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Movie Company Sues Pirates Who Used an Anonymous VPN

Millions of Internet users around the world use a VPN to protect their privacy online.

Another key benefit is that VPNs hide users’ true IP-address, making them more anonymous. This prevents third-party monitoring outfits from carrying out unwanted snooping.

This is one of the reasons why many torrent users have a VPN installed. Instead of displaying their own IP-address in torrent swarms, the VPN IP-address will show up. And when the provider doesn’t keep any logs, that address can’t be traced back to a single user.

Lawsuit Targets Pirating VPN Users

Such a setup seems secure, but it hasn’t prevented the makers of the action movie ‘Angel Has Fallen’ from suing several anonymous VPN users. In a recent lawsuit filed at a federal court in Colorado, the company lists fourteen alleged pirates that used an IP-address of the VPN service Private Internet Access, also known as PIA.

“Upon information and belief, Defendants DOES 3-5, 7-10 and 12-17 registered for paid accounts for Virtual Private Network (‘VPN’) service with the Colorado Internet Service Provider Private Internet Access,” the complaint reads.

The lawsuit in question lists the defendants as Does, which means that their true identities are unknown. However, attorney Kerry Culpepper, who represents Fallen Productions in this matter, hopes to find out more through third-party subpoenas.

Info From YTS User Database

The case relies in part on information from the YTS user database that was shared by the operator of the site earlier this year, as part of a settlement. This includes download details of several users, as well as their IP-addresses and email addresses.

pia does

The attorney has requested subpoenas to compel email providers, Internet providers, and Private Internet Access for more personal information. In the past, we have seen that Microsoft and ISPs such as Comcast will hand over what they have, but with a VPN this isn’t as straightforward.

PIA’s Confirmed No-Log Policy

PIA has a so-called ‘no logs’ policy which means that it can’t link a VPN IP-address and a timestamp to a unique user. This policy has been repeatedly tested and confirmed in courts.

Culpepper informs TorrentFreak that he will request a subpoena regardless. He argues that the use of a VPN shows that people were aware of their illegal activity.

“It is relevant because it shows they tried to hide their activities. It shows consciousness of the illegal activities,” Culpepper says, while pointing out an article where PIA warned YTS users that they were at risk.

PIA’s Jurisdiction Angle

In addition, by signing the terms of service, PIA users also subject themselves to the jurisdiction of Courts in Colorado. This is relevant in this case because not all defendants are from the western U.S. state.

“Most importantly, if they signed up for an account with PIA they agreed to jurisdiction in Colorado no matter where they are. Most of the PIA users were not in Colorado,” Culpepper notes.

pia colorado lawsuit

All defendants are accused of downloading a torrent titled “Angel Has Fallen (2019) [BluRay] [720p] [YTS.LT],” as well as other copyright-infringing content that isn’t specified.

Defendants Still at Risk

According to the complaint all defendants have received at least one DMCA notice. Fifteen of them were also contacted repeatedly on their known email address with cease and desist notices and settlement offers, but these were ignored.

With this lawsuit Fallen Productions hopes to uncover the identities of the people behind these IP- and email addresses.

TorrentFreak contacted PIA for a comment on the lawsuit. The company said that it hasn’t received a subpoena yet and reiterated that it can’t identify individual users.

“Private Internet Access has not received a subpoena in regards to this case. Even if we do, our response will be the same as always: PIA does not log VPN user activity,” a PIA spokesperson informed us.

That was also confirmed in more detail earlier this year in our annual VPN overview.

“There are no logs kept for any person or entity to match an IP address and a timestamp to a current or former user of our service,” PIA said at the time.

That said, defendants are still at risk, as their email addresses are known as well. That doesn’t prove anything, as YTS allowed members to sign up with a fake email, but it could lead to people being identified eventually, without PIA’s involvement.

If anything, this case shows that using a VPN only offers limited anonymity. When people use a VPN irregularly and leave other information behind, such as email addresses, they may eventually be exposed anyway.

A copy of Fallen Production’s complaint, filed as the US District Court in Colorado, is available here (pdf)

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

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Government-Backed Anti-Piracy Deal Aims to Disrupt Pirate Site Cash Flow

In recent years, various copyright holder groups have advocated for initiatives to cut off funding to pirate sites.

This “follow-the-money” approach is complex as it requires voluntary cooperation from various third-party services such as payment processors, hosting companies, advertisers, and search engines.

In Denmark, local anti-piracy group Rights Alliance has been working on this issue for several years and this week revealed a breakthrough. Together with the Danish Ministry of Culture, the group announced a new anti-piracy deal.

Anti-Piracy Codex Agreement

The Codex agreement, which is signed by several of Denmark’s biggest media agencies, advertising outfits, payment processors, and industry organizations, expands an earlier initiative that was limited to the advertising industry.

All parties that signed the deal have agreed to ban pirate sites to the best of their abilities. Ideally, this should lead to fewer ads on pirate sites and decreased payment processing options, among other things. How this is achieved will vary from company to company.

The agreement is the result of an initiative by the Ministry of Culture which started in 2013. Through a government-led series of hearings, various key players were brought together, which ultimately led to the cooperation that was announced this week.

Danish Minister of Culture Joy Mogensen is happy with the progress made and hopes it will help put a dent in the ongoing piracy problem.

“It is important that we stand together to ensure that advertisements for legal services and products do not inadvertently end up on illegal websites and in this way indirectly help to finance illegal activities. That is why I am pleased that there is so much support for the Codex agreement from the key digital players,” Mogensen says.

Dedicated Anti-Piracy Measures

All signatories agreed to a set of anti-piracy obligations. For example, they will distance themselves from pirate services, implement concrete anti-piracy policies, and block known pirate sites wherever possible.

From the Codex Agreement

codex

The known pirate sites are placed on a “cooperation list” which is intentionally kept secret. In fact, signees are specifically forbidden from sharing it with outsiders.

Unpublished Blocklist

“As a rule, the Cooperation List is not public in its entirety and is only available to those companies who cooperate on the list so that sites with illegal content are not highlighted unnecessarily,” the agreement reads.

TorrentFreak reached out to the Danish Rights Alliance to get some more context. Unsurprisingly, the group couldn’t share the full blocklist but director Maria Fredenslund informed us that it contains roughly 350 URLs including Thepiratebay.org, Popcorn-Time.is, as well as the defunct Grooveshark.com site.

These URLs are based on Danish site-blocking orders, issued by local courts. However, the Rights Alliance would like to see it expanded in the future. For example, sites can be added based on set criteria, similar to WIPO’s piracy blacklist.

“This list is based on dynamic court orders, however, we believe that it is essential to expand with sites which are illegal based on approved criteria – inspired by WIPO’s list,” Fredenslund tells TorrentFreak.

Will It Work?

Time will tell how effective the Codex agreement will be. TorrentFreak reached out to two signees, media and advertising agency OMD and the publishing industry organization Danske Medier, but both said they have no way to directly measure the effects.

Allan Sørensen from Danske Medier says that individual publishers always had the option to block campaigns from illegal sites. However, that wasn’t always easy, as not all ads are separately approved and it’s not always clear what a pirate site is. With the Codex blocklist, this will be easier.

“It’s safe to say that a lot fewer banners from copyright-infringing sites are being shown as a consequence of this initiative and it has greatly improved the efforts needed from publishers and the legal certainty in the matter,” Sørensen says.

While that is certainly true, there are always advertising companies who won’t shy away from pirate sites. Some even seek them out specifically. And on the payment side, some cryptocurrencies are impossible to cut off.

More information on the Codex agreement and other signatories, which also include Microsoft News, Adform, Jubii Media Group, Eurocard, and Xandr, is available on the Rights Alliance website.

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

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RIAA Takes Down Popular Open Source YouTube-DL Software

Every day, copyright holders send out millions of takedown notices to various services, hoping to protect their works.

Most notices target content that’s clearly copyright-infringing, but others are open to interpretation or debate.

This is also the case with a takedown notice that was sent by the RIAA this week. The music industry’s anti-piracy group asked GitHub to remove the open-source YouTube-DL repository as well as several forks.

Stream-Ripping Piracy

YouTube-DL is widely used by individuals and some stream-ripper sites to download videos from YouTube.com and other platforms. These can range from public domain videos to copyrighted music tracks.

GitHub responded swiftly to the notice and removed all of the YouTube-DL repositories, which now show a DMCA takedown notification instead.

github dmca

While these stream-ripping tools can be used to download non-infringing content, as digital rights group EFF highlighted in the past, millions of people use them to download personal copies of music tracks.

In fact, the music industry sees stream-ripping as the single biggest piracy threat. This is also how the group motivates its takedown request to GitHub.

“The clear purpose of this source code is to (i) circumvent the technological protection measures used by authorized streaming services such as YouTube, and (ii) reproduce and distribute music videos and sound recordings owned by our member companies without authorization for such use.”

Anti-Circumvention Violations

As we have seen in the past, RIAA cites the anti-circumvention provisions of the DMCA, which prohibits the public from bypassing technological protection measures. While it’s YouTube’s protection measures being bypassed in this case, the RIAA member labels are among the ‘victims.’

According to the RIAA, the source code includes several samples that show how people can download tracks from Icona Pop, Justin Timberlake, and Taylor Swift, without permission.

Source Code Mentions Copyrighted Content

“The source code notes that the Icona Pop work identified above is under the YouTube Standard license, which expressly restricts access to copyrighted works only for streaming on YouTube and prohibits their further reproduction or distribution without consent of the copyright owner,” RIAA writes.

From RIAA’s takedown notice

riaa takedown

According to the RIAA, YouTube-DL’s code is primarily designed and marketed for circumventing YouTube’s technological measures, which violates 17 USC §§1201(a)(2) and 1201(b)(1) of the DMCA.

While there is little jurisprudence in US Courts about stream-rippers specifically, the music group points to a decision from the Hamburg Regional Court in a similar case, which found that YouTube’s “rolling cipher” is an effective technological protection measure under EU law.

YouTube-DL Remains Online

TorrentFreak reached out to the YouTube-DL developers to hear their side of the story but they prefer not to comment for now.

However, it appears that they don’t plan to throw in the towel just yet. The yt-dl.org website remains online and it still lists a recently modified version of the code.

In addition, the website was updated to remove links to GitHub pages that were taken down. This includes the about page, which now long longer lists the name of the developers.

The YouTube-DL takedown is part of a broader campaign against stream-ripping tools. The RIAA labels are also engaged in a lawsuit against two popular YouTube-ripper sites in the US, and continue to remove these and other services from Google’s search results.

At the same time, YouTube itself is engaged in a proxy war against similar sites.

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

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Denmark’s Largest Torrent Tracker Shuts Down After Owner’s Reported Arrest

With millions of views per month, DanishBits (DB) was one of the most popular private torrent trackers on the web.

As its name suggests, the site operated from Denmark and it mostly served visitors from the Scandinavian country, where it was more popular than public torrent sites.

A few days ago this reign came to an end. All of a sudden the site became unreachable and, according to several people close to the fire, this is the result of an investigation into the site’s operators.

Owner Arrested?

One staff member informed TorrentFreak that one of the owners was arrested earlier this month. While this has yet to be confirmed by the authorities, a message posted on Pastebin, confirms the trouble.

“Dear users, with pain in our heart we must inform you that DB as you all know it, and which you all have loved, unfortunately seems to have reached the end of the road,” the note reads, translated from Danish

“We have been informed that important people behind DB have unfortunately been caught by the long arm of the law. These people were in charge of running the site and the current downtime is simply due to the fact that they are not present to solve them.”

The statement leaves some wiggle room, as there is no official confirmation of any arrest. We have reached out to a source close to law enforcement who confirmed that something is indeed going on, but no information can be shared at this moment.

Servers Were Encrypted

The DanishBits staffer informed us that the privacy of users was secured. No data was leaked as the servers are still online and encrypted. However, the man who was supposedly arrested was the only person with full access and the rest of the staff can’t control the servers.

This statement is backed up by the note that was posted in public which mentions that “all servers run full encryption and it’s practically impossible to access data, even if the servers behind the page should be seized.”

Technically, the site’s owner could still access the server and hand over information voluntarily, but that’s all speculation at this point.

For now, it seems unlikely that DanishBits will return. Without access to the database, the site will have to start from scratch which is a monumental task. While some staffers still have a glimmer of “hope,” that may mostly be wishful thinking.

Other Trackers Take Over

The message they shared in public reads like a farewell note too. The staffers thank all people who have supported the site over the years and apologize for initially remaining quiet during the downtime. Several comeback options were considered, but none were viable.

“We wanted to exhaust all our options before we announced this out, it is of course not our wish that the site should go this way,” they write, encouraging competing trackers to open their doors to new users.

“All staffers would also like to send a request to the remaining Danish trackers (ShareUniversity and Asgrd) to open up signup so that users on DB can find a new place and download their daily content.”

This message was heard, it seems, as both trackers are open for registration at the time of writing.

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

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French Three-Strikes Anti-Piracy Law Mostly Benefited American Movies

France has been fighting on the anti-piracy enforcement frontline for more than a decade now.

The country was the first to introduce a graduated response system, Hadopi, where Internet subscribers risked losing their Internet connections if they were caught sharing torrents repeatedly.

This elaborate anti-piracy scheme provided a great opportunity for researchers to study the effects on legal consumption. Over the years, many papers have been published, documenting both positive and negative effects.

Recently, a new study was added to the mix that looks at the effect of the three-strikes law on movie theater visits. The researchers specifically examine the effects of Hadopi’s early period. That’s years ago now, but the academic papermill moves slowly.

The paper, published in the peer-reviewed journal Information Systems Research, shows that the anti-piracy law didn’t increase box office revenue overall. However, it did have an effect on the type of movies people were picking.

Hadopi Boosted Market Share of US Films

“We show that, following the introduction of the Hadopi law, the market share for US films increased by 9% at the expense of other movies,” says Christophe Bellégo, Assistant Professor in Economics at ENSAE and lead author of the paper.

This market share increase comes at the expense of other films, including French ones, as the overall expenditure on box office tickets remains relatively stable. The researchers expect that this increase in U.S. movies can be explained by the belief that these are riskier to pirate.

“Without an anti-piracy law, some people illegally consume American movies online and legally watch domestic movies in theaters because illegal copies of American movies are easily available on the Internet during their theatrical exhibition. This is much less the case for other movies,” Bellégo tells us.

While one might think that overall movie theater visits would increase, that’s not the case. According to the researchers, this can be explained by the fact that people have limited time and money.

No Overall Revenue Increase

The findings are not very uplifting for the French movie industry. Instead of boosting revenue, attendance of French films dropped. However, the researchers don’t want to conclude that the three-strikes measures failed. They simply changed consumption habits.

“[The effects are] clearly not in line with the French cultural policy aimed at supporting the production of domestic films and cultural diversity. However, depending on what the ultimate goal of the government is, supporting fair competition or supporting domestic cultural production, the policy is more or less efficient.”

Put differently, Hadopi corrected legal consumption patterns in favor of the US movie industry, which more accurately reflects people’s true demand. At least, when it comes to movie theater visits.

Limitations

There are some limitations to the study of course. The research period is limited to the period between 2008 and 2011 when Hadopi was getting started. It’s likely that these effects wore off over time. Similarly, the researchers only looked at the theatrical market. Other revenue streams, such as DVDs and Blu-ray sales, were not considered.

That said, it’s clear that anti-piracy measures affect various types of content in different ways. For some it’s positive, and for others, it clearly isn’t.

“As in many other areas, the effects of policies are complex. They often lead to redistributive effects where there are winners and losers. It’s a bit like sitting on a waterbed. Your weight displaces some water elsewhere, but the total volume is the same,” Bellégo tells us.

“Understanding the asymmetric effects has important implications for firms whose profits may be affected by legislation fighting piracy as well as for governments for the design of their policy,” he adds.

The paper by Christophe Bellégo and Romain De Nijs, titled “The Unintended Consequences of Antipiracy Laws on Markets with Asymmetric Piracy: The Case of the French Movie Industry,” is available here (paywall). A free pre-print can be found on SSRN.

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

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Pirated Screeners of ‘Falling’ and ‘My Salinger Year’ Leak Online Early

Pirated copies of movies leak all year round, often ripped from DVDs, Blu-rays or online streaming platforms. That by itself is nothing special.

However, when the days are getting shorter, pirates start anticipating another release category: screeners.

Screeners are advance copies of recent movies that are generally sent out to critics and awards voters. Some of these end up in the hands of pirates and are published online, with the first usually appearing around December.

With this in mind, it was a surprise to see two screener releases appearing on pirate sites a few hours ago. Pirate release group EVO got their hands on early copies of the films ‘Falling‘ and ‘My Salinger Year,’ both of which are sourced from online screeners.

Both films are posted with the ‘WEBSCR’ tag; Falling 2020 WEBSCR XViD-EVO and My Salinger Year 2020 WEBSCR XviD-EVO.

These early releases are noteworthy, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that more will follow soon after. While the films are labeled as screeners, they don’t appear to be the typical award show releases.

My Salinger Year screencap
salinger year

EVO’s release notes don’t reveal where the films came from. The group lists “joey_498” as the source, but without further context.

What both movies have in common is that they’re not typical Hollywood blockbusters. They are titles that were showcased at festivals such as the annual Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) which ended earlier this month.

Interestingly, VIFF was largely held online this year due to the COVID pandemic. This meant that ‘visitors’ could screen the films over a dedicated streaming platform, where ‘My Salinger Year’ and ‘Falling’ happened to the among the most-streamed films.

We don’t know if the Canadian festival was a source for the recent leaks. We reached out to the release group EVO to find out more. While they couldn’t reveal the source for safety reasons, the screeners are confirmed festival releases.

“We can’t speak about the source itself, for safety reasons. Yet, yes, they are ‘webscreeners’ from the festivals,” EVO informed TorrentFreak.

Although the leaks don’t come from typical award voting releases, they do illustrate the growing trend of screeners moving online more. Last year, the Emmys moved online completely, ditching the traditional DVD screeners.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will follow this example. The Academy will still send out physical Oscars screeners this year, but starting in 2021 it will move online completely.

Some movie industry insiders hoped that leaks will be easier to prevent and control online. However, release group EVO told us previously that it’s not going to make much of a difference.

In recent years various screener leaks were obtained from online platforms and this week’s releases show that leaks are impossible to rule out. And indeed, EVO has just confirmed again that it doesn’t expect anything to change soon.

“The only difference is that studios are being forced to move to digital. The DRM is the same and nothing else has changed,” EVO told us.

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

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There’s a Hidden ‘Proxy War’ Between YouTube and Stream Rippers

It’s no secret that the music industry sees stream-ripping as today’s single biggest piracy threat.

While there are sites and services covering many platforms, those that allow the public to download music tracks from YouTube are particularly problematic.

Over the past several years, major music labels have taken legal action against several key players. YouTube-MP3 was shut down after a legal battle while 2Conv and FLVto are currently being sued. At the same time, rightsholders launched an active campaign to remove these sites from Google’s search results.

Despite these enforcement actions, stream-rippers continue to serve millions of users today. In fact, they are actively fighting back behind the scenes.

TorrentFreak spoke to the operator of several YouTube-ripping sites. While he prefers to keep his identity private, at least from the public, he shared some interesting background on how stream-rippers are threatened, and how they’re responding.

We’ll start with the enforcement efforts YouTube itself takes. While music industry insiders are most vocal about their anti-piracy actions, YouTube isn’t sitting still either.

Warnings From YouTube’s Legal Team

YouTube’s legal team approaches operators of stream-ripping sites directly with cease and desist notices. We have seen several of these emails, and the site owner we spoke to recently received one as well.

The email doesn’t come with any concrete legal threats but it urges the recipient to comply with YouTube’s Terms of Services and Developer Policies, which prohibit unauthorized downloading.

“If applicable, you must also delete any Content including data that you may have gathered in violation of our terms, policies, and applicable laws,” the email notes, granting operators seven days to comply.

These requests are not new. YouTube has been sending out similar messages for years. In some cases this is effective, as smaller sites are easily threatened and swiftly throw in the towel, but others continue regardless.

As far as we know YouTube doesn’t take any further action against sites that ignore their warning. At least, not in court. But there is more. Since last year, the streaming service has silently intensified its countermeasures against stream-rippers.

YouTube’s IP-address Blocking

Last summer, the site started taking active and aggressive countermeasures to block IP-addresses that are frequently used by stream-ripping services to download content. Our source describes these blocks as ‘purges’.

“There are 2 types of ‘purges’. The first one is ongoing; if YouTube notices too many requests coming from a single IP address – it blocks that IP. The second type is the ‘grand purge’ which sometimes happens daily, and sometimes two or three times a week,” he says.

These purges caused several sites to shut down but others have adapted. They started rotating through thousands of proxies in order to evade YouTube’s countermeasures. Old IP-addresses are discarded and swiftly changed for new ones.

Thousands of Proxies

“Back in the day, well, roughly a year ago, you could run any amount of requests through a single IP. Now it’s so much more complicated. We use up to 1,000 proxies per week, so it’s not an easy game,” our source says.

YouTube has never elaborated on these actions in public but with hundreds if not thousands of active stream-ripping sites, it seems that there’s a massive blocking effort going on behind the scenes.

In addition to these purges, Google also removes URLs from search results when they are reported by copyright holders, as we alluded to earlier. This is a frustrating experience for bigger site operators, who have to switch to fresh URLs frequently.

Search Delisting as an Advantage

However, these removals also provide an opportunity for smaller players, including our source. In fact, some are set up specifically to anticipate delistings of bigger players.

“I have over a hundred sites and most of them deal with YouTube MP3 & MP4 conversions. 90% of them have no traffic and exist only to take over someone else’s traffic, in case they are shut down or delisted,” he says.

Running more sites is the normal practice now, apparently. And when some of our source’s sites started to do well, with over 100,000 visitors per day, others began to copy them, just in case they are delisted too.

“At some point, we figured with all the delistings and threats it’s best to have many sites. Some sites will do well, others won’t. I’m also making imitators of my own sites just to make sure others’ imitators don’t start stealing my traffic,” our source says.

The takedown requests and delistings continue but by now most sites are prepared for them. The operator we spoke with keeps a close eye on incoming notices, which are published in the Lumen Database. As it may take a few days before these are processed, it’s possible to swiftly switch to new URLs to prevent any traffic loss.

Limited Impact

Overall, our source doesn’t believe that search result removals have a major impact. While some sites may have lost traffic, others have gained new visitors. The number of people searching for YouTube rippers didn’t decrease, after all.

“I don’t think the delisting requests have had an impact on the overall use of MP3 rippers. Maybe for a few weeks in the very beginning perhaps, when a big site would experience delisting for the first time and spend a few days figuring out what was happening. And even then it would only affect these certain delisted sites.

“Google would always be there to help those who accessed these sites through the search engine with a list of fresh results,” our source adds.

All in all, it’s intriguing to see how stream-rippers have adapted to the countermeasures and how some are even profiting from it. While YouTube does take action, they have yet to find a good solution to limit the problem.

We have reached out to YouTube/Google to ask for more details on its enforcement efforts but the company hasn’t responded yet. Perhaps the company prefers to remain quiet for now, and continue their proxy war in the background.

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

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Cloudflare Counters Mass Piracy Allegations in ‘Thothub’ Lawsuit

Cloudflare is a CDN provider that doesn’t host any copyright infringing material, but several of the company’s customers do.

This has resulted in various copyright infringement allegations, including lawsuits in the US, Europe, and elsewhere.

While Cloudflare positions itself as a neutral intermediary that can’t do anything to stop pirate sites, not all courts agree. Just this month, courts in Germany and Italy ruled that Cloudflare must take action against copyright-infringing customers.

Waidhofer vs. Thothub

In the US, the company is also involved in various copyright infringement lawsuits. One of the most prominent was filed this summer by Deniece Waidhofer, a Texas-based model with millions of followers, who sells sexy pictures of herself online.

Like many others, Waidhofer offers different subscription levels for her photos, charging up to $1,000 per month for the sexiest footage. That sounds like a profitable business, but as with all content published on the Internet, pirates can step in to ruin the party.

Some of her ‘fans’ abuse the exclusive paid access to post her photos in public. This is done in many places, including specialized sites that focus on such exclusive leaks. Up until a few weeks ago, the website Thothub was one of the biggest players in this market.

Copyright Lawsuit Involves Cloudflare

Unhappy with the state of play, Waidhofer took Thothub to court. In a complaint filed at a federal court in California, she accused the site’s alleged operator – who goes by the name “Captain Thotcakes” – and the site’s members of direct copyright infringement.

The claims also apply to several advertisers and Cloudflare, the CDN provider used by the site. Together, these parties are also charged with other claims, including violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.

Soon after the lawsuit was filed Thothub went offline and it hasn’t come back since. This is an early victory for the model, but it doesn’t mean that the case is over. Cloudflare still has to defend itself against the allegations and a few days ago the company countered these in court.

Cloudflare Wants Claims Dismissed

In a 34-page filing, Cloudflare refutes the allegations. It asks the court to dismiss all claims, describing the lawsuit as a “frivolous” attempt to hold an innocent third-party intermediary liable.

“Plaintiff’s attempt to turn the fact that a single website signed up for Cloudflare’s services online into a wide-ranging criminal conspiracy is frivolous,” Cloudflare writes.

“Plaintiff’s effort to hold Cloudflare liable for copyright infringement that allegedly occurred on Thothub, simply because Cloudflare provided content-neutral infrastructure and security services, lacks any basis.”

Cloudflare stresses that, in her complaint, Waidhofer herself emphasizes that the company’s role is limited to providing services such as infrastructure support, content delivery networking, and DDoS mitigation.

Insufficient Evidence

According to the CDN provider, the copyright infringement allegations can’t be backed up. For example, there is insufficient evidence to show that it purposefully contributed to any infringing activity.

The RICO conspiracy claim fails as well, Cloudflare argues. This requires proof that the companies involved caused Waidhofer harm and that there is a close, direct, and causal connection with Cloudflare’s business activities.

This is not the case here, Cloudflare argues, while pointing the finger at the model’s ‘fans’ who leaked the content.

“Rather, her alleged injury stems from acts of her own subscribers and fans in ‘leaking’ her alleged images, and from acts of Thothub and its users in posting them online and making them available to others,” Cloudflare writes.

Minimal Involvement

The company says it did nothing to purposefully cause these infringements. Even if the company didn’t exist, the ‘pirate’ site could still operate through another CDN provider, or without one.

“Cloudflare does not own or operate Thothub, cannot control what is posted on any given website, and lacks the ability to remove infringing content. Removing Cloudflare’s services would do nothing to remove the content.”

With a timely Halloween reference, the company tries to emphasize its neutral role.

“Cloudflare could not plausibly be considered the proximate cause of any harm flowing from the use of this type of service, any more than a Halloween supply company could be said to have ’caused’ a bank’s losses from masked robbers,” it adds.

Based on these and a variety of other arguments, Cloudflare asks the court to dismiss all claims. This request is now with the court, which will likely hear Waidhofer’s response before making a final judgment.

A copy of Cloudflare’s motion to dismiss is available here (pdf)

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

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Anti-Piracy Alliance Wants .To Registry to Expose Streaming Piracy Giant S.to

With hundreds of thousands of registered users and millions of regular visitors, the pirate TV-streaming community S.to is a force to be reckoned with.

The site targets a German-language audience and currently lists more than 750,000 streaming links to well over 5,000 TV-series.

This public display of piracy is a thorn in the side of major copyright holders. This includes the anti-piracy coalition ACE, which counts Netflix, Amazon, and several Hollywood studios among its members.

ACE wants Domain Registry to Identify S.to operator

In recent weeks, ACE has obtained several subpoenas to compel Cloudflare to hand over all information it has on dozens of pirate sites. This effort continued recently, but this time it’s directed at Tonic, the official registry of the .to domain name, with S.to as the single target.

Through the subpoena, the anti-piracy coalition asks Tonic to disclose information including names, physical addresses, IP addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses, payment information, account updates, and account history associated with the domain registrant.

While .to is the top-level domain of the island kingdom of Tonga, the Tonic registry operates through Tonic Domains Corp., which clearly has a U.S. presence with a California address. As such, it will generally fall under the jurisdiction of US courts.

s.to streaming

As is usually the case with DMCA subpoenas, this request was approved by a court clerk without oversight from a judge. That will require the registry to hand over the requested information. How valuable that will be, has yet to be seen.

Part of the Anti-Piracy Toolbox

An anti-piracy source familiar with the matter informs TorrentFreak that some information obtained through these subpoenas is fake or unusable. However, it can result in actionable intelligence as well, and even false information can have its value.

Generally speaking, our source says that DMCA subpoenas are just another part of a larger anti-piracy toolbox, one that ACE now uses to its full potential.

In the long term, copyright holders are hoping subpoenas will become even more effective. This can be achieved by making sure that information kept by online services is more accurate. This is a topic that’s high on the anti-piracy agenda at the moment.

KYBC Push

Last month, a coalition of more than 50 groups sent a letter sent to the European Commission asking it to consider broader “Know Your Business Customer” (KYBC) requirements as part of the Digital Services Act.

The groups wrote that they would like third-party intermediaries, including hosting providers and domain registrars, to carry out more checks to properly confirm the identities of customers. At the moment, this information is often missing.

This means that, even if ACE’s current subpoena efforts prove to be fruitless, they can still use that failure as ammunition to show that stricter regulations are needed. In other words, it’s pretty much a win-win situation.

A copy of the declaration from MPA/ACE in support of their subpoena request is available here (pdf)

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

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News

19 ‘YTS Users’ Sued for Sharing Pirated Copies of “Ava”

In recent months we have reported in detail how users of the popular torrent site YTS were sued in US courts.

In several of these cases, information shared by the site’s operator was brought in as evidence. The user info was obtained by anti-piracy lawyer Kerry Culpepper, as part of an undisclosed settlement agreement.

This week the same attorney is back in court representing ‘Eve Nevada LLC,’ the company behind the film Ava, which is shared widely on various pirate sites. Again, YTS is prominently mentioned, but this time things are different.

The complaint, filed at a Hawaii federal court, lists 19 ‘John Doe’ defendants who are only known by their IP-addresses. These addresses were caught sharing the film via public torrent trackers. Specifically, the complaint mentions a file titled “Ava (2020) [1080p] [WEBRip] [5.1] [YTS.MX].”

This title leads the filmmakers to the conclusion that the defendant must have been users of the YTS site. Or as the complaint puts it:

“Upon information and belief, each of the Defendants registered for an account on the YTS website using an email address or installed a BitTorrent Client application on their device that retrieved torrent files from the YTS website.”

ava defendants

This same conclusion, in addition to the fact that defendants downloaded the same file, is also used as an argument to join the 19 defendants in one case. However, based on the information presented, it’s far from clear that at all of these people were indeed YTS users.

Unlike in the other cases, the copyright holder didn’t present any information from the YTS user base, likely because it doesn’t have any. The data-sharing was a one-time arrangement several months ago, long before YTS released the movie Ava.

While it’s possible that the defendants indeed used YTS, they could have easily downloaded the .torrent file from other sites where the same file was made available. Although several torrent sites banned YTS torrents, many haven’t, including the illustrious Pirate Bay.

Whether the defendants are actually YTS users or not may not make much of a difference. At least not for the copyright infringement allegations.

In addition to direct and contributory copyright infringement, the complaint also accuses the defendant of violating the DMCA by altering copyright management information (CMI). In this case, that means distributing the movie Ava with an edited title, which references YTS.

“Particularly, the Defendants distributed the file names that included CMI that had been altered to include the wording ‘YTS’. Defendants knew that the wording “YTS” originated from the notorious movie piracy website for which each had registered accounts and/or actively used,” the complaint reads.

It’s doubtful that any of these cases will be fought on the merits. When the defendant’s personal information is exposed it’s likely that they will receive a settlement request, which is usually around $1,000. Those who refuse to settle can argue their case in court, but that’s going to cost as well. They can eventually win the case, but not without investing in a legal defense first.

As far as we know this is the first time people have been sued for downloading the film Ava. The company Eve Nevada is a new name as well, but one with familiar connections. It’s connected to the broader Voltage Pictures family, which has sued tens of thousands of people over the years.

A copy of the complaint filed at the US District Court of Hawaii is available here (pdf)

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