Google on Collision Course With Movie Biz Over Piracy & Safe Harbor

Wherever Google has a presence, rightsholders are around to accuse the search giant of not doing enough to deal with piracy.

Over the past several years, the company has been attacked by both the music and movie industries but despite overtures from Google, criticism still floods in.

In Australia, things are definitely heating up. Village Roadshow, one of the nation’s foremost movie companies, has been an extremely vocal Google critic since 2015 but now its co-chief, the outspoken Graham Burke, seems to want to take things to the next level.

As part of yet another broadside against Google, Burke has for the second time in a month accused Google of playing a large part in online digital crime.

“My view is they are complicit and they are facilitating crime,” Burke said, adding that if Google wants to sue him over his comments, they’re very welcome to do so.

It’s highly unlikely that Google will take the bait. Burke’s attempt at pushing the issue further into the spotlight will have been spotted a mile off but in any event, legal battles with Google aren’t really something that Burke wants to get involved in.

Australia is currently in the midst of a consultation process for the Copyright Amendment (Service Providers) Bill 2017 which would extend the country’s safe harbor provisions to a broader range of service providers including educational institutions, libraries, archives, key cultural institutions and organizations assisting people with disabilities.

For its part, Village Roadshow is extremely concerned that these provisions may be extended to other providers – specifically Google – who might then use expanded safe harbor to deflect more liability in respect of piracy.

“Village Roadshow….urges that there be no further amendments to safe harbor and in particular there is no advantage to Australia in extending safe harbor to Google,” Burke wrote in his company’s recent submission to the government.

“It is very unlikely given their size and power that as content owners we would ever sue them but if we don’t have that right then we stand naked. Most importantly if Google do the right thing by Australia on the question of piracy then there will be no issues. However, they are very far from this position and demonstrably are facilitating crime.”

Accusations of crime facilitation are nothing new for Google, with rightsholders in the US and Europe having accused the company of the same a number of times over the years. In response, Google always insists that it abides by relevant laws and actually goes much further in tackling piracy than legislation currently requires.

On the safe harbor front, Google begins by saying that not expanding provisions to service providers will have a seriously detrimental effect on business development in the region.

“[Excluding] online service providers falls far short of a balanced, pro-innovation environment for Australia. Further, it takes Australia out of step with other digital economies by creating regulatory uncertainty for [venture capital] investment and startup/entrepreneurial success,” Google’s submission reads.

“[T]he Draft Bill’s narrow safe harbor scheme places Australian-based startups and online service providers — including individual bloggers, websites, small startups, video-hosting services, enterprise cloud companies, auction sites, online marketplaces, hosting providers for real-estate listings, photo hosting services, search engines, review sites, and online platforms —in a disadvantaged position compared with global startups in countries that have strong safe harbor frameworks, such as the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, and other EU countries.

“Under the new scheme, Australian-based startups and service providers, unlike their international counterparts, will not receive clear and consistent legal protection when they respond to complaints from rightsholders about alleged instances of online infringement by third-party users on their services,” Google notes.

Interestingly, Google then delivers what appears to be a loosely veiled threat.

One of the key anti-piracy strategies touted by the mainstream entertainment companies is collaboration between rightsholders and service providers, including the latter providing voluntary tools to police infringement online. Google says that if service providers are given a raw deal on safe harbor, the extent of future cooperation may be at risk.

“If Australian-based service providers are carved out of the new safe harbor regime post-reform, they will operate from a lower incentive to build and test new voluntary tools to combat online piracy, potentially reducing their contributions to innovation in best practices in both Australia and international markets,” the company warns.

But while Village Roadshow argue against safe harbors and warn that piracy could kill the movie industry, it is quietly optimistic that the tide is turning.

In a presentation to investors last week, the company said that reducing piracy would have “only an upside” for its business but also added that new research indicates that “piracy growth [is] getting arrested.” As a result, the company says that it will build on the notion that “74% of people see piracy as ‘wrong/theft’” and will call on Australians to do the right thing.

In the meantime, the pressure on Google will continue but lawsuits – in either direction – won’t provide an answer.

Village Roadshow’s submission can be found here, Google’s here (pdf).

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Epic Games Uses Private Investigators to Locate Cheaters

Last fall, Epic Games released Fortnite’s free-to-play “Battle Royale” game mode for the PC and other platforms, generating massive interest among gamers.

This also included thousands of cheaters, many of whom were subsequently banned. Epic Games then went a step further by taking several cheaters to court for copyright infringement.

In the months that have passed several cases have been settled with undisclosed terms, but it appears that not all defendants are easy to track down. In at least two cases, Epic had to retain the services of private investigators to locate their targets.

In a case filed in North Carolina, the games company was unable to serve the defendant (now identified as B.B) so they called in the help of Klatt Investigations, with success.

“[A]fter having previously engaged two other process servers that were unable to locate and successfully serve B.B., Epic engaged Klatt Investigations, a Canadian firm that provides various services related to the private service of process in civil matters.

“In this case, we engaged Klatt Investigations to locate and effect service of process by personal service on Defendant,” Epic informs the court.

As Epic Games didn’t know the age of the defendant beforehand they chose to approach the person as a minor, which turned out to be a wise choice. The alleged cheater indeed appears to be a minor, so both the Defendant and Defendant’s mother were served.

Based on this new information, Epic Games asked the court to redact any court documents that reveal personal information of the defendant, which includes his or her full name.

Epic’s request to seal

This is not the first time Epic Games has used a private investigator to locate a defendant. It hired S&H Investigative Services in another widely reported case, where the defendant also turned out to be a minor.

In that case, the mother of the alleged cheater wrote a letter to the court in her son’s defense, but after that, things went quiet.

This lack of response prompted Epic Games to ask the court to enter a default in this case, which means that the defendant risks a default judgment for copyright infringement.

Epic’s declaration for the motion to seal the personal details of minor B.B. is available here (pdf). The request to enter a default in the separate C.R case can be found (here pdf).

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Sweden Considers Six Years in Jail For Online Pirates

Ever since the infamous Pirate Bay trial more than a decade ago, prosecutors in Sweden have called for a tougher approach to breaches of copyright law. In general terms, the country has been painted as soft on infringement but that could all be about to change.

After reaching the conclusion that penalties in Sweden “appear to be low” when compared to those on the international stage, the government sought advice on how such crimes can be punished, not only more severely, but also in proportion to the alleged damage caused.

In response, Minister for Justice Heléne Fritzon received a report this week. It proposes a new tier of offenses with “special” punishments to tackle large-scale copyright infringement and “serious” trademark infringement.

Presented by Council of Justice member Dag Mattsson, the report envisions new criminal designations and crime being divided into two levels of seriousness.

“A person who has been found guilty of copyright infringement or trademark infringement of a normal grade may be sentenced to fines or imprisonment up to a maximum of two years,” the government notes.

“In cases of gross crimes, a person may be convicted of gross copyright infringement or gross trademark infringement and sent to prison for at least six months and not more than six years.”

Last year the Supreme Court found that although prison sentences can be handed down in such cases, there were no legislative indications that copyright infringement should be penalized via a term of imprisonment.

For an idea of the level of change, one only need refer to The Pirate Bay case, which would undoubtedly be considered as “gross infringement” under the new proposals.

Under the new rules, defendants Peter Sunde, Fredrik Neij and Carl Lundström would be sentenced to a minimum of six months and a maximum of six years. As things stood, with infringement being dealt with via fines or up to two years’ imprisonment, they were sentenced to prison terms of eight, ten and four months respectively.

Under the new proposals, damage to rightsholders and monetary gain by the defendant would be taken into account when assessing whether a crime is “gross” or not. This raises the question of whether someone sharing a single pre-release movie could be deemed a gross infringer even if no money was made.

Also of interest are proposals that would enable the state to confiscate all kinds of property, both physical items and more intangible assets such as domain names. This proposal is a clear nod towards the Pirate Bay case which dragged on for several years before the state was able to take over its thepiratebay.se domain.

“Today there is organized online piracy that has major consequences for the whole community,” Minister Fritzon said in a statement.

“Therefore, it is good that the punishments for these crimes have been reviewed, as the sentence will then be proportional to the seriousness of the crime.”

The legislative amendments are proposed to enter into force on July 1, 2019.

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Game Companies Oppose DMCA Exemption for ‘Abandoned’ Online Games

There are a lot of things people are not allowed to do under US copyright law, but perhaps just as importantly there are exemptions.

The U.S. Copyright Office is currently considering whether or not to loosen the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions, which prevent the public from ‘tinkering’ with DRM-protected content and devices.

These provisions are renewed every three years after the Office hears various arguments from the public. One of the major topics on the agenda this year is the preservation of abandoned games.

The Copyright Office previously included game preservation exemptions to keep these games accessible. This means that libraries, archives, and museums can use emulators and other circumvention tools to make old classics playable.

Late last year several gaming fans including the Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment (the MADE), a nonprofit organization operating in California, argued for an expansion of this exemption to also cover online games. This includes games in the widely popular multiplayer genre, which require a connection to an online server.

“Although the Current Exemption does not cover it, preservation of online video games is now critical,” MADE wrote in its comment to the Copyright Office.

“Online games have become ubiquitous and are only growing in popularity. For example, an estimated fifty-three percent of gamers play multiplayer games at least once a week, and spend, on average, six hours a week playing with others online.”

This week, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), which acts on behalf of prominent members including Electonic Arts, Nintendo and Ubisoft, opposed the request.

While they are fine with the current game-preservation exemption, expanding it to online games goes too far, they say. This would allow outsiders to recreate online game environments using server code that was never published in public.

It would also allow a broad category of “affiliates” to help with this which, according to the ESA, could include members of the public

“The proponents characterize these as ‘slight modifications’ to the existing exemption. However they are nothing of the sort. The proponents request permission to engage in forms of circumvention that will enable the complete recreation of a hosted video game-service environment and make the video game available for play by a public audience.”

“Worse yet, proponents seek permission to deputize a legion of ‘affiliates’ to assist in their activities,” ESA adds.

The proposed changes would enable and facilitate infringing use, the game companies warn. They fear that outsiders such as MADE will replicate the game servers and allow the public to play these abandoned games, something games companies would generally charge for. This could be seen as direct competition.

MADE, for example, already charges the public to access its museum so they can play games. This can be seen as commercial use under the DMCA, ESA points out.

“Public performance and display of online games within a museum likewise is a commercial use within the meaning of Section 107. MADE charges an admission fee – ‘$10 to play games all day’.

“Under the authority summarized above, public performance and display of copyrighted works to generate entrance fee revenue is a commercial use, even if undertaken by a nonprofit museum,” the ESA adds.

The ESA also stresses that their members already make efforts to revive older games themselves. There is a vibrant and growing market for “retro” games, which games companies are motivated to serve, they say.

The games companies, therefore, urge the Copyright Office to keep the status quo and reject any exemptions for online games.

“In sum, expansion of the video game preservation exemption as contemplated by Class 8 is not a ‘modest’ proposal. Eliminating the important limitations that the Register provided when adopting the current exemption risks the possibility of wide-scale infringement and substantial market harm,” they write.

The Copyright Office will take all arguments into consideration before it makes a final decision. It’s clear that the wishes of game preservation advocates, such as MADE, are hard to unite with the interests of the game companies, so one side will clearly be disappointed with the outcome.

A copy of ESA’s submissionavailablelble here (pdf).

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Subtitle Heroes: Fansubbing Movie Criticized For Piracy Promotion

With many thousands of movies and TV shows being made available illegally online every year, a significant number will be enjoyed by speakers of languages other than that presented in the original production.

When Hollywood blockbusters appear online, small armies of individuals around the world spring into action, translating the dialog into Chinese and Czech, Dutch and Danish, French and Farsi, Russian and Romanian, plus a dozen languages in between. TV shows, particularly those produced in the US, get the same immediate treatment.

For many years, subtitling (‘fansubbing’) communities have provided an incredible service to citizens around the globe, from those seeking to experience new culture and languages to the hard of hearing and profoundly deaf. Now, following in the footsteps of movies like TPB:AFK and Kim Dotcom: Caught in the Web, a new movie has premiered in Italy which celebrates this extraordinary movement.

Subs Heroes from writer and director Franco Dipietro hit cinemas at the end of January. It documents the contribution fansubbing has made to Italian culture in a country that under fascism in 1934 banned the use of foreign languages in films, books, newspapers and everyday speech.

The movie centers on the large subtitle site ItalianSubs.net. Founded by a group of teenagers in 2006, it is now run by a team of men and women who maintain their identities as regular citizens during the day but transform into “superheroes of fansubbing” at night.

Needless to say, not everyone is pleased with this depiction of the people behind the now-infamous 500,000 member site.

For many years, fansubbing attracted very little heat but over time anti-piracy groups have been turning up the pressure, accusing subtitling teams of fueling piracy. This notion is shared by local anti-piracy outfit FAPAV (Federation for the Protection of Audiovisual and Multimedia Content), which has accused Dipietro’s movie of glamorizing criminal activity.

In a statement following the release of Subs Heroes, FAPAV made its position crystal clear: sites like ItalianSubs do not contribute to the development of the audiovisual market in Italy.

“It is necessary to clarify: when a protected work is subtitled and there is no right to do so, a crime is committed,” the anti-piracy group says.

“[Italiansubs] translates and makes available subtitles of audiovisual works (films and television series) in many cases not yet distributed on the Italian market. All this without having requested the consent of the rights holders. Ergo the Italiansubs community is illegal.”

Italiansubs (note ad for movie, top right)

FAPAV General Secretary Federico Bagnoli Rossi says that the impact that fansubbers have on the market is significant, causing damage not only to companies distributing the content but also to those who invest in official translations.

The fact that fansubbers often translate content that is not yet available in the region only compounds matters, Rossi says, noting that unofficial translations can also have “direct consequences” on those who have language dubbing as an occupation.

“The audiovisual market today needs to be supported and the protection and fight against illicit behaviors are as fundamental as investments and creative ideas,” Rossi notes.

“Everyone must do their part, respecting the rules and with a competitive and global cultural vision. There are no ‘superheroes’ or noble goals behind piracy, but only great damage to the audiovisual sector and all its workers.”

Also piling on the criticism is the chief of the National Cinema Exhibitors’ Association, who wrote to all of the companies involved to remind them that unauthorized subtitling is a crime. According to local reports, there seems to be an underlying tone that people should avoid becoming associated with the movie.

This did not please director Franco Dipietro who is defending his right to document the fansubbing movement, whether the industry likes it or not.

“We invite those who perhaps think differently to deepen the discussion and maybe organize an event to talk about it together. The film is made to confront and talk about a phenomenon that, whether we like it or not, exists and we can not pretend that it is not there,” Dipietro concludes.


Subs Heroes Trailer 1 from Duel: on Vimeo.


Subs Heroes Trailer 2 from Duel: on Vimeo.

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Major US Sports Leagues Report Top Piracy Nations to Government

While pirated Hollywood blockbusters often score the big headlines, there are several other industries that have been battling with piracy over the years. This includes sports organizations.

Many of the major US leagues including the NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB and the Tennis Association, are bundling their powers in the Sports Coalition, to try and curb the availability of pirated streams and videos.

A few days ago the Sports Coalition put the piracy problem on the agenda of the United States Trade Representative (USTR).

“Sports organizations, including Sports Coalition members, are heavily affected by live sports telecast piracy, including the unauthorized live retransmission of sports telecasts over the Internet,” the Sports Coalition wrote.

“The Internet piracy of live sports telecasts is not only a persistent problem, but also a global one, often involving bad actors in more than one nation.”

The USTR asked the public for comments on which countries play a central role in copyright infringement issues. In its response, the Sports Coalition stresses that piracy is a global issue but singles out several nations as particularly problematic.

The coalition recommends that the USTR should put the Netherlands and Switzerland on the “Priority Watch List” of its 2018 Special 301 Report, followed by Russia, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles and Sweden, which get a regular “Watch List” recommendation.

The main problem with these countries is that hosting providers and content distribution networks don’t do enough to curb piracy.

In the Netherlands, sawlive.tv, strikezoneme, wizlnet, AltusHost, Host Palace, Quasi Networks and SNEL pirated or provided services contributing to sports piracy, the coalition writes. In Switzerland, mlbstreamme, robinwidgetorg, strikeoutmobi, BlackHOST, Private Layer and Solar Communications are doing the same.

According to the major sports leagues, the US Government should encourage these countries to step up their anti-piracy game. This is not only important for US copyright holders, but also for licensees in other countries.

“Clearly, there is common ground – both in terms of shared economic interests and legal obligations to protect and enforce intellectual property and related rights – for the United States and the nations with which it engages in international trade to work cooperatively to stop Internet piracy of sports programming.”

Whether any of these countries will make it into the USTR’s final list has yet to be seen. For Switzerland it wouldn’t be the first time but for the Netherlands it would be new, although it has been considered before.

A document we received through a FOIA request earlier this year revealed that the US Embassy reached out to the Dutch Government in the past, to discuss similar complaints from the Sports Coalition.

The same document also revealed that local anti-piracy group BREIN consistently urged the entertainment industries it represents not to advocate placing the Netherlands on the 301 Watch List but to solve the problems behind the scenes instead.

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Embedding a Tweet Can be Copyright Infringement, Court Rules

Nowadays it’s fairly common for blogs and news sites to embed content posted by third parties, ranging from YouTube videos to tweets.

Although these publications don’t host the content themselves, they can be held liable for copyright infringement, a New York federal court has ruled.

The case in question was filed by Justin Goldman whose photo of Tom Brady went viral after he posted it on Snapchat. After being reposted on Reddit, it also made its way onto Twitter from where various news organizations picked it up.

Several of these news sites reported on the photo by embedding tweets from others. However, since Goldman never gave permission to display his photo, he went on to sue the likes of Breitbart, Time, Vox and Yahoo, for copyright infringement.

In their defense, the news organizations argued that they did nothing wrong as no content was hosted on their servers. They referred to the so-called “server test” that was applied in several related cases in the past, which determined that liability rests on the party that hosts the infringing content.

In an order that was just issued, US District Court Judge Katherine Forrest disagrees. She rejects the “server test” argument and rules that the news organizations are liable.

“[W]hen defendants caused the embedded Tweets to appear on their websites, their actions violated plaintiff’s exclusive display right; the fact that the image was hosted on a server owned and operated by an unrelated third party (Twitter) does not shield them from this result,” Judge Forrest writes.

Judge Forrest argues that the server test was established in the ‘Perfect 10 v. Amazon’ case, which dealt with the ‘distribution’ of content. This case is about ‘displaying’ an infringing work instead, an area where the jurisprudence is not as clear.

“The Court agrees with plaintiff. The plain language of the Copyright Act, the legislative history undergirding its enactment, and subsequent Supreme Court jurisprudence provide no basis for a rule that allows the physical location or possession of an image to determine who may or may not have “displayed” a work within the meaning of the Copyright Act.”

As a result, summary judgment was granted in favor of Goldman.

Rightsholders, including Getty Images which supported Goldman, are happy with the result. However, not everyone is pleased. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) says that if the current verdict stands it will put millions of regular Internet users at risk.

“Rejecting years of settled precedent, a federal court in New York has ruled that you could infringe copyright simply by embedding a tweet in a web page,” EFF comments.

“Even worse, the logic of the ruling applies to all in-line linking, not just embedding tweets. If adopted by other courts, this legally and technically misguided decision would threaten millions of ordinary Internet users with infringement liability.”

Given what’s at stake, it’s likely that the news organization will appeal this week’s order.

Interestingly, earlier this week a California district court dismissed Playboy’s copyright infringement complaint against Boing Boing, which embedded a YouTube video that contained infringing content.

A copy of Judge Forrest’s opinion can be found here (pdf).

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Court Orders Spanish ISPs to Block Pirate Sites For Hollywood

Determined to reduce levels of piracy globally, Hollywood has become one of the main proponents of site-blocking on the planet. To date there have been multiple lawsuits in far-flung jurisdictions, with Europe one of the primary targets.

Following complaints from Disney, 20th Century Fox, Paramount, Sony, Universal and Warner, Spain has become one of the latest targets. According to the studios a pair of sites – HDFull.tv and Repelis.tv – infringe their copyrights on a grand scale and need to be slowed down by preventing users from accessing them.

HDFull is a platform that provides movies and TV shows in both Spanish and English. Almost 60% its traffic comes from Spain and after a huge surge in visitors last July, it’s now the 337th most popular site in the country according to Alexa. Visitors from Mexico, Argentina, United States and Chile make up the rest of its audience.

Repelis.tv is a similar streaming portal specializing in movies, mainly in Spanish. A third of the site’s visitors hail from Mexico with the remainder coming from Argentina, Columbia, Spain and Chile. In common with HDFull, Repelis has been building its visitor numbers quickly since 2017.

The studios demanding more blocks

With a ruling in hand from the European Court of Justice which determined that sites can be blocked on copyright infringement grounds, the studios asked the courts to issue an injunction against several local ISPs including Telefónica, Vodafone, Orange and Xfera. In an order handed down this week, Barcelona Commercial Court No. 6 sided with the studios and ordered the ISPs to begin blocking the sites.

“They damage the legitimate rights of those who own the films and series, which these pages illegally display and with which they profit illegally through the advertising revenues they generate,” a statement from the Spanish Federation of Cinematographic Distributors (FEDECINE) reads.

FEDECINE General director Estela Artacho said that changes in local law have helped to provide the studios with a new way to protect audiovisual content released in Spain.

“Thanks to the latest reform of the Civil Procedure Law, we have in this jurisdiction a new way to exercise different possibilities to protect our commercial film offering,” Artacho said.

“Those of us who are part of this industry work to make culture accessible and offer the best cinematographic experience in the best possible conditions, guaranteeing the continuity of the sector.”

The development was also welcomed by Stan McCoy, president of the Motion Picture Association’s EMEA division, which represents the plaintiffs in the case.

“We have just taken a welcome step which we consider crucial to face the problem of piracy in Spain,” McCoy said.

“These actions are necessary to maintain the sustainability of the creative community both in Spain and throughout Europe. We want to ensure that consumers enjoy the entertainment offer in a safe and secure environment.”

After gaining experience from blockades and subsequent circumvention in other regions, the studios seem better prepared to tackle fallout in Spain. In addition to blocking primary domains, the ruling handed down by the court this week also obliges ISPs to block any other domain, subdomain or IP address whose purpose is to facilitate access to the blocked platforms.

News of Spain’s ‘pirate’ blocks come on the heels of fresh developments in Germany, where this week a court ordered ISP Vodafone to block KinoX, one of the country’s most popular streaming portals.

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Pirates Crack Microsoft’s UWP Protection, Five Layers of DRM Defeated

As the image on the right shows, Microsoft’s Universal Windows Platform (UWP) is a system that enables software developers to create applications that can run across many devices.

“The Universal Windows Platform (UWP) is the app platform for Windows 10. You can develop apps for UWP with just one API set, one app package, and one store to reach all Windows 10 devices – PC, tablet, phone, Xbox, HoloLens, Surface Hub and more,” Microsoft explains.

While the benefits of such a system are immediately apparent, critics say that UWP gives Microsoft an awful lot of control, not least since UWP software must be distributed via the Windows Store with Microsoft taking a cut.

Or that was the plan, at least.

Last evening it became clear that the UWP system, previously believed to be uncrackable, had fallen to pirates. After being released on October 31, 2017, the somewhat underwhelming Zoo Tycoon Ultimate Animal Collection became the first victim at the hands of popular scene group, CODEX.

“This is the first scene release of a UWP (Universal Windows Platform) game. Therefore we would like to point out that it will of course only work on Windows 10. This particular game requires Windows 10 version 1607 or newer,” the group said in its release notes.

CODEX release notes

CODEX says it’s important that the game isn’t allowed to communicate with the Internet so the group advises users to block the game’s executable in their firewall.

While that’s not a particularly unusual instruction, CODEX did reveal that various layers of protection had to be bypassed to make the game work. They’re listed by the group as MSStore, UWP, EAppX, XBLive, and Arxan, the latter being an anti-tamper system.

“It’s the equivalent of Denuvo (without the DRM License part),” cracker Voksi previously explained. “It’s still bloats the executable with useless virtual machines that only slow down your game.”

Arxan features

Arxan’s marketing comes off as extremely confident but may need amending in light of yesterday’s developments.

“Arxan uses code protection against reverse-engineering, key and data protection to secure servers and fortification of game logic to stop the bad guys from tampering. Sorry hackers, game over,” the company’s marketing reads.

What is unclear at this stage is whether Zoo Tycoon Ultimate Animal Collection represents a typical UWP release or if some particular flaw allowed CODEX to take it apart. The possibility of additional releases is certainly a tantalizing one for pirates but how long they will have to wait is unknown.

Whatever the outcome, Arxan calling “game over” is perhaps a little premature under the circumstances but in this continuing arms race, they probably have another version of their anti-tamper tech up their sleeves…..

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Court Dismisses Playboy’s Copyright Claims Against Boing Boing

Early 2016, Boing Boing co-editor Xeni Jardin published an article in which she linked to an archive of every Playboy centerfold image till then.

“Kind of amazing to see how our standards of hotness, and the art of commercial erotic photography, have changed over time,” Jardin commented.

While the linked material undoubtedly appealed to many readers, Playboy itself took offense to the fact that infringing copies of their work were being shared in public. While Boing Boing didn’t upload or store the images in question, the publisher filed a lawsuit late last year.

The blog’s parent company Happy Mutants was accused of various counts of copyright infringement, with Playboy claiming that it exploited their playmates’ images for commercial purposes.

Boing Boing saw things differently. With help from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) it filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that hyperlinking is not copyright infringement. If Playboy would’ve had their way, millions of other Internet users could be sued for linking too.

“This case merely has to survive a motion to dismiss to launch a thousand more expensive lawsuits, chilling a broad variety of lawful expression and reporting that merely adopts the common practice of linking to the material that is the subject of the report,” they wrote.

The article in question

Yesterday US District Court Judge Fernando Olguin ruled on the matter. In a brief order, he concluded that an oral argument is not needed and that based on the arguments from both sides, the case should be dismissed with leave.

This effectively means that Playboy’s complaint has been thrown out. However, the company is offered a lifeline and is allowed to submit a new one if they can properly back up their copyright infringement allegations.

“The court will grant defendant’s Motion and dismiss plaintiff’s First Amended Complaint with leave to amend. In preparing the Second Amended Complaint, plaintiff shall carefully evaluate the contentions set forth in defendant’s Motion.

“For example, the court is skeptical that plaintiff has sufficiently alleged facts to support either its inducement or material contribution theories of copyright infringement,” Judge Olguin adds.

According to the order, it is not sufficient to argue that Boing Boing merely ‘provided the means’ to carry out copyright infringing activity. There also has to be a personal action that ‘assists’ the infringing activity.

Playboy has until the end of the month to submit a new complaint and if it chooses not to do so, the case will be thrown out.

The order is clearly a win for Boing Boing, which vehemently opposed Playboy’s claims. While the order is clear, it must come as a surprise to the magazine publisher, which won a similar ‘hyperlinking’ lawsuit in the European Court of Justice last year.

EFF, who defend Boing Boing, is happy with the order and hopes that Playboy will leave it at this.

“From the outset of this lawsuit, we have been puzzled as to why Playboy, once a staunch defender of the First Amendment, would attack a small news and commentary website,” EFF comments

“Today’s decision leaves Playboy with a choice: it can try again with a new complaint or it can leave this lawsuit behind. We don’t believe there’s anything Playboy could add to its complaint that would meet the legal standard. We hope that it will choose not to continue with its misguided suit.”

A copy of US District Court Judge Fernando Olguin’s order is available here (pdf).

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‘Pirate’ Kodi Addon Devs & Distributors Told to Cease-and-Desist

Last November, following a year of upheaval for third-party addon creators and distributors, yet more turmoil hit the community in the form of threats from the world’s most powerful anti-piracy coalition – the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE).

Comprised of 30 companies including the studios of the MPAA, Amazon, Netflix, CBS, HBO, BBC, Sky, Bell Canada, CBS, Hulu, Lionsgate, Foxtel, Village Roadshow, and many more, ACE warned several developers to shut down – or else.

The letter: shut down – or else

Now it appears that ACE is on the warpath again, this time targeting a broader range of individuals involved in the Kodi addon scene, from developers and distributors to those involved in the production of how-to videos on YouTube.

The first report of action came from TVAddons, who noted that the lead developer at the Noobs and Nerds repository had been targeted with a cease-and-desist notice, adding that people from the site had been “visited at their homes.”

As seen in the image below, the Noobs and Nerds website is currently down. The site’s Twitter account has also been disabled.

Noobs and Nerds – gone

While TVAddons couldn’t precisely confirm the source of the threat, information gathered from individuals involved in the addon scene all point to the involvement of ACE.

In particular, a man known online as Teverz, who develops his own builds, runs a repo, and creates Kodi-themed YouTube videos, confirmed that ACE had been in touch.

An apparently unconcerned Teverz….

“I am not a dev so they really don’t scare me lmao,” he added.

Teverz claims to be from Canada and it appears that others in the country are also facing cease and desist notices. An individual known as Doggmatic, who also identifies as Canadian and has Kodi builds under his belt, says he too was targeted.

Another target in Canada

Doggmatic, who appears to be part of the Illuminati repo, says he had someone call the people who sent the cease-and-desist but like Teverz, he doesn’t seem overly concerned, at least for now.

“I have a legal representative calling them. The letters they sent aren’t legal documents. No lawyer signed them and no law firm mentioned,” Doggmatic said.

But the threats don’t stop there. Blamo, the developer of the Neptune Rising addon accessible from the Blamo repo, also claims to have been threatened.

SpinzTV, who offers unofficial Kodi builds and an associated repository, is also under the spotlight. Unlike his Canadian counterparts, he has already thrown in the towel, according to a short announcement on Twitter.

For SpinzTV it’s all over…

TorrentFreak contacted the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment, asking them if they could confirm the actions and provide any additional details. At the time of publication they had no information for us but we’ll update if and when that comes in.

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Tickbox Must Remove Pirate Streaming Addons From Sold Devices

Online streaming piracy is on the rise and many people now use dedicated media players to watch content through their regular TVs.

This is a thorn in the side of various movie companies, who have launched a broad range of initiatives to curb this trend.

One of these initiatives is the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE), an anti-piracy partnership between Hollywood studios, Netflix, Amazon, and more than two dozen other companies.

Last year, ACE filed a lawsuit against the Georgia-based company Tickbox TV, which sells Kodi-powered set-top boxes that stream a variety of popular media.

ACE sees these devices as nothing more than pirate tools so the coalition asked the court for an injunction to prevent Tickbox from facilitating copyright infringement, demanding that it removes all pirate add-ons from previously sold devices.

Last month, a California federal court issued an initial injunction, ordering Tickbox to keep pirate addons out of its box and halt all piracy-inducing advertisements going forward. In addition, the court directed both parties to come up with a proper solution for devices that were already sold.

The movie companies wanted Tickbox to remove infringing addons from previously sold devices, but the device seller refused this initially, equating it to hacking.

This week, both parties were able to reach an ‘agreement’ on the issue. They drafted an updated preliminary injunction which replaces the previous order and will be in effect for the remainder of the lawsuit.

The new injunction prevents Tickbox from linking to any “build,” “theme,” “app,” or “addon” that can be indirectly used to transmit copyright-infringing material. Web browsers such as Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Safari, and Firefox are specifically excluded.

In addition, Tickbox must also release a new software updater that will remove any infringing software from previously sold devices.

“TickBox shall issue an update to the TickBox launcher software to be automatically downloaded and installed onto any previously distributed TickBox TV device and to be launched when such device connects to the internet,” the injunction reads.

“Upon being launched, the update will delete the Subject [infringing] Software downloaded onto the device prior to the update, or otherwise cause the TickBox TV device to be unable to access any Subject Software downloaded onto or accessed via that device prior to the update.”

All tiles that link to copyright-infringing software from the box’s home screen also have to be stripped. Going forward, only tiles to the Google Play Store or to Kodi within the Google Play Store are allowed.

In addition, the agreement also allows ACE to report newly discovered infringing apps or addons to Tickbox, which the company will then have to remove within 24-hours, weekends excluded.

“This ruling sets an important precedent and reduces the threat from piracy devices to the legal market for creative content and a vibrant creative economy that supports millions of workers around the world,” ACE spokesperson Zoe Thorogood says, commenting on the news.

The new injunction is good news for the movie companies, but many Tickbox customers will not appreciate the forced changes. That said, the legal battle is far from over. The main question, whether Tickbox contributed to the alleged copyright infringements, has yet to be answered.

Ultimately, this case is likely to result in a landmark decision, determining what sellers of streaming boxes can and cannot do in the United States.

A copy of the new Tickbox injunction is available here (pdf).

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Australian Government Launches Pirate Site-Blocking Review

Following intense pressure from entertainment industry groups, in 2014 Australia began developing legislation which would allow ‘pirate’ sites to be blocked at the ISP level.

In March 2015 the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015 (pdf) was introduced to parliament and after just three months of consideration, the Australian Senate passed the legislation into law.

Soon after, copyright holders began preparing their first cases and in December 2016, the Australian Federal Court ordered dozens of local Internet service providers to block The Pirate Bay, Torrentz, TorrentHound, IsoHunt, SolarMovie, plus many proxy and mirror services.

Since then, more processes have been launched establishing site-blocking as a permanent fixture on the Aussie anti-piracy agenda. But with yet more applications for injunction looming on the horizon, how is the mechanism performing and does anything else need to be done to improve or amend it?

Those are the questions now being asked by the responsible department of the Australian Government via a consultation titled Review of Copyright Online Infringement Amendment. The review should’ve been carried out 18 months after the law’s introduction in 2015 but the department says that it delayed the consultation to let more evidence emerge.

“The Department of Communications and the Arts is seeking views from stakeholders on the questions put forward in this paper. The Department welcomes single, consolidated submissions from organizations or parties, capturing all views on the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Act 2015 (Online Infringement Amendment),” the consultation paper begins.

The three key questions for response are as follows:

– How effective and efficient is the mechanism introduced by the Online Infringement Amendment?

– Is the application process working well for parties and are injunctions operating well, once granted?

– Are any amendments required to improve the operation of the Online Infringement Amendment?

Given the tendency for copyright holders to continuously demand more bang for their buck, it will perhaps come as a surprise that at least for now there is a level of consensus that the system is working as planned.

“Case law and survey data suggests the Online Infringement Amendment has enabled copyright owners to work with [Internet service providers] to reduce large-scale online copyright infringement. So far, it appears that copyright owners and [ISPs] find the current arrangement acceptable, clear and effective,” the paper reads.

Thus far under the legislation there have been four applications for injunctions through the Federal Court, notably against leading torrent indexes and browser-based streaming sites, which were both granted.

The other two processes, which began separately but will be heard together, at least in part, involve the recent trend of set-top box based streaming.

Village Roadshow, Disney, Universal, Warner Bros, Twentieth Century Fox, and Paramount are currently presenting their case to the Federal Court. Along with Hong Kong-based broadcaster Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB), which has a separate application, the companies have been told to put together quality evidence for an April 2018 hearing.

With these applications already in the pipeline, yet more are on the horizon. The paper notes that more applications are expected to reach the Federal Court shortly, with the Department of Communications monitoring to assess whether current arrangements are refined as additional applications are filed.

Thus far, however, steady progress appears to have been made. The paper cites various precedents established as a result of the blocking process including the use of landing pages to inform Internet users why sites are blocked and who is paying.

“Either a copyright owner or [ISP] can establish a landing page. If an [ISP] wishes to avoid the cost of its own landing page, it can redirect customers to one that the copyright owner would provide. Another precedent allocates responsibility for compliance costs. Cases to date have required copyright owners to pay all or a significant proportion of compliance costs,” the paper notes.

But perhaps the issue of most importance is whether site-blocking as a whole has had any effect on the levels of copyright infringement in Australia.

The Government says that research carried out by Kantar shows that downloading “fell slightly from 2015 to 2017” with a 5-10% decrease in individuals consuming unlicensed content across movies, music and television. It’s worth noting, however, that Netflix didn’t arrive on Australian shores until May 2015, just a month before the new legislation was passed.

Research commissioned by the Department of Communications and published a year later in 2016 (pdf) found that improved availability of legal streaming alternatives was the main contributor to falling infringement rates. In a juicy twist, the report also revealed that Aussie pirates were the entertainment industries’ best customers.

“The Department is aware that other factors — such as the increasing availability of television, music and film streaming services and of subscription gaming services — may also contribute to falling levels of copyright infringement,” the paper notes.

Submissions to the consultation (pdf) are invited by 5.00 pm AEST on Friday 16 March 2018 via the government’s website.

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EFF Urges US Copyright Office To Reject Proactive ‘Piracy’ Filters

Faced with millions of individuals consuming unlicensed audiovisual content from a variety of sources, entertainment industry groups have been seeking solutions closer to the roots of the problem.

As widespread site-blocking attempts to tackle ‘pirate’ sites in the background, greater attention has turned to legal platforms that host both licensed and unlicensed content.

Under current legislation, these sites and services can do business relatively comfortably due to the so-called safe harbor provisions of the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and the European Union Copyright Directive (EUCD).

Both sets of legislation ensure that Internet platforms can avoid being held liable for the actions of others provided they themselves address infringement when they are made aware of specific problems. If a video hosting site has a copy of an unlicensed movie uploaded by a user, for example, it must be removed within a reasonable timeframe upon request from the copyright holder.

However, in both the US and EU there is mounting pressure to make it more difficult for online services to achieve ‘safe harbor’ protections.

Entertainment industry groups believe that platforms use the law to turn a blind eye to infringing content uploaded by users, content that is often monetized before being taken down. With this in mind, copyright holders on both sides of the Atlantic are pressing for more proactive regimes, ones that will see Internet platforms install filtering mechanisms to spot and discard infringing content before it can reach the public.

While such a system would be welcomed by rightsholders, Internet companies are fearful of a future in which they could be held more liable for the infringements of others. They’re supported by the EFF, who yesterday presented a petition to the US Copyright Office urging caution over potential changes to the DMCA.

“As Internet users, website owners, and online entrepreneurs, we urge you to preserve and strengthen the Digital Millennium Copyright Act safe harbors for Internet service providers,” the EFF writes.

“The DMCA safe harbors are key to keeping the Internet open to all. They allow anyone to launch a website, app, or other service without fear of crippling liability for copyright infringement by users.”

It is clear that pressure to introduce mandatory filtering is a concern to the EFF. Filters are blunt instruments that cannot fathom the intricacies of fair use and are liable to stifle free speech and stymie innovation, they argue.

“Major media and entertainment companies and their surrogates want Congress to replace today’s DMCA with a new law that would require websites and Internet services to use automated filtering to enforce copyrights.

“Systems like these, no matter how sophisticated, cannot accurately determine the copyright status of a work, nor whether a use is licensed, a fair use, or otherwise non-infringing. Simply put, automated filters censor lawful and important speech,” the EFF warns.

While its introduction was voluntary and doesn’t affect the company’s safe harbor protections, YouTube already has its own content filtering system in place.

ContentID is able to detect the nature of some content uploaded by users and give copyright holders a chance to remove or monetize it. The company says that the majority of copyright disputes are now handled by ContentID but the system is not perfect and mistakes are regularly flagged by users and mentioned in the media.

However, ContentID was also very expensive to implement so expecting smaller companies to deploy something similar on much more limited budgets could be a burden too far, the EFF warns.

“What’s more, even deeply flawed filters are prohibitively expensive for all but the largest Internet services. Requiring all websites to implement filtering would reinforce the market power wielded by today’s large Internet services and allow them to stifle competition. We urge you to preserve effective, usable DMCA safe harbors, and encourage Congress to do the same,” the EFF notes.

The same arguments, for and against, are currently raging in Europe where the EU Commission proposed mandatory upload filtering in 2016. Since then, opposition to the proposals has been fierce, with warnings of potential human rights breaches and conflicts with existing copyright law.

Back in the US, there are additional requirements for a provider to qualify for safe harbor, including having a named designated agent tasked with receiving copyright infringement notifications. This person’s name must be listed on a platform’s website and submitted to the US Copyright Office, which maintains a centralized online directory of designated agents’ contact information.

Under new rules, agents must be re-registered with the Copyright Office every three years, despite that not being a requirement under the DMCA. The EFF is concerned that by simply failing to re-register an agent, an otherwise responsible website could lose its safe harbor protections, even if the agent’s details have remained the same.

“We’re concerned that the new requirement will particularly disadvantage small and nonprofit websites. We ask you to reconsider this rule,” the EFF concludes.

The EFF’s letter to the Copyright Office can be found here.

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Pirate Streaming Search Engine Exploits Crunchyroll Vulnerability

With 20 million members around the world, Crunchyroll is one of the largest on-demand streaming platforms for anime and manga content.

Much like Hollywood, the site has competition from pirate streaming sites which offer their content without permission. These usually stream pirated videos which are hosted on external sites.

However, this week Crunchyroll is facing a more direct attack. The people behind the new streaming meta-search engine StreamCR say they’ve found a way to stream the site’s content from its own servers, without paying.

“This works due to a vulnerability in the Crunchyroll system,” StreamCR’s operators tell TorrentFreak.

Simply put, StreamCR uses an active Crunchyroll account to locate the video streams and embeds this on its own website. This allows people to access Crunchyroll videos in the best quality without paying.

“This gives access to the full library in the region of our server, retrieving it as long as we’re not bound by the regular regional restriction. For this, we pick a US server as American Crunchyroll has the most library of content.

Stream in various qualities

The exploit was developed in-house, the StreamCR team informs us. While it works fine at the moment the team realizes that this may not last forever, as Crunchyroll might eventually patch the vulnerability.

However, the meta-search engine will have made its point by then.

“We expect them to fix this, Why wouldn’t they? In the meantime, this can demonstrate how vulnerable Crunchyroll is at the moment,” they tell us.

The site’s ultimate plan is to become the go-to search engine for people looking to stream all kinds of pirated videos. In addition to Crunchyroll, StreamCR also indexes various pirate sites, including YesMovies, Gomovies, and 9anime.

“StreamCR’s goal is to let people access streams with ease from a universal site, we’re trying to have a Google-like experience for finding online streams,” they say.

TorrentFreak reached out to Crunchyroll asking for a comment on the issue, but at the time of publication, we have yet to hear back.

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Pirate Site Blockades Enter Germany With Kinox.to as First Target

Website blocking has become one of the leading anti-piracy mechanisms of recent years.

It is particularly prevalent across Europe, where thousands of sites are blocked by ISPs following court orders.

This week, these blocking efforts also reached Germany. Following a provisional injunction issued by the federal court in Munich, Internet provider Vodafone must block access to the popular streaming portal Kinox.to.

The injunction was issued on behalf of the German film production and distribution company Constantin Film. The company complained that Kinox facilitates copyright infringement and cited a recent order from the European Court of Justice in its defense, Golem reports.

While these types of blockades are common in Europe, they’re a new sight in Germany. Vodafone users who attempt to access the Kinox site will now be welcomed with a blocking notification instead.

“This portal is temporarily unavailable due to a copyright claim,” it reads, translated from German.

Blocked

The Kinox streaming site has been a thorn in the side of German authorities and copyright holders for a long time. Last year, one of the site’s admins was detained in Kosovo after a three-year manhunt, but despite these and other actions, the site remains online.

With the blocking efforts, Constantin Film hopes to make it harder for people to access the site, although this measure is also limited.

For now, it seems to be a simple DNS blockade, which means that people can bypass it relatively easily by switching to a free alternative DNS provider such as Google DNS or OpenDNS.

And there are other workarounds as well, as operators of Kinox point out in a message on their homepage.

“Vodafone User: Use the public Google DNS server: 8.8.8.8, that goes the .TO domain again! Otherwise, a VPN or the free Tor Browser can be used!” they write.

While the measure may not be foolproof, the current order is certainly significant. Previously, all German courts have denied similar blocking orders based on different arguments. This means that more blocking efforts may be on the horizon.

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Hosting Provider Steadfast Maintains DMCA Safe Harbor Defense For Trial

Two years ago, adult entertainment publisher ALS Scan dragged several third-party Internet services to court.

The company targeted several companies including CDN provider CloudFlare and the Chicago-based hosting company Steadfast, accusing them of copyright infringement because they offered services to pirate sites.

The case against Steadfast is getting close to trial and to start with an advantage, ALS Scan recently asked the court for partial summary judgment, determining that the hosting company contributed to copyright infringement and that it has no safe harbor protection.

ALS argued that Steadfast refused to shut down the servers of the image sharing platform Imagebam.com, which was operated by its client Flixya. ALS Scan described the site as a repeat offender, as it had been targeted with dozens of DMCA notices, and accused Steadfast of turning a blind eye to the situation.

Steadfast, for its part, fiercely denied the allegations. The hosting provider admitted that it leased servers to Flixya for ten years but said that it forwarded all notices to its client. The hosting company could not address individual infringements, other than shutting down the entire site, which would have been disproportionate in their view.

A few days ago California District Court Judge George Wu ruled on the matter, denying ALS’s motion for summary judgment.

Both sides made sensible arguments on the contributory infringement issue, but it is by no means undisputed that the hosting provider ‘contributed’ to the infringing activities. The court, therefore, left this question open for the jury to determine at trial.

“Ultimately, both sides have raised triable issues of fact with respect to material contribution. As a result, the Court would deny Plaintiff’s Motion,” Judge Wu writes.

ALS also sought summary judgment on the DMCA safe harbor protection issue, but the court denied this request as well. While it’s clear that the hosting company never terminated a customer for repeat infringements, it’s not clear whether it was ever in a situation where it needed to.

The DMCA requires Internet services to implement a meaningful repeat infringer policy, but in this case, Steadfast’s client Imagebam reportedly had a takedown policy of its own, which complicates the issue.

“While the fact Steadfast has never terminated one of its own customers for infringement is potentially damaging to its ability to fit the safe harbor, Plaintiff has not established that Steadfast faced a situation requiring it to terminate one of its users,” Judge Wu writes.

“Even in the present case it is unclear that Steadfast needed to terminate Flixya’s account given Flixya itself had a policy that was arguably successful at removing infringing images from imagebam.com.”

Judge Wu adds that safe harbor defenses are generally left to the jury, and this is what he decided as well.

As a result, ALS’s entire motion for summary judgment is denied. This is good news for Steadfast, who will have their safe harbor defense available at the upcoming trial. However, they will likely celebrate this win with caution, as the jury makes its ultimate decision.

A copy of the court’s order is available here (pdf).

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