Writing on a Sunday can be an ‘interesting’ affair. Not only is there no news, typing and alcohol-induced dehydration and depression often make things even more tricky.
Then late last weekend and out of nowhere came a gift. The Pirate Bay team put up a blog post declaring that the site would be hosted in the sky inside flying drones.
As Ernesto quite rightly pointed out to me, this kind of thing makes a perfect Sunday article. If i’m honest all I could think at the time was that the TPB boys had just returned home after a weekend-long hallucinogen binge and hadn’t had the good sense to keep off the keyboard.
“Being this connected to the ground doesn?t feel appropriate to us anymore,? a TPB insider wearing a glazed expression, bandana and a smiley-face t-shirt told TorrentFreak.
For those who follow the adventures of The Bay, these crazy stories are nothing new. During its life The Pirate Bay has been hosted in a Cold War nuclear bunker and was even destined to move beyond the law and onto a North Sea platform known as Sealand. If Peter Sunde hadn’t spent all the donated money on trees, Pirate Bay drones might have never been needed.
Nevertheless, despite it painting a fairly unlikely picture the drone story spread faster than a well-seeded torrent and was retold around the web dozens and dozens of times. Of course there were the usual Doubting Thomas writers and skeptical readers, but interestingly there were plenty of people discussing how it might be achieved. Several big publications even quoted experts who said that the idea is technically possible.
Yet again The Pirate Bay had done what it is very good at – firing people’s imaginations. Last week millions of people daydreamed about the possibility of tiny flying servers, each hovering tantalizingly just out of the copyright bogeyman’s reach. Those same people want to believe that The Pirate Bay will create its own laws inside its own floating nation. They positively love the idea of a defiant server fighting a digital war encased deep inside a nuclear bunker.
And the reason people are ready to suspend their disbelief and are willing to give these crazy ideas a chance is because The Pirate Bay continually does amazing things, things that really shouldn’t be possible.
The Pirate Bay’s founders have been sued into oblivion and ordered to pay millions yet not a penny has or will be paid. The theory is that soon they will go to jail, but given the site’s Houdini-like abilities one has to wonder if that will ever happen.
The site itself is absolutely huge and has remained so for nearly a decade. It was physically and completely dismantled only to reappear phoenix-like just a few days later. Everyone on the Internet can find the site yet mysteriously no-one knows where it is to shut it down. Even if it was found it would clone itself immediately and reappear tomorrow. It’s the beast that can’t be killed, the stuff of legends.
What The Pirate Bay does every single day is the impossible, and whether you love them or loathe them there can be few who don’t quietly admire them. Despite overwhelming odds they are still here, doing what they promised to do a decade ago and there just aren’t that many people around who are that reliable.
As a symbol of digital defiance, The Pirate Bay has no equal and its operators are perhaps the most inspirational maniacs the Internet has ever seen. So when they talk about hovering drones or pocket-sized personal WiFi proxies for all TPB users (oh, you haven’t heard about that one yet?) not everyone will believe them.
But the rebellious side in all of us will be intrigued nonetheless and will come to the conclusion that however unlikely the proposition, if anyone can pull it off, the inspirational maniacs at The Pirate Bay can. And even if only secretly, most people will be cheering them on.
A month after Kim Dotcom was released from prison on bail, his wife Mona has given birth to healthy twin girls. The twins were born in the National Women’s Hospital in Auckland weighing 2.4kg and 2.8kg.
Dotcom and Mona already had three children - Kimmo, Kaylo and Kobi.
The Megaupload founder was delighted to report the news and the now five-time father proudly posed with the new Dotcoms.
“Two healthy Kiwis were born yesterday. All good,” Dotcom texted TorrentFreak on Friday.
“When they asked me if I would like to keep the placenta (weird question) I said yes, and please send it to the FBI for forensic analysis so they can verify there is no pirate DNA ;-),” he added.
Kim Dotcom and his twin daughters
No names have been mentioned for the latest additions to the Dotcom household, but it’s a safe bet those on the shortlist begin with ‘K’.
Dotcom is currently preparing his defense against the indictment of the US Government, which he says will be “enlightening and maybe entertaining.” More news on this will arrive during the coming week.
The proposed treaty has generated heat across the globe, from the streets of Poland to the parliament of Europe and Mexico, to the social media back-channels of ACTA’s primary driver, the United States of America.
ACTA imposes significant requirements on the 30 or so signatories should they ratify it, none are yet to do so, impacting far wider than the commonly discussed aspects of file-sharing and media piracy. ACTA brings generic medicines into play. To some extent it dictates how nations should deal with trade-marks and patents. In the words of Australian Law Professor Dr Matthew Rimmer, ACTA ?seeks to define and channel how nation-states enforce concepts of intellectual property.?
Australia’s lack of public and political opposition to ACTA stands somewhat alone in the international community, accentuated by limited local media coverage. The rare light shone on Australia’s role in negotiations during last week’s ?Justice Standing Committee? hearing only came after the treaty had already been signed in October, 2011 – as was noted more than once by the handful of politicians present.
Senator Scott Ludlam, an outspoken supporter of Julian Assange and his Wikileaks organisation, seized the opportunity to grill the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade and other supporters of ACTA who presented themselves. If body language is anything to go by, the good senator was less than enthusiastic about the answers he received.
Later in the week, a very different group of people gave evidence, drawn from the ranks of concerned members of Australia’s academic community. Their testimony was largely negative, attacking ACTA on multiple levels.
Human rights expert Dr Hazel Moir, of the Australian National University, pointed to the role copyright monopolies played in drafting the secretive treaty and questioned their motives. “The music industry has a very rigid business model. They’re only prepared to sell certain things at certain times,” Dr Moir testified.
Some of the harshest language came from Dr Matthew Rimmer, an intellectual property law expert, also from the ANU. Dr Rimmer took aim at the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade’s role in negotiating the treaty.
?The Department [of Foreign Affairs & Trade] have been one of the chief advocates,? Dr Rimmer told TorrentFreak after giving evidence. ?They’re conducting and running their own line on what should happen. I’m not sure that represents a wider government approach.?
Dr Rimmer questioned why other government departments had not been included in the treaty negotiations.
?There was a need for Treasury, Finance and the Productivity Commission to be involved. I also think the Department of Health [& Ageing] have been ignored … their concerns have not been raised.?
Those concerns include the impact ACTA may have on Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme ? a government program that provides subsidised drugs and medicines to the entire population. Bans on the use of generic medicines could see massive blow-outs in the cost of the scheme according to Dr Rimmer. ?There’s many real problems with the one department having soul carriage [of ACTA] that have simply been ignored,? he said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade has been lead by no less than three ministers since ACTA negotiations began in 2008. None have shown a particular public interest in the treaty, preferring the rough and tumble of internal party politics and visits to Afghanistan and Washington.
Australia’s ruling Labor Party and conservative opposition have a long standing history of combining their numbers to pass treaties and agreements driven by the US State Department ? as ACTA is.
Australia’s role in negotiating ACTA has been near invisible, both locally and internationally. Transparency in the process has been non-existent. Mainstream media coverage has been negligible. Expert local voices have been ignored.
Should Australia ratify ACTA, it will sign up to a treaty negotiated in secret by a single, questionably-lead government department with parliamentary hearings held after the fact and outcomes that could be felt across the legal and policy landscape of the nation. Such a process runs counter-intuitive to how a modern liberal democracy operates.
Let’s start off by saying that SOPA should never ever be passed. However, there’s an interesting parallel between the reasons cited by the entertainment industry when they push forward anti-piracy legislation and problems faced by file-sharing companies.
Enter the multi-million dollar business of P2P-scammers.
For more than a decade all sorts of shady companies have been ripping off novice file-sharers by tricking them into downloading scam products. Their sites appear to offer downloads for software such as uTorrent, Vuze, LimeWire and FrostWire, but the free clients come with a twist.
In some cases people have to pay for the download ‘service’ while others simply install a malware-infested program on users’ computers. There are even scam outfits that do both.
Talking to TorrentFreak, FrostWire‘s Angel Leon explains that because of these scams they get loads of refund requests every day, hurting the company’s reputation. The scammers on the other hand make huge profits.
“The big harm done here is to our trademark,” Leon says.
“They blatantly use our logo and our name, they’ve also managed to game Google big time with a shitload of content farm websites to the point that they’re placed 2nd in Google’s search results, so they must be making a killer.”
The pictures on the right are just a few examples of the thousands of scam sites on the Internet. All of them rip-off novice consumers by letting them download rogue versions of FrostWire.
“The damages we feel are basically our users being victims of these people and threatening us for something we haven’t done,” Leon told us.
“Then there’s all the work we do to promote our brand as the way to use P2P for legal purposes gone to hell, because of the way the scammers encourage copyright infringement,” he adds.
Unfortunately, there is not much file-sharing companies can do about these scams. FrostWire actually went as far as hiring a company that’s specialized in sending takedown requests, but without results. And even if one scam domain is shut down, another will replace it the day after.
Scammers know how to route around censorship.
According to Leon, Google isn’t very helpful either. While the legit version of FrostWire is not allowed to advertise on Google’s Adwords, the scammers are slipping through by the dozens.
“It’s very interesting to notice that somehow they manage to go past the Google AdWords guidelines and they spend a lot of money on advertising everyday on the “frostwire” related keywords,” Leon told TorrentFreak.
“On the other hand, if we try to advertise FrostWire as a file sending application, we get a boot from Google saying that we are P2P software.”
FrostWire and other file-sharing companies hope that enough people ask for a refund from the credit card companies so the scammers have a hard time accepting money. Other than that there’s not much they can do. Or is there?
Reading the above shows that the problems FrostWire and others face are similar to those described in the pro-SOPA talking points of the entertainment industries.
There is one major difference though. Unlike Hollywood, file-sharing companies such as FrostWire fully realize that such a broad censorship law would do more harm than good. Also, P2P scammers actually cause millions of dollars in damages to the public.
You?re actually so excited about this find you want to share the experience with friends, so you paste them a link to the official torrent file via Windows Live Messenger.
Although this might sound like a good idea to some, Microsoft appears to disagree. Those who try to paste a Pirate Bay link to their friends through Windows Live Messenger will notice that it never reaches its destination.
Instead, Microsoft alerts the sender that The Pirate Bay is unsafe. Apparently, the company is actively monitoring people’s communications to prevent them from linking to sites they deem to be a threat.
The same happens in other chat clients such as Pidgin when using a Windows Live Messenger account.
Whatever Microsoft’s reason for monitoring private conversations and then swallowing Pirate Bay links, the Redmond-based company’s censorship policies are not very consistent. All of the other large BitTorrent sites remain unaffected, even though they offer content that’s identical to The Pirate Bay.
While it’s not clear whether the above is related to copyright concerns, censorship is indisputably an up-and-coming tool to protect the interests of the entertainment industries. Taking away your freedom of speech one link at a time.
TorrentFreak attempted to contact Microsoft for a comment on the issue, but we have yet to hear back.
Last year the MPAA and RIAA signed a ?ground-breaking? deal with all the major Internet providers in the United States.
In an attempt to deter online piracy, a third-party company will collect the IP-addresses of alleged infringers on BitTorrent and other public file-sharing networks.
The ISPs will then notify these offenders and tell them that their behavior is unacceptable. After six warnings the ISP may then take a variety of repressive measures, which include cutting off the offender?s connection temporarily.
After the initial announcement things went quiet, but that changed last week when the RIAA and the Center for Copyright Information confirmed that all major ISPs will start warning BitTorrent users this summer.
This renewed attention resulted in wide press coverage, and also sparked massive protests. Activist group Demand Progress quickly switched back to SOPA-style campaign mode and launched a petition asking ISPs to cut out of the deal.
“They’re selling us out,” the group writes.
“Just weeks after Internet users from across the globe came together to beat SOPA, the major ISPs are cutting a deal with Big Content to restrict web access for users who are accused of piracy.”
The call didn’t go unheard, and within 24 hours more than 60,000 people signed the petition. Today this number has swelled to more than 90,000 and the end still isn’t in sight.
Earlier this week the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) also expressed its concerns over the so-called ‘graduated response’ system. They highlight that the agreement puts the burden of proof on the alleged file-sharers, which doesn’t seem fair considering the many wrongful accusations that can occur.
“One key problem is the arrangement shifts the burden of proof: rather than accusers proving infringement before the graduated response process starts against a subscriber, the subscriber must disprove the accusation in order to call a halt to it,” EFF writes.
“Worse, accused subscribers have to defend themselves on an uneven playing field. For example, they have only ten days to prepare a defense, and with only six pre-set options available. Of course, there’s no assurance that those who review the cases are neutral, and the plan sorely lacks consequences for an accuser who makes mistaken or fraudulent claims.”
The EFF informed TorrentFreak that they plan to launch an activism campaign in the near future to raise awareness of these issues.
How ‘bad’ the graduated warning system turns out to be largely depends on what punishments Internet providers intend to hand out. Needless to say, a temporary reduction in bandwidth is less severe than cutting people’s Internet access.
At TorrentFreak we are interested in finding out which third-party company will be hired to monitor people’s BitTorrent downloads, and how solid their evidence gathering methods are.
This is important, because the RIAA’s previous partner MediaSentry used rather shoddy techniques which resulted in many false accusations. The RIAA’s current partner DtecNet also has shortcomings as they fail to understand how BitTorrent works.
As we move closer to the July deadline more details should emerge. At the same time the online protests are also expected to increase, both through public initiatives and various advocacy groups. While it’s doubtful that they will ever get the same exposure as the SOPA revolt, there is no doubt that these protests will be noticed.
The heat in the year-long copyright infringement lawsuit between the MPAA and Hotfile stepped up a level recently after Google filed an amicus brief in response to the studios’ request for summary judgment against the file-hoster.
Worried that a negative judgment might have lasting effects for sites such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Wikipedia, Google explained the the studios are wrong when they say that Hotfile doesn’t deserve protection under the safe harbors of the DMCA.
?Without the protections afforded by the safe harbors, those services might have been forced to fundamentally alter their operations or might never have launched in the first place,? Google wrote in its brief.
But the MPAA objected to the search engine’s intervention, describing its brief as a “systematic effort by Google, itself a defendant in ongoing copyright infringement cases, to influence the development of the law to Google’s own advantage.”
“Although Google purports not to take a position regarding summary judgment here, Google unmistakably seeks a ruling against Plaintiffs. Google’s motion should be denied,” the studios conclude.
Now Google has responded and roundly rejects the MPAA’s opposition.
The search engine denies that it wants the court to rule one way or the other, but is instead trying to highlight the importance of the DMCA’s safe harbors “and the broad consensus that has developed among courts called upon to apply those provisions.”
Google says that its intention for filing the amicus brief is not to directly assist Hotfile or indeed further its own interests, but to help highlight the importance of the court’s decision on the wider Internet.
“Google’s aim in seeking to participate in this case is to underscore the importance of the Court’s decision to a wide array of legitimate and socially beneficial Internet services, and to the overall climate of free expression online,” Google’s counsel writes.
Google says that its filing is “classic amicus curae” – assisting in a case of general public interest, supplementing the efforts of counsel, and drawing the court’s attention to law that escaped consideration. It adds pointedly that the MPAA has not attempted to use relevant DMCA case law to have the brief dismissed.
“It is telling in that regard that Plaintiffs’ Opposition does nothing to refute the actual legal and policy arguments in Google’s proposed brief,” Google notes. “Rather than oppose Google’s arguments on the merits, Plaintiffs try to silence Google.”
It will be interesting to see the outcome of the conflict here between the MPAA and Google and whether it remains localized in the Hotfile court room or spill over to other affairs. While Google’s points regarding the effects of this case on the wider Internet are noble, it seems unlikely that they aren’t considering their own interests too. Nevertheless, that doesn’t make their stance any less valid.
The IFPI also took up an aggressive stance (1,2) against Google recently but it’s difficult to see how rightsholder conflict with the world’s most influential Internet company will yield the results they’re looking for.
After their failed attempt at making ISP iiNet responsible for the copyright infringements of its file-sharing customers, it was never likely that the Hollywood studios and their Australian counterparts would give up on the piracy fight.
?ISPs hold the key to reducing online movie and TV theft by 72%,? the headline of a now-debunked anti-piracy lobby group report shouted in September 2011.
But the pressure on ISPs had only just begun. Since September a series of meetings have been held between the entertainment companies and Aussie ISPs, all under the watchful eye of the Federal Attorney-General?s Department. The aim: to come to an agreement on what to do about illicit file-sharing.
It won’t come as a surprise to those familiar with the way ACTA was ‘negotiated’ that these meetings have all been held behind closed doors. Incensed by this and the fact that both content creators and Internet users have been locked out, journalist Renay LeMay at tech news site Delimiter has been making Freedom of Information requests to find out what has been going on. He has been stonewalled every step of the way.
Finally last week the Attorney-General?s Department sent LeMay five documents, but disappointingly nearly of the information contained within had been redacted.
While the documents did reveal the groups and companies in attendance – AFACT, Music Industry Piracy Investigations, the Communications Alliance, Telstra, iiNet and the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy – the names of individuals were redacted along with the meetings’ agendas.
The Attorney General’s senior legal officer Jane Purcell told LeMay that “..disclosure of the documents while the negotiations are still in process, would, in my view, prejudice, hamper and impede those negotiations to an unacceptable degree. That would, in my view, be contrary to the interests of good government ? which would, in turn, be contrary to the public interest.?
But after LeMay accused ISP iiNet of compromising its integrity by participating in the closed-door meetings, iiNet chief regulatory officer Steve Dalby gave a general insight into the current state of play.
“The gap between rightsholders and ISPs is massive,” said Dalby. “Just because we meet doesn?t mean that we are skulking around the back corridors of the Attorney-General?s Department clasping sweaty palms with those same opponents. Meeting isn?t agreement.”
“Most, if not all of the discussions over the years have been conducted between the rightsholders and the ISPs. These have been fruitless. The rightsholders want all the benefits of remedial action, but want the ISPs to foot the bill. ISPs don?t want to pay to protect the rights of third parties.”
Noting that “the gap between the parties is considerable and unlikely to close”, Dalby countered claims that something evil might be going on in the meetings.
“I understand that it is not very exciting if a bunch of boring businessmen continue to meet and get nowhere ? compared to the idea that some super secret cabal is conspiring to turn the goodies to the Dark Side, so that Australian consumers are sold into economic slavery controlled by the faceless henchmen of Hollywood,” he added.
But in any event the people still want transparency and now politicians say they want answers too. Yesterday, Greens Communications spokesperson Scott Ludlam filed an order in the Senate asking the government to disclose what went on during the most recent meeting held in February.
?Even with the best will in the world, simply inviting the intermediaries to come up with something that suits their collective commercial interests is hardly an encouraging recipe for looking after the public interest,? said Ludlam. ?I acknowledge that ISPs have done their best to prevent predatory behaviour by rights holders in the past, but there?s no substitute for a diversity of views in a forum such as this.?
And that is the key to success – an open forum. It’s perhaps understandable that the rightsholders and ISPs don’t want their personal arguments heard in public. But by not allowing the people whose habits they hope to change get involved, it leads away from greater cooperation and understanding and towards suspicion and isolation. Piracy reductions definitely won’t be found at the end of that road.
In January, the Court of The Hague ruled that Ziggo, the largest ISP in the Netherlands, and competitor XS4ALL, must block access to The Pirate Bay.
The ruling was the first to bring broad censorship to the Netherlands, but as always the Internet finds ways to route around such blockades. In the space of a few days hundreds of individuals setup proxy websites that allow customers of the ISPs to continue using The Pirate Bay.
These proxies render the court order useless, which is a thorn in the side of local anti-piracy outfit BREIN. In an attempt to take these proxies offline, BREIN has contacted the owners of these proxy sites, ordering to take down the proxies – or else.
This week the anti-piracy group obtained an injunction from the Court of The Hague which instructs the proxy site tpb.dehomies.nl to shut down. If the site owner continues to offer access to The Pirate Bay he risks a fine of 1000 euros per day.
Armed with the court papers, BREIN also contacted the operators of many other proxy sites including alwaysapirate.org and remastered.nl who quickly took their sites offline and replaced them with a message from the anti-piracy group.
The 15-year old operator of the latter site confirmed that he will take the site offline before BREIN’s deadline passes this Friday. While he doesn’t agree with BREIN’s request, he simply doesn’t have the resources to put up a fight in court.
In their letter to the site owners, BREIN threatens legal action against those who continue to keep their proxies online. In many cases, this threat of being sued by a conglomerate of US movie studios is enough to convince proxy owners to fold.
“These sites deliberately offer a service to circumvent a court injunction. If they do not comply, we will hold them liable for damages,” BREIN director Tim Kuik said in a comment to Tweakers.
It will be interesting to see for how long BREIN can continue this cat and mouse game. The proxies targeted so far were all specifically aimed at Dutch visitors and hosted on Dutch servers. Whether it will be as effective against sites hosted elsewhere remains to be seen.
The Pirate Bay team informed TorrentFreak that they are not worried about the fate of their Dutch visitors. They expect that for every proxy that goes offline, new ones will spring up, as is usually the case. There are plenty of free proxy tools available and everyone with a WordPress blog can set one up in a few clicks.
If anything, The Pirate Bay crew believes that BREIN is giving them a helping hand.
?Thanks yet again for the free advertising,? they say.
The Pirate Bay has a point here. All the talk about censorship and blockades only appears to strengthen the notorious torrent site. When there was talk about a UK blockade two weeks ago, local traffic surged. And visitors from Belgium and the Netherlands have massively turned to proxy sites after the torrent site was censored there.
To quote John Gilmore once again: ?The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.?
Every first year law student knows that copyright-related court cases are exclusively a matter of federal law. You can?t bring a copyright suit in state court, period.
However, starting last year more and more BitTorrent-related cases were filed at Florida state courts. The copyright holders in these cases are exploiting a loophole based on the pure bill of discovery, which allows them to demand subpoenas to send to Internet providers without having to provide any evidence.
For months this cheap trick proved to be very effective, but not anymore. In the case of movie studio Boy Racer against 615 unnamed BitTorrent users, Judge Marc Schumacher has issued a landmark ruling.
The judge starts off by describing mass-BitTorrent lawsuits as “fishing expeditions” and brands the copyright holders as trolls.
“[These suits are].. used to extort settlements from defendants who are neither subject to the courts’ personal jurisdiction nor guilty of copyright infringement, but who are fearful of the consequences of being publicly named as a defendant in a suit that seeks disclosure of the contents of their personal computers.”
The judge notes that many federal courts have dismissed BitTorrent lawsuits, and he himself now does the same, but for different reasons.
The basis of the dismissal is the fact that “copyright trolls” are violating BitTorrent users’ right to anonymous speech, a right that’s protected by the First Amendment.
“The Supreme Court often has recognized that the First Amendment protects anonymous speech. Other federal courts have held that Internet users sharing copyrighted works via the BitTorrent application are themselves engaged in anonymous speech that warrants First Amendment protection,” the judge writes in his order.
Judge Schumacher goes on to explain that because he has no jurisdiction over copyright matters, he cannot establish whether the claim of the copyright holder trumps the anonymity of the defendants. Thus, it is impossible for a state court to conclude whether the copyright holder’s request to identify the file-sharers is legitimate or not.
In short, it means that BitTorrent users’ right to anonymous speech shields them from being exposed through state court lawsuits.
In addition Judge Schumacher also ruled that the “pure bill of discovery” cannot be used for mass-BitTorrent lawsuits at all. The reason for this is that these subpoenas are supposed to target the defendant, not a third-party such as an Internet provider in this case.
Commenting on Sophisticated Jane Doe’s blog, where the news about the order broke, lawyer Richard Viscasillas suggests that the decision could mean the end of nearly all mass-lawsuits in Florida state courts.
“This latest Order by Judge Schumacher is now the only precedent in the 11th Judicial Circuit that I and other attorneys will be invoking to get all pending cases by all Plaintiffs dismissed with prejudice,” Viscasillas writes.
“This is the proverbial ‘shot heard around the world’ that may just spell the end of all the ‘pure bill of discovery’ troll lawsuits in Miami-Dade County, Florida. The Trolls have to be in an absolute state of panic right now.”
The order is indeed quite remarkable, and good news for tens of thousands of BitTorrent users who have been sued in Florida. Although BitTorrent itself is far from anonymous, it’s good to see that there are judges who prevent this fact from being abused though troll tactics.
Update: Shortly after this article was published we learned that the order in question has been vacated.
It turns out that the order was drafted by a defense attorney and Judge Schumacher apparently signed it by mistake, assuming all parties agreed on it. This is bad news for the defendants and means that the mass-BitTorrent lawsuits in Florida state courts are very much alive for now.
Schemes which require alleged copyright infringers to pay cash settlements to make lawsuits disappear are nothing new.
Those describing these revenue-generating projects often do so using the word ‘scam’, but while the schemes are questionable, in many cases the companies carrying them out are genuine rightsholders supported by real lawfirms.
Over the past couple of days a pair of cast-iron scams have been targeting file-sharers, one mimicking the model used by so-called ‘pay-up-or-else’ lawfirms and another with a more technical approach.
The first targets users of the now-defunct cyberlocker service Megaupload. Playing on the fears of people who may have used the site for infringing purposes, the documents supporting the scam claim to be from legitimate-sounding German lawfirm “Dr. Kroner & Kollegen” of Munich.
As can be seen from the screenshot below, the fake lawfirm claims to be acting on behalf of rightsholders such as Universal, Sony, EMI, Warner and Dreamworks.
Supported by fake IP addresses and timestamps, the scam ‘lawfirm’ lays out its case. Since the user has downloaded unauthorized copyrighted material from Megaupload they are now liable for fines of 10,000 euros should the case not be dealt with effectively. But for a payment of just 147 euros the whole thing can be made to go away.
Other suspicious elements aside, no specific copyright works are named and the claim is missing the usual ‘cease and desist’ element common to these schemes. Furthermore, according to a OnlineKosten, any cash payments made would end up at an address in Slovakia.
Separately, GVU, an anti-piracy group responsible for the takedown of many file-sharing sites, has been targeted in a more sophisticated scam. According to the group, which was central to the huge operation that closed down Kino.to last year, a piece of malware is doing the rounds which tries to scam file-sharers out of cash settlements using GVU’s name.
As can be seen from the screenshot above, infected users find their browsers hijacked and redirected to a page which displays a warning, claiming to be from GVU, that the computer in question has been detected sharing copyright works.
In a clear indication that this is definitely a scam, settlement of just 50 euros is requested via PaySafeCard to make a potential claim go away.
“The sender of this message is not GVU and we clearly distance ourselves from such criminal activities,” the anti-piracy group said in a statement.
In an ever-continuing effort to thwart censorship, The Pirate Bay plans to turn flying drones into mobile hosting locations.
?Everyone knows WHAT TPB is. Now they?re going to have to think about WHERE TPB is,? The Pirate Bay team told TorrentFreak last Sunday, announcing their drone project.
Liam Young, co-founder of Tomorrow’s Thoughts Today, was amazed to read the announcement, not so much because of the technology, because his group has already built a swarm of file-sharing drones.
“I thought hold on, we are already doing that,” Young told TorrentFreak.
Their starting point for project “Electronic Countermeasures” was to create something akin to an ‘aerial Napster’ or ‘airborne Pirate Bay’, but it became much more than that.
“Part nomadic infrastructure and part robotic swarm, we have rebuilt and programmed the drones to broadcast their own local Wi-Fi network as a form of aerial Napster. They swarm into formation, broadcasting their pirate network, and then disperse, escaping detection, only to reform elsewhere,” says the group describing their creation.
In short the system allows the public to share data with the help of flying drones. Much like the Pirate Box, but one that flies autonomously over the city.
“The public can upload files, photos and share data with one another as the drones float above the significant public spaces of the city. The swarm becomes a pirate broadcast network, a mobile infrastructure that passers-by can interact with,” the creators explain.
One major difference compared to more traditional file-sharing hubs is that it requires a hefty investment. Each of the drones costs 1500 euros to build. Not a big surprise, considering the hardware that’s needed to keep these pirate hubs in the air.
“Each one is powered by 2x 2200mAh LiPo batteries. The lift is provided by 4x Roxxy Brushless Motors that run off a GPS flight control board. Also on deck are altitude sensors and gyros that keep the flight stable. They all talk to a master control system through XBee wireless modules,” Young told TorrentFreak.
“These all sit on a 10mm x 10mm aluminum frame and are wrapped in a vacuum formed aerodynamic cowling. The network is broadcast using various different hardware setups ranging from Linux gumstick modules, wireless routers and USB sticks for file storage.”
For Young and his crew this is just the beginning. With proper financial support they hope to build more drones and increase the range they can cover.
“We are planning on scaling up the system by increasing broadcast range and building more drones for the flock. We are also building in other systems like autonomous battery change bases. We are looking for funding and backers to assist us in scaling up the system,” he told us.
Those who see the drones in action (video below) will notice that they’re not just practical. The creative and artistic background of the group shines through, with the choreography performed by the drones perhaps even more stunning than the sharing component.
“When the audience interacts with the drones they glow with vibrant colors, they break formation, they are called over and their flight pattern becomes more dramatic and expressive,” the group explains.
Besides the artistic value, the drones can also have other use cases than being a “pirate hub.” For example, they can serve as peer-to-peer communications support for protesters and activists in regions where Internet access is censored.
Either way, whether it’s Hollywood or a dictator, there will always be groups that have a reason to shoot the machines down. But let’s be honest, who would dare to destroy such a beautiful piece of art?
Yesterday it was revealed that Carl Lundström, the millionaire businessman who provided structural support for a fledgling Pirate Bay through his company Rix Telecom/Port80, will be spending his 4 month ‘jail’ sentence in the community.
Along with Pirate Bay founders Fredrik Neij, Peter Sunde and Gottfrid Svartholm, Lundström had previously found guilty of copyright infringement offenses in connection with the operations of The Pirate Bay.
Now it has been revealed Neij (TiAMO), Sunde (brokep) and Svartholm (Anakata) will be serving their sentences in three separate ‘Category 2′ prisons.
“We have three levels of security and we have put them in institutions with normal security,” Helena Lundberg, Chief Officer of Probation, told DN.
Fredrik Neij will spend 10 months in Kirseberg prison in Malmö, Sweden. The prison first came into operation during 1914 and has a capacity of 131 inmates and around 170 staff.
Gottfrid Svartholm will spend 1 year in Mariefred prison roughly 65 km from Stockholm. Built in 1958, it has a capacity of 112 inmates and 90 staff. Having previously spent time in Cambodia, Svartholm’s current location is unknown prompting speculation from Peter Sunde that he may even be dead.
Former Pirate Bay spokesman Peter Sunde has been told he will spend his 8 month sentence in Västervik Norra. Converted from a hospital over the last 7 years, this facility has 262 inmates and 250 staff.
However, for Sunde this may not be his ultimate fate. His lawyer, Peter Althin, has hinted that there may be an appeal of some kind in the coming months.
“I won’t go into it right now but it will come in the spring, we hope. It is our goal that [Sunde] will not have to sit out the sentence,” said Althin.
In addition to their jail sentences, all four convicted individuals are liable to pay their share of 46 million kronor ($6.78m) in damages. While the authorities have managed to find 225,000 kronor ($33,149) of Lundström’s money, investigations have turned up nothing in the names of Neij, Sunde and Svartholm.
The promise all along from the trio was that no matter what happened to them, two things would happen. First, that Hollywood and IFPI wouldn’t get a penny and second, The Pirate Bay would keep on going regardless.
Jail sentences aside, it looks like mission accomplished.
Look at the laws being proposed right now. General wiretapping. Mandatory citizen tracking. Excommunication, for Odin’s sake. Sending people into exile. All these laws follow one single common theme: they aim to re-centralize the permission to publish ideas, knowledge, and culture, and punish anybody who circumvents the old gatekeepers’ way beyond proportion.
Having this gatekeeper position – having had this gatekeeper position – teaches somebody what power is, in the worst sense of the word. If you can determine what culture, knowledge, and ideas are available to people – if you are in a position to say yes or no to publishing an idea – then it goes much beyond the power of mere publishing. It puts you in a position to select. It puts you in a position where you get to decide people’s frame of reference. It literally gives you the power to decide what people discuss, feel, and think.
The ability to share ideas, culture, and knowledge without permission or traceability is built into the foundations of the net, just as it was when the Postal Service was first conceived. When we send a letter in the mail, we and we alone determine whether we identify ourselves as sender on the outside of the envelope, on the inside for only the recipient to know, or not at all; further, nobody may open our sealed letters in transit just to check up on what we’re sending.
The Internet mimics this. It is perfectly reasonable that our children have the same rights as our parents did here. But if our children have those same rights, in the environment where they communicate, it makes a small class of industries obsolete. Therefore, this is what the copyright industry tries to destroy.
They are pushing for laws that introduce identifiability, even for historic records. The copyright industry has been one of the strongest proponents of the Data Retention Directive in Europe, which mandates logging of our communications – not its contents, but all information about whom we contacted when and how – for a significant period of time. This is data that used to be absolutely forbidden to store for privacy reasons. The copyright industry has managed to flip that from “forbidden” to “mandatory”.
They are pushing for laws that introduce liability on all levels. A family of four may be sued into oblivion by an industry cartel in a courtroom where presumption of innocence doesn’t exist (a civil proceeding), and they’re pushing for mail carriers to be liable for the contents of the sealed messages they carry. This goes counter to centuries of tradition in postal services, and is a way of enforcing their will extrajudicially – outside the courtroom, where people still have a minimum of rights to defend themselves.
They are pushing for laws that introduce wiretapping of entire populations – and suing for the right to do it before it becomes law. Also, they did it anyway without telling anybody.
They are pushing for laws that send people into exile, cutting off their ability to function in society, if they send the wrong things in sealed letters.
They are pushing for active censorship laws that we haven’t had in well over a century, using child pornography as a battering ram (in a way that directly causes more children to be abused, to boot).
They are pushing for laws that introduce traceability even for the pettiest crimes, which specifically includes sharing of culture (which shouldn’t be a crime in the first place). In some instances, such laws even give the copyright industry stronger rights to violate privacy than that country’s police force.
With these concepts added together, they may finally – finally! – be able to squeeze out our freedom of speech and other fundamental rights, all in order to be able to sustain an unnecessary industry. It also creates a Big Brother nightmare beyond what people could have possibly imagined a decade ago. My undying question is therefore why people waltz along with it instead of smashing these bastards in the face with the nearest chair.
On July 12, for instance, we hear that ISPs in the United States of America will start to serve the copyright industry in the treatment of its own customers, up until and including a possible exile of them as citizens, and most likely scrapping their right to anonymity for the already-going industry game of sue-a-granny.
This is bound to become a textbook example of bad customer relationships in future marketing books: making sure that your customers can be sued into oblivion by entire industry organizations in a rigged game where they’re not even innocent until proven guilty. Seriously, what were the ISPs thinking?
Today, we exercise our fundamental rights – the right to privacy, the right to expression, the right to correspondence, the right to associate, the right to assemble, the right to a free press, and many other rights – through the Internet. Therefore, anonymous and uncensored access to the Internet has become as fundamental a right itself as all the rights we exercise through it.
If this means that a stupid industry that makes thin round pieces of plastic can’t make money anymore, they can go bankrupt for all I care, or start selling mayonnaise instead.
That’s their problem.
Rick Falkvinge is a regular columnist on TorrentFreak, sharing his thoughts every other week. He is the founder of the Swedish and first Pirate Party, a whisky aficionado, and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot. His blog at falkvinge.net focuses on information policy.
In February 2011, the MPAA announced a lawsuit against Hotfile, one of the Internet?s most popular cyberlocker services.
The site’s popularity is “a direct result of the massive digital theft that Hotfile promotes,? the movie industry group said.
Two weeks ago the movie studios asked the court to issue a summary judgment against Hotfile and shut the site down. The MPAA argues that Hotfile is a piracy haven that should not be eligible for DMCA safe harbor protection.
This request didn’t go unnoticed by Google, who have now filed an amicus brief in support of the file-hosting site. According to Google, the movie studios are misleading the court by wrongfully suggesting that Hotfile is not protected by the DMCA.
What makes this even more interesting is that many of the arguments made by Google are also relevant to the criminal indictment against Megaupload.
In their brief, Google points out that YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Wikipedia are able to thrive because they are protected by the DMCA. But, if the MPAA has its way, these and other services will be in serious trouble.
“Without the protections afforded by the safe harbors, those services might have been forced to fundamentally alter their operations or might never have launched in the first place,” Google writes in the brief.
The MPAA has argued that Hotfile has no right to exist because it’s used predominantly for copyright-infringing purposes. Google replies to this by arguing that it’s irrelevant how many infringements there are. Under the DMCA it would only be problematic if Hotfile is aware of each and every individual pirated file on its systems.
“The case-law uniformly rejects efforts to deprive service providers of the safe harbor based on generalized awareness that unspecified (or even ‘rampant’) infringement is occurring on their services,” Google writes.
Google continues to say that the DMCA specifically states that service providers such as Hotfile can’t lose their safe harbor protection because they refuse to filter content upon request from the movie companies.
“It guards against any claim that a service provider loses the safe harbor by failing to ‘adopt specific filtering technology’ or any other technique suggested by copyright owners for affirmatively seeking out possible infringement occurring on its service.”
Google stresses that the burden to report and identify pirated material lies with the copyright holder, not Hotfile, and suggests that the MPAA tried to mislead the court to believe otherwise.
“The Court should not be misled. It should resist any effort to shift the investigatory burden that Congress deliberately allocated to copyright owners or to impose on Hotfile policing obligations of which it is specifically relieved by the DMCA,” Google writes.
Moving on to another issue, one that’s also key in the criminal case against Megaupload, Google says that there’s nothing wrong with only removing links to files.
Both the MPAA and the US Government claim that it’s wrong for Hotfile to delete links but keep the actual files on their servers, but Google disagrees.
“Plaintiffs make much of the fact that Hotfile, at least for a time, apparently removed only the specific download link identified as infringing in a given DMCA takedown notice, and did not take the additional step of blocking other files on its system (not called out in the notice) that might have also have contained the copyrighted work at issue,” they write.
“But, in this respect, Hotfile did exactly what the DMCA demands, and plaintiffs? takedown notices cannot be used to charge the service with knowledge of allegedly infringing material that those notices did not specifically identify.”
This is an interesting observation that does indeed make sense. While Google doesn’t mention it, removing the actual files would indeed be overbroad and wrong. For example, if an artist stores his files on Hotfile but wants to take unauthorized copies offline, he or she would not want Hotfile to delete the original as well. The same is true for YouTube videos and a variety of other content.
At the end of the brief Google asks the court to “reject plaintiffs? efforts to undermine the protections provided by the statute?s safe harbors” and dismiss the motion for default judgment against Hotfile.
While Google’s interest in the Hotfile case is no surprise (they rely heavily on the DMCA themselves), it is intriguing to see that Google is fiercely defending Hotfile and in part Megaupload.
After all the attacks on cyberlocker sites in recent months Google’s support will be welcomed with open arms by the file-hosting industry. Whether the MPAA will be very happy is a different story.
Update: MPAA just asked the court to deny Google’s amicus brief. They argue that Google’s perspective is one-sided and that the company acts as a partisan advocate for Hotfile.
While Fredrik Neij, Peter Sunde and Gottfrid Svartholm were grabbing most of the headlines, a fourth defendant in The Pirate Bay trial – Swedish businessman Carl Lundström – was trying to keep a lower profile.
That would not prove easy. Famous in his own right for being the grandson of Karl Lundström, founder of the world’s largest crisp bread producer Wasabröd, Carl Lundström made a fortune when the company was sold in the early 80′s. But it would be his involvement with The Pirate Bay that would shoot him onto the international stage.
Lundström provided an early Pirate Bay with structural support through his company Rix Telecom/Port80 and in 2009 he paid the price for that assistance when a Swedish court found him and his co-defendants guilty of copyright infringement offenses.
In 2010 the Court of Appeal upheld the original guilty verdict but reduced Lundström’s sentence from 1 year in jail to 4 months and ordered him to pay his share of 46 million kronor ($6.78m) in damages. Last month a Supreme Court appeal was rejected and Lundström’s sentence was made final.
Now Lundström is ready to serve his sentence and perhaps surprisingly he won’t be going to jail at all. Under Swedish law anyone sentenced to spend less than six months in jail can apply to serve their time in the community. Lundström applied and was accepted as a suitable candidate.
The businessman, who will turn 52-years-old next month, will leave his home in Switzerland and return to Sweden to serve his sentence. There he will spend four months electronically tagged in a Gothenburg apartment. He will only be allowed to leave in order to attend a job arranged for him by the authorities.
“He will have employment arranged, it is a regulated schedule that is very strict,” probation officer Sven Simonsson told TT.
Although Lundström is liable to pay his share of 46 million kronor ($6.78m) in damages, Swedish authorities have only been able to find assets worth 225,000 kronor ($33,149).
The three other defendants – Fredrik Neij, Peter Sunde and Gottfrid Svartholm – are yet to be informed how their sentences will be served. None are currently living in Sweden and Svartholm hasn’t been heard from in a long time, leading Sunde to speculate recently that he might even be dead.
It is no secret that Hollywood wants The Pirate Bay to shut down. But to accomplish this authorities may soon have to shoot down the site’s servers as these will be hovering in the air.
The Pirate Bay today unveiled their new mission. They’re working on ‘hosting’ parts of their site in GPS-controlled drones, instead of old-fashioned data centers.
“Everyone knows WHAT TPB is. Now they’re going to have to think about WHERE TPB is,” The Pirate Bay team told TorrentFreak. We were further informed that the first drone will probably fly above international waters.
“We’re already the most resilient and the most down to earth. That’s why we need to lift off, being this connected to the ground doesn’t feel appropriate to us anymore,” TPB told us. Although the line between reality and fantasy can be rather thin at The Pirate Bay, we were assured that the plan to launch a drone is real.
TPB’s new host?
In a blog post Hollywood’s arch-rivals half reveal some more details about the unconventional plan.
“With the development of GPS controlled drones, far-reaching cheap radio equipment and tiny new computers like the Raspberry Pi, we’re going to experiment with sending out some small drones that will float some kilometers up in the air. This way our machines will have to be shut down with aeroplanes in order to shut down the system. A real act of war.”
“We’re just starting so we haven’t figured everything out yet. But we can’t limit ourselves to hosting things just on land anymore. These Low Orbit Server Stations (LOSS) are just the first attempt. With modern radio transmitters we can get over 100Mbps per node up to 50km away. For the proxy system we’re building, that’s more than enough.”
The drone plan is yet another move to make it harder to censor or shutdown The Pirate Bay. Last month the file-sharing site traded in torrents for magnets for the exact same reason, and behind the scenes The Pirate Bay team is making more adjustments.
Looking ahead, The Pirate Bay team thinks the site may no longer be hosted on this planet.
“When the time comes we will host in all parts of the galaxy, being true to our slogan of being the galaxy’s most resilient system. And all of the parts we’ll use to build that system on will be downloadable.”
Just when it seemed that the handling of the Megaupload case couldn’t get any more controversial, a development from New Zealand has taken things to the next level.
Following the raids on Kim Dotcom’s mansion in January, police seized millions of dollars worth of property belonging to the Megaupload founder. But thanks to a police blunder, he could now see all of those assets returned.
On Friday, Justice Judith Potter in the High Court declared the order used to seize Dotcom’s property “null and void” after it was discovered that the police had acted under a court order that should have never been granted.
The error dates back to January when the police applied for the order granting them permission to seize Dotcom’s property. Rather than applying for an interim restraining order, the Police Commissioner applied for a foreign restraining order instead, one which did not give Dotcom a chance to mount a defense.
According to New Zealand Herald, on January 30th prosecution lawyer Anne Toohey wrote to the court explaining that the wrong order had been applied for and detailed five errors with the application.
Justice Potter said that police commissioner Peter Marshall tried to correct the error by applying for the correct order after the raids were completed and retrospectively adding the items already seized.
Although the correct order was eventually granted albeit on a temporary basis, Potter said she will soon rule on whether the “procedural error” will result in Dotcom having his property returned.
The Crown is arguing that since the new order was granted the earlier error no longer matters, but Dotcom’s legal team framed it rather differently by describing the seizure of assets as “unlawful”.
Whether the assets are returned will rest on Dotcom’s legal team showing a lack of “good faith” in connection with the blunder. A hearing to decide if the assets will be returned will take place next week.
While the Ultimate Fighting Championship is the absolutely pinnacle of excitement for some, to others its merely two almost-naked men rolling round the floor in a pool of sweat and blood trying to snap each others arms off. But whatever your take, read on, because something the UFC announced this week has the potential to touch everyone who consumes video online.
The UFC has a track record of aggressive anti-piracy action. They’ve threatened countless bars for showing both illicit streams and under-licensed deliveries of their events, and gone after numerous sites, their operators, and uploaders.
But for quite some time the MMA organization has threatened to expand its reach by going beyond suing those actually providing illegal streams to suing those who simply watch them. To be fair most observers thought this was just another of UFC president Dana White’s famous rants, but this week an interesting picture began to emerge.
UFC announced on Tuesday that parent company Zuffa LLC had successfully taken down a site called Greenfeedz which had illegally streamed a dozen UFC events. While there’s nothing particularly unusual about that, the UFC casually noted that they had also obtained the email addresses, user names and IP addresses of people who allegedly watched unauthorized streams.
So maybe the UFC are just throwing that out there to scare people a little? Apparently not. In an interview with MMA Junkie, UFC chief legal counsel Lawrence Epstein confirmed that the fight organization will be going after individuals who watched events dating back to May 2011, a number said to be potentially “voluminous.”
Who gets sued and who doesn’t is yet to be decided, with Epstein noting that the the UFC needs to “have the requisite proof” that individuals actually watched shows without paying. Nevertheless, the lawyer predicts that the Greenfeedz databases will provide lots of information including “names, emails, telephone numbers and sometimes even addresses to identify those people that are watching illegally.”
But according to First Amendment attorney Marc Randazza, it is not at all clear how the UFC will take action against those who simply watched illicit streams.
“I have a very hard time finding a theory of liability for someone who merely watched an illegal broadcast. That’s like saying if a bar was illegally publicly presenting a movie or an NFL game, that everyone in the bar would be liable,” Randazza told TorrentFreak.
“My guess is that the UFC’s attorneys will not really go after people who merely watched the fights. They may, however, use the data they gather in order to find out if any of those people were re-distributing it,” Randazza adds.
Although it seems unlikely that the UFC will carry through with their threat to sue stream viewers, if they do they can expect opposition.
“If they’re really going after people for merely watching an illegal stream, I’d defend that case free of charge,” Randazza told TorrentFreak. “That’s not the right thing to do.”
At the end of June 2010, nine sites connected to movie streaming, including NinjaVideo, were targeted by the U.S. Government.
It was the first round in the ongoing ?Operation in Our Sites? through which more than 300 domain names have been seized to date.
After the site’s domain was seized, five people connected to the movie streaming site were arrested last year. With the sentencing of Jeremy Andrew, all have now been sentenced.
Andrew was accused of taking part in the NinjaVideo conspiracy and pleaded guilty to a copyright infringement charge last October. Andrew, known online as ?Htrdfrk,? started out as a regular visitor to the site but was later recruited as staff member.
His tasks were to secure the servers and moderate the forums, which the prosecutor described as important roles.
“Like the other charged defendants, Andrew filled an important role in the NinjaVideo conspiracy; Andrew served as ?Ninja Head of Security?, which involved setting up, managing, and securing servers used by the conspiracy to store infringing content.”
“Andrew also served as one of the moderators of the NinjaVideo forum board; in that role, he provided technical support to website visitors, which included assisting visitors with accessing infringing content.”
The prosecutor admitted that, compared to the other defendants, Andrew played the smallest part in the conspiracy. Nevertheless, he asked the court to sentence Andrew to several months in prison. The defense on the other hand argued that a short probation term would be more appropriate, as Andrew has no criminal past and was not motivated by monetary rewards.
The court sided with the arguments provided by the defense and sentenced Jeremy Andrew to three years probation and 150 hours of community service. In addition, he has to pay the MPAA $5,250 in damages.
“The defendant did not seek out to join the conspiracy and was not motivated by any monetary rewards,” was one of the reasons Judge Anthony John Trenga gave for the lower sentence. “The defendant has accepted responsibility for his actions and is remorseful, which the Court believes is sincere,” he added.
The Judge further noted that letters from Andrew’s friends and family that were submitted to the court aided in the lower sentence. While the ruling will probably be welcomed as relatively good news by Andrew, satisfaction at the Department of Justice will be dampened. Unlike in previous cases, the DoJ opted not to issue a press release.
Now that the last of the five arrested NinjaVideo admins has been sentenced, we can give a complete overview of this landmark case.
The harshest sentence was handed to NinjaVideo founder Hana Beshara, who will spend 22 months in prison followed by 2 years of probation and a payment of $210,000 in damages. Fellow admin Matthew Smith received 14 months in prison, two years supervised release, and was ordered to pay back just over $172,000.
Joshua Evans received 6 months in prison, two years probation, and was ordered to pay the MPAA $26,660 restitution. Justin Dedemko was not listed as part of the NinjaVideo conspiracy but will spend 3 months in prison followed by 2 years of probation, and has to repay the MPAA $58,004.
One indicted NinjaVideo admin, Zoi Mertzanis from Greece, is still at large.
The case against NinjaVideo is crucial for several other previously arrested streaming site admins including UK student Richard O?Dwyer who will soon be extradited to the US. Brian McCarthy, the owner of ChannelSurfing.net and Yonjo Quiroa, who operated 16 streaming sites, are both yet to be sentenced.
Note: the original verdict came in last month but has not been reported in the media.
?Content theft is a global problem and we must have a global commitment to solving it. This is an important opportunity for the Indian government to move forward with strong protections against online theft,” MPAA chairman and CEO Chris Dodd told the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry conference this week in Mumbai.
“We encourage the Indian film industry to reject as we have, the false argument that you cannot be pro-technology and pro-copyright at the same time,? he continued.
In framing “content theft” as a problem affecting the county’s middle-classes and alongside a clear dig at the likes of Google and Wikipedia, Dodd’s words could have been pulled verbatim from any pro-SOPA speech. But unlike the United States, India doesn’t need new legislation to allow site blocking – they already have it – and Dodd must be as jealous as hell.
Indian film companies have previously obtained court orders to have sites blocked at the ISP level but in recent weeks the IMI, the RIAA-like Indian Music Industry trade group, has shown the movie industry how it’s really done.
In a series of court actions at the Calcutta High Court, 142 music companies of the IMI have succeeded in obtaining orders to force every ISP in India – 387 in total – to block 104 sites (list here) the industry accuses of online piracy.
And when it comes to implementing the blocks, there are no half-measures. ISPs have been ordered to implement DNS and IP address blockades and for those thinking of using a DNS outside India, Deep Packet Inspection will step in to ensure the domains remain blocked.
“This decision is a victory for the rule of law online and a blow to those illegal businesses that want to build revenues by violating the rights of others,” said IFPI CEO Frances Moore in a statement.
But in a clear signal that for the music and movie industries even the toughest of anti-piracy measures are never enough, Moore says that current developments are a good start.
“The court ruled that blocking is a proportionate and effective way to tackle website piracy,” Moore noted, adding that the Indian government should now “build on this progress” by advancing further legislation to tackle digital piracy.
As tough as the Indian court orders are, already their weaknesses are being probed. One of the key sites on the lists – Songs.pk – has already circumvented the blockade by resurfacing with the new URL of Songspk.pk since the blockade was incapable of physically taking the Czech-hosted site offline.
But although the Indian labels have taken the nuclear option in blocking huge numbers of sites, Apurv Nagpal, CEO of Saregama, one of India?s largest music labels says that they don’t want to destroy their opponents. Interestingly, Saregama acknowledges the pirate sites’ “passion for music” and says the industry wants to befriend them.
“We don?t want these sites to be shut down, we want them to pay a license fee and flourish as a business,” Saregama said. “There are legitimate businesses in operation too. The scope is there, and we want these sites to be legal.”
It would be a cold day in hell before Westerners heard the likes of Chris Dodd or Frances Moore make a statement as radical as that. But if the stick is to work long-term it has to be backed up with a sizable carrot, and if the pirate sites really do only want money, surely that’s their Achilles’ heel right there.
In common with every file-sharing service, RapidShare is used by some of its members to host infringing material.
During the past several years the Swiss-based cyberlocker has made tremendous efforts to cooperate with copyright holders and limit copyright infringements. But for some their efforts don’t go far enough. This has resulted in a variety of rightsholders starting legal proceedings against RapidShare, and not without success.
The most recent win came yesterday when a Higher Regional Court in Hamburg confirmed three rulings of a lower court. According to these verdicts, the file-hoster hasn’t done enough to prevent copyrighted material from being uploaded to its servers.
The cases, which involve thousands of titles, were started by music rights group GEMA and book publishers De Gruyter and Campus.
The Higher Regional Court in Hamburg reportedly ruled that RapidShare has to monitor user uploads to ensure that none of these titles are put onto their servers, which implies a mandatory filter and monitoring of all user uploads.
While a written copy of the verdict has not yet been made public, the book industry celebrated the outcome as a landmark victory.
“Internet sites can no longer avoid their responsibilities, and profit from copyright infringing uploads of anonymous users,” says Alexander Skipis, chief executive of the German Booksellers Association.
RapidShare is irked by this early celebration, which its spokesman Daniel Raimer describes as unprofessional.
“We consider it as unprofessional to assess a judgement before the written reasons for the judgment are available. Only then you can determine which party can indeed celebrate a verdict as a success,” Raimer told TorrentFreak.
Raimer explains that the copyright holders are leaving out essential details that are actually quite positive for the cyberlocker. Previously the lower court described RapidShare’s entire business as unlawful, but that decision has not been overturned.
“There is a possible reason for the rushed approach, particularly that of the Booksellers Association. In the hearing, the Higher Regional Court indicated that it would deviate from its former position according under which RapidShare?s business model was not tolerated by the legal system.”
“That shows that the release of a ‘jubilation announcement’ by the plaintiffs after the publication of the reasons for the judgment would simply not be possible anymore. We are relaxed and look forward to reading the written reasons for the judgment that are expected to be published within the next few days,” Raimer said.
It’s worth nothing that the German verdicts appear to contradict an earlier ruling by the highest European court. In February the European Court of Justice ruled that hosting sites can?t proactively filter copyrighted content as that would violate the privacy of users and hinder freedom of information.
RapidShare further informed us that they have yet to decide whether they’ll appeal the verdicts. Considering the European Court of Justice ruling, this might not be such a bad idea.
After years of painful negotiations, last June it was revealed that the RIAA, MPAA and some of the United States’ largest Internet service providers had finally come to an agreement on action against unauthorized online sharing of copyright works.
The deal involves content owners, such as recording labels and movie studios, monitoring peer-to-peer networks including BitTorrent for copyright infringements and reporting instances to Internet service providers. The ISPs have agreed to take steps to “educate” allegedly infringing customers through an escalating system of notices, warnings, and other measures.
While it was big news at the time and a very hot issue, since mid-2011 very little has been reported on the progress of the deal. The initial announcement said that ISPs would start implementing the alert system by the end of last year, but this obviously didn’t happen.
However, according to the Center for Copyright Information (CCI), the organization responsible for administering the scheme, all parties are on target to initiate the programs by July 12th this year.
“The members of the coalition are making significant progress at developing a cooperative system to educate consumers and deter copyright theft,” a spokesperson told TorrentFreak.
“CCI is working to implement what is an unprecedented effort and is proceeding on pace with the MOU. We will have announcements in the near future that will include the naming of the [anti-piracy monitoring] partner and details on how CCI and the technology partner will work together.”
According to CNET this positive outlook was confirmed by RIAA CEO Cary Sherman.
During the Association of American Publishers’ annual meeting yesterday, Sherman reportedly announced that ‘most’ of the major ISPs involved in the so-called “graduated response” (such as Comcast, Cablevision, Verizon, and Time Warner Cable)
Sherman said that the process hadn’t been easy, with each ISP having to establish their own database to keep track of repeat infringers, the very people whose habits the studios hope to change. So come July, what changes should customers of the major ISPs expect?
Those not engaging in file-sharing on P2P networks will probably notice very little (cyberlocker sharing is not covered), apart from ultimately having to help finance the scheme through their ISP bills.
For those who choose to download and share popular music from EMI, Sony, Universal and Warner, or do likewise with movies owned by Disney, Sony, Paramount, 20th Century Fox, Universal and Warner, things will change.
Under a White House and lawmaker supported ?Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) published last July, ISPs will send advisories to alleged copyright-infringing customers.
The first so-called ‘Initial Educational Steps’ will advise customers that copyright infringement is illegal and a breach of the ISP’s terms of service, that legal alternatives are available, and that continuing to infringe may have consequences including account suspension or termination.
The Acknowledgment Step, reached when an Internet subscriber is accused of additional infringements by rights holders, will see ISPs send Copyright Alerts requiring acknowledgment of receipt from account holders along with a pledge to end infringing activity from the account.
Should several attempts at ‘educating’ a subscriber fail, ISPs will be able to send a Mitigation Measure Copyright Alert which again requires customer acknowledgment. It will advise that a customer has received prior warnings and as per the ISPs terms of service, a ‘Mitigation Measure’ will now be applied to the account.
Mitigation measures can include throttling of upload or download speeds, a temporary reduction in service quality to one step above dial-up, redirection to a landing page so that the customer can be further ‘educated’, or even account suspension. No ISP has yet agreed to the latter and no ISP is allowed to disable VOIP, email, security, or TV services.
The US Copyright Group ? a front for the Dunlap, Grubb & Weaver (DGW) law firm ? has made dozens of headlines in recent years after they introduced mass-BitTorrent lawsuits to the United States.
The lawyers in question track alleged BitTorrent pirates and threaten to take them to court. But, as is common with these schemes, all people have to do is pay up a settlement fee and the whole thing simply goes away.
Critics of these practices have described the people involved as ‘copyright trolls,’ and some of the defendants are fighting back. DGW, for example, is currently involved in a class action lawsuit where the law firm is accused of fraud, abuse and extortion.
Considering the above, it came as a surprise when we learned this morning that the DGW law firm is presenting an educational webinar under the umbrella of the American Bar Association. Titled “Finding Anonymous Copyright Infringers,” the course promises to teach fellow lawyers all the tricks they need to catch those pesky pirates.
According to the announcement, part of the webinar will “focus on the hot topic in copyright litigation involving federal litigation against the backdrop of torrent and live web-streaming.” During the webinar participating lawyers will learn more about “utilizing pre-discovery subpoenas [...] and a variety of other legal tools to pursue infringement claims against anonymous infringers.”
Basically it reads like a crash course on how to become a copyright troll by the very people who pioneered the scheme in the US. Lawyers who participate in the webinar are eligible for mandatory CLE credit, and we expect that the ‘teachers’ will be compensated for their insights as well.
DGW lawyers Thomas Dunlap and Nick Kurtz will be accompanied by the EFF friendly defense lawyer Paul Ticen. He is expected to address how BitTorrent users have put up a successful defense in court, which is a dangerous exercise considering the negative framing of the course.
This vision is shared by Robert Cashman, a Texas lawyer defending dozens of individuals in mass BitTorrent lawsuits.
“It seems awfully dangerous and stupid to get on a panel with the plaintiff attorney copyright trolls and tell them all of the defense’s strategies,” he told TorrentFreak.
“The way this whole thing is set up, I am afraid it will be the plaintiff attorneys versus the lone defense attorney. I expect to see bloodshed,” he added.
Whatever the outcome, we encourage participants in the course to fill us in on the details. Heck, we might even buy the CD-Rom, which will obviously be pirated by an anonymous Doe in the near future.
There can hardly be an adult in the world who didn’t enjoy being read a story as a child and for many of us recollection of these tales means reliving some of our earliest memories.
But rather than being scared of the big bad wolf, kids in Belgium have a new foe – the country’s evil copyright overlords.
In quite possibly their lowest move yet, rights group SABAM are now trying to attach a price to children’s reading sessions taking place in libraries up and down the country.
More often associated with music-related collections, SABAM have been contacting libraries that hold sessions where children can listen to stories read out by library staff. These, the group insists, are events held in public and are therefore chargeable.
One target for SABAM is a library in Dilbeek that has been holding a twice-monthly reading hour for children.
?Each time a dozen or so children attend,” library worker Alexandra Vervaecke told DeMorgen. “A while ago we were suddenly contacted by SABAM and told that we have to pay. I have done the calculations: for us it would amount to 250 euro per year.”
Naturally the libraries are mulling ways to avoid paying SABAM – one option is to limit readings to older stories that are copyright free, but even that’s not easy.
?Even Grimms’ Fairy Tales are on a list of works for which one must pay,” said Vervaecke. ?This is because only the original version is copyright-free. In any case it?s impossible to read only older texts.?
LINC, a non-profit organization that helps to set up public reading spots in libraries, is concerned by developments.
?A few hundred euros might not sound like much, but for small libraries it is quite a lot of money and the effects will not help to promote reading?, said spokesperson An Valkenborgh. “Since the report from Dilbeek we?ve heard from a few other libraries that have also been contacted about paying or are already paying.?
It’s not clear if there is a link with the increased SABAM activity in this area, but currently in Belgium it’s Jeugdboekenweek – children?s literature week. Nevertheless, SABAM insist they have a right to get paid.
“We have a department that actively tracks events for which royalties must be paid. It could be that they have seen a notice and thus contacted us,” said spokesman Jérôme Van Win. “For libraries there are no exceptions to the law. They are public places and so royalties must be paid for a public reading session.?
Only 3 months in, 2012 is proving to be a busy year for SABAM. Last month the group lost their legal battle with social networking site Netlog, with the European Court of Justice ruling that hosting sites aren’t allowed to filter copyrighted content as that would violate the privacy of users and hinder freedom of information.
In a separate case originally brought by an artist back in 2004, a judge’s findings means that SABAM is now facing accusations of falsifying accounts to cover up bribe payments, abuse of trust, copyright fraud and embezzlement.
Update: Although the original article at Belgium’s DeMorgen seems very clear, and despite the author of that article contacting SABAM and receiving a quote for his story, SABAM are now saying that there is a misunderstanding. While they clarify that they are able to ask for payment when a literary work is read out as a public performance, in the case of the Dilbeek library, SABAM say that the fee requested was only for the playing of music.
The bottom line is that if libraries arrange a reading they do have to contact SABAM to see if the work to be read is protected. If it is then the library has to pay SABAM a fee.
Last week the news leaked that Swedish prosecutors have started a new criminal investigation into The Pirate Bay.
The assumed goal of the new effort is to shut the site down, something the authorities failed to accomplish during the first investigation more than half a decade ago.
Initially, the only source for the new investigation was The Pirate Bay team itself. Today the plans were confirmed by the Swedish hosting company Binero where two of The Pirate Bay’s .se domain names are registered.
“We can confirm that an investigation is underway against the Pirate Bay. We received a letter with questions,” Binero’s marketing manager Erik Arnberg said.
In addition, the hosting company also made it clear that they won’t be complying with the requests unless a proper warrant is served. According to Arnberg this hasn’t happened thus far.
“We will not share any information about our customers until there is a court order, or when a prosecutor can refer to an applicable law. In this case, we have answered the questions with information that’s already available through Whois services.”
The Whois data for the Pirate Bay’s new .se domain lists the name of Fredrik Neij, one of the defendants in the original trial who was sentenced to 10 months in prison.
The exact goals of the new investigation are unclear. The prosecution, led by piracy investigator Frederick Ingblad, confirmed that they “are interested in torrent sites” but refused to comment further. It is expected that the Swedish authorities want to finish what they failed to do in 2006, shut down The Pirate Bay website for good.
However, considering the current state of the site that’s pretty much an impossible task.
In recent years The Pirate Bay has implemented a variety of changes to guarantee that can remains online, whatever happens. It added several backup domains, placed servers all over the world, while removing resource intensive components such as the tracker and .torrent files.
The determination to keep the site online was once again confirmed by the Pirate Bay team last week, who noted:
?We?re staying put where we are. We?re going no-where. But we have a message to hollywood, the investigators and the prosecutors: LOL.?
Last year Richard O?Dwyer was arrested by police for operating TVShack, a website that carried links to copyrighted TV-shows.
Following his detention in the UK?s largest prison, the site owner fought a looming extradition to the US, but without success.
After a UK judge gave the green light to extradite the student two months ago, Home Secretary Theresa May officially approved the request from US authorities today.
Julia O?Dwyer, Richard?s mother, is severely disappointed with the decision and says that her son has been “sold” to the US. The extradition may disrupt his life for years.
“Today, yet another British citizen is betrayed by the British Government,” she said.
“Richard’s life – his studies, work opportunities, financial security – is being disrupted, for who knows how long, because the UK Government has not introduced the much-needed changes to the extradition law.”
The extradition is controversial because under certain circumstances merely linking to copyright material isn?t an offense in the UK. In 2010, linking website TV-Links was deemed to be a ?mere conduit? of information and its admins were acquitted.
In the US recent court rulings are of a totally different kind. There, Richard O?Dwyer faces the same fate as several other operators of linking sites that were recently on trial.
In January, Ninjavideo founder Hana Beshara was sentenced to 22 months in prison followed by 2 years of probation, 500 hours of community service and ordered to repay nearly $210,000. Fellow admin Matthew Smith received 14 months in prison, two years supervised release, and was ordered to pay back just over $172,000.
When Hollywood paints their version of the piracy picture, they’re careful not to mention the millionaires and the affluent who do rather well despite unauthorized copying. Instead they focus on the little guys who make coffee and run errands on set, and the mom and pop businesses scraping an honest living on the periphery.
But when the big rightsholders feel under threat, they’re happy to crush those very same people in pursuit of money. Cue an awful story today from the UK’s Daily Echo.
For the last 20 years a little pub in Southampton, England, has been serving beer to the local community and all that time it’s had the same name – The Hobbit. But Saul Zaentz, the producer behind movies such as The English Patient and One Flew Over the Cuckoo?s Nest, has sent in the lawyers to do something about that.
Zaentz owns the merchandising rights to The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings and his lawyers have warned that if the pub doesn’t change its name and remove all references to Tolkien-related items by the end of May, its owners will be sued for infringement.
Understandably its owners are upset. They can’t afford to fight the studio but their pub’s very identity is now at risk. People supporting a Facebook campaign against the studio’s threats is growing quickly.
But even more worrying is that this action by Zaentz against a local pub doesn’t sit in isolation.
In November 2011, Zaentz sent his lawyers to threaten the owners of a small cafe in Birmingham, England, near to where Tolkien was born. The sandwich bar, known as The Hungry Hobbit, was accused of copyright infringement despite operating under the name for the last 6 years. The current owners are first-time business owners of less than a year’s standing.
In a letter titled “Unauthorized Use of Hobbit” – Zaentz’s lawyers ordered the owners of the cafe to stop using the word Hobbit or face legal action, claiming that the sandwich bar’s use of the term would be detrimental to the brand and would leave people to believe that the outlet is endorsed by Zaentz.
But the threats don’t even stop there. A small company in Scotland making wooden lodges dared to refer to one of their products as “hobbit houses” on their website. Of course, Zaentz sent in the lawyers and the company were forced to comply.
But let’s step back for a moment to see what the origin of the word ‘Hobbit’ actually is. Was this something conjured up from the depths of Tolkien’s imagination in 1937, a product of his mind and his mind only? That’s up for debate.
In 1895, folklorist Michael Aislabie Denham listed a massive collection of interesting creatures in his publication ‘The Denham Tracts Vol 2‘ which included ?. . . nixies, Jinny-burnt-tails, dudmen, hell-hounds, dopple-gangers, boggleboes, bogies, redmen, portunes, grants..”
And, of course, ‘Hobbits’.
It seems absolutely ridiculous that 125+ years after an imaginary creature was reported somehow a company can come along and turn the lives of normal people upside down over the use of its name.
Trademarks may have to be protected, but being a heartless bully can’t be the answer.
The past several months will go down in history as a period Grooveshark and parent company Escape Media would rather forget.
In November 2011, Universal Music, the world’s largest recording label, sued the music streaming service in a copyright infringement lawsuit claiming hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. In December, Sony and Warner joined the action and in January this year EMI sued over a contractual dispute.
Just last month a group of entertainment companies in Denmark obtained a court order forcing an ISP to block Grooveshark at the DNS level, a punishment previously inflicted on The Pirate Bay after prolonged legal argument.
So when the recording labels claim that Grooveshark has cost them hundreds of millions of dollars and when headlines refer to the music streaming service in the same breath as The Pirate Bay, are those statements and associations fair?
According to a source close to Grooveshark who spoke to TorrentFreak under condition of anonymity, the differences are not only palpable but the accusations made by some in the recording industry are just plain false.
Our source insists that Grooveshark has aggressively pursued licenses across the globe, gone directly to artists and has built (and continues to build) systems to help rights holders manage their content and receive revenue shares. But sometimes Grooveshark’s ideals run counter to the labels’ preferred route to the market.
“Grooveshark wants to keep the platform Open. That is to say, even after all the deals are inked, the company wants artists to be able to share without having to go through a label. That’s Grooveshark’s definition of open,” TorrentFreak was told.
Another perceived area of conflict is that Grooveshark want to keep their platform and musical offering unlimited.
“That doesn’t mean that users don’t have to pay and it certainly doesn’t mean that record labels don’t get paid, but users might pay with their attention or their interaction, or (and I know this is controversial) with their data,” our source explained.
Grooveshark’s 35 million users are a rich source of information which the company believes could be of immense value to the record labels. A comment from a company exec quoted in the Universal lawsuit suggested that in some instances that value could cover the costs of music licensing. In some instances and in a practical sense, information may be the only currency users have to trade for music.
“If a 13-year old kid can’t get access to music because she or he doesn’t have a credit card and Grooveshark can earn enough money to pay a record label off of a few survey questions then that should be net positive for the label, the artist, the user and Grooveshark,” our source noted. “The alternative is piracy.”
Of course, stopping piracy is something the labels are striving for every day, but they also want to do business on their terms and maintain control over their product. Grooveshark, it seems, may be being perceived as problematic in that area.
“As far as I can tell, it’s not that labels don’t want money. It’s that they don’t want Grooveshark’s type of money. They see that model as a slippery slope,” our source explains.
“The last thing they want is for artists to be able to make a living in a way that undercuts the 1-to-1 value of recording to dollar. It’s seen as an attack on their power base, which is not what Grooveshark set out to do.”
TorrentFreak has learned that Grooveshark’s creators initially believed that the labels would not only embrace the company’s technology, but seeing value in new artist revenue streams would also be the first to invest. That seems unlikely now.
But the company still firmly believes that long-term viability coupled with equity and revenue sharing can bring in more money than traditional streaming models for the labels. However, for reasons best known to Universal, Warner and Sony, the litigation route has been selected instead and Grooveshark will now have to fight its corner in a civil lawsuit, presumably protected by the DMCA.
“The DMCA Safe Harbors are not a loophole,” our source insists.
“They are necessary for the progress of society and are meant for situations EXACTLY like Grooveshark’s. It’s not something to use for protection or to hide behind. It’s meant to allow the development of technologies that are potentially revolutionary. That doesn’t mean that if you operate within them, you shouldn’t be expected to reward content creators for their work and that’s not what we want them to mean.”
But because of the position Grooveshark finds itself in, the company has been left with a dilemma.
“When record labels use threat of criminal prosecution as a negotiating tactic you are left with two choices; Continue working to improve the user experience, build tools for those rights holders that do want to participate and do your best to walk the straight and narrow of the law. Or stop innovating in an industry that is desperate for innovation.”
In the wake of the MegaUpload shutdown many of the site?s users complained that their personal files had been lost due to collateral damage.
From work-related data to personal photos, the raid disabled access to hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of files that were clearly not infringing.
With most of the news coverage focusing on Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom and the racketeering, copyright infringement and money laundering charges, the fate of these users hasn’t received the attention it deserves.
By taking down Megaupload many of the site’s users were directly harmed. To resolve this matter Megaupload has been talking to the Department of Justice.
“Megaupload’s legal team is working hard to reunite our users with their data. We are negotiating with the Department of Justice to allow all Mega users to retrieve their data,” Kim Dotcom told TorrentFreak.
Over the past weeks Megaupload has been looking into the various options they have to grant users temporary access. Interestingly enough, this quest revealed that many accounts are held by US Government officials.
“Guess what – we found a large number of Mega accounts from US Government officials including the Department of Justice and the US Senate.”
“I hope we will soon have permission to give them and the rest of our users access to their files,” Dotcom told us.
One of the affected Megaupload users.
Megaupload itself is not the only outfit concerned about the lost data of the site’s users. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) took up the issue as well and launched the MegaRetrieval campaign to make an inventory of disadvantaged users.
Thus far EFF hasn’t made a decision on how to move forward, which will in part depend on the outcome of the negotiations between Megaupload and the Department of Justice.
“EFF continues to identify more people who have lost access to legitimate personal files. Our goal is to help them get their files back as quickly and efficiently as possible,” EFF staff attorney Julie Samuels told TorrentFreak.
Megaupload users who?re missing vital data, including US Government officials, can contact the EFF at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Aside from securing user data, EFF is extremely worried about the consequences the Megaupload case has on other file-hosting services.
“In general we are very concerned about the implications the ‘Mega conspiracy’ indictment has for the future of cloud computing and file-hosting services, and innovation more generally. It’s hard to imagine how the nature in which this went down won’t have a chilling effect going forward. We hope to come up with processes for future cases that will counteract that,” Samuels said.
It is expected that in the coming week more news will come out about an eventual resurrection of Megaupload, so users can download their personal files.
With the advent of the personal computer and with it the ability to endlessly copy data, the human desire to share has skyrocketed. Shifting data from A to B, wherever those points may be on a global scale, is now something easily achieved by billions across the world.
While the immense capabilities of the Internet has made sending and receiving data child’s play, there are others who find the transfer of bits and bytes across much shorter distances just as fascinating.
In 2009 we reported on the Kiosk of Piracy, an offline copy of The Pirate Bay accessible via local WiFi. Although a neat little project, the Kiosk was in one specific location in Germany, meaning anyone out of range would not be able to access it. But now a cool little tool means that anyone, anywhere, can offer a similar file-sharing service for just a few dollars.
Inspired by the local transmitting power of traditional pirate radio, NYU art professor David Darts created the PirateBox, a WiFi hotspot and server providing easy and anonymous access to the files held within.
In a previous incarnation (see below) the PirateBox – which utilized a full-size wireless router and a USB stick for storage – was housed in a fairly cumbersome metal lunchbox.
The whole thing cost around $100 to build, a not unreasonable price considering the features, but a new breakthrough update (thanks Numerama) means that not only is its physical footprint massively reduced, but also its cost. Depending on the amount of storage space required for files, for less than $50 anyone can now run a PirateBox wireless file-sharing system.
The huge price cut has been made possible by using new hardware, specifically the TP-LINK TL-MR3020 3G Wireless N Router, available from Newegg at just $39.99. Once obtained, all people have to do is follow the PirateBox installation instructions here, insert a USB stick full of files and power on. As can be seen below, it looks rather good.
Users wirelessly accessing the device are presented with a web interface which allows them not only to download files but upload them too. No logs or other identifying information is stored in the device.
Although great for anyone to share files within its range, considering the pressure currently being applied to university students by record labels and their anti-piracy partners, the chances of music-stuffed PirateBoxes popping up on campuses all around the world increases every day.
And considering that The Pirate Bay can now fit on the smallest of USB sticks, every PirateBox could also contain a copy of the world’s most famous torrent site.
BitTorrent sites and cyberlockers have a few things in common.
Both have dozens of millions of users every day, and they also share the wrath of the entertainment industries. But, that’s generally where comparisons stop.
The founders of the new startup Netkups thought this was odd. Why not incorporate the two technologies and make a new hybrid file-sharing service? Why not allow people to upload files and share them through direct links and torrents?
There is indeed nothing that prevents both platforms from being combined and so Netkups was born.
“The hybrid model is a win-win situation,” Netkups founder Adrian told TorrentFreak.
“In our case, we can save on bandwidth charges and enable a faster growth, while we guarantee that the file is seeded by us as long as it is downloadable. At the same time, users can enjoy the benefits of torrent files and download as many files as they want, using part of our bandwidth and bandwidth from other users.”
In common with most cyberlockers, Netkups has no built-in search engine. Users can upload files up to 1 gigabyte for free, and share them with friends or co-workers, or keep them private. If users choose to share the files, these can be downloaded for free from Netkups’ servers with a speed limit of 300 kBs.
And there’s more. Since Netkups also creates a torrent file, people can also use that to download without speed restrictions. All free of charge. For the uploader there’s an added advantage that Netkups will always seed the torrent file in question, so they don’t have to.
BitTorrent of direct download?
Adding a torrent also means that the files will remain available even if the Netkups site ceases to exist. The torrent files created by Netkups use public trackers so they can be easily uploaded to external torrent sites as well.
Sites that operate file-sharing services need to be cautious of copyright infringement issues, and Netkups are no exception. After the Megaupload shutdown in particular, the site’s operators are smart enough to make sure that they’re not breaking any laws.
“We’d be fools not to worry about that. That’s why we have a serious DMCA policy, as well as a serious legal agreement. That said, we watch out for censorship and abuses of any kind. ”
Netkups’ founder told TorrentFreak that copyright holders have to file proper DMCA requests to take content down, and that they are wary of automated censorship requests with huge lists of allegedly infringing links.
“People might not like seeing some things published, but that doesn’t mean all files should be removed. We care about everyone’s rights – not just users, not just creators.”
The Netkups service has been running stable for a few weeks and the site’s founder welcomes people to check it out. While there’s a premium package available with added benefits, the site can be used for free with limited restrictions.
Update: As pointed out in the comments, Netkups is not the only cyberlocker that has BitTorrent support.
4shared also allows users to download files through torrents. However, 4shared appears to log the IP-addresses of downloaders to prevent sharing on external sites.
In the early months of 2010, Golden Eye (International) Ltd, a company connected with the Ben Dover porn brand, decided to chance their hand at obtaining settlements from alleged file-sharers in the UK.
Although they successfully obtained the identities of alleged file-sharers through the court using the Tilly Bailey & Irvine (TBI) law firm, things quickly went wrong for GoldenEye. TBI pulled out due to bad publicity and the company was eventually fined late 2011 by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority for their mishandling of the cases.
In September 2011, Golden Eye were back again, trying to extract money from Internet users via the previously untested route of the small claims court. But in December 2011 it all fell apart following proper scrutiny in the High Court.
And now, in March 2012, unbelievably Golden Eye are back again with a third attempt.
Their new case against ISP Telefonica UK was up in the High Court this morning before Mr Justice Arnold, the judge responsible for ordering the ISP level block against Newzbin2 and the ongoing proceedings aimed towards a block of The Pirate Bay.
Golden Eye were seeking a Norwich Pharmacal Order, a document which if granted would allow them to identify their target of 9,000 alleged file-sharers and write to them with a demand for £700 each. If totally successful the scheme could net the company a cool £6.3 million in settlements.
From the court Computeractive’s Dinah Greek reported that Mr Justice Arnold was unhappy with the wording of the draft letters created by Golden Eye which claim they could ask ISPs to cut off or throttle the connections of alleged file-sharers, something the porn company has no authority to do.
Furthermore, Greek later posted another key point on Twitter – all Golden Eye have by way of evidence is a simple IP address, a particularly poor item of proof that has proven both unreliable and insufficient in the past.
Justice Arnold eventually deferred his decision to grant or deny the order pending the presentation of further evidence. He is expected to rule in approximately two weeks.
Although it will have serious implications for potential recipients of Golden Eye threats, the Open Rights Group believes that Justice Arnold’s decision also has the potential to have a big impact on how the Digital Economy Act works.
“At issue is the strength of the evidence required against alleged copyright infringers facing possible civil action. It should help focus attention on the need for [communications regulator] Ofcom to demand that water-tight standards of evidence are required for rights holders chasing alleged infringers through the Digital Economy Act,” says ORG’s Peter Bradwell.
“Ofcom are required to define the standards of evidence required against alleged infringers through the Initial Obligations Code (pdf). The revised version of this is due out soon. Without stringent standards, there is a risk that people are wrongly placed on infringement lists and are subject to the civil action in the initial phases of the Act.”
But even if Golden Eye are successful in obtained a Norwich Pharmacal Order, they will not be getting an easy ride and won’t be pulling in the cash they expect. After all, a similar venture cost ACS:Law’s Andrew Crossley his business, reputation, possessions and even his girlfriend.
“Golden Eye (should they get their NPO) will get very little money and a TONNE of grief,” predicted Will Gilmour, an expert in so-called pay-up-or-else schemes. “Speculative invoicing does not equal good business.”
In the spring of 2006 a team of 65 Swedish police personnel entered a datacenter in Stockholm. The officers were tasked with shutting down the largest threat to the entertainment industry at the time ? The Pirate Bay?s servers.
The raid eventually led to the conviction of four people connected to The Pirate Bay, but the site itself remained online.
Today, the Pirate Bay team has informed TorrentFreak that a second raid is being prepared by the Swedish authorities. The site’s operators, who are well-connected in multiple ways, learned that a team of Swedish investigators is gearing up to move against the site in the future.
The suspicions were also made public by The Pirate Bay a few minutes ago.
“The Swedish district attorney Fredrik Ingblad initiated a new investigation into The Pirate Bay back in 2010. Information has been leaked to us every now and then by multiple sources, almost on a regular basis. It’s an interesting read,” the Pirate Bay crew notes.
“We can certainly understand why WikiLeaks wished to be hosted in Sweden, since so much data leaks there. The reason that we get the leaks is usually that the whistleblowers do not agree with what is going on. Something that the governments should have in mind – even your own people do not agree.”
The Pirate Bay team confirmed to TorrentFreak that the announcement is no prank. The authorities have obtained warrants to snoop around in sensitive places and two known anti-piracy prosecutors, Frederick Ingblad and Henrik Rasmusson, are said to be involved.
Employing a little psychological warfare aimed at putting the investigators off-balance, the Pirate Bay team has chosen to make the news public to make the authorities aware that they are not the only ones being watched.
According to The Pirate Bay team they aren’t doing anything illegal, but nonetheless they noticed that the investigation intensified after the site’s recent move to a .SE domain.
“Since our recent move to a .SE domain the investigation has been cranked up a notch. We think that the investigation is interesting considering nothing that TPB does is illegal,” they say.
“Rather we find it interesting that a country like Sweden is being so abused by lobbyists and that this can be kept up. They’re using scare tactics, putting pressure on the wrong people, like providers and users. All out of fear from the big country in the west, and with an admiration for their big fancy wallets.”
Behind the scenes The Pirate Bay team is working hard to ensure that the site will remain online in the event that servers, domain names and Internet routes are cut off. In this regard The Pirate Bay has learned a valuable lesson from its former operators.
Those who are aware of the site?s history know that without a few essential keystrokes in May 2006, The Pirate Bay may not have been here today. When Pirate Bay founder TiAMO heard that something was amiss, he decided to make a full backup of the site before heading off to the datacenter, where he was greeted by dozens of police officers.
Footage from the 2006 Pirate Bay raid
TiAMO’s decision to start a backup of the site is probably the most pivotal moment in the site?s history. Because of this backup the Pirate Bay team were able to resurrect the site within three days. If there hadn?t have been a recent backup, things may have turned out quite differently.
It was a close call at the time, and a defining moment in the history of the site. The determination to get the site back online as soon as possible set the defiant tone for the years that followed. Today, the site prides itself in being the most resilient torrent site around.
In recent years The Pirate Bay has implemented a variety of changes to guarantee that the site remains online. It added several backup domains, placed servers all over the world, and removed resource intensive processes.
Earlier this week The Pirate Bay took another important step by removing .torrent files altogether to become a “magnet link” site. As a result, the entire site can now be reduced to a few hundred megabytes, small enough to fit on the tiniest thumb drive.
For the police, this makes a successful Pirate Bay raid almost impossible. While they can take steps to put the site out of business briefly, it’s inevitable that it will re-appear in a matter of hours, or days.
Or to use the words of the Pirate Bay team. “We’re staying put where we are. We’re going no-where. But we have a message to hollywood, the investigators and the prosecutors: LOL.”
Last week The Pirate Bay deleted all popular .torrent files from its site, replacing them with so-called magnet links.
This means that instead of downloading the .torrent files directly from a central server, they will be downloaded from other BitTorrent users instead.
One of the consequences of this move is that The Pirate Bay has seen a massive drop in bandwidth consumption. The size of the impact became clear today when the site’s operators informed TorrentFreak that bandwidth usage has dropped by nearly a third.
“We now use 30 percent less bandwidth, but the number of visitors to the site remains the same,” we were told.
The drop is even more impressive, approximately 60 percent, when the Pirate Bay’s RSS-feed is excluded. Of all bandwidth generated by the popular file-sharing site today nearly half comes from the RSS feed.
But there are not only upsides to a torrent-less Pirate Bay. Large groups of users have experienced problems when trying to overcome the minor annoyances that magnets bring with them.
One of the most heard complaints is that it’s impossible to select individual files before starting a download. This can be problematic when people need only one single file from a huge archive. When downloading a .torrent people can select the file in question in a window before starting the download, but with magnets uTorrent users can’t (it it supported by BitComet and Vuze).
A possible fix for this can be to keep the detail window open until the full torrent has been downloaded. Obviously, these are issues for BitTorrent client developers and not The Pirate Bay.
Following The Pirate Bay’s switch to magnets the uTorrent development team have already addressed one magnet-related bug, one that made it impossible to resume or reseed downloads when a magnet was re-added to the download queue.
Despite the issues mentioned above the transition appears to have gone smoothly.
For The Pirate Bay the switch to magnets was necessary, as it makes the site more resistant to being shut down. It’s easier to move around and takes only a fraction of the resources that were previously needed. And as an added bonus it reduces the bandwidth bills.
According to figures released last month by Médiamétrie, Megaupload’s Megavideo was one of France’s most popular Internet video services. In December 2011, Megavideo ranked 9th behind market leaders YouTube and big names such as Daily Motion, Canal + and Vimeo, pulling in nearly 3 million visitors.
But by January 19th it was all over. Megaupload and all its sister companies were closed down in now-infamous raids and its French users – between them viewing nearly 97.5 million videos per month – had to make alternative arrangements.
According to a new report by Hadopi, the French agency tasked with administering the country’s 3 strikes anti-piracy strategy, many of them turned to authorized services.
Hadopi say they used data compiled by Médiamétrie/ Netratings on approximately 50 authorized video platforms. Stats were gathered from 22 free sites (excluding YouTube, Dailymotion and Vimeo), 12 TV ‘catch-up’ services, 12 premium VOD services and 4 other aggregators/portals.
Hadopi says the data, which was collected after Megaupload’s shutdown date of January 19th and ran to the end of the month, shows that overall the VOD, catchup TV and aggregator platforms enjoyed a significant 25.7% growth when compared to the weeks immediately prior to the site’s closure.
When broken down the aggregators and portals enjoyed the biggest uplift in visitors of some 85%, premium VOD second with 35%, followed by TV catchup services with a 25% increase.
The free streaming sites, on the other hand, suffered a 20% reduction in visitors during the same period.
According to reports by Numerama, last month French media outfit Canal + reported a 20% rise in sales on their VOD platform since the closure of Megaupload, with national TV channel TF1 reporting a 40% boost.
However, increases in traffic were not simply restricted to authorized content outlets. As already noted here on TorrentFreak, in the wake of the Megaupload closure many of the site’s competitors such as Rapidshare, Uploaded.to, Depositfiles and Hotfile, also enjoyed surges in traffic.
But as can be seen from the updated traffic graph above, while the first three hosters appear to have kept a decent proportion of the traffic initially gained, Hotfile’s traffic is already back to pre-January 19th levels. It will be very interesting to see if the short-term fortunes of the sites surveyed by Médiamétrie will show a similar trend to that demonstrated by Hotfile once the panic has subsided, or if they will maintain their new levels.
To get a better idea of the longer term consumer response to the Mega shutdown we will have to wait and see what figures Médiamétrie return for February, March and April. The closure of Mega on January 19th will have undoubtedly prompted a knee jerk reaction by users and flight to other services of all different shapes and sizes, but whether they stay put or move again remains to be seen.
According to the indictment against Megaupload there will now be at least hundreds of millions of dollars to be shared among ‘legitimate’ companies now Kim Dotcom’s company has gone. Whether the coffers of authorized video providers will benefit in line with the traffic increases suggested above is the really big question, and one yet to be answered.
February last year the inevitable happened when the MPAA filed a lawsuit against the file-hosting service. Since then there have been dozens of court filings and Hotfile even sued MPAA member Warner Bros. right back for allegedly abusing its copyright takedown tools.
This week the MPAA took an important step by filing a motion for summary judgment at a US District Court in Florida. With this move the movie studios hope to avoid a lengthy trial and have Hotfile shut down as quickly as possible.
In court papers Hotfile is described as a service built around copyright infringement. The movie studios use the recent indictment against Megaupload as leverage and argue that both services are identical.
“Hotfile?s business model is indistinguishable from that of the website Megaupload, which recently was indicted criminally for engaging in the very same conduct as Hotfile. Defendants even admit that they formed Hotfile ‘to compete with’ Megaupload.”
The MPAA further highlights similarities with other file-sharing services that have lost legal battles in US courts.
“Hotfile is responsible for billions of infringing downloads of copyrighted works, including plaintiffs? valuable motion picture and television properties. As with other adjudicated pirate services that came before it, from Napster and Grokster to Isohunt and Limewire, Hotfile exists to profit from copyright infringement,” they write.
“More than 90% of the files downloaded from Hotfile are copyright infringing, and nearly every Hotfile user is engaged in copyright infringement.”
The latter statistic comes from research conducted by University of Pennsylvania professor Richard Waterman on behalf of the movie studios. Waterman concluded that 90.2% of all daily downloads on Hotfile are infringing, opposed to 5.3% that are clearly non-infringing.
Aside from pointing out the massive infringement on Hotfile, the crux of the case is whether the file-hoster is protected under the DMCA’s safe-harbor provision. According to the MPAA this is not the case.
Among other things, the studios point out that Hotfile previously failed to disconnect repeat infringers and that Hotfile employees actively induced copyright infringement. Not meeting these requirements means they have no right to safe-harbor protection.
The MPAA’s motion is supported by a slew of exhibits ranging from internal emails where Hotfile staff assist users with downloading infringing files, to forum discussions about the affiliate program, and testimonies from anti-piracy chiefs at the movie studios.
When combined, all evidence leads the MPAA to conclude that Hotfile should be shut down and the studios awarded damages.
Whatever the outcome, the case is expected to set an important precedent for the future of similar cloud hosting services that operate in the United States.
Comedian Dave Gorman is reporting about an unfortunate situation concerning an image he’d posted to Flickr back in 2006.
Gorman reports that in January of that year he’d been out riding his bike when he spotted letters of the alphabet that had been painted on metal shop shutters. He photographed ones he could find, posted them to Flickr, and then people started posting that they knew where the rest were located.
Over the next two days he’d photographed them all and posted them as a single image to his Flickr page. They turned out to be by an artist called Eine and the post by Gorman was a huge hit, netting him a couple of hundred thousand hits to his blog and publicity for the artist.
On February 17th, however, Flickr deleted the entire page. The company had been responding to a DMCA complaint from an anti-piracy company called Degban who do takedowns on behalf of porn studios. Only when Gorman filed a counter-complaint challenging the takedown did he discover that Degban had screwed up.
Flickr allowed him to repost the image but the damage was done – hundreds of fan comments and 6 year’s worth of inbound links to the page had been rendered useless.
Degban CEO Taban Panahi apologized in an email to Dave but said it wasn’t their fault.
“I do apologize for the inconvenience, we have been victim of a phishing/hacking attack, which was aimed at reducing our credibility among clients and the public as you can see how, I truly am sorry that you were effected as such, but allow to humbly suggest that you channel a part of your anger at those holier than thou hackers who effect users like yourself by such irresponsible actions we are working hard to fix the matter, but alas we cannot do much as the size of the attack was larger than we could have expected.
I am hoping you can manage to get back your traffic and are never affected by such issue ever again.”
In comments to AVN yesterday, Degban said that on February 29th their SMTP server had been accessed via a phishing scam and the intruder went on “to report legitimate content as piracy, using our own Take-Down notice templates. ”
Dave Gorman’s opinion is that the explanation “is either bullshit – which is worrying…or true… which is even more worrying.”
TorrentFreak has no way of knowing if Degban was really hacked or not (although Dave’s image was taken down before the company says it was hacked), but ignoring other claims made against the company recently, we thought we’d have a look at Degban’s track record with DMCA takedown requests to see if they take their work seriously.
Degban have been working on behalf of a company called Switchback Media taking down content owned by porn actress Destiny Dixon [NSFW] and quite frankly their efforts are a mess.
“I made a few ring-tones and uploaded them so I could distribute them on the fly but [Degban] took them offline out of Google. How can they do this? Is this not illegal? I hope others find this post and do something about them,” writes a disgruntled guy, coincidentally also called Dave.
The content Dave posted can be found here on TorrentTV, but a Google search advises that Degban took the content down via DMCA request in September last year on behalf of Destiny Dixon.
The problem, it seems, is down to Degban using an extremely primitive scanning system. They also fail to check their own results before they make a sworn declaration they are correct.
In a DMCA notice sent to Google against a listing for the torrent site H33t, they took down a link to an album titled Floorfillers 2010 which is owned by Universal Music. A scan of the track listing shows a track by A R Rahman Ft The Pussycat Dolls – Jai Ho! (You Are My Destiny) and another called Breathe Slow by singer Alesha Dixon.
In a DMCA notice to Google against a listing for the torrent site Bitreactor.to, they took down a torrent containing MTV music videos containing content from Destiny‘s Child and Alesha Dixon again. There are several more erroneous takedowns featuring these pair of famous artists, mostly on music compilation albums.
Here are more takedown examples, in brief. (We’ve only linked to the first couple to highlight the errors and for news and research purposes only)
- Reggae Hits Vol.01 to 37 (Contains artists Trevor Dixon / Pure Silk And One Destiny) - Comic – DC Comics Chronology (References: Chuck Dixon, JLA: Destiny) - Limitless (movie) – (Reference: “Eddie must stay wired long enough to elude capture and fulfill his destiny.” - Haven (TV show) – Takedown reason unknown. - Breaking Bad (TV show) – Takedown reason unknown. - Leaves’ Eye – My Destiny (music) - Howard TV (Howard Stern collection) – Takedown reason unknown.
In fact, of 82 DMCA takedown requests issued on behalf of Destiny Dixon in September 2011, at least 25 of them are completely incorrect and relate to other people’s content. Of course, the TV studios and music labels won’t mind the takedowns related to their work, but people like Dave Gorman absolutely do.
TorrentFreak asked Degban for comment, but at the time of publication we were yet to receive a response. It seems fitting that Dave Gorman should be left with the last word…..
September last year the Florida-based file-hosting service Hotfile sued Warner Bros. for fraud and abuse.
The file-hoster alleged that after giving Warner access to its systems, the studio wrongfully took down files including games demos and Open Source software without holding the copyrights to them. The false takedowns continued even after the movie studio was repeatedly notified about the false claims.
In a response, Warner Bros. admitted the accusations. However, the movie studio argued that they are not to blame because the mistakes were made by a computer, not a person. As a result, the false takedown request were not “deliberate lies.”
The pending case has major implications for the responsibilities of copyright holders when it comes to automated takedown requests. If the court decides that Warner Bros is not guilty of copyright abuse there’s a serious risk that DMCA notices will turn into a broad and uncontrollable censorship filter.
To prevent this from happening the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has filed an amicus curiae brief siding with Hotfile.
The EFF points out that because of the false takedown requests many of Hotfile’s users were denied access to legitimate content, effectively hurting speech on the Internet. Blaming the computer for these mistakes is not a valid defense according to the group.
“Hotfile’s customers unfairly lost access to content because of Warner’s bogus takedowns. But under Warner’s theory, any company could sidestep accountability for abusing the DMCA by simply outsourcing the process to a computer,” said EFF Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry.
“In fact, the companies would have a perverse incentive to dumb down the process, removing human review. What Warner is doing here is a ploy to undermine the DMCA provisions that protect Internet users from overbroad and indiscriminate takedowns like the ones it issued,” she adds.
As an example of how these automated processes hurt free speech the EFF names a recent case where articles from TorrentFreak and Techdirt were censored by mistake.
The brief further argues that if copyright holders aren’t responsible for computerized takedowns, they might be inclined to abuse the system for competitive purposes.
“Imagine the potential for mischief: Let?s say that Warner does not like competition from Universal. It could set a computer to search through Universal?s online presence, with the loosest possible settings, and issue takedown after takedown to Universal?s ISP for spurious claims,” EFF writes.
The competitive angle raised by the EFF is not just hypothetical, as Google previously noted that 57% of all the DMCA notices they receive come from companies targeting competitors.
As we pointed out two days ago, Warner Bros. is not the only company to make massive mistakes through their automated takedown systems. Microsoft, for example, asked Google to take down a link to the open source operating system Kubuntu, and NBC Universal censored a free-to-share movie.
It will be interesting to see what the judge decides in this landmark case.
For almost a year the UK’s Digital Economy Act has been in limbo after two of the country’s largest Internet service providers challenged the legislation. BT and TalkTalk had argued that the controversial law was incompatible with EU legislation and in March 2011 the High Court began a judicial review.
In April 2011 the High Court sided with the government and said that copyright holders have the right to tackle unlawful file-sharing, but in October the ISPs were granted leave to appeal on the grounds that the DEA might breach several EU directives.
Just minutes ago judges Lady Justice Arden, Lord Justice Richards and Lord Justice Patten declared that the ISPs have lost their appeal and the Digital Economy Act will stand.
TalkTalk described the ruling as “disappointing” and along with BT say they are now considering their options. Groups representing copyright holders have welcomed the Court of Appeal ruling.
“The ISPs’ failed legal challenge has meant yet another year of harm to British musicians and creators from illegal filesharing,” said Geoff Taylor, chief executive of the BPI.
UK Internet service providers will now be required to send warning letters to customers who the music, movie and software industries claim are infringing their copyrights on file-sharing networks.
After a year of sending letters, communications regulator Ofcom must report on the results of the campaign. In the event it has been ineffective in reducing file-sharing, so-called “technical measures” can be put in place – a euphemism for Internet disconnections and/or Internet throttling.
Open Rights Group, who have been campaigning against the legislation, said the Court of Appeal ruling has shortcomings.
“There is one thing the court cannot tell us: that this is a good law. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport had no evidence when they wrote this Act, except for the numbers they were given by a couple of industry trade bodies. This is a policy made on hearsay and assumptions, not proper facts or analysis,” ORG’s Peter Bradwell said in a statement.
“So significant problems remain. Publicly available wifi will be put at risk. Weak evidence could be used to penalize people accused of copyright infringement. And people will have to pay £20 for the privilege of defending themselves against these accusations. The Government needs to correct these errors with a proper, evidence-based review of the law.”
In comments to the BBC, Adam Rendle, a copyright lawyer at international law firm Taylor Wessing, said he expected BT and Talk Talk to take their appeal to the UK’s Supreme Court.
In March 2011, the High Court began a judicial review of the controversial Digital Economy Act (DEA). The review was ordered after the legislation, which was rushed through during the final hours of the previous Labour government, was met with complaints from two of the UK?s biggest Internet service providers, BT and TalkTalk. The pair question whether the Act was enforceable under current EU legislation.
In April the High Court’s Justice Kenneth Parker sided with the government and “upheld the principle of taking measures to tackle the unlawful downloading of music, films, books and other copyright material.”
In October, BT and TalkTalk were given permission to appeal, with Lord Justice Lewison stating that the ISPs should be allowed to argue that the Act ?was enacted without following proper procedures and that it may breach the EU?s E-Commerce Directive, Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive, Data Protection Directive, Authorization Directive.?
As long as certain conditions are met, under EU law Internet service providers are not liable for the data carried over their networks, a situation known as the ?mere conduit? defense. But today it’s being claimed that staff from both BT and TalkTalk gave advice to customers that they knew had intentions of breaching copyright.
According to a ThisIsMoney report, ‘mystery shoppers’ were asked to call ISPs asking questions about using file-sharing sites.
Perhaps conveniently considering developments due in court today, the allegations focus on advice given by BT and TalkTalk staff. However, based on the information given in the article, first impressions suggest that only one call is worthy of immediate attention and the rest seem potentially overblown.
During that call, made to BT, the ‘customer’ says they want to use Pirate Bay or isoHunt to download movies such as Harry Potter or Cars 2. The BT staff member allegedly noted that the films could be downloaded from those sites “in less time than it would take to watch the film”.
In another call to TalkTalk, the investigators claim that the customer services operator admits to using BitTorrent himself and says that The Pirate Bay would perform best with an ‘unlimited’ broadband package. But there are millions of items on The Pirate Bay, plenty of them legal, and the advice is good, piracy hasn’t been condoned and certainly no laws have been broken.
The report goes on to state that “a string of similar calls elicited no warnings about the potential illegality of such activity” and in every call “the use of such sites is mentioned clearly by the caller as a reason for signing up to a faster broadband package.”
While the initial item which references specific copyright works might be problematic, it is not up to an ISP to attempt to police customer activity or predict which content someone might access on The Pirate Bay. It is certainly not up to telesales operators to try and understand the intricacies of copyright law and then give impromptu advice in response to casual comments by ‘customers’.
Both BT and TalkTalk say that they only want customers to use the Internet for legal activities but Geoff Taylor, chief executive of the BPI who have been critical of the ISPs’ opposition to the Digital Economy Act, says what has happened is unacceptable.
“It is shocking if broadband providers have been boosting their revenues selling broadband to customers who make it clear they intend to break the law,” he said. “This is not the behavior we should expect from responsible companies.”
As highlighted earlier, the information provided in the report is not exactly detailed, so it will be interesting to read the full transcripts of the calls – we’ve asked for copies from the editor and we’ll report back should we received them.
Later today, appeal judges Lady Justice Arden, Lord Justice Richards and Lord Justice Patten will give their decision on the future of the Digital Economy Act and announce whether BT and TalkTalk have been successful.
Let’s start around the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. In that day and age, copyright monopoly laws were in force in the United Kingdom, and pretty much the United Kingdom alone (where they were enacted in 1557). You know the “Made in Country X” that is printed or engraved on pretty much all our goods? That originated as a requirement from the British Customs against German-made goods, as a warning label that they were shoddy goods made in Germany at the time. It spread to pretty much global use.
But Germany didn’t have copyright monopoly laws at this point in time, and historians argue that was the direct cause of Germany’s engineering excellence overtaking that of the United Kingdom. In the UK, knowledge of handicrafts was expensive to come by. Books and the knowledge they carried were locked down in the copyright monopoly construct, after all. In Germany, however, the same knowledge was available at print cost – and thus, engineering skills proliferated. With every new person learning engineering, one more person started to improve the skill set for himself and for the country at large. The result is that Germany still, 200 years later, has an outstanding reputation for engineering skills – the rise of which are directly attributable to a lack of the copyright monopoly.
There are more examples. Pharmaceutical companies argue how they absolutely, positively need the knowledge monopolies we call patents in order to survive. The company Novartis is one of the worse offenders here. The claim that patent monopolies are needed is not only false in an objective light – as in the patent monopolies not being needed at all today for the pharma industry – but more interestingly, Novartis itself was founded in a time and place when no such knowledge monopolies existed – more specifically, in Switzerland in 1758 and 1859. If the patent monopolies are so vital for success, how come the pharmaceutical giants of today were successfully founded in their complete absence?
Rather, the pattern here is that the people who have made it to the top push for monopolies that will lock in their positions as kings of the hill and prevent people who do something better from replacing them. It’s a power grab.
In Sweden, the telecoms infrastructure giant Ericsson was founded making a telephone handset that directly infringed on a German patent from Siemens – or at least, would have done so with today’s monopoly laws. A Norwegian company later copied Ericsson in turn. Nobody cared. Today, with the patent monopolies we have today, Ericsson would not have survived the first phone call. And yet, Ericsson is one of the giants pushing for more restrictive monopoly laws. Of course they are; they have been successfully founded already. What innovative giants of tomorrow are we smothering stillborn through these monopoly constructs?
Indeed, the United States itself celebrated breakers of the monopolies on ideas and knowledge as national heroes when the country was in its infancy and building its industries. When the US was still a British colony, the United Kingdom had this idea that all refinement of raw material into desirable products should happen on the soil of the United Kingdom, and only there. Industrial secrets were closely guarded, and the United States sought to break the stranglehold for its own benefit. When somebody brought the British industrial secret of the textile mills to the United States, for example, he was celebrated by getting an entire city named after him and named a father of industry as such. Today, the same person would have been indicted for industrial espionage.
Or why not take a look at Hollywood and the film industry? In the infancy of filmmaking, there was a patent monopoly blanket on the entire concept of moving pictures owned by Thomas Edison, who was adamant in claiming his legal monopoly rights. In order for innovation in the area to flourish, the entire industry moved from the then-hotseat of moviemaking, New York. They moved as far away as they could, west across the entire country, and settled in a suburb outside of Los Angeles. That was outside of the reach of Edison’s patent monopoly lawyers at the time, and so, moviemaking took off big time. Today, the fledgling industry wouldn’t have been outside of the reach of those monopoly lawyers.
I could end with mentioning Internet and how monopolies try to tame it from every angle, but I am sure everybody can fill in the blanks here. Just for fun, we could mention Bill Gates’ famous quote that if people had taken out patent monopolies when the web was still in its infancy, the industry would be at a complete standstill today. It is consistent with the overall pattern.
The pattern here is clear: copyright monopolies and patent monopolies encourage neither creativity nor innovation. Quite the opposite. Throughout history, we observe that today’s giants were founded in their absence, and today, these giants push for the harshening and enforcement of these monopolies in order to remain kings of the hill, to prevent something new and better from replacing them. Pushing for copyright monopolies and patent monopolies was never a matter of helping others; it was a matter of kicking away the ladder once you had reached the top yourself.
But for the rest of us, it makes no sense whatsoever to carve today’s giants in stone. We want them to be replaced by something better, and the copyright and patent monopolies prevent that.
Rick Falkvinge is a regular columnist on TorrentFreak, sharing his thoughts every other week. He is the founder of the Swedish and first Pirate Party, a whisky aficionado, and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot. His blog at falkvinge.net focuses on information policy.
Last Friday, US prosecutors filed an extradition request against four New Zealand-based suspects who were allegedly part of the so-called “Mega Conspiracy.”
Kim Dotcom is wanted in the United States alongside other key Megaupload employees on racketeering, copyright infringement and money laundering charges.
In the battle to extradite the defendants, US authorities intend to rely on a United Nations treaty aimed at combating international organized crime.
Previously a lawyer working on behalf of the United States government admitted that no copyright offenses are specifically listed in the extradition treaty. However, he also noted that certain offenses which involve transnational crime are covered by New Zealand’s Extradition Act.
In New Zealand crimes must carry a four year prison sentence to be deemed extraditable. Under the country?s Copyright Act, distributing an infringing work carries a five year maximum sentence.
Experts and observers are predicting that due to its groundbreaking status, the extradition battle for the Megaupload defendants will be both complex and prolonged, and could even go all the way to the Supreme Court.
For now, the first extradition hearing has been scheduled for August 20.
Megaupload programmer Bram van der Kolk recently called on the New Zealand authorities to remain dignified in their extradition dealings with the United States.
?I really hope New Zealand will keep its dignity and can show that it is a sovereign state that has its own justice system,? he said, referring to the extradition process.
Talking to TorrentFreak last week, Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom said that he and his co-defendants are positive that the law is on their side.
?We?re going for this and we?re confident we?re going to win,? Kim said.
Earlier this month in a case brought by several major recording labels including Sony, EMI and Warner, a judge in the UK’s High Court ruled that The Pirate Bay and its users breach copyright “on a major scale.”
This ruling means that it’s almost inevitable that the UK’s major Internet service providers will be compelled to block The Pirate Bay in the coming months to serve the members of the music lobby group BPI.
While there can be no doubt that some users of The Pirate Bay are indeed engaging in copyright infringement, for others the site is their gateway to the world, the mechanism by which their own work can be distributed – for free – to the masses.
A block of The Pirate Bay will not discriminate – all content will be blocked, infringing or not, and artists relying on the site to reach their fans will be unjustly penalized.
Just hours ago and after working throughout the night, UK artist Dan Bull finished his latest track which was inspired by the recent TPB ruling.
“The BPI claim to represent the interests of musicians like myself and the people in my video, but the fact is that only the very elite few at the top of the music business will see a benefit. The rest of us are having our internet censored and are being ushered into an age of guilt until innocence is proven,” Dan told TorrentFreak.
“The tech sector is being damaged in order to prop up a comparatively tiny and irrelevant industry which the vast majority of musicians have absolutely no need for.”
So without further delay, here’s Dan’s musical message. ‘Bye Bye BPI’ is the follow-up to the hugely successful track SOPA Cabana which has been viewed nearly 1.3 million times. Both songs were created with material crowdsourced via Dan’s Facebook page.
Earlier this week one of TorrentFreak’s articles was censored by Google on behalf of a copyright holder.
The article in question was mysteriously flagged as being infringing by an automated DMCA takedown tool. An honest mistake according to the people who sent the notice, but one that doesn’t stand in isolation.
Google previously noted that that 37% of all DMCA notices they receive are not valid copyright claims.
One of the problems is that many rightsholders use completely automated systems to inform Google and other service providers of infringements. They swear under penalty of perjury that the notices are correct, but this is often an outright lie.
Microsoft, for example, has sent Google dozens of notices about the massive infringements that occur on the site Youhavedownloaded.com, a site that is completely non-infringing. As a result, many pages of the website have been de-listed from Google’s search results, directly damaging the site’s owners.
Other rightsholders make even stranger mistakes by massively taking down content that they don’t own. The adult content outfit AFS Media for example asked Google to remove links to the movies Braveheart, Monsters Inc, Green Lantern and many more titles that have nothing to do with the content they produce.
Similar mistakes are made at NBC Universal who got Google to censor the independent and free-to-share movie A Lonely Place for Dying.
Or again by Microsoft, who successfully requested Google to remove a link to a copy of the open source operating system Kubuntu.
And then there’s YouTube’s content-ID system. We previously outlined many mistakes that were made by the DMCA-style anti-piracy filter, resulting in tens of thousands of ridiculously inaccurate claims.
This week yet another example came up when YouTube labeled birds tweeting in the background of a video as copyrighted music. Again a mistake, but one that probably would have never been corrected if Reddit and Hacker News hadn’t picked it up.
Aside from the mistakes outlined above, there’s also a darker side to DMCA abuse. Google previously revealed that 57% of all the DMCA notices they receive come from companies targeting competitors.
The “competition” angle also ties into the row between Megaupload and Universal Music Group. The latter removed a promo video from the cyberlocker from YouTube on copyright grounds, without owning the rights to any of the material.
It’s safe to say that the DMCA is broadly abused. Thousands of automated notices with hundreds of links each are sent out on a daily basis, turning it into a broad censorship tool. Only the tip of the iceberg is visible to the public thanks to companies like Google who publish some of the notices online.
We can only wonder what’s happening behind the scenes at other sites, but it’s not going to be any better.
Just a few months ago the cyberlocker service Hotfile sued Warner Bros. for DMCA abuse. In the suit Hotfile accuses the movie studio of systematically abusing its anti-piracy tool by taking down hundreds of titles they don?t hold the copyrights to, including open source software.
While we’re the first to admit that copyright holders need tools to protect their work from being infringed, mistakes and abuse as outlined above shouldn’t go unpunished. The DMCA was never intended to be an overbroad and automated piracy filter in the first place.
The above also illustrates why it’s dangerous to allow rightsholders to take entire websites offline, as the SOPA and PIPA bills would allow. The MPAA and RIAA have said many times that legitimate sites would never be affected, but didn’t they say exactly the same about the DMCA?
Every now and again, the world’s most famous piracy release groups get together and have a big old meeting to decide how they’ll carry out their future activities. At the top of the agenda is an item of utmost importance – how to change things around to ensure the highest levels of annoyance and inconvenience for BitTorrent downloaders.
Ok, so the last sentence isn’t true, but nevertheless that appears to be the current assessment of events according to some BitTorrent users. Worryingly, the interpretation from others is even more wide of the mark.
The problem stems back to a new document which details a set of standards TV show release groups such as LOL and MOMENTUM will have to live up to in order to comply with so-called ‘Scene rules’. Not complying with the format means that a release group’s work risks being ‘nuked’ – a term which means something has been rated second-class by their pirating peers.
The document – ‘The SD x264 TV Releasing Standards 2012′ – is extremely detailed and covers all sorts of technical issues, but the main controversy stems from the adoption of the x264 codec.
“x264 has become the most advanced video codec over the past few years. Compared to Xvid, it is able to provide higher quality and compression at greater SD resolutions,” the rule document begins.
“This standard aims to bring quality control back to SD releases. There are many standalone players/streamers such as TviX, Popcorn Hour, WDTV HD Media Player, Boxee, Xtreamer, PS3, XBOX 360, iPad, & HDTVs that can playback H264 and AAC encapsulated in MP4,” the doc adds.
From February 22nd and earlier in some cases, release groups including ASAP, BAJSKORV, C4TV, D2V, DiVERGE, FTP, KYR, LMAO, LOL, MOMENTUM, SYS, TLA and YesTV began releasing TV shows in the new format. Out went Xvid and avi, in came x264 and MP4.
However, while the release groups want to move with the times, there are many people consuming their content who either don’t or can’t. In the main, people seem disappointed because their standalone Xvid compatible DVD players won’t play the new releases.
Some of the reactions are polite enough, but show a misunderstanding of how the system works.
“LOL, why are all your new uploads MP4 format? How do we get hold of you? We need the AVI format back, really frustrating as most DVD players don’t play MP4 format which means we are back to converting format to AVI – how 3rd world LOL,” begins one user on popular torrent site EZTV.
“Hi there, I agree too please can you revert back to AVI as most DVD players cannot recognize MP4 format and this means I need to do conversion to AVI all the time for my grand mother and its quite painful,” says another.
At worst, some of the comments show an embarrassing sense of entitlement and an attitude that those downloading for free are actually “customers” of these release groups and as such deserve to be treated better.
“F@#k LOL and their mp4′s,” is just one example of the aggression directed towards them.
But there are another set of users who don’t understand where the releases come from at all and are instead directing their anger at the torrent sites – the equivalent of blaming Google for not listing the pictures people had hoped for in their image search.
“MP4 SUCKS AND IS A BULL SHIT FORMAT. AVI WILL ALWAYS BE KING. MORE TROUBLE THAN IS WORTH. TIME TO GET MY DOWNLOADS FROM A BETTER SITE THAT OFFERS AVI AND I KNOW A MAJORITY OF THE DOWN LOADERS WILL DO THE SAME,” shouts an EZTV user.
“SO I THINK EZTV HAS A LIMITED LIFE SPAN LEFT IF THEY DO NOT TELL DOWN LOADERS TO GO BACK TO AVI IT IS PROBABLY ALL OVER FOR THIS SITE.”
First off, these release groups aren’t deliberately releasing TV shows to please the masses. They do it for their own entertainment and it’s only when they leak out do the wider world get access to them. They are certainly not being put online to satisfy the needs of ALL CAPS MAN. Second, the torrent sites index other people’s content, they tend not to be the originators of it.
Sure, some of the more friendly but bewildered comments of upset downloaders are pretty amusing to read, but the more aggressive ones highlight a more worrying trend.
Somewhere along the line a consumer appeared who not only wants everything super quickly and for free, but also believes that the same should be offered with Class A service. Should these things not be delivered, he feels it is his right to take his “business” elsewhere. Could this become the new consumer standard for service on the Internet?
At the moment this toughest breed of consumer appears to be in the minority but thanks to the law of supply and demand, even he will find his needs served. Already people are ‘pirating’ the MP4 releases and re-uploading them in the Xvid format to satisfy his needs.
In the meantime, no doubt LOL and LMAO will be doing what their acronyms suggest.
The avalanche of negative file-sharing news over the past weeks hasn’t gone unnoticed to users and site operators.
From SOPA to Megaupload, there is a growing uncertainly about the future of sharing.
While many BitTorrent sites and cyberlockers continue to operate as usual, there is a growing group of users who are expanding their horizons to see what other means of sharing are available if the worst case scenario becomes reality.
Anonymous, decentralized and uncensored are the key and most sought-after features. For some this means signing up with a VPN to make their BitTorrent sharing more private, but new clients are also generating interest.
Earlier this month we wrote about Tribler, a decentralized (not anonymous) BitTorrent client that makes torrent sites obsolete. We’ve covered Tribler for more than half a decade, but it was only after our most recent post that it really took off with more than a hundred thousand downloads in a few days.
But there are more file-sharing tools that are specifically built to withstand outside attacks. Some even add anonymity into the mix. RetroShare is such a private and uncensored file-sharing client, and the developers have also noticed a significant boom in users recently.
The RetroShare network allows people to create a private and encrypted file-sharing network. Users add friends by exchanging PGP certificates with people they trust. All the communication is encrypted using OpenSSL and files that are downloaded from strangers always go through a trusted friend.
In other words, it’s a true Darknet and virtually impossible to monitor by outsiders.
RetroShare founder DrBob told us that while the software has been around since 2006, all of a sudden there’s been a surge in downloads. “The interest in RetroShare has massively shot up over the last two months,” he said.
“In January our downloads tripled when interest in SOPA was at its peak. It more than doubled again in February, when cyberlockers disabled sharing or shut down entirely. At the moment we are getting 10 times more downloads than in December 2011.”
RetroShare’s founder believes that there is an increased need for security, privacy and freedom among file-sharers, features that are at the core of his application.
“RetroShare is about creating a private space on the Internet. A social collaboration network where you can share anything you want. A space that is free from the prying eyes of governments, corporations and advertisers. This is vitally important as our freedom on the Internet is under increasing threat,” DrBob told TorrentFreak.
“RetroShare is free from censorship: like Facebook banning ‘obscene’ breast-feeding photographs. A network that allows you to use any pseudonym, without insisting on knowing your real name. A network where you will not face the threat of jail, or being banned from entry into a country for an innocent tweet.”
Downloading with RetroShare
It’s impossible to accurately predict what file-sharing will look like 5 years from now. But, a safe assumption is that anonymity will play a more central role than it ever has.
Recent crackdowns have made operators of central file-sharing sites and services more cautious of copyright infringement. Some even went as far as shutting down voluntarily, like BTjunkie.
In the long run this might drive more casual downloaders to legitimate alternatives, if these are available. Those who keep on sharing could move to smaller communities, darknets, and anonymous connections.