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  1. Early February an Android dev revealed how his popular calendar app was suffering from 85% piracy rates. The news was echoed in dozens of headlines, but how did things turn out? TorrentFreak is informed that sales are dramatically up and piracy has been slashed by a third. Today Calendar Pro is a popular replacement calendar for Android. Several thousand voters on Google Play agree on its quality, most voting near to the fabled five stars. However, at the start of February developer Jack Underwood announced that rather than pay for his software, a huge majority are preferring to pirate it instead. The figures were substantial. According to the UK-based dev, 85% of ‘pro’ users were using his software without paying for it. While that fact might’ve caused some creators to go nuclear, Underwood remained pragmatic. He engaged his public and decided to make light of the situation by introducing some novel anti-piracy measures in his software. Rather than make it unusable, Underwood added some pirate-themed events as detailed in our earlier article. It turned out to be a great move on the PR front. News of Underwood’s approach spread quickly and dozens of news outlets covered the story giving the developer and his software plenty of exposure. Interested in the effects of this new-found fame, TF caught up with the dev to assess his mood. As it turns out Underwood was in fine form. News of massive piracy of his app published February 2nd/3rd onwards had certainly turned into a positive. Sales of his software enjoyed a significant boost, as the graph below illustrates. While reluctant to talk about money generated, Underwood did reveal the size of the increase over regular sales. Today Calender Pro sold around three times more than it usually does after the news broke, leveling to twice as many sales shortly after. However, it was the effect on Google Play’s rankings that appears to have done Underwood the biggest favor. Following news of the high piracy rates there was a five-fold increase in Play user ratings, averaging a score of 4.8. This means that Today Calendar Pro is now the highest rated calendar on the Play store. The ratings boost means that sales are now running at a steady 50% uplift, a great result all considered. Interestingly, however, the free version of the app hasn’t done quite so well. On the first day sales increased two-fold, dropping to 1.5x the day after. Unlike the ‘Pro’ version, there was no change in Play ratings and ‘sales’ are now back to the level they were before. But perhaps of most interest is how these new figures have affected piracy rates overall, which previously sat at 85%. “Over the last week pirated installs have made up 56% of the downloads,†Underwood informs TF. “Much better, but I guess we’ll see how long it lasts!†Finally, Underwood says that interest in the pirate-themed events he added to his software has resulted in lots of requests from users wanting to see them. He’s come up with the following solution. “Users can now trigger the pirate events themselves. Any event title with ‘walk the plank’ or ‘swashbuckling’ or ‘pirate’ (providing there’s no other trigger words) will cause the pirate images to be displayed,†he concludes.
  2. What happens when movie and TV show companies have sites blocked at the ISP level in the UK? A leaked report commission by the studios shows that on the one hand direct traffic to pirate sites seriously reduced. But on the other, usage of unblocked linking-only sites increased by more than 230%. unblockerDuring 2014, several key strategies emerged to lead the mainstream entertainment industries’ anti-piracy efforts. At the consumer end, so-called “strikes†programs saw errant Internet subscribers receive warning notices in an effort to correct their behaviors. Then, on top of sending millions of DMCA-style takedown notices to sites and search engines, entertainment companies went to court in several regions to have domains blocked at the ISP level. The UK was hit particularly hard and now dozens of sites are inaccessible via regular means. But the big question remains – is this an effective way to reduce piracy? Earlier this year the movie studios decided to find out by hiring a company called Incopro to conduct a study. The report has never been made public but TorrentFreak has now obtained a copy. The report, titled ‘Site Blocking Efficacy Study United Kingdom’ is dated September 30, 2014 and focuses on the top 250 “open access†websites involved in the unauthorized distribution of film and television content. Dedicated music sites were not included. Overall the 26 page report, which relies heavily on Alexa data, found that blocking had resulted in targeted sites losing an average 73.2% of their direct traffic. And, when compared to the global control, usage of pirate sites had declined over time. The report breaks sites down into three categories – linking only sites (the majority of sites in the top 250), public P2P portals and hosting. Three sites were identified as the most popular among UK users in August 2014 – (link), (link) and (host), with the former maintaining the number one position for the previous six months. And despite being blocked in March 2013 and taking a large hit in direct traffic, KickassTorrents maintained its place in the top 10. In all cases, direct traffic to ‘pirate’ sites plummeted when ISPs implemented court-ordered blockades. The chart below shows the effect of a 2013 blocking order against BitSnoop, TorrentReactor, TorrentHound, Torrent Downloads, Monova, Filestube, Filecrop, 1337x, Torrentz, TorrentCrazy and ExtraTorrent. However, while direct traffic to ‘pirate’ sites diminishes following blocking actions, Incopro found that a particular kind of site in the top 250 actually does better over time. So-called “linking only†sites (i.e not a P2P portal or hosting site) enjoy significant boosts, as shown in the chart below. “Linking Only sites have shown a growth in usage over time, indicating that these sites increase in usage and can take the place of those that are blocked if they are allowed to grow over time,†the company warns. “In summary, where there are sustained periods of blocking, usage levels are driven downwards across all site categories. Linking Only sites are the fastest growing category and should be considered as blocking targets over a sustained period to curtail their growth.†Circumvention techniques While the Alexa data relied on by Incopro relates to direct traffic to sites, the big unknown is how many people continue to visit blocked sites using circumvention tools such as VPNs and proxy services. In its report, Incopro highlights three different types 1. Dedicated sites offering access or a mirror of a blocked site 2. Sites offering access to more than one blocked site (i.e 3. VPNs or proxy services offering access to any site Immediately there is a problem for anyone looking to measure traffic to sites when the above methods are used. While option 1 is relatively easy to measure, options 2 and 3 present significant technical issues. For these reasons, Incopro measured only option 1. Nevertheless, as the chart below shows, use of dedicated proxies accounts for more than half of blocked “pirate†site traffic. Conclusion In summing up, Incopro found that when a website and all of its domains and dedicated proxies are blocked by court order (and updated quickly), “there is a significant impact in reducing infringement by the sites themselves and a reduction in the overall infringement undertaken by the most popular websites in the UK.†But to really get to the heart of the problem requires a much deeper analysis and the answer to a question that sits way outside the scope of the report. Does site blocking really put more money into the pockets of the entertainment industries? ——————————————————————————— Top 250 leading “pirate†movie/TV sites (dedicated music sites excluded)
  3. Github says it has made significant changes to the way it handles DMCA takedown notices. In an effort to boost transparency, the collaborative code repository says that whenever possible alleged infringers will get a chance to put things right before their content is taken down. Like other highly-trafficked domains relying heavily on user contributed content, coding and collaboration platform Github now publishes its own transparency report detailing copyright-related complaints received by the company. Some of these DMCA notices have been reported here on TF in recent months, including one sent by the MPAA which effectively ended Popcorn Time’s presence on the site and another sent by Microsoft targeting an Xbox music app. Now, in a move to bring more transparency and clarity to its copyright processes, Github has announced significant changes to the way it handles DMCA complaints. The company says that three major changes have been implemented in order to improve on-site experience and better serve users. In the first instance, copyright owners will need to conduct their investigations as usual and send a properly formatted takedown notice to Github. Presuming it meets statutory requirements, Github will publish it in their transparency report and pass a link to the user in question. At this point Github’s new policy begins to take effect. Previously the company would’ve immediately taken down the complained-about content but Github now says it wants to provide alleged infringers with a chance to put things right “whenever possible.†24 hours to take action To this end, Github says users will have the opportunity to modify or remove content within 24 hours of a complaint. Copyright holders will be notified that Github has given the affected user this leeway and it will be down to the user to inform Github within the allotted period that the appropriate changes have been made. Failure to do so will see the repository removed. Despite this wiggle room, not all complaints will result in the luxury of a 24 hour ‘action’ period. Should a DMCA notice claim that the entire contents of a repository infringe, the repository in question will be removed “expeditiously.†Forks will not be automatically disabled The second significant change is that when Github receives a copyright complaint against a parent repository, it will not automatically disable project forks. For that to happen any complaint will have to specifically include not only the parent’s URL, but also the locations of all related forks. “GitHub will not automatically disable forks when disabling a parent repository. This is because forks belong to different users, may have been altered in significant ways, and may be licensed or used in a different way that is protected by the fair-use doctrine,†Github explains. Fighting back: Counter-notices As required by law, users affected by takedown notices have a right of reply if they believe they’ve been wrongly targeted. Sufficiently detailed counter notices can be submitted to Github for forwarding to complaining rightsholders. They will also be published in the site’s transparency report. This right of reply is very important and one that appears to be under utilized. Earlier this month Github published a complaint which targeted and took down a wide range of addons for the popular media player XBMC. Apparently sent by ‘DMCA Secure’, a company that has no immediately visible web presence, the notice claimed to represent a wide range of copyright holders including Sony, Fox, Dreamworks, NFL and WWE, to name just a few. The notice is unusual. While it’s common for the first three companies to team up, we’d never seen a notice featuring such a wide range of diverse rightsholders before. Also, while the functionality of the code could give rise to copyright issues, none of those companies own the copyrights to the code in question. TF put it to Github that the complaint looked unusual and might even be bogus, but the company declined to comment on specific cases. Like many companies in similar positions, it appears Github has to take notices on face value and relies on users to submit counter-notices to air their complaints. None of the repositories in question have done so. Github’s revamped DMCA policy can be found here, along with how-to guides on submitting takedown and counter notices. While Github is well-known in the technology sector, it may come as a surprise just how popular the service is. Around seven million people use the site and according to Alexa, is the 127th most-visited domain in the world. Add Rep and Leave a feedback Reputation is the green button in the down right corner on my post
  4. After a controversial first few days, the hacking trial of Gottfrid Svartholm on Friday completed its second week. The Swede's Danish co-defendant took the stand for the first time and world renowned security expert and key Tor member Jacob Appelbaum appeared for the defense. The hacking trial of Gottfrid Warg and his alleged 21-year-old Danish accomplice continued this week in Copenhagen, Denmark. While the Pirate Bay founder answered questions during week one, this Wednesday marked the first day the 21-year-old answered questions. The man, whose identity is being protected, told the Court that while he’s had no formal IT training, he is indeed a computer security expert who had been involved in testing computer systems to see how they hold up to external threats. He admitted working for American, Australian and Danish companies. The 21-year-old Dane refused to say whether he knows Gottfrid on the grounds that he could be attacked in prison. He did admit to having previously heard about Gottfrid, however. “Most people in the IT sector have heard of him,†he said. The Dane also admitted to traveling to Cambodia to visit friends and smoke cannabis, but denied that he went there to meet Gottfrid at his apartment. The prosecution also presented some emails in which the man said that CSC, the IT company involved in the hack, was owned by the CIA, but he dismissed that comment as a joke. Discussion also returned to the IRC conversations referenced in the first week of the trial which reportedly took place between ‘My Evil Twin’ (allegedly Gottfrid) and ‘Advanced Persistent Terrorist Threat’ (allegedly the 21-year-old). Much was made in week one of potentially altered Internet Relay Chat (IRC) logs presented by the prosecution. This week the Dane admitted that he had been involved in some conversations and had actually met ‘My Evil Twin’. That person was not Gottfrid, he said. In respect of the content of some chats, the Dane said the topic had indeed centered around the security of IT systems but he insisted that there we no plans to hack CSC or any other companies’ computers. Usernames and passwords of CSC systems that were allegedly exchanged during the IRC chats had been found using Google, he added. Also of note during the day’s proceedings was the Dane’s continued refusal to provide police with encryption keys to examine the contents of his laptop. “There is no material on my computer. I can not see how it would make this a better situation,†he told the court. However, reported that during the day, due to the nature of the evidence being presented, it became clear that police had managed to retrieve some information without access to the keys. After a day’s break in proceedings, on Friday renowned activist and security expert Jacob Appelbaum appeared as an expert witness for the defense. Appelbaum also appeared in Gottfrid’s Swedish trial, a case in which he was partly acquitted. The prosecution previously complained that Appelbaum knows Gottfrid personally, so was unsuitable as an expert witness. The American denied that was the case. “I’ve only talked a little with Gottfrid as he is not known as a sociable guy. He is not easy to approach and the times that I’ve seen him in social situations it has always been about computer security,†Appelbaum said. Echoing his testimony in the Swedish case, Appelbaum told the Court that it certainly would have been possible for outsiders to have controlled Gottfrid’s computer to carry out the hack of CSC. It’s unclear for how long the trial will continue but hearings have been allocated until the end of October.
  5. Home automation. It’s a phrase we’ve heard over and over again for the last few years. What is it? It’s a new platform that allows even your home appliances to have similar functionality to your smartphone. It allows you to know while you’re cooking that your laundry load is finished and ready for takeout that your pot roast has finished cooking and is ready to serve, and so on. Smart ovens, smart TVs, smart washers and dryers, and even smart dishwashers remind us that everything’s getting “smarter†these days. Samsung is no stranger to the home appliance industry (neither is LG), but the Korean giant just turned things up a notch with its acquisition of former Kickstarter company SmartThings. According to sources familiar with the deal, Samsung purchased the home automation companyfor around $200 million. It’s not quite the same deal as Google’s Nest acquisition, but it shows that major tech companies are willing to go the distance with their dollars in order to acquire something that could put them on the edge, in the future, in the here and now. As far as the deal itself, Samsung’s Open Innovation Center (OIC) will now house SmartThings, and the company’s staff will relocate to Samsung’s OIC in Palo Alto, California. SmartThings has said that it will remain open platform, even with some respondents to the announcement expressing concerns that Samsung would make SmartThings exclusive to the Android and/or Tizen platforms – leaving out iOS in the process. SmartThings has some projects going for iOS users currently, and iOS users don’t want to see those scrapped because of the new deal. Samsung has promised that it’s committed to maintaining the open-platform nature of SmartThings. Samsung enters the home automation business at a time when tech giant Apple Inc. has decided to create its own home automation business from the ground up. Nest founder Tony Fadell (known as “the Father of the iPodâ€) was credited with some excellent work at Apple, but he later left to create his own smart thermostat company that was acquired earlier this year for $3.2 billion by search engine giant Google Inc. Google’s also acquired home surveillance company Dropcam, which has many consumers worried at the moment about Google’s “wandering eyes†in the homes of many individuals. While Samsung has won a place for itself in the home automation industry, one major question on the mind of every tech enthusiast is the issue of relevance: are consumers all that interested in home automation – in smart washers, dryers, and so on? So far, home automation has been a niche field (like smartwatches), but you can be sure that if the giants Google, Samsung, and Apple are involved, our homes will never be the same again.
  6. One of the Popcorn Time forks has included a free VPN option in its software, allowing users to hide their IP-addresses from the public, This feature is a response to copyright trolls, who regularly send settlement requests to users who pirate movies via BitTorrent. popcornThe Popcorn Time phenomenon took the Internet by storm earlier this year. The software became the subject of hundreds of news articles, as it offered P2P streaming in an easy to use Netflix-style interface. Overwhelmed by the response the original team quickly retired. However, since the code is open source, many competing forks quickly adopted the project, each taking it in a different direction. Time4Popcorn is one of the most users reincarnations of Popcorn Time. The team behind the project has introduced several new features to their version, including TV-show listings and Android support. These changes definitely increased the appeal of the application, but there was a threat lurking around the corner. In common with all other BitTorrent-based software, copyright holders are actively monitoring the activities of people who pirate their works. This already resulted in fines for German users of a Popcorn Time fork, but users in the United States and other regions where copyright trolls are active face the same risk. To counter this “threat†the Time4Popcorn team decided to implement a VPN feature, for free. “Throughout these last months we realized that making the ultimate watching experience for everyone is important. However, something that is even more important to us is that everyone will be able to get this experience without risking themselves,†the Time4Popcorn team tells TorrentFreak. The news about the settlement requests prompted the developers to include a VPN option to anonymize use of their client. This week the feature was added to the latest 4.2 Alpha release. By clicking a lock icon users can quickly connect and disconnect the built-in protection. Although it may take some more time before a stream starts playing, it appears to work just fine. “Thanks to the new VPN feature everyone from anywhere in the world will be able to use Popcorn Time, worry free. That makes us very happy,†the team tells us. popcorn_time_vpn The VPN itself is not run by the Popcorn Time team. Instead, they came to an agreement with the VPN provider Kebrum, who are offering their services for free. TorrentFreak reached out to Kebrum to find out why they agreed to join the project. “There are not a lot of opportunities in life to be a part of a revolution and we have recognized this opportunity. One of the main goals of the company is to bring back the anonymity to the internet,†Kebrum’s Martin tells us. “We believe Popcorn Time is the revolution that will change the entertainment industry forever. And now, with our help, Popcorn Time can do for the world of internet anonymity the same as they will do for the world of entertainment.†This revolution does come at a cost for the company, as it has to pick up the bills. However, Kebrum believes that the brand exposure will make up for this investment. The traffic shouldn’t be a problem for the company, as it has plenty of resources available. “From our experience and the expected usage stats provided by Popcorn Time, we believe that the resources we allocated for Popcorn Time users should be enough in order to give a good and fast download experience. Our servers are prepared to handle the traffic,†Martin says. As with all other features, the VPN functionality is released as open source under a GPL-V3 license. The Time4Popcorn team plans to inform its users about the new VPN feature in the coming days, and once it’s included in the stable release older versions will update automatically.
  7. The Public Enemy Bundle has been downloaded by more than a million fans. The group’s new remix collection, created by BitTorrent listeners and curated by Public Enemy, debuts on iTunes and as a BitTorrent Bundle. Public Enemy rewrote the rules of hip hop. They pioneered a socially-aware, sonically-dense brand of rap that still reverberates today. It influences what we hear. And it influences what we play. Because they didn’t just rewrite the rules of rap sound. They rewrote the rules of music, too. Public Enemy changed the architecture of listening. In 1999, the group released There’s a Poison Goin’ On exclusively online. It marked the first time a major artist made their album available as a download. And it made a statement about how distribution should work: a stake in the ground for digital, during a time when the MP3 format was something that labels were actively trying to kill. Flash forward fourteen years. We’ve come to accept the MP3. But we still haven’t come to terms with online distribution: the promise or the value of direct-to-fan. Can digital delivery bring artists closer to listeners? Can it create more, not less, value? Amid Internet sprawl, the radio station of everywhere, can it solve for discoverability? Public Enemy helped start the major shift to MP3. We worked with them to figure out what’s next. In June, we partnered with Public Enemy to reinvent the hip hop collaboration, bringing the tools to remix the group’s single “Get Up Stand Up†to fans around the world. Over a million multitrack Bundles were downloaded. 91 thousand iTunes album impressions were generated. And 100 new songs were created. After listening to the BitTorrent fan remixes, Public Enemy chose five tracks to release as a new EP. Today, that record is available on iTunes. You can sample the new EP as a BitTorrent Bundle: with remixes from Jerome “Jay†Bosco and Counter Intelligence, plus all the multitracks you need to make your own Public Enemy track. Get the iTunes EP. Public Enemy Presents: Get Up Stand Up | The Remix EP Featuring new music from Beau Jestice / Counter Intelligence, Ian De Quadros, Ajay Paul Singh (DJ APS), Jerome “Jay†Bosco, and Tim Raiswell (T/RAZE).