Last week, chaos was widespread in the ‘pirate’ IPTV market after authorities in Italy took unprecedented action against the operators of Xtream Codes.
Undoubtedly prompted into action by entertainment and media industry groups, the same authorities are now tackling another perceived threat to revenues – piracy of daily newspapers.
In common with the IPTV crackdown, the latest effort is somewhat unusual in that it tackles fairly unconventional methods and techniques for distribution. Rather than above-ground and obvious websites, Italian authorities are chasing down suppliers to and users of various chat groups.
Authorities reportedly have three key individuals on their radar who are suspected of providing digital copies of daily newspapers to WhatsApp and Telegram groups with many thousands of subscribers.
Italy’s Postal and Communications Police recently provided the prosecutor of Cagliari a report with the details of the three men. According to La Repubblica, they include a man from Sardinia born in 1974 and another from Milan born in 1964.
The newspaper titles they reportedly distributed to the groups were available officially via monthly subscriptions costing a few euros. However, one of the suspects, an unemployed computer technician from Turin, somehow managed to crack or ‘steal’ the passwords used to access the newspapers.
After the discovery of this unlawful access and distribution, the publishers of newspaper L’Unione Sarda filed a complaint. Then, in collaboration with the Postal Police, the company placed ‘markers’ in downloaded copies of their paper which allowed them to see where the copies were being distributed.
After identifying two channels distributing their content, the investigators found a third, more important channel. However, when Telegram was approached for assistance, the company failed to respond, so the investigators carried out their own work, “cross-checking financial transactions” of paying channel users to uncover the identity of the channel operator/uploader.
Once identified, the alleged operator received a visit at his home in Turin and was reportedly caught in the act of uploading pirated copies of newspapers, accessed with ‘stolen’ passwords, to the channels being investigated.
But despite this apparent success, the problem of ‘pirate’ newspapers continues.
According to the Italian Federation of Newspaper Publishers (FIEG), Telegram is refusing to respond to its complaints about “repeat and massive infringement, meaning that there are at least eight additional groups still in existence, servicing an alleged 500,000 ‘pirate’ users.
In a follow-up and subscription-only interview with La Repubblica, Giuseppe Zafarana, general commander of Italy’s Guardia di Finanza (the force behind last week’s IPTV raids), wondered how many pirates would be reading his words without paying for them.
Estimating “several dozen thousand” illegal readers, Zafarana said that they will now be getting the message that they “will know no rest” and these types of anti-piracy actions are only the beginning of a drive to protect cinema, TV, sports and journalistic content.
“We will identify and we will seize the servers, wherever they are, that are used for piracy and we will hit and confiscate the assets of those who enrich themselves by violating copyright,” he said.
Finally, in addition to tackling those who supply pirate content, authorities are also threatening to go after those who consume it too. It was mentioned last week that customers of IPTV providers could be tracked down and given fines and it seems they feel the same way about consumers of ‘pirated’ newspapers too.
Whether that’s bluster will remain to be seen but prosecuting millions of consumers through an already under-pressure legal system is unlikely to be a simple prospect. Perhaps a handful of ‘show trials’ will be the more likely outcome.
Top 10 Most Pirated Movies of The Week on BitTorrent – 09/23/19
This week we have three newcomers in our chart.
Spider-Man: Far from Home is the most downloaded movie.
The data for our weekly download chart is estimated by TorrentFreak, and is for informational and educational reference only. All the movies in the list are Web-DL/Webrip/HDRip/BDrip/DVDrip unless stated otherwise.
RSS feed for the articles of the recent weekly movie download charts.
Pirate Bay is Not Getting Rich From Bitcoin Donations… Or Is it?
The Pirate Bay has been both an early adopter and a pioneer when it comes to cryptocurrencies.
The popular torrent site first embraced Bitcoin in 2013 and soon after many other pirate sites followed suit.
The advantage of bitcoin donations is that they are relatively anonymous. This is an upside for the operators, but also a major concern for rightsholders who feared that it may become a stable revenue stream that can’t be touched.
The RIAA, for example, previously told the U.S. Trade Representative that Bitcoin could make it harder to crack down on pirate sites.
“There are no central authority or banks involved which makes it very difficult to seize or trace Bitcoin funds,” the music industry group wrote in a letter.
While it’s no secret that Bitcoin is indeed fueling some criminal operations, The Pirate Bay’s donations certainly can’t keep the notorious torrent site afloat. Today, more than six years after the site first accepted cryptocurrency donations, it adds up to little more than a small daily tip.
If we take a look at The Pirate Bay’s most recent Bitcoin legacy address, which it started advertising late 2017, we see that a total of 0.49 Bitcoin was received. Translated to US dollars (current value for simplicity purposes), this is $4,838, or $7.63 per day.
The Bitcoin Segwit address looks more promising. Here we see a total of 1.48 BTC coming in. However, on closer inspection, most of that comes from one transaction which was sent by TPB’s old Bitcoin wallet, so we scrapped that.
This leaves us with 0.33, or $3,255, which adds another $5.13 per day. It’s worth noting that more than half of this came from one donation. It came from a rather generous person apparently, as he or she also sent roughly the same amount to ProtonMail.
Bitcoin is not the only cryptocurrency The Pirate Bay accepts of course. The torrent site also lists a Litecoin and Monero address. Monero can’t be tracked, but the Litecoin address received 3.40 LTC, or $252, which is $0.40 per day.
When we add up all these figures we come to a total of $13.16 per day, which clearly can’t keep The Pirate Bay afloat.
That said, the Bitcoin donation income is relatively stable. When we did the same calculations a few years ago, we arrived at a donation average of $9.34 per day. At the time, one Bitcoin was about $425, so if the site didn’t sell any, the value will have gone up remarkably.
That brings us to the unavoidable “what if.” Looking back further, we see other Pirate Bay Bitcoin wallets dating back as far as 2013, which received dozens of BTC. At the time that wasn’t worth that much (1BTC ~ $120, May 2013), but the position is different today. If the team kept those, of course, as the wallets are emptied regularly.
Perhaps that’s TPB’s long-term exit strategy. If one Bitcoin eventually reaches a value of over a million dollars, The Pirate Bay crew may start thinking of their retirement and buying an island. Sealand anyone?
Anti-Piracy Outfit “Works With ISPs” to Monitor Pirate Consumption
For as long as peer-to-peer (P2P) networks such as BitTorrent have existed, anti-piracy companies have been monitoring the activities of those who use them.
This is to be expected. Not only do the companies have a vested interest in keeping an eye on what’s going on, by their very nature P2P networks are open and easily trackable.
The rise of streaming piracy – computer servers streaming video directly to end-users – has presented a new problem, however. Unlike P2P systems, there’s no easy way for an anti-piracy company to get in between the user and the server to see what’s going on. Only ISPs can see that data, which is why a recent interview caught our eye.
Friend MTS (FMTS) is an anti-piracy company based in Birmingham, UK. They’re perhaps best known for their live IPTV blocking work carried out on behalf of the Premier League, for which they have to partner to a greater or lesser extent with ISPs in the UK. FMTS tells them which servers to block, and the ISPs carry out it, broadly speaking.
However, in a recent interview, Simon Hanna of FMTS spoke about a different type of collaboration with ISPs, one that has the potential to raise eyebrows among privacy advocates, especially those who hoped all of their Internet traffic would remain completely their business.
Quite soon into the interview, Hanna correctly points out that broad availability of pirated content online tends to give an indication of how popular particular content is but isn’t always a great indicator of how much is actually being consumed.
“Consumption is a much more valuable indicator than pure availability of content and consumption has always been very difficult to monitor. People often throw numbers out but they are guesswork at best and we don’t really put a lot of faith in the numbers that have been made available in the past,” Hanna said.
With this in mind, FMTS say they have developed a system that allows them to work with content owners and ISPs to form a greater understanding of the consumption of media from online ‘pirate’ sources. The company does this by first tracking the servers down from where the content is being streamed and handing this information to the ISPs.
“We can see through our monitoring activities the range of servers that are available globally delivering this pirate content and we can provide that information to an ISP who are monitoring the flows of data requests in and out of the networks all day long,” Hanna explained.
“They can use these lists of IP addresses to really focus on consumption of content from those servers by the broadband subscribers within the ISP network and that will then give information around the scale of the problem.”
That’s probably a bit of a “wow” moment for many Internet subscribers who believed that once their traffic entered their ISP’s network it wouldn’t be closely monitored until it left to access a BitTorrent swarm, for example.
If FMTS’ statement is what it seems, some ISPs might be following their customers’ broadband usage habits a little bit more intimately than previously thought.
On the plus side, at least as far as individual subscribers are concerned, FMTS say they don’t look at or care about “the individuals themselves”. They’re not looking for any personally identifiable information and are just trying to get a handle on the volume of content being consumed.
Whether dual broadband/TV supplying companies are more interested in this data remains open to question, however.
“Because inevitably, if a large proportion of the ISP’s broadband subscribers are actually consuming content, they are not paying for the associated operator’s TV services,” Hanna added.
In many cases, of course, the broadband provider/ISP is also a supplier of TV content to the same customers – Sky, Virgin Media, and BT in the UK, for example. There’s no claim that these ISPs are indeed teaming up with FMTS in this project but any and all might be interested in the information it reportedly makes available.
“We work with content owners to basically go out and find pirate sources of the content. We can then real-time update these lists, feed this information into the ISPs and the ISPs can then use this information to generate the reporting real-time but with the flow monitoring, more in-depth reports of three-months plus worth of data, to actually get a real picture of consumption habits, both of TV channels but also specific events and pieces of content,” Hanna revealed.
FMTS says that monitoring consumption is important because it allows action previously taken to reduce availability to be measured at the end where it really matters.
“If you can then reduce the availability, then inevitably you should be able to reduce the consumption but you keep monitoring to observe that you do actually have this effect. If you can reduce the availability and reduce the consumption, chances are you would expect you would then preserve and reinforce your pay-TV revenues,” Hanna concluded.
The full interview, which covers many aspects of anti-piracy activity, from general enforcement to fingerprinting and watermarking, can be viewed here.
House Judiciary Committee Doesn’t Want ‘DMCA-Style’ Safe Harbor in Trade Agreements
When President Clinton signed the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) into law in 1998, its goal was to ready copyright law for the digital age.
The law introduced safe harbors for Internet services (DMCA Section 512), meaning that they can’t be held liable for their pirating users as long as they properly process takedown notices and deal with repeat infringers.
Today the four-letter acronym is known around the world and the United States appears keen to export it in future trade agreements. Most recently, a DMCA-style provision was added to the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which covers a wide variety of trade issues including copyright-related topics.
While this would have been welcomed by rightsholders twenty years ago, the situation looks quite different today. The music industry, in particular, believes that the DMCA is obsolete, dysfunctional, and even harmful. For these reasons, major industry groups would like to see it replaced with something ‘better.’
When the first draft of the USMCA was published, the RIAA made this clear in no uncertain terms. “Modern trade treaties should advance the policy priority of encouraging more accountability on public platforms, not less,” RIAA President Mitch Glazier said.
The issue was crucial enough to be specifically mentioned in the RIAA’s lobbying disclosures at the U.S. House and Senate. This may have had an effect, as this week the concerns were picked up by the House Judiciary Committee.
In a letter to the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), the Judiciary Committee points out that Section 512 of the DMCA is widely debated and that “some” have called on Congress to update it.
The Committee notes that the U.S. Government conducted an in-depth review over the past years of which the results are expected soon. This may in part be impacted by the European Union’s new Copyright Directive which hints at potential upload filters and increases in liability for online service providers.
“The U.S. Copyright Office is expected to produce a report on Section 512 around the end of this year, the result of a multi-year process that started in 2015. Moreover, the European Union has recently issued a copyright directive that includes reforms to its analogous safe harbor for online platforms, which may have an impact on the U.S. domestic policy debate,” the letter reads.
The Judiciary Committee doesn’t take a position in this debate but it stresses that adding the widely contested safe harbor language to the USMCA and other trade agreements, would not be wise at this point.
“[W]e find it problematic for the United States to export language mirroring this provision while such serious policy discussions are ongoing,” the letter, signed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler and Ranking Member Doug Collins reads.
“For that reason, we do not believe a provision requiring parties to adopt a Section 512-style safe harbor system of the type mandated by Article 20.89 should continue to be included in future trade agreements,” the letter adds.
The Committee urges the USTR to take the matter seriously and consider the possible changes that are coming. This largely reflects the position of several major copyright industry groups, including the RIAA.
If the language is indeed removed or changed it will be a major setback for Internet services and various digital rights groups. This includes the Re:Create Coalition, which welcomed the inclusion of these protections last year.
A copy of the letter sent by the House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary to the USTR is available here (pdf).
MPA America Quietly Takes Over Yet More ‘Pirate’ IPTV Domains
When pirate sites are taken down following legal action, it’s not uncommon for the plaintiffs to try and take control of their domains.
The practice has been going on for years, with domains like isoHunt.com and the affiliated Podtropolis.com still redirecting to an anti-piracy page operated by the MPAA.
More recently we’ve reported on the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (which is headed up by the MPAA or MPA America as it’s now known) taking over domains previously used to offer ‘pirate’ IPTV services. They include OneStepTV, TVStreamsNow and DoozerIPTV but none of these ‘seizures’ have been reported by the organization.
Behind the scenes, however, many more additional takeovers are taking place, all without fanfare.
Visitors to former IPTV provider BestTVStream, for example, are now being directed to ACE’s anti-piracy portal. The signs suggest that the service may have come to some agreement with ACE which included handing over its domain to MPA A, but no public details are available.
A similar scenario faces former customers of IPTV provider XCaliberTV who are now being informed that the service has been shut down due to copyright infringement before being diverted to ACE’s site in the same manner.
Exactly the same can be said of More Media Solutions, which operated from MoreMediaBox.com. One day last month it was working, the next it began diverting to ACE, with no one saying a word.
One of the more curious ‘seizures’ involves two domains with the same initial name – rveal.biz and rveal.xyz. According to a capture by the Wayback Machine, the former of these domains previously diverted to Rveal.com, which is a still-functioning site offering Android-style TV boxes. Previously, it appears that Rveal sold devices that claimed to provide access to premium content for free.
We contacted Rveal for comment a little while back but in common with similar inquiries placed with some former operators of other apparently ‘seized’ or ‘commandeered’ domains, we received no response.
We cannot draw any firm conclusions from that silence but not wanting to say much – if anything at all – does seem to be the norm in many of these domain cases, both before, during, and after ‘seizure’. The Vaders.tv and Minihosts.org takedowns were well-publicized, but many others are quietly being dealt with, quite probably with the agreement of the parties involved.
Massive Legal Bills Force TVAddons’ Adam Lackman Towards Bankruptcy
TVAddons was once the go-to place for the vast majority of Kodi addons, regardless of who authored them or how they were ultimately used.
Visitors to the platform today, which is still doing relatively well, find a much more sober operation, with listed addons carefully vetted, to weed out any that might help end-users breach copyright law.
This current mode of business is the result of two punishing lawsuits, one filed against founder Adam Lackman in the US by DISH Networks and the other in Canada. While the former was settled in 2018, the latter – filed by media giants Bell Canada, TVA, Videotron, and Rogers – is very much alive.
Progression in the lawsuit appears glacial with an end nowhere in sight. This week Lackman informed TorrentFreak that the companies don’t appear to be in a mood to settle as DISH had done before them. As a result, every legal twist and turn contributes to the mountain of debt Lackman says he’s struggling beneath.
At several points since the case began, Lackman has turned to TVAddons‘ users and other supporters to help raise funds. He believes it’s worth putting up a fight but the Canadian is clearly facing an uphill battle.
Unable to bankroll him any further, his original legal team quit, leaving him with two separate bills of CAD$83,991 and CAD$38,989 to settle before he can move on.
“I was lucky enough to find my original lawyers, however their firms couldn’t handle devoting the time needed unless they were to be paid in full within a timely manner. They couldn’t afford to ignore other business while defending my case on credit,” he explains.
In his latest fundraising effort, launched this week, he’s seeking a total of CAD$171,981 – an amount which includes close to CAD$50,000 to cover some of the plaintiffs’ legal fees, previously awarded to them by the court.
If Lackman raises the full amount anytime soon, he will only break even, leaving him to raise additional funds to continue the fight. Even then, it appears that future battles will have to take place supported by a relatively tight budget.
“As of now I am acting in my own defense, with the help of some legal experts in the background,” he told us recently. “I am looking for new potential representation, but regardless the current debt is not one that I can comfortably carry.
“By defending myself, I hope to avoid incurring too much additional debt. I’m obviously not capable of doing all the paperwork on my own, so I’m getting help with that. I’m hoping that the court recognizes this and protects my right to a fair trial in the process.”
Given the scale of the debt and Lackman’s apparent inability to pay, he says the specter of bankruptcy is never far away. He seems keen to avoid that, not least since his adversaries would achieve an immediate victory.
“I could easily go into bankruptcy right now, but then the plaintiffs would win by default. I feel the fight is too important, and my defense is too strong, to give up now,” he says.
However complicated and expensive the case has become, Lackman believes that he has the law on his side. While TVAddons indexed code that could scrape external sources for content, he insists that the site never hosted or directly linked to any infringing material.
But more importantly, Lackman says, the companies suing him and/or their affiliates never sent the platform a takedown notice before taking action, something he describes as a “prerequisite to their claim being eligible for damages.”
While that assertion may yet prove correct, having that definitively determined by a court of law is proving a supremely costly endeavor. Lackman is working under the assumption that the plaintiffs are trying to break him financially, a theory supported by Pirate Bay co-founder Peter Sunde.
“To this day the copyright cartels are still suing people for anything they dislike,” he wrote on Twitter this week, commenting on the TVAddons case.
“It’s a mob using bullying methods, trying to force people into bankruptcy so they can’t defend themselves and thus the cartel wins on financial walkover.”
Whether that doomsday scenario will play out in Lackman’s case seems wholely dependent on whether people donate to his latest and future fundraisers. At the time of writing, he’s just $2,471 closer to his $171,981 goal.
By now, it’s commonly known that you are not supposed to republish copyrighted works without permission. However, people have different views on what the effect of manga piracy is on the revenues of publishers.
Rightsholders often stress that the industry is endangered by people who ‘steal’ their content, while manga consumers can see it as a form of promotion. Free sampling can satisfy the reading needs that are beyond their budget, expanding their horizons.
Newly published research by Professor Tatsuo Tanaka of the Faculty of Economics at Keio University suggests that both sides have a point.
The findings come from a natural experiment that uses a massive takedown campaign conducted by anti-piracy group CODA in 2015. This campaign reduced the availability of pirated comics on various download sites, which allowed Professor Tanaka to analyze how this affected sales of 3,360 comic book volumes.
“Piracy decreased the legitimate sales of ongoing comics but stimulated legitimate sales of completed comics,” Professor Tanaka writes.
The overall effect of piracy could not be measured with this methodology but the findings clearly show that piracy does have some positive effects. In this case, it shows the number of sales of completed comic book series increase.
This heterogeneous piracy effect on sales is not unique. Previously, research has shown that the Megaupload shutdown increased box office revenues for bigger films, but hurt smaller releases.
The manga piracy findings are particularly relevant for the Manga Rock situation. Following discussions with publishers, the site plans to remove all its pirated titles at the end of this month and return with a completely legal platform in a few months’ time.
Interestingly, that goes against the recommendation of Professor Tanaka, who writes the following in his paper:
“If the effect of piracy is heterogeneous, it is not the best solution to shut down the piracy sites uniformly but to delete harmful piracy files selectively if possible. In this case, deleting piracy files of ongoing comics only is the first best strategy for publishers regardless of whether the total effect is positive or negative, because the availability of piracy files of completed comics is beneficial to both publishers and consumers.”
The paper was published in August and is based on older, previously-released data. So, one should be careful when applying it to the Manga Rock case, which is newer and deals with fan-made scanlation copies. That said, it could give the publishers some food for thought.
Manga Rock is massively popular and has millions of engaged Mmanga fans in its user base. Keeping some of these on board, even with a smaller library, could be smarter than simply driving them towards the next pirate site.
The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is known as one of the world’s leading anti-piracy organizations.
The trade association has been around for nearly a century. After its inception, the group mostly operated from California but in today’s world that’s no longer the case.
Today the organization has tentacles in nearly every corner of the world and its offices stretch from Brazil, through Belgium, to Singapore. These overseas branches have been operating under the Motion Picture Association (MPA) brand, which the MPAA has now decided to adopt as well.
This means that going forward, all operations will take place under the MPA name, with an optional indicator of the relevant region. The head ‘branch’ formerly known as the MPAA is now MPA America.
“In the nearly 100 years since our founding, the film and television industry has rapidly grown and evolved, and the stories we tell now reach every corner of the world,” MPA Chairman and CEO Charles H. Rivkin comments on the change.
“This new, unified global brand better reflects today’s dynamic content creation industry, the multi-platform distribution models of our companies, and the worldwide audiences we all serve,” Rivkin adds.
The change comes with several new and unified logos, which can be downloaded without repercussions. The organization’s website has also changed from MPAA.org to Motionpictures.org, dropping the America mention.
While the changes to the logo and name appear minimal, the unified branding will certainly be more clear to outsiders. Previously, the MPAA and MPA names were used in tandem, even though they were operating under the same parent organization.
The name change comes at a time of change for the MPA. The organization recently added Netflix as a new member, breaking from its long tradition of backing only major Hollywood studios.
At the same time, the group has taken the lead at a new international anti-piracy outfit, the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE), which is comprised of many international rightsholders. The new MPA branding will follow this international trend.
For TorrentFreak, the departure of the MPAA ‘name’ is significant as well. If we look through our archive we see 1,621 articles where the MPAA is referenced, making it one of the most common topics at the site. As such, we may need a few weeks to properly adjust to the new name.
The Xtream Codes IPTV Takedown is Complex and Confused
As reported Wednesday, police in Italy and several other European countries coordinated to take down Xtream Codes, at least one IPTV provider, and more than twenty individuals and related equipment linked to the services.
The precise roles of all these people remain unclear. However, there can be little doubt that emphasis is being placed on the importance of the Xtream Codes management system which, according to law enforcement officials, lay at the very heart of the targeted criminal operation even though the software didn’t supply any content.
This very large operation involved police forces in Italy, the Netherlands, France and Bulgaria. It was coordinated across borders with the assistance of Eurojust, an EU agency that helps agencies from member states to co-operate in criminal matters.
Yesterday afternoon, a press conference took place to explain how the operation panned out, who it had targeted, and to detail various additional pieces of information. It began with Filippo Spiezia, National Member for Italy at Eurojust, explaining that hundreds of officers had been involved in the operation to dismantle the technological infrastructure of a “criminal IPTV network.”
Spiezia confirmed that 181 servers had been taken down and seized and more than 800,000 users (police reported 700,000 earlier yesterday) had been disconnected from the Xtream Codes service when it was taken down.
In what became a common theme throughout the conference with several participants, Spieza sometimes appeared to speak generally about the entire operation, which included the takedown of at least one actual IPTV provider, then sometimes in relation to Xtream Codes alone.
This ambiguity and lack of clarity appear to be causing confusion. For example, Reuters reported the following yesterday:
“The biggest illegal platform shut down on Wednesday, dubbed Xtream Codes, had around 50 millions users worldwide,” Reuters reported, citing Gianluca Berruti of the Italian tax police.
“It sold a bundled pay-TV service that included premium content from Comcast’s Sky Italia, Netflix, Mediaset, Dazn, for a monthly subscription of 12 euros,” it claimed Berruti added.
Again, ‘pirate’ IPTV sellers utilizing the Xtream Codes platform may have been doing just that but, at this stage, the second claim above doesn’t make sense or indeed add up. Fifty million users multiplied by 12 euros a month is a staggering amount of money that wasn’t supported by financial information provided later in the conference.
In common with all of those present at yesterday’s gathering, Filippo Spiezia expressed satisfaction at the success of the international operation, noting that cross-border cooperation had proved invaluable since the investigation began.
“During these months of work at Eurojust, we have adapted to the judicial needs of the Italian authorities….to the specific legal requirements of our new partners. This is the first example of an action conducted with these modalities,” he said.
“Thanks to this action we have sent out a very clear signal to criminals that even in this specific domain, even in this specific area which represents the most advanced form of criminality, we will [respond] to them.”
Vincenzo Piscitelli, Deputy Prosecutor in Naples, painted a picture of small offenses by end-users (pirate IPTV subscribers) fueling “huge illegal activities” behind the scenes.
“So this is why we really tried to hit these organizational structures at the heart and that was done through the investigation that was carried out by the public prosecutor’s office of Naples,” he said.
Next up was Valeria Sico, Public Prosecutor in Naples. Sico spoke quickly and through a translator, so that may account for what at times felt like confusing output. While clearly an expert in law, those looking for clear and specific technical details from the Prosecutor failed to receive them.
Some of what Sico said made sense but the fact that Xtream Codes isn’t normally understood to be an actual provider of illegal streams (although it is undoubtedly used by outsiders to manage them), it’s worth reproducing some of her words in full, to see how muddied this has become.
“There was software created by two citizens of Greek nationality. They have a company which had a legal seat in Bulgaria,” Sico said, confirming the information previously supplied by the Italian authorities.
“So this software enables the disclosure and the transmission of [pirate] TV signals through digital ways to different servers which were constructed by the organizations, by the host providers in the Netherlands and in France.
“Through these servers, the signal – the digital signal – was therefore sent to different IP addresses of final users and these people would then receive the [illegal] television signal in their homes.”
Again, it’s worth reiterating that Sico was speaking through a translator so some context and detail may have been lost but from there, the explanation didn’t really become any more clear.
“For the first time, having identified the company that was producing the software, we went directly to the company that was producing the software so they were enabling people to decrypt the signal,” she said.
“So this is why we also went right to the physical place where the disclosure [broadcast] of the signal would take place within these hosting provider companies in Holland and in France….the signal was broadcast to the company that had created the illegal signal – the software company – and then that was sent to the end-users.”
Again, this isn’t the broadly accepted function of the Xtream Codes system, unless the company itself was also involved in the provision of illicit streams. That claim has been the subject of speculation in the past 24 hours, perhaps based on the Reuters report.
Thankfully, Cybercrime Prosecutor Lodewijk Van Zwieten from the Netherlands kept things fairly simple in his prepared speech.
He began by noting that 93 servers had been taken down in one location in the Netherlands, all of which had targeted the Italian market. This seems to be a reference to equipment operated by the actual IPTV provider shown in the video published yesterday.
According to a chart published by the authorities and reproduced below, it was using the Xtream Codes management software, something which seems to have led the company’s software becoming embroiled in the investigation.
Van Zwieten said that no offenses had been committed by Dutch citizens but confirmed that local Internet infrastructure had been abused by the ‘criminal’ network.
“In the Netherlands, we are proud of the fact that we have a big affordable hosting industry which is very important for our economy but we don’t want these services to be used on a large scale for criminal activities,” he said.
“That is why we find it so important, together with the Dutch hosting industry, to act very diligently against abuse. So it was our pleasure to comply with a request from our Italian colleagues.”
Riccardo Croce, Head of Financial Cybercrime Investigation with the State Police in Italy, said that the “criminal group” (again, no precise explanation of which entities that phrase encompasses) had five million users in Italy alone, contributing to the 2,180,000 euros generated every month in illicit funds.
As highlighted earlier, the figures offered by various parties don’t add up, lack clarity, and as a result, appear to contradict each other.
In common with Sico’s speech, Creco’s was also presented through a translator. However, Creco was absolutely clear that the plan was to get to the “complex mapping of international technological infrastructure and to really hit them at the heart of the infrastructure.”
He spoke briefly about the complex technological network being used to transfer the actual streams but then appeared to touch on the importance of Xtream Codes once again, noting that entities in the chain were able to use a particular service to sell the product to the public.
“Our investigation was based on this, to go to the source level of this illegal signal, to disarticulate completely all servers in various European countries in which the infrastructure existed to replicate these signals,” Creco said.
“And, to hit for the first time, the company that was offering this very interesting support to the criminal infrastructure which put at its disposal these panels, network panels, the computer system through which the multitude of pay channels were able to be sold and resold through a chain of people called resellers throughout Europe so it could end up at the end-users.”
The paragraph above is possibly the clearest description of Xtream Codes’ function from someone in authority since yesterday’s raids. Creco’s statement not only separates the system from the actual provision of illegal streams but describes its function as most people understand it.
While many will argue that Xtream Codes was content-agnostic and capable of being put to plenty of legitimate uses, it’s clear that the authorities do not believe that was the intent at all. Through their statements, as confusing as they were at times, the message seems to be that Xtream Codes was perhaps the most important cog in the wheel.
There are many huge questions now being asked in the unlicensed IPTV community but perhaps the biggest is what information was held on the servers of Xtream Codes at the moment they were seized. They are a potential goldmine of information, not only relating to the many IPTV providers and sellers that used the service but also their customers. The worldwide fallout could be immense.
Importantly, however, Xtream Codes (as popular as it was) is not the only product out there capable of doing this kind of management job. So while the company’s days may already be over, others are already gearing up to fill in the gaps. Whether anyone will want to centralize their data with a vulnerable third-party again will be up for debate, however.