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  1. A man arrested in 2015 for running a site that provided information about the Popcorn Time piracy app has been sentenced in Denmark. The 38-year-old received 20 days probation and was subjected to a financial confiscation order after he admitted being criminally complicit in the infringements carried out by ordinary Popcorn Time users. Popcorn Time, the application that became known as the ‘Netflix for Pirates’, first appeared in 2014. It was a massive success and arguably paved the way for the dozens of similar piracy apps currently available on the Android and iOS platforms. In its various guises, Popcorn Time itself managed to attract the negative attention of copyright holders who were determined to reduce the availability and visibility of the popular piracy tool. At the same time, others worked counter to these goals, either by creating their own forks of the software, distributing them, or producing guides and tutorials. Arrests in Denmark and Guilty Verdict Following a court order in June 2015, police in Denmark arrested two men in their thirties for operating two sites – Popcorntime.dk and Popcorn-time.dk. Neither linked to pirated content but instead provided guides on how to use Popcorn Time while providing information on where the software could be downloaded. In 2018, the operator of Popcorntime.dk was handed a conditional six-month prison sentence after court ruled that by spreading information about Popcorn Time, he played a part in the infringements carried out by users of the software. The defendant appealed the decision to the High Court but without success. The case was subsequently heard by the Supreme Court but that was no more effective, with the now 41-year-old man held liable for contributory copyright infringement last January. He was handed a six-month conditional sentence, 120 hours of community service, and a confiscation order for around $67,000 in advertising revenue. Guilty Plea By The Operator of Popcorn-time.dk Given the outcome in the earlier prosecution of the Popcorntime.dk operator, the man behind Popcorn-time.dk was left with few options to effectively fight his corner. According to a new announcement by anti-piracy group Rights Alliance, which was deeply involved in both cases, the man eventually took the decision to plead guilty. The case was heard at the court in Odense, which ruled that in common with the operator of Popcorntime.dk, the person behind Popcorn-time.dk also contributed to the copyright infringements carried out by regular users of Popcorn Time. “From August 2014 to August 2015, the 38-year-old on the website popcorn-time.dk recommended and guided users to download and use the illegal streaming service Popcorn Time. Defendants have also received about 10,000 kroner (US$1,565) in advertising revenue from Google for ads on the site,” Rights Alliance reports. “Defendant confessed his complicity in the dissemination of the illegal streaming service and was thus convicted of complicity in the copyright infringements that occur using Popcorn Time.” As a result of the confession, the 38-year-old was handed a conditional sentence of 20 days probation and subjected to a confiscation order to seize the advertising revenue generated by the site. The domain name popcorn-time.dk was also forfeited. Rights Alliance says the differences in the sentences between this and the earlier case can be put down to the more detailed coverage of the Popcorntime.dk platform and the scale of the revenues it generated. Courts also tend to look more favorably on defendants who admit guilt rather than those who defend a case only to be found guilty. https://torrentfreak.com/operator-of-popcorn-time-information-site-receives-conditional-sentence-200927/
  2. Several movie companies have filed a new lawsuit targeting three users of the popular torrent site YTS. The alleged pirates were identified based on data that was previously provided by the site's operator. The three were initially approached for an out-of-court settlement but, according to the rightsholders, they failed to respond. In recent years, YTS.mx has become one of the most-used torrent sites, serving millions of visitors a day. The site can be used without registering an account. However, those who sign up get some extra features, such as an option to bookmark titles. These added benefits can be handy but a few months ago we learned that having an account also comes with risks. Movie Companies Target YTS site and Users At the start of the year, a group of movie companies filed lawsuits against alleged YTS users. In doing so, they relied on information that appeared to come directly from the YTS user database, including email addresses. The timing of these lawsuits was interesting. The complaints were filed around the same time the alleged operator of YTS signed a settlement deal with the same movie companies, agreeing to pay a substantial settlement fee. We later learned that, in order to resolve the matter, YTS had shared information from its database with the movie outfits. While it was a one-time handover, there was enough information to go after a long list of users. Today we can report on the latest development in this saga. Shared User Data Triggers Settlement Demands As reported earlier, the YTS user data ended up at the makers of films such as “Hellboy” and “Rambo: Last Blood,” and “London has Fallen,” who used it to their advantage. In addition to filing lawsuits, they also approached alleged file-sharers with settlement demands directly. With the threat of potential legal action, several users are likely to pay up. However, not everyone does. A few days ago, a dozen movie companies sued three alleged YTS users who failed to respond to these out-of-court settlement demands. In a complaint filed at a federal court in Colorado, the copyright holders accuse the defendants of sharing pirated copies of titles including Hunter Killer, Rambo V: Last Blood, London Has Fallen, Hellboy, and Mechanic: Resurrection. The legal paperwork identifies the three, who are all Colorado residents, as Stephen Moody, William Nelson, and Ty Tidwell. They all signed up with YTS using email addresses linked to Microsoft, which presumably shared information with the movie companies through a subpoena. “Defendant William Nelson entered the name ‘William Nelson’ and the state ‘Colorado’ when initially registering for his email address ‘[redacted]@hotmail.com’ on September 26, 2000,” the complaint reads, adding that he registered for an account with the YTS website using that same email. The same defendant also used a VPN on several occasions. According to the copyright holders he did so “to conceal his illicit activities,” however, that offered little help. Sued YTS Users Ignored Settlement Demands With the IP-addresses, email addresses, and download records from YTS, paired with information gathered from public torrent trackers, the movie companies reached out to the three men with a settlement offer. We believe that this is similar to the letters we reported on in the past, where a settlement of around $1,000 was proposed. The three defendants didn’t respond to the offer, according to the complaint. “Defendant [name] has ignored repeated communications from Plaintiffs’ counsel requesting him to cease and desist his unlawful activity and pay a portion of Plaintiffs’ damages,” it reads. The three defendants are all accused of direct and contributory copyright infringement by sharing the various films. The movie companies request actual or statutory damages as compensation for the losses they suffered. In addition, the three men also allegedly violated the DMCA by distributing content with altered copyright management information. According to the complaint, distributing files with words like “YTS” added to the title could induce others to pirate these films. For this, the movie companies want to be compensated too. — A copy of the full complaint, filed on behalf of Plaintiffs: Fallen Productions, Hunter Killer Productions, Rambo V Productions, LHF Productions, Millennium Funding, HB Productions, Stoic Productions, Voltage Holdings, Gunfighter Productions, SF Film, Definition Delaware, and After Productions, is available here (pdf) https://torrentfreak.com/movie-companies-sue-yts-users-who-ignored-settlement-demands-200924/
  3. Police in Italy are reporting a large operation against a network involved in IPTV. The Guardia di Finanza says that 58 sites and 18 Telegram channels have been blocked while four IT experts with familiar nicknames have been referred for prosecution along with 1,000 subscribers of pirate IPTV services. Over the past several years Italy’s Guardia di Finanza has been applying increasing pressure to various players in the piracy ecosystem. In addition to targeting distributors of movies, TV shows and live sports via subscription services, the authorities have also homed in on suppliers of pirated newspapers and periodicals. A new law enforcement operation revealed Wednesday continues along those same lines. Operation Evil Web The new action is being spearheaded by the Economic-Financial Police Unit of the Guardia di Finanza of Gorizia. The unit reports that following an investigation it was able to secure a preventative seizure order to block access to 58 websites and 18 Telegram channels. With combined annual traffic of around 80 million visits, the authorities claim that by blocking these platforms they have disrupted around 90% of the audiovisual and editorial piracy carried out in Italy. Given the availability of pirated content in the region, regardless of blocking, that figure sounds optimistic but the operation is clearly significant nonetheless. Investigation Into IPTV Expanded Overseas According to the GdF, the investigation began by targeting an IT expert operating under the online nickname of ‘Diabolik’. The authorities haven’t yet positively identified this developer but given the existence of a Kodi addon called Diabolik441 dedicated to Italian content with links to the Evil King branding (GdF’s operation is called ‘Evil Web’), it seems likely this was one of their targets. An Android application using the same name is also featured in a GdF video (see below). After reportedly identifying Diabolik, the investigation broadened to several regions of Italy and then overseas, including Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States. Three other IT experts also became part of the investigation, identified by GdF as ‘Doc’, ‘Spongebob’, and ‘Webflix’. Again, GdF hasn’t identified these alleged IT experts using anything other than their nicknames but nevertheless describes them as “real oracles” when it comes to the illegal distribution of movies, pay TV, live sports, cartoons, newspapers, magazines, manuals, and even pornography. All four developers have been reported to the “competent judicial authorities” for prosecution. Authorities Trying to Identify 1,000 IPTV Subscribers In Italy, piracy-enabled set-top devices are called ‘pezzotto’ and in common with many regions, are used by huge numbers of end users hoping to gain free or cheap access to pirated movies, TV shows, and live sports. GdF says work is now underway to identify around 1,000 pezzotto/IPTV subscribers – some local, some overseas – so that they can be prosecuted for breaches of copyright law and receiving stolen goods. According to the authorities, penalties can reach up to three years in prison and a fine of 25,000 euros. Similar penalties were mentioned back in Febraury when the Guardia di Finanza said it had reported 223 subscribers of pirate IPTV services to the judicial authorities. Enhanced Site-Blocking Procedures GdF reports that thanks to a new “procedural innovation”, it is now possible to more effectively block sites that facilitate access to previously blocked domains. “This procedural innovation is allowing, day by day, the immediate inhibition of hundreds of new web domains illegally created in order to circumvent the original provision of the Judicial Authority,” its announcement reads. “In addition, the procedures for international judicial cooperation have been activated – and are still in progress – in order to seize the servers from which multimedia contents are distributed in violation of copyright.” https://torrentfreak.com/operation-evil-web-police-target-58-sites-4-it-experts-1000-iptv-subscribers-200924/
  4. Anti-piracy coalition ACE is continuing its crackdown on pirate sites, targeting several high profile actors. Represented by the MPA, the group requests a DMCA subpoena that requires Cloudflare to hand over personal information and account details relating to the operators of The Pirate Bay, YTS, 1337x, EZTV, Seasonvar, Tamilrockers, Lordfilms, and many others. As one of the leading CDN and DDoS protection services, Cloudflare is used by millions of websites across the globe. This includes many pirate sites. Copyright holders would ideally like the company to cease its ties with these platforms, but Cloudflare sees things differently. It positions itself as a neutral third-party intermediary that will only take action in response to valid court orders. Cloudflare DMCA Subpoenas Thus far, court orders that have required Cloudflare to block or terminate a pirate site have been very limited. More commonly, rightsholders obtain DMCA subpoenas from US courts requiring the CDN provider to hand over information it has on the operators of pirate sites. During the first half of 2020, Cloudflare received 31 of these requests which targeted 83 accounts. Many of these were adult sites or relatively smaller pirate portals. This month, however, the anti-piracy coalition ACE has upped the ante. Last week we reported that ACE had obtained a subpoena to go after several pirate streaming sites. This week the crackdown continues, with the anti-piracy coalition requesting Cloudflare to expose information associated with The Pirate Bay and many other high profile sites. ACE Targets The Pirate Bay and Other Top Pirate Sites The list of targeted sites (46 in total) includes several of the top torrent sites, including YTS, 1337x, EZTV, LimeTorrents, and Tamilrockers. Other high profile non-English targets such as Cinecalidad, Pelisplus, Gnula, Altadefinizione, and DonTorrent are listed as well. The subpoena is requested by the MPA’s Jan Van Voorn, who writes on behalf of ACE and its members Amazon, Columbia Pictures, Disney, Netflix, Paramount Pictures, and Universal City Studios. The requested information will help the anti-piracy group to investigate the sites in question. “The purpose for which this subpoena is sought is to obtain the identities of the individuals assigned to these websites who have exploited ACE Members’ exclusive rights in their copyrighted works without their authorization,” the request reads. “This information will only be used for the purposes of protecting the rights granted under Title 17, United States Code,” Van Voorn adds. Cloudflare Will Hand Over Personal Details At the time of writing the subpoena has yet to be signed off by a court clerk, but that is usually not a problem. ACE will then forward it to Cloudflare which will hand over the requested details, including names, IP-addresses, email addresses, physical addresses, phone numbers, and payment details. How useful the provided information will be to ACE remains to be seen. Many of the affected pirate sites should be aware of the possibility that their information can be shared, and could have taken precautions. Why Now? Aside from the many high profile targets in this legal request, ACE’s sudden attention to Cloudflare DMCA subpoenas is interesting by itself. In the span of just a few days, ACE has asked the company to identify the operators of more than 80 sites. Many of these sites, including The Pirate Bay, have been Cloudflare customers for years. Why ACE has decided to take action now, as opposed to years ago, is unknown. — A copy of ACE’s request for a DMCA subpoena, submitted to a California federal court, is available here (pdf). A full list of all the affected domain names is provided below. – yts.mx – pelisplus.me – 1337x.to F – seasonvar.ru – cuevana3.io – kinogo.by – thepiratebay.org – lordfilm.cx – swatchseries.to – eztv.io – 123movies.la – megadede.com – sorozatbarat.online – cinecalidad.is – limetorrents.info – cinecalidad.to – kimcartoon.to F – tamilrockers.ws – cima4u.io – fullhdfilmizlesene.co – yggtorrent.si – time2watch.io – online-filmek.me – lordfilms-s.pw – extremedown.video – streamkiste.tv – dontorrent.org – kinozal.tv – fanserial.net – 5movies.to – altadefinizione.group – cpasmieux.org – primewire.li – primewire.ag – primewire.vc – series9.to – europixhd.io – oxtorrent.pw – pirateproxy.voto – rarbgmirror.org – rlsbb.ru – gnula.se – rarbgproxied.org – seriespapaya.nu – tirexo.com – cb01.events – kinox.to – filmstoon.pro – descargasdd.net https://torrentfreak.com/anti-piracy-coalition-wants-cloudflare-to-expose-operators-of-pirate-bay-yts-1337x-and-others-200923/
  5. In a letter sent to the European Commission, a large group of anti-piracy organizations and copyright holders calls for stricter online identity checks. As part of Europe's planned Digital Services Act, online services such as hosting companies, domain registrars, and advertisers, should be required to perform "know your customer" checks. This can help to combat all sorts of illegal activity including online piracy. Anonymity is a great good on the Internet but increasingly there are calls for stricter identity checks. Such requirements are not new. In daily life many people have encountered situations where they had to prove their identity. When opening a bank account, for example. But online it is rare. If it’s up to a large group of organizations with ties to copyright industries, this should change. They call for stricter policies so that hosting companies, domain registrars, and advertisers must properly check who their customers are. This message was sent in a letter to the European Commission this week. The signatories include anti-piracy outfits such as MPA, BREIN, BPI, IFPI, and RettighedsAlliancen, as well as the international brands Heineken, Nike, and Philips. Together, they call for thorough “know your customer” requirements. Europe’s Digital Services Act The letter was sent in response to a public inquiry on Europe’s proposed Digital Service Act, which will determine how online services and platforms are regulated. The senders zoom in on one element, namely, the “Know Your Business Customer” requirements for online platforms. In the impact assessment published by the European Commission, such a requirement is highlighted. However, that ‘online’ applies to online marketplaces only. This is a missed opportunity and should be broadened, the letter notes. Online Intermediaries Should Properly Identify Business Customers According to European law, online businesses are already required to identify themselves based on Article 5 of the e-Commerce Directive. However, this is often ignored by bad actors. This is where the new requirements could prove helpful. “The DSA represents a real opportunity to rectify the situation that allows bad actors to ignore Article 5 of the ECD with impunity,” the letter explains. “A business cannot go online without a domain name, without being hosted, or without advertisement or payment services. These intermediary services, having a direct relationship with the business, are therefore best placed to make sure that only businesses that are willing to comply with the law have access to their services.” A selection of the undersigned organizations The copyright holders and anti-piracy groups state that these checks won’t involve any active monitoring. Some simple due diligence checks based on information that’s publicly verifiable is already sufficient. Identification Helps to Tackle Online Piracy At the moment, scammers, counterfeiters, plus pirate sites and services can operate relatively easily in the dark. They often provide false information, when registering a domain name for example. More detailed checks could make this harder. Knowing who’s behind a pirate site or service obviously makes enforcement efforts much easier. And when the provided information turns out to be false, the customers should be disconnected. “Should the information provided prove to be manifestly wrong, or the intermediary be notified that the business customer isn’t who it claims to be, the intermediary should stop providing services until the business customer remedies the situation.” Bad actors have been flaunting the law for years and the Digital Service Act provides an opportunity to fix this, the letter notes. Implementing stricter checks facilitates a “safe and trustworthy online environment” and will make it harder to “distribute illegal content,” the senders add. Intermediaries Should (be forced) to Take Responsibility TorrentFreak spoke to Tim Kuik, director of Dutch anti-piracy group BREIN, which is one of the letter’s signatories. He says that it’s no surprise that criminals use fake identities online. However, that intermediaries are not properly verifying the identities of customers is surprising. “On the one hand, we see upstream providers that are reluctant to disclose customer identity to injured parties who then can not hold the perpetrators liable. On the other hand, we see that when customer identity is disclosed – ultimately providers have to in case of illegal activity – it is fake, either completely made up or of unsuspecting people and their addresses.” “This frustrates enforcement against all kinds of illegal activity while intermediaries – unknowingly or not – indirectly earn income from it,” Kuik adds. BREIN has repeatedly emphasized the importance of proper customer identification. Earlier this year it sued several hosting providers that worked with the pirate streaming CDN Moonwalk, to require these companies to verify the identity of customers and require resellers to do the same. “The latter is necessary because we see a tendency of upstream providers using foreign parties either offshore or to sell in their respective countries, who then do not have true identity information and refuse to provide other identifying information,” Kuik tells us. The idea to use stricter ‘know your customer’ regulations as a tool to thwart piracy is a hot topic. Just a few weeks ago, a group of prominent anti-piracy groups discussed the same matter in a webinar, which also involved Europol and the Italian Financial Police — A copy of the letter sent to Brussels earlier this week is available here (pdf) https://torrentfreak.com/rightsholders-ask-europe-for-broad-know-your-customer-checks-to-deter-piracy-200923/
  6. The Spanish pirate streaming giant Megadede will shut down within a week. The site's operators announced their surprise decision without providing any further detail. Megadede is among the 100 most visited sites in the country and will be missed by many. However, there certainly is no shortage of alternatives, as other sites are queuing up to welcome stranded pirates. Spain is an interesting country when it comes to piracy. On the one hand, it has one of the highest piracy rates worldwide, but there is no shortage of enforcement actions either. In recent years there have been several criminal investigations into unauthorized IPTV streaming, torrent and streaming portals have been taken to court, and ISPs have been ordered to block pirate sites as well. It appears that, despite all the legal pressure and threats, new pirate sites and services continue to appear online. Unlike in some other countries, these are often localized as well. Names such as “Don Torrent,” “DivxTotaL,” and “Megadede” are relatively unknown in most parts of the world. However, in Spain, they are listed among the 100 most visited sites in the country, mixed in with major brands such as Google, Wikipedia, Amazon, Facebook, and Netflix. Local Piracy Giant Megadede Shuts Down This week one of these giants announced its demise. In a message posted on the site, Megadede.com’s operators write that they are “forced” to announce that the site shuts down within a week. “The members of the team are forced to announce that in less than a week megadede will come to an end. We hope you have enjoyed this time with us and take the opportunity to download your lists. Thanks for everything #megabye.” It’s not clear who forced the operators to take action, but it is possible that legal pressure played a role. Unlike many other streaming sites, Megadede required an account to view all content. It didn’t rely on search traffic but had a dedicated user base. Megadede is one of the largest sites in Spain but has only been around for two years. It took over from Plusdede in 2018 after that site was ordered to shut down by the authorities. Plusdede, wasn’t unique either, as it was reportedly built based on the database of Pordede, which shut down after being hacked. Takeover is an Option While Megadede will soon be gone, there is room for a takeover of the domain name or even the entire project. In the site’s help and support section the operators write that they are willing to sell to a good bidder. “If someone wants to buy the domain or the project, you can send an offer through the contact page. We will only answer offers that may interest us,” they write. This means that Megadede may possibly continue under new ownership. However, there is no shortage of alternatives either. After the site announced its shutdown decision several competitors said they were ready to take over the traffic. Some, including DivMax.com, even offered to enable support for Megadede user ‘playlists’ to enable a smooth transition. “The DixMax administration welcomes you. Due to the recent closure of Megadede we invite you to meet and discover DixMax.com and all its applications available for free. Downloaded Megadede playlists will soon be added,” the site writes on Twitter. https://torrentfreak.com/spanish-piracy-giant-megadede-to-shut-down-successors-queue-up-200918/
  7. When officers from Hungary's National Tax and Customs Administration raided a pirate IPTV provider they were unsurprised to discover large amounts of satellite and computer equipment for capturing and distributing live TV . However, what they also found was hundreds of pounds of food that had been stockpiled by the operator, who hadn't been outside for months due to fears of catching the coronavirus. 2020 has developed into one of the most memorable years in living memory for the entire planet but for mostly the wrong reasons. Not a day goes by without news of the coronavirus pandemic and its devastating effect on individuals, families, the economy, and health in general. In common with many industries, coronavirus has hit the entertainment sectors too, with few new films and TV shows coming out (with notable exceptions such as Mulan) as people are either forced or inclined to stay home and stay safe. Throughout all of this, however, pirate operations have remained mostly online, with notable spikes in interest reported earlier in the year. IPTV Raid and Arrest But Authorities Didn’t Expect This As part of European efforts to crack down on the supply of IPTV, a few weeks ago officers in the National Tax and Customs Administration raided a pirate IPTV provider. What they found was extraordinary to say the least. Situated in what appeared to be a fenced-off barbed wire compound with CCTV surveillance, the outside of the building was perhaps not much of a surprise. Adorned with a large number of satellite dishes used to source original programming from the skies, the walls of the structure gave away what may lie inside. Indeed, the main contents of the building were as expected, such as an office with desks, chairs and various computers, plus a separate area containing what appear to be rows of servers used for capturing TV content from official providers and redistributing it over the Internet. In total, the authorities seized 52 computers, several decoders, TV cards, plus six servers dedicated to redistribution. The image above suggests that the operation wasn’t set up on the large budgets usually witnessed in police footage from raids elsewhere in Europe but with at least 8,000 paying customers, it was clearly functional. However, in a video released by the authorities, it is apparent that on some of the server shelves also sit items of food, including dozens and dozens of packets of flour. A panning camera shot also reveals a large refrigerator and then a small mountain of stacked canned food. Another shot, possibly in another area, reveals little floor space due to yet more stacked cans, a significant area occupied by box upon box of dried pasta packets, plus additional shelves loaded with soft drinks, other foodstuffs, and the coronavirus pandemic staple – dozens of toilet rolls. An Operator of the Service Was Scared of the Coronavirus According to the National Tax and Customs Administration, the service was founded by a man from Nagykanizsa who first set out to “redirect” his mother’s paid TV package to his own home for free. He teamed up with a man from Budapest to create a service that was subsequently offered to close friends too. Over time, however, they realized they could make money from the operation and began offering it on an invitation-only basis to outsiders. The network of customers grew and ultimately became available worldwide via the Internet. However, earlier this year, when the coronavirus started to sweep across Europe, one of the people in charge of the operation reacted like many across the region. In fear of catching what could be a deadly virus, he stockpiled the mountains of food detailed above – hundreds of pounds/kilos – so that he could keep the service running but without having to venture far outside. “In addition to IT equipment, durable food was in the Budapest property. The young man had accumulated hundreds of kilos of flour, canned food and pasta in fear of the coronavirus epidemic, and had not ventured into the streets for months,” the authorities explain. Damage to Copyright Holders But Also Paying No Taxes According to estimates provided by the tax authorities, the service is alleged to have generated around HUF 6 million (US$1.97m) for the pair but for reasons that aren’t explained, they “forgot” to pay the necessary duties to the state. This explains why the tax authorities were involved in the raid. “An illegal IPTV service that is provided without payment of royalties infringes copyright or copyright-related rights, which is a criminal offense. The offender can be sentenced to up to eight years in prison,” the National Tax and Customs Administration says. Whether the self-imposed prison sentence of a few months will now be extended to a forced sentence of a few years is currently unknown. https://torrentfreak.com/pirate-iptv-operator-hid-away-with-mountains-of-food-to-avoid-coronavirus-200919/
  8. The largest university in Denmark has signed a code of conduct with local anti-piracy outfit Rights Alliance to block access to pirate sites. Aarhus University will voluntarily prevent its 38,000 students from accessing sites that have previously been ruled illegal by a court, but without being served with a court order itself. Today’s site-blocking measures to counter online copyright infringement may seem relatively new but Denmark has been engaged in the practice for almost 15 years. Pirate Site Blocking in Denmark After initial target AllofMP3 was first ordered to be blocked by local ISP Tele2 back in 2006 following action by the IFPI, anti-piracy group Rights Alliance picked up the baton. As a result, almost 500 sites are now blocked by ISPs in the country but not all are legally required to do so. This is the result of a Code of Conduct agreed with local Internet providers, which voluntarily block pirate sites once a court has ruled them to be illegal. This agreement was renewed in the summer and now helps to quickly block torrent, streaming and similar platforms that switch domains or deploy proxies to circumvent blocking orders. Interestingly, it now transpires that Rights Alliance has managed to expand this voluntary scheme beyond consumer ISPs to encompass the country’s largest university. University Will Block Pirate Site Access Based in the second-largest city in Denmark, Aarhus University currently plays host to 38,000 students, 1,800 PhD students, and 8,000 employees. After being established in 1928, it’s now the country’s largest university and probably has its fair share of students choosing to scoop up movies, TV shows and music from pirate sites. That, however, will be more difficult moving forward. On August 20, 2020, Rights Alliance and Aarhus University entered into a Code of Conduct Agreement that requires the education facility to prevent users of its network from accessing pirate sites. Whether a site is given this label will be down to the courts, which will have to rule that a site is seriously infringing before it gets blocked under the agreement. According to Rights Alliance, which reported the news Monday, the agreement will put the university on an equal footing with the country’s Internet service providers when it comes to voluntary action against pirate sites. Progress Welcomed by Rights Alliance, Expansion Sought “The illegal services are run by criminals and undermine the livelihoods of creative producers. It is therefore crucial that the blocking of the services is as effective as possible, and that public institutions and the like that offer Internet access participate in the blocking effort,” a statement from the anti-piracy group reads. “The fact that an institution as large and significant as Aarhus University engages and participates in the efforts against illegal services helps to ensure the effectiveness of the Rights Alliance’s blocking efforts against the illegal market, thereby strengthening the strength of Danish cooperation between rights holders, Internet providers and authorities.” As the founder of pirate site blocking as we know it today, Denmark is keen to expand its efforts in this arena. Rights Alliance is now looking for other “significant network providers and institutions” to join its voluntary scheme in order to put further pressure on the pirate market. https://torrentfreak.com/university-voluntarily-agrees-to-block-pirate-sites-under-code-of-conduct-200918/
  9. Disney's Mulan is a smash hit on pirate sites, where millions of people streamed and downloaded pirate copies of the film over the past week and a half. For days on end, the film has been pirated many times more than the competition, which is a rare sight. This 'success' is the result of a volatile mix of steep costs, low availability, and high-quality pirate alternatives. Online movie piracy has plagued Hollywood for roughly two decades now. Despite numerous enforcement efforts, the problem only appears to get worse. Ten years ago, the threat mostly came from torrent sites which proved to be a hurdle for the impatient or tech illiterates. Today, there are hundreds of streaming sites and apps that rival Netflix, Disney, and other legal platforms. We can’t say that the movie industry hasn’t changed. Responding to rampant piracy figures, movies have appeared online more swiftly after their theatrical release. During the current pandemic, several prominent titles even premiered online. However, that appears to have had little impact. The release of Mulan illustrates this perfectly. After several delays, the film skipped the box office in most countries. Instead, it was released on Disney+ where viewers had to pay an extra fee to see it. The exact price differs per region but in the US it’s roughly $30 on top of the regular subscription. That’s a steep price or a bargain, depending on who you ask. Disney would argue that two box-office tickets plus drinks and popcorn would cost more. And you’ll save on gas too. Then again, compared to the dozens of other titles you can watch on Disney+ for the regular monthly subscription fee, it’s quite expensive. Without arguing over who’s right or wrong, the online premiere of Mulan had a major side-effect. For days on end, it’s been the most pirated movie, crushing all competition by a wide margin. Over the past several days, we’ve collected various samples of download figures from public torrent trackers with help from I Know. We don’t like to publish hard numbers as it’s impossible to capture all downloads perfectly. However, it’s clear that Mulan was downloaded millions of times through torrent sites alone. We have seen many pirated movies appear online over the past decade but seldomly do the download figures stand out like this. For example, on the first full day that it was online, September 5, Mulan was downloaded 900% more than the second most downloaded film (The Owners). This dominance continued throughout the week when no other movie came close, not even newer releases. To give an indication, here are the download estimates of the five most-downloaded movies in our sample on September 5. Pirated torrent download sample September 5 And here’s the same list a week later on September 12, more than a week after the first pirated copies appeared online. The download numbers in our sample dropped significantly but remain higher than the competition, with 300% more downloads than runner-up Ava. Pirated torrent download sample September 12 We should stress that these numbers are based on data from public torrent trackers; direct download sites and pirate streaming views are not considered. However, it clearly shows how popular Mulan is. Another good reference point is a comparison to last year’s hit release from Disney, The Lion King. That was very popular on torrent sites as well but the number of downloads was roughly 50% lower than Mulan on the first day, and also 50% lower the week after. There are several reasons that contributed to Mulan’s popularity and we’ll discuss a few here. Various surveys have shown that the most common motivation for pirates is “because it’s free.” This cost factor definitely plays a role in Mulan’s release. The pricing differs from country to country but in the US it’s $29.99, which sits on top of the $6.99 monthly subscription. Needless to say, this is a bigger hurdle to overcome when compared to regular movies that come out on Netflix or Disney+. The costs are not too far away from those associated with a visit to a movie theater for two people, but that’s where the second argument comes into play. When a movie usually premieres at the box office there are no high quality pirated copies. If there’s a release it’s usually a ‘camcorded’ version, which we saw with Tenet recently. In this case particularly, pirates prefer to pay for quality. With Mulan the situation is different. Soon after the movie appeared on Disney+, high quality pirated copies were widely shared. These are direct competitors to, and substitutes for, the official release. Finally, there are many regions where Mulan is simply not legally available. This means that for some the only option is to wait for several months avoiding all spoilers, or go down the illegal route. There may be other factors that play a role as well but steep costs, low availability, and high-quality pirate alternatives certainly play a major role. While it may be tempting to conclude that Disney’s strategy backfired, that conclusion is too easy to reach. Game of Thrones was widely known as the most pirated TV-show for years, but all the buzz surrounding the show also resulted in many new HBO subscriptions. Disney may hope for the same. The company has a dedicated anti-piracy department and knew what to expect. Perhaps they didn’t anticipate this piracy bonanza, but if it resulted in an equal boost in new subscriptions, they likely won’t complain. https://torrentfreak.com/disneys-mulan-crushes-all-competition-on-pirate-sites-200917/
  10. The MPA, Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment, Homeland Security's National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center and other groups have signed an agreement to collaborate on content protection efforts and launch a new public awareness campaign to deter citizens from engaging in IPTV, general streaming, and torrent-based piracy. In 2017, the MPA joined forces with dozens of entertainment industry companies to form the huge anti-piracy coalition Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE). Two years later, the MPA bolstered its already considerable ranks with the addition of Netflix, an existing ACE member. Together with Amazon, the Hollywood studios and their partners are now engaged in legal action to bring down as many piracy platforms as they can, with a focus on IPTV and streaming. Thus far, however, ACE and MPA actions have lacked a visible or obvious connection to law enforcement and government entities. A corresponding, coordinated public awareness aspect has been missing too but that all changed this week with the announcement of yet more partnerships at a very high level. MPA and Partners Sign MoU With ICE IPR Center Late Wednesday, Homeland Security’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that its IPR Center, the MPA, ACE, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Innovation Policy Center plus industry marketing group CTAM, had formed a broad coalition to pool their content protection efforts. During what is described as a virtual ceremony, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed by Derek N. Benner, Executive Associate Director for Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and Karyn Temple, Senior Executive Vice President and Global General Counsel for the MPA. The stated aim of the new partnership is to use the combined resources of the groups to support Homeland Security Investigations and the IPR Center’s digital piracy investigations, including resource and information sharing with external anti-piracy groups. “Now more than ever, collaboration and partnerships between content creative industries and law enforcement agencies are essential to combat digital piracy and protect consumers,” Benner said. “Through this partnership, the IPR Center and its private sector partners will implement an aggressive multi-layered strategy to restore the digital ecosystem, educate consumers on the dangers of illegal streaming, enforce the nation’s intellectual property rights laws, and dismantle criminal enterprises that operate on the internet – thinking they are untouchable and above the law.” Public Awareness Campaign Alongside the signing of the MoU, the new coalition also launched a brand new public service awareness campaign. While the anti-piracy groups and law enforcement bodies tackle large-scale pirates using legal mechanisms, they hope to convince consumers of illicit content – who keep these services alive – to stop using them. Via the new ‘StreamSafely‘ portal, it’s hoped that the visual entertainment industries can convince mainly IPTV and streaming users to stop frequenting pirate services. The approach will come as no surprise. MALWARE! MALWARE! MALWARE! After perhaps growing more than a little bit tired of attempting to get pirates to think of the creators, the latest trend is to get pirates to think of themselves. The main goal of this campaign is no different and the StreamSafely portal is neck-deep in warnings about malware. Indeed, there are a number of videos, presented by TV host and journalist Katie Linendoll, among others, claiming that signing up to a piracy site or service is a dangerous thing to do. If users want their machines infected, bank details, social security numbers, and indeed their entire identities stolen by criminals, piracy is the way to go, the site claims again and again. But will consumers find the message credible? While the message is nothing new and may have some merits in certain circumstances, the alleged scale of the problem isn’t supported by much evidence. While the campaign links to various reports that claim malware is a problem, the site nor these linked papers provide any hard specifics to support the numerous claims. PSA’s are designed to be simple and easy to consume but many tech-savvy consumers aren’t easily swayed. This could be countered by providing precise evidence and specifics of malware and identity theft in relation to pirate platforms. It would also send a powerful message if malicious services were actually named alongside details of what they have supposed to have done. To date, this hasn’t happened. Nor have there been any efforts to explain the precise mechanisms through which these alleged dangers manifest themselves. Taking this important step would build confidence that the campaign is about protecting consumers, not just copyright holders. It would also have the desired deterrent effect. There are literally no downsides. The Campaign Does Have its Merits There are certain aspects of the StreamSafely campaign that aren’t up for debate. Given their very nature, legal services such as Netflix are absolutely safe to use and users can be very confident indeed that any personal or financial information provided to the platform won’t be criminally abused. The other issue, and this is a big one, is the unreliable nature of the illicit streaming market, particularly IPTV. Experienced users of such services tend to dig in their heels at this point and argue that they have few problems, but most consumers aren’t so savvy. Services do go down and people do lose money, sometimes considerable amounts. “Seemingly inexpensive piracy devices, apps or websites often get shut down for distributing pirated content, leaving users in the lurch,” the campaign says. It’s a message that will resonate with thousands of IPTV and app-based pirates whose services have disappeared and taken their money. The malware angle needs much more work. https://torrentfreak.com/mpa-ace-team-up-with-homeland-security-to-dismantle-criminal-piracy-groups-200917/
  11. Several Pirate Bay-related domains become available again this month after their owner failed to renew the registration. Yesterday, Piratebay.org was sold in a Dropcatch auction for $50,000 and ThePiratebay.com will follow soon. Both domains were previously registered to the official Pirate Bay site. The Pirate Bay is arguably the best known pirate site on the web. The iconic pirate ship logo is notorious around the world and more than 17 years after it first appeared online, the site still attracts millions of visitors. During its tumultuous history, The Pirate Bay has weathered many storms. The site was targeted in large scale police raids twice and was the subject of a criminal prosecution in Sweden that landed several of its co-founders in prison. Pirate Bay’s Backup Domains The site also faced several domain name issues. In 2012 it switched from its original ThePiratebay.org name to ThePiratebay.se, fearing that the former would be seized by US authorities. Later on, when the .se domain was threatened, it rotated across several other domains in search of a safe haven. That safe haven turned out to be the original ThePiratebay.org domain from which it still operates today. Over the years the Pirate Bay team had many ‘backup’ domains available, just in case something happened. That included various exotic TLDs but the site also owned Piratebay.org and ThePiratebay.com. We use the past tense because both domains expired recently. The domains listed Pirate Bay co-founder Fredrik Neij as the registrant and until recently the same Swedish address was listed in Whois data. For reasons unknown, however, the registrant let both Piratebay.org and ThePiratebay.com expire. This isn’t a problem for the torrent site really. The domains were never used as the site’s main address. ThePiratebay.com did forward to the original .org domain at one point, but that’s about it. Piratebay.org Auctioned for $50,000 None of this means that the domains are not valuable to outsiders though. This became apparent in an auction yesterday, where Piratebay.org (without the the) was sold for $50,000 to a bidder named ‘clvrfls’. The bid below ended up being the winning one. The Piratebay.org domain failed to renew earlier this month after which the professional ‘drop catch‘ service Dropcatch.com scooped it up. They auctioned the domain off, which is a common practice, and it proved quite lucrative. Domain trader and investor Raymond Hackney, who highlighted the auction at The Domains, tells us that the price itself is not unusual but for this particular domain, it seems on the high end. “The price seems high for a traditional domain investor given the history of the name. Names sell for big money everyday due to a number of factors, sometimes it’s due to what some see as SEO factors like high domain authority and backlinks.” This view is shared by domain trader David Marshall, who joined yesterday’s auction but stopped bidding after the price went above his valuation. “I didn’t think it would go that high and don’t believe it’s worth this much,” Marshall tells us, adding that he planned to monetize the Piratebay.org through legitimate advertising feeds, as he does with many other piracy-related domains. According to Marshall, auctions of high-quality Pirate Bay domains are very rare, as he waited for years for a chance like this. That may in part explain the high price. How Will ThePiratebay.org be Used? What the new owner will do with the domain is unclear. It has a substantial number of backlinks and there will be plenty of type-in traffic as well. This makes it well-suited to monetize with an advertising feed, but how much that will bring in is uncertain. For now, visitors to the site simply see a standard parked page message, indicating that something is “coming soon.” The new owner could also run a Pirate Bay proxy on the domain. This can be easily monetized as well and may attract a lot of traffic. However, that opens the door to all sorts of legal problems and could also get the domain banned from high-quality advertising feeds. The bidders who lost yesterday’s auction will get another chance soon. ThePiratebay.com is expected to drop later this week and is listed at a pending delete auction, and ThePiratebay.net and Piratebay.net will drop in a few days as well. https://torrentfreak.com/piratebay-org-sold-for-50000-at-auction-thepiratebay-com-up-next-200916/