BREIN Obtains Court Order to Stop Pirate eBook Sharing on Facebook
Pirated eBooks can be downloaded from dozens if not hundreds of places online. From torrent sites like The Pirate Bay to so-called DDL (direct download) platforms, eBooks are both quick and easy to obtain.
Of course, with the rise of social media, it’s now easier than ever for like-minded individuals to meet up for all kinds of activities, eBook sharing included. This hasn’t gone unnoticed by Dutch anti-piracy outfit BREIN, which says it has recently targeted a prolific group of sharers.
Acting on an anonymous tip-off, BREIN says it was able to infiltrate two “private and secret” Facebook groups that were dedicated to the uploading and sharing of unlicensed eBooks. More than 8,000 titles were made available by the groups’ members – a total of 3,000 people across the two groups.
Armed with its evidence, BREIN said it went to court and obtained an ex parte order, i.e one that didn’t involve both sides of the dispute to be heard. It subsequently made an agreement with the four managers of the groups, which requires them to cease-and-desist from their activities and pay a settlement to BREIN.
“They signed a declaration of abstention and have now paid more than 6,000 euros to BREIN. If they go wrong again, this amount goes up to 10,000 euros plus 500 euros per illegally offered e-book,” BREIN says.
According to the anti-piracy group, the managers of the Facebook groups acknowledged that their activities and those of their users are illegal via the published rules of the groups.
“Sharing e-books is and remains illegal, that is a choice you make,” the managers reportedly said. BREIN says that one of the managers, a 49-year-old woman, was a prolific sharer in her own right, having personally upload 1,000 eBooks for download.
While BREIN clearly takes this kind of unlawful sharing seriously, the anti-piracy group does point out that not every illegal download represents a lost sale. Instead, it highlights the existence of studies which indicate that the “so-called substitution” rate is around one lost sale per three illegal downloads.
However, BREIN also points out that legal eBook platforms give potential purchasers the ability to sample parts of books before committing to buying them, so lost sales in the eBook sector are “probably higher” given the absence of the “sampling effect”.
Charter Profited From Ignoring Piracy, Music Companies Tell Court
In March several major music companies sued Charter Communications, one of the largest Internet providers in the US with 22 million subscribers.
Helped by the RIAA, Capitol Records, Warner Bros, Sony Music, and others accused Charter of deliberately turning a blind eye to its pirating subscribers.
Among other things, they argued that the ISP failed to terminate or otherwise take meaningful action against the accounts of repeat infringers, even though it was well aware of them.
Last month Charter responded to these allegations. The company denied that it plays an active role in any infringing activities and believes the music companies’ arguments are flawed.
The labels sued the ISP for two types of secondary liability for copyright infringement; contributory infringement and vicarious liability. While Charter is confident that both claims will ultimately fail, it has only asked the court to dismiss the latter.
In its motion, Charter stressed that there is no evidence that it directly profits from copyright infringement. In addition, the ISP said that it doesn’t have a right and ability to control any infringements either, which negates another element of vicarious liability.
The music companies clearly disagree with Charter’s arguments. In a new reply submitted this week, they reiterate that the ISP failed to terminate repeat infringers, suggesting that it was motivated by profit.
“Since 2012, hundreds of thousands of defendant Charter Communications, Inc.’s subscribers have illegally distributed Plaintiffs’ music through online file-sharing programs like BitTorrent, with some users pirating hundreds of Plaintiffs’ songs,” the music outfits start, setting the tone right away.
Charter previously argued that it couldn’t control or stop piracy. Even if it terminated the accounts of subscribers, this would do little to stop infringement. After all, those people could simply sign up elsewhere and continue their infringing activities there.
The music companies reply that this argument misses the mark. They note that they’re not holding Charter liable for all hypothetical piracy on the Internet. Instead, their claim applies to a specific subset of pirate activities that previously took place on the ISP’s network.
At the very least, Charter had the “contractual right” and “practical ability” to limit piracy by its subscribers by terminating persistent infringers, the music companies argue.
“Pursuant to its terms of service, Charter reserves the right to terminate users’ accounts if they engage in copyright infringement. As courts have repeatedly held, it does not matter that Charter cannot prevent users from accessing infringing material online through other means.”
In addition to the control part, the music companies also state that the Internet provider profited from the alleged infringements, which is another crucial element of vicarious liability.
The music companies and other rightsholders sent the ISP many infringement notices, identifying the accounts of specific subscribers. Even though Charter had the ability to terminate the accounts of frequent offenders, it took no action, allegedly for a profit motive.
“The reason for Charter’s refusal to act is simple: by tolerating users’ infringement, Charter reaps millions of dollars in subscription fees that it would have to forgo if it terminated infringing users’ accounts,” the music companies argue.
This failure to terminate pirates then acted as a ‘draw’ for other potential pirates, the music companies add.
“From Charter’s failure to act, users came to understand that they could infringe Plaintiffs’ works with impunity, which constituted a further draw to the service,” they write.
Based on the above, the music companies argue that Charter’s motion to dismiss the vicarious liability claims should be denied. This would also allow the rightsholders to obtain further evidence for their arguments during discovery.
The Colorado federal court will now review the arguments from both sides and make a decision whether the case should continue based on the allegations of both vicarious liability and contributory infringement, or just the latter.
In tandem with this case, the music companies have also filed a complaint against Charter subsidiary Bright House in a Florida court. Bright House previously responded to this lawsuit with a near identical motion to dismiss, which was followed with a similar reply from the music companies this week.
A copy of the music companies’ opposition to Charter Communications’ motion to dismiss the claim for vicarious liability is available here (pdf).
In order to prevent citizens from accessing objectionable content, from pirate sites through to extremist material, Russia operates a national blacklist.
This centralized database of domains, known locally as FGIS (Federal State Information System), is checked by Internet service providers which then block their subscribers from accessing forbidden sites. Of course, services like VPNs, Tor and various anonymizers, are able to circumvent these measures, a point not lost on the authorities.
In 2017, a new bill was signed into law aiming to close the loophole. As a result, if tools with the ability to circumvent the blacklist don’t play ball by respecting its contents, they also face being blocked by ISPs.
This proposal came to head earlier this year when telecoms watchdog Roscomnadzor wrote to several major VPN providers – NordVPN, ExpressVPN, TorGuard, IPVanish, VPN Unlimited, VyprVPN, Kaspersky Secure Connection, HideMyAss!, Hola VPN, and OpenVPN – demanding compliance.
The VPN services above were given 30 days to respond but most either ignored or flat-out rejected the demands. Only Russia-based Kaspersky offered to cooperate and it now appears the security company is censoring websites as ordered.
According to digital rights group Roskomsvoboda, Kaspersky is now fully respecting the contents of the FGIS database and actively blocking domains, including the many ‘pirate’ sites that are permanently blocked in Russia after repeatedly failing to respond to copyright complaints.
Citing tests carried out by various users of Kaspersky Secure Connection, the group says that attempts to access banned domains now result in a warning that the material is inaccessible via the service.
Users of Kaspersky’s mobile application are reportedly less-well-informed. Rather than the blocking page above which appears in desktop-based browsers, users are greeted with an ‘ERR CONNECTION RESET’ message when they attempt to access a ‘banned’ site.
It’s unclear whether Kaspersky decided to comply simply because it’s based in Russia or whether being blocked itself would be a step too far for the company. It’s likely that both played a role but fresh news coming out of the country suggests that earlier claims that non-compliant VPN providers would be blocked themselves may have been a little premature.
At the start of June, telecoms watchdog Roscomnadzor indicated that the blocking of nine previously-contacted VPN providers was imminent but now, less than a month later, authorities might be pulling back from the brink.
“We have the right to block VPN services that do not comply with the law, but there is no obligation to do so at any specific time,” said the head of Roskomnadzor, Alexander Zharov.
“There are nine services that do not execute the law. We may wait for fines under a new law. We are not ready to discuss a specific plan for our actions.”
Last week, Library Genesis (Libgen), a huge online repository of free books and academic articles, became the latest ‘pirate’ addition to Russia’s national blacklist.
Following a lawsuit filed by Springer Nature in 2018, the platform has now been labeled a repeat infringer, meaning that the domains libgen.io and lgmag.org are now permanently blocked by the country’s ISPs.
Encrypted DNS and SNI Make Pirate Site Blocking Much Harder
Website blocking has become a prime measure for the entertainment industry to target pirate sites on the Internet.
The practice has been around for well over a decade and has gradually expanded to dozens of countries around the world.
The actual blocking is done by Internet providers, often following a court order. These measures can range from simple DNS blocks to more elaborate schemes involving Server Name Indication (SNI) eavesdropping, or a combination of both.
Thus far, the more thorough blocking efforts have worked relatively well. However, there’s a growing concern among network specialists that blocking and filtering could become problematic in the future as technology moves forward.
For example, tech companies are increasingly starting to adopt DNS over HTTPS (DoH or encrypted DNS). This makes it possible to resolve domain names over the secure HTTPS protocol. As a result, it’s harder for outsiders, including ISPs, to eavesdrop on which sites people access.
Earlier this year, BT’s Principal Network Architect, Andy Fidler, warned that encrypted DNS is a potential game changer in the area. In a presentation before several industry specialists, he outlined a variety of concerns, as ITPro notes.
Among other things, these new developments will make it harder to block websites and to comply with court orders.
“If UK ISPs are no longer in the DNS path, they may not be able to fulfil certain domain specific court order blocking requests,” Fidler notes in his presentation.
“DNS blocking is the most granular tool in the kit box used by UK ISPs to implement Government / Regulation blocking orders,” he adds.
With regular DNS queries, ISPs such as BT can see which websites users are trying to access, even when people are using a third-party DNS provider. When DNS queries are encrypted, however, Internet providers can no longer see which websites customers visit.
BT’s Principal Network Architect called on UK Internet providers and the broader industry to see how they can respond to these developments. While increased privacy for users is not a bad thing, ineffective website blockades, useless parental filters, and other issues are seen as problematic.
This stance was also reiterated previously by a spokesperson for the UK’s Internet Services Providers’ Association, who informed Forbes that encrypted DNS should not break existing protections.
“If internet browser manufacturers switch on DNS encryption by default, they will put users at serious risk by allowing harmful online content to go unchecked.
“We would expect Internet browsers to provide the same protections, uphold the same standards and follow the same laws as U.K. ISPs currently do,” the association’s spokesperson added.
Advancements like this will be hard to stop though. Cloudflare already offers encrypted DNS through its 22.214.171.124 nameserver and Firefox has enabled support for encrypted lookups since Version 62.
And there’s more trouble on the horizon.
While encrypted DNS will make it harder for ISPs to block sites, it will certainly not be impossible. SNI eavesdropping is still an option, for example.
This may no longer be as easy in the future either. In tandem with increased support for encrypted DNS, more tech companies are embracing encrypted SNI as well, which prevents ISPs from snooping on SNI handshakes.
This combination of encrypted DNS and SNI makes it very hard for ISPs to prevent access to pirate sites. Providers can still use blunt tools such as IP-address blocking, but that could become troublesome when sites move to shared IP-addresses.
While this sounds problematic for site blocking efforts worldwide, it’s not a major issue just yet. Support from browsers and network providers is still limited, and site owners don’t appear to see this as a priority either.
For example, when we try to bypass the Pirate Bay blockade with both encrypted DNS and SNI, as well as support for DNSSEC and TLS 1.3, it still doesn’t work. Although The Pirate Bay uses Cloudflare’s compatible network, the domain doesn’t support DNSSEC, which is another requirement.
The effectiveness will, of course, rely on which blocking methods an ISP uses, but on the more aggressive ones, a lot of boxes have to be ticked in order to effectively bypass a thorough website blockade.
That said, it is still early days, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see site operators and users fiddling around with this in the future. Meanwhile, other blocking-busters such as VPNs and the Tor browser remain an option as well.
Spanish ISP Euskaltel is one of the few ISPs in the world to be putting up a fight against so-called copyright trolls.
These mostly movie-related companies obtain the IP addresses of computers said to be participating in BitTorrent swarms and then apply to the courts to force related ISPs to hand over their customers’ data for further action.
This usually takes the form of “pay-up-or-else” letters, demanding hundreds or even thousands of euros or dollars, to make supposed lawsuits go away. In Spain, however, things aren’t going as planned.
Euskaltel reports that the Commercial Court No. 2 of Bilbao has dismissed demands by producer She Fighter Ltd against a customer alleged to have downloaded and shared the movie Lady Bloodfight.
According to a detailed summary of the case, success rested on three elements: the existence of unlawful action, showing damages, and the causal relationship between the damages and the unlawful action. In respect of the damages element, the rightsholder opted for a “hypothetical royalty” but failed to provide evidence to justify why 150 euros was demanded. This is what caused the case to fail.
“This is one of the first decisions in the trials against those affected after being reported by various film producers for what they considered ‘illegal downloading of movies on P2P networks’,” Euskaltel said in a statement.
The ruling, which was handed down June 25, denies the producer an opportunity to appeal and requires it to pay the full costs of the process.
While the ISP has welcomed the decision, the battle against copyright trolls appears to be heating up in other areas of the country. Euskaltel is just one of the ISPs being targeted by movie companies and courts in other areas of the country have received similar requests.
“The fact that the first people affected have been clients of Euskaltel, is due to the fact that the Bilbao Courts – the headquarters of the Basque operator – have been the first in the State to meet and resolve these demands, for reasons of distribution and work management, while the Madrid courts – which deal with the demands of the clients of the operators based in the capital of Spain – are still in a preliminary phase of the process,” the ISP explained.
Meanwhile, Euskaltel says it will continue to fight to protect its customers’ rights. As reported last month, the ISP reported copyright troll Venice PI to Spain’s data protection agency (AEPD) after being forced by a court to hand over the personal details of subscribers said to have downloaded the Bruce Willis movie Once Upon a Time in Venice.
The ISP said that Venice PI’s use of that data, which involved contacting subscribers with demands to pay a 150 euro settlement, constituted a breach of Spain’s Data Protection regulations. According to Euskaltel, the movie outfit was not “free to decide what to do with the data” once it had obtained it.
In addition to the earlier Venice PI referral to the AEPD, Euskaltel says that on June 7 it referred Reliance Entertainment Productions LLC to the data protection watchdog. Then, just three days later, it filed a similar complaint against Wind River Production LLC, highlighting potential abuses of customer data.
“In the latter complaint, in addition to asking the AEPD to analyze the reported facts to verify whether the alleged administrative violations have incurred, the AEPD has also been requested to adopt provisional measures, consisting of ordering the production company to stop sending more letters to users,” Euskaltel says.
“In this complaint, as in the two previous ones, the possible criminal responsibility which the producers may have incurred has been placed on the table,” the ISP concludes.
Euskaltel has published advice to customers being targeted by copyright trolls, including that they should report potential data protection abuses to the authorities.
Netflix and Hollywood Want Millions in Piracy Damages from SET TV
Last year the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment, the global anti-piracy alliance featuring several Hollywood studios, Amazon, Netflix, and other entertainment companies, sued Florida-based SET Broadcast, LLC.
The company offered a popular software-based IPTV service and also sold pre-loaded set-top boxes.
While it was marketed as a legal service, according to ACE members SET TV’s software was little more than a pirate tool, allowing buyers to stream copyright-infringing content.
“Defendants market and sell subscriptions to ‘Setvnow,’ a software application that Defendants urge their customers to use as a tool for the mass infringement of Plaintiffs’ copyrighted motion pictures and television shows,” the complaint read.
Initially, SET TV hired an attorney who informed the court that it had stopped offering its service and subscriptions. At the same time, the copyright infringement allegations were denied. After this initial response, however, things quietened down.
When the copyright holders requested to depose owner SET TV owner Jason Labossiere and its employee Nelson Johnson, who are both listed as defendants, they failed to respond. The same was true for the corporate entity.
Not much later SET TV’s lawyer withdrew from the case, citing unpaid invoices. This lack of progress eventually prompted the copyright holders to file for an entry of default. This was awarded and a few days ago Netflix, Amazon and the Hollywood studios submitted their demands.
According to a filing at a California Federal court, the rightsholders argue that SET TV (Set Broadcast) is guilty of willful copyright infringement. To compensate their losses, they request the maximum statutory damages for a total of 51 works.
“Set Broadcast has willfully infringed Plaintiffs’ Copyrighted Works and, in
doing so, caused Plaintiffs and their entire business model immense damage. The $7,650,000 statutory damages sought here therefore represents only a fraction of the actual damages inflicted by Set Broadcast on Plaintiffs,” the motion reads.
The motion notes that SET TV had 260,000 monthly users, of which a significant percentage accessed copyright-infringing content. The 51 works that are mentioned in the motion are just the tip of the iceberg, the rightsholders note, which further supports the request for substantial damages.
In addition to monetary relief, the companies also request a permanent injunction to prevent any infringements of their works going forward. This is needed, they argue, because it’s possible that the infringing activities will continue at a later date.
“Though the Setvnow service appears to no longer be available, Set Broadcast’s apparent cessation of its willful and flagrant infringement does not and should not prevent this Court from exercising its discretion to permanently enjoin Set Broadcast from infringing Plaintiffs’ Copyrighted Works.
“There is a significant threat of continuing irreparable injuries to Plaintiffs,” they add.
With SET TV no longer defending itself, it is likely that the court will side with the copyright holders. However, the question remains whether they will ever see a piece of the millions that they’re after.
In a similar copyright infringement case, SET TV previously reached a settlement with Dish last November, agreeing to pay more than $90 million in damages. Considering this, it’s doubtful that there is much money left to take.
A copy of the motion for default judgment, submitted on behalf of Amazon, Netflix, Columbia Pictures, Disney, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Television, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal City Studios, Universal Cable Productions, Universal Television, and Warner Bros. is available here (pdf).
Top 10 Most Pirated Movies of The Week on BitTorrent – 07/01/19
This week we have five newcomers in our chart.
Dumbo 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.
New Foxtel Blocking Application Targets Streaming, Torrent & Proxy Sites
Following the introduction of amendments to copyright law in 2018, it is now easier than ever to have ‘pirate’ sites blocked by ISPs in Australia.
The new rules mean that regular ‘pirate’ sites such as streaming and torrent platforms, as well as any service that has the primary purpose and/or primary effect of facilitating access to infringing content, can be targeted.
On June 18, 2019, Foxtel returned to the Federal Court in Sydney with a new blocking application. The court has yet to make the associated documents public but TorrentFreak was able to obtain them via a third-party source.
They reveal Foxtel writing to ISPs – TPG, Telstra, Optus, Vocus, Vodafone, plus their subsidiaries (52 in total) – at the end of May, indicating its intention to file an application to have a total of 35 torrent, streaming and proxy site domains blocked via court order.
Streaming ‘Target Online Locations’
The sites in this category are described as providing Internet users “with a browsable and/or searchable index or directory of digital (including audiovisual) content from which they can select content of their choice”.
Transmission of this content from the sites either takes place directly or through a “frame” which presents the content from another location. Or, alternatively, the sites provide lists of hyperlinks that allow users to access content after being redirected to another platform.
The sites targeted are ShareMovies, SeriesOnline8, Movie4U, SeeHD, StreamDreams and MoviesOnline.
Torrent ‘Target Online Locations’
Sites under this heading are described as having a browsable or searchable index of digital content or facilitating access to the same on other ‘online locations’. They provide users with access to .torrent files (or links to the same) which provide access to content without charge.
The sites targeted are WatchSoMuch, TorrentKen and SkyTorrents.
Proxy “Target Online Locations”
Given the changes to the law last year, proxy sites – which often exist to enable access to sites that are blocked by court order – can now be subject to blocking requests since they have the “primary effect” of facilitating access to infringing content.
The sites in the Foxtel application are described as providing Internet users with a browsable/searchable index of proxies providing access to streaming and torrent sites, including those sites listed above.
“[E]ach of the Proxy TOLs provides, or facilitates, free access for Internet users to content which it is not licensed to provide” the application reads, adding that none have “legitimate functions”.
The sites targeted are Unblocked.lol, Unblocked.win, Unblockall, Unblocker, and MyUnblock.
A case management hearing is booked for July 11, 2019.
The full list of URLs requested for blocking is as follows: sharemovies.net, seriesonline8.co, seriesonline8.com, movie4u.live, movie4u.cc, movie4u.co, seehd.uno, seehd.biz, streamdreams.org, streamdreams.me, streamdreams.co, streamdreams.online, streamdreams.video, stream-dreams.com, moviesonline.mx, wsmmirror.info, watchsomuch.info, watchsomuch.com, seventorrentsmirror.info, seventorrentsproxy.com, 7tmirror.info, torrentken.site, skytorrents.lol, unblocked.lol, unblocked.is, unblocked.ms, unblocked.win, unblocked.gdn, unblocked.vet, unblocked,sh, unblocked.mx, unblockall.org, unblocker.cc, unblock.win, myunblock.com
“Go Unlimited” Taunts Hollywood With DMCA-Ignore Video Hosting
Video streaming is more popular than ever. This is true for the YouTubes and Netflixes of this world, but also for pirate sites.
The influx of dedicated pirate streaming sites has triggered a cat and mouse game. Pirate sites are constantly trying to find stable hosting platforms, while rightsholders, Hollywood included, work hard to take videos down.
These takedowns can be fairly effective. Most hosting platforms, even those frequently used by shady sites, accept takedown DMCA requests. As a result, the streaming portals often have to replace their videos, which can be quite a frustrating experience.
This is also what Bader, the operator of the popular streaming portal Fushaar.com, noticed. The Kuwaiti entrepreneur operates several streaming sites which are predominantly popular in Arabic speaking countries. Fushaar, for example, is the 38th most visited website in Saudi Arabia.
Faced with a lack of stable ‘takedown resistant’ hosting providers to stream videos from, Bader decided to start one of his own, GO Unlimited.
“When I launched GO Unlimited in January 2016, I planned to host videos from my own websites, so it was a private video host. At the time my own websites were more than enough to bring in a lot of income for GO Unlimited,” Bader tells TorrentFreak.
When this went well for a few months, Go Unlimited opened up to others. That started late 2016 when the now-defunct GoMovies.to joined. A major addition, as that was the most popular pirate streaming site on the web at the time.
This also brought the video hosting platform to the attention of major copyright holders, which started to complain.
“When GoMovies.to joined, the journey started. The DMCA requests became more aggressive and more serious, so we started to use our own techniques to hide the original source of the video, so rightsholders didn’t have any resources to report,” Bader says.
While the operator of Go Unlimited doesn’t go into detail, the site effectively hides where the videos are hosted. Because they are not residing on the website’s own domain name, the site ignores DMCA takedowns and similar notices.
That didn’t stop rightsholders from submitting requests via escalating emails with titles such as URGENTLY, LAST WARNING, and LEGAL ACTIONS AHEAD, which kept pouring in. From then on, these were ignored though.
“Thanks to our techniques, by hiding the original source of the videos and misleading the networks providers, we were able to ignore the DMCA takedown requests for GoMovies,” Bader says.
While rightsholders, including Hollywood’s MPAA, will disagree, the site’s operator believes that he’s not doing anything wrong here.
“We’re a licensed company in Kuwait and we’re a 100% legal service since we host nothing illegal at our main domain, nor do transfer copyrighted materials through our public services,” Bader says.
For the same reason, the operator also believes that the domain name is safe. None of the hosted videos are directly hosted on the Gounlimited.to domain, so there’s nothing to complain about, the argument goes.
Upon closer inspection, it appears that Go Unlimited does disable videos for public viewing on its site on some occasions. However, third-party embeds of the same videos still work. This means that the uploaders can still use them on their own sites.
Whether the actual videos are stored on or viewed from the official domain or not, rightsholders will point out that under most copyright laws, the site has an obligation to remove them.
Bader disagrees, however, and is not worried about any legal pressure or consequences. While he has had to make some adjustments along the way to keep network providers happy, he hasn’t run into any trouble personally.
“I am not afraid of any pressure, I use my personal credit cards to buy the resources and I’ve provided the network providers with my legal documents many times,” Bader says.
One of the most significant setbacks has been Cloudflare’s recent decision to terminate the site’s account. The US-based CDN provider took this decision following a violation of its terms.
This is similar to what happened with other hosting platforms, such as Rapidvideo, which was thrown out for caching a disproportionate amount of non-HTML files. Neither Rapidvideo nor Go Unlimited used Cloudflare to cache video, however.
While Cloudflare didn’t mention copyright as the reason in this case either, Go Unlimited’s operator believes that it certainly played a role.
“Our usage graph at CloudFlare shows less usage than websites with the same size who haven’t faced any problems so far and we didn’t host any media at their platform or violated their terms in any way,” Bader says.
“If it was a matter of resources, why didn’t they contact me first? Or asked me to upgrade my plan?”
While Go Unlimited suffered a few hours of downtime due to the suspension, the site swiftly returned, and since then it’s been business as usual.
Thus far the DMCA-ignore policy is working well for Go Unlimited. The site is not open to all uploaders but works with “trusted members” instead. There are a few hundreds of these now, which have all gone through a thorough vetting process.
The number of actual visitors is impressive though. Bader estimates that Go Unlimited has roughly 150 million visitors per month, which are good for some rather decent ad revenue for the hosting providers as well as the uploaders.
Anyone involved in the piracy ecosystem could stake claim to being ‘in the scene’ but for those with a discerning interest in pirate matters, terminology is all important.
After decades of existence, The Scene has attained mythical status among pirates. It’s not a site, a place, a person, or a group. ‘The Scene’ is all of these things, combined in a virtual world to which few people ever gain access.
In basic terms, The Scene is a collection of both loose and tight-knit individuals and groups, using Internet networks as meeting places and storage vessels, in order to quickly leak as much pirated content as possible. From movies, TV shows and music, to software, eBooks and beyond. Almost anything digital is fair game for piracy at the most elite level.
These people – “Sceners” – are as protective of ‘their’ content as they are meticulous of their privacy but that doesn’t stop huge volumes of ‘their’ material leaking out onto the wider Internet. And occasionally – very occasionally – one of their members breaking ranks to tell people about it.
TorrentFreak recently made contact with one such individual who indicated a willingness to pull back the veil. However, verifying that ‘Sceners’ are who they say they are is inherently difficult. In part, we tackled this problem by agreeing for a pre-determined character string to be planted inside a Scene release.
With a fairly quick turnaround and as promised, the agreed characters appeared in a specific release. That the release had been made was confirmed by the standard accompanying text-based NFO file, which collectively are both widely and publicly available.
In respect of the group’s identity, we were asked to say that it has been active since 2018, but nothing more. We can confirm, however, that it already has dozens of releases thus far in 2019.
Our contact, who we will call “Source”, also claims to work with groups involved with so-called WEB releases, such as video content obtained and decrypted using sources including Netflix and Prime Video.
For security reasons, he wasn’t prepared to prove membership of that niche in the same fashion. However, the information he provided on those activities (to be covered in an upcoming part 2 of this article) is very interesting indeed. But first, an introduction to the basics, for those unfamiliar with how The Scene operates.
Basics of ‘The Scene’ – “Source’s” summary (in his own words)
Topsites: Top-secret, highly protected FTP servers storing up to hundreds or thousands of terabytes of copyrighted material. Users have to be authorized to the topsite by pre-existing members, and the users can only connect from specific IP-ranges.
Topsites usually always have an IRC channel where they announce the releases made on the specific topsite, alongside other things such as newly traded releases, requests and chat. These IRC chatrooms are encrypted using encryption tools on top of SSL.
Topsites can either be home hosted or rented. Rented sites are avoided by members of The Scene who are higher up in the food chain, since those are generally riskier due to being located at hosting companies’ datacenters. Users of a topsite are usually one of the following:
Traders / Racers
Release Groups (Affiliates)
Site Operator: User who owns or administrates a topsite
Release Groups (Affiliates): A single or group of users, who work together to download/rip, prepare, pack and pre a release. These groups usually compete against each other to get a release out as fast as possible, beating other groups.
Traders / Racers: A user who moves releases between topsites. For example: As soon as the group -XYZ releases an MP3 album on topsite -ASD, multiple traders instantly grab the new release and transfer it to their other topsites. When the release lands on the other topsites, traders there start sharing it further and further until every single topsite has the release. In some cases it only takes minutes for every single topsite to have the release in question.
Becoming a member of The Scene
Despite “Source’s” own group being relatively new, he says his history with The Scene dates back three years. Intrigued at the possibility of becoming a member but with no prior experience, he contacted a Scene group using an email address inside an NFO, offering his coding skills.
“I was able to convince the group to slowly adopt me into The Scene by providing them scripts and tools to make their job easier and faster, alongside other programming related tasks. The thing with Scene groups is that they don’t trust outsiders,” he explains.
Given that not granting access to the wrong people is fundamental to the security of The Scene, we asked how this “vetting” took place. “Source” explained that it was conducted over a period of time (around four months), with a particular Scene group carrying out its own investigations to ensure he wasn’t lying about himself or his abilities.
“The groups who vet new members also often try their best to dox the recruit, to make sure that the user is secure. If you’re able to be doxed (based on the info you give, your IP-addresses, anything really) you will lose your chances to join. The group won’t actually do anything with your personal info,” he adds, somewhat reassuringly.
Once the group was satisfied with his credentials, “Source” gained access to his very first topsite, which he describes as small and tight-knit. Topsites often use IRC (Internet Relay Chat) for communications so from there it was a matter of being patient while simultaneously attempting to gain the trust of others in the channel.
“Most Sceners are very cautious of new users, even after being vetted in, due to the risk of a user still being insecure, an undercover officer or generally unwanted in terms of behavior. Once you’ve been idling in the chats and such for months, you slowly start gaining some basic recognition and trust,” he says.
Once he’d gained access via the first topsite, “Source” says he decided to branch out on his own by creating his own Scene group and gathering content to release. From there he communicated with other users on the topsite in an effort to gain access to additional topsites as an affiliate.
As mentioned earlier, his own releases via his own group (the name of which we aren’t disclosing here) number in the dozens over the past several months alone. They are listed on publicly available ‘pre-databases‘ which archive information and NFO files which provide information related to Scene releases.
However, his own group isn’t the only string to the Source bow. Of particular interest is his involvement with so-called WEB releases, i.e pirate releases of originally protected video content obtained from platforms like Netflix and Prime Video.
“Content for WEB releases are obtained by downloading the source content. Whenever you stream a video online, you are downloading chunks of a video file to your computer. Sceners simply save that content and attempt to decrypt it for non-DRM playback later,” Source explains.
“Streams from these sites are protected by DRM. The most common, and hard to crack DRM is called Widevine. The way the Scene handles WEB-releases is by using specialized tools coded by The Scene, for The Scene.”
This is a particularly sensitive area, not least since Source says he’s acted as a programmer for multiple Scene groups making these releases. He’s understandably cautious so until next week (when we’ll continue with more detail specifically about WEB content) he leaves an early cautionary note for anyone considering joining The Scene.
“You can become Sceners with friends, but not friends with Sceners,” he concludes.