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  1. The CreativeFuture coalition, which represents companies and individuals in the film, TV, music, and publishing industries, wants pirate site blocking put back on the political agenda. CEO Ruth Vitale finds it incomprehensible that an anti-piracy measure commonplace in other Western democracies is unavailable in the United States. Over the years, copyright holders have tried a multitude of measures to curb online piracy, with varying levels of success. Site blocking has emerged as one of the preferred solutions. While blocking measures are not bulletproof, the general idea is that they pose a large enough hurdle for casual pirates to choose legal options instead. The blocking approach was very controversial at the start of the last decade, particularly in the U.S., but elsewhere it’s increasingly being normalized. Dozens of countries have legal or procedural options to request ISP blockades, which currently block in excess of 20,000 sites around the world. The Star-Spangled Elephant American entertainment companies are the driving force behind most pro-blocking campaigns, which currently span all inhabited continents. This can be seen as a great achievement but there’s a star-spangled elephant that’s rarely brought up in site-blocking discussions; the lack of pirate site blocking in the U.S. This isn’t a minor oversight as the United States actually harbors many millions of online pirates, more than any other country in the world. At the same time, however, the U.S. was also where the first major site-blocking legislation push failed more than a decade ago, following fierce protests from the public. In recent years major rightsholders have slowly started to put the issue back on the political agenda. This week, CreativeFuture CEO Ruth Vitale wrote an op-ed for The Hill, calling for action. CreativeFuture is an organization that represents the interests of over 500 copyright-reliant companies, as well as 300,000 individuals who work in the creative industries. The group is a fierce proponent of stricter copyright legislation including site blocking. “Despite the long history of innovation in our creative communities, the U.S. is somehow lacking a commonsense and extremely effective anti-piracy tool: site blocking. And we need it now more than ever,” Vitale writes. According to Vitale, it is “incomprehensible” that the U.S. sits on the sidelines while other countries are taking these “commonsense measures”. No-Fault Injunctions Technically, U.S. courts can already order intermediaries to block sites, and that has happened in the past. However, the text of the law is not entirely clear on whether ISPs have to be held liable or not. This makes it a complicated legal issue. Ideally, rightsholders would like to change the legal framework in the United States to allow for these orders on home turf. Concrete proposals are yet to be formed but according to Vitale, it’s clear that site-blocking schemes work. With proper judicial oversight, courts should be able to require Internet providers to block foreign pirate sites, without holding the intermediaries liable. “Such site blocking has proven to be an effective remedy against piracy in the more than 40 countries that have implemented court-adjudicated site blocking — including western democracies like Canada and the UK,” Vitale notes. Western Democracy-Approved The earlier “SOPA” site-blocking legislation became stranded after massive public protests were supported by tech giants including Google and Wikipedia. The main fear was that blocking would eventually lead to over-blocking and other problems affecting core internet infrastructure. According to Vitale, those fears were overblown and unproven. There have been few issues in countries where site-blocking is operational. In fact, several of these counties rank higher on core democratic values than the United States. “Many of the countries that permit judicial site blocking, including Canada, Australia, and the UK, ranked higher than the U.S. in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s latest annual index of the state of democracy around the world. “The takeaway? There is little, if any, evidence of a negative correlation between site blocking and freedom of expression,” Vitale adds. Calling on Congress Opponents have pointed out that site blocking is a slippery slope that threatens free speech. In addition, the effectiveness of the measures are also in question, as they are easy to bypass or circumvent. Vitale counters the latter by pointing to research that shows how site blocking can decrease piracy and increase legal consumption. It may not be perfect, but that’s besides the point. “It is time for these outdated arguments against commonsense anti-piracy tools to stop. Protecting the creative industries has always been a bipartisan issue, and I hope that members of Congress on both sides of the aisle will soon be ready to discuss site blocking legislation,” Vitale concludes. The fact that the headline of Vitale’s op-ed avoids the term ‘site blocking’ suggests that sensitivities remain. At this point, however, completely ignoring the site blocking issue is becoming increasingly uncomfortable. There is some movement already, however. US Senator Thom Tillis previously asked the public to share their views on site blocking. This triggered unanimous support from the Motion Picture Association, but there was plenty of opposition too, as always.
  2. A Russian security company is reporting a surge in movie and TV show-related domain registrations. Some believe that pirates are buying domains to exploit an upcoming gap in the market when Hollywood licenses expire at the end of the month. Telecoms regulator Roskomnadzor claims that Ukraine and its allies are running pirate sites for propaganda purposes. From February 28, 2023, availability of Western content on Russia’s legal streaming portals is set to nosedive. Following the invasion of Ukraine a year ago, new video content produced by major Western companies mostly disappeared from Russian cinemas and online platforms. Older content covered by existing licensing agreements remained in place, but in a matter of days, many of those deals will run out. Local reports suggest that at least 200 films owned by Disney, Sony, and other Hollywood studios, will disappear from licensed streaming platforms, including market leader Kinopoisk. Against that background, experts suggest that Kinopoisk’s customers will migrate to illegal sites offering everything for free. Local cybersecurity companies believe that preparations are already underway to meet the demand. Domain Name Registrations Surge According to Russian cybersecurity firm Angara Security, registrations of domain names with a movie or TV show theme began to surge at the start of the month. The company says that between February 1 and February 10 alone, registrations were up 64% on similar registrations for the whole of January. “According to our data, the vast majority of newly created sites belong to pirates. Such activity is due to the fact that attackers closely follow the content agenda and use it for their own purposes,” Angara Security’s Victoria Varlamova informed IZ this week. Less Legal Content, More Pirates, Even More Pirate Sites Asked to comment on the reported surge, Cybersecurity firm R-Vision was more specific. The company linked increasing numbers of pirate sites directly to sanctions and reduced access to licensed content. “Indeed, against the backdrop of sanctions restrictions, there has recently been an increase in the number of pirated sites with films and series, as more and more popular foreign content is removed from legal online cinemas,” said R-Vision’s Petr Kutsenko. None of the opinions expressed thus far are particularly unusual. While we were unable to confirm excess ‘pirate’ domain registrations in early February, domains registered over the past 48 hours alone include large numbers of instantly recognizable ‘pirate’ brands on a wide range of TLDs. Due to search engine demotions, site-blocking and other anti-piracy measures, that in itself is not particularly unusual. Pirates are burning through domains at an unprecedented rate and it’s entirely feasible that some have spotted an opportunity and intend to exploit it. The Russian government says it’s all part of a Western conspiracy. Roskomnadzor Blames Ukraine & Other ‘Unfriendly Countries’ Those who initially reported the domain registration surge placed the blame on generic pirates but went no further than that. Russian telecoms regulator Roskomnadzor had much more to say. “The creation and popularization of such pirated video services among the Russian audience is carried out from the territory of Ukraine with the support of a number of unfriendly countries, from which claims have ceased to be received regarding violation of their copyrights when distributing content,” the department told Izvestia. The claim that some people in Ukraine are involved in pirate sites hardly comes as a huge shock; it’s been common knowledge for at least 20 years. But the suggestion that Ukraine is colluding with Western allies to push pirated content to Russian audiences via pirate sites, because rightsholders have stopped sending copyright complaints for violations in Russia? Less plausible. Pirate Propaganda Since Russian pirates are perfectly capable of serving local audiences without foreign assistance, it’s unclear what unfriendly pirates could achieve in Russia. But Roskomnadzor has its own theory, one that goes far beyond streaming illicit movies and TV shows. According to the telecoms watchdog, Western-supported pirate sites, run from the territory of Ukraine, play a role in the war. As reported by Izvestia, Roskomnadzor claims that these pirate sites are “purposefully used for anti-Russian propaganda and dissemination of fake materials” relating to the situation in Ukraine. Roskomnadzor says that since February 2022, more than 4,000 of these “pirate internet resources” have been blocked by ISPs for “distributing advertising banners with fake materials about a special military operation.” For rightsholders running short of ideas on the anti-piracy front, site-blocking opportunities don’t come any easier than that.
  3. The European Union warns that pirate sites can lead users to malware and other unwanted content. Unfortunately, the EU also has its own piracy problem; its official website continues to be exploited by bad actors to advertise piracy-related scams. Meanwhile, male enhancement gummies, Onlyfans hacks, gift card generators, and other scams are promoted too. The European Union recognizes that online piracy poses a serious threat to copyright holders and the public at large. Last December, the EU published an updated version of its biannual piracy and counterfeiting watchlist, calling out some of the worst offenders. “Infringements of intellectual property rights, in particular commercial-scale counterfeiting and piracy, pose a serious problem for the European Union,” the EU Commission wrote. The report explained that the unauthorized activity leads to “high financial losses” for copyright holders. Members of the public face risks too, such as piracy-related malware and scammers determined to obtain their credit card details. Europa.eu Pirate Scammers As the EU published these cautionary words, its flagship domain name Europa.eu was already being exploited by piracy-related scams, including the worst type – credit card phishing spam. When we alerted the European Commission to our findings, a spokesperson informed us that the origin of the incident has been identified and that proper action had been taken to resolve the matter. “Concerned platform stakeholders have already taken the necessary measures such as removal of suspicious files and blocking further attempts for uploading them. We are closely monitoring the situation and continue scanning websites for suspicious files,” the spokesperson said. The Piracy Problem Persists Despite these reassuring words and the passing of three months, the problem is yet to be solved. Basic searches reveal that Europa.eu portals have been plagued by thousands of piracy-related adverts, with new ones being added daily. The EU hosts a broad variety of projects on its official domain and several allow outsiders to contribute content. It appears that this weakness is easily exploited, yet hard to patch. Below is just one of the many piracy-related adverts, promoting a 123movies website where people can supposedly stream free movies. These and other variants appear on europa.eu and subdomains including school-education.ec.europa.eu, atlantic-maritime-strategy.ec.europa.eu, esdac.jrc.ec.europa.eu and more. Like many others, the advert shown above arrives as a PDF file containing a link to the target site. In this case, the link goes to a dodgy movie platform that has absolutely nothing to do with 123movies. Phishing Prospective pirates who click the link see a dummy streaming site, which may show short movie intros. Interestingly, the scammy streaming site appears to block certain countries but by using an American IP address, we managed to get in. After a brief intro, users are prompted to register. We attempted to sign up but decided to abort the mission when our anti-virus software confirmed a phishing scam. “Phishing websites persuade you to reveal personal data such as login or credit card details, usually by pretending to be a legitimate source. It uses social engineering to trick you,” the warning read. The same scammy ads also promote specific movies, such as “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania”, The same is true for popular TV-series such as HBO’s “The Last of Us”. TorrentFreak reached out to the Commission again, to get an update on how it sees the problem, but we haven’t heard back. When we last inquired about the issue a few weeks ago, a spokesperson informed us that the EU “won’t comment any further on this matter.” IPTV, UFC, and the Super Bowl The EU must have its reasons for the lack of communication, but the spamming only appears to be getting worse. In addition to classic pirate streaming sites, shady IPTV services are advertised too. Several ads on the Europa.eu site are linked to tv.elaalam.com, which promises access to virtually all content imaginable, including live sports. You have to pay first, of course. Whether this is a total scam or not is irrelevant at this point. The EU previously called out pirate IPTV services and is in talks with rightsholders to better protect themselves against live streaming piracy. Inadvertently running ads for these services at the same time is not ideal. The spam doesn’t stop at pirate IPTV services either. We’ve seen ads for scammy UFC broadcasts, Premier League matches, NBA games, NASCAR races, and even the mighty Super Bowl has a dedicated promo in Europa.eu. Male Enhancement Gummies By now it should be clear that there’s a spam problem, but the deeper we dig, the more dirt we encounter. Want to hack Instagram? Need a hacked Onlyfans account? Or a free cash app money generator? There’s an ad for that. Gift cards also appear to be quite popular; Google Play, Xbox, Amazon, or Playstation, you name it. Even physical needs can be satisfied if you believe in magic. The “CBD Male Enhancement Gummies” for “longer staying power” stood out to us in this regard; literally. Upload Filter? The above shows that the problem is rampant. However, it doesn’t mean that the EU is completely ignoring it. Several of the scammy ads have been removed and takedowns are ongoing. That said, the spam avalanche is ongoing and has been for at least three months. While we were working on this article, dozens of new PDF files were uploaded. In recent years the EU has passed legislation to ensure that large online platforms use technical tools such as upload filters to tackle online piracy. Perhaps that could be an option for Europa.eu too?
  4. A condition of watching streaming service Pluto TV is that users must use approved methods such as official apps. This is the reason that Pluto TV is free, since revenue is generated through advertising. Unofficial Pluto TV .m3u playlists are easy to access and do away with advertising and user behavior tracking mechanisms. A copyright complaint sent by the MPA this week pulls no punches; these playlists facilitate piracy on a massive scale. For people who enjoy movies and TV shows but prefer not to hand over a monthly subscription, Pluto TV is one of the most popular legal services around. Depending on the region, Pluto TV offers up to 250 ‘channels’ covering TV shows, movies, general entertainment, documentaries, sports, and news. For those who prefer audio-only, Pluto TV throws in a selection of music channels too. Pluto TV is available on mobile Android and iOS devices, media streaming devices such as Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast and Roku, and via apps on the Xbox and PlayStation gaming platforms. However, a condition of using Pluto TV is that it must only be consumed using through approved software. Watch For Free, Pay in Other Ways Official Pluto TV apps deliver video content and Electronic Program Guides (EPGs) to users who, incidentally, don’t even need to sign up. These apps play a key role in the advertising mechanisms that generate revenue for the Pluto TV service and support the free-to-watch model. Viewed from a different angle, some users don’t like to be tied down to official apps and would rather use their own software. Users may also prefer less advertising or find the amount of user data scooped up by official apps a privacy risk. Pluto TV uses systems that monitor and track user behavior (GitHub repo here), so when viewers completely do away with official apps, it undermines Pluto TV’s business model, and that has an impact on revenue. In a strongly-worded copyright complaint sent this week, rightsholders say that will not be tolerated. M3U Playlists and Pluto TV Playlists using the .m3u format have been around for years. Often used to instruct a media player to play a bunch of locally stored songs in a particular order, .m3u playlist files can also point to online locations where media streams can be found. While these playlists can be used to access pirate IPTV services, some are configured to access Pluto TV streams from their official sources. Downloading a Pluto TV .m3u playlist takes a second and they can be used in anything from VLC Media Player to systems like TVHeadEnd, which enables streaming to locations in a network, no official apps required. While this offers new opportunities for users, supplying .m3u playlists isn’t without risk. The GitHub repo shown below used to offer Pluto TV playlists for download before suddenly experiencing issues last week. These issues were caused by a DMCA notice sent by the Motion Picture Association to GitHub. The complaint is dated February 14 but wasn’t officially published until this week. Massive Copyright Infringement The language used in the complaint makes it extremely clear that the MPA views playlists as a threat and illegal under copyright law. “We are writing to notify you of, and request your assistance in addressing, the extensive copyright infringement of motion pictures and television shows that is occurring by virtue of the operation of the playlist file, PlutoTV_mr.m3u, which is hosted on and available for download from your repository GitHub Inc. at [former repo location],” the notice reads (minor edits for clarity). “Specifically, at the URL, the Repository hosts and offers for download the Playlist, which in turn is used to engage in massive infringement of copyrighted motion pictures and television shows.” The MPA references an attachment (not published on GitHub) that provides “a representative list of infringements” occurring via the playlist, along with screenshots to show MPA member studios’ content “being streamed without authorization through the playlist.” GitHub responded by taking the playlist down and the associated repo no longer exists. While that solves the immediate problem, Pluto TV playlists and playlists for many other similar platforms aren’t going to disappear overnight. Due to their nature, Pluto TV and similar playlist aren’t viewed in the same light as pirate IPTV service playlists, so taking a look at the MPA’s claims may prove informative. Suppliers and Users Infringe Copyright The MPA’s complaint basically accuses the entire chain of copyright infringement offenses, GitHub included. “By offering this Playlist for download, your Repository enables the Playlists blatant infringement of the MPA Member Studios copyrights and countless other copyrights. Indeed, copyright infringement is so prevalent on the Playlist that infringement plainly is its predominant use and purpose,” the notice to GitHub reads. Importantly, GitHub acted appropriately, so enjoys safe harbor protection. The same does not apply to the people involved in creating and then offering the playlist for download. The MPA cites several major copyright lawsuits where defendants were ultimately found liable for infringement, but Columbia Pictures vs. Fung seems to offer the clearest picture. Contributory Copyright Infringement Columbia Pictures sued Gary Fung, former owner of torrent index isoHunt, for operating a website that facilitated access to their copyrighted content. Fung was found liable for contributory copyright infringement on the basis that he induced third parties (isoHunt’s users) to download infringing copies of the studios’ copyrighted works. Fung later settled with the MPA. The terms of Pluto TV’s license (section 5.2) forbid users from accessing the service in ways that are not expressly authorized by the platform. Use of an unauthorized playlist breaches those terms, and for any user who claims not to have accepted or even read those terms of service, they may find themselves without any viewing license at all. In any event, claims of inducement (playlist suppliers/distributors) rely on the acts of primary infringers (users/viewers). By citing MPA member studios’ content as being infringed, issues involving Pluto TV itself become less important, at least for the purposes of the DMCA takedown notice. That being said, we probably haven’t heard the last of ‘playlist piracy’ as featured here.
  5. Brazil's Ministry of Justice says that an operation to protect Japanese anime content has shut down two of the largest anime piracy sites in the country. The names of the sites appear to be a secret, so inevitably that makes them much more interesting. What we found may be bigger than naming two sites. More sites are also offline - big ones too. ‘Operation 404’ is an ongoing law enforcement initiative in Brazil that aims to disrupt the availability of pirated content online. Operation 404 took on pirate IPTV services in 2022, but earlier waves have targeted everything from regular websites to popular Android apps. According to a government announcement, authorities have just shut down “the two biggest digital anime pirate sites” in Brazil as part of Operation 404 offshoot, ‘Operation Anime’. Operation Anime Information provided by the Ministry of Justice and Public Security states that Operation Anime was led by the Minas Gerais State Civil Police. The objective was to “repress crimes committed against intellectual property” on the internet, specifically piracy of Japanese cartoons, better known as anime. “The action is part of a mobilization coordinated by the National Secretariat for Public Security, of the Ministry of Justice and Public Security (Senasp/MJSP), through the Cybernetic Operations Laboratory,” the announcement adds. The Laboratório de Operações Cibernéticas, as it’s known in Brazil, is more closely associated with the mitigation of cyberattacks than it is piracy. However, since many crimes can have an online component, preventing serious crime and tracking down offenders is also part of the unit’s remit. “Two Biggest Digital Anime Piracy Sites Taken Down” The Ministry of Justice notes that the operation received support from the Content Overseas Distribution Association (CODA), an anti-piracy group that helps to protect anime content in Japan and overseas. The statement indicates a significant operation; search and seizure warrants, blocking and/or suspension of websites, action against content in search engines, and the removal of profiles and pages on social networks. “During the execution of the warrants, the objective is to seize computer equipment, including: internal HDs, computer devices, which demonstrate the materiality of the crime. The two biggest anime digital piracy sites have been taken down,” the government department adds. Having supplied an abundance of information relating to who did what, where, and why, the names of the sites claimed to have been shut down are never mentioned, despite being the most important part of the story. Report on Brazilian TV The TV report embedded below doesn’t name the sites either but does reveal some details of the operation. Speaking in Portuguese, a police officer says that a target was identified in Arapiraca, the second-largest city in the Alagoas region. An unnamed 22-year-old computing student is suspected of running a large anime piracy site. The officer explains that running a piracy site could lead to four years in prison, “and with this regulation here in Alagoas, this young man must be indicted for the crime of piracy.” Was BetterAnime Targeted? When Brazilian authorities report Operation 404 successes, they rarely mention specific dates for individual actions. Indeed, there is some evidence to show that sites or applications may have been taken down or blocked over longer periods, weeks or even months. Given the timing, some believe that BetterAnime.net was taken down as part of Operation Anime. The site enjoyed around six million visits each month, with users mostly complimentary regarding its speed and content selection. A tweet published on the site’s official Twitter account yesterday confirms the closure of BetterAnime but says it had nothing to do with the government’s announcement. “[F]or crying out loud. I wasn’t arrested,” the tweet insists. “It happened to be at the same time. I received a DMCA notice with a ‘request’ to shut down the site. If you don’t comply, the thing could lead to court, etc.” A message on the now-shuttered site adds the following: “For copyright reasons, the BetterAnime website has been closed down. It was a good journey and full of learning, but the time has come to close the project. Thank you to everyone who has supported us during this time.” Case solved? Probably not. Other Sites Targeted Recently? With around five million visits each month and 95% of its traffic originating from Brazil, Animes-Vision has a similar profile to BetterAnime. Or rather it did, until recently. A notice on the site confirms that its operators decided to close the platform down “for major and copyright reasons.” There’s no direct information to confirm any arrests, but in any case, five million visits per month wouldn’t be anywhere near enough to claim the number one or even number two slots taken by the largest anime piracy sites in Brazil. The recent shutdown of Anbient.com provides few additional clues. With over 60% of its traffic hailing from Brazil but with around 100,000 visits per month, the site simply wasn’t big enough to match the profile mentioned by the authorities. The shutdown notice displayed on the former anime platform (above) is mostly generic, but in sticky situations, that’s often the case. Especially so when compliance with a cease-and-desist notice offers a much simpler way out. Two Serious Contenders Since anime-online.site is completely offline, there’s obviously no notice to report here. The site appears to have been popular in Brazil but with just a few hundred thousand visits per month, it can’t be considered a major player. A site with a similar name can. Currently offline and displaying a Cloudflare error, animesonline.cc fits the profile perfectly. In December 2022 alone the site had over 20 million visits, and 99% of its traffic originated from Brazil. animesonline.cc The Cloudflare error appears regardless of visitor location but we can’t yet confirm the reasons for the message or the downtime. As far as we’re aware, the site’s downtime is yet to be explained and people are beginning to ask questions. Interestingly, or potentially entirely coincidentally, the same Cloudflare message also appears on another massively popular anime piracy site. Animefire.net had 10 million visits in December 2022, and almost 92% of its visitors were from Brazil. It meets the criteria mentioned by the Brazilian government perfectly. It may suddenly reappear online unscathed but that would contradict the government’s claims that the two largest anime piracy sites have been taken down. Stranger things have happened, of course, but there are other things to consider. Mystery Solved or More Mystery? While numerous moving parts can distort site popularity, Animes-Online.cc and Animefire.net seem likely to have been the two most popular anime piracy sites in Brazil, at least before they went offline. They may yet return but in the meantime, here’s an interesting coincidence. With 22.3 million visits in December 2022 and over 99% of its audience coming from Brazil, Mangalivre.net is a hot contender for Brazil’s most popular site for Japanese comics, otherwise known as manga. Right now the site is down and displaying the same Cloudflare error as those on the anime sites. Again, user location seems irrelevant. After pulling in millions of visitors in December 2022, sites also down and showing exactly the same Cloudflare message include Animeyabu.com and Animesbr.biz. Other sites in the anime and manga niches appear to be offline too. Given that there are obvious links between some of these sites (and many other sites not even mentioned here), could that mean they’re all experiencing simultaneous but coincidental technical difficulties? It’s also possible that they’ve all been taken down as a precautionary measure due to the recent actions in Brazil, and will eventually return as if nothing has happened. Or maybe, potentially, the authorities in Brazil – with help from Japan – have hit the jackpot. Given that not even the names of the sites taken down are being made public, all options remain on the table. Coincidences happen – regularly. We’ll have to sit and wait patiently, just like everyone else.
  6. Game developer Bungie continues its legal crusade against cheat sellers. The company has requested a $6.7m default judgment against the alleged operator of LaviCheats, who failed to show up in court. LaviCheats removed Destiny 2 cheats from its website but then began promoting other potentially-related sites. In the summer of 2021, game developer Bungie filed a complaint targeting three well-known cheat sellers; Elite Tech Boss, Lavicheats & VeteranCheats. The case against Elite Tech Boss has been the most eventful thus far. Within a few months, this resulted in a consent judgment where a key defendant agreed to pay $13.5 million in damages. That judgment didn’t settle the matter completely as Bungie still has other targets in its crosshairs. Meanwhile, there are other cases to resolve. LaviCheats and VeteranCheats failed to answer the complaints filed in the United States. As a result, Bungie requested a $12 million default judgment against the latter a few days ago, shortly followed by a similar, albeit lower, claim against Lavicheats.com. You’ve Been Served Late last week Bungie filed a motion for default judgment against LaviCheats at a Washington federal court. The game company asked the court to rule on the matter without hearing the defendant, as they apparently have no interest in making a court appearance. Bungie believes that LaviCheats is operated by India-resident Kunal Bansal, AKA “Lavi”. However, no known address exists for this person. To alert Bansal to the legal proceeding, Bungie sent an email and posted a message in the LaviCheats forums. These unusual serving options were authorized by the court and proved successful. Although there was no response in court, Destiny 2 cheats were removed from the LaviCheats website. lavibla In a message posted on the website, LaviCheats explained that it will no longer sell Destiny 2 hacks because of the lawsuit. At the same time, however, LaviCheats advised people to buy cheats at Cobracheats instead. The referral is not a coincidence; Bungie believes that Bansal is also the driving force behind this cheat shop, as well as others. “[A]fter receiving notice of this lawsuit, Bansal moved his unlawful activities with respect to the Cheat Software to one or more other websites believed to be owned and/or operated by him, including the websites located at cobracheats.com, lavicheats.org, and protocolv.com,” Bungie explains. $6.7 Million Default Judgment As the defendant failed to show up in court, Bungie moved ahead on its own. In the motion filed last Friday, the company requests a total award of $6,700,973.34. This figure comprises damages, attorneys’ fees and other costs. The bulk of the proposed award relates to Lavicheats’ alleged violations of the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provision. The game developer believes it’s entitled to $2,000 for each of the 2,790 cheat copies that were downloaded. “Bansal’s […] ongoing conduct demonstrates a willingness to continue with his illegal activities, as to warrant a statutory damage award of at least $2,000 for each of the 2,790 Cheat Software for Destiny 2 that Bansal’s own website admitted were downloaded, for a total of $5,580,000.” Bungie further alleges that Lavicheats infringed its copyrights, so is entitled to claim the maximum $300,000 in statutory damages for two titles. In addition, Bungie seeks $579,270 in damages for trademark infringements, an amount that equals Bansal’s Destiny 2 cheat profits. High But Warranted The $6 million figure is high but justified, Bungie tells the court. Stressing that the company had to spend millions of dollars to fight cheaters, it’s appropriate to send a strong message. “[A]lthough the total amount Bungie seeks may be considered large, the damages are proportional to the harm caused by Bansal’s flagrant and willful violation of Bungie’s rights,” Bungie notes. In addition to the damages request, the motion also seeks a permanent injunction, barring Bansal from engaging in any Bungie-related cheating or infringement activities going forward. The Washington federal court has yet to review and rule on the motion. Without a defending party, however, little stands in the way of another Bungie victory.
  7. Game developer Bungie has won its first battle against cheat seller AimJunkies. In an arbitration proceeding, Judge Ronald Cox concluded that the cheaters violated the DMCA's anti-circumvention provision and related trafficking restrictions. The end result is an award for $3.6 million in damages and over $700k in fees and other costs. In 2021, Bungie filed a complaint at a federal court in Seattle, accusing AimJunkies.com of copyright and trademark infringement, among other things. The same accusations were also made against Phoenix Digital Group, the alleged creators of the software. AimJunkies denied the claims and argued that cheating isn’t against the law. In addition, it argued that the copyright infringement allegations were ungrounded because some of the referenced copyrights were registered well after the cheats were first made available. Court Dismissed Bungie’s Copyright Claims Last May, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Zilly largely sided with AimJunkies. The original complaint didn’t provide sufficient evidence for a plausible claim that the ‘Destiny 2 Hacks’ infringed any copyrights, the judge concluded. This was bad news for Bungie, but the court allowed the game developer to amend its complaint, which it did. That copyright infringement dispute is still ongoing and on its way to a trial that’s expected to take place later this year. In 2022, Judge Zilly referred several of the non-copyright-related complaints to arbitration, including allegations that AimJunkies’ cheats violated the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provision and were illegally sold to third parties. Arbitration Judge Sides with Bungie The arbitration process was conducted behind the scenes, but Bungie shared the outcome with the Washington federal court a few days ago. In a resounding win for the developer, Bungie walked away with an award of $4.3 million in damages and fees. The bulk of the award relates to DMCA-related damages. According to arbitration Judge Ronald Cox, the evidence makes it clear that AimJunkies and third-party developer James May bypassed Bungie’s technical protection measures in violation of the DMCA. “May testified that on many occasions, he connected reverse engineering tools to the Destiny 2 process in order to reverse engineer it and develop a cheat for the game,” Judge Cox writes. “He also testified that after being caught and banned by Bungie several times for doing so, he attempted various ways to bypass the bans and circumvent the protections Bungie had in place to prevent reverse engineering.” All Liable for Circumvention May is not an employee of AimJunkies or its parent company Phoenix Digital. However, the latter can be held liable; the reverse engineering was carried out to develop the cheating software, which was sold and profited from. “Thus, the remaining respondents are liable for May’s violations. They are likewise liable for the circumvention by the many users of the cheats sold by Phoenix on the website,” Judge Cox writes. The arbitrator concludes that the circumvention was malicious, which entitles Bungie to $2,500 per offense. Based on 102 violations, total damages amounted to $255,000. In reaching this conclusion, the testimony of AimJunkies owner David Shaefer was disregarded. Judge Cox found his testimony non-credible, partly due to Shaefer substantially understating revenue from the sale of the cheats. Trafficking In addition to violating the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions, the defendants were also found liable for trafficking in circumvention devices. Or put differently, selling and shipping the cheats. Sales of the cheats and loader, which effectively bypassed Bungie’s copyright protections, amount to 1,361 copies in total. “The evidence shows that Phoenix sold more than one thousand copies of the cheats. They also distributed more than one thousand copies of the cheat loader that was used to inject the cheats into the Destiny 2 process. “Given respondents’ egregious and willful conduct, including their ongoing concealment of sales, Bungie is entitled to the full statutory damages available,” Judge Cox adds. Trafficking violations resulted in a $3,402,500 award, and when added to damages for circumvention violations, an award of $3,657,500 covered all DMCA violations. $4,396,222 and Forward The arbitrator also sided with Bungie’s claims regarding breach of contract, tortious interference, consumer protection, and spoilation. As such, the game developer is entitled to attorneys’ fees and other awards. In total, an award of $4,396,222 was handed to the game developer. Last week, Bungie asked the federal court to accept this final award and approve an associated injunction, which prevents the AimJunkies defendants from engaging in any similar activities going forward. In addition, Bungie is using its arbitration successes to defend against AimJunkies’s counterclaims in the ongoing copyright battle. AimJunkies argued that by decompiling and reverse-engineering its cheat software, Bungie violated AimJunkies’ terms of service and breached the terms of its contract. Bungie says that the arbitration result counters AimJunkies’ claims since it found the software itself illegal. “Phoenix Digital’s Terms of Service, which apply to the sale/license of Defendants’ Destiny 2 cheat software, are void because they are in violation of public policy and/or illegal,” Bungie countered in a filing last Friday.
  8. GitHub's transparency reports shine much-needed light on matters related to user privacy, access to information, and third-party content removal demands. DMCA notices caused GitHub to permanently disable 31% more repositories in 2022 than it did in the previous year. While that's a significant increase, 99.98% of all Github repos were completely unaffected. GitHub’s user search page currently reports a healthy 108 million users but that still means a few billion internet users are missing out. While notable alternatives exist, GitHub is a goldmine of information, ideas, and free education. That’s before considering the mountain of open source software available for download. From those building promising software from scratch to those who just love to tinker, GitHub has something for everyone. But like all sites hosting user-generated content, GitHub regularly finds itself in the middle of third-party copyright disputes in need of a solution. Software that may appear problematic at first glance cause almost no problems for Github. Powerful torrent site search tools, indexing software, and automatic content downloaders are rarely an issue. The same can’t be said for dedicated movie and TV show downloading apps advertised precisely for that purpose. Other pieces of code exist in contested gray areas, with the 2020 takedown of youtube-dl perhaps the best example. That matter is effectively ongoing, with GitHub making a stand for the future freedoms of developers in the appeal of Yout vs. RIAA. Since GitHub publishes all DMCA notices publicly, everyone gets an opportunity to see the law in action, beginning to end. GitHub Transparency Report 2022 In 2022, GitHub received and processed 2,321 valid DMCA notices, an increase of almost 27% over the 1,828 notices reported for 2021. For reasons we’ll outline later, this shouldn’t be considered a major issue. All DMCA notices for 2022 are available for viewing in GitHub’s DMCA repo, covering instances where GitHub took content down or asked users to remove infringing content instead. dmca-takedowns-github 2022 Asking GitHub users to remove or modify content can help to prevent an entire repo from being taken offline – particularly useful when other projects rely on the original repo’s code. Processing Erroneous, Abusive, and Other Notices Thanks to transparency reporting in general (Google is the largest contributor by volume), abuse of the DMCA takedown system is regularly exposed. Most commonly, fraudulent notices are used to wipe out legitimate content. In other instances, DMCA notices may go further than the law allows, contain errors, or even massive blunders. The targets of those notices can object via a DMCA counter notice. If the notice sender does not initiate timely legal action in response to a counter notice, disputed content is reinstated. Some notices may present an opportunity to fix problems less formally, and GitHub can sometimes play a role in helping the parties reach an understanding, including by the sender retracting the complaint. Reversals apply when a seemingly valid DMCA notice is processed by GitHub but then invalidated by subsequent information. “[W]e received and processed 36 valid counter notices, one reversal, and seven retractions, for a total of 44 notices that resulted in content being restored in 2022. We did not receive notice of any legal action filed related to a DMCA takedown request during this reporting period,” GitHub reports. In any event, GitHub seems to work harder at resolving issues than other major platforms, which is a plus in a widely abused takedown system. Anti-Circumvention Complaints Narrowly-defined exceptions aside, software designed to circumvent technological protection measures, in place to protect underlying copyrighted content, is likely to violate section 1201 of the DMCA. Manufacturing, importing or offering these tools to the public is prohibited so if GitHub receives a complaint, a response is required. As the continuing youtube-dl controversy demonstrates, a middle ground exists where rightsholders believe they have a clear anti-circumvention claim but others completely disagree. As a result, GitHub routinely scrutinizes claims made under section 1201. When rightsholders file an anti-circumvention complaint with GitHub, the platform seeks additional information before taking action against a repository. Complainants are asked to supply information on the technical measures, explain how they effectively control access to copyrighted material, while showing that the project on GitHub circumvents those measures. A unique feature of anti-circumvention notices is the lack of an official counter notice. That may explain why so many rightsholders have used them in place of regular takedown notices over the past several years. GitHub has certainly seen an increase. “The proportion of takedown notices that allege circumvention increased significantly in 2022 compared to 2021,” GitHub reports. In 2022, 15.7% of all notices sent to GitHub alleged circumvention, compared to just 5% in 2021. In 2020, similar allegations appeared in just 3% of notices. Back in 2018, less than 2% of notices carried a circumvention claim. GitHub says it’s conducting an investigation to shine more light on the growing popularity of these notices. Content Taken Down Overall In 2022, GitHub took down 25,501 projects, including repositories, gists, and GitHub Pages sites. After processing counter notices, retractions, and reversals, 114 projects were subsequently reinstated. The final figure for 2022 was 25,387 projects permanently taken down, a 31% increase over the 19,276 projects reported in 2021. GitHub appears unconcerned. “The number 25,387 may sound like a lot of projects, but it’s less than .02% of the more than 200 million repositories on GitHub in 2022,” the Microsoft company notes. Receiving no complaints for 99.98% of uploaded content is quite an achievement but for some rightsholders, that’s still not good enough. In notices sent to Google, they demand the removal of Github URLs from search results. They fail to achieve that goal 90% of the time showing once again that if content needs to be removed, the only effective method is targeting the source.
  9. For filmmakers, it’s an incredible honor to be nominated for an Oscar. The added exposure can also lead to a profit boost for smaller releases. That comes with a downside too, however, as recent data reveal that Oscar nominations also tend to cause a spike in pirated downloads. The Oscars are the most anticipated movie awards show of the year, closely followed by hundreds of millions of movie fans around the world. Next month, the 93rd Academy Awards ceremony is scheduled to take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, where millions of movie fans will see the crowning of this year’s “Best Picture”. There are currently ten contenders in the race for the prestigious award. The nominees range from blockbuster titles such as “Avatar: The Way of Water” and “Top Gun: Maverick, to lesser-known gems such as “Tár” and “Triangle of Sadness”. Oscar Pirates An Oscar nomination is a big deal for the latter category. The press attention opens the door to a new audience, which ultimately translates into additional revenue. However, there’s also a darker side to this phenomenon in the form of online piracy. Pirates come in all shapes and sizes but their consumption habits show a lot of overlap with the rest of the population. This means that if a movie is generating positive headlines, more people will be interested in downloading or streaming a pirated copy. To demonstrate this phenomenon, we looked at the estimated number of downloads through torrent sites for all best picture nominees, excluding “Women Talking,” which hadn’t been pirated yet. The Nomination Boost These data, collected with help from Iknow, reveal a clear Oscar boost for the nominated titles. On the first full day after the announcement, the downloads for nearly all films increased compared to a week earlier. This Oscar-boost effect ranges from 10% to 90%, as shown in the overview below. There are two main outliers in this list; “Avatar: The Way of Water” and “Top Gun: Maverick”. These are the biggest blockbusters, already seen by millions, and the extra exposure didn’t do all that much. The effect is markedly different for “Tár” and “Triangle of Sadness”, with interest almost doubling for both following the Oscar nominations. The other titles ended up somewhere in the middle, still with significant increases. The chart above shows daily download estimates for the Oscar nominees, excluding the two blockbusters. This clearly shows the spike starting on the 24th of January, which lasted for a few days. After that, pirate interest in these titles went back to normal. More Awards? When we first looked at the data we couldn’t immediately explain why there was a separate increase in downloads on January 11th for “The Fablemans”, “Everything Everywhere All at Once”, and “The Banshees of Inisherin”. That was two weeks before the nominations. Could there be something wrong with the data? While we can never completely rule out errors, the more likely explanation is another awards show. On January 11th “The Fablemans”, “The Banshees of Inisherin” and “Everything Everywhere All at Once” won multiple Golden Globes, beating all other films. These data show that awards shows are still a big deal, also for pirates. However, the effect is the most pronounced for smaller releases that gain most from additional media exposure. If one of these scoops up the best picture award next month, another major piracy boost is likely.
  10. Prince Harry's memoir 'Spare' sold over 3.2 million copies globally in its first week of release. However, since no company has the rights to sell 'Spare' in Russia, major publisher Eksmo-AST - already involved in a lawsuit that accuses YouTube of failing to protect authors' rights - intends to satisfy local demand by publishing a "retelling" of the smash-hit memoir. Over the past few years, millions of people in dozens of countries have continuously gorged on rumors, speculation, misinformation, disinformation and, on rare occasions, actual information pertaining to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Safe in the knowledge that 24/7/365 wall-to-wall multi-media coverage would never be enough, Penguin Random House (PRH) reportedly paid a $20 million advance for Prince Harry to end all speculation, once and for all, in a brand new book. Released on January 10, ‘Spare’ was an immediate smash-hit sensation, with PRH reporting record-breaking global sales of more than 3.2 million units across print, digital, and audio formats – in its first week on sale. Sales Could’ve Been Better Despite becoming a number one best-seller in multiple countries, not every country has access to ‘Spare’. In common with many Western entertainment companies, publisher Penguin Random House pulled out of Russia following its invasion of Ukraine last year. As previously reported, that has caused huge issues for the cinema industry and beyond. With most Western content either unlicensed or unavailable legally in Russia, multiple plans to pirate that content, enforce compulsory licensing (piracy, effectively), or say good riddance because Russia never needed it anyway, are all on the table. And then off the table, depending on the mood. In the meantime, a major publishing house has come up with a different solution. Plea to Foreign Publishers, Fears Over Piracy Controlling around 30% of the Russian market, Eksmo-AST is Russia’s largest publisher. A month after Russia invaded Ukraine, the company urged foreign companies to reconsider their boycott of Russian publishers. “I would like to invite you to think of our mission: publishers’ mission, authors’ mission and the mission of literature in general. Is it just a business matter for you or is it above all to strive to make the written word a leading tool to achieve understanding, to help human ideas make it to the top of the world’s agenda?” the letter reads. “In the last 15 years together we have almost eliminated piracy – it hardly exists in print and no more than 3% of all e-books are pirated now – quite the opposite of the awful situation we had seen in the past.” As part of its efforts to ensure authors’ rights are respected globally, Eksmo-AST Group company AST Publishing LTD joined a copyright-based class action lawsuit in the United States. It accuses YouTube/Google of not doing enough to prevent piracy, which undermines authors’ rights in their literary and artistic works. With that case nowhere near a conclusion and Western publishers like Penguin Random House still unwilling to license their books in Russia, Eksmo-AST will ensure that the content of Prince Harry’s book will still be published in the local market. The company says the method used is completely legal, and not at all controversial or problematic. A Copy? Plagiarism? No, It’s a ‘Retelling’ Whether Eksmmo-AST is yet to spot the four illegal copies of ‘Spare’ on the first page of Yandex search results is unclear, but the publisher still wants Prince Harry’s story to be heard in Russia. News outlet Kommersant reports that several Russian publishers are preparing to circumvent the ban on the release of bestsellers in Russia by publishing new books in a ‘саммари’ format. Roughly translated as ‘summary’, these are not direct copies of original books and no direct quotes are used from the original, the publisher insists. “The summary will reflect the key ideas of the book without using excerpts from it: the author of the summary read the book in English and retold it in her own language,” Eksmo CEO Yevgeny Kapiev told Kommersant. Ebook and audiobook service LitRes is already offering an ‘abridged’ version of ‘Spare’ for 139.5 rubles ($1.86) due to an introductory discount of 50%. Both companies appear to be relying on a law that allows non-fiction books to be “retold” and published without breaking copyright law. Eksmo told TASS that permission from copyright holders is not required for retelling. “A professional team worked on the summary, the retelling contains the main ideas of the book, without using excerpts. The volume of the retelling is one author’s sheet, no more than 15% of the original,” the spokesperson said. “However, as before, as always, our publishing group is ready for dialogue and cooperation in case [the authors] appeal.”
  11. Filmmakers have obtained a subpoena to reveal the identities of Redditors who commented on piracy-related topics. The comments can provide relevant evidence in support of a repeat infringer lawsuit against ISP RCN, the companies argue. Reddit disagrees and frames the effort as a fishing expedition that is at odds with the right to anonymous speech. Under U.S. copyright law, Internet providers must terminate the accounts of repeat infringers “in appropriate circumstances.” Many ISPs have been reluctant to take such drastic measures, which triggered a wave of copyright infringement lawsuits in recent years. Internet provider RCN is among the targeted providers. In 2021, the company was sued by several film companies, including the makers of The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, London Has Fallen, and Hellboy. The movie companies alleged that RCN wasn’t doing enough to stop subscribers from pirating on its network. Instead of terminating the accounts of persistent pirates, the Internet provider looked away, they argued. The stakes in these liability lawsuits are high. Internet providers face damages claims reaching hundreds of millions of dollars, while tens of thousands of Internet subscribers are at risk of having their accounts terminated. Reddit Users as Evidence RCN denied most of the allegations and asked the New Jersey federal court to dismiss the case. That effort failed last October and the matter is now proceeding, with both parties gathering evidence. The filmmakers have previously shown that they don’t shy away from relying on evidence from unrelated third parties. This includes Redditors who have semi-anonymously shared their thoughts on piracy warnings and repeat infringer policies from Internet providers. In the RCN case, this is no different. Attorney Kerry Culpepper discovered several Reddit discussions with potentially relevant comments. Some Reddit users specifically mention RCN. Others refer to ISPs in more general terms but could refer to RCN or other brands of the Astound conglomerate. To gather more details, the filmmakers would like to know who these commenters are. To obtain their identities, they obtained a subpoena compelling Reddit to share basic account information, including IP-address logs for ‘ben125125’, ‘SquattingCroat’, “Griffdog21′, ‘aromaticbotanist’, ‘ChikaraFan’, ‘compypaq’, ‘dotsamantha’, ‘ilikepie96mng’ and ‘matt3324’.” Reddit Objects Reddit is not pleased with the request. On January 17, the company informed the filmmakers that it would alert the subscribers, allowing them to contest the subpoena. In addition, Reddit suggested that handing over personal details could violate users’ First Amendment right to anonymous speech (see update at the bottom). Roughly two weeks later, none of the affected users had filed an objection in court. However, Reddit decided to share information about “ben125125”, while protecting the other users. As shown above, “ben125125” responded to a thread about piracy warnings and specifically mentioned RCN. That wasn’t as obvious in the other comments and Reddit feels that disclosing their identities goes too far. “Reddit maintains its objections to the subpoena’s remaining requests for identifying information associated with the eight additional accounts listed in the subpoena,” Reddit’s attorneys informed the filmmakers in an email. “Reddit has reviewed the examples provided by plaintiffs and continues to believe the requests for identifying information associated with the additional eight accounts are more in the nature of a fishing expedition and are neither relevant nor permissible under the First Amendment.” Among other things, Reddit stresses that some of the comments are well beyond the three-year statute of limitations. In fact, one comment was posted 13 years ago. In addition, the comments don’t all reference RCN, the provider at the heart of the dispute. Filmmakers Ask Court to Step In The rightsholders see things differently. This week they asked a California court to compel Reddit to hand over the requested details and IP-address logs, as these are highly relevant. Disclosing the information is proportional to the needs of the case, they argue. The comments can provide evidence that RCN can control the conduct of subscribers and didn’t have a proper repeat infringer policy, with the latter acting as a draw to potential subscribers. This includes a comment from the user ChikaraFan about RCN’s alleged “lax” policy for dealing with repeat infringers, which the filmmakers plan to use as evidence. “Plaintiffs wish to use ChikaraFan’s statement as evidence of and that this ‘fairly lax’ policy was a draw for becoming a customer. “Even though the statement was made eight years ago, Plaintiffs can use the information requested in the subpoena to contact ChikaraFan and authenticate her/his post to obtain evidence to support their claims.” Relevant and Proportional Other posts are also relevant and proportional, the rightsholders argue. These include several comments suggesting that ISPs don’t have very strict repeat infringer policies, without mentioning the names of the providers. The filmmakers believe that these can be very useful if they are about RCN or one of the other Internet provider brands operated under parent company Astound. The motion to compel also counters Reddit’s First Amendment right to anonymous speech argument, noting that none of the users filed an official protest after being notified. The Reddit users apparently don’t have to fear repercussions themselves, as the film companies stress that they’re not interested in pursuing legal action or financial claims against them. “Rather, Plaintiffs just wish to discuss the comments the subscribers made and use their comments as evidence that RCN monitors and controls the conduct of its subscribers, RCN has no meaningful policy for terminating repeat infringers and this lax or no policy was a draw for using RCN’s service,” they write. The matter is now with the court, which must decide whether Reddit can be compelled to identify the affected users. The list no longer includes ‘dotsamantha’ who was dropped from the request. Reddit, meanwhile, may have to say more on the matter. Whatever it Takes If anything, the above shows that film companies are willing to dig deep to prove a point. This can drag relatively anonymous Reddit users into a lawsuit they probably never even heard about. The issue isn’t limited to Reddit either; rightsholders can pull comments from Twitter and other social media platforms. Whether this unconventional tactic will yield results has yet to be seen. Based on recent history, it is clear that the filmmakers and their lead attorney don’t give up easily. In a separate case last year, they won a $14 million copyright judgment against LiquidVPN. Since then, the companies have pulled out all the stops to get their money. Just last month, the filmmakers obtained a worldwide asset restraining order (pdf) that prohibits the former operators of the defunct VPN provider from disposing or transferring valuable assets. The same case also triggered a battle over a $300,000 yacht that was left abandoned after the verdict. The RCN case and Reddit dispute are more straightforward but the tactics deployed show that the filmmakers are willing to do whatever it takes, using all legal means at their disposal.
  12. Egyptian law enforcement authorities have shut down MyCima, one of the largest pirate sites in the Middle East. The operation, which was purportedly operated from Alexandria, had over 50 million monthly visits and offered 12,000 movies and 26,000 TV series. Anti-piracy coalition ACE cooperated with the authorities to take down the piracy ring. For most people living in the West, MyCima may not ring a bell. In Arabic-speaking countries, MyCima was the second-largest piracy ring in the region. The site offered downloads and streams of roughly 12,000 pirated copies of movies and 26,000 TV shows. These streams were embedded and utilized third-party hosting services such as Uptostream and Userload. Free Movies and TV MyCima was most popular in Egypt where it was among the ten most-visited sites in the country. The site also generated a lot of traffic from neighboring countries, including Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. The true purpose of the site was obvious and its operators publicly advertised it as the best way to watch entertainment without paying. “Our website is the most prominent free movie site, meaning that it enables you to follow your favorite shows and movies for free without the need to pay in order to subscribe to the site,” MyCima wrote on its website. This free-for-all approach generated serious advertising revenues for the site. Behind the scenes, copyright holders were hard at work trying to bring the platform to its knees. Egypt Shutters MyCima The Alliance of Creativity Entertainment (ACE), which includes Netflix, Disney and other prominent players, took on the task and reported the MyCima piracy ring to law enforcement in Egypt. Intelligence has shown that the operation was headquartered in Alexandria. Based on the referral from ACE, Egyptian authorities managed to shut down the operation this week. As a result, myciiima.autos and roughly 70 other domain names have stopped working. It appears that the authorities hit the hosting facility of the piracy ring as most domain names are still active. However, instead of showing the usual links to pirated movies and series, visitors see a Cloudflare error stating that the host is unreachable. ‘You Can’t Hide’ ACE boss Jan van Voorn, who is also the Motion Picture Association’s Global Content Protection Chief, notes that pirate site operators will face the consequences of their actions, regardless of where they operate. “The latest shut-down in the Middle East reinforces the fact that no matter where in the world they are, criminal distributors of pirated content can’t hide,” Van Voorn says. Van Voorn is pleased with the actions Egypt has taken and he explicitly thanks the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Internal Affairs for their help. “We applaud the action taken by the Egyptian authorities and look forward to supporting them in further actions. We would also like to thank the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Internal Affairs for their work in the investigation and protection of intellectual property rights.” ACE has its roots in Hollywood but has been expanding all over the globe in recent years. This includes the Middle East where two of its newest members, OSN and MBC GROUP, proved to be instrumental in the MyCima investigation. To give the successful anti-piracy operation more weight, ACE stresses that MyCima was the second-largest piracy operation in the Middle East region. The number one isn’t mentioned, probably for a good reason. #1 Survives? Egybest has traditionally been the top pirate site in the region. This download and streaming platform appeared to shut down in 2019 following an enforcement effort that also involved the Motion Picture Association (MPA). However, that didn’t last. Through various copycat sites and redirects, the brand managed to survive. The original Egy.best domain also made a comeback as a dominant piracy player in Egypt and elsewhere. Earlier this month, the U.S. Trade Representative called out Egybest as one of the oldest movie piracy portals in the region. According to the MPA, the site had well over 130 million monthly visits. Interestingly, the main Egy.best domain became unreachable again last December. The recent disappearence is shrouded in mystery but there are plenty of copies and clones still in operation. Whether ACE still sees it as the leading piracy operation is unknown.
  13. The Motion Picture Association (MPA) has shared its views on NFTs and related technology. Responding to a consultation launched by the Patent and Trademark Office and the Copyright Office, the MPA sees plenty of commercial opportunities for NFTs but doesn't believe the technology will help to fight piracy or manage copyrights. The fleeting non-fungible token (NFT) craze showed that some people are willing to pay vast amounts of money for digital assets that are not guaranteed to retain their value. These digital entries are stored on a blockchain and allow buyers to prove that they are legitimate ‘owners’ of some underlying asset or right. While NFTs don’t grant copyrights, NFT owners are ‘rights’ holders in a sense, although the specifics may vary from project to project based on the fine print. Corporate and Government Interest In recent months interest in NFTs has waned, with some early adopters finding themselves heavily in the red thanks to their purchases. While some of these NFTs are bound to become irrelevant, the underlying technology has plenty of potential. Many of the largest companies in the world acknowledged the opportunities and embraced NFTs. Major brands such as Coca-Cola, Disney, Nike, and Ubisoft were quick to jump on the bandwagon, for example. Interest is in large part driven by the potential revenues the technology might deliver moving forward. At the same time, however, there are challenges as well; the copyright implications are not always clear and ‘pirated’ NFTs will almost certainly complicate matters. The U.S. Government is taking these issues seriously. Late last year, the Patent and Trademark Office and the Copyright Office launched a joint consultation to take stock of the potential legal and policy questions related to NFTs. MPA Shares Its NFT Views Dozens of companies and organizations have responded to the call with detailed opinions. They include the Motion Picture Association (MPA), which represents Netflix and the major Hollywood studios. In the past, major copyright holders have fiercely resisted novel technologies. When it comes to NFTs, the MPA and its members see an exciting business opportunity. “NFTs represent an exciting business opportunity for MPA’s members to promote their core products —motion pictures and television programs — in new ways, expand their merchandise offerings, and connect with their audiences on a deeper level,” the MPA writes. Potential copyright issues are always a concern but the Hollywood group believes that current laws are capable of handling any NFT-related challenges. “Although NFTs are still in their infancy, and it is difficult to predict future marketplace developments and potential uses of this new technology, the MPA currently believes that existing intellectual property law can address issues if and when they arise.” Blockchain technology is already widely used in the movie industry with official NFT releases for prominent titles including The Matrix, Star Trek, Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Lord of the Rings, Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, Stranger Things, and even the Powerpuff Girls. Some of the same brands have also been exploited by third parties who created unauthorized NFTs. While that’s a problem, the MPA believes that U.S. law, including the DMCA’s takedown provision, is well-equipped to handle copyright and trademark issues as they arise. Authentication and Piracy The MPA’s submission shows that it has made considerable effort to understand the NFT ecosystem and its potential. In addition to the ‘collectible’ aspect, NFTs can also be used as proof of ownership or access. The MPA says that streaming services could use NFTs as an authentication option, for example, replacing the traditional username and password. “NFTs can serve a limited role in the context of access controls to streaming content. Specifically, if the user’s license were contained in an NFT, the streaming service could implement a system to ensure that the NFT is in the user’s crypto wallet before initiating the stream,” MPA notes. There are also projects that envision the use of NFTs to fight piracy and counterfeiting, including an official EU initiative. However, the MPA doesn’t see blockchain authentication technology as a potential anti-piracy tool. “This system has been utilized to a very limited extent thus far. Beyond that, there is no reason to believe that NFTs can currently solve the overall problem of online piracy,” the MPA writes. The same applies to the content to which an NFT might provide access. Pirates can still copy the content and share it elsewhere, NFTs can’t prevent that. “While the NFT may be perfectly secure on the blockchain, that fact does nothing to enhance the security of copies of the underlying work or prevent unauthorized exercise of any of the §106 rights. The NFT simply creates a chain of alleged ownership of the particular copy.” The MPA seems positive about the potential of NFTs. Hollywood doesn’t believe the technology will stop piracy or revolutionize copyright management but recognizes the commercial potential. RIAA Sees Opportinities and Threats This overall sentiment is shared by other rightsholder groups, including the RIAA. In a joint submission alongside A2IM, Screen Actors Guild and SAG-AFTRA, the music industry’s trade organization sees endless commercial opportunities. Piracy remains a concern, however. Coming from the RIAA, that’s hardly a surprise. The recording industry group has already sent DMCA takedowns and cease and desist letters targeting unauthorized music-inspired NFT projects. “While NFTs and online interactive environments present endless and unprecedented opportunities for rightsholders to exploit their works and engage with consumers, they also present new and novel ways in which works, and especially digital music works, can be infringed and pirated,” RIAA notes. Similar to the MPA, RIAA and partners don’t see NFTs as a replacement for current copyright registration or management options. At least, not at this stage. “Further, claims that NFT and metaverse technology will solve digital transparency and accountability problems are overblown and premature, if not outright false,” RIAA writes. “The current technology in the NFT and metaverse space, while innovative and promising, is simply not where it needs to be to ensure that copyright holders can consistently and effectively manage and enforce their copyrights.” Finally, both the MPA and RIAA stress that NFT platforms must properly educate consumers on what they’re actually buying. Right now, it is often uncertain what rights are associated with an NFT and how these rights can be exploited. Falling prices aside, unmet expectations can lead to disappointment for buyers down the road.
  14. The International Broadcaster Coalition Against Piracy (IBCAP) is celebrating two court judgments with a combined damages award of more than $32 million. The original lawsuit, filed by IBCAP member DISH Network, requested $16 million in damages. When one defendant filed for bankruptcy, a chance to double up raised its head. At least in theory, another $16 million opportunity awaits. Advanced TV Network (ATN) was an IPTV service in Sweden that supplied more than a thousand TV channels to customers via the Internet. In 2008, that was an unusual achievement. ATN gave the impression of operating legally. As a registered company it was generating annual sales of around $7 million by 2013 and paid taxes to the state. However, the content ATN supplied to its customers had illegal origins. A police raid in 2016 led to three of its operators being convicted two years later for criminal copyright infringement, among other offenses. All three were handed prison sentences and ordered to pay $24 million in damages to rightsholders, but the service itself lived on after relocating to the United Arab Emirates. Utilizing overseas resellers, ATN continued its business in Europe and North America but ran into more trouble in 2020. An IBCAP investigation led to a DISH lawsuit that targeted the pirate IPTV service’s official distributor in the United States. DISH Lawsuit Takes a Second Bite Filed in a Florida district court in October 2020, the complaint alleged that Alfa TV Inc. was operated in the United States by individuals associated with ATN. In the complaint, Florida resident Hisham Manse Ibrahem was named as the company’s president, Haitham Mansi its vice-president. Nezar Saeed Hammo allegedly acted as Alfa’s marketing manager while Mohammed Abu Oun was identified as the company’s general manager. DISH alleged that the men and Alfa TV Inc. did business under the pirate IPTV brand ElafnetTV, which in turn described itself as the “Biggest Arabic IPTV Provider in the World.” After failing to respond to takedown notices, IBCAP/DISH ran out of patience and sought $150,000 in statutory damages for at least 107 registered works – a total of $16,050,000. With the pandemic causing chaos and less than cooperative defendants, progress in the case was slow. Then on May 21, 2021, Alfa TV marketing manager Nezar Saeed Hammo filed for bankruptcy in Florida. Within days DISH moved to hold Alfa TV Inc. and Hisham Ibrahem in contempt of court, and then filed for default judgment against Haitham Mansi, who countered in August 2021 by answering the lawsuit. After almost a year of subsequent filings, in July 2022 the court announced that a jury trial had been scheduled for July 3, 2023. What followed was six months of complete silence and then a sudden flurry of activity last month. Docket Comes Alive, IBCAP Celebrates Judgments Worth $32m In an announcement yesterday, the International Broadcaster Coalition Against Piracy (IBCAP) celebrated wins for its member, DISH, in both the district court and bankruptcy court in Florida. “[A] federal district court and a federal bankruptcy court, both in Florida, have ordered Hisham Manse Ibrahem and Nezar Saeed Hammo, U.S.-based sellers of the pirate service ATN, to pay $32,100,000 in combined damages for willful copyright infringement,” IBCAP’s announcement reads. “Both individuals were selling the ATN service through a company known as Alfa TV Inc., which was also found liable, along with Haitham Mansi, a Sweden-based owner, and operator of Alfa TV, Inc.” As previously noted, Nezar Saeed Hammo filed for bankruptcy in May 2021. IBCAP says that since the move was an attempt to avoid liability, an adversary complaint was filed to determine the non-dischargeability of the debt against him. “As with similar actions against willful copyright infringers, the bankruptcy court ruled the judgment non-dischargeable, again showing that infringers cannot use the bankruptcy system to avoid liability for willful copyright infringement,” IBCAP notes. A Win is a Win – Even When Defendants Agree to Lose While IBCAP’s statement is technically accurate, liability was only established after consent was obtained from the defendants. On January 10, 2023, a stipulation was filed jointly by DISH and defendants Alfa TV Inc., Haitham Mansi, and Hisham Manse Ibrahem. This meant that the judge didn’t have to determine liability on the merits, because an agreement between the plaintiff and defendants established that as fact. “DISH and Defendants request that the Court enter a final judgment and permanent injunction against Defendants. This stipulation has no effect on DISH’s claims against co-defendants Nezar Saeed Hammo and Mohammed Abu Oun,” it reads (pdf). The proposed order and injunction (pdf) was signed by the judge the very next day. A note that each party will bear its own attorneys’ fees and costs may hint at the realities behind the scenes, but cast-iron confidentiality agreements mean the details are unlikely to see the light of day. And Then There Were Two… In response to Nezar Saeed Hammo filing for bankruptcy in May 2021, DISH filed a complaint against him in August the same year. That docket runs to 51 entries with the penultimate entry (dated January 12, 2023) revealing another stipulated motion for final judgment and permanent injunction. The agreement between DISH and the apparently penniless Hammo is almost identical to the separate agreement signed by his colleagues. However, by admitting his actions were “willful and malicious,” the $16 million Hammo owes DISH in damages is rendered non-dischargeable. Each party will bear its own attorneys’ fees and costs in this matter too, but the real magic lies elsewhere. The original complaint filed by DISH demanded $150,000 in statutory damages for 107 registered works – a total of $16,050,000. From the same pool of defendants, with exactly the same damages claims, DISH has managed to double the original request for damages to more than $32 million. IBCAP Says It’s Pleased With The Result As some may have noticed, a defendant named in the original complaint is absent from these judgments. DISH voluntarily dismissed Mohammed Abu Oun from the lawsuit on January 18, 2023, but without prejudice. In theory, that raises the possibility of another $16 million in agreed damages later on. Whether any of the defendants expect to pay anything is unknown but IBCAP says it’s pleased with the outcome. “Yet again, the federal courts have levied huge financial awards against individuals in the U.S. who were selling pirate services,” says Chris Kuelling, executive director of IBCAP. “This case is another example of why it is not worth the risk for retailers to sell pirate services. It is also important to point out that sellers of pirate services cannot use bankruptcy to shield against their illegal activities.” Meanwhile, the ATN IPTV service is still online, but IBCAP says its members’ content is no longer being made available. In a statement sent to TorrentFreak, IBCAP notes that while DISH puts its name on the lawsuit as the rightsholder, IBCAP itself does most of the work. “IBCAP is the driver behind these lawsuits. As a coalition that represents the interests of more than 170 channels, our lab and analysts, team of lawyers, and other experts are instrumental in identifying pirate sources of content and we have a very high success rate in taking down illegal streams without litigation,” the anti-piracy group notes. “On behalf of our members, IBCAP is responsible for all monitoring, pre-litigation investigations, legal resources and efforts, including takedowns and the identification of non-compliant sources of our members’ content. Once identified, we guide our members to take final legal action to protect content. As the final part of this process, our members have to do the actual filing because they are the rightsholder. “However, it is IBCAP doing the pre-litigation work, takedown efforts, identifying the targets for lawsuits and providing the necessary evidence to achieve a successful outcome,” the group concludes.
  15. The legal battle between game developer Bungie and cheat seller AimJunkies continues. Last week, Judge Zilly denied Bungie's motion to dismiss a contract breach claim. In addition, third-party cheat developer James May can continue his 'hacking,' theft, and DMCA violation claims. In 2021, Bungie filed a complaint at a federal court in Seattle, accusing AimJunkies.com of copyright and trademark infringement, among other things. The same accusations were also made against Phoenix Digital Group, the alleged creators of the Destiny 2 cheating software at the center of the complaint. AimJunkies denied the claims and argued that cheating isn’t against the law. In addition, it refuted the copyright infringement allegations; these lacked substance and were ungrounded because some of the referenced copyrights were registered well after the cheats were first made available. Court Dismissed Bungie’s Copyright Claims In May 2022, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Zilly largely sided with AimJunkies. The original complaint lacked sufficient evidence to support a plausible claim that the ‘Destiny 2 Hacks’ infringed any copyrights, the Judge concluded. While this was a setback for Bungie, the court gave the company an opportunity to file a new complaint to address these shortcomings, which it did soon after. In its amended complaint, the game developer added more copyright infringement details and shared more information on the roles of several key people that are also allegedly involved. They include James May, who Bungie describes as a third-party cheat developer. Cheaters Countersue Bungie In response, the AimJunkies defendants went on the offensive. They didn’t deny that the AimJunkies site offered ‘Destiny 2’ cheats in the past but rejected allegations that copyright law had been violated. Instead, James May and the three managing members of Phoenix Digital turned the tables. Their countersuit against Bungie contains several hacking allegations and claims that the game company violated the DMCA by circumventing the cheat’s technological protection measures. These initial counterclaims were dismissed after Bungie pointed out several flaws to the court. However, AimJunkies was allowed to amend its allegations to add missing details. This attempt was more successful. ‘Hacking’ and Theft Claims Can Proceed Late last week, United States District Judge Thomas S. Zilly ruled that the hacking, theft, and contract breach allegations survive Bungie’s motion to dismiss so can proceed. “May and Phoenix Digital have cured deficiencies the Court previously identified in its earlier Order […] and many of the arguments Bungie raises in its motion to dismiss would be more appropriately presented in a motion for summary judgment or at trial,” Judge Zilly writes. The hacking and theft claims only apply to James May, who’s described as a third-party cheat developer. These allegations are grounded in a spreadsheet obtained during discovery and suggest that Bungie breached his computer without permission. Bungie’s own privacy policy didn’t allow the company to access files on Mr. May’s personal computer surreptitiously, let alone download any of its contents. However, May believes this is what happened. “On several occasions between October 2, 2019 and May 25, 2021 Bungie, Inc […] obtained information from personal files contained on Mr. Mays’ personal computer. Bungie did so by exceeding the authorization provided to it by the Bungie Privacy Policy. “In particular, the reference in Exhibit D to the file path “g:\work files\”, directs to Mr. May’s external drive which contains proprietary technology and trade secrets known only to Mr. May. Mr. May holds copyrights in these materials…,” the counterclaim added. By accessing the drive, the game company allegedly violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which can be seen as hacking. In addition to accessing the files, May also accuses Bungie of downloading them, which is seen as theft. The alleged hacking and theft caused damage to May, as he spent dozens of hours reviewing potentially compromised files. May also had to purchase a new computer. Points for AimJunkies There is also positive news for AimJunkies’ parent company Phoenix Digital. Judge Zilly concludes that its contract breach claim can continue. AimJunkies argued that Bungie violated its terms of service by decompiling and reverse-engineering its cheat software. Since these activities are expressly prohibited by AimJunkies’ terms of service, the cheat developers argue that amounts to a breach of contract. AimJunkies previously filed hacking-related claims against Bungie, but since the company didn’t file an amended hacking-related counterclaim, that is no longer an issue. DMCA Circumvention Counterclaims Not all counterclaims survived Bungie’s motion to dismiss. Alleged violations of the DMCA due to circumvention of technological protection measures can’t continue. According to Judge Zilly, there is no evidence that AimJunkies’ software had any technical copyright protection measures. As such, there is nothing to circumvent. That said, the circumvention claims of third-party developer James May can continue. He accused Bungie of bypassing password and firewall technology to access his personal files, which means that there was something to circumvent. Everything considered, plotting the future course of the case is difficult. A myriad of claims filed by both sides have rendered the case unpredictable, and with the parties apparently determined to keep fighting, further unexpected twists can’t be ruled out.
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