Google “De-Indexes 832 Pirate Sites” From Australia Search Results

Google “De-Indexes 832 Pirate Sites” From Australia Search Results

Section 115a of Australia’s Copyright Act allows copyright holders to apply for court injunctions that compel local ISPs to block subscribers from accessing ‘pirate’ sites.

Since it became active in 2015, the legislation has been used a number of times to block large numbers of mainly torrent and streaming platforms. However, such sites are often quick to adapt, deploying alternative domains, mirrors and proxies to undermine the blockades.

While Google has nothing to do with these actions, it has been regularly criticized for allowing users to carry out searches which enable them to find these workarounds. That has provoked harsh criticism from rightsholders, in particular Village Roadshow chief Graham Burke.

To tackle this and other loopholes, in November 2018 Australia passed new legislation that allows rightsholders to expand blocks without having to go to court. It also compels search providers to remove links to sites detailed in court orders from their search results.

While this framework is easily understood, this morning a report appeared in SMH declaring that peace has effectively broken out between rightsholders and Google.

The latter has reportedly entered into a “voluntary agreement” to remove 832 “sites” currently blocked by ISPs from its search results, despite the court orders covering these locations not necessarily applying to Google.

“This means we, as content owners, will be able to avoid the expense, effort, time and uncertainty of going to court,” Roadshow’s Burke said.

“We’ve gone from being enemies to being allies … because I believe Google is doing the right thing by Australians,” he added.

“[The] pirates’ business model is robbing and scamming people, they have sophisticated ways to take your information. Google has come down on the side that is right.”

Burke’s praise for Google is somewhat of a surprise and the turnaround in his tone quite remarkable. Equally, Google entering into a voluntary agreement over a process it slammed last year also raises eyebrows.

In particular, Google opposed any process that didn’t have the “direct oversight of the Federal Court” while noting that “there is no utility in extending site blocking schemes beyond ISPs to other online service providers.”

TorrentFreak contacted Google for additional detail last evening and it provided the following statement.

“Google supports effective industry led measures to fight piracy, and we invest significantly in the technology, tools and resources that prevent copyright infringement on our platforms,” a spokesperson said.

Google is clearly reluctant to put any additional meat on the bones of this “voluntary agreement” but TorrentFreak has learned that this scheme only affects Australia and is directly linked to the new legislation passed last year.

It seems possible then that this mass de-indexing of pirate resources represents a game of catch-up.

A large proportion of existing pirate sites are already blocked under existing court orders that were granted under earlier legislation that didn’t require search engine de-indexing. It therefore seems likely that in order to have Google remove the sites from its results, copyright holders would have to return to court.

For 832 sites (832 domains seems more realistic) this would be a time-consuming exercise and one with a guaranteed outcome. It therefore seems reasonable to conclude that the parties agreed to save time and money by cutting out the middle man and conceding to the inevitable.

Burke suggests the de-indexing has already taken place so TF carried out some tests using various sites, including the most obvious blocking and de-indexing target (ThePirateBay.org) to see the effects.

First, we used two Australian IP addresses (one in Melbourne, the other in Sydney) to access Google.com. We then searched for The Pirate Bay, which appeared as the top result each time.

We then switched to Google.com.au and tested again with same IP addresses but ThePirateBay.org appeared as the top result again.

TPB search on Google.com.au, with Australian IP addresses

We presented Google with these results and asked if it could explain the precise parameters of its de-indexing so we could report more accurately.

The company declined to comment but it’s possible that not all de-indexing operations have been carried out yet. It’s also possible that only users of the ISPs specifically listed in the original court orders are affected, such as those using Telstra, Optus, Vocus, TPG, and Vodafone, plus subsidiaries.

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Top 10 Most Pirated Movies of The Week on BitTorrent – 05/13/19

Top 10 Most Pirated Movies of The Week on BitTorrent – 05/13/19

This week we have three newcomers in our chart.

Avengers: Endgame 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.

This week’s most downloaded movies are:
Movie Rank Rank last week Movie name IMDb Rating / Trailer
Most downloaded movies via torrents
1 (1) Avengers: Endgame (HDCam) 9.1 / trailer
2 (2) Cold Pursuit 6.4 / trailer
3 (…) Shazam! (Subbed HDRip) 7.5 / trailer
4 (3) Glass 6.9 / trailer
5 (4) Aquaman 7.7 / trailer
6 (…) Pet Sematary 6.1 / trailer
7 (6) Avengers: Infinity War 8.5 / trailer
8 (8) Captain Marvel (HDTS) 7.2 / trailer
9 (…) Iron Sky: The Coming Race 5.2 / trailer
10 (10) How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World 7.8 / trailer

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Former “Copyright Alert System” Portal Now Links to Mattress Review Site

Former “Copyright Alert System” Portal Now Links to Mattress Review Site

In 2011, the MPAA and RIAA teamed up with several major U.S. Internet providers, announcing their plan to shift the norms and behavior of BitTorrent pirates.

The parties launched the Center for Copyright Information and agreed on a system through which Internet account holders would be warned if their connections were used to download pirated content.

The program allowed ISPs to take a variety of repressive measures, including bandwidth throttling and temporary Internet disconnections. The “voluntary” agreement was praised by the US Government and seen as a prime example for other countries.

However, it didn’t last. 

Early 2017 the MPAA, RIAA, and several major US ISPs pulled the plug. The parties never explained in detail why the effort was halted but it was clearly not the ideal solution for all involved. 

This was good news for the people who were on the brink of being ‘punished’ by their ISPs after repeated notices. They could finally sleep easy again. That’s actually something the now-defunct Copyright Alert System website can help them with today. 

After the scheme was stopped, the ‘copyrightinformation.org’ website remained online for months, offering the public information on how to avoid copyright infringement notices and where to obtain legal content.

That stopped eventually, and it now seems that the official domain has been taken over by a mattress review site.

People who try to access the former Copyright Alert System website are now redirected to buymattress.net. Apparently, none of the parties involved was interested in renewing the domain registration.

Mattress anyone?

The mattress site gladly picked up this valuable domain which has thousands of backlinks all over the web, including some from reputable news sites. That’s generally good for search engine optimization purposes.

Of course, a mattress site is not much of a problem for the RIAA and MPAA, but it seems like the anti-piracy groups dodged a bullet here. 

Imagine if the domain was picked up the likes of The Pirate Bay, a prominent pirate streaming site, or even a stream-ripping service? That would have been quite an embarrassment, to say the least.

The MPAA is not completely unaware of this risk. After all, it still owns the TorrentSpy.com domain name, even though the website was shut down over a decade ago. Similarly, Isohunt.com and Hotfile.com are still under control of the Hollywood group, redirecting to MPAA.org.

That said, it’s not completely unprecedented for piracy or anti-piracy related domain names to fall into the hands of third parties. The Department of Justice, for example, let go of several Megaupload related domains a few years ago.

Most famously, back in 2007 The Pirate Bay took over IFPI.com, a domain name that was previously owned by the prominent music industry organization IFPI. The torrent site kept the acronym, but changed the meaning to “International Federation of Pirate Interests.”

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Vader & the Truth About Pirate IPTV Services

Vader & the Truth About Pirate IPTV Services

Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu, CBS All Access, fuboTV, DAZN, NowTV, the forthcoming Disney+, cable TV, terrestrial TV, satellite, cinema.

How long is this list? Nowhere near long enough if you want to come close to matching what’s currently being offered by premium pirate IPTV services.

If any of the important ‘pirate’ IPTV providers flicked a magic switch and suddenly became legal overnight, all of the above would struggle to keep their heads above water. Add another dozen legal services to the list, and the statement would still stand.

The range of content offered by ‘pirate’ IPTV services demolishes that offered by all of the world’s key providers combined. And many do it for between $5 and $25 per month – because they don’t have to worry about the costs of making it.

It usually takes a couple of minutes to sign up and that content is available on a wide range of devices, from phones through to smart TVs. Almost any device, wherever people like. How it should be.

The public wants what the public gets, at least when they sail the IPTV high seas. Until it all goes to shit in an instant, of course.

This week, Vader – one of the most recognized ‘pirate’ IPTV services – suddenly disappeared, taking not only the subscriptions of users with them but also money handed over by resellers of the service. Communication with what are effectively creditors was scrappy at best, quite incredible at worst.

After declaring that there had been “no choice but to close down Vader”, supposed facts about the closure were widely circulated by various parties, sometimes accompanied by documents and quotes to back up often-conflicting claims.

Depending on which version one believes, if any, Vader was raided, sued, told to enter into a settlement agreement with ACE (the huge anti-piracy coalition founded by the MPAA, Netflix and Amazon), or had simply taken everyone’s money and headed for the hills. Or perhaps a combination of the above. Or none.

The ‘running’ theory gained traction following a statement from Vader which asked people to “take the financial losses we are all going to take, as resellers and direct sellers”, i.e please don’t ask for your money back. That was further compounded by another statement in which the service asked for donations to fund its legal defense and to help pay back people who doggedly asked for a refund.

Now, if Vader was “raided” as some pretty detailed missives have claimed this week, would it still have control over its customer list and bank accounts, in order to make these refunds happen? That doesn’t seem likely, but stranger things have happened. If it was being sued it probably would, but there’s no evidence of that either.

While there appears to be no public record of Vader getting served, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t the subject of legal action, won’t be in the future, or doesn’t need a big cash injection. For example, if ACE has really offered the service the opportunity to settle, Vader will be given a set of demands. If they do not comply, then legal action might follow.

We have proof that ACE, among other things, demanded cooperation as part of previous settlement agreements with other entities. That meant promising to hand over information on others in the ecosystem. But would ACE really offer such a giant service the opportunity to take the easy route when it has chosen to sue the likes of TickBox, Dragon Box, and SETTV?

To find out, within hours of Vader’s shutdown TorrentFreak contacted ACE directly and asked them to confirm or deny that the MPAA (which now conducts its anti-piracy activities through ACE) was involved in the shutdown of Vader. We were told that the ACE coalition was working on a statement. Perfect.

Four days later we had received nothing, so we prompted the anti-piracy group for a response. We were told that our request hadn’t been forgotten and that it was hoped it could get a statement to us this week.

Perhaps needless to say, we haven’t received anything.

This is, of course, interesting in itself. If ACE wasn’t involved in the closure of Vader, then a simple response to clarify that fact would have been simple and could have been done in two letters – NO. However, if ACE was involved, that would make any statement much more complex.

If some kind of deal is indeed being thrashed out, we know that previous agreements sent out by ACE contained clauses that recipients can’t talk about the settlement to anyone but their lawyers. Vader clearly doesn’t want to talk about much in public and, at least for now, neither does ACE. Draw your own conclusions.

However, the fact that ACE hasn’t made a statement to confirm or deny might also be advantageous, intentional or otherwise, from an anti-piracy perspective.

Whether ACE is involved in this debacle or not, the complete lack of clarity surrounding this entire situation only serves to undermine trust in pirate IPTV providers. Granted, a public lawsuit would achieve similar goals, but right now the lack of information looks bad on Vader, not on ACE. In fact, if they aren’t involved, this is a free lunch for ACE and a big minus for Vader and by extension, pirate IPTV.

And this brings us to the point. Pirate IPTV services do not operate like legitimate companies such as Netflix. When people give Netflix their hard earned cash they can be pretty sure that they’ll get what they pay for but should the company be unable to fulfill its obligations, a very clear public statement will be made.

It certainly won’t shut down with zero notice, with no proper explanation, and begin asking for donations to dig it out of a hole. But come on, does anyone really expect an entity in this niche to operate any differently?

The main reason why anyone chooses to do business with a pirate IPTV provider (whether that’s Vader or any other) is because they don’t play by “the rules”. It’s because they thumb their noses at authority. It’s because they solve the problems of having dozens of subscription packages. It’s because they offer great value for money.

People want all this with no drawbacks? Think again.

Fulfilling all of these demands flat-out requires them to be unorthodox. It requires them to be ambiguous. It requires them to act illegally and it requires them to save their own asses when the sheriff comes to town.

Anyone who thinks it should play out differently should stick to buying bridges.

The truth about ‘pirate’ TV services is simple. You pay your money, you take a chance. People should approach IPTV subscriptions expecting to lose their money – that’s why month-to-month packages are often recommended to those with an aversion to losing cash.

People should not be surprised when such services go down temporarily or indeed permanently without notice. And they should presume that they’ll buffer at times but be happy when they don’t. Expectations should be set low by default to avoid disappointment.

‘Pirate’ IPTV services are a gamble, pure and simple. The odds are usually stacked in the user’s favor so their popularity is unlikely to wane in the near future. That says a lot about the service they mostly deliver. But make no mistake, there are no guarantees in this game.

There’s a whole new generation of pirates entering this market on both sides, supply and demand, whose motivations – one way or another – is to either make or save money. In the end, it is that balancing act that will tip the scales of success for providers and users alike.

Vader may be gone for now but there are still plenty of options around. As soon as its demise was announced, many suppliers went into overdrive to pick up the slack. How many customers will now choose to stay away is anyone’s guess but with bargains on offer, there probably won’t be any shortage of money changing hands.

Just don’t expect anyone to be particularly upfront about what’s really going on, whether that’s the providers, resellers, or anti-piracy groups. There’s way too much at stake to unmuddy the waters just because some people want answers.

The truth is always the first casualty of any war and this one is no different.

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Tor Exit Node Operator Dodges Bullet in Piracy Lawsuit

Tor Exit Node Operator Dodges Bullet in Piracy Lawsuit

Tor is an anonymity tool and operating a relay or exit point basically means that the traffic of hundreds or thousands of users hit the Internet from your IP-address.

When pirates use Tor, it will then appear as if the traffic comes from this connection. This can lead to liability issues as Oregon resident John Huszar found out the hard way.

Back in 2015, the company behind the movie Dallas Buyers Club, which is known for its vigorous pursuit of online pirates, filed a federal lawsuit against the IP-address 173.11.1.241.

A few months later, this complaint was amended to list “Integrity Computer Services” as the defendant. As part of the proceedings, the filmmakers served a request for admissions, asking the defendant to respond to several statements.

This request remained unanswered, which turned out to be a crucial mistake. Not responding typically means that the court can assume the statements are true. In this case, it included an admission that Huszar unlawfully distributed a copy of Dallas Buyers Club, which seemingly opened the door to a substantial financial claim.

That John Huszar later repeatedly denied that he personally downloaded a pirated copy of the film in follow-up proceedings was irrelevant, according to the filmmakers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Backed by the admission, Dallas Buyers Club proceeded to file a motion for summary judgment, asking the court to confirm that Huszar did indeed willfully commit copyright infringement.

This issue went to U.S. Magistrate Judge John Acosta earlier this year who, in his report and recommendation, sided with the movie company.

“The court finds the admissions resulting from Huszar’s failure to deny allegations in the operative complaint or respond to requests for admissions clearly establish Huszar willfully infringed on Dallas’s copyrighted material in violation of the Act,” Acosta wrote.

In most cases, these recommendations are accepted by the district court judge. That was bad news for Huszar, as it would make him liable for thousands of dollars in potential damages.

However, the order that came out this week shows that a previously overlooked issue turned the tables in favor of Huszar.

United States District Judge Michael Simon reviewed the objections that were pointed out by the defense, which highlight a crucial issue. When the request for admissions was served back in 2016, Huszar was not named as a defendant. 

At the time the complaint listed his company Integrity Computer Services as the defendant. This was replaced by Huszar in an amended complaint a few months later. However, that meant that the request for admission (RFA) wasn’t directed at Huszar personally.

“The only defendant in the case at that time was simply “Integrity Computer Services,” (no ‘a/k/a’) and that is the only defendant named in the First Amended Complaint,” Judge Simon writes in his order.

“Huszar, therefore, was not the party served with the April 12, 2016 RFAs. The facts sought in those requests thus cannot be deemed admitted by Huszar for failure to respond, and the Court’s order finding such admission is withdrawn.”

As such, the court decided not to adopt the report and recommendation. 

The order

The procedural issue was missed by the defense initially, likely because Huszar was defending himself at the time, but the oversight has saved him for now.

“It is a technical issue that no ‘pro-se’ would likely catch. But RFA’s can affect a case significantly as was clear from the Magistrate’s decision.  This is the error we brought up to the District Court’s attention that led to the ruling in our favor,” Huszar’s attorney J. Curtis Edmondson informs TorrentFreak.

While Huszar escapes a ruling of willful copyright infringement based on the admissions, the case is not over yet. The motion for summary judgment is now reverted back to Judge Acosta for consideration on the merits. 

Huszar’s cross-motion of non-infringement is still on the table. Among other things, Huszar has argued that the evidence gathering software used in this case is flawed and unreliable.

Both sides are now allowed to submit supplement pleadings. Huszar ultimately hopes to prove that he is not guilty and have his legal bills paid. The filmmakers, on the other hand, plan to prove that the Tor exit node operator is guilty and demand damages.

A copy of United States District Judge Michael Simon’s order is available here (pdf).

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“Confidential” HDMI Specifications Docs Hit With DMCA Takedown

“Confidential” HDMI Specifications Docs Hit With DMCA Takedown

Credit: Pixabay

HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) is today’s standard for transferring digital video and audio between compatible devices.

The standard variant comes as a male connector (plug) or female connector (socket). Chances are that most people will have many of these scattered around their homes, with TVs, monitors, set-top boxes, video games consoles, and dozens of other video-capable devices utilizing the interface.

It’s no surprise then that the list of companies that have adopted the HDMI standard for their products is huge, with founders including Maxell, Panasonic, Sanyo, Philips, and Sony leading the way.

Since its inception back in 2002, many versions of HDMI have been developed, each utilizing the same basic connector but with added features. While new functions aren’t available to users of pre-update hardware, the entire system is backward compatible.

These updates (which are given version numbers such as HDMI 1.0 (2002) right up to the latest HDMI 2.1 (2017)) are described in technical specifications documents. However, according to the HDMI Licensing Administrator, Inc., the licensing agent for the HDMI product, these documents are not only copyrighted but also contain secret information.

Github user ‘Glenwing’ has been archiving these documents for the last few years in his personal “Display Industry Standards Archive” but was recently hit with a DMCA takedown notice after HDMI Licensing Administrator filed a complaint against him.

GitHub itself published details of the DMCA complaint which claims copyright over the documents and further states that they aren’t for public consumption.

“HDMI Licensing Administrator, Inc. is the licensing Agent to the founders of the HDMI® Digital Interface. It has been brought to our attention that user Glenwing is publicly making confidential copyrighted content available on your hub without authorization,” the notice reads.

Since we’ve seen these documents available freely online before, we contacted Glenwing to find out what the problem was.

He told us that HDMI specification version 1.3a is available for public download from the HDMI website but considering copies of the other specifications can be found online elsewhere, he didn’t think there would be an issue putting them in one place.

“I just assumed it was something considered unimportant to them, considering there have been other hosted copies of ‘confidential’ HDMI versions that were widely linked, easily locatable by simply Googling ‘HDMI 1.4 pdf’ etc,” he explains.

“These documents have even been linked as a source on the HDMI Wikipedia page. You can’t get any more visible than that, and those copies remained online for years. But now that I’ve been revisiting my original sources I downloaded from, they’re mostly dead links. It seems HDMI Licensing may have started to clean house all over the web, not just targeting my page specifically.”

Glenwing confirmed that all copies of the specifications he uploaded to Github were just obtained from various sources on the Internet, such as Wikipedia citations or simple Google searches.

He’s clearly just a tech enthusiast with a great interest in the topic, who would like to share his knowledge with others. There’s certainly no malicious intent.

“I never really intended these documents for distribution anyway, and if I could hide the Github page from Google results with a robots.txt file or something, I would,” he says.

“I upload them primarily for my own reference, to have every version in one place, so that when I write guides trying to educate people about the capabilities of HDMI, DisplayPort, how to correctly calculate video bandwidth, how these standards have changed over time, etc., I can link these documents as sources.”

Interestingly, this takedown wasn’t the first received by Glenwing. He initially received a notice just a few days earlier from the Consumer Technology Association (of which HDMI Licensing Administrator is a member) which targeted half a dozen CTA standards documents.

“Six copyrighted CTA standards are posted in their entirety here:
https://glenwing.github.io/docs/,” the notice from CTA reads. “[T]he works are not licensed under an open source license…the best solution is removal,” it adds.

So are these documents sensitive too? Glenwing believes not.

“This notice I actually received first, and it was a bit puzzling at the time; I had six CTA documents, which are all different revisions of the same (public) standard, CTA-861 [A DTV Profile for Uncompressed High Speed Digital Interfaces]. The three latest revisions (G, F, and E) are available for free download from the CTA website, the older revisions are not, likely because they are simply outdated, not because anyone considers them secret information,” he says.

“It’s fairly common for standards organizations to only host the latest versions, and whenever a new revision is released, older versions often become difficult to find. That was sort of the point of my page, to preserve every version I could find for historical purposes.”

In the absence of his own archive on Github, Glenwing then began to link directly to pages on the Consumer Technology Association site that host the documents and offer them for download. Functionally, access to the documents should have been the same. Or at least that was the plan.

As this piece was being put together, CTA removed the copies of its own standards from its own website, leaving dead links in their place. It now appears that they can only be accessed via the CTA Store, albeit for the knockdown price of $0.00, following a registration process.

Bizarrely, there are other sources for the documents, such as this site which offers to sell one of the publicly available documents for a mere $278. People shouldn’t have to pay a penny of course, as per a May 2018 press release from the CTA which declared free document access to all….

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‘YouTube Content-ID Abusers Could Face Millions of Dollars in Damages’

‘YouTube Content-ID Abusers Could Face Millions of Dollars in Damages’

With over 20 million subscribers of its main channel and over 30 million over its entire network, WatchMojo is one of the largest players on YouTube.

The Montreal-based video production company has been around for well over a decade and continues to expand its viewership, despite fierce competition.

While WatchMojo owes a lot of its success to YouTube, the company is also growing increasingly frustrated with rampant copyright abuse on the platform. We’re not talking about people who steal their content, but about companies that unlawfully claim their videos.

These complaints are far from new and we have highlighted these issues repeatedly over the years. However, when a channel the size of WatchMojo sounds the alarm bell, people should pay attention. This includes abusive rightsholders, which could be liable for millions of dollars in damages.

But let’s start with the basis for the recent uproar. Last weekend WatchMojo’s CEO Ashkan Karbasfrooshan published a video in which he exposed some of the worst Content-ID abusers. The video provides several examples of companies that claimed WatchMojo content which, according to the channel, is protected under fair use.

For example, when WatchMojo published a video commenting on an Avengers movie trailer, an outfit called Hexacorp (which does business as Orfium) claimed it, arguing that the trailer’s music was used without permission. Hexacorp represented Ramen Music, which licensed the track to Marvel, but apparently, WatchMojo wasn’t allowed to show it.

WatchMojo disagreed and protested the claim citing fair use. After all, the trailer and music were clearly used for commentary purposes. This worked and Hexacorp eventually let the claim go, but many other channels with less legal knowledge simply accepted the claim, allowing Hexacorp to monetize their videos.

What plays a major role here is that protesting Content-ID claims may eventually lead to copyright notices. These notices can result in “strikes” which can then cause people to lose all content in their YouTube channels. That’s not a risk many channels want to take.

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TorrentFreak spoke to WatchMojo’s CEO who informed us that this is just one of the many examples. Every month they receive hundreds of Content-ID claims across their channels. However, WatchMojo vigorously fights back and prevails on nearly every occasion.

Karbasfrooshan notes that Content-ID abusers come in all shapes and sizes. Some stand out in terms of volume but are quick to let go of claims once a channel protests. Others send only a few complaints but protest when channels push back.

While there’s no doubt that rightsholders should be able to pursue legitimate claims, WatchMojo believes that many see the system as a revenue-generating opportunity. They simply issue thousands of frivolous claims, knowing that many won’t be protested, even though there are clear arguments for fair use.

This means that the rightsholders will scoop up extra revenue with very little expense. After all, most Content-ID claims are automated.

In addition, WatchMojo also signals a possible anti-competitive angle. The channel receives a lot of strikes for content from the music company BMG.  These, again, often target fair use videos and are sometimes issued globally, even though the rights can only be enforced in certain countries.

The full expose is explained in detail in WatchMojo’s video, where Karbasfrooshan highlights that BMG’s parent company, Bertelsmann, also has a stake in ZergNet, which happens to be a direct competitor of WatchMojo on YouTube.

“Bertelsmann, through their investment arm BMDI, has invested in our direct competitor ZergNet, whose assets Looper, Nicky Swift and a bunch of others compete with us for the same audience, fighting for the same ad dollars, competing for the same eyeballs,” WatchMojo’s CEO notes.

WatchMojo’s CEO Ash Karbasfrooshan

Whether the behavior is anti-competitive or not, the overarching problem is that many rightsholders ‘abuse’ the Content-ID system, willingly or not. According to US case law, they are required to consider fair use when issuing takedown requests, something that doesn’t happen very often it seems.

Content-ID is a voluntary system that’s not rooted in law. However, WatchMojo believes that abusive rightsholders are opening themselves up to millions of dollars in potential damages from YouTube channels. One way this could happen is through a class action lawsuit.

Karbasfrooshan floated this idea in his initial video which triggered a lot of response from fellow channel operators. The basic idea is that a group of affected channels files a class action suit against an abusive rightsholder, with the goal of obtaining a settlement for unlawfully claimed and monetized videos.

In a follow-up video, WatchMojo explains in detail how this would work. What is clear, is that the potential damages are massive. According to a calculation made by the channel, rightsholders earned over $2 billion through unlawfully claimed videos over the past several years.

YouTube revenue and potential damages (red) (credit: WatchMojo)

Whether the calculations hold up or not, it is clear that companies that send out a lot of claims against fair use content could theoretically face substantial damages. This, of course, has to be backed up in court, but according to WatchMojo’s CEO, who has plenty of legal experience, it’s a viable option.

“We are now actively exploring taking legal action against a couple of targets where we have built up a lot of evidence of wrongdoing, abuse, and received additional evidence from other channels too,” Karbasfrooshan tells TorrentFreak.

For now, WatchMojo is not ready to serve as a representative plaintiff in a class action suit. It hopes that by highlighting the potential risks for copyright holders, the associated companies will do the right thing and properly consider fair use.

WatchMojo has complained about Content-ID abuse for quite a while and it believes that some type of legal action against an abuser is inevitable. Whether that’s through a class action suit or not.

“It’s a matter of time, if not us, someone will come along and sue and win big,” Karbasfrooshan tells us.

WatchMojo’s CEO has spoken to lawyers who, once they were informed about what was going on, were also convinced that some type of legal action is inevitable.

“I assure you that once I explained how Content-ID worked vs. copyright law, and then how rightsholders abused it, the general consensus was: ok, these rightsholders are going to get sued,” Karbasfrooshan says.

“Now, whether that’s done via a class action suit or a direct lawsuit is a different matter. I think the former is interesting but the latter is practically more likely,” he adds.

Still, Karbasfrooshan hopes that lawsuits are not needed to address this. Ideally, copyright holders should change the way they operate and respect fair use, he says.

And there’s also a major role for YouTube here. They can make a simple change and whitelist channels that have good standing, so these are not harmed by frivolous claims.

“The answer is simple: it’s time for a separate class of channels for those who use the platform in a professional manner,” Karbasfrooshan notes.

The latter angle will be discussed in the third episode of WatchMojo’s four-part series on Content-ID abuse. In addition, the channel will also launch “The FU Show”, where it will break down and discuss fair use (FU) issues in regards to content claims. 

Needless to say, these videos are very informative, and there’s something in there for channel operators as well as copyright holders. 

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Lumen Database Restricts Access to DMCA Notices But Plans to Expand

Lumen Database Restricts Access to DMCA Notices But Plans to Expand

With millions of takedown notices hitting Internet platforms and hosts every single week, content can often go inexplicably missing from sites and search engine indexes.

Thanks to projects like Google’s Transparency report, however, much-needed light can be shone on this murky area.

Users of Google’s service can see almost every detail of a copyright claim but when it comes to accurate research, it’s necessary to visit the Lumen Database, a research project that hosts millions of notices submitted by some of the biggest Internet companies.

The resource has become an essential tool for researchers and reporters interested in the cease-and-desist landscape. However, new changes at the resource will mean that the majority of users will now have less initial access to data.

In a nutshell, takedown notices presented in Lumen’s database will no longer list the precise URLs targeted by copyright holders. Instead, as the image below illustrates, the notices only list how many URLs were targeted at specific domains.

Lighter on detail

As is clear from the above, Lumen has removed the specific URL details, which are absolutely crucial if one is to even begin researching the effects of a particular takedown notice. However, on every redacted notice is a hyperlink which presents a system through which it is possible to get an unredacted copy.

Regular users wanting to properly research a notice now have to enter their email address to receive a single-use link to view it in full.

TorrentFreak learned that changes would be made to the system a few months ago after we discovered a development version of the platform. On a personal level, we were initially concerned at the restrictions since it is not uncommon for us to view dozens of takedown notices in preparation for a single article.

However, it now transpires that researchers and journalists will be able to obtain a special login to the Lumen Database that its operators hope will provide an experience that’s largely unchanged. That means we’ll continue to bring news on interesting takedowns and report on various trends.

That being said, the bigger question is why Lumen has taken this decision. Lumen project manager Adam Holland informs TorrentFreak that it’s all about expanding and improving the service.

“Lumen wants to remain a vibrant and valuable feature of the landscape with respect to research, journalism, and public awareness around takedown requests. We believe that we have been successful at doing this over the years and that some great work has come out of, or been predicated on, our data,” Holland says.

“But we also feel that it’s both possible and necessary for Lumen to continue to grow and improve. One obvious way in which to do so is to expand the number and type of notices we receive, as well as the range of institutions from which we receive them. We’ve heard from some companies that although they’d like to share notices with us, for a variety of idiosyncratic reasons, they don’t feel that they can do so under the current Lumen schema.”

Sensitivity over the amount of information made available by Lumen under default settings will also play an important role as the platform expands. Holland says that DMCA complaints will form just part of the project moving forward, with other forms of takedown notices from all over the world augmenting the database.

“We wish to be conscious of the concerns of those sending this broader variety of notices,” he says.

As readers will probably recall, the Lumen project has previously been subjected to criticism by copyright holders. We asked Holland if this had played a part in the decision to redact notices for more casual users of the resource, who some allege may have used it to obtain links to infringing content.

“Our traffic metrics simply don’t bear out any suggestion that the database is a viable tool for those seeking access to infringing or unauthorized content. But, we have always endeavored to strike a balance,” he explains.

“We think that the new framework allows the research community to stay informed while in no way compromising research done with the database. It also — importantly — reduces the significant workload associated with database maintenance, which will free up Lumen staff to do more productive things.”

We put it to Holland that there will probably be some members of the public who won’t enjoy jumping through additional hoops to gain full access to notices. However, he says that Lumen doesn’t really have a good sense from its traffic volumes how many people use the resource for specific reasons.

But while reduced access will probably be disappointing to some, there are those who see this development as a double-edged sword.

TorrentFreak spoke with a representative from an anti-piracy company who told us that less visibility for URLs will be welcomed by his clients.

“As a DMCA agent for copyright owners, I can say that Lumen and its predecessor Chilling Effects have long been seen as making a mockery of Google’s takedown procedure – why delist search results if those same results are all still listed in a notice linked at the bottom of the page?” he said.

“But I appreciate that the DMCA process can be and has been easily abused, so it’s important to have some kind of ability to check on potential censorship and/or erroneous takedowns.

“So while my clients will surely welcome a change that makes it trickier to access infringing material, I share the concerns of those who may feel that this places obstacles in the way of legitimate research and accountability.”

Finally, it’s worth noting the large effort expended by the Lumen team to keep the project going. The platform is currently receiving up to 70,000 notices per day (mostly filed under the DMCA) with many requiring redactions to preserve privacy.

These can be handled automatically but Holland explains that manual redactions take place frequently, with a single notice potentially taking 20 minutes or more to process.

Lumen kindly provided a list of companies and institutions that contribute (or have contributed) to the database. Any parties interesting in joining this group are invited to contact the project.

Automattic/Wordpress

Counterfeit Technology

Google

The Internet Archive

Kickstarter

Medium

Periscope

PGPSMedia [not currently sending]

Proxy.sh

Reddit [not currently sending]

Stack Exchange

Stripe [not currently sending]

Tucows

Tuebl [not currently sending]

Twitter

UC Berkeley – Infosec and policy

UC Berkeley – California Digital Library

UC Berkeley -Open Computing Facility

Vimeo

Wikia

Wikipedia/Wikimedia

YouTube

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Fancy a Job in Covert Anti-Piracy? Only Experts Need Apply

Fancy a Job in Covert Anti-Piracy? Only Experts Need Apply

With a huge emphasis placed on the unlicensed distribution of music through platforms like YouTube, one might think that enforcement against other sources has taken a bit of a back seat.

However, traditional anti-piracy investigations are alive and well, carried out mostly in the shadows by teams of professionals. It’s relatively rare to hear about these roles in public but a new listing posted by the British Phonographic Industry gives a flavor of the kinds of skills one would need to hold such a job.

Titled ‘Evidence, Intelligence & Investigations Executive (Digital)’, the position currently waiting to be filled at the company is an important one. The BPI represents the interests of Sony, Universal and Warner in the UK, along with more than 400 independent labels.

“Collectively, all those members account for approximately 99 per cent of recorded music consumed legally within the UK each year,” the BPI notes.

The new addition to the BPI’s Content Protection team will have several key responsibilities, such as ensuring the industry group is in compliance with laws and regulations when evidence is collected in the pursuit of pirates.

He or she will also be responsible for investigating online infringement, and as such, will have previous experience of digital investigations and be fluent in the use of case management and forensic tools.

Given the nature of the work, candidates also require a good understanding of piracy and the tools used to carry it out. The same goes for web-hosting, Internet registries (domains etc), content delivery networks (Cloudflare etc) and advertising intermediaries, all of which can be leveraged to disrupt infringement.

Since it’s a primary tool to reduce infringement, enforcing content removal “across a variety of online platforms” will also be a key task. As detailed in our report last year, the BPI is a prolific DMCA notice sender but unlike many outfits operating with huge volumes, also appears to be one of the most accurate. This certainly fits the requirement for the lucky applicant to be “meticulous in work output.”

Another novel aspect is that the successful candidate will be required to manage test purchases, which could conceivably range from subscribing to an online pirate service through to buying a bunch of pirate karaoke DVDs from eBay. Interestingly, this will also entail managing “covert credit cards” and “covert drop addresses”.

But the undercover action doesn’t stop there. Also in the job description is the managing of “covert social media accounts”, which suggests a level of penetration into piracy circles that many believed existed but hadn’t yet seen written down in black and white.

At this point, there are probably quite a few readers thinking that not only does the job sound quite interesting, but they’re also qualified for the position. That might indeed be the case if one can also show expert use of Excel and PowerPoint and “good working knowledge” of IBM i2 and SQL databases. But from there the requirements go on and on.

Preferred candidates will have a background in law enforcement, criminal law, or cyber investigations. They will also be experienced in computer forensics and writing witness statements, utilizing their knowledge of copyright law, of course.

The reasons for this are made fairly clear in the listing. In addition to preparing intelligence and evidence that might be used in the prosecution of pirates, the lucky applicant will also spend one day a week working at PIPCU, the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit.

There’s little doubt that the BPI will find the right person for the job, but ticking all of the boxes in the listing will be a big ask. Especially when assisting the BPI with its lobbying activities with ISPs and other service providers is also one of the job’s requirements.

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Judge: IP-Address Doesn’t Locate or Identify a BitTorrent Pirate

Judge: IP-Address Doesn’t Locate or Identify a BitTorrent Pirate

Since the start of this decade, hundreds of thousands of alleged BitTorrent pirates have been sued by so-called ‘copyright trolls’ in the United States.

The select group of rightsholders that file these cases generally rely on an IP address as evidence. They then ask the courts to grant a subpoena, ordering Internet providers to hand over the personal details of the associated account holder.

While some judges have refused to do so in the past, many District Courts still issue these subpoenas. However, over the years judges have grown more skeptical about the provided evidence. This includes Florida District Court Judge Ursula Ungaro.

In February, Judge Ungaro was assigned a case filed by the adult entertainment company “Strike 3 Holdings,” which has filed hundreds of lawsuits over the past several months.

The company accused IP-address “72.28.136.217” of sharing its content through BitTorrent without permission. The Judge, however, was reluctant to issue a subpoena. She asked the company how the use of geolocation and other technologies could reasonably pinpoint the identity and location of the alleged infringer.

Responding to this order to show cause, Strike 3 explained that it used Maxmind’s database to link the IP-address to Internet provider Cogeco and a location in Southern Florida.  According to Maxmind, its IP address tracing service is roughly 95% accurate in the US, so the rightsholder is confident that it filed the case in the right court.

Strike 3 further admitted that, at this point, it doesn’t know whether the account holder is the actual copyright infringer. However, the company believes that this is the most plausible target and says it will try to find out more once the identity of the person in question is revealed.

That was not good enough for Judge Ungaro. In an order released this week she writes that, other than stating that it’s “plausible” that the infringer can be identified through the IP-address, Strike 3 failed to explain how the geolocation software can properly identify or locate the actual infringer.

“There is nothing that links the IP address location to the identity of the person actually downloading and viewing Plaintiff’s videos, and establishing whether that person lives in this district,” Judge Ungaro writes.

The order points out that an IP-address alone can’t identify someone. As such, it can’t accurately pinpoint the person who allegedly downloaded the copyright infringing content.

“For example, it is entirely possible that the IP address belongs to a coffee shop or open Wi-Fi network, which the alleged infringer briefly used on a visit to Miami,” Judge Ungaro notes.

“Even if the IP address were located within a residence in this district, the geolocation software cannot identify who has access to that residence’s computer and who actually used it to infringe Plaintiff’s copyright,” she adds.

Strike 3 stressed that many courts have issued subpoenas based on the exact same evidence. While that is true, the Judge counters that other courts, which also doubted the strength of an IP-address as evidence, have refused to do so.

In this instance, the Court finds that Strike 3 hasn’t provided sufficient evidence to argue that it can reasonably rely on the usage of geolocation to establish the identity of the accused downloader. Nor does it prove that the person lives in the Court’s jurisdiction.

As a result, the Court refused to issue a subpoena and dismissed the case against IP-address 72.28.136.217 for improper venue. The case is closed and Strike 3 won’t get the opportunity to refile.

While not all judges may come to the same conclusion, the order is a setback for Strike 3 and other rightsholders. They clearly have to come up with other arguments or evidence if their case is handled by this Judge.

But that shouldn’t really come as a complete surprise, as Judge Ungaro has issued similar orders in the past.

A copy of Judge Ursula Ungaro’s order, pointed out to us by SJD, is available here (pdf).

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