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MPAA and RIAA’s Megaupload Lawsuits Remain on Hold

When the U.S. Government shut down Megaupload in 2012, Internet traffic volumes dropped all over the world.

The destruction of one of the largest file-hosting services came as a shock to hundreds of millions of users, but particularly to the key players involved.

While the authorities had hoped to resolve the case swiftly, the opposite happened. Aside from Andrus Nomm’s plea deal years ago, there hasn’t been any progress in the criminal proceedings against Megaupload’s founder and his co-indicted associates.

After more than eight years, it is still not clear whether Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom and his associates will ever stand trial in the US. They have and continue to fight this request tooth and nail in New Zealand.

While all parties await the outcome, which could take several more years, the criminal case in the United States remains pending. The same goes for the civil cases launched by the MPAA and RIAA in 2014.

This brings us to two new filings Megaupload’s legal team submitted at a Virginia federal court this week. The defunct file-sharing platform requests to keep the RIAA and MPAA cases on hold for at least six more months, noting the lack of movement in the criminal case.

“The Criminal Action is still pending, and none of the individual defendants have been extradited,” writes Megaupload attorney Craig C. Reilly, asking the court to stay the cases.

This request and the court’s swift approval to extend the delay until October doesn’t come as a surprise. The MPAA and RIAA didn’t object to it and similar requests have been granted more than a dozen times already.

The civil cases are not expected to start until after the criminal case in the U.S. has been ‘resolved.’ That can take several more years. Meanwhile, data from Megaupload’s servers remains securely stored, possibly to serve as evidence in the future.

Previously there have been attempts to make it possible for millions of former Megaupload users to retrieve their personal files. However, in recent years there hasn’t been any update on this front.

Similarly, the U.S. Department of Justice announced eight years ago that it would work on a solution to allow rightsholders to check whether their content was shared on Megaupload or related sites. Today, this feature is still listed as being “under construction.”

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Anti-Piracy Campaign Against YouTube-Rippers Has Very Little Effect

Nowadays, most popular music is legally accessible on YouTube. While everyone is allowed to play it, downloading tracks without permission is strictly forbidden.

YouTube itself also prohibits downloading or ripping unless the uploader specifically allows it. However, there are third-party sites that have found ways around these restrictions.

These ‘YouTube-rippers’ have been around for many years, much to the frustration of the music industry. The RIAA, in particular, is actively cracking down on these sites.

In recent months, the music group has filed subpoenas to identify several site operators. In addition, it sends takedown requests to search engines hoping that this will make the sites harder to find.

The latter strategy is relatively new and started just a few months ago. The RIAA doesn’t use standard DMCA notices since most YouTube-rippers don’t host content. Instead, the sites are reported for violating the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provision.

Through this route, the RIAA has managed to remove thousands of URLs from Google’s search results. While that sounds effective, a closer look at the estimated traffic data, kindly shared with us by piracy tracking company MUSO, shows that the measures have surprisingly little effect.

Below is an overview of the worldwide traffic to stream-ripper sites in the music category. It runs from September 2019, before the RIAA’s mass takedown campaign started, all the way to the end of January 2020. This reveals that traffic to these sites has remained relatively stable, without any sign of declining visitor numbers.

Global traffic in the music category to stream-rippers

The lack of movement by itself doesn’t say much about search traffic, so we decided to take a detailed look at that as well. MUSO reports search traffic separately, and this shows a similar pattern. In fact, search traffic to stream-rippers briefly appeared to grow at the end of last year.

In September, search engines were sending roughly 7.5 million visitors to stream-rippers per day, and at the end of January, that figure was pretty much the same.

Global search traffic in the music category to stream-rippers

These data are not entirely unexpected as YouTube-rippers are actively fighting back against the RIAA’s anti-piracy campaign. As we highlighted earlier, several sites are switching to new URL structures, to make sure that they remain visible in search engines.

And indeed, if we search on Google for the phrase “YouTube to MP3,” we see several YouTube-rippers in the top results.

Google search for “YouTube to MP3″”

Looking at the traffic statistics of individual sites we see some movement here and there. The two most popular stream-rippers, y2mate.com and ytmp3.cc, increased their traffic, while the third in line, flvto.biz, lost some visitors.

Flvto.biz’s sister site 2conv.com, however, saw its traffic go up. Both sites are also currently involved in a legal battle with the RIAA. While they won their first round, this case is currently on appeal.

The above shows that, thus far, the RIAA’s takedown efforts have had little effect. However, that doesn’t mean that there is nothing to celebrate at all. Onlinevideoconverter.com, which was the most popular stream-ripper just a year ago, is no longer a major threat.

The site saw its traffic drop from 207 million visitors in March 2019, to 15 million last month. This loss in visitors isn’t directly linked to the RIAA’s efforts, however. Instead, it’s the result of the site’s decision to disable YouTube ripping, after YouTube started to block its servers.

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‘Hellboy’ Must Explain Calculation For the $270,000 Piracy Damages Claim

Last summer, the makers of the movie “Hellboy” (HB Productions) filed a complaint against torrent site MKVCage at a Hawaii federal court.

The movie company accused the site and its operator of promoting and distributing pirated copies of the Hellboy movie while demanding an end to the activity.

The lawsuit quickly had an effect as MKVCage became unreachable. At the same time, the uploader stopped pushing torrents to other sites as well. This meant that part of the plan had succeeded, without the torrent site putting up a defense.

But HB Productions wanted more. The company argued that the site caused irreparable damage and demanded compensation from the operator, a Pakistani man named Muhammad Faizan.

Since Faizan didn’t show up in court, the movie company’s attorney Kerry Culpepper requested a default judgment totaling more than $270,000 in infringement damages.

“The certain sum of $270,902.58 […] was calculated by multiplying the number of instances of infringement in the United States logged by Plaintiff’s agent by the price for purchasing a copy of the motion picture in Hawaii,” Culpepper wrote to the court.

Despite a hefty damages award hanging over his head, Faizan remained quiet. This generally means that the court will side with the plaintiff but in this case, Magistrate Judge Kenneth J. Mansfield is reluctant.

In a recently issued report and recommendations, Mansfield advises the court to deny the damages request, as the “sum” is not as “certain” as Hellboy’s attorney makes it out to be.

“The First Amended Complaint and the Motion do not indicate how Plaintiff calculated its asserted $270,902.58 damages amount. Nor does Plaintiff’s Motion include documents setting forth amounts necessary to calculate a certain damages sum,” Judge Mansfield writes.

“Without such information, the Court is unable to determine the formula Plaintiff used to calculate its alleged damages. The Court thus finds that Plaintiff fails to establish that its claim is for a ‘sum certain’ and recommends that the district court deny the Motion,” he adds.

This recommendation serves as guidance to the federal court, which has yet to rule on the matter. However, before it could do so, HB Production’s attorney already withdrew his request for a default judgment.

The movie company now plans to file a new motion in the near future where it will provide more detail on its calculations. Among other things, it will have to explain in detail how many infringements were logged, and what retail price for the movie the company chose.

By law, the maximum statutory damages are $150,000 per work. Since HB Productions asked for a substantially higher amount here, these details are crucial in order to determine whether it will be granted, or not.

A copy of Magistrate Judge Kenneth J. Mansfield’s report and recommendations is available here (pdf)

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The Pirate Bay’s Oldest Active Torrent Turns 16 Years Old Today

The Pirate Bay has weathered quite a few storms since its inception.

The notorious torrent site, which is a piracy icon today, was originally founded by Swedish anti-copyright think tank Piratbyrån during the summer of 2003.

In the years that followed, a lot has happened. The site was raided twice, had various changes in ownership, and the original co-founders were sentenced to prison. And in recent years, prolonged downtime issues, as the site currently faces, are the rule rather than the exception.

Despite all these setbacks and challenges, TPB is still here. It remains accessible on the Tor network, where the latest blockbusters, as well as some rare old torrents, remain readily available.

While torrents rely on at least one active seed to keep them alive, some files have proven to be quite resilient. In fact, quite a few torrents are older than some of the site’s younger users.

Today, The Pirate Bay’s oldest active torrent celebrates its sixteenth anniversary. The honor goes to an episode of the Swedish comedy show “High Chaparral,” which was uploaded by ‘kbdcb’ on March 25, 2004. At the time of writing, the file has one seeder according to TPB’s statistics, but various public trackers list more.

The oldest active torrent on TPB

The High Chaparral episode has been marked as the oldest active Pirate Bay torrent for a while. In the video category, it is currently followed by a copy of the 2001 documentary Revolution OS, which still has over a dozen seeders.

Looking at other categories, we see that the oldest active music torrent is an album from the Swedish pop group Gyllene Tider, titled “Samtliga hits!” The oldest game torrent is a copy of the Lord of the Rings strategy game War of the Ring, while a torrent for a really old version of ArcSoft’s photo editing software Funhouse leads the applications category.

If anything, this shows that no matter how much downtime a site like The Pirate Bay suffers, these torrents still survive.

That the High Chaparral episode is the longest surviving torrent on the site is remarkable for another reason as well. A few weeks after the torrent was uploaded, several people complained that they were stuck at 99%, which means that there was no seeder around at the time.

Years later, people started to notice that it had become the oldest torrent on The Pirate Bay, including MasterWAV, who dedicated an entry in his or her diary to this discovery.

“Dear diary, my heart burst of excitement to discover the oldest torrent in The Pirate Bay. I am happy to comment on this book and be part of the history of TPB. It’s like climbing Everest. Sincerely, thanks.”

Other commenters promised to keep seeding the file “forever,” which may be the prime reason why it’s still around today.

While sixteen years is impressive, there are even older torrents available on the Internet. “The Fanimatrix” torrent file holds the all-time record. It was created in September 2013 and, after being previously resurrected, continues to be available today with more than 100 people seeding.

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‘Copyright Troll Identified the Wrong Facebook Account in Piracy Case’

Over the past three years, adult entertainment company Strike 3 Holdings has filed thousands of cases in US federal courts.

These lawsuits target people whose Internet connections were allegedly used to download and share copyright-infringing content via BitTorrent.

While many of these cases resulted in private settlements, Strike 3 has also experienced some setbacks. For example, in the ‘Cobbler’ case, the Court of Appeals previously ruled that copyright holders need “something more” than an IP-address for a viable case.

These and other rulings have motivated Strike 3 to adapt its business. As reported earlier this month, we noticed that the company had started to add information from social media services to its complaints, to ‘prove’ that the defendant is likely the infringer.

In theory, this could be a fruitful strategy but it is certainly not without flaws. This is what defense attorney Steven C. Vondran highlights in a recent BitTorrent piracy-related filing.

Vondran represents a defendant who is being sued by Strike 3 in a California federal court. This happened after the company first tried to expose this person at a Florida state court, through a controversial discovery request.

Among other things, the attorney argues that Strike 3 engages in “cut and run” tactics and that it fails to present “something more” than just an IP-address.

In making this argument, Vondran also draws attention to the social media tactic. While that wasn’t used in the case at issue, the attorney highlights it to show what can go wrong when Strike 3 tries to find “something more” than just an IP-address.

“If they can line up or match or correlate the movies being downloaded with a person’s Facebook ‘likes’ they figure this will overcome Cobbler and give them the ‘something more’ needed,” he points out.

According to the defense attorney, “this is total junk science” which he plans to make clear in a separate case he’s handling. Apparently, in that case the defendant’s interest in “Star Wars” on Facebook was brought up as relevant information.

“For example, in one case they stated that a Defendant is more likely to have downloaded their clients Blacked, Tushy, and Vixen videos because their social media likes indicate they have an interest in ‘Star Wars’,” Vondran writes.

Vondran informs the court that this is “a total joke.” Not just that, Strike 3 apparently also managed to identify the wrong account on Facebook, from someone who happens to carry a similar name.

“Making matters worse for them, the Defendant in that case will show that the Facebook account used was that of another person with a similar same,” Vondran writes.

“These are the type of callous intentional abuses that are going on and the Courts have the inherent power to quash the subpoena and dismiss the case for improper delay,” the attorney adds.

If this is indeed true, Strike 3’s attempt to present “something more” to the court has the potential to backfire. In any case, it’s worth keeping an eye on this motion to quash, as well as the upcoming filings about the wrongly identified Facebook account.

A copy of Steven C. Vondran reply to Strike 3’s opposition to the motion to quash is available here (pdf).

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Top 10 Most Pirated Movies of The Week on BitTorrent – 03/23/20

This week we have four newcomers in our chart.

Star Wars: Episode IX is the most downloaded movie.

The data for our weekly download chart is estimated by TorrentFreak, and is for informational and educational reference only. All the movies in the list are Web-DL/Webrip/HDRip/BDrip/DVDrip unless stated otherwise.

RSS feed for the articles of the recent weekly movie download charts.

This week’s most downloaded movies are:
Movie Rank Rank last week Movie name IMDb Rating / Trailer
Most downloaded movies via torrents
1 (1) Star Wars: Episode IX 6.8 / trailer
2 (…) The Invisible Man 7.4 / trailer
3 (4) 1917 8.4 / trailer
4 (2) Sonic The Hedgehog 6.8 / trailer
5 (3) Jumanji: The Next Level 6.9 / trailer
6 (…) The Hunt 6.4 / trailer
7 (7) Frozen II 6.7 / trailer
8 (…) Onward 7.6 / trailer
9 (8) Contagion 8.4 / trailer
10 (…) The Banker 6.9 / trailer

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The Pirate Bay Uses Downtime to ‘Rewrite Some Code’

The Pirate Bay’s main domain has been missing in action for more than two weeks.

As previously reported, ThePirateBay.org displays a Cloudflare error message across the entire site, and some proxies are affected by the downtime as well.

The official Pirate Bay forums remain open but the moderators there don’t know what’s going on either. The site’s operator, ‘Winston,’ appears to operate in his own bubble, without talking directly to TPB staff or the public at large.

This lack of information has caused some uncertainty among regular Pirate Bay users, with some fearing that things may never return to normal.

To find out more we contacted a source who has a direct line with Winston. This person informed us that the downtime is due to a technical issue. In addition, the TPB tech admin is taking the opportunity to rewrite some of the site’s code.

While the response isn’t very detailed, it suggests that everything may eventually return to normal. Our follow-up question asking why the .onion domain has no issues remains unanswered for now.

Another question that comes to mind is why there’s such a massive lack of communication. It shouldn’t be hard to put some kind of message out. However, aside from the response above, we heard nothing further.

In recent years there has been a slow and steady change in the public’s response to Pirate Bay downtime. A few years ago, 24-hours of downtime was a reason for many people to panic, but right now a week of downtime can pass without much fuss.

In the TPB forums, many people point out that the site is still accessible at the new .onion address. New uploads are coming through fine as well, which is important, as many other torrent sites partly rely on content from The Pirate Bay.

That said, recent weeks have shown that TPB is vulnerable, or at least, far from stable. When someone asked if there’s a replacement for ‘Winston’ in case something bad happened, TPB admin Moe answered jokingly.

“There is no replacement for Winston. We do have a Walter sleeping outside the server room who claims he can do the job, but we question his suitability because he seems overly sober,” Moe wrote.

That’s a typical response one can expect from the Pirate Bay crew. However, the question is certainly valid, especially since the true answer is unknown.

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Mixtape Service Sues RIAA for Sending False Takedown Notices

Operating a mixtape site is not without risk. By definition, mixes include multiple sound recordings which are all protected by copyright.

Popular hip-hop mixtape site and app Spinrilla, which has millions of users, is well aware of these risks. To stay on the safe side, it has implemented various anti-piracy measures.

For example, users of the service have to be vetted before they can upload anything. All their uploads are also scanned for possible infringements using Audible Magic’s content recognition service. On top of that, repeat infringers have their accounts terminated after two strikes.

These resource-intensive precautions are not unwarranted. The mixtape site was previously sued by several major records labels – a case that remains ongoing – and it’s not looking for further problems.

This means that the site is processing numerous takedown notices from music companies, many of which are represented by the RIAA. While Spinrilla doesn’t object to legitimate takedowns, it recently noticed that not all of the RIAA’s notices are accurate.

Spinrilla

Spinrilla believes that the RIAA is sending takedown requests based on text searches, which results in inaccurate takedown notices. To stop this from happening, the site has filed a lawsuit at a federal court in Georgia, accusing the RIAA of sending false DMCA takedowns.

“Defendant is sending DMCA takedown notices some of which materially misrepresent that audio files uploaded by certain Spinrilla’s users infringe sound recordings owned by RIAA’s members,” Spinrilla writes.

These inaccurate takedown requests harm the goodwill and reputation of the mixtape site, Spinrilla notes. It’s a waste of resources and can also result in user accounts being terminated without good cause.

“False takedown notices needlessly waste Spinrilla’s time, disrupts its personnel’s work and puts at risk for terminating a user as a ‘repeat infringer’ when in fact the user uploaded non-infringing content,” Spinrilla writes.

The mixtape site argues that text-based searching can’t distinguish legal from unauthorized content. Uploaders can, for example, use titles of tracks or artists that are not necessarily used in the mixes. After looking into the matter, Spinrilla notices that some of the audio that was flagged by the RIAA was not infringing.

To stop these errors from taking place the site asked the RIAA not to rely solely on text searches. The RIAA replied that this was already the case, mentioning that “human ears” reviewed the content, but the false notices apparently didn’t stop.

“Despite Spinrilla’s informing Defendant of the false Notices, Defendant has continued to send Notices which include allegations of infringement as to audio files that Defendant knows do not infringe any copyrights and/or constitute fair use,” Spinrilla writes.

As an example, the mixtape mentions that the RIAA asked it to take down this mix, as it would infringe the copyrights for the Big Sean & Jhené Aiko track ‘2 Minute Warning.’ According to Spinrilla, this is not the case.

“That accused audio file does not infringe the copyright in the sound file 2 Minute Warning. In fact, that audio file is a mostly empty track (approximately 6 minutes) with the last 5 seconds or so jumbled audio that is not from the copyrighted 2 Minute Warning,” Spinrilla notes.

The RIAA is well aware that its practices are resulting in false positives, Spinrilla argues. As such, it is knowingly misrepresenting that the audio files are copyright infringing, which is in violation of the DMCA.

Through the lawsuit, the mixtape site hopes to obtain an injunction preventing the RIAA from “knowingly” sending false takedown notices. In addition, it asks to be compensated for the damage it has suffered thus far.

“Defendant’s wrongful acts have caused, and are causing, damage to Spinrilla, which damage cannot be accurately computed, and therefore, unless this Court restrains Defendant from further making knowingly material misrepresentations, Spinrilla will suffer irreparable damage for which there is no adequate remedy at law,” Spinrilla writes.

The RIAA has yet to file an answer to the complaint.

A copy of the complaint filed last month by Spinrilla at a U.S. District Court in Atlanta, Georgia, is available here (pdf).

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Google Removes Official Kodi Download Page After “Bogus” Copyright Complaint

Millions of people use the Kodi media player for their daily entertainment needs.

While the open-source software is content-neutral, some third-party addons have given the tool a bad reputation by using it to offer pirated content.

This isn’t anything the Kodi development team has control over. Luckily, most copyright holders realize this, but every now and then one appears having apparently missed the boat. And for Kodi, that can result in real damage.

For example, this week we noticed that the official Kodi download page is no longer listed in Google’s search results. Looking more closely, we spotted that it was removed by Google following a DMCA takedown request.

The takedown notice was sent a few weeks ago on behalf of the Turkish pay-TV service Digiturk, which is owned by the beIN Media Group. BeIN is known for its strong stance against piracy but in this case, it was too aggressive.

“The infringed content is sports content (illegal video stream) branded and watermarked with the trademark/logo BEIN SPORTS HD,” Digiturk writes.

The request identifies a series of URLs, many of which are associated with seemingly unauthorized IPTV services. However, it also lists kodi.tv/download, Kodi’s official download page.

Generally speaking, Google is pretty good at spotting such errors but in this case the URL was removed, as mentioned at the bottom of related search results.

Interestingly, Kodi was not the only legal open-source project that was targeted. The same notice also lists two Videolan.org URLs, which is the home of the popular media player VLC. Again, the download pages of the software were listed.

Luckily for VLC, Google flagged these requests as incorrect, meaning that the pages remain available in Google’s search results.

Kodi’s Keith Herrington is disappointed that their software is once again hit by the piracy stigma.

“It’s unfortunate content companies continue to lump us and VLC together with services who are clearly in violation of copyright law by not only providing streams to their content but using their logo, etc and that Google doesn’t even bother to check or validate, they just remove.

“It feels like a very ‘guilty until proven innocent’ model which I do not agree with,” Herrington adds.

The Kodi Foundation has submitted a DMCA counter-notice to Google and hopes that their download page will reappear in search results in due course.

TorrentFreak reached out to Digiturk for a comment on its unusual requests. While they could be intentional, it’s also possible that the company simply targeted these open source projects by mistake.

Talking about mistakes, Digiturk also sent takedown notices for its own website in the past, more than once actually. That’s another error they may want to pay attention to going forward.

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Warner Bros Sues ‘Harry Potter’ Running Club over Copyright Infringement

Harry Potter is without doubt one of the biggest entertainment brands in the world. As a result, the various copyright holders, including Warner Bros., are very protective of their ‘asset.’

For example, When an underground restaurant tried to host a Halloween party with a Harry Potter theme, Warner’s lawyers came knocking, urging the owner not to use any Harry Potter properties.

More recently, a Kickstarter campaign was hit with a takedown notice for having a Harry Potter-inspired title, while a Danish Harry Potter festival was kindly urged to change its name.

This week, we can add another example to the list. In a lawsuit filed at a federal court in California, Warner Bros. accuses Random Tuesday Inc. and its alleged owner Dawn Biggs of copyright infringement and various other offenses.

Random Tuesday is the organization behind various virtual running clubs, including the “Potterhead Running Club” and the “Chilton Running Club,” with the latter being based on the Gilmore Girls series.

“This is a lawsuit to remedy Defendants’ deliberate, pervasive, and willful infringement and dilution of Warner Bros.’ intellectual property rights with respect to the well-known and highly popular Harry Potter and Gilmore Girls entertainment franchises,” Warner Bros. writes.

According to Warner Bros, the clubs are using the reputation and goodwill of these brands to grow their customer base. This includes organizing themed events and selling merchandise inspired by Warner’s properties.

“They organize virtual running races whereby they collect fees in exchange for providing medals and other merchandise displaying the HP [Harry Potter] Marks and GG [Gilmore Girls] Marks,” Warner Bros. writes.

“In addition, the Clubs’ websites have offered for sale and continue to sell a wide variety of unauthorized merchandise bearing the HP Marks and GG Marks, including hats, t-shirts, stickers, hairbands, mugs, lip balm, toys, novelties, and running medals.”

Initially, the “Potterhead Running Club” was called the “Hogwarts Running Club.” This changed in 2018, but Warner believes that the name change is not enough. The branding and products still use Harry Potter inspired names such as “Gryffinroar,” “Huffletuff,” “Slytherwin,” and “Ravenclawesome,” it notes.

As such, Random Tuesday has and continues to infringe Warner Bros.’ copyrights in the Harry Potter films and Gilmore Girls series, Warner argues, while urging the court to put an end to it.

The lawsuit shouldn’t come as a total surprise. Warner Bros. explains that it tried to resolve the matter through telephone calls and in-person meetings with the organization. However, this didn’t result in the desired effect.

In addition to copyright infringement, Random Tuesday is also accused of trademark infringement, trademark dilution, false advertising, and unfair competition, among other things. Warner Bros. requests all infringing activity to stop and wishes to be compensated for damages suffered.

A copy of the complaint Warner Bros. filed at the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, is available here (pdf).

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