that this constitutes infringement under both Japanese and Vietnamese laws. The reference to Vietnam is based on information provided by Cloudflare. Shueisha previously obtained a DMCA subpoena requiring the CDN company to hand over the personal details of those being the sites. The disclosed information doesn’t identify individuals but does link them to IP addresses belonging to a pair of telecoms companies – ‘Vietnam Posts and Telecommunications Group’ and ‘Vietname Telecom National’. Vietnam doesn’t allow third-party companies to obtain internet users’ identifying information based on copyright infringement allegations so Shueisha’s plan is to act on other information provided by Cloudflare. PayPal, Visa, Mastercard, Google, Braintree and/or Stripe accounts are linked to the site operators and since the companies are based in the United States, Shueisha wants them to hand over whatever they hold. The endgame is to file lawsuits against the site operators in Japan or Vietnam, presumably on copyright infringement grounds, and Shueisha says that courts in both countries would appreciate assistance from the United States. There’s no explanation of why these sites are of particular interest to the publisher out of the hundreds online, but potential clues in the application open up interesting avenues of research. Does Investigation Encompass Many More Sites? Studying the domains reveals that they all target consumers of pirated manga in Japan, with no less than 88% and as many as 94% of their visitors coming from the country. Another interesting aspect is that traffic to the sites is either trending downwards (in some cases off the edge of a cliff) or behaving in unnatural ways. For example, mangagohan.com enjoyed around 1.9m visits in May, the same in June, but less than half that in July. From 1.6m visits in May, visits to mangapro.top suddenly jumped to 3.6m in June before dropping to 2.4m in July. Visits to gokumanga.com in May topped out at around 2m but traffic was less than a quarter of that in July. The other sites show similarly strange patterns, but doki1001.com stands out as a particularly big mover. In May it had around 13.1m visits according to SimilarWeb stats, versus just 1.7m in July, so what lies behind these wild fluctuations? Redirections and Connections According to Shueisha, both mangagohan.com and gokumanga.com redirected themselves to mangagohan.me at some point, but that site’s traffic has gone down instead of up in recent months. However, scratch just below the surface looking for other redirects and a whole new world of potential links appears between the domains in the application and many others, some of which Shueisha is already investigating. – Mangagohan.com (down): Outbound redirect: mangagohan.me (down) – Gokumanga.com (down): Outbound redirect: mangagohan.me (down) – Mangapro.top (down): Inbound redirects: comick.to, mymangaraw.com, mixmanga.com, 3xmanga.com, upmanga.com, picmanga.com, overmanga.com, padmanga.com, loadmanga.com, mangaair.com, mangatweet.com, mangamenu.com, mangano1.com, mangarip.com. Oubound redirect: comick.top – Doki1001.com (down): Inbound redirect: manga-1001.com (existing Shueisha target) – Manga1001.in (up) – Outbound redirect: manga9.co (zero traffic in May, 6.4m July) – Comick.top – (up) – Inbound redirects: padmanga.com, mangano1.com, mangapro.top, mangamenu.com, mangarank.com, mangaair.com, mangatweet.com, mangarip.com, manga1001.top, loadmanga.com. Outbound redirect: mangapro.top The limited domain information above suggests that if the U.S. companies provide useful, actionable material to Shueisha, a gateway to even bigger things may lie ahead. Most obviously, there may be an opportunity to eliminate many pirate sites, for beyond the handful listed in the application. Shueisha’s application for discovery can be found here (pdf) Manga Piracy: New Shueisha U.S. Court Action Indicates Complex Investigation
  4. Reddit's/r/PiratedGames, a thriving community of more than 300,000 members, was banned yesterday for excessive copyright infringement. The subreddit didn't tolerate links to infringing content but some posts and comments still slipped through. Reddit notes that the ban is justified under its repeat infringer policy but the sub's moderators say that they were never warned. (see update below the article for the latest info) Reddit is without doubt one of the most popular user-submitted content sites that exists on the Internet. The community-driven platform has “subreddits” dedicated to pretty much every topic you can think of. These generate a constant stream of discussions and links, some more useful than others. Moderators play an essential role in bringing order to this chaos. They delete spam, remove off-topic content, and make sure that ‘unauthorized’ content is swiftly removed. The latter category includes links to copyright infringing material. Despite these moderation efforts, problematic links can remain online longer than rightsholders wish. This can lead to Reddit receiving DMCA takedown notices, which over the course of the last year led to the removal of 665,898 pieces of content from the platform. Subreddits that are repeatedly targeted in takedown notices risk a permanent ban. /r/PiratedGames Banned Yesterday, the popular /r/PiratedGames was banned for this very reason, with Reddit stating that the community was targeted by too many copyright removals. The decision may seem logical considering the name of the subreddit but posting infringing links to /r/PiratedGames was strictly forbidden. Instead, users were asked to keep their contributions limited to discussing pirated games and cracks. With more than 300,000 members, it isn’t always easy to spot all problematic content. Keeping an eye on submitted posts isn’t that hard but user comments are the real problem as these are harder to keep up with. No Advance Warning or Notice? TorrentFreak spoke to PiratedGames moderator GrowAsguard who said that the team wasn’t warned about the ban in advance. In fact, he says that Reddit never informed them about any of the takedown notices. The ban just appeared out of the blue. “None of us in the moderator team were informed of either the then-upcoming ban or the various pieces of content Reddit had removed from the sub due to copyright Infringement,” GrowAsguard said. The moderators did hear from Reddit when the ban was instated. They received a message in their inboxes that contained, among other things, the following statement from the admins. A subreddit you moderate has been banned for excessive copyright infringement. Note that reconstituting the community under an alternative subreddit will be considered under our ban evasion policy – Reddit Appeal GrowAsguard says that the moderators plan to file an appeal. If that’s not successful, they will look for an alternative venue to host the community. There are no plans to start a new subreddit. “Hopefully the decision sides with us and the community. But if it does not, then we might move the subreddit to either Raddle, Saidit or Lemmy. Another sub will not be made as it will just get banned again. “Anonymity is important for us, so our options are limited now in terms of moving the community forward,” GrowAsguard added. PiratedGames is one of the largest communities to find itself banned by Reddit but it’s not the only one. Last year, 2,625 subreddits were taken down permanently under the platform’s “repeat infringer” policy. This included the popular mmastreams subreddit. In addition, 283 users were banned for repeat infringement. Previously /r/Piracy, another popular piracy-related subreddit, did get an advance warning from Reddit that it was on the verge of being banned. The moderators managed to avoid this fate but that required the deletion of more than 10 years of history. The DMCA Minefield The PiratedGames ban is not unexpected considering Reddit’s strict policy but the implementation raises questions. If moderators are not informed about DMCA notices, they may not even be aware that there’s a problem. Reddit is required by the DMCA to adopt and reasonably implement a policy that allows for the termination of repeat infringers. But is it ‘reasonable’ to shut down a 300,000-member community without warning? It’s essentially a DMCA minefield that can make it particularly hard for communities to survive, even when they have good intentions. We don’t know what the ban threshold is for subreddits and neither do the moderators we spoke with. We asked Reddit for more information but the company didn’t immediately respond to our request. For the PiratedGames community, these questions and considerations are irrelevant now, as the damage is already done. — Update: A few hours after publication Reddit informed us that /r/PiratedGames was reinstated. We asked for additional details and will apprend this article if we hear more. Reddit Bans ‘/r/PiratedGames’ for Excessive Copyright Claims (Updated)
  5. Despite the availability of more legal streaming options than ever before, TV show and movie piracy are on the rise. Increased fragmentation in the streaming landscape paired with high costs is driving people to illegal options. According to data from piracy tracking company Muso, Netflix content is now good for 16% of all piracy traffic. As the first major legal subscription streaming service on the Internet, Netflix paved the way for a streaming revolution. The company began competing with piracy from the get-go, branding itself as a superior alternative. In the early years, the strategy paid off. Millions of subscribers switched from casually consuming pirated content on unlicensed platforms in favor of a convenient and reasonably-priced legal alternative. Piracy never went away, but downloading Netflix content illegally seemed silly. Streaming Wars In the years that followed the legal streaming landscape became more crowded. Inspired by Netflix’s success, new streaming portals such as Amazon, Disney+, HBO Max, Hulu, Paramount+, and Peacock started competing for a share of the lucrative streaming market. The media often refers to this competition as the “streaming wars,” but the real threat may not come from legal streaming services but illegal pirate sites. The suggestion that “subscription fatigue” may motivate people to start pirating again isn’t new. We have highlighted this issue in the past and it has been confirmed by research, but it’s now reaching a point where it’s hard for Hollywood to ignore. Piracy tracking firm MUSO recognizes the problem too. In addition to doing anti-piracy work for major copyright holders, the UK company also helps major players such as Amazon, Lionsgate, and Sony, to understand the latest piracy trends. Piracy is Appealing Once Again In an op-ed, MUSO CEO Andy Chatterley highlights that increased fragmentation in the streaming ecosystem, paired with higher prices, is starting to make piracy more appealing again. And without an option to pay for everything, people are seeking out alternatives. “[F]aced with an increasingly fractured streaming landscape, the consumer does the math and realizes that having access to all the shows they want to watch is not a justifiable expense when their grocery bill has doubled and they’re cycling or carpooling to work to save money on fuel,” Chatterley says. “And in the absence of a one-stop shop like Spotify is to music lovers, and now that piracy sites have evolved to become sophisticated, easy-to-use experiences, people who have never resorted to piracy before are finding it more appealing than ever. Everything you could ever want to watch, all in one place, only a few clicks away and all for free. What’s not to like?” Netflix Piracy Thrives Chatterley notes that copyright holders should be aware of this potential shift in user behavior, which is backed up by data. Earlier this year Netflix reported that its subscriber numbers had dropped for the first time in history and piracy continues to grow. According to MUSO’s data, Netflix content was good for an 11.4% U.S. piracy market share in June. Globally, this number is even higher, with Netflix content making up 16% of the worldwide piracy demand. “Now, imagine if they could convert those pirate consumers into paying customers,” Chatterley comments. MUSO’s messaging is in part out of self-interest as the company offers piracy insights as a commercial service. This is serious business for Muso. Just last week the company announced that it had secured a $3.9M investment from Puma Private Equity. A One-Stop Streaming Solution? That said, the fact that a company working with several Hollywood players is prepared to highlight the dangers of too many subscriptions is quite something. Especially when that company started as a fairly traditional anti-piracy outfit roughly a decade ago. Instead of pointing a finger at pirates, Chatterley focuses more on the shortcomings of the TV and movie industry. Piracy can be lowered by offering a one-stop solution for a fair price but somehow that seems to be a pipe dream. “By offering a service that is both comprehensive and good value for money, you render piracy a much less attractive option,” he writes. “But with content providers investing billions in their platforms and determined to keep their shows exclusive to them, this seems fanciful. And so the drop off in subscribers seems set to continue, with piracy sites continuing to welcome them with open arms,” Chatterley concludes. Netflix Piracy Thrives as Subscribers Rethink Their Streaming Subscriptions
  6. Pirate streaming sites have plenty of options when it comes to sourcing movies, TV shows, and live TV streams. But for some, however, cheaper is apparently better. Streaming portals offering channels from Disney, Paramount, Warner Bros. and HBO are using Twitch's servers to save money, but it appears Hollywood has already launched an investigation and is hot on the trail. In today’s ‘click-and-play’ world, almost anyone can launch their own pirate site. Servers ready to accept self-installing scripts are available in minutes, and for those with no time to source movies and TV shows, there’s no shortage of suppliers ready to sell access to vast libraries in a similar timeframe. At the other end of the market, cutting costs to maximize slender advertising revenues appears to be more important than a glossy user experience. Court Filing Targets Streaming Sites In a DMCA subpoena application filed at a California court this week, the MPA (on behalf of anti-piracy group Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment) highlighted the piracy problems faced by companies including Paramount, Sony, Universal, Disney, Warner, Amazon and Netflix. Seeking the court-ordered cooperation of Cloudflare, MPA/ACE requested information on a number of pirate streaming sites, including the personal details of their operators. As a normal part of the investigation process, this is nothing new for ACE. However, a couple of details do catch the eye as being somewhat out of the ordinary. Two of the domains listed in the application are TVConnexion.com and TeleBunker.com. When combined the sites offer dozens of live TV channels from companies including Disney, Paramount, Warner Bros. and HBO – a perfect recipe for appearing on the ACE radar. ACE informed the court that the sites offered infringing copies of the movies Suicide Squad and Salt, plus TV shows Gold Rush and Deadliest Catch. The court documents show that the named sites didn’t host any video content since both rely on third-party hosting sites to supply content. Cut-Price Pirates Like Free Streams The stream URLs listed in the court documents no longer function but when they did, they linked to video streamed live from Twitch’s servers. Further investigation suggests that the sites named by ACE rely on what appears to be a dedicated pool of Twitch user accounts set up for the purposes of streaming or restreaming live TV channels. The names of the Twitch user accounts involved aren’t especially important for the purposes of this article, but it’s likely that MPA/ACE’s 100-strong investigating team has them all in a list by now with plenty of supporting evidence. And since this is Twitch, evidence isn’t hard to find. Unlike Many Pirate Servers, Twitch Loves Logging While pirate streaming servers certainly have the ability to log who does what and when, it’s extremely unlikely that precision logging is high on the list of priorities. But, as the image below shows, Twitch loves to log information and sites like StreamsCharts are more than happy to present it elegantly. The image above shows the stats of just one of the many accounts being used to stream TV shows to the sites listed in the ACE/MPA subpoena. With this one alone having clocked up almost 46,000 hours of viewing time in just 30 days, overall consumption is likely to be pretty high. Quite why ACE/MPA haven’t gone after these Twitch accounts rather than the web pages embedding their streams is unknown, but it’s clear that the studios believe the portals are linked. Indeed, evidence of that is in plentiful supply. In addition to channel sources and analytics accounts, advertising affiliates are shared across multiple domains. Perhaps a bit too early to say but there’s probably more useful information available in the public domain than the fake details Cloudflare probably has in hand. Other Sites in the Same DMCA Subpoena Ver-television.online is listed as an infringer of the movies Suicide Squad and Changeling. It’s quite a popular site with around four million visits per month per SimilarWeb stats. The subpoena application seeks information from Cloudflare relating to the domain operator. The site itself appears to be located on the development platform Replit and offers access to a wide range of live TV channels. Three similar domains – Cablegratis.online, Cablegratishd.online and Cablegratistv.online – enjoy around 1.5 million visits per month and also get a mention in the subpoena. They are joined by the unusually comprehensive streaming portal Televisiongratisenvivo.com. One additional domain is mentioned in the subpoena as a backend source for streaming site Teleullenvivo.com but it raises a couple of suspicions so we won’t reproduce it here. The ACE/MPA subpoena to Cloudflare can be found here (pdf) Pirate Sites Using Twitch To Stream TV Shows Face Hollywood Investigation
  7. Meta has been hit with a copyright infringement lawsuit demanding at least $142 million in damages. Epidemic Sound, a company that provides royalty-free music to YouTubers and other creators, claims that Meta hosts 94% of Epidemic's music in its own library, none of it licensed. According to Epidemic, this has resulted in billions of illegal views across Facebook and Instagram. Faced with the prospect of copyright strikes, Content ID claims and potential account loss, thousands of YouTubers, TikTok users, and other content creators use music provided by Epidemic Sound. Founded in 2009 and based in Sweden, Epidemic Sound has a library of more than 35,000 music soundtracks and 90,000 sound effects. Licensing is offered on a subscription basis for as little as 9 euros per month and for that, personal creators can use Epidemic’s music and monetize a channel on YouTube, Facebook, TikTok, Instagram and Twitch. Commercial users publishing content for clients and businesses pay a slightly higher rate. Enterprise users pay even more but are free to include Epidemic Sound content in TV shows and ads, for example. According to a lawsuit just filed in a California district court, Meta is utilizing Epidemic Sound content on a massive scale but isn’t paying the company a single penny for the privilege. Massive, Rampant Copyright Infringement “This action seeks to stop the theft of music created by hundreds of musicians, songwriters, producers and vocalists, theft occurring knowingly, intentionally and brazenly by Meta on its Facebook and Instagram social media platforms on a daily basis,” the complaint begins. “Defendant Meta is not merely aware of this infringement. It has actively infringed, as well as participated in, encouraged and enabled such infringement.” This type of language has been seen before in copyright infringement lawsuits filed against user-generated content platforms. Often the response from the platform is that if rightsholders send a DMCA-style notice, they’ll take down infringing content posted by their users. The complaint filed by Epidemic goes far beyond that. Epidemic’s licenses allow its licensees (subscribers) to incorporate Epidemic’s tracks into their own content but no permission is given to license, sublicense, distribute or otherwise authorize use of Epidemic content to third parties. If third parties such as Meta want to use Epidemic content directly, they need to obtain their own license on the correct terms. The lawsuit claims that Meta’s Facebook and Instagram are using Epidemic content as if it were their own, making that content available to users of Facebook and Instagram, but with no licensing in place to do so. “Meta itself has been storing, curating, reproducing, performing, distributing, and otherwise exploiting Epidemic’s music on a daily basis, without a license,” Epidemic’s complaint reads. The numbers in the complaint are significant. Epidemic says its music is available across millions of videos that have been viewed billions of times. Approximately 50,000 infringing videos and 30,000 new uploads containing Epidemic’s music are uploaded to Facebook and Instagram, respectively, on a daily basis. The company estimates that around 94% of content using Epidemic’s music on Meta’s platforms is unlicensed and thus infringing. Meta Incorporated Epidemic Content Into Its Music Library Epidemic’s claims are potentially extremely serious. The company alleges that Meta has created a curated library of music that it stores and organizes by genre. This library is made available to users of Facebook and Instagram, not only for downloading and streaming, but also for use in user-generated video content and posts. “Epidemic knows of over 950 of its music tracks that have been reproduced, stored, made available to, and distributed to its users by Meta through its Music Library or through its other content sharing tools without a license. Epidemic is confident that further research would reveal additional infringements,” the complaint reads. In all cases, Epidemic is the copyright owner of both the sound recordings and underlying musical compositions, so more than 1,800 copyrighted works are allegedly being infringed by Meta. Epidemic says Meta is generating revenue on the back of this infringement but thus far, Meta hasn’t obtained a license or shared any portion of its advertising revenue with the music company. Alleged Direct Use of Infringing Content The complaint alleges that Meta’s infringement has “grown even more rampant” recently, in part due to Meta’s creation of tools and features that enable users of its platforms to infringe Epidemic’s rights. Two Instagram features – Original Audio and Reels Remix – are called out specifically. When Instagram users create a short video clip called a Reel, they are able to search the platform’s audio library for music to accompany the Reel. If the Reel contains music not detected by Instagram as being included in its library, the ‘Original Audio’ feature presumes the content is owned by the user posting the Reel. When other users view that Reel, a button appears that allows them to ‘rip’ the music to include it in their own Reel. The music can also be added to their personal library on the platform for future use. “Meta provides the tools to allow the viewer to synchronize that music to that viewer’s own Reel and promotes such tool publicly. Meta acknowledges that this unlimited copying, sharing, synchronization and distribution of music, licensed or not, is the intention behind the Original Audio feature.” “[T]he Original Audio feature allows Meta to extract, or separate the music from the original video content in which it was incorporated, and reproduce it for any of their billions of users who wish to incorporate it into their own video content, irrespective of whether Meta (or anyone else) has any authority to offer, reproduce, distribute or otherwise use that music in the first instance. “No one, even Epidemic’s licensed subscribers, has the right to do this without Epidemic’s authorization,” the complaint adds. Reels Remix allows users to take another user’s audiovisual content, including any music, and incorporate it into their own Reel. Epidemic claims the feature encourages and contributes to “exponential infringement”, whereby the infringing acts of one user are replicated by any number of others. Meta Has “Stonewalled” Epidemic Meta offers a tool called ‘Rights Manager’ that’s designed to help rightsholders “manage, authorize, protect and drive value from their videos, audio and image content on Facebook and Instagram.” According to the complaint, Meta allowed Epidemic to access Rights Manager for video content but refused to grant access for audio content management. “Meta’s refusal continued despite Epidemic’s repeated explanations that the rights management tool for video was woefully insufficient to monitor or protect its music on Meta’s platforms at scale,” the company says. “Meta’s unjustified and unexplained refusal to provide Epidemic with access to its rights management tool for music content has enabled and continues to contribute to the rampant infringement of Epidemic’s music on its platforms.” The lawsuit states that in addition to infringement by users, Meta is aware that it is “actively storing, offering, curating, reproducing, performing and distributing” Epidemic’s music without a license, via its Music library and its “Reels Remix” and “Original Audio” features. Epidemic says that Meta claims to have licenses with other distributors that authorize it to use some Epidemic tracks but Epidemic states that no third parties are authorized to provide Meta with rights. Copyright Infringment Claims The complaint states that by making or causing to be made unauthorized reproductions of Epidemic’s copyright works, and then made available for permanent download, streaming and synchronization, Meta commits willful direct copyright infringement. As a result, Epidemic is entitled to maximum statutory damages of $150,000 per work, to a minimum of $142 million in damages. Epidemic says that Meta’s music library and associated features Original Audio and Reels Remix both encourage and provide the necessary tools for Facebook and Instagram users to infringe its copyrights. The complaint again demands maximum statutory damages of $150,000 per work for willful infringement, to a minimum of $142 million in damages. The complaint states that Meta is also liable as a contributory copyright infringer by providing tools to its users to enable them to infringe Epidemic’s copyrights. Alleging willful infringement, the complaint again seeks maximum statutory damages of $150,000 per work but no less than $142 million. The company also seeks a permanent injunction. Epidemic Sound’s complaint against Meta, obtained by TorrentFreak, can be found here (pdf) Meta Hit With Massive Piracy Lawsuit Over Epidemic Sound Royalty-Free Music
  8. Disney is looking for a senior paralegal to expand its anti-piracy team in Burbank California. The ideal candidate will join the Digital Media Antipiracy Group to monitor and respond to the latest piracy threats, including websites and apps. Over in the UK, Disney also hopes to add a new analyst to its anti-piracy force. 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, with fresh blood coming in on a regular basis. Much of the anti-piracy work falls under the “Digital Media Antipiracy Group.” This Disney department doesn’t have a dedicated web presence, aside from this pdf, but we know that the headquarters are located at the studios in Burbank, California. The broader public can get an occasional glimpse of the team by looking at Disney’s job applications, where a new position just opened up. Anti-Piracy Paralegal The media giant wants to complement its team with a senior paralegal in the digital media anti-piracy field. This is a position with a stronger focus on the legal side, working in tandem with Disney’s lawyers. “This position will be part of a team that is responsible for providing antipiracy services with a focus on combating online piracy of film, television, and live events related to Disney properties worldwide,” the job listing reads. The candidate needs to have a few years of experience in a law firm or legal department. In addition, some tech-savviness will come in handy, as the job requires good insight into the ever-changing piracy landscape. The job description itself is quite broad. It involves writing reports, conducting piracy research, and evaluating third-party anti-piracy partners. On top of that, the candidate also has to “review” pirate sites. “Duties of this position include researching piracy technologies, websites, and apps, tracking piracy data, providing regular reports on piracy trends, evaluating prospective providers of antipiracy services and managing existing providers,” Disney writes. Prospective candidates for this the paralegal position can reach out to Disney directly. And there are more anti-piracy job openings as well. More ‘Pirate’ Jobs Over in the UK, Disney is seeking to add an Antipiracy Analyst to the local branch of the Digital Media Antipiracy Group. This person will also research, document, and report on relevant piracy developments, all under the supervision of lawyers. The ideal candidate for this role will have to “research and monitor piracy technologies, websites and apps to stay up to date on latest digital piracy methods and major happenings.” Finally, for those who are not fluent in legal matters but would still like a pirate-themed job, there’s a job listing in Anaheim that may be of interest. For the Disneyland park, the company is looking for an electrician who can be called to repair circuits at the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. Disney Seeks a Senior Paralegal to Help Combat Online Piracy
  9. In response to DMCA takedown requests, Bing removed more than 143 million links from its search engine in 2021. This represents a small increase compared to a year earlier. Interestingly, those piracy-related removals in Bing also impact the results of other search engines. Bing has a relatively small market share but that doesn’t mean that it’s being ignored by copyright holders. Microsoft’s search engine processes millions of takedown requests per week on average and these numbers add up quickly. 142,855,667 URLs Bing’s latest transparency report was published last week, allowing us to take a closer look at the latest trends. The data show that, in 2021, Bing was asked to remove more than 144 million URLs. More than 99% of these requests were valid and accepted, which ultimately resulted in the removal of 142,855,667 URLs. This is a small increase compared to the 125 million URLs that were taken down a year earlier. Looking more closely at the data, we see that there was a sharp drop in removal requests in the second half of the year. The number of reported URLs dropped from 103 million in the first six months to 41 million in the months after. Top Senders and Targets The drop in takedown volume can largely be explained by a single takedown sender. More specifically, it’s caused by the absence of requests from “Remove Your Media” toward the end of the year. Remove Your Media works with various ‘Manga’ copyright holders and sent Bing over 50 million takedown requests in the first half of 2021. In the second half, this dropped to a measly 46k. With over a third of all reported URLs, the company was still the top sender in 2021, followed by the UK music group BPI and Marketly with 31 million and 11 million reported URLs respectively. When we look at the most reported domains, manga-related sites are on top as well. Mangapark.net was targeted more than 2.5 million times, followed by related domains such as Mangafox and Ninemanga. Spillover As we learned recently, these removals also appear to affect other search engines that rely on Bing’s data. These include DuckDuckGo, Yahoo, Qwant, and Ecosia. To give an example, one of our news articles about a Game of Thrones leak was removed from Bing’s search results due to erroneous takedown requests. As a result, that article was nowhere to be found in the other search engines either. After we covered this mistake, the article reappeared in Bing. Unsurprisingly, it reappeared in Yahoo, DuckDuckGo and other search engines as well. However, other removed news articles that we didn’t mention, including this article about several movie screener leaks, are still unfindable at the time of writing. This takedown spillover effect saves copyright holders a lot of time and effort. However, for those who are targeted by takedown mistakes, it just adds insult to injury. Bing Removed 143 Million ‘Pirate’ Site URLs Last Year
  10. Beyond accusations of encouraging copyright infringement, film companies have begun accusing VPNs of enabling a slew of illegal activity. A group of over two dozen film studios has repeatedly taken popular VPN providers to court, sometimes extracting judgements worth millions of dollars in damages. While piracy remains the central issue, recent legal arguments employed by Hollywood studios have surpassed accusations of copyright infringement and delved into dirtier waters. Filmmakers attempting to recoup revenue lost to piracy have long alleged that VPN companies both encourage online privacy and have clear-cut evidence that their customers are abusing the privacy and security provided by virtual private networks. But court records show that studios’ legal teams have also accused VPN providers of enabling illegal activity far beyond copyright infringement and, legal experts say, are challenging the notion that VPNs should exist at all. In March, 26 film companies brought allegations against ExpressVPN and Private Internet Access (PIA), popular “no-log” VPN companies owned by Kape Technologies. The plaintiffs include production companies like Millennium, Voltage, and others behind a slate of popular films. The lawsuit centers on allegations of user privacy. However, court documents reviewed by WIRED reveal plaintiffs arguing that these VPN providers refuse to prevent users from using their services to commit serious illegal acts and run marketing campaigns that openly “boast” that law enforcement is unable to extract any information about their users. Generally speaking, VPNs give users greater privacy protections by encrypting their online activity and rerouting it through the company’s servers, concealing their IP addresses. Many VPN providers, including ExpressVPN and PIA, claim to maintain “no logs” of their users’ internet activities. This means VPN providers can’t access data to turn over to police or comply with copyright infringement claims. Similar to arguments against comprehensive encryption, the film companies paint VPN providers as culpable in any crimes committed while using their services. “Emboldened by Defendants’ promises that their identities cannot be disclosed, Defendants’ end users use their VPN services not only to engage in widespread movie piracy, but other outrageous criminal conduct such as harassment, illegal hacking and murder,” reads the lawsuit, filed in US District Court in Colorado. “When these crimes become public, Defendants use these tragic incidents as opportunities to boast about their VPN services.” The VPN companies responded in court filings that the “inflammatory topics” plaintiffs evoked are irrelevant to copyright infringement. Allegations as far afield as “hacking, stalking, bomb threats, political assassinations, child pornography, and anonymous online message board posts full of hate speech and appearing to encourage violence and murder” are a ploy to portray the VPNs in “a cruelly derogatory light," argue the VPNs’ legal teams. Beyond vague examples of heinous crimes, the court filing mentions an Express VPN subscriber admitting to downloading child sexual abuse material (CSAM). The film companies also call out the personal political views or activities of those employed by the VPN companies. Specifically, they focus on Rick Falkvinge, who’s known for his political views and arguments that CSAM should be legal. Falkvinge is PIA’s Head of Privacy and creator of the political Pirate Party. He has repeatedly advocated for reforms to copyright laws, calling “copying and sharing” a “natural right.” PIA’s attorney argues that these allegations must be stricken from the case because they are completely irrelevant and “serve only to inflame emotions in a misguided attempt to prejudice the Court and the public against the defendants by false association with the non-parties whose conduct is described in these paragraphs.” ExpressVPN and PIA further denied these allegations in statements to WIRED. An ExpressVPN spokesperson also emphasized that the “operation of ExpressVPN’s service has not been changed or otherwise impacted in any way relevant to the parties’ dispute.” PIA maintained that this litigation jeopardizes user privacy and that it will therefore keep fighting in court. “We assert that the use of VPNs is a legitimate way to protect one’s online privacy—a fundamental human right, which is increasingly in jeopardy of infringement,” the company said. Legal counsel representing the movie studios did not respond to WIRED’s request for comment. While Hollywood has waged legal battles around the globe for years, its fights against the VPN industry in the US ramped up last year. VPN company TorGuard, for example, landed in legal hot water with the same group of plaintiffs who successfully forced the VPN provider into blocking BitTorrent traffic for its US users. And in October 2021, VPN.ht also “settled” with these filmmakers, agreeing to not only block BitTorrent but also to log traffic on its US servers. Hollywood studios have also taken providers like Surfshark, VPN Unlimited, and Zenmate to court. Film company Voltage, which is among the group of companies regularly suing VPN providers, goes a step further, mailing letters to internet customers demanding fines for alleged piracy and threatening them with legal action. In March 2021, some of the same production companies suing ExpressVPN and PIA also sued no-log VPN provider LiquidVPN for “encouraging and facilitating” piracy. Later, the film companies demanded $10 million in damages from the company. A judge issued a default judgment against LiquidVPN this March, ordering it to pay the studios $14 million. That lawsuit largely centered around LiquidVPN’s fiery marketing practices and claimed that the VPN is “optimized for torrenting” and lets you “unblock ISP banned streams.” These tactics, the studios argued, encouraged illicit use of the service by those willing to bypass legal restrictions around accessing online content. They might be right. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), an internet civil liberties group, Hollywood’s demands are “extreme and not supported by law.” But VPNs are also treading into dangerous territory through their marketing tactics. “The studios argued that a VPN provider and its hosting company should have had a legal responsibility to monitor what their customers were doing with the service, to see if copyright infringement was going on,” says Mitch Stoltz, a senior staff attorney at EFF. “Not only is that not the law, it would undermine the whole purpose of a VPN service, which is to protect people’s internet communications against eavesdropping.” Stoltz warns, however, that bold marketing language used by VPNs, such as LiquidVPN’s “optimized for torrenting” claim, can very well be considered “inducement” in a legal context and incur liability for copyright infringement. Fearing the possibility of heavy monetary damages, VPN providers may instead choose to shut down some of their services or settle out of court. “In contrast, a VPN that doesn’t advertise or encourage infringing uses generally won’t be liable in court even if some users do infringe,” says Stoltz. “That’s an important legal protection for VPN providers, who provide an important service that would be undermined if they were faced with broad monitoring and blocking requirements.” Hollywood’s Fight Against VPNs Turns Ugly (May require free registration to view)
  11. Copyright law is rarely straightforward, something which leaves some situations open to interpretation. Today we take a look at some activities people believe they may be able to partake in legally but in most circumstances almost certainly can't. Two decades ago, when obtaining and consuming digital content via the Internet was a mere twinkle in most people’s eyes, knowledge of copyright law was strictly the domain of the experts. Today the landscape has been transformed. With file-sharing, streaming and downloading now something carried out by millions of Internet users, not to mention the masses who upload content to YouTube and social media every day, most people now have at least a rudimentary grip on what behavior could lead them into trouble. On the fringes, however, are activities that at first view may seem borderline acceptable, often because they seem relatively reasonable, even if some require a little creative thinking. The questions/statements below regularly appear on discussion forums when people are trying to carve themselves a safe niche under the law. As we will see, solid ground can be difficult to come by. Movies and TV Shows Is it legal to stream pirated movies and TV shows as long as I’m not sharing them using torrents? The confusion here seems to have its roots in differing mechanisms of delivery and distribution. When it comes to streaming, a permanent copy of a movie or TV show isn’t stored on the users’ machine, neither is it uploaded to other users. With torrents, on the other hand, a permanent copy is stored and also distributed to people sharing the same content. What we know, particularly given the thousands of copyright troll lawsuits around the world, is that downloading and sharing copyrighted content using BitTorrent is definitely illegal. What we also know is that in the EU, following a ruling from the area’s highest court, is that it is categorically illegal to stream unlicensed content from an unlicensed source. While some may choose to split hairs and try to predict what may or may not happen in courts elsewhere in the future, it seems extremely unlikely that streaming pirated content from a source that is unlicensed by rightsholders could ever be seen as legal. That said, tracking people who only stream movies and TV shows from third-party sources is fraught with difficulty so while it is probably illegal in any country with robust copyright laws, doing so anywhere is far less risky than using torrents. I subscribe to Netflix and can download a copy of a movie/TV show from there. Can I legally download a copy from the Internet to keep? Having a subscription to Netflix allows the user to do all the things that Netflix allows under the terms of the subscription. This includes watching movies and TV shows on the Netflix platform for the duration of the customer’s contract. It does not extend to any other activity, including obtaining the content from anywhere else via streaming, torrents or downloads. Videogames and Software I buy videogames legally but hate DRM including Denuvo. If I own the original, can I legally download a cracked copy from the Internet as well? While there can always be exceptions depending on the terms of the purchase, in most instances ‘owning’ a copy of a game does not necessarily mean that people actually own it. What they have obtained is a license to use and play that game within the specific terms of that license. Those terms never state that it’s permissible to download a DRM-free version from a pirate site. I own a game on Xbox, can I legally download a copy for Playstation and/or PC too? This is again covered by the licensing issue detailed above. When people obtain a copy of a game for Xbox or any other platform, the license that comes with the title governing how it can be used is unlikely to allow people to download a pirate copy for another system. If in an exceptional circumstance it did, that would be made very clear and in that case only, obtaining a secondary copy would be entirely legal. However, it would be extremely unlikely for a games company to instruct people to obtain that copy from a pirate source which in itself would be unlicensed to distribute. In any event, that would probably involve torrents or file-hosting sites offering cracked, aka illegal copies, something that companies never openly tolerate. As I already bought Windows 10 for another computer, is it ok to download a cracked copy for use on another computer? Yet again, this is an issue of licensing. When using Windows 10 or indeed any other software, people need a license to use that software. In the event that the license covers usage of the software on a single machine, obtaining another copy from elsewhere and using it on another machine would not be covered. Regardless of where the copy was obtained, a second or in some cases enhanced license is generally required. I want to test a piece of software before buying it. Is it legal to obtain a cracked copy as long as I delete it after seven days if it doesn’t suit me? This is one of those urban myths that has persisted since the early days of ‘warez’ (pirate software), where piracy groups provided cracked copies on the basis they should be used for a limited period and then deleted if unsuitable. While in some instances people are allowed to make backups of software they have legitimately acquired, copyright law doesn’t have a ‘trial’ clause which permits people to break the law for a limited period and then get off the hook later providing they do the ‘right thing’. While many downloaders still obtain cracked software on this ‘for-testing’ basis, they would be much better off checking out the legitimate provider to see if they already offer this thing of service – many do. Conclusion: If it Sounds Piratey, It Probably Is By their very nature, laws are usually complex and limited to geographical areas. As a result, someone, somewhere will probably dig out their interpretation of local law in order to justify why some or indeed all of the above points are entirely legal or in a ‘gray area’ where they live. That being said, most questions usually have clues in their titles. So, if someone is asking if it’s legal to download a pirated and cracked game from a pirate site without paying the people who made it, they probably haven’t thought it through. Or, more commonly, are just trying to see if they can get the necessary wiggle-room and authorization to go ahead and do it anyway. Source
  12. Anyone who pirates content has motivations for doing so from the basic "I can't afford it" through a rainbow of other explanations. Some call these reasons, others believe they're dressed-up excuses. But when people feel piracy is justified, a reasonable response to a set of unfair circumstances, it becomes much more difficult to have then change their habits. There are hundreds of places around the Internet inhabited by content pirates. From dedicated forums and chat channels attached to file-sharing sites to more public entities like Reddit, discussion about piracy isn’t difficult to find. Reddit’s /r/piracy sub-Reddit, for example, is both huge, public, and intriguing. To outsiders, its 534,000+ members are hardcore content pirates who will copy anything digital, in any way humanly possible. But that only describes a sub-set of the population. For those who stick around long enough, a more diverse mix can be discerned. While the place is clearly inhabited by some who flat-out refuse to buy anything, there are also plenty of contributors who appear to buy content but pirate on the odd occasion, to supplement an already expensive monthly outlay. Reasons to pirate can be seen everywhere and are often expressed by posters. Some of the most common and recurring posts are now titled/flaired “dAtS wHy I pIrAtE!!!” These can range from a picture of an empty wallet to memes bemoaning security systems such as Denuvo. Dozens of variants can be found, such as the timeless classic of depriving increasingly ‘greedy’ corporate entities of cash to ensure they don’t “take over the world”. When put under the microscope, however, do they stand up to scrutiny? As personal reasons to pirate, they are all legitimate, as legitimate as something can be when it’s illegal, of course. But as strict justification, as a solid argument that piracy is actually a reasonable response to a complicated set of negative circumstances and perceptions, things begin to get interesting. This week one Reddit user attempted to put every reason why someone might pirate into a single post and while the list seems pretty comprehensive, it fails – as this article will too – to cover every possible angle. That is because everyone is different or, as some will argue, the reasons aren’t reasons at all but merely excuses to pirate. It will come as no surprise that not being able to afford content comes at the top of the list. It is the most enduring reason for piracy since piracy began but one that can be viewed from another angle too. Is it always about not having the money, period, or is it often about saving that money so it can be spent elsewhere on things that can’t be obtained for free? This leads to another infamous theory, the one regarding the so-called ‘lost sale’. If people genuinely have no money, then there isn’t a lost sale. If they do have money but choose not to spend it, that raises questions of whether something was lost as a result of that instance of piracy and why another business sector, one selling alcohol or sneakers, for example, has more right to that revenue than content creators. Ah, content creators…and distributors. Now there’s an interesting bunch. There can be little doubt that video services like Netflix and Disney+ and gaming platforms like Steam are smash-hits with consumers. They appear to offer content not only at a fair price but also surrounded by a user-friendly experience. At least to some extent they are solving the piracy puzzle by hitting that sweet spot of being pocket-friendly and a pleasure to use. Until they aren’t. While Netflix aims to release its own content around the world simultaneously, its country-specific libraries are a constant pain in the neck for consumers. How many times have Netflix customers read online that a show is available to stream and yet when they try to find it, it’s unavailable in their region? These geo-restrictions seem absolutely ridiculous to Joe Public and while they don’t provide a cast-iron reason to pirate, some people – arguably quite rightly – feel justified in obtaining that content for free. After all, they’re being short-changed, aren’t they? The problem here is that while there are genuine business reasons for geo-blocking due to licensing issues, people with access to piracy sources have very little time or sympathy for them. The same is true for DRM on games, which may prevent a certain amount of piracy but only affects legitimate buyers. By their very nature, pirated games come without DRM. It isn’t difficult to see why people feel aggrieved at being punished for being a loyal customer and why excuses for piracy suddenly become justifications. Justification for piracy is perhaps most keenly witnessed among people who already invest significant sums on official content and media every month but then find themselves backed into a corner on specific items they’d like to experience. With budgets only stretching so far, why would anyone be happy to subscribe to yet another service to access a single TV show ‘exclusive’ when that is all they want from the platform? Equally, why would someone happily subscribe to a massive TV package in order to access a single channel that gets watched for an hour each week, purely because the TV company insists on selling an overpriced bundle that it refuses to split? Is this a reason to pirate or is it a justification? Indeed, after spending all of their available funds on official media, does accessing this TV channel for free even represent a ‘lost sale’ now? Like all of the other questions in this niche, the answer is not straightforward. In fact, we’re dealing with a moving target here. Once we determine that this is a lost sale in the example above and then decide to shift the available funds from one company to another, the consumer loses out by paying for things he doesn’t want, loses out by losing access to things that he does, and generally walks away feeling disappointed. And disappointed customers are bad things. Disappointed customers, those who feel like they’ve been exploited or taken for granted, can turn against companies long-term. Then, as if by magic, their excuses to pirate suddenly become their personal and solid justifications to pirate, which could last for a very long time. But, not only that, it might lead them down the track of paying for even less media, media that they are now particularly militant about obtaining for free. So, do justifications for content piracy really hold up under scrutiny? Well, it’s a question of personal perspective but broadly, some do and some don’t. Others absolutely don’t, while others are borderline. The argument always remains that if someone has created something the least people can do is pay for it, or not “steal it” in industry parlance. Perhaps the real question is this: does it really make any difference why people pirate to the people who do it? Multi-billion dollar content companies and smaller players alike already know what they must do to win and maintain business while converting pirates. They have to deliver the best product they can and ensure that the offer is perceived as good value for money by customers. Perhaps most importantly of all, they must never offer a product that is inferior to piracy in any significant way and then, when they have customers on board, they shouldn’t take them for granted. Because when they do, reasons to pirate are tossed aside and people start to feel justified in not buying the real thing. That’s when the real problems begin. Source
  13. 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
  14. 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
  15. 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
  16. 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
  17. 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
  18. 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
  19. 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
  20. 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
  21. Virgin Media subscribers receiving letters accusing them of movie piracy may find that settling their cases will be a costly affair. TorrentFreak understands that settlement demands run to several thousand pounds, a massive uplift on the several hundred usually requested in similar cases. Interestingly, however, some subscribers could be immune from being sued. Last week TorrentFreak broke the news that Voltage Holdings LLC, a company well known for tracking down pirates worldwide, has obtained a High Court order compelling Virgin Media to hand over subscriber data. As a result, some of the ISP’s subscribers have begun receiving letters accusing them of pirating the movie ‘Ava’ with the advice that if the matter goes to court, they could be found liable for copyright infringement. Of course, this is something Voltage and its partners would prefer to avoid and to that end, are offering recipients the option to admit liability and pay a settlement fee. In line with earlier High Court guidance, initial letters to subscribers don’t provide any idea of what that settlement amount might be. In the past the sums requested have tended to drift around the several hundred pounds mark but early indications suggest that Voltage and its partners are now aiming much, much higher. Multiple Thousands of Pounds Requested According to sources familiar with the matter who spoke with TorrentFreak on condition of anonymity, attempting to settle a case with Voltage’s law firm Lewis Silkin LLP will not be cheap. Early indications suggest that the amounts requested run to several thousand pounds and are likely to vary in scale depending on the specific defendant. At this stage it’s too early to definitively say what factors are being considered when assessing the settlement amount. However, if earlier methodology is deployed it’s possible that Voltage’s anti-piracy monitoring company (believed to be MaverickEye) will take the BitTorrent swarm size (the number of people sharing the movie at the same time) and multiply that by the price of the Ava movie. As previously reported, this system has serious flaws. However, for people who simply want to settle and move on, paying Voltage a few thousand pounds should make the whole thing go away – at least in respect of this particular accusation. But what about those who wish to contest the claims being made? Options For Accused Subscribers At the core of the letters is the assumption that the person who pays the Virgin Media bill is the person who downloaded and shared the movie ‘Ava’ without permission. ‘Assumption’ is key here since Voltage acknowledges that may not be the case and someone else in a household could be liable. If the bill payer did not carry out the infringement and did not authorize/allow someone else to do so, under the Copyright Designs and Patent Act they are not liable. This means that they can issue a direct denial to Voltage but that would not prevent the company from filing a claim if it believes it has a case. At this point it’s important to note that any claim by Voltage would be actioned in a civil court where cases are decided on the balance of probabilities – 51% confidence of infringement could tip a case in the company’s favor, resulting in a damages award. That’s in addition to the associated legal costs of a failed defense. Given that Voltage is setting the bar so high with demands for multi-thousand-pound settlements, it seems likely that defendants who can afford to mount a defense will do so. Michael Coyle of Lawdit Solicitors is currently taking on defendants’ cases for £300 (plus VAT) but for those with fewer resources, it’s difficult to know where they can turn other than Citizens Advice. However, there are some other interesting facts buried in the High Court order that could render some cases dead in the water before they begin. Safeguarding Measures Are Built Into the High Court Order While the letter from Lewis Silkin LLP ticks all the boxes and conforms to the standards laid down by the High Court, there are some interesting details in the actual order that the law firm’s letter does not directly address. For example, the High Court states that Voltage may not initiate legal proceedings against a minor, which means anyone under the age of 18 in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. This means that if a parent pays the bill and a 17-year-old illegally downloaded and shared the movie, Voltage cannot bring a case against them. Furthermore, the High Court says that Voltage cannot pursue cases against an infringer who is a pensioner. The retirement age in the UK is currently 66 and according to the High Court’s instructions, “anyone over the age of 65” can not have proceedings brought against them. In addition, anyone who is considered ‘vulnerable‘ will not have to face proceedings either. General Observations and Opinion In many respects, this new anti-piracy program is the same as those that have come and gone in the past. The allegations are the same and the aims are the same – to have people pay large sums of money to avoid having to fight a copyright infringement lawsuit in court. That being said, this campaign has clearly learned many of the lessons that have dogged similar efforts in the past and is therefore much less likely to run off the rails due to incompetence and inexperience. While arguably still objectionable given the ratio between the cost of the movie and what appear to be extortionate settlement demands, the project appears to have been planned in fine detail and has some major players on board. Also, given the history of Voltage and its partners, the claimants may yet have some surprise sources of additional evidence up their collective sleeves, rather than just IP addresses alone. Where possible, all letter recipients should proceed with caution, preferably backed up by a legal professional. Voltage can’t sue everyone but it should be assumed that hand-picking one or two defendants to be made an example of is probably part of the plan. Virgin Media Subscribers Told to Pay “Thousands of Pounds” to Settle Piracy Lawsuits
  22. A federal court in Texas has ordered a former employee of a local phone store to pay $6,250 in piracy damages. The woman, who was fired, promoted the piracy app Popcorn Time to customers and also downloaded pirated content herself. The damages award is substantially lower than the $162,500 that was claimed by several movie studios. Millions of people around the world use pirate apps on their mobile devices to stream TV-shows and movies. This is a problem for copyright holders, which have tried to tackle the problem in recent years, both in and outside of court. Hawaiian attorney Kerry Culpepper has been particularly active on the legal front. Representing a variety of movie companies, he has gone after users, site operators, and developers connected to Popcorn Time, Showbox, and other apps. These legal efforts have also spilled over to more indirect targets such as Internet providers and VPN services. Even offline targets aren’t safe it seems. Last December, a former employee of a VICTRA store was sue for promoting the piracy app Popcorn Time to customers. VICTRA Employee Promoted Popcorn Time The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the makers of the film ‘Hunter Killer’, which was later joined by four other movie companies. The filmmakers accused Ms. Boylan of downloading several films. More unusually, the rightsholders also accused her of promoting Popcorn Time to customers at the VICTRA store “Defendant promoted the movie piracy applications to her customers to entice them to purchase particular products and thereby increase her own compensation,” the amended complaint read. The claim was backed up by testimony from a VICTRA customer who stated that Ms. Boylan recommended and helped him to install Popcorn Time to watch free movies. This customer was sued in an earlier lawsuit and likely provided the information as part of a settlement. After the customer pointed out Ms. Boylan the filmmakers did some further research which showed that the IP-address connected to her Verizon subscription had been repeatedly used to download pirated movies. Filmmakers Demand $162,500 When VICTRA found out about the allegations, Ms. Boylan was terminated as an employee. However, the movie studios were not done yet and also demanded a large sum in piracy damages. After Ms. Boylan failed to respond in court, the filmmakers requested a default judgment asking for $150,000 in copyright infringement damages and another $12,550 for violations of the DMCA. In a recent order, U.S. District Court Judge Frank Montalvo agrees that the copyright holders are entitled to damages. However, the demands are too high and the final verdict is substantially lower. “Several factors suggest a somewhat lower award of statutory damages,” Judge Montalvo writes, adding that “the facts do not establish Defendant’s direct infringement extended beyond personal consumption.” Ms. Boylan’s downloads for personal use are not the biggest issue, according to the court. What weighs stronger is that the defendant promoted Popcorn Time in a sales pitch, for her own benefit. $6,250 Will Suffice All in all, however, the court doesn’t believe that the movie companies were substantially harmed by any of these activities. “Defendant’s contributory infringement is somewhat more serious as it likely caused more lost revenue than her direct infringement and was done for her own profit. Even so, the total harm to Plaintiffs is unlikely to be substantial,” the order reads. Instead of the requested $162,500 in damages, the court rules that $6,250 is sufficient in this matter. An additional award of $10,680 in attorney’s fees and costs brings the total due to $16,930. The significantly reduced damages amount saves the defendant from potential lifelong debt. However, Judge Montalvo stresses that the amount is probably high enough for her to learn a lesson. — A copy of the order issued by U.S. District Court Judge Frank Montalvo is available here (pdf) Promoting Popcorn Time Piracy Costs Phone Store Employee Her Job and $6,250
  23. Charter Communications has filed a patent application for a technology that can detect and ban rogue devices on its network. This can help to block orphan and cloned modems, which connect without permission. However, the ISP notes that the same technology can also be used to ban piracy-linked devices, such as illicit streaming boxes. With dozens of millions of subscribers, Charter is one of the largest Internet providers in the United States. Most people use their Internet connections for legitimate activities. However, similar to other ISPs, there are pirating subscribers as well. These pirates are causing quite a bit of trouble for Charter. The company is involved in two lawsuits where prominent music outfits accuse it of failing to disconnect repeat copyright infringers. The ISP previously defended itself by arguing that it can’t monitor or control how subscribers use the Internet. However, a new patent application suggests that this could change in the future. Patent Detects Theft The proposed patent titled “System And Method For Detecting And Responding To Theft Of Service Devices” describes a technology to ban rogue devices. The legitimacy of devices is ‘predicted’ based on information from DHCP logs, which can point to rogue activity. This technology can be used for a wide range of purposes. It can help to ban cloned, rogue or orphan modems. These connect to Charter’s network without paying and are increasingly used by malicious actors. “[T]hese unauthorized or illegitimate devices are being increasingly used by hackers, thieves, organized fraud rings, and other nefarious actors to launch cyber-attacks, gain remote control of devices, steal private or sensitive information, hide their true identities, or engage in other malicious activities,” Charter writes. Banning Pirate Devices Stopping this type of activity is in the best interest of Charter as well as the public at large. However, the patent also comes with some good news for copyright holders, as it can be used to ban piracy-related devices as well. In recent years pirate streaming boxes and illegal IPTV devices have been selling like hotcakes. This is a problem for rightsholders, especially because these pirates can’t be tracked down easily, as opposed to torrent-based piracy. The patent application notes that a specific set of rules could be set up to target a wide variety of illegal devices, including those that are likely linked to piracy. “For instance, devices that associate with other perceived threats, such as video piracy, may be marked in a database for further monitoring and behavior surveillance,” the patent application reads. “These operations may be performed in real-time or near-real time so that model scoring runs before a lease is granted by the DHCP server. These operations are also effective for devices that have already been granted a prior lease.” Blacklisting MAC Addresses When a device is flagged as problematic it can easily be banned from the network by putting its MAC address on a blacklist. This list is connected to the cable modem termination system, which will then ignore all flagged devices. The patent has yet to be granted and whether Charter has concrete plans to use the system as an anti-piracy tool is unknown. That said, it’s interesting to see that Charter is considering monitoring and blocking piracy at the network level. In theory, that could come in handy as a bargaining chip in the ongoing piracy lawsuits the company is involved in. Below is a technical drawing of a potential implementation of the detection and blocking system. A full copy of the patent application from Charter Communications Operating is available here. Charter Patents Technology That Can Ban Piracy Devices on Its Network
  24. A new paper published by Microsoft's research department proposes to tackle piracy with a blockchain-based bounty system titled "Argus." The system allows volunteers to report piracy in exchange for a reward. It uses the Ethereum blockchain and is transparent, practical, and secure, while limiting abusive reports and errors. Microsoft is one of the world’s most prominent copyright holders with a vast experience in fighting piracy. The company is part of the Software Alliance (BSA), for example, which is known to track copyright infringements both off- and online. The BSA is also known for its piracy bounties, where it promises whistleblowers cash rewards in return for fruitful tips. This is a controversial strategy which Microsoft’s own research team hopes to improve upon. Argus A few days ago Microsoft’s research department published an article titled: Argus: A Fully Transparent Incentive System for Anti-Piracy Campaigns, which lays out the details of its plan. The paper, which also received input from researchers at Alibaba and Carnegie Mellon University, suggests that an open and transparent blockchain is part of the solution. This openness is currently missing from BSA-style reporting mechanisms. “Industrial alliances and companies are running anti-piracy incentive campaigns, but their effectiveness is publicly questioned due to the lack of transparency. We believe that full transparency of a campaign is necessary to truly incentivize people,” the paper reads. Piracy Bounty Hunting The article is full of technical details. We don’t strive to provide a full summary but, simply put, Argus is a transparent system built on the Ethereum blockchain that allows people to anonymously report piracy in exchange for a bounty. Pirated content is traced back to the source through a unique watermark that corresponds with a secret code. When a pirated copy is reported, the status of the source (licensee) is changed to “accused.” The system provides an appeal option, but if that fails, the accused status changes to “guilty.” Argus is an open system but there are various safeguards to prevent abuse. Reporting the same pirated work multiple times under different aliases is useless, for example, as that will only reduce the reward. Low Blockchain Costs The system relies on several checks to ensure that the system is open, while avoiding false accusations at the same time. And according to the researchers, the costs of utilizing the blockchain are relatively low. “We effectively optimize several cryptographic operations so that the cost for a piracy reporting is reduced to an equivalent cost of sending about 14 ETH-transfer transactions to run on the public Ethereum network, which would otherwise correspond to thousands of transactions. “With the security and practicality of Argus, we hope real-world anti-piracy campaigns will be truly effective by shifting to a fully transparent incentive mechanism,” the researchers add. Real-World Use? Whether Microsoft has any plans to test the system in the wild is unknown. It theoretically works with various media types including images, audio and software. That said, it’s unclear how effective it will be. The researchers “assume” that the watermarking technology deployed is tamper-free, which isn’t always the case today. All in all, it’s intriguing to see blockchain technology used to improve the rather old-fashioned piracy reporting campaigns. This idea isn’t completely new, however, as the South African company Custos came up with a similar idea years ago. Microsoft’s research notes that Argus is superior to Custos’ solution as it can assess the severity of piracy and the strength of accusations. At the same time, they believe Argus is better than BSA’s campaigns because the reward payments are transparent. The paper and the Argus system will be presented at the upcoming 40th International Symposium on Reliable Distributed Systems, which will be held virtually at the end of September. Microsoft Envisions a Blockchain-Based Bounty System to Catch Pirates
  25. 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
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