Canadian ISPs: Standardize Copyright Notices, Fine & Defeat Trolls

Canadian ISPs: Standardize Copyright Notices, Fine & Defeat Trolls

Internet users who download and share copyrighted content are prone to being tracked.

If a copyright owner or its agents see such transfers, it’s possible they’ll follow this up to prevent further infringement, as is their right under the law in most major jurisdictions.

In Canada this is also the case. Under the country’s ‘notice-and-notice‘ regime, copyright holders are granted permission to send complaints to users’ ISPs, who are then required to forward them to their customers.

However, after abuse by some copyright holders, last year the government stepped in with new rules. Such notices can no longer contain offers to pay cash to make supposed lawsuits go away, via an embedded hyperlink or other means. Neither can they demand a user’s personal details.

Unfortunately the new rules – as predicted – are being abused by companies who feel the law doesn’t apply to them.

As reported by TF earlier this month, anti-piracy outfit Digital Millennium Forensics (a Canada-based company), in conjunction with Elevation Pictures, is continuing to send notices that breach all of the rules, especially the demands for cash settlement.

Since the publication of our article, TF has received numerous additional copies of notices sent to even more customers of Eastlink, the ISP featured in the piece. The government says that ISPs don’t have to pass abusive notices on but Eastlink told us they don’t have the capability to filter them out, since there are so many of them.

Since then, the flow has continued. TorrentFreak has received even more copies of abusive notices sent by Digital Millennium Forensics and forwarded by other ISPs. They include Shaw, one of Canada’s most prominent providers, through to Xplornet, the country’s “leading supplier” of rural high-speed Internet.

In Shaw’s emails to customers, the company acknowledges that “a notice does not necessarily mean that you have in fact infringed copyright or that you will be sued for copyright infringement”, adding that it is “unaware of the full details and merit of the infringement claim.” It also adds the following important text:

The Notice and Notice regime does not impose any obligation on an internet user who receives a notice of alleged infringement to do anything or to contact the copyright owner or its representative who is alleging infringement. More particularly, there is no legal obligation to make any settlement payment requested by a copyright owner. Such settlement proposals are sometimes included in a notice.

While this is perfectly accurate information, the company still forwards abusive notices to its customers when the law does not require it to do so. The same can be said of both Eastlink and Xplornet, with the latter noting the following:

In accordance with section 41.26(1)(a) of the Copyright Act, an Internet Service Provider (ISP) is required to forward any notice received from the copyright holder in a work (such as music, videos, books or games) alleging infringement of that work in connection with the Internet or other digital networks.  As a result, we are forwarding to you the attached notification related to your account.

We are unaware of the details or merits of this infringement claim. If you have questions concerning this matter, please contact the copyright holder directly using the contact information in the attached notice.

This statement is problematic. While 41.26(1)(a) does indeed require an ISP to forward a notice, the notice must also comply with 41.25(2) and (3) to be valid – and parts 3(a) and 3(c) prohibit notices that include settlement demands or links to the same.

The rules are crystal clear

Furthermore, part 3(b) also prohibits demands for “personal information” (this is because the government wants to protect consumers) yet the advice from Xplornet is for customers with questions to contact the sender of the already abusive notice in person. This is not contrary to the law but does raise more problems.

While the ISP is correct in noting that it can’t help with the details of the complaint, subscribers who contact the anti-piracy company directly will invariably give up their anonymity and with claims like this, that rarely turns out well. The law is clear – consumers do not have to respond in any way to these notices.

Unfortunately, Xplornet did not respond to TorrentFreak’s request for comment. Shaw Communications did, however, and a spokesperson indicated that it’s aware of the issue and is calling for measures against senders of abusive notices.

“Unfortunately, some rightsholders and their representatives may continue to disregard the requirements of the notice-and-notice regime. Shaw makes it clear to our customers that they are not obligated to comply with settlement demands,” Shaw said in its response.

“At the same time, we are urging the introduction of measures in the Copyright Act to end this practice – such as monetary penalties applicable to rightsholders who issue notices that include settlement demands or other prohibited content.”

A deterrent is apparently necessary in this case since it seems clear that companies like Digital Millennium Forensics and Elevation Pictures have little respect for the new rules. Not to mention that ISPs don’t appear to have any choice but to keep sending abusive notices to their customers.

TekSavvy, an ISP with a reputation for standing up for its customers, told TF that the problem is so big and the potential liabilities so huge, ISPs are terrified to intervene in the notice-sending process.

The company says that it faces similar issues to those that have been highlighted in Europe recently – how is it possible to deploy copyright filters 100% accurately?

“TekSavvy receives hundreds of thousands of notices from scores of senders in dozens of formats that change frequently. In order to comply with the Notice and Notice obligations, ISPs have had to develop automated tools that can assess whether each notice is compliant before forwarding it, with potentially huge liability if we do not forward compliant notices,” a spokesperson said.

“Notice forwarding is an expensive and difficult service TekSavvy provides to rightsholders at no cost, and for which we are expected to provide a 100% service level. This has created a problem in Canada similar to the concerns we have constantly heard over Article 13 (now 17) in the EU.

“The obligation to filter out noncompliant notices amounts to a requirement that ISPs have perfect algorithms, but there is no standard right now that any algorithm could work from,” TekSavvy added.

Professor Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law, agrees that there are issues with the system.

“The problem is that the government’s approach does not penalize sending settlement notices via this system. Instead, it merely states that ISPs are not obligated to send such notices,” Geist told TF.

“However, given that ISPs are still required to send compliant notices under threat of penalty, many ISPs will send all notices because it is too difficult to manually distinguish between compliant and non-compliant notices.”

Like the ISPs, Geist says there are potential solutions, such as the standardization of notices or establishing penalties for sending non-compliant notices, as suggested by Shaw. As things stand, however, things are likely to continue as they are.

“There is real concern that rights holders will continue to send settlement demands knowing that many will still be passed along,” Geist added.

There is hope, however. Canada is currently working on a Statutory Review of the Copyright Act, with ISPs such as Shaw, Bell, and Rogers – supported by Google – calling for (among other things) the standardization of notices.

“The Government should use its existing authority to enact regulations requiring that notices be submitted electronically in a form that is based on the ACNS 2.0. Mandating the use of these standards will eliminate the risk of ISPs forwarding non-compliant notices,” their umbrella group Business Coalition for Balanced Copyright (BCBC) says.

TekSavvy told TF that Internet users who want to contribute to this change should take the opportunity to write to their MPs and the Minister of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development, who oversees the Copyright Act.

Worringly, it also warned that customers who receive non-compliant notices in the interim may be having their privacy breached.

When copyright notices are sent to ISPs, they store information about that complaint in order to identify alleged infringers, should that be necessary in the future. Due to the problems highlighted above, this happens even when a notice is abusive and non-compliant. For concerned customers, there is a solution, however.

“To address that privacy risk, until a standard is adopted, customers can contact us if they receive a notice that includes a settlement offer or that is otherwise not compliant with the Copyright Act, and we can remove the preserved information from our systems,” TekSavvy confirmed.

In summary, Canada-based users who receive an offer to settle in a copyright complaint do not have to contact the copyright holder and do not have to pay any settlements. They should, however, contact their ISP to ensure that the notice is scrubbed from the record and deleted from their account.

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French ISPs Ordered to Block Sci-Hub and LibGen

French ISPs Ordered to Block Sci-Hub and LibGen

By offering free access to millions of ‘paywalled’ research papers, Sci-Hub is often described as “The Pirate Bay of Science”.

The site is used by researchers from all over the world, to access papers they otherwise have a hard time accessing.

Academic publishers are not happy with the service. They see the site as a threat to their multi-billion dollar businesses and have tried to shut it down through several lawsuits.

While Sci-Hub lost its US court battles against Elsevier and the American Chemical Society, the site didn’t fold. Instead, all the media attention only appeared to make the site even more popular.

This left the publishers with few other options than to have the site blocked by ISPs.  This previously happened in Sweden, for example, as well as Russia. This month France joins the list following an order from the High Court of Paris, which also targets several Library Genesis (LibGen) domains.

Following a complaint from academic publishers Elsevier and Springer Nature, Internet providers Bouygues, Free, Orange, and SFR have been ordered to block access to Sci-Hub and LibGen sites for the year to come.

In its decision, picked up by Next INpact, the French court ruled that the two sites “clearly claim to be pirate platforms rejecting the principle of copyright and bypassing publishers’ subscription access portals.”

Sci-Hub founder Alexandra Elbakyan, who had no say in the matter, is disappointed with the outcome. While she believes that the blockade will have “some effect,” those who are determined to access it still have plenty of options to bypass it.

“The blockade will have some effect, though not very profound. The people who are using Sci-Hub because they need access to research can still unblock it using VPN, TOR and etc,” Elbakyan informs TorrentFreak.

The court order targets a total of 57 domain names, including various mirror sites. The academic publishers had asked the court for a more flexible blocklist, which they could update whenever new domains would become available, but this was denied.

If the publishers want to expand the blocklist, they will have to go back to court. This ensures that there remains judicial oversight over local website blockades.

Also, a request for a specific IP-address block was denied. The court sided with the ISPs, who argued that they should have the freedom to choose their own blocking method, including DNS blocking. That does mean, however, that the ISPs will also have to bear the costs.

Sci-Hub’s founder is not happy with yet another blockade but also highlights a positive note. The verdict made “Sci-Hub” a trending topic in France, which has made even more people aware of the site.

Ultimately, Elbakyan believes that there should be no mechanism for courts or governments to mandate website blockades, particularly against a site that provides free access to research, which is used by some of the smartest people in the world.

“It’s interesting that, although many French researchers are using Sci-Hub and see nothing wrong in it, this fact doesn’t affect law and court decisions, which is somehow fundamentally wrong,” Elbakyan tells us.

“Researchers are considered to be smartest people, and the government should take their opinion into account – which is not happening.”

It’s unlikely that France will issue a ban on site-blocking anytime soon, whether it’s research related or not. On the contrary, the Government has plans to expand its site-blocking capabilities in the near future by implementing a national pirate site blocklist.

A copy of the order requiring ISPs to block access to the Sci-Hub and LibGen domains is available here (pdf).

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Court Orders ‘Jailbroken’ PS4 Seller to Pay $16,800 in Damages

Court Orders ‘Jailbroken’ PS4 Seller to Pay $16,800 in Damages

Sony’s PlayStation 4 (PS4) console has remained ‘piracy free’ for years, but last year things changed.

Following up on some earlier experiments, the release of a jailbreak version brought PS4 piracy to the masses.

Copied games were suddenly being shared all over the Internet.  And for those who preferred not to do any tinkering themselves, it wasn’t hard to find a jailbroken console for sale, often with dozens of games included.

Sony Interactive Entertainment (Sony) was not happy with this change of momentum. Although the jailbreak couldn’t be easily undone, the Japanese gaming giant did take the matter to court.

In a case filed at a federal court in California last October, Sony accused a local resident of offering jailbroken PS4s for sale, filled with pirated games. According to the complaint, defendant Eric Scales used the handle “Blackcloak13” to sell the consoles preloaded with pirated games on eBay.

The man was further accused of running a separate website (now offline) where he advertised his services and products. The website stated that he’d been jailbreaking and modding consoles for more than a decade, and encouraged people to “stop buying games.”

Despite the allegations and possible damages, Scales did not respond to the complaint. This left Sony with no other option than to file for a default judgment, which United States District Judge Jesus Bernal signed last week.

The court agreed that the requested amount of damages –  $800 for two consoles and $200 for each of the 76 pre-installed pirated video games – is appropriate in this case.

“Sony may seek a maximum recovery of $390,000 in statutory damages for DMCA violations concerning the two modified consoles as well as the 76 pre-loaded unauthorized game copies,” the order reads.

“Accordingly, the sum of money at stake is appropriate, as Sony requests $16,800 in statutory damages. This factor weighs in favor of granting the Motion.”

As requested, the damages were not issued for copyright infringement but for circumventing technical protection measures, which violates Sony’s rights under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. 

The PS4 consoles were modded in such a way that they could circumvent anti-piracy measures. This is a classic case of a circumvention product. In addition, Judge Bernal also agreed with Sony that the pirated games can be seen as circumvention products.

“Even though Sony provides no citation to support its contention that the unauthorized game copies are also circumvention products, the Court is persuaded that the unauthorized game copies qualify as circumvention products,” Judge Bernal writes.

In addition to the damages, the court also issued a permanent injunction which prohibits Scales from developing, marketing, and selling any infringing PS4 games or code. Nor is he allowed to offer any jailbreaking or modding services and products related to the PS4.

Sony also requested a more broadly worded ban on infringing Sony’s copyrights or violating the DMCA’s circumvention restrictions for Sony products, but this was rejected for being overbroad.

All in all, however, the judgment is definitely a setback for Scales. In addition to the injunction and the $16,800 in statutory damages, he must also pay $1,608 in attorneys’ fees, and $1,250 in costs.

A copy of the default judgment issued by  United States District Judge Jesus Bernal is available here (pdf).

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Will Piracy-Focused Torrent & Streaming Sites Be Affected by Article 13/17?

Will Piracy-Focused Torrent & Streaming Sites Be Affected by Article 13/17?

After the EU Parliament rubber-stamped Article 13 (renamed Article 17 in the final text) this week, speculation began in some media outlets that this signals the end of The Pirate Bay, ‘pirate’ streaming sites, and ‘pirate’ Kodi addons.

Copyright law is complex, as the recent controversies over the Copyright Directive have firmly underlined, but a fairly detailed outline can be found in the adopted text (pdf) published this week.

Teams of professional lawyers working for legal and mostly corporate platforms will undoubtedly spend hundreds of hours going through the text to fully understand what the future holds for various platforms that will defined as Online Content-Sharing Service Providers under the Directive.

What is an Online Content-Sharing Service Provider?

To begin, we can presume that most public torrent sites that operate like The Pirate Bay do not store content (only links to content) and most illicit Kodi add-ons are reliant upon sites that do host content – some or potentially most of it illegal.

“The definition of an online content-sharing service provider laid down in this Directive should target only online services that play an important role on the online content market by competing with other online content services, such as online audio and video streaming services, for the same audiences,” the document reads.

One can argue, strictly in this context, that both torrent and hosting/streaming sites (especially with piracy ambitions) fit that definition, but let’s continue.

“The services covered by this Directive are services, the main or one of the main purposes of which is to store and enable users to upload and share a large amount of copyright-protected content with the purpose of obtaining profit therefrom, either directly or indirectly, by organising it and promoting it in order to attract a larger audience, including by categorising it and using targeted promotion within it,” the final text reads.

Again, while torrent sites organize and promote links to content, they tend not to store it, but hosting and cyberlocker-type sites do. On the other hand, most platforms commonly used by pirates in the latter two categories don’t always organize and promote content on their platforms. This obviously excludes dedicated ‘pirate’ streaming portals that often display content in a Netflix-style interface.

So how is it determined whether a platform can be considered an Online Content-Sharing Service Provider under the Directive?

“The assessment of whether an online content-sharing service provider stores and gives access to a large amount of copyright-protected content should be made on a case-by-case basis and should take account of a combination of elements, such as the audience of the service and the number of files of copyright-protected content uploaded by the users of the service,” the text adds.

Again, this is open to legal interpretation but it seems that most hosting platforms that are dedicated to piracy will have servers packed with pirated content. They will also be heavily frequented by pirates. As a result, such services will always be viewed as pirate sites by rightsholders and treated as such, i.e with contempt.

This means that even if platforms do appear to qualify to be labeled as an Online Content-Sharing Service Provider, major rightsholders will never legitimize them by striking content licensing deals as required under Article 13 (now 17). First-run movies, for example, are simply impossible to license.

On the flip side, dedicated ‘pirate’ sites themselves are extremely unlikely (even if they could) to begin full-scale cooperation with rightsholders to take content down and then demonstrate “best efforts” to keep it down “in accordance with high industry standards of professional diligence.” If they did, what would they offer?

While some hosting sites do have takedown regimes, in the majority of cases rightsholders see ‘pirate’ sites as criminal operations that unfairly compete with their businesses.

The bottom line is that under existing EU law, piracy-focused torrent and cyberlocker-type sites are already operating outside the law. One only has to look at the various blocking orders around Europe that have declared The Pirate Bay – and sites like it – to be illegal.

Scooping platforms like this into Article 13 (now 17) doesn’t seem to be the key intention of rightsholders. The idea was to close the so-called “Value Gap” and the gap between paying something (in YouTube’s case) and paying absolutely nothing (in the case of torrent and streaming sites) is a gap that cannot be bridged.

There may be some borderline cases open for legal debate and even negotiation but, at the moment, there are bigger fish to fry – YouTube and YouTube-like sites, in particular.

Additionally, the Directive also includes a note that “to ensure a high level of copyright protection” the liability mechanism in the Directive “should not apply to service providers the main purpose of which is to engage in or to facilitate copyright piracy. “

There is still a lot of water to go under the bridge before the dust settles on this momentous occasion but it seems safe to say that the operators of The Pirate Bay and similar sites won’t really be extra-worried about Article 13/Article 17, because they’re on the wrong side of existing law already.

TorrentFreak sought the opinion of Tim Kuik, the boss of Dutch anti-piracy group BREIN, who has more experience than most when it comes to taking action against pirate sites.

We put it to him the theory that these kinds of platforms probably won’t be too affected by this week’s events, because they are already illegal under existing law, are unlikely to want to “go straight”, and rightsholders wouldn’t license or cooperate with them anyway.

“I’ll keep it short,” he said. “I agree.”

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France Plans to Add ‘Article 13’ to New Anti-Piracy Law This Summer

France Plans to Add ‘Article 13’ to New Anti-Piracy Law This Summer

The European Parliament sent a clear signal this week when it adopted the Copyright Directive.

While some MEPs state that they mistakenly pushed the wrong button on the close vote to allow changes to the text, the ultimate vote was clear.

With 348 votes in favor, 274 against, and 36 abstentions, Parliament adopted the Copyright Directive, unchanged. There is still a small chance that negotiations could be reopened if the Council doesn’t approve, but that’s really the last straw.

The French Government, however, is done waiting and is moving full steam ahead.

In a speech at the Series Mania Festival in Lille, French Minister of Culture Franck Riester described the outcome of the vote as a breakthrough. Despite fierce protects, Europe stood tall and seized a historic opportunity to bring copyright into the digital age, he said.

“Despite intense and unprecedented pressure from the tech giants, despite massive campaigns of misinformation on social networks, Europe has held up well. Europe has not yielded. Europe has resisted.”

The Minister sees the Copyright Directive as an essential piece of legislation. It won’t change anything for Internet users, he told the audience, but it will change the lives of millions of creators.

Article 13, which was confusingly renamed to Article 17 in the final text, will ensure that Internet platforms, YouTube in particular, will have to pay fair compensation to rightsholders.

“This is the first step towards greater accountability of platforms; towards a better sharing of the value that’s linked to the distribution of works online, for the benefit of creators,” Riester said.

“In the future, YouTube will have to correctly compensate the creators whose works are broadcast on its platform,” the Minister added.

France could have implemented similar legislation without Europe. However, the Minister of Culture stresses that a Europe-wide agreement is important. Large Internet platforms can’t circumvent that by simply blocking a single country.

With backing from the European Parliament, France now plans to move forward, without wasting any time.

“I want us to transpose the Copyright Directive and enter it into force as soon as possible,” Riester noted.

Most of the text will be transposed into the new ‘Audiovisual law,’ an anti-piracy law which the Government expects to present this summer. This includes including Article 13/17.

Under the article, many for-profit Internet platforms are required to license content from copyright holders. If that is not possible, they have to ensure that infringing content is taken down and not re-uploaded to their services.

While ‘upload filters’ are not specifically mentioned, that’s what most opponents fear. In his speech, the Minister doesn’t mention upload filters either. However, he does reference the Government’s “mission to promote and supervise content recognition technologies.”

The French news site NextInpact reports that this mission will be entrusted to Hadopi, the National Film Center, and the Superior Council of Literary and Artistic Property (CSPLA). Interestingly, the mission letter is dated March 1st, long before this week’s vote.

Besides transposing the Copyright Directive into national law, the French will also propose a variety of other anti-piracy measures in the new Audiovisual law. According to Riester, it will help to “relaunch the fight against piracy.”

France has been on the anti-piracy enforcement frontline for years and was the first country to introduce a ‘three strikes’ system for file-sharers. Today, however, most piracy is streaming related, which requires a different approach.

Since classic pirate sites are not going to comply with any laws, France will introduce a national blacklist to target the streaming piracy epidemic.  This blacklist will cover clearly infringing sites, while making sure that these are not accessible through mirrors either.

The final text of the new anti-piracy law is expected to be introduced this summer.

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Former & Admin Freed, Tax Office Retrieves €1.75m

Former & Admin Freed, Tax Office Retrieves €1.75m

The story of pirate streaming sites and is one of the most unusual on record.

Serving as a replacement for, a site that was taken down almost eight years ago in one of Europe’s largest ever anti-piracy operations, quickly grew to become a potent successor. Three years later, however, things took a turn for the worse.

In October 2014, Germany-based investigators acting on behalf of the Attorney General carried out raids in several regions of the country looking for four main suspects.

Two of those were brothers, Kreshnik and Kastriot Selimi. Then aged 21 and 25-years-old, the pair were said to be the main operators of and They immediately went on the run.

In 2017, there was a breakthrough. Younger brother Kreshnik, who by this time had reached 24, was detained after handing himself over to authorities in Kosovo. Little has been heard of him since.

Now, however, a Handelsblatt report indicates the now 26-year-old has been released from prison after spending just nine months in custody, partly in prisons in the Balkans.

For a man who was originally being hounded down for alleged crimes include predatory blackmail, armed robbery, extortion, arson, copyright infringement and tax evasion, Kreshnik appears to have won over the authorities by being cooperative on the money front.

After making a confession, Kreshnik reportedly helped the German tax office recover around 1.75 million euros.

“We have therefore set the procedure for victim-offender compensation,” said prosecutor Wolfgang Klein. In this case, the victim is the tax office, Handelsblatt reports.

Kreshnik is now being described as playing the part of an “economically legitimate straw man” of two companies based in Hong Kong, which received funds funneled through Cyprus from advertising companies affiliated with the streaming sites.

As highlighted by Tarnkappe, much of the details concerning how the sites operated, under whose control, and when, is still up for debate. Nevertheless, both and remain stubbornly online today, despite all the chaos several years ago.

What is clear, however, is that the authorities have never caught up with Kastriot Selimi, Kreshnik’s older brother. He remains on the run after four years with charges of predatory extortion, coercion, arson and tax evasion still hanging over this head.

Whether the police will ever detain the alleged pirate site operator will remain to be seen, but others involved in the site have indeed fallen.

In December 2015, Arvit O (aka “Pedro”) who handled technical issues on KinoX, was sentenced to 40 months in prison for his involvement in the site.

Arvit O was found guilty of copyright infringement by the District Court of Leipzig. The then 29-year-old admitted to infringing 2,889 works. The Court also found that he hacked the computers of two competitors in order to improve Kinox’s market share. made headlines again in February 2018, for being the first pirate site to be blocked by ISPs in Germany. It’s been playing cat and mouse with the authorities ever since, using alternative domains and mirror sites to evade the blockades.

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U.S. Wants ‘Copyright Troll’ Lawyer in Prison for 12.5 Years

U.S. Wants ‘Copyright Troll’ Lawyer in Prison for 12.5 Years

Over the past several years, so-called copyright trolls have been accused of various dubious schemes and actions, but one firm crossed into criminal territory.

The now-defunct Prenda Law repeatedly deceived courts, obtaining millions of dollars in dubious piracy settlements, while using sham companies as clients.

Most controversial was the shocking revelation that Prenda uploaded their own torrents to The Pirate Bay, creating a honeypot for the people they later sued over pirated downloads.

The accusation was first published here on TorrentFreak. While some disregarded it as a wild conspiracy theory, the US Department of Justice took it rather seriously. These and other allegations ultimately resulted in a criminal indictment, which was filed in 2016.

The US Government accused two leading Prenda lawyers of various crimes, including money laundering, perjury, mail, and wire fraud. Since then both defendants, attorneys Paul Hansmeier and John Steele, have both signed plea agreements.

Last summer, Hansmeier admitted that he is guilty of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud, as well as conspiracy to commit money laundering. With the final decision coming up, the Government and the defendant have now issued their sentencing recommendations.

According to the Government, it is clear that Hansmeier was the driving force behind the entire scheme. He came up with the settlement scheme, drafted nearly all paperwork that was used to deceive judges, and directed his brother to upload torrents to lure pirates.

“Hansmeier instructed his brother, Peter Hansmeier, to upload ‘torrent files’ to BitTorrent websites such as the Pirate Bay, affirmatively to induce people to steal his clients’ copyrighted pornographic movies,” the Government writes.

“Paul Hansmeier selected the pornographic movies for his brother to upload based upon how attractive they would be to BitTorrent users, thus deliberately encouraging the piracy Hansmeier pretended to hate.”

Hansmeier’s brother uploaded several torrents under the username Sharkmp4, many of which remain online today. 


With the IP-addresses that were obtained through this honeypot scheme, Prenda requested subpoenas to obtain the names and addresses of Internet subscribers. These people were then threatened into settling for figures up to $3,000. Whether they were guilty or not appeared to be irrelevant.

“Hansmeier was generally content to take this step without investigating whether the subscriber was, in fact, the infringer. Hansmeier thus inflicted plenty of pain on persons who did not, in fact, download his pornographic bait,” the Government writes.

In total, Prenda Law generated roughly $3,000,000 from the fraudulent copyright lawsuits they filed at courts throughout the United States.

While it is by no means illegal to go after file-sharers, the Prenda attorneys crossed a line by repeatedly lying to or misleading the courts. Hansmeier also filmed and produced many videos himself, leading the court to believe that these were from a third-party company.

Hansmeier argued that the videos were from a company called “Ingenuity 13,” for example, but didn’t mention that he was the driving force behind it. Also, the court was led to believe that pirates caused financial damage, even though the videos were never commercially distributed.

Based on these and other allegations, the U.S. prosecution has reached a rather damning conclusion. 

“In summary, Hansmeier was greedy, arrogant, devious, mendacious, and consistently positioned other people to be damaged by his conduct, even as he enjoyed the proceeds of the scheme he orchestrated,” it writes. 

As such, the Government is recommending that the court sentences Hansmeier to 150 months in prison, which is believed to be within the guidelines for this specific case.

150 months

The attorney for Hansmeier disagrees with this recommendation. The defense has several objections to the presentence investigation report. It, therefore, calls for a lower sentence of no more than 87 months followed by three years of supervision.

Hansmeier’s attorney also requests the court not to issue a fine, as restitution will be paid to those that were damaged by the settlement scheme. 

Either way, it is clear that the Prenda attorney will likely spend several years in prison. 

The other defendant, John Steele, has also pleaded guilty but the Government is much more positive about his conduct following the indictment. 

“Steele has not shied away from the ugly truth of his crimes and the significant consequences that he faces. Unlike codefendant Hansmeier and many other similarly situated defendants, Steele has not tried to evade or minimize the extent and impact of his crimes.

“Shortly after being charged, Steele met with the government, provided a truthful and complete rendition of his misconduct, and since that time has stood ready to testify against Hansmeier if called upon to do so,” the prosecution adds.

Unlike Hansmeier, Steele did not fight the case. While he deserves a prison sentence, this cooperative stance should be taken into account. The Government says it will issue a more specific recommendation for Steele in the future.

Both Prenda defendants will be sentenced at a later date.

A copy of the US Government’s sentence recommendation for Paul Hansmeier is available here (pdf) and the Government’s position on Steele’s sentencing can be found here (pdf)

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Russia Orders Major VPN Providers to Block ‘Banned’ Sites

Russia Orders Major VPN Providers to Block ‘Banned’ Sites

For the past several years, Russia has continued with its mission to restrict access to content the state finds objectionable.

Many kinds of sites, from alleged pirate platforms to sites hosting extremist content, have all been affected.

Local ISPs are required by law to block their domains, rendering them inaccessible. However, plenty of circumvention options are available, something the government is trying to address.

During July 2017, President Vladimir Putin signed a bill into law aiming to close this loophole. The plan was to prevent citizens from accessing banned sites using VPNs, proxies, Tor, and other anonymizing services.

The threat was simple: if such services were found to be facilitating access to banned platforms, they too could find themselves on Russia’s ‘Internet blacklist’, known locally as FGIS.

While some VPN providers pulled out of Russia well before the new legislation (Private Internet Access exited in 2016 for unconnected reasons), others have continued. Now, however, authorities are attempting to tighten the noose.

During the past few days, telecoms watch Roscomnadzor says it sent compliance notifications to 10 major VPN services with servers inside Russia – NordVPN, ExpressVPN, TorGuard, IPVanish, VPN Unlimited, VyprVPN, Kaspersky Secure Connection, HideMyAss!, Hola VPN, and OpenVPN.

The government agency is demanding that the affected services begin interfacing with the FGIS database, blocking the sites listed within. Several other local companies – search giant Yandex, Sputnik,, and Rambler – are already connected to the database and filtering as required.

“In accordance with paragraph 5 of Article 15.8 of the Federal Law No. 149-FZ of 27.07.2006 ‘On Information, Information Technology and on Protection of Information’ hereby we are informing you about the necessity to get connected to the Federal state informational system of the blocked information sources and networks [FGIS] within thirty working days from the receipt [of this notice],” the notice reads.

A notice received by TorGuard reveals that the provider was indeed given just under a month to comply. The notice also details the consequences for not doing so, i.e being placed on the blacklist with the rest of the banned sites so it cannot operate in Russia.

TorGuard, however, is clear – it won’t operate under those terms so has already left of its own accord.

“At the time of this writing TorGuard has taken steps to remove all physical server presence in Russia. We have wiped clean all servers in our Saint Petersburg and Moscow locations and will no longer be doing business with data centers in the region,” the company said in a statement.

“We would like to be clear that this removal of servers was a voluntary decision by TorGuard management and no equipment seizure occurred.”

The demand from Roscomnadzor sent to TorGuard and the other companies also requires that they hand over information to the authorities, including details of their operators and places of business.

The notice itself states that for foreign entities, Russian authorities require the full entity name, country of residence, tax number and/or trade register number, postal and email address details, plus other information.

The Roscomnadzor notification provided by TorGuard doesn’t make any demands to access VPN customer data. However, given TorGuard’s privacy policies, that should already be a moot point.

We do not store any logs so even if servers were compromised it would be impossible for customer’s data to be exposed,” the provider added.

The same situation should also be true at several of the other VPN providers contacted by Russian authorities. NordVPN, ExpressVPN, TorGuard and VyprVPN, for example, all declared in TorrentFreak’s 2019 annual roundup that they carry zero logs.

As the companies in question consult with their legal teams, only time will tell which of the others will choose to comply with Russian law and begin blocking – or leave the region completely.

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Vodafone Germany Blocks Popular Pirate Forum to Avoid Lawsuit

Vodafone Germany Blocks Popular Pirate Forum to Avoid Lawsuit

With millions of monthly visitors, is one of the most popular ‘warez boards’ in Germany.

The site launched in 2014, following the demise of Like its predecessor, it operates as a linking site where users archive and share links to pirated movies, TV-shows, music, and more.

A few days ago, subscribers of Vodafone Germany noticed that something wasn’t right. All of a sudden, they were unable to access the domain. Instead of the usual homepage, they were redirected to a blocking notification.

This came as a surprise, as there was no knowledge of a blocking request against Vodafone in German courts. Also, subscribers of other Internet providers could still access the site just fine, as the local news site Tarnkappe confirmed.

After the weekend, more details started to emerge. Vodafone confirmed that it had indeed started to block, but not by court order. Instead, it decided to implement the blocking measure following a request from the German music rights group GEMA.

“On the basis of a notification from GEMA, we have set up a DNS blockade for the ‘’ domain. “The blockade affects Vodafone GmbH’s fixed and mobile network,” a Vodafone spokesperson informs TorrentFreak. 

Blocked (image via Tarnkappe)

The measure doesn’t come out of the blue. Vodafone was previously notified by its service provider 1&1, which took action following a complaint from GEMA. The music rights group then went after Vodafone as well.

While there is no court order directing the ISP to implement a blockade, Vodafone believes it has to take action in order to avoid liability. 

“GEMA has officially sent us a notification and we have set up the DNS blockade in order to avoid a legal dispute in accordance with the principles established by the Federal Court of Justice,” the ISP informed TorrentFreak.

In the referenced Federal Court case, last summer the Court ruled that WiFi providers cannot be held liable for piracy carried out by their users. However, they can be told to block file-sharing services and even entire websites once any copyright infringement has been confirmed.

“According to the Dead Island decision of the Federal Court of Justice in July 2018, there is a subsidiary obligation to act under Section 7 (4) TMG for the access provider,” Vodafone tells us.

“As an access provider, we are critical of these blocking requests. We comply with a legal obligation here,” the ISP notes, adding that it verified in advance that GEMA took its own pre-litigation efforts against the original infringers.

This isn’t the first time that Vodafone has implemented a pirate site blockade based on these arguments. It did the same late last year after it was notified about infringing activity at the streaming portals ‘’ and ‘’.

Commenting on the blockade, GEMA said that it would prefer to take action against site owners directly. However, this isn’t always possible, often because the operators are unknown. Blocking is the only remaining option.

While many rightsholders will welcome this shortcut route as an easier way to block websites in Germany, the effectiveness of the measures is still up for debate.

Generally speaking, a DNS blockade is easily circumvented by subscribers, who can simply which to open alternatives, provided by companies such as Google and Cloudflare.

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BitTorrent Announces Social Media Streaming Platform “BitTorrent Live”

BitTorrent Announces Social Media Streaming Platform “BitTorrent Live”

Many people know BitTorrent Inc. for its uTorrent and BitTorrent mainline clients, which have a base of roughly 100 million monthly users.

The company has tried to launch many other applications and services over the years, to diversify its offerings, but these efforts haven’t been very successful.

After the acquisition by the crypto-startup TRON, there is no shortage of new plans. With solid financial backing and fresh developers, the company has just announced a new product, “BitTorrent Live,” which it hopes the masses will embrace.

The “BitTorrent Live” brand itself isn’t new. A similarly named service was revealed to the public in 2013, but after several iterations, this eventually shut down. However, the new BitTorrent Live promises to be something entirely different.

The new platform will operate as a social media network which people can use to stream live content from and to mobile devices, anywhere they have access to the Internet.

“Imagine chatting with your favorite athlete, becoming immersed in a music festival, or meeting new friends to share your passions – all by simply firing up the BitTorrent Live app,” says Justin Sun, CEO of BitTorrent.

“By using our decentralized technology, we aim to create a boundary-free internet but also be at the forefront of a new content experience,” Sun adds.

BitTorrent Live

Live streaming apps are nothing new of course. Many social media platforms already incorporate some kind of streaming function. BitTorrent Live promises to be different, with a strong focus on privacy and an option for creators to generate revenue.

“In coming months, BitTorrent Live also will incorporate blockchain technology that returns privacy and ownership to users while also enabling cryptocurrency to be used as a new payment option,” BitTorrent Inc. says.

The problem is that, for now, there is nothing to test. The company has opened the door for Beta testers to apply, but it will take at least a few more weeks before the first invites go out. There are no mockups of the application available either.

TorrentFreak did learn that the first version of the platform won’t use BitTorrent to power the live streams. There is no option to access archived content either, it appears.

Specifically, BitTorrent Inc. told us that the early version of BitTorrent Live “will be centralized.” This means that, unlike the name suggests, there is no P2P technology involved.

“But the team is already looking at ways to integrate decentralized technology into the core of the app. We are also looking at ways to archive the content,” a BitTorrent Inc. representative added.

The company further explained that the revenue generating opportunities it plans to offer will depend on “content quality.” These revenues will be paid in BitTorrent’s own BTT token, which launched in January.

At this point, it’s hard to tell whether the public will be interested in the live streaming platform. The same can also be said for its ‘get paid to seed’ plans. It would be interesting if BitTorrent Live eventually incorporates BitTorrent technology though. They have the patent for it, after all.

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