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TuneIn Blocking Debacle: Bombing Internet Radio Back to the Stone Age

When it comes to copyright infringement matters, especially when that involves commercial players doing battle to prevent the wholesale spread of content, my basic position is that all is fair in love and war.

If a torrent site, IPTV provider or streaming platform has a specific role to distribute premium copyrighted content to the masses for profit, then they should expect a robust response. This is someone’s content and it should come as no surprise that powerful people will attempt to protect it.

Even if only quietly, all players in this space understand the rules. Every now and again, however, copyright enforcement can hit a nerve even with the most understanding and pragmatic among us. It can be particularly jarring when the end result amounts to a reduction in previously enjoyed freedoms when that should not be the case.

TuneIn Radio Index Deemed to Be Copyright-Infringing

For those out of the loop, during the past few days TuneIn radio, a major aggregator of streaming radio links already in existence on the web, took the decision to conduct widespread geo-blocking of content in the UK. This was due to a High Court order obtained by record labels Sony and Warner who successfully argued that the service essentially became a broadcaster when it offered links to a ‘new public’ in the UK.

Purely on a legal footing and based on existing case law in the UK and EU, the decision makes quite a lot of sense. When access to unlicensed content is facilitated to a new audience, whether delivered via Internet radio stations or other Internet-based platforms, that generally amounts to a breach of copyright law.

On the ground, however, we are already seeing that the effects can be much more profound. TuneIn’s decision to block access to a huge range of stations broadcasting content NOT owned by Sony or Warner shows that the chilling effect is already underway and sadly it’s only likely to get worse.

Be Warned: TuneIn is Not the Only Aggregator

Anyone with a hardware-based Internet radio in the UK will probably have been sold it on the premise that it provides access to between 20,000 and 40,000 stations from around the world. These devices are the modern-day equivalent of AM or even shortwave radio, allowing us to listen to broadcasts without borders, from the most diverse and secluded regions and covering a massive range of niche topics and cultures.

Thanks to the decision by the High Court, however, this access could soon be a distant memory.

Hardware receivers, (of which I own two excellent ones, both Revo) are completely useless on the Internet radio side without access to an external index of radio stations and their related URLs. These massive indexes are not colorful like the one provided by TuneIn but they are functionally similar. One can search by station name and other parameters such as genre or region. This type of curation was deemed unacceptable by the High Court in the TuneIn case.

The big question now, of course, is how long will these platforms be able to offer services to users in the UK without facing the same kind of pressure applied to TuneIn? How long before they too start censoring access to global stations on the basis that they might breach the rights of the two labels that brought the action against TuneIn in the UK?

As per the comment received by TorrentFreak this week from TuneIn, “Over the past several months, we have worked with broadcasters to confirm their licensing status, removing from our platform those radio stations whose licensing status we are unable to verify at this time.”

“Unable to verify at this time” does not mean absolutely unlicensed. Neither does it mean that all removed stations breached the rights of the labels. TuneIn appears to be erring on the side of caution because it’s terrified that under-blocking won’t get the job done and could leave it liable for copyright infringement.

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

Anyone can set up an Internet radio stream in minutes and broadcast content that is not licensed for use in the UK because it doesn’t need to be as it breaches nobody’s rights. How does one go about proving that status to an index like TuneIn? Proving you don’t need a license is much harder than simply having one to show.

The great charm of Internet radio is that it can be used to find fresh or unusual content that isn’t owned by major labels like Sony and Warner, largely because it’s not considered popular enough. In fact, platforms not broadcasting that type of content is a major plus for me personally as I have Spotify for that, should I need it.

So why were some of my favorite stations dedicated to promoting new artists and music who want to be promoted blocked by TuneIn this week in response to this lawsuit?

To draw a parallel, how would we feel if we turned on our regular radios to tune into a distant broadcast only to be greeted by a high-pitched tone put there to prevent us from listening? We wouldn’t accept that and it’s my opinion people shouldn’t accept this either – this is not exclusively about two labels’ rights.

In the 90s, when I spent quite a bit of time in Poland, I liked nothing better than to flick a hotel radio to AM to listen to a distant broadcast of what was then TalkRadio. Now, Polish citizens in the UK, who previously enjoyed a local channel from back home, face the prospect of it not being available in their second home via TuneIn, thanks to the fear of TuneIn breaching a High Court ruling.

The labels will argue this isn’t their problem, as any blocking only needs to be done when a station breaches their rights. And they would be completely correct. But their actions have led to this situation and now everyone has to suffer, regardless of whether their international listening habits were covered by the lawsuit or not. But there are other issues too.

Driving Pirate Radio Back Onto the Streets is a Bad Idea

With great power comes great responsibility and bombing Internet radio back to the stone age to protect the rights of the few is overkill and counterproductive.

Fully-blown pirate/unlicensed radio stations are of course illegal in most countries but they serve a purpose. They existed and exist to bring niche content to a wider public completely underserved by licensed operations.

In the 80s, for example, early dance, plus soul, reggae, and funk music weren’t broadcast on any legal station in the UK in any meaningful way, a gap that pirates like the then-illegal Kiss were happy to fill. And just look at the size of the market now, raking in countless millions for labels like Sony and Warner.

It took years for mainstream providers to catch up on these niches yet they’re still miles behind today if quality and quantity are considered. Bluntly, they don’t get involved until they see an audience because that’s where the money is. Pirate radio stations incubated those audiences and still do today.

Admittedly, broadcasting via traditional antenna was and is both illegal and potentially dangerous. In recent years, however, many of these broadcasts have been switched to the Internet, reducing airwave pollution while continuing to serve fans with niche content that licensed broadcasters couldn’t care less about. If this High Court ruling runs to its logical conclusion, aggregators will be too scared to index any of them.

That could be a way off, but the stage has been set. Big Music has the opportunity to step back now but history tells us that won’t be the case. Fortunately, where there’s a will there’s a way. Labels can tear up the radio ‘phonebook’ operated by TuneIn and their counterparts but they can’t block every station on the Internet, even though they’d probably like the power to.

The Future and What it May Hold

If a ruling can be obtained in the UK to compel geo-blocking of international stations, then it doesn’t seem far-fetched to conclude that decisions could be obtained elsewhere too.

How long before United States aggregators must block all UK-based stations? How long before listeners in the Netherlands are barred from content broadcast to German or French audiences? When will Canadians be prevented from enjoying content from their cousins south of the border? Could we even face a situation where stations based anywhere in the world are forcibly removed from aggregators for not respecting their geographic licensing regions?

It may sound alarmist, and hopefully it is, but what people might have to prepare for in a worst-case scenario is radio aggregators being treated like illegal torrent indexes that are either forced offline or made to persistently teeter on the edge of a lawsuit.

The stations themselves are still broadcasting of course but listeners will probably have to get used to finding them another way. It might be a good time to get familiar with how to do that right now, before it’s too late.

From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more.

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Pirate IPTV Operator Hid Away With Mountains of Food to Avoid Coronavirus

2020 has developed into one of the most memorable years in living memory for the entire planet but for mostly the wrong reasons.

Not a day goes by without news of the coronavirus pandemic and its devastating effect on individuals, families, the economy, and health in general. In common with many industries, coronavirus has hit the entertainment sectors too, with few new films and TV shows coming out (with notable exceptions such as Mulan) as people are either forced or inclined to stay home and stay safe.

Throughout all of this, however, pirate operations have remained mostly online, with notable spikes in interest reported earlier in the year.

IPTV Raid and Arrest But Authorities Didn’t Expect This

As part of European efforts to crack down on the supply of IPTV, a few weeks ago officers in the National Tax and Customs Administration raided a pirate IPTV provider. What they found was extraordinary to say the least.

Situated in what appeared to be a fenced-off barbed wire compound with CCTV surveillance, the outside of the building was perhaps not much of a surprise. Adorned with a large number of satellite dishes used to source original programming from the skies, the walls of the structure gave away what may lie inside.

Hungary IPTV1

Indeed, the main contents of the building were as expected, such as an office with desks, chairs and various computers, plus a separate area containing what appear to be rows of servers used for capturing TV content from official providers and redistributing it over the Internet.

In total, the authorities seized 52 computers, several decoders, TV cards, plus six servers dedicated to redistribution.

Hungary IPTV 2

The image above suggests that the operation wasn’t set up on the large budgets usually witnessed in police footage from raids elsewhere in Europe but with at least 8,000 paying customers, it was clearly functional.

However, in a video released by the authorities, it is apparent that on some of the server shelves also sit items of food, including dozens and dozens of packets of flour. A panning camera shot also reveals a large refrigerator and then a small mountain of stacked canned food.

Hungary IPTV 3

Another shot, possibly in another area, reveals little floor space due to yet more stacked cans, a significant area occupied by box upon box of dried pasta packets, plus additional shelves loaded with soft drinks, other foodstuffs, and the coronavirus pandemic staple – dozens of toilet rolls.

Hungary IPTV 4

An Operator of the Service Was Scared of the Coronavirus

According to the National Tax and Customs Administration, the service was founded by a man from Nagykanizsa who first set out to “redirect” his mother’s paid TV package to his own home for free. He teamed up with a man from Budapest to create a service that was subsequently offered to close friends too.

Over time, however, they realized they could make money from the operation and began offering it on an invitation-only basis to outsiders. The network of customers grew and ultimately became available worldwide via the Internet.

However, earlier this year, when the coronavirus started to sweep across Europe, one of the people in charge of the operation reacted like many across the region. In fear of catching what could be a deadly virus, he stockpiled the mountains of food detailed above – hundreds of pounds/kilos – so that he could keep the service running but without having to venture far outside.

“In addition to IT equipment, durable food was in the Budapest property. The young man had accumulated hundreds of kilos of flour, canned food and pasta in fear of the coronavirus epidemic, and had not ventured into the streets for months,” the authorities explain.

Damage to Copyright Holders But Also Paying No Taxes

According to estimates provided by the tax authorities, the service is alleged to have generated around HUF 6 million (US$1.97m) for the pair but for reasons that aren’t explained, they “forgot” to pay the necessary duties to the state. This explains why the tax authorities were involved in the raid.

“An illegal IPTV service that is provided without payment of royalties infringes copyright or copyright-related rights, which is a criminal offense. The offender can be sentenced to up to eight years in prison,” the National Tax and Customs Administration says.

Whether the self-imposed prison sentence of a few months will now be extended to a forced sentence of a few years is currently unknown.

From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more.

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University Voluntarily Agrees to Block Pirate Sites Under Code of Conduct

Today’s site-blocking measures to counter online copyright infringement may seem relatively new but Denmark has been engaged in the practice for almost 15 years.

Pirate Site Blocking in Denmark

After initial target AllofMP3 was first ordered to be blocked by local ISP Tele2 back in 2006 following action by the IFPI, anti-piracy group Rights Alliance picked up the baton. As a result, almost 500 sites are now blocked by ISPs in the country but not all are legally required to do so.

This is the result of a Code of Conduct agreed with local Internet providers, which voluntarily block pirate sites once a court has ruled them to be illegal. This agreement was renewed in the summer and now helps to quickly block torrent, streaming and similar platforms that switch domains or deploy proxies to circumvent blocking orders.

Interestingly, it now transpires that Rights Alliance has managed to expand this voluntary scheme beyond consumer ISPs to encompass the country’s largest university.

University Will Block Pirate Site Access

Based in the second-largest city in Denmark, Aarhus University currently plays host to 38,000 students, 1,800 PhD students, and 8,000 employees. After being established in 1928, it’s now the country’s largest university and probably has its fair share of students choosing to scoop up movies, TV shows and music from pirate sites.

That, however, will be more difficult moving forward.

On August 20, 2020, Rights Alliance and Aarhus University entered into a Code of Conduct Agreement that requires the education facility to prevent users of its network from accessing pirate sites. Whether a site is given this label will be down to the courts, which will have to rule that a site is seriously infringing before it gets blocked under the agreement.

According to Rights Alliance, which reported the news Monday, the agreement will put the university on an equal footing with the country’s Internet service providers when it comes to voluntary action against pirate sites.

Progress Welcomed by Rights Alliance, Expansion Sought

“The illegal services are run by criminals and undermine the livelihoods of creative producers. It is therefore crucial that the blocking of the services is as effective as possible, and that public institutions and the like that offer Internet access participate in the blocking effort,” a statement from the anti-piracy group reads.

“The fact that an institution as large and significant as Aarhus University engages and participates in the efforts against illegal services helps to ensure the effectiveness of the Rights Alliance’s blocking efforts against the illegal market, thereby strengthening the strength of Danish cooperation between rights holders, Internet providers and authorities.”

As the founder of pirate site blocking as we know it today, Denmark is keen to expand its efforts in this arena. Rights Alliance is now looking for other “significant network providers and institutions” to join its voluntary scheme in order to put further pressure on the pirate market.

From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more.

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MPA & ACE Team Up With Homeland Security to Dismantle Criminal Piracy Groups

In 2017, the MPA joined forces with dozens of entertainment industry companies to form the huge anti-piracy coalition Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE).

Two years later, the MPA bolstered its already considerable ranks with the addition of Netflix, an existing ACE member. Together with Amazon, the Hollywood studios and their partners are now engaged in legal action to bring down as many piracy platforms as they can, with a focus on IPTV and streaming.

Thus far, however, ACE and MPA actions have lacked a visible or obvious connection to law enforcement and government entities. A corresponding, coordinated public awareness aspect has been missing too but that all changed this week with the announcement of yet more partnerships at a very high level.

MPA and Partners Sign MoU With ICE IPR Center

Late Wednesday, Homeland Security’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that its IPR Center, the MPA, ACE, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Innovation Policy Center plus industry marketing group CTAM, had formed a broad coalition to pool their content protection efforts.

During what is described as a virtual ceremony, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed by Derek N. Benner, Executive Associate Director for Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and Karyn Temple, Senior Executive Vice President and Global General Counsel for the MPA.

MPA IPR Center

The stated aim of the new partnership is to use the combined resources of the groups to support Homeland Security Investigations and the IPR Center’s digital piracy investigations, including resource and information sharing with external anti-piracy groups.

“Now more than ever, collaboration and partnerships between content creative industries and law enforcement agencies are essential to combat digital piracy and protect consumers,” Benner said.

“Through this partnership, the IPR Center and its private sector partners will implement an aggressive multi-layered strategy to restore the digital ecosystem, educate consumers on the dangers of illegal streaming, enforce the nation’s intellectual property rights laws, and dismantle criminal enterprises that operate on the internet – thinking they are untouchable and above the law.”

Public Awareness Campaign

Alongside the signing of the MoU, the new coalition also launched a brand new public service awareness campaign. While the anti-piracy groups and law enforcement bodies tackle large-scale pirates using legal mechanisms, they hope to convince consumers of illicit content – who keep these services alive – to stop using them.

Via the new ‘StreamSafely‘ portal, it’s hoped that the visual entertainment industries can convince mainly IPTV and streaming users to stop frequenting pirate services.

The approach will come as no surprise.

MALWARE! MALWARE! MALWARE!

After perhaps growing more than a little bit tired of attempting to get pirates to think of the creators, the latest trend is to get pirates to think of themselves.

The main goal of this campaign is no different and the StreamSafely portal is neck-deep in warnings about malware. Indeed, there are a number of videos, presented by TV host and journalist Katie Linendoll, among others, claiming that signing up to a piracy site or service is a dangerous thing to do.

If users want their machines infected, bank details, social security numbers, and indeed their entire identities stolen by criminals, piracy is the way to go, the site claims again and again. But will consumers find the message credible?

While the message is nothing new and may have some merits in certain circumstances, the alleged scale of the problem isn’t supported by much evidence. While the campaign links to various reports that claim malware is a problem, the site nor these linked papers provide any hard specifics to support the numerous claims.

PSA’s are designed to be simple and easy to consume but many tech-savvy consumers aren’t easily swayed. This could be countered by providing precise evidence and specifics of malware and identity theft in relation to pirate platforms. It would also send a powerful message if malicious services were actually named alongside details of what they have supposed to have done.

To date, this hasn’t happened. Nor have there been any efforts to explain the precise mechanisms through which these alleged dangers manifest themselves. Taking this important step would build confidence that the campaign is about protecting consumers, not just copyright holders. It would also have the desired deterrent effect. There are literally no downsides.

The Campaign Does Have its Merits

There are certain aspects of the StreamSafely campaign that aren’t up for debate. Given their very nature, legal services such as Netflix are absolutely safe to use and users can be very confident indeed that any personal or financial information provided to the platform won’t be criminally abused.

The other issue, and this is a big one, is the unreliable nature of the illicit streaming market, particularly IPTV. Experienced users of such services tend to dig in their heels at this point and argue that they have few problems, but most consumers aren’t so savvy. Services do go down and people do lose money, sometimes considerable amounts.

“Seemingly inexpensive piracy devices, apps or websites often get shut down for distributing pirated content, leaving users in the lurch,” the campaign says.

It’s a message that will resonate with thousands of IPTV and app-based pirates whose services have disappeared and taken their money.

The malware angle needs much more work.

From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more.

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Police Send Warning Letters to Pirate IPTV Customers Citing Fraud Act

Late June, officers from Norfolk and Suffolk Constabulary’s Cyber and Serious Organised Crime Unit arrested a 24-year-old man in the UK under suspicion of operating a pirate IPTV service.

First of Its Kind Warning Message

The unique aspect of this operation was that the targeted service, GE Hosting (GE, Global Entertainment), was not only taken down but was replaced by a warning notice that was displayed on subscribers’ TV screens.

“This illegal stream has been seized By Norfolk and Sussex Police,” it began.

“Watching illegal broadcasts is a crime. Your IP address has been recorded. You are instructed to cease and desist immediately from all illegal media streaming.”

Police Seize IPTV

At the time, police did not mention that GE was the target but multiple sources informed TorrentFreak that it had indeed been taken down by the authorities. Now, however, customers of that service are being personally informed that their illegal subscriptions to GE Hosting have been noted by the police.

Police Send GE Subscribers Cease-and-Desist Notices

“This letter is intended as notification that Norfolk and Suffolk Constabulary Cyber, Intelligence and Serious Organised Crime Directorate are aware of your households use of an illegal TV streaming service, namely through a provider known as ‘GE Hosting’,” the letter reads.

“By providing this illegal service, the operators of GE Hosting have committed criminal offenses contrary to the Serious Crime Act, the Proceeds of Crime Act and the Copyright Designs and Patents Act, these are serious offenses which carry a maximum sentence of 14 years’ imprisonment.”

“Persons whom subscribe to services like the service provided by GE Hosting also commit a criminal offense contrary to s.11 of the Fraud Act which carries a maximum sentence of up to five years imprisonment, and/or a fine, and consequently results in a criminal record.”

“We are aware that you/members of your household have been subscribing to this illegal service.”

IPTV Warning Police UK

It isn’t yet clear whether the letter, which is reportedly being sent to thousands of subscribers, was delivered electronically or by physical mail. IPTV subscribers do not have to provide an accurate billing address but most people do hand over an active email address.

In any event, the letter notes that it is not a notification of police action or the beginning of an investigation or criminal prosecution. However, it does make it clear that the letter should be considered a formal cease-and-desist notice which dictates that the subscriber stops illegally streaming using the GE Hosting service.

Our understanding is that GE Hosting has already been shut down, a fact that was clarified as correct by Suffolk Police following our email inquiry this morning. As a technicality, therefore, a cease-and-desist notice isn’t needed as the service no longer exists. However, that obviously isn’t the point here.

Sending a Powerful Message Using the Fraud Act

Nationwide news of thousands of people receiving notices will send a strong message that IPTV subscribers’ personal details are just a step away from the police. More importantly, perhaps, the document clearly states that the authorities aren’t looking at copyright offenses, but those covered under the much more serious Fraud Act.

“Section 11 makes it an offense for any person, by any dishonest act, to obtain services for which payment is required, with intent to avoid payment. The person must know that the services are made available on the basis that they are chargeable, or that they might be,” the relevant legislation reads.

Section 11 also provides a clear-cut example, since it covers the situation “where a person attaches a decoder to her television to enable viewing access to cable / satellite television channels for which she has no intention of paying.”

Offenses under the section can be varied, from obtaining online services without paying for them, to people using false credit card details to access the same. However, another offense punishable under the Act (perhaps an interesting one given the Premier League’s interest in these cases) is the situation “where a person climbs over a wall and watches a football match without paying the entrance fee.”

While copyright charges would be available to the police, ‘fraud’ is a heavyweight term among the public. People tend to understand what fraud means and few would enjoy the worry of a fraud conviction hanging over them as it could be a life-changer, particularly career-wise.

Comply With the Warning – Or Else

GE Hosting is confirmed as closed, which makes it impossible for a letter recipient to breach the cease-and-desist order since it relates only to GE. However, police say that “subscribers shall be monitored” adding that police reserve the right to proceed to investigation and prosecution.

“If this type of unlawful activity continues then you will receive no further warnings before criminal enforcement is taken. This letter should therefore not be read as precluding enforcement if you fail to heed this cease and desist letter. The fact that this letter was sent to you could also be cited in future criminal proceedings.”

TorrentFreak asked Suffolk Police how this monitoring will be carried out but we are yet to receive a response. However, the fact that people have received a letter at all is quite remarkable.

As far as we’re aware and following the on-screen warning, this is another world first for Norfolk & Suffolk Constabulary, not to mention an intriguing escalation of the deterrent message in the UK.

A copy of the cease-and-desist, supplied by FACT, can be found here (pdf)

From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more.

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Alleged Operators of Epic Stream IPTV Face List of Piracy Charges in Canada

Large scale criminal prosecutions of alleged copyright infringers are relatively rare in Canada but according to information just revealed by the Novia Scotia RCMP, a big case is on the horizon.

Operation Hotwire Targets Illegal IPTV

According to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, in June 2019 the Federal Serious and Organized Crime Unit (FSOC) began an investigation after receiving a complaint from a local telecoms company that its content was being streamed for profit by an individual using IPTV.

The telecoms company, which isn’t being named, reportedly carried out an investigation of its own and then referred the matter to the police. That generated enough interest for the police to begin their own inquiry and in August 2019, police supported by investigators from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada searched a home on Shore Drive in Bedford, Nova Scotia, seizing electronic equipment and financial documents.

A 35-year old man from Bedford was arrested at the home “without incident” and was later released from custody. Fast-forward exactly a year and on August 13, 2020, Nova Scotia RCMP FSOC filed court documents related to charges against two individuals in Nova Scotia. They are now being named as Riad Thomeh, 36, and Kayla Thomeh, 33, both of Bedford.

Laundry List of Copyright Infringement Related Charges

As per RCMP, Riad Thomeh is charged with the following:

  • Possession of a Device to Obtain Use of Telecommunication Facility or Service
  • Laundering the Proceeds of Crime
  • Possession of Property Obtained by Crime x18
  • Distribute Copyrighted Material – Copyright Act
  • Re-transmit Encrypted Programming Signal – Radiocommunication Act
  • Decode Encrypted Programming Signal – Radiocommunication Act

Kayla Thomeh is charged as follows:

  • Laundering the Proceeds of Crime
  • Possession of Property Obtained by Crime

“Three companies operated by Riad and Kayla Thomeh are also facing 44 charges, including Possession of a Device to Obtain Use of Telecommunication Facility or Service, Laundering the Proceeds of Crime and Possession of Property Obtained by Crime, as well as charges under the Copyright Act and the Radiocommunication Act,” a police statement adds.

Who Are the Alleged Offenders and What Were They Involved In?

Riad and Kayla Thomeh are a husband and wife team. The information released by police thus far doesn’t include the name of the IPTV service allegedly being offered by the pair but after receiving additional information from a familiar source, it wasn’t hard for us to put together the pieces.

Company information published by Dun and Bradstreet reveals that Riad Thomeh is/was the president of Nova Scotia-based company ‘Nova Scotia Limited’. Employing a total of three people and located in Shore Drive, Bedford, the company is listed as part of the IT sector and at last count generated US$517,503 in sales.

Importantly, the company was given the registration number 3303398 after its founding in 2017, which leads directly to IPTV provider Epic Stream. Indeed, the information published by DNB clearly lists the trading name of Epic Stream located at the address in Bedford occupied by Nova Scotia Limited.

Epic Stream

Epic Stream used the domain epicstream.net, a site that remains active today. It clearly and repeatedly lists the Canadian company registration number 3303398 in both its privacy policy and terms and conditions (pdf).

Just two weeks after Riad Thomeh was arrested in Bedford, an announcement on the epicstream.net site advised all users having problems with the service to “updated there user information to be able to connected and view….Please take time and Updated your information ASAP[sic].”

The last service update on the site was during October 2019 and according to reports on Reddit around a year ago, the service went down around the same time.

Further Action This Week

Earlier this month, a Restraint Order and Special Search Warrant was issued in respect of the Thomeh’s assets. In response, this week a total of 14 properties were restrained, including two houses and 12 plots of land. Two vehicles were also seized.

If found guilty the RCMP is warning that under the Copyright Act, the pair could each face a five-year prison sentence, a CAD$1m penalty, or even both.

From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more.

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TuneIn Blocks 1,000s of Radio Channels in UK But a VPN Restores Service

TuneIn is one of the most prominent providers of radio content in the world.

Available for free or on a premium basis, its site and associated app provide access to more than 100,000 stations and podcasts. Unless you happen to live in the UK, which is now dramatically underserved by the company.

Sued by Labels in the UK For Mass Copyright Infringement

In 2017, Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group sued the US-based radio index in the High Court of England and Wales, alleging that the provision of links to stations unlicensed in the UK represented a breach of copyright.

One of the most interesting aspects of the case is that TuneIn is marketed as an “audio guide service”, which means that it indexes stations that are already freely available on the web and curates them so that listeners can more easily find them.

When stations are more easily found, more people listen to them, which means that TuneIn arguably boosts the market overall. Nevertheless, the labels claimed this was illegal and detrimental to the music industry in the UK on licensing grounds.

Decision by the High Court Handed Down in 2019

In November 2019, the High Court sided with the labels, ruling that unlike Google – which TuneIn had attempted to compare itself to – TuneIn did “much more than that”, in part due to its curation and search features in respect of those stations.

“I find therefore that the activity of TuneIn does amount to an act of communication of the relevant works; and also that that act of communication is to a ‘public’, in the sense of being to an indeterminate and fairly large number of persons,” Judge Birss wrote in his decision.

When TuneIn supplied UK users with links to radio stations that were not licensed for the UK or were not licensed at all, the Judge said the company infringed the labels’ rights. On the other hand, he also determined that when TuneIn supplied UK users with links to radio stations that are already licensed in the UK, the company did not infringe Sony or Warner’s copyrights.

TuneIn sought to paint this latter point as a victory but that still meant that it had breached copyright on a large scale as the majority of stations indexed by TuneIn and supplied to the UK market did not fit into this scenario.

Appeal and Subsequent Geo-Blocking of the UK

In December 2019 it was revealed that the High Court had granted permission for both sides to appeal. Pending an outcome in that matter, TuneIn’s service in the UK apparently remained unchanged but during the past few days, users of the service reported a major shift in the type and amount of content being provided to UK users.

In response to the apparent decimation of its offering, TuneIn took to Twitter to address the complaints.

“Due to a court ruling in the United Kingdom, we will be restricting international stations to prohibit their availability in the UK, with limited exceptions. We apologize for the inconvenience,” the company wrote.

TorrentFreak contacted TuneIn to ask why this action had been taken now and to receive an indication of precisely how many channels had been blocked and their nature. However, at the time of publishing the company had failed to offer a response, leaving customers – some of whom pay for a premium service – to simply guess where their favorite stations had gone and when (or even if) they would ever return.

TuneIn UK Block

With TuneIn staying completely silent on the important details, it’s impossible to know whether the company will obtain appropriate licensing to reinstate the lost channels in the future. In the meantime, listeners now have access to a fraction of the channels previously available on the TuneIn site and app.

Geo-Blocking Measures Easily Circumvented

As pointed out by a reader last evening, in common with many services that restrict output in various regions, TuneIn’s blocking efforts are not comprehensive and can be easily circumvented by listeners in the UK.

It transpires that with the use of a decent VPN, one that’s able to switch the user’s virtual location out of the UK and to some other country, the blocked channels/stations are restored to their former glory and accessible in exactly the same way as before. The precise blocking method being used by TuneIn isn’t clear but it’s nowhere as stringent as that deployed by Netflix, for example.

An aspect of TuneIn’s blocking that shouldn’t be overlooked is a ‘feature’ of the service itself. TuneIn is a catalog of streams that are already freely available on the Internet. This means that TuneIn acts only as a middleman, indexing stations and making them searchable. While this function is extremely convenient for users, those locked out by TuneIn may only have to do a little research to regain access to their favorite stations.

A Little Manual Work

Since the company appears to be keeping quiet on the precise details for the moment, it’s hard to conclude whether TuneIn went through its entire station list with a fine toothcomb so that only unlicensed channels were blocked, or whether it erred on the side of caution and blocked everything that it couldn’t be sure of.

Presuming the latter is the case (licensing can be difficult to determine), it’s likely that there will be some element of over-blocking and that some channels that shouldn’t have been blocked will now be inaccessible in the UK via TuneIn. This is a particular irritant to listeners of stations that carry no content owned by the labels that brought the lawsuit.

In these cases, interested users can bypass TuneIn altogether by visiting the website associated with the station they were listening to, which tend to have their own embedded audio players. However, if visiting multiple sites is inconvenient, some stations publish a URL that can be opened in software such as VLC or other radio apps such as XiaaLive, which also has its own searchable station catalog.

Some radio station homepages do not clearly publish their stream URLs but by right-clicking the related audio player in Chrome, for example, it’s possible to view the page’s source code which usually contains the URL of the stream when searching for the term ‘http’ or ‘https’.

Experienced users will spot the correct URL quickly but for the less tech-savvy, trial and error or dedicated tools will help. Once a list of URLs is obtained, these can be saved in a VLC playlist, for example, completely negating the need for the TuneIn software.

Blocking the Messenger Not the Message

While TuneIn may have been largely knee-capped in the UK in terms of international stations, the High Court action has done absolutely nothing to prevent the blocked radio stations from transmitting on the Internet. None of them have anything to do with TuneIn itself as they are operated by third-parties.

What the action has achieved, therefore, is to selectively tear up TuneIn’s UK ‘phonebook’. What it hasn’t done is tear up every phonebook available, nor has it taken down a single station indexed by TuneIn, which remain fully operational via their own websites and URLs. It’s a little harder to find them now but hardly a massive undertaking.

From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more.

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EU Advocate General: Inline Content Embedding Requires Copyright Holder Permission

Websites that produce and publish their own content usually have little to worry about under copyright law but for those that utilize content originally published elsewhere, life is more complicated.

In a few rare cases, copyright disputes cannot be immediately settled by local courts in the EU so they are referred to the region’s top court, the EU Court of Justice, for clarification. This was the case with a dispute involving Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek (DDB), a library website based in Germany.

Digital Showcase Must Be Protected From Third-Party Use

The main aim of the DDB project is to provide free access to the cultural and scientific heritage of Germany via the Internet, i.e. to millions of books, archives, pictures, sculptures, pieces of music and other audio documents, films, and sheet music.

To achieve its goals, the library links to digitized content stored on the various Internet portals of its participating institutions, displaying thumbnails of that content in what is described as a “digital showcase”.

DDB operator Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz points to a licensing arrangement with copyright collecting society Verwertungsgesellschaft Bild-Kunst (VG Bild-Kunst) to display the thumbnails. However, that comes with a requirement for DDB to use technical measures to prevent third-party websites from displaying those thumbnails using the ‘framing’ technique.

For reference, perhaps the most common example of framing is where a YouTube video is placed on a third-party website in a ‘frame’ but is delivered from YouTube itself and is not hosted by the embedding site.

Matter Taken to Local Court, Referred to EU Court of Justice

The requirement to prevent framing was considered unreasonable by Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz. The foundation took its case to court in Germany requesting a ruling that VG Bild-Kunst is required to grant a license without the condition that DDB’s showcase is protected by technical measures to prevent framing.

With clarification needed, the Federal Court of Justice asked the EU Court of Justice to interpret the Copyright Directive, which requires member states to provide rightsholders with the exclusive right to grant or prohibit any communication to the public of their copyright works.

On Friday, the EU Court published Advocate General Maciej Szpunar’s opinion on the matter. Such opinions are not legally binding but in most cases the EU Court of Justice adopts the Advocate General’s recommendations in its final decision. In this case, Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz and DDB appear to have the law on their side although the final decision will be for the German court to decide.

‘Framing’ Does Not Require Copyright Holders’ Permission

“[E]mbedding in a webpage of works from other websites (where those works are made freely available to the public with the authorization of the copyright holder) by means of clickable links using the framing technique does not require the copyright holder’s authorization, since he or she is deemed to have given it when the work was initially made available,” the Court’s summary of the advice reads.

Interestingly, the opinion goes further still to address DDB’s assertion that it should not have to implement technical measures to prevent framing by third-parties. The Advocate General says that even when technical measures are deployed to prevent framing, the same still applies.

“Such measures restrict neither access to a work nor even a means of accessing it, but only a manner of displaying it on a screen. In those circumstances, there can be no question of a new public, because the public is always the same: the public of the website targeted by the link,” the opinion adds.

‘Automatic Inline Linking’ is a Different Matter

A simple example of ‘inline linking’ can be found when a copyrighted image is published on one site then a second site publishes that image by directly linking to the original source URL.

In a news article, for example, a picture posted by the New York Times at https://nytimes.com/image.jpg can be reproduced on a third-party site using that same URL, displaying it automatically and making it appear that the content is actually hosted on the second site, with appropriate permission. According to the opinion, this is not acceptable.

“[T]he embedding of such works by means of automatic links (inline linking, the works being displayed automatically on the webpage viewed as soon as it is opened, without any further action on the part of the user), normally used to embed graphics and audiovisual files, requires, according to the Advocate General, the authorization of the holder of the rights in the works,” the EU Court writes.

“Where those automatic links lead to works protected by copyright, there is, from both a technical and a functional point of view, an act of communication of those works to a public which was not taken into account by the copyright holder when the works were initially made available, namely the public of a website other than that on which that initial making available of the works took place.”

A key difference between inline linking and framing, the opinion notes, is that the user cannot determine where an image has come from since there is no visible link to the original publishing site. As a result, it “cannot be presumed” that the copyright holder took these secondary users into account when authorizing the original platform to publish the work.

While ‘inline linking’ is therefore generally disallowed, exceptions can exist, such as when works are used for the purposes of “quotation, caricature, parody or pastiche”.

Circumvention of Technical Measures

Circumvention of technical measures to protect copyright works is usually a breach of copyright but the circumvention rules only apply in matters where the rightsholders’ permission is required. The Advocate General says that since permission isn’t required to ‘frame’ content, the circumvention rules do not come into play here.

“Since framing does not require such authorization, technological protection measures against framing are not therefore eligible for the legal protection provided for by the directive. By contrast, since inline linking requires the authorization of the copyright holder, technological protection measures against inline linking are eligible for that legal protection,” the opinion concludes.

Previous Ruling on Embedding

In 2014, the EU Court of Justice ruled that embedding a file or video in a webpage in a frame is not a breach of copyright, as long as the content isn’t altered or communicated to a ‘new public’.

In that case, the original content had been uploaded to YouTube without the creator’s permission and embedded in a second site. However, that initial infringement wasn’t carried through to the second site as the content was presented in a frame and wasn’t considered a new communication to the public.

The full opinion, which is now part of the EU judge’s deliberations, is available here. Judgment will be handed down in due course.

From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more.

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Anti-Piracy Plug-In Spots Pirate IPTV Sales But Also Makes Big Blunders

Online marketplaces such as eBay and Amazon offer an impressive range of products but to the disappointment of various companies, some have the potential to infringe trademarks or copyrights.

Rogue sales have traditionally taken the form of counterfeit clothing, perfumes and similar products. These days, however, troublesome listings are increasingly likely to involve piracy-enabled set-top boxes, pirate IPTV subscriptions, or similar tools used to access content without paying for it.

New Anti-Piracy Browser Plug-In

In an effort to counter this threat, this week Scotland-based Vistalworks announced the launch of a new browser plug-in which, according to its press release, “alerts consumers to illicit internet streaming services” ahead of the new English Premiership season.

“Vistalworks has developed the free warning system which tells online shoppers about the risks of opening up their personal data to criminals through cut-price IPTV subscriptions. It is hoped the pop-up warning will discourage people from purchasing illicit IPTV, as well as make consumers aware that this is not a victimless crime,” the company says.

Does the Plug-In Perform as Advertised?

Available for Chrome, the plug-in (available here) demands access to all customer browsing activities on both eBay and Amazon to do its job. In our initial tests it performed reasonably well, spotting pirate IPTV packages on eBay along with streaming devices that have been modified to provide access to content without paying the legal provider.

Vistalworks Plug In

“This listing is associated with illegally streamed content. You won’t get your money back if the service ends without warning, your personal data is exposed to criminals and there is an extremely high risk of exposure to malware, phishing and spyware,” the warning reads.

The warning is absolutely correct that pirate streaming services are prone to going down and not issuing refunds. However, as we’ve pointed out numerous times before, the claims of malware, phishing, and spyware are far-fetched when it comes to buying a simple username and password subscription (as most listings offer) on eBay or Amazon.

Nevertheless, when the circumstances are known, these packages are illegal to sell, illegal to buy, and illegal to use, so the basic warning isn’t without some merit. Importantly, the plug-in was effective in spotting the majority of listings we tested, sometimes producing a ‘High Risk’ alert and sometimes erring on the side of caution with an appropriate ‘Caution’ alert.

In other circumstances, however, the plug-in not only manages to get things wrong but also provides cautionary advice that’s detrimental to both consumers, legitimate sellers and official broadcasters alike.

The Bad and the Ugly

Somewhat ahead of its time, IPTV Crash Course was a book released in 2006 that aimed to educate people on the world of IPTV. Not pirate IPTV, of course, but simply the delivery of TV content over the Internet. It’s available on Amazon and gets a big green tick of approval from the plug-in. Search for the same on eBay, however, and users are warned against making a purchase.

Vistalworks High Risk

“Characteristics of this listing are often associated with fake or illicit products. There may be a higher risk of this product being poor quality, faulty or unfit for purpose,” the warning reads.

While the words “often” and “may” give some room for maneuver, the registered business seller on eBay trying to sell this completely legal paperback book is unlikely to be pleased that his listing has been flagged as poor quality or unfit for purpose.

The same goes for a pair of listings on Amazon and eBay, both offering the completely legitimate MAG 322 IPTV set-top box manufactured by Infomir.

On Amazon, the product gets a green tick of approval but on eBay, it’s flagged as a device connected to illegal streaming. It comes with a warning of personal data being exposed to criminals alongside an “extremely high risk of exposure to malware, phishing and spyware.”

Vistalworks High Risk 3

Not only is device manufacturer Infomir known to work with copyright holders to prevent illegal access to content, but the company is also extremely sensitive when it comes to being associated with piracy.

Mentions of malware, spyware, and personal data being exposed to criminals through their product is unlikely to sit well either, not least since it’s untrue.

Unfortunately, Blunders Can Be Anti-Consumer Too

With most people trying to cut costs these days, Amazon and eBay are well-known for their ability to direct consumers to a bargain. As a result, these platforms are often the first port of call for online buyers hoping to save a few dollars, pounds or euros on their purchase.

Sadly, the plug-in manages to blunder here too, not only casting doubt over sales of completely legitimate IPTV-related products but in some cases, preferring Amazon over eBay for no good reason.

For example, Now TV is a legal IPTV streaming service operated by broadcaster Sky, which is currently going to great lengths to prevent and deter piracy. People searching for its streaming device on Amazon again get a green tick, indicating that sales are legitimate.

However, after searching for exactly the same thing on eBay, they are presented with a warning.

Vistalworks Caution

This ‘Caution’ warning is a watered-down version of the ‘High Risk’ version seen earlier. It clearly says that the plug-in “can’t yet give a clear answer” on the product, which in isolation is perhaps fair enough. However, the additional advice, to check whether it’s plausible that “a seller could be offering legitimate products at this price” is really problematic in this instance.

On Amazon, the price for the Now TV device and a free trial is currently £29.85. On eBay, the exact same product is being offered for just £19.99, representing a significant saving. What the caution does here is cast doubt over the validity of the eBay listing for being too cheap when compared to Amazon at £10 more.

However, both listings are by exactly the same seller (Boss Deals), with the higher costs on Amazon most likely indicative of the extra charges incurred when selling on the platform.

Obviously, if consumers compare these two listings and decide to buy from Amazon as a result of the caution, Boss Deals still gets the order. However, if this was a competitor, the company would be much less pleased. Not to mention, of course, that the consumer would be parting with more money for exactly the same thing, ‘thanks’ to the plug-in.

Conclusion – Word Filters Are Notoriously Untrustworthy

It’s clear that at some level the Vistalworks plug-in relies on word filters and considering the focus on IPTV, it’s obvious that the term is causing some of the issues here, no matter what products are searched for, even when they’re legal.

The underlying systems currently aren’t smart enough to burrow into the details (especially on eBay) since it’s even possible to trigger a ‘caution’ alarm when buying a BitTorrent t-shirt or a Pirate Bay mug. This raises the prospect of plug-in users seeing too many false alarms and simply switching the thing off.

For those who still want to test, the plug-in is available here

From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more.

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Hollywood, Netflix & Amazon Win Injunction Against CCM IPTV & Resellers

In addition to serving cease-and-desist notices on various players involved in the supply of pirated movies and TV shows, the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment often takes matters a step further.

Mostly via copyright infringement lawsuits filed in the United States, the global anti-piracy coalition has accused several providers of acting outside the law, hoping to shut the services down and achieve a damages award or significant settlement.

Copyright Infringement Lawsuit Against CCM

During August, ACE sued pirate provider Crystal Clear Media (CCM) under its business name TTKN Enterprises LLC. It also named Todd and Tori Smith of Florida as defendants, identifying them as the operators of CCM.

A key feature of the case is the emphasis placed on so-called VOD content. While CCM and other providers tend to provide thousands of live TV channels, they also delivered so-called 24/7 channels (which reportedly offered “marathons of Disney’s movie Frozen II and Warner Bros.’s Harry Potter movie collection”) along with other mainstream movies on-demand.

According to the complaint, CCM knew this was a problem after ACE successfully shut down the Vaders IPTV platform last year. However, instead of backing away, CCM continued to provide access to video-on-demand while cultivating a network of resellers dedicated to servicing existing and prospective CCM customers.

Lawsuit Demands Injunctive Relief and Damages

The ultimate goals of the lawsuit against CCM are to win a permanent injunction to take it offline while obtaining a substantial damages award. With statutory damages running to $150,000 per title infringed, significant amounts are on the table.

In the first instance, however, the ACE members – including Disney, Paramount, Amazon, Netflix and others – sought a preliminary injunction with a number of key elements. That was comprehensively achieved via an order handed down by Judge George H. Wu in a California district court this week.

Preliminary Injunction

Addressing the plaintiffs’ claims under 17 U.S.C. § 106 of the Copyright Act, Judge Wu ordered the defendants not to directly or secondarily infringe any of the rights owned or controlled by the plaintiffs in respect of their copyrighted works.

While that effectively prevents the CCM service from operating, the Judge also responded to requests from the plaintiffs to render unusable a wide range of domain names previously deployed by the IPTV provider.

“Except to as requested by Plaintiffs, Defendants shall not transfer or otherwise relinquish control to the domains: mediahosting.one, crystalcleariptv.com, ccmedia.one, ccbilling.org, cciptv.us, ccreborn.one, ccultimate.one, superstreamz.com and webplayer.us,” the order reads.

Along those same lines, the Judge further ordered GoDaddy, One.com and their respective registrars to disable access to the above domains while preventing them from being modified, sold, transferred or deleted. The WHOIS information of the domains must also be preserved, including all contact and similar identifying information.

Additionally, the listed domain companies, plus all others receiving notice of the order, must preserve all evidence that may be used to identify the people that used the domains in question to infringe copyright.

Injunction Also Targets Resellers of the CCM Service

The original complaint alleges that CCM operated an “extensive and expanding” reseller network. These people bulk-bought “credits” from CCM that were converted to subscriber login credentials when purchased by customers.

“Defendants’ reseller program plays a pivotal role in their infringing enterprise. Defendants’ resellers market and promote CCM as a substitute for authorized and licensed distributors,” the lawsuit claims.

After hearing that this expansion poses an exponential infringement threat, Judge Wu agreed that the network of sellers must also be prevented from operating. With that, he granted permission for the entertainment companies to complete service of process on anyone acting in concert with the defendants, including resellers of the service.

“Upon receipt of a copy of this Order, these individuals and entities shall cease directly or secondarily infringing any of Plaintiffs’ Copyrighted Works through any means including publicly performing, reproducing, or otherwise infringing in any manner…any right under 17 U.S.C § 106 in any of Plaintiffs’ Copyrighted Works by continuing to provide access to Defendants’ service or by any other means,” the Judge added.

While CCM is already believed to be out of action, the above paragraph indicates that if resellers of CCM are currently offering other IPTV packages from a different supplier that also offer illegal access to the plaintiffs’ content, they must stop doing that too after receiving a copy of the order.

The preliminary injunction is available here (pdf)

From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more.