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Everything posted by Yuji_Itadori

  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.
  16. The UK Intellectual Property Office has published the latest edition of its Online Copyright Infringement Tracker. Live sports piracy remains stubbornly high and with a 36% overall infringement rate, the situation is worse than it was in 2019. Relentless anti-piracy campaigns failed to stop 3.9 million people from accessing illegal sports streams in 2022. The UK Government’s Intellectual Property Office has published a new edition of its Online Copyright Infringement Tracker study. The annual survey aims to understand the piracy habits of citizens aged 12 and above. This is the 12th wave of the report and relates to consumption during 2022. The overarching trend is one of overall piracy rates remaining mostly static for the past six years but the details paint a more interesting bigger picture. Overall Infringement Rate Up In common with previous years, the latest study details consumption habits for a wide range of content, including movies, TV shows, music, live sports, video games, software, and ebooks. Overall infringement rates (respondents who accessed any content illegally) increased from 25% to 32% in 2022. However, the government says the figure should be interpreted with caution due to new methods of access being included each year. Nevertheless, overall infringement does appear to be increasing. Movie piracy hit an overall infringement rate of 23%, up 4% from its previous high recorded in wave 11 (2021). TV show piracy increased 1% over the previous high recorded back in 2019, but once again the government urges caution. “The increase in most categories was driven by a greater proportion of individuals using a mix of legal and illegal methods, rather than the purely (i.e. only) illegal group. For most categories the purely illegal group has remained stable and low,” the Intellectual Property Office explains. When it comes to music streaming, ‘low’ is an overstatement. An incredible 97% of music consumers in the UK relied entirely on legal sources last year, with a negligible 2% using legal and illegal sources and 0% relying exclusively on illegal sources. Give or take, that’s been the position for the last four years. Spoiling the party a little are the 9.2 million people estimated to have downloaded at least one track illegally in 2022. Figures for movie streaming reveal that 83% used only legal sources, 15% relied on a mix, and just 3% pirated everything they watched. Overall, these rates represent a couple of percentage points change in favor of piracy over the figures reported last year. For TV show streaming, the rates are 86%, 12%, and 2% respectively, with legal-only down three points, mixed legal/illegal up three, and illegal-only consumption static. The picture in 2022 is broadly in line with data published in 2019. Overall Rates of Infringement Overall infringement rates in the report should be viewed in context. Digital magazines, for example, have an infringement rate of 41%, meaning that four out of ten people who consume that type of content did so from an illegal source at least once in the previous three months. With an infringement rate of 38% overall, software piracy is much higher than music (25%), movies (24%), and TV shows (19%), but far more people consume content from the latter three categories. In the case of TV shows, a 19% infringement rate equates to 9% of the entire sample, a total of 6.2 million infringers overall. The figures for those who consume music, movies, and TV shows completely legally, mixed, or entirely illegally, have now returned to pre-COVID levels. The same is true for live sports streamers, albeit with a key difference. While the music and movie industries still oppose piracy, overt anti-piracy messaging from these sectors has been relatively low-key for the past few years. In the live sports sector, campaigns led by the Federation Against Copyright Theft and UK police, on behalf of the Premier League, Sky, and BT Sports, have been relentless. According to government figures, continuous anti-piracy campaigning by the live sports sector has produced figures that are no better than those achieved by the movie and music sectors with minimal messaging. The report suggests that attitudes towards anti-piracy campaigns have changed. Where “authoritative” tones and threats of disconnection were previously seen as effective, many participants now call for an ‘understanding’ tone and for campaigns from the industry to “feel cooperative and working with, not punishing, the consumer.” Illegal Streaming of Live Sports In 2020, overall infringement rates among consumers of live sports sat at 37%. In 2021, the overall rate dropped to 29%, with 71% using only legal sources, 18% using a mix, and exclusively illegal content consumers at 12%. In the most recent wave covering 2022, overall infringement of live sports reached 36%, roughly on par with 2020 levels. In 2022, that equates to 3.9 million people streaming at least some sports content illegally. The way people consumed live sports streams is also going in the wrong direction. Those consuming content entirely from legal sources dropped from 71% in 2021 to 64% in 2022. Consumers of a legal/illegal mix increased by three points to 21%. Consumers of strictly illegal content increased to 15% versus the 12% reported a year earlier. Whether these figures will deteriorate further during 2022 remains to be seen, but price rises recently announced by UK subscription broadcasters seem unlikely to help. That’s also the case in respect of other persistent problems in the video sector. The UK Loves Entertainment But Can’t Always Afford It Unsurprisingly, the study found that entertainment is valued by the UK, particularly so during the extraordinary circumstances of recent years. “Previous waves during the pandemic had shown how entertainment could serve almost as a companion during times of lockdown where some felt isolated. Now, entertainment was said to help many by distracting them from uncertainty around money and anxiety around going back into a world without social restrictions for some,” the report reads. “However, the rise in the cost of living experienced across the UK meant that while participants wanted to keep consuming all their entertainment at the same rate they had been, some were thinking about canceling some of their subscriptions to save money.” Cutting Back: Value for Money or Nothing Despite people feeling the pinch in the UK and beyond, streaming music services seem to have hit the sweet spot on price, quality, and service. For roughly £2.50 per week, almost all music is available in unlimited quantities and for everything else, YouTube will suffice. With piracy rates close to zero, the music industry has shown that it’s possible to compete with free and make a profit at the same time. Movies, TV shows and live sports have other problems to solve but in the meantime, these are the key content areas most likely to face issues. “[W]here content was split across multiple platforms,” the report notes, “some felt they could not justify paying for more than one or two.” UK football fans are well aware that subscribing to three platforms doesn’t get them everything they want to watch, so that doesn’t sound particularly encouraging. Losing fans to other activities sounds like an even worse proposition. Other than canceling Sky subscriptions, alternatives cited by respondents include gardening, watching more content on Netflix and BBC iPlayer, and playing video games. At least one respondent spoke about re-reading old books and the possibility of getting rid of them altogether. “Recovering from the Covid pandemic and all the price rises has been really hard. I definitely don’t buy as many books and am looking for free reads more often. I’ve just got all my novels out of storage to read to save a bit of money and might have to start selling them off,” one participant said. VPN Use in the UK With privacy concerns on the increase and site-blocking rampant in the UK, internet users of all kinds are turning to VPNs (Virtual Private Networks). The study found that across all categories, respondents who used a VPN specifically for obtaining entertainment content were more likely to have infringed compared to those who used a VPN for activity other than entertainment content consumption. “For most categories, differences between those who used a VPN for entertainment content and those who did not were large (10%+) for most categories, levels of infringement were similar for those who used a VPN but not for entertainment content and those who did not use a VPN at all,” the report notes.
  17. Last year, a U.S. federal court handed a 40-month prison sentence to Gary Bowser for this role in the infamous Team-Xecuter group. The Canadian pleaded guilty to being part of the Nintendo hacking group and is now hoping for an early release. However, in a phone call with Nick Moses, Bowser reveals that his looming freedom will present its own challenges. In the fall of 2020, the U.S. Government indicted three members of the infamous ‘Team Xecuter’ group, the masterminds behind various Nintendo hacks. Authorities located Canadian Gary Bowser in the Dominican Republic and arrested him there. Meanwhile, Frenchman Max Louarn was detained in Tanzania. The prosecution characterized 52-year-old Bowser as the “salesperson” of Team-Xecuter due to his work with resellers of the group’s products. He was also known as “GaryOPA” and in his capacity as operator of the website “MaxConsole”, which regularly reviewed Team-Xecuter hardware and other hacking tools. 40 Month Prison Sentence Following his arrest, Bowser was deported to the United States where he pleaded guilty. Last February, Bowser was sentenced to 40 months in prison for his role in the criminal enterprise. The sentence is significant but lower than the five-year prison term the Government had requested. During sentencing, Judge Lasnik said that it was important ‘to send a message’ but agreed that a reduction was warranted as Bowser played the smallest role of the three defendants. He also faced medical and other issues. Since last year, Bowser has been incarcerated at Federal Detention Center SeaTac in Seattle. Since he already spent time in prison before the case was heard, the Bureau of Prisoners calculated a release date of July 31, 2023. Early Release This means that the 52-year-old will be a free man again in a few months. Ideally, however, Bowser would like to get out long before then. Through his lawyer, he requested a reduction last week, citing time credits earned thus far. “Petitioner is eligible to receive Earned Time Credits (ETCs). If the BOP applied the ETCs that Petitioner has earned, Petitioner would be entitled to at least 105 days and a release date as early as March 18, 2023,” the petition reads. The petition is still under review at the Seattle federal court. Meanwhile, Bowser is already making plans for his future outside of the penitentiary, which will present its own set of challenges. Call From Prison Yesterday, Nick Moses of the gaming podcast NickMoses05 published a brief phone call with Bowser, looking ahead to what lies next. One of Bowser’s concerns is that he believes he will be simply dropped off at the Canadian border following his release, with no means at his disposal. The only clothing he has is a paper-thin green jumpsuit provided by the prison. “That’s the problem; being Canadian and because we’re close here to the Canadian border and Seattle, they’ll just basically fingerprint me and get released, then drive me to the Canadian border and kick my ass off the bus and say: walk home. “That’s the problem because walking home, that’s like 3,000 miles to the nearest person that might even be able to look after me in Canada,” Bowser said. In recent years, Bowser has built up his life in the Dominican Republic and his parents are no longer alive. He does have some friends in Toronto taking care of some personal belongings, but that’s thousands of miles away from Seattle. “My real support system is back in the Dominican Republic. Eventually, I gonna have to get back there,” Bowser says. Recuperating First, however, Bowser plans to spend a few months in Canada to get all of the paperwork in order. He also wants to use the time to get some treatment for medical issues, including problems with his leg. “I have to get my leg worked on too because of the swelling in my left leg. While I’m in Canada I’m going to try to get that dome because Canada has a good public healthcare system. So that’s going to be one of my major priorities.” Bowser’s means are limited and they will be for a while, as he previously agreed to pay $10 million in damages to Nintendo. The $12 a month he earns for his work in prison doesn’t help much with that. Nonetheless, the work made his stay in prison more tolerable. Nothing beats being a free man, of course, and whether that takes a few weeks or months, his release is getting closer by the day. During the call, Nick Moses kindly offered to help Bowser try and get back on his feet. We will keep an eye on these developments during the weeks to come, including the request for an early release. Finally, it is worth noting that Bowser remains the only person related to Team-Xecuter to be convicted. Max Louarn, one of the group’s masterminds, managed to stay out of the FBI’s hands and reportedly lives in France. The third defendant, a Chinese man named Yuanning Chen, is also still at large.
  18. The suspected local head of notorious pirate box manufacturer Unblock Tech has been indicted in Taiwan. He stands accused of conspiring with Chinese partners to illegally obtain video content from 72 legal suppliers before illegally distributing it online via 'overseas' servers. The USDOJ got involved when servers were traced right back to the United States. For the past several years, Chinese-manufactured Ubox IPTV boxes have flooded the market in Taiwan. With more than 30% of the population using the devices, which grant access to more live streaming content than most people can consume, Taiwan came under pressure from the United States. Taiwan made amendments to copyright law that outlawed piracy-configured devices. Unsurprisingly, that did little to stop the flow or prevent China-based manufacturer Unblock Tech carrying on regardless. With Hollywood regularly reporting UnblockTech to the U.S. government as a serious piracy threat, the pressure on Taiwan continued. The tipping point came when public figures in Taiwan caused outrage after watching Olympics streams on the Chinese piracy devices. With further amendments to copyright law in the pipeline in Taiwan, authorities launced an investigation into the supply of Unblock Tech’s devices in the country. Several Operations Over Several Months Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics ended in August 2021, and over the next few months, Taiwan authorities conducted several operations to disrupt the supply of Unblock Tech devices. Somewhat unusually, these operations weren’t mentioned in Hollywood’s reports to the U.S. Government. In a report dated October 2022, in a section dedicated to Taiwan, the MPA describes Unblock Tech in detail, noting that its ‘Ubox’ devices present an “enormous piracy and enforcement” challenge. An IIPA report dated January 2023 goes into detail in other ways but makes no mention of arrests in Taiwan. A surprise announcement published yesterday by the New Taipei District Prosecutor’s Office reveals that the suspected head of Unblock Tech operations in Taiwan has now been indicted for mass copyright infringement offenses. Prosecutors say that the man (identified only by the surname ‘Huang’) worked with partners in mainland China to illegally obtain copyrighted movie and TV content (some of it relating to the Olympics) from 72 legal companies, before illegally distributing streams via servers “located overseas” to Ubox device users So that it could further investigate around 57 websites/IP addresses, Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice sought help from the US Department Of Justice, a logical step according to investigation reports. The network resources supporting mass piracy in Taiwan and encouraging criticism from U.S. rightsholders, had been linked right back to companies in the United States itself. Operation Clean Band 2 According to documents seen by TorrentFreak, the investigation was launched following complaints from the Satellite Television Broadcasting Association (China) and Japan-based anti-piracy group CODA (Content Overseas Distribution Association). It began in August 2021 and continued until at least December 2021. Led by Taiwan’s CIB Telecommunications Investigation Corps with support from two criminal investigation units and police departments, raids were carried out in August, September and November 2021 across 26 locations, including Taipei City, New Taipei City, Taoyuan City, Taichung City, Changhua County, Tainan City, and Kinmen County. Overall, 26 locations were targeted. The indicted suspect identified as ‘Huang’ is in his mid-thirties. He was among 11 others arrested in 2021, including two men of broadly the same age working at the same company. Seven men and one woman, all aged between 30 and 45, were arrested under suspicion of distribution offenses. Two other men, aged between 25 and 40, were arrested under suspicion of operating servers. Investigation Technical analysis of Ubox devices was guided by Taiwan’s National Communications Commission (NCC) with help from local internet service providers. Copied content was reportedly relayed by servers located in New Taipei City and Changhua, apparently with support from unnamed internet service providers. Defendant ‘Huang’ is suspected of setting up a company for the purpose of obtaining official WiFi certification from the NCC and then selling the pirate boxes as legal devices in Taiwan. Employees of Huang’s company allegedly signed up to official streaming services so that the content could be copied and restreamed to Ubox devices. The decision to name the pirate device company Unblocktech Taiwan Co., Ltd hardly suggests an operation in stealth mode. Neither does the registration of an ‘Unblock’ trademark as recently as last April. Domains: Seized, or Something Else? As previously mentioned, these events do not feature in recent rightsholder reports to the U.S. government. The only hint can be found in an MPA report to the USTR in 2022 which contains the following statement; In 2021, the New Taipei District Court ordered a domain registrar outside Taiwan to seize piracy domains related to Unblock Tech through a mutual legal assistance treaty (MLAT) and instructed the local internet administrator (TWNIC) to disable the access of local users to the piracy domains through local ISP networks The reference above to a “domain registrar outside Taiwan” seems almost intentionally vague. The statement that the New Taipei District Court “ordered” a domain registrar to seize piracy domains isn’t the same as a domain registrar actually seizing domains either. History isn’t always an accurate predictor of the future, but when domains are seized, it’s unlike the MPA not to tell it how it is. The only domain we could find being celebrated by rightsholders as inaccessible is ub1234.com. The registrar is GoDaddy, and as this image from last year shows, it certainly looks inaccessible. However, ub1234.com and other key domains used by Unblock Tech seem intact and show no signs of seizure, despite having a registrar or registry in the United States. Domains Blocked By Taiwan What actually happened with ub1234.com is that authorities in Taiwan obtained permission from the court to have the domain blocked locally by interfering with the domain’s DNS entries. Several other Unblock Tech domains also received the same treatment. According to local media reports, these domains were the first to be blocked after Taiwan established a brand new specialist cybercrime department – the Supervisory Center for Investigating and Prosecuting Information and Communications Crimes The technical aspects of the blocking process make for interesting reading but even if domains had been seized, Unblock Tech appears to have many more domains on standby. U.S. Department of Justice The MPA’s report to the USTR mentions Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) but only in respect of cooperation on domain names. According to information reviewed by TorrentFreak, Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice sought cooperation from the U.S. Department of Justice because the IP addresses, websites and/or servers identified in the raid (around 57 in total), traced back to two United States companies. From the information at hand, Cloudflare and FDCServers were asked to hand over the details of the people behind the resources, plus their billing records. Whether they had anything useful to surrender is unclear but since this is a criminal investigation, it’s possible the DoJ may have demanded more than the basics. Nevertheless, it still presents an awkward image of criticizing Taiwan for not doing enough to combat piracy and then have the crumbs lead right back to home turf. Right now, Unblock Tech’s main domain is fully operational…from a Cloudflare IP address.
  19. The International Intellectual Property Alliance represents the interests of the movie & TV show industries, major recording labels, the videogame industry, and American publishers. In a report to the U.S. government, the IIPA says that Canada's piracy problem is so severe, it's "almost impossible" to overstate its magnitude. A laundry list of demands aims to put that right. According to at least one assessment, Canada is currently the third-best country in the world overall. When it comes to piracy issues, major U.S. rightsholders place Canada among the worst. In a report to the United States government, the powerful International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) pulls no punches. On behalf of the MPA, RIAA, Entertainment Software Association (ESA), Association of American Publishers (AAP) and the Independent Film and Television Alliance, the IIPA lists dozens of areas where Canada falls short of the standards expected by U.S. corporations. Since the report runs to 241 pages, our focus is a subset of issues linked to online piracy. Canadians Love to Pirate Citing a report from the Canadian Internet Registration Authority, IIPA states that Canada remains one of the leading markets for U.S. copyrighted works. A reported 71% of Canadians spend at least one hour each day watching TV shows or movies online. The legal market for online video is growing, with around 61% of all Canadians subscribing to Netflix, for example. Canadians love music too and as a result, recorded music revenues grew by 12.6% in 2021. But it should’ve been more. Much more. “Evidence persists, however, that the digital marketplace for copyrighted content in Canada continues to face challenges in realizing its full potential due to competition from illicit online sources. In 2022, 22.4% of Canadians accessed pirate services,” the report notes, citing an IFPI study. Stream-Ripping and Other Problems The report states that stream-ripping services, typically sites that allow users to download MP3 files from YouTube, are now the leading mechanism for music piracy in Canada. IIPA notes that stream-ripping services undermine the legitimate markets both for streaming and licensed music downloads, highlighting y2mate.is as a particular problem. That’s understandable, but the site is causing problems just about everywhere in the world, not just in Canada. “Dozens of websites, software programs, and apps offering stream-ripping services find an eager marketplace in Canada,” the report continues. “Use of peer-to-peer (P2P) sites remains high, with BitTorrent indexing sites including Rarbg, The Pirate Bay, and 1337x popular in Canada. Cyberlocker sites, such as Mega, Uptobox, GoFile, and Rapidgator, are also a common way to illicitly access recorded music.” IPTV Piracy Ecosystem IIPA says the subscription-based piracy ecosystem continues to grow in Canada. Sellers and resellers of subscription IPTV piracy services, offering high quality streaming and VOD services, are problems in terms of supply and consumption. “Many of these illegal services in Canada have generated millions of dollars in revenue, oftentimes laundering the money through seemingly legitimate businesses set up solely for this purpose,” the report adds. Canadians are also “actively involved” in the circumvention of technological protection measures, the IIPA says. Circumvention allows them to spread unlicensed live TV and movies via their own pirate IPTV services, sell streams to other services for use inside Canada and beyond, and provide content for release on torrent sites. “It is nearly impossible to overstate the magnitude of the piracy problem in Canada,” the IIPA informs the U.S. government. “Mimicking the look and feel of legitimate streaming services, infringing streaming websites continue to overtake P2P sites as a highly popular destination for Canadians seeking premium content in both English and French.” Piracy Configured Set-Top Boxes, Piracy Apps Given that legitimate services are impacted by unlicensed alternatives made available in the same market, Canada needs to do more in a number of areas. The IIPA says that set-top boxes, configured for pirate IPTV services or preloaded with dedicated piracy apps, are “easily and widely” available, sold via Canadian-owned-and-operated websites and traditional retail stores. “Canadian piracy operators remain involved in the coding and development of infringing add-ons and Android application packages (APKs) that enable subscription piracy services and mass-market [set-top boxes] to access streaming services without authorization,” the report adds. Police Have Other Priorities The IIPA suggests that the RCMP, Canada’s main federal law enforcement agency, considers intellectual property crime a non-priority area. It’s claimed that RCMP transfers cases to municipal police forces, which often lack the resources “and the strategic mandate” to investigate IP crimes or prepare cases for prosecution. For their part, local police agencies reportedly “responded well” to entertainment industry training programs but according to the report, are unable to effectively deal with organized piracy and increasingly fail to follow up on detailed cases referred to them by rightsholders. In two unnamed cases related to IPTV, local law enforcement actually receive some praise for engaging with rightsholders. Unfortunately, the IIPA seems to lack optimism that deterrent sentences will conclude these ongoing matters. “Few resources are dedicated to prosecutions of piracy cases; prosecutors generally lack specialized training in prosecuting such offenses, and too often dismiss the file or plead the cases out, resulting in weak penalties.” IIPA Demands Action For details on every IIPA demand, the full document is available below. The summary in respect of the niche detailed above goes as follows: – Adequately fund federal law enforcement to fight piracy – Fund and provide specialized training to tackle IPTV services and circumvention tools – RCMP should work with U.S. law enforcement on online piracy cases – Crown Counsel must criminally prosecute copyright/circumvention cases – Strengthen “legal incentives” for service providers to stand by their terms of service – Encourage service providers to cooperate with U.S. rightsholders
  20. Last month, GitHub disabled the website of a Pirate Bay proxy information portal after receiving a DMCA notice from City of London Police. The operator protested the removal, arguing that the site doesn't link to any copyright-infringing material. That challenge was successful and as a result, proxybay.github.io has been restored. Various courts around the world have come to the conclusion that The Pirate Bay is a copyright-infringing website. As a result, Internet providers in dozens of countries are required to block access to the site. This works well, but blocking measures are also quite easy to circumvent. Some people may resort to VPN services, for example, or replace the default DNS resolver provided by their ISP with independent alternatives. Dedicated ‘proxy’ sites have also become quite popular. These proxies act as a copy of The Pirate Bay, making the site accessible through an alternative domain name. These platforms are thorns in the sides of rightsholders, who fight back by adding proxy site domains to existing blocking orders targeting The Pirate Bay. This cat-and-mouse game inspired the development of sites that provide an overview of working Pirate Bay proxy sites. ‘The Proxy Bay’ is just one of many similar examples. Police Take proxybay.github.io Offline The Proxy Bay has been operating in the ‘proxy information’ niche for many years. Aside from its main domain name, it also uses a proxybay.github.io version, which is linked to the Microsoft-owned developer platform GitHub. This variant has also been available for years, but last month found itself abruptly pulled offline. The takedown was requested by City of London Police’s Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU). On behalf of music group BPI, PIPCU sent a takedown request to GitHub, alerting it to the alleged criminal activity taking place on its domain. “This site is in breach of UK law, namely Copyright, Design & Patents Act 1988, Offences under the Fraud Act 2006 and Conspiracy to Defraud,” PIPCU wrote. “Suspension of the domain(s) is intended to prevent further crime. Where possible we request that domain suspension(s) are made within 48 hours of receipt of this Alert,” the notice added. DMCA Counternotice GitHub honored the takedown request and proxybay.github.io was redirected to a 404 error. However, The Proxy Bay operator clearly disagreed with this decision and responded with a formal DMCA counternotice. “The person claiming DMCA doesn’t understand, that there is no content hosted on proxybay.github.com hence why it is wrong to send a DMCA request for it,” the site owner wrote. “There are no content/media of any kind hosted on proxybay.github.com, if there is – again ask mister DMCA robot to provide with exact links of media files which were infringed and I will be glad to remove them from repository.” That ‘mister DMCA robot’ was none other than the UK police didn’t seem to impress The Proxy Bay operator. Since there are no links to copyrighted content, the domain should be reinstated, they argued. The legality of these sites can be debated. In the UK, thepirateproxybay.com and similar sites have been added to court-sanctioned blocklists in the past, making this a tricky situation when blended with DMCA notices relevant under United States law. GitHub Restores The Proxy Bay Despite the sensitivities, the DMCA counternotice was successful and this week GitHub decided to restore the domain and the site. As a result, proxybay.github.io is available once again to the public at large. The reinstatement doesn’t mean that GitHub has taken sides. The DMCA simply dictates that disputed content has to be restored between 10 and 14 business days, unless the rightsholder takes legal action. Apparently, no legal action was taken in this case, so the logical response was to reenable the domain name. Interestingly, GitHub had an easy out if it wanted to keep The Proxy Bay offline. The counternotice listed the wrong domain name, as it referred to proxybay.github.com instead of proxybay.github.io. This .com domain doesn’t exist, which could render the DMCA takedown protest moot.
  21. Popular stream-ripping site Yout.com has filed its appeal brief at the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The service aims to reverse a district court ruling that dismissed Yout's claims against the RIAA. Yout seeks a declaration that it doesn't violate the DMCA and accuses the music industry group of defamation and business disparagement. YouTube’s terms and service prohibit users from downloading audio and video, but there are numerous ‘stream-ripping’ sites available on the web that do just that. These services are a thorn in the side of recording labels which consider them a major piracy threat. Some operators of these stream-ripping tools disagree, pointing at the variety of legal use cases instead. At the end of 2020, the operator of one of the largest stream-rippers took matters into his own hands. Instead of hiding in the shadows like some competitors, Yout.com owner Johnathan Nader sued the RIAA, asking the federal court in Connecticut to declare his service non-infringing. Last fall, the district court decided to dismiss the matter, handing a win to the RIAA. Judge Stefan Underhill ultimately concluded that Yout had failed to show that it doesn’t circumvent YouTube’s technological protection measures. This also rendered the associated defamation and business disparagement claims moot. Yout.com Opens Appeal Yout did not give up on the case. Site operator Johnathan Nader opted to appeal the case as he believes that YouTube rippers don’t violate the DMCA. After the RIAA’s request for legal fees was denied, Yout’s attorneys filed their opening brief yesterday at the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The appeal begins by pointing out that the case deals with novel issues regarding the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provision. One of the key questions is whether YouTube videos have effective technological measures that aim to prevent the public from accessing copyrighted works. Arguing that there is no DRM or encryption protecting the videos, Yout says that’s not the case here. “Neither YouTube nor the Defendants employ any form of Digital Rights Management or encryption, the inclusion of which would eliminate the ability of the Yout software to allow Yout’s users to make copies of the works. “Indeed, not only is there a lack of protection against such copying, the process can be accomplished by anyone with a web browser without the need for Yout’s services,” the opening brief adds. The RIAA nonetheless asked Google to remove Yout.com URLs from its search engine, which it did. As a result, Yout’s traffic numbers dropped and similar takedown notices allegedly resulted in a PayPal ban too. “Defendants improperly sent anti-circumvention notices to Google with the intent that Google would ‘delist’ Yout’s software platform, rendering it undiscoverable for the majority of Internet users seeking such services, which is precisely what occurred to Yout’s detriment.” The 92-page appeal brief lists a myriad of issues and open questions, which suggest that the case warrants an in-depth proceeding. The lower court’s dismissal was premature, Yout’s attorneys argue, adding that the service is analogous to a VCR and has significant non-infringing uses. The brief illustrates, through detailed descriptions accompanied by screenshots, that anyone can download video and audio from YouTube. The process doesn’t require any software other than a regular web browser. Downloading Taylor Swift The example used the music video of Taylor Swift’s “The Lakes” but the same process applies to all YouTube videos. Through this process the audio and video files are separate, but there are free tools to combine the two. “A visitor can use Yout to save a personal recording on their personal computer for later viewing when not connected to the Internet. In essence, Yout allows a user to ‘time shift’ content. Yout never saves or retains its visitors’ time-shifted content on its own servers,” the attorneys write. The fact that Yout’s attorneys are using a video from one of the biggest artists in the world shows that potential copyright sensitivities are not being evaded. Instead, Yout explains that its service simply automates the ‘ripping’ process, without storing any content on its own servers. While rightsholders are clearly against this, the attorneys argue that there is no “circumvention” of a technological measure that prevents either access or copying. YouTube does employ a JavaScript-based ‘rolling cipher’ to make it harder to download content directly. However, Yout doesn’t believe that this is an effective technological measure. In addition, it’s not clear whether YouTube implemented this code to prevent copying. Copyright Protection or Bot Prevention? The RIAA sees the rolling cipher as a form of DRM but the music group didn’t put the code there. YouTube has not been heard in the case but the video platform may have added the code to deter bots from generating fake views to generate income. “There is no evidence […] that YouTube intended this to be a ‘technological measure’ designed to limit access or copying at all. And, if the technology was not designed or intended to limit or accessing copying, the Defendants cannot claim retroactively that such a technological measure exists by happenstance.” The appellant doesn’t deny that the rolling cipher was introduced to make it harder to download videos but only YouTube itself can provide the answer. “YouTube is not a party here and the Defendants can no better speak to YouTube’s intentions than Yout can,” the attorneys write. Free Access All in all, it’s clear that YouTube’s videos are not behind a paywall. They are publicly available to anyone with access to a web browser and the Internet. In fact, allowing access to videos is the main purpose of the site. “Indeed, it is clear from YouTube’s Terms of Service – which the District Court took judicial notice of – that, by providing their videos to Youtube – the Defendants explicitly agreed that Youtube’s visitors were permitted access to the works, the brief reads (emphasis original). Making copies of audio and video is an entirely different thing, of course. However, Yout argues that since users have access to the files, without any meaningful technological protection measures, there’s no DMCA violation. The full arguments are much more detailed than we can summarize here. This is just the start of the appeal and certainly not the last time these issues will be raised. No date has been set for RIAA’s response, which will likely follow in a few months. In addition, there may be several amicus briefs from interested parties as well, given the gravity of the case.
  22. After the FBI shut down his Gears pirate IPTV empire, YouTuber Bill Omar Carrasquillo, aka Omi in a Hellcat, pleaded guilty along with two co-defendants. One was hired by Carrasquillo to work on the service from home. His sentencing memorandum claims that when he tried to quit, gunmen threatened him on two occasions after Carrasquillo said he would kill him. When the federal government shut down pirate IPTV services owned by Pennsylvania and New Jersey man, Bill Omar Carrasquillo in November 2019, it became one of the most high-profile anti-piracy operations ever conducted in the United States. Under handles including “Omi in a Hellcat” and “Targetin1080p” Carrasquillo publicized almost everything he did on social media, from selling pirate subscriptions and devices, to banking the mountains of cash he undoubtedly made from the service. When the FBI dismantled his operation, Carrasquillo expressed surprise that the “legal loophole” he’d exploited had somehow let him down. As things stand, Carrasquillo and co-defendants Jesse Gonzales of California and Michael Barone of New York await sentencing after pleading guilty to a number of offenses, all related to the illegal capture and redistribution of Comcast, Verizon, Spectrum, DirecTV, and Frontier Communications broadcasts. This week, counsel for Barone filed a sentencing memorandum explaining why the court should go easy on him. His story is fairly typical of people who take an interest in piracy at a base level and then find it difficult to check their own momentum. Claims of being threatened by two sets of gunmen, and allegations that Carrasquillo himself threatened to kill Barone if he quit his job, are both extraordinary and unprecedented. Barone Was Lured in By Carrasquillo’s Advertising As outlined in the memorandum filed in court this week, Barone previously had a completely clean record. Having worked as a New York City train conductor, Barone quit in 2016 to become a full-time carer for his father. To make ends meet he began looking for work he could do from home, tech support in particular. Barone had some experience with computers and had been hearing about a “new kind of television service called ‘IPTV’.” After discovering a chatroom run by Carrasquillo that advertised his ‘Reboot’ IPTV service, Barone decided to educate himself on the pros and cons of IPTV. Barone says that Carrasquillo’s reading of “antiquated laws governing copyright protected television and movie content” led him to sign up to Carrasquillo’s service for a month. From there, things escalated quickly. After participating in the service’s chatroom, Barone found himself helping people out. Carrasquillo spotted Barone’s work and offered him a job as a moderator. Barone says he was paid 25 cents for every support ticket he answered, earning him between $250 and $500 per week via PayPal. Barone says he studied how Carrasquillo made his money; subscriptions to his Reboot IPTV service and advertising revenue from IPTV tutorials on YouTube, for example. The New York man also noted how Carrasquillo created “media hype and self-serving videos” to increase his following, which in turn encouraged more sales. Moderator Becomes Admin The time-honored tradition of promotion in file-sharing and other piracy circles is the transition from moderator to administrator. When Barone’s time came, his pay increased to between $400 and $600 per week, he says. New responsibilities included overseeing other moderators, supporting IPTV resellers, and remotely installing software on servers in Canada and the United States. “Mike researched the legalities online and found numerous articles and blogs expounding on the benefits of IPTV and discussion of the legality of streaming,” counsel for Barone writes. “Gradually Mike became convinced of the rosy picture painted by Carrasquillo and others in the IPTV world — that the legality of streaming television channels through an independent service was a ‘gray area’. Carrasquillo denies allegations of illegality “Essentially, Mike became convinced that streaming was not illegal due to the outdated provisions of the Copyright Act, and was convinced that Carrasquillo’s service did not offer recorded content,” the memorandum continues. According to Barone, the “legal loophole” IPTV business model made Carrasquillo “so flush with cash” that he began branching out into real estate and “buying up properties — in cash — at weekly auctions, purchasing bars and nightclubs.” Carrasquillo’s Demeanor and Gears TV As his company grew, and transitioned from the name Reboot to Gears, Barone says he observed Carrasquillo becoming “increasingly erratic and obnoxious.” “[C]onstantly posting offensive videos flashing large boxes of U.S. currency, boasting about how much money he was making, displaying garish signs of wealth in jewelry, houses, bank accounts, sports cars, exotic dancer clubs, and directly and explicitly mocking law enforcement while declaring his income legitimate and that he was untouchable from law enforcement,” Barone says. When Carrasquillo began posting videos online “openly threatening people perceived as undermining him or betraying him in some way,” Barone says he became afraid and decided to leave Gears TV. According to Carrasquillo’s co-defendant and then employee, that’s when the threats began. “If you leave, I’ll kill you” After Carrasquillo reportedly began posting videos of himself visiting local banks, making cash withdrawals of “hundreds of thousands of dollars” at a time, while “obnoxiously cursing at and declaring to bank personnel that he was entitled to his own money at any time, for any reason,” Barone says his desire to leave the IPTV business increased. Barone claims that when he told Carrasquillo he wanted to quit, on several occasions his boss responded with “if you leave, I’ll kill you” – and not in a joking manner, Barone insists. From there, the situation only became worse. “Thereafter, one day in the fall of 2017 when Mike left his house in Queens to walk to a local store, a car pulled up to him, a man exited while showing Mike a gun and announced ‘if you leave I’m gonna come back and see you’,” Barone’s counsel notes. With no other conflict in his life, Barone concluded that this was a message from Carrasquillo. There’s no evidence presented in the memorandum to indicate that Carrasquillo was actually involved but the incident wasn’t the last of its type. “In the spring of 2018, the same type of incident occurred again wherein Mike left his house and was walking up the street when a car pulled up and a different man got out, this time pointing the gun directly at Mike and stated ‘we’re not gonna tell you again. If you leave, we’re coming back’.” Barone Leaves Gears TV Barone’s memorandum states that he reported none of these alleged threats to the police; he hatched a plan to grind down co-defendant Jesse Gonzales instead. Through the use of accusations and insults, Barone planned to antagonize Gonzales to the extent he would recommend to Carrasquillo that Barone should be fired. The memorandum doesn’t say whether the plan worked or was even attempted, but Barone reportedly left Gears in August 2018. “After Mike left, Carrasquillo and Gonzalez and others helping continued on with the business for more than a year, until the FBI executed search warrants on Omar Carrasquillo in November 2019,” the memorandum claims. With Carrasquillo continuing to post videos online, including those that highlighted the “legal loophole” and questioned why he was being targeted by the U.S. Government, Barone watched events roll out in the media. Several months later, the FBI requested a meeting. FBI Wanted to Discuss Gears TV In February 2020, the FBI contacted Barone to discuss Gears TV, leading to a three-hour interview in New York conducted by two agents who wanted to know everything Barone could tell them about the service. The FBI did not search his apartment or seize any electronic equipment – Barone says he took that to mean he wasn’t the focus of the investigation. A year later in March 2021, a second FBI interview with two agents took place in a restaurant parking lot in New York. Barone went on to hire an attorney who coordinated the handover of Gears-related documents, including personal banking and financial records, to the FBI. Like Carrasquillo before him, Barone was arrested and charged with offenses related to the IPTV empire. The case involved 120 terabytes of data in electronic discovery alone. Thousands of Hollywood movies, TV shows, sports events, and other programming accounted for the lion’s share. A reported 14 terabytes of data required actual review by the defense. “For reference, one terabyte of data contains approximately 2 million pages of documents, or hundreds of social media videos,” the memorandum helpfully points out. Mitigation After many months of intensively reviewing “massive amounts” of discovery, and “hundreds of hours of discussion” between the defendant, his counsel and a support team, the memorandum notes that Barone came to understand he could be found responsible for being part of a conspiracy. The Government’s evidence shows that for a two-year period, Barone was essential to the operations of the business day-to-day by assisting customers. For balance, Barone had no access to Carrasquillo’s massive profits, was paid a limited salary, and had no interest in the company. Barone made no effort to hide himself online, using VPNs or Tor, for example, but was aware that Carrasquillo obscured sales of Reboot and Gears subscriptions by using the term ‘webhosting’. Barone also had encoders and other TV equipment set up at his house. Overall Conspiracy Infringement: $167,817,004.60 As things stand, Barone appears liable for $64,912,444.52, representing a third of the overall conspiracy amount of $167,817,004.60. The fact that the other two-thirds are attributable to Carrasquillo and Gonzalez appears to be a point of contention for Barone’s defense team. Barone’s total earnings amount to $122,402, and even if it’s decided he owes that in restitution, he’ll likely spend his whole adult life paying that off. The statutory maximum sentence is five years imprisonment and Barone’s team believe that all things considered, sentencing guidelines indicate 8-14 months in prison. Barone also has a clean criminal history, setting him apart from the other defendants. In summary, Barone’s team believe he “took a job ‘under the table’ so he could work from home,” and “turned his head away from recognizing” that the business was questionable. “In spite of threats to his safety if he left, he did eventually leave. While the business was massively lucrative for Carrasquillo, Gonzalez, and perhaps a few others, Barone was kept on the outside of the profits and the planning, including the massive money laundering,” the memorandum concludes.
  23. With the rise of pirate streaming sites, illegal IPTV services, and legal platforms such as Netflix, even torrent sites have been feeling the pinch. In Spain, two private trackers took the decision to merge and reappear as one under fresh branding. Action by the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment means that Spain's leading private torrent community has permanently closed. After building their sites almost from scratch and then populating them with the right kind of users, private torrent site owners understand the long haul. Private tracker users also tend to be more invested, partly due to a community spirit mostly absent from public sites. For these reasons and more, merging two private sites into one is a fairly rare occurrence. Private torrent trackers HDCity and HD-Spain did have things in common, not least a shared interest in Spanish-focused HD content, movies and TV shows in particular. Operating from a .li domain, HDCity had its own encoding team, and becoming a member was no easy task. Opinions varied, but some believed that HD-Spain had more to offer. Soon that would become undisputed. Time to Merge Following a decision to merge the sites, the initial plan was for both to lose their identities and then reemerge as an ambitious single project, with fresh branding and a brand new name – Pixelados. When it became clear that the Pixelados project needed more time, users from HDCity were migrated to HD-Spain as an interim measure. In time, HDCity ceased to exist and in line with tradition, the site departed with the usual quote from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Those behind the merged torrent sites previously joked that the site would become “Schrödinger‘s tracker” – HD-Spain.com carrying the merged user data with Pixelados.tv the new domain – despite not actually being the Pixelados as planned. As recently as December 2022, both HD-Spain and Pixelados domains remained in use. A few days ago, all domains suddenly fell out of service. When they returned, any hope of Pixelados still being alive – or even both dead and alive – was removed. Another ACE Shutdown Like hundreds of sites over the past five years, Pixelados/HD-Spain had succumbed to the legal threats of the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment. “As you can see (or not yet, depending on how you refresh the hd-spain.com and pixelados.tv domains in your browser) the domains now point to a website owned by the ‘Alliance For Creativity And Entertainment’,” an announcement by the sites’ operator reads. “Currently, copyright laws in Spain allow websites to be sued for distributing files by any method that infringes copyright, whether or not there is a profit motive. If there is and it can be proven, the complaints would go through criminal proceedings with possible jail sentences and fines.” Pixelados/HD-Spain had always maintained a no-profit policy, but as its operator notes, even when there is no profit involved, claims under civil law remain viable and can lead to damages awards reaching hundreds of thousands of euros. Technically, that’s not even the limit, but another option was also on the table. “In exchange for NOT UNDERTAKING ANY LEGAL ACTION against those responsible for the websites or those related to it, the ‘Alliance For Creativity And Entertainment’ has retained ownership of the existing domains and of course requires the activity of the websites to cease,” the announcement adds. “And that is how it will be done, it is well known to all that we have NEVER had any profit whatsoever, but this is a hobby, and as such at the moment that it may present a problem for any person in charge of the website or a relative, we close everything for real.” With the domains transferred, all that remained was to finish the job. The announcement adds that everything has been destroyed; the website, hardware, and all data related to all users – nothing exists. “Thank you all very much for the time shared, both in good times and in bad.” Another Site Added to The List For ACE, this shutdown is just another day at the office. After sending investigators to approach the site’s operator in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, an agreement was reached for everything to be shut down. “Thanks to ACE’s rapidly expanding global network and decisive action against illegal piracy operators, the legal marketplace for creative content has never been so well protected,” says Jan van Voorn, Executive Vice President and Global Content Protection Chief of the Motion Picture Association and Head of ACE. “As we enter 2023, our coalition is better equipped than ever to target and shut down the pirates who threaten the legal creative economy.” ACE reports that 26,000 torrents attracted 300,000 visits to the domains each month, with almost all traffic coming from Spain. At the time of writing, the domains hd-spain.com and pixelados.tv are in the hands of the Motion Picture Association along with two other related domains – hd-spain.org and hdspain.org.
  24. Paul Hansmeier, a former copyright troll attorney who's currently serving a 14-year prison sentence, wants to hire an undercover investigator to go after online pirates while he's in prison. The convicted lawyer has also requested a sentence reduction, citing a prolonged stay in solitary confinement. Three years ago, a U.S. District Court in Minnesota sentenced Paul Hansmeier to 14 years in prison. Hansmeier was a key player in the Prenda Law firm, which pursued cases against people who were suspected of downloading pirated porn videos via BitTorrent. Investigating and suing pirates isn’t illegal, but Hansmeier and his associate John Steele entered criminal territory when they lied to the courts, committed identity theft, and created a honeypot by uploading self-produced porn torrents to The Pirate Bay as bait. Hansmeier and Steele’s individual responses to the criminal prosecution couldn’t have been more different. Steele cooperated with the prosecution from the start. This resulted in a relatively modest 5-year prison sentence, including a probation period, and he left prison a few weeks ago. Hansmeier decided to go on the offensive. Hansmeier’s Fights Hansmeier initially denied any wrongdoing and later appealed his sentence. The convicted lawyer also launched a flurry of petitions and new lawsuits, hoping to aid his case or reduce the prison term. A few weeks ago, the former lawyer filed a new request to reduce his sentence. Hansmeier says officials have treated him harshly, including a 122-day stay in solitary confinement. “Specifically, Hansmeier engaged in petitioning activity and, in response, prison officials threw him in an isolation cell for five months,” he informed the court, writing in the third person. “While he was in the isolation cell, Hansmeier was limited to one phone call to his family per month, he was locked in a tiny, windowless room where the light stayed on 24 hours a day, he was prohibited from receiving a newspaper or any other periodicals and he was prohibited from having attorney-client privileged calls.” Torture? These events are just a fraction of the punishments allegedly suffered by Hansmeier, at least according to Hansmeier’s own reporting of events. If the allegations are accurate, concerns over Hansmeier’s treatment would be warranted, despite his past activities. These concerns were recognized by journalist Joe Patrice from Above the Law, who previously worked as a litigator and has an extensive legal background. In his coverage of the matter, Patrice suggested that Hansmeier’s treatment could potentially qualify as torture, according to the United Nations. Hansmeier read this report and used Patrice’s article to support his case. In the end, that didn’t help him. United States District Judge Joan N. Ericksen denied the request early this month. Undercover Piracy Investigator The denial means that the 14-year sentence still stands, but that doesn’t mean Hansmeier is giving up. A few days ago he submitted a new request, asking permission to hire an undercover investigator to enforce his copyrights. This isn’t the first time that Hansmeier has attempted to continue his anti-piracy work from prison. Similar suits were filed before – and dismissed. Last summer the court prohibited him from filing more. Despite the filing restriction, Hansmeier now requests a preliminary injunction to prevent the U.S. Government from enforcing the mail-wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy statutes for his planned copyright enforcement activities. This basically means that he wants the court to greenlight a similar enforcement strategy for which he was convicted. That’s the simple way of putting it, without any nuance. “Paul Hansmeier would like to hire an undercover investigator to enforce his copyrights in creative works and bring claims under the Copyright Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act against people who pirate the works,” the motion reads. “Hansmeier seeks to do so in a way that addresses the political issues raised by his prior anti-piracy litigation. The primary impediment to Hansmeier protecting his copyrights against Internet piracy is the chilling effect of the government’s criminalization of the routine copyright enforcement methods Hansmeier seeks to use now.” The copyright enforcement campaign could help Hansmeier’s defense, which argues that his conviction was unconstitutional. However, the former lawyer also stresses that pirates deserved to be punished. Piracy is a Cancer According to Hansmeier’s motion, piracy is basically theft and a cancer on the creative industries. “Internet piracy is a cancer eating away at the markets for creative expression. It destroys the incentive to invest in creative output and thus lessens the public’s access to works that enrich the human experience. “Piracy—which is really just theft—contributes nothing to our society. Efforts to deter piracy benefit our society with no corresponding harm to the public; the only person who loses is the pirate, but pirates can avoid being sued if they don’t steal,” the motion adds. These arguments didn’t convince District Judge Joan N. Ericksen to rule in Hansmeier’s favor. In a rather brief order, the request was denied, which sends Hansmeier back to the drawing board.
  25. Season 23 of Big Brother has just got underway in Brazil, and broadcaster Globo is taking no chances. In a leaked email, Globo staff are informed that when people share too much BBB23 content on social media, it hurts the show and the company, and it needs to be stopped. And if staff suspect people of sharing their passwords, they should be reported too. First broadcast in the Netherlands back in 1999, reality TV show ‘Big Brother’ is now a global franchise spanning more than 60 countries. Big Brother Brazil (BBB) is one of the most successful regional variants. Right now, BBB23 is live on air, so millions of fans are tuning in at home to watch other people living in a different house for a bit while others watch. When BBB fans aren’t glued to their TVs waiting for the drama to unfold, many can be found on social media, usually speculating about what comes next, based on what they’ve just seen. To facilitate the discourse, fans often post images and video clips from the show, but for TV company Globo, which broadcasts the show 24/7 on pay-per-view, some fans go too far. Security Department’s Email Gets Leaked When Globo broadcast BBB22 last year, the company decided to loosen its copyright policy. Rather than being banned from Twitter for sharing clips of the show without permission, Globo said that fans could share a one-minute clip online for every hour of the show. According to an internal communication leaked to local media outlet TVPop, the position may have changed for BBB23. Reportedly issued by Globo’s Information Security department, new guidelines inform staff that digital piracy harms the show and as a result, harms the company. “Digital piracy causes several damages to the market and the entertainment industry is especially affected by it,” the translation reads. “Piracy Impacts Advertising” Reportedly sent to staff via an internal communications system, the new guidelines suggest that piracy harms Globo employees and has a negative effect on the advertising market. “The damage goes far beyond the loss of uniqueness and the dissemination of content without authorization. For example, there is an impact on the attractiveness of audiovisual products for the advertising market,” it reads. While the extent of any damage isn’t quantified, data shows that subscriptions to the Globoplay streaming platform increased by 79% in 2020 and by another 32% in 2021. A document published by Associação Brasileira das Administradorasde Consórcios (pdf) last September provides specifics on the BBB23 advertising program. “Advertising on Big Brother Brasil will become more expensive in 2023. 112 days before the start of the program, brands are rushing to secure a space in the most watched house in Brazil, even with sponsorship quotas for the [Globo] program costing up to 32% more than in previous series,” it reads. “According to program data, in 2022, more than 153 million people watched the program on Globo platforms. Although without breaking the 2021 audience record, according to the broadcaster, the public spent 13% more time watching the last series.” “Lots of Parties and Bullshit” Globo’s leaked communication initially celebrates the launch of BBB23 but quickly emphasizes the importance of clamping down on piracy. “The most watched house in the country is back and promises lots of parties, bullshit, exciting competitions, shacks and audience records. It’s a lot of good things together! But there are people wanting to take a ride on this success. Piracy generates several negative consequences for BBB and for the work of all of us,” it reads. So what can Globo staff do to help? To clamp down on social media users sharing images and videos of BBB23, staff are instructed to report them to Globo. The line between free advertising and piracy isn’t made clear, but when it comes to another modern-day scourge, facilitated by Globo’s paying customers, everything seems more cut and dried. “If you see pirated content out there or know of someone who is sharing the Globoplay login with other people, you already know: just report it by email,” the communication adds. According to TVPop, Globo appears to be taking down BBB videos dating back several years at the same time as taking down content from BBB23. Evidence of takedowns can be found on the Lumen Database, which lists dozens of DMCA takedown notices sent by Globo to Google. Whether this will be enough for Globo is unclear, but with headlines in local media asking, “What time do participants go to the secret room?” the pressure on fans to subscribe can’t be understated.
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