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Netflix Impostor Bombards Google With Fake DMCA Takedown Notices

Earlier this month we reported on an interesting trend. Suddenly, the number of DMCA takedown notices sent by Netflix to Google shot through the roof.

As a possible explanation, we suggested an increase in enforcement following the surge of piracy during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there were also some signs that hinted towards possible abuse by a third party.

After our publication, the number of ‘Netflix’ DMCA notices sent to Google only increased. Two weeks ago the streaming platform reportedly flagged 1.2 million pirate URLs in a month, a sharp contrast to the few thousand it filed a few weeks earlier.

Google Takes Action

At the same time, however, Google started to pick up the issue as well. Where all reported pirate links sent by “Netflix” were previously removed, the search engine has now started to reject more and more requests.

In fact, Google’s Transparency Report is actively flagging several Netflix notices as abusive. While they do contain links to pirated material, Google believes they were sent by impostors.

“We believe that an impostor or someone else abusing the process submitted this request. We report it here for the sake of completeness and to provide a view into one kind of abuse of the DMCA process,” Google writes.

netflix impostor

The notices that are flagged show the same fishy characteristics we highlighted in our earlier article. They generate separate ‘reporting organization’ listings in Google’s transparency report, submit long lists of URLs from the same domains, and often identify content that’s not owned by Netflix.

Also, the message that comes with these notices isn’t exactly proper English and reads: “All works on this website is copyrighted for netflix and this website not allowed to share this content.

Competing Pirate Sites?

Who is responsible for these abusive notices remains a question. It seems very likely, however, that they’re being sent by the owner of a pirate streaming site, who wants links from competing sites removed from Google search.

Given that most reported sites are French we assume that the sender – pirate or not – is French-speaking as well.

It’s good to see that Google is now aware of the problem. However, this is not the first time this type of abuse has come up, so it would be good to know if it can be prevented going forward.

Google Is Taking Action

Google obviously doesn’t like this type of abuse, but in some cases it’s unavoidable. The company says its DMCA removals process aims to strike a balance between making it easy and efficient for rightsholders to report infringing content, and protecting free expression on the web.

“This system has been effective at significantly reducing access to infringing content via Search, but there are bad actors who attempt to abuse this system and limit access to information, which is something we actively fight against,” a Google spokesperson informed TorrentFreak.

“Over the years, we’ve continued to invest in new tools and establish processes like the Trusted Copyright Removal Program to tackle this issue at scale, while also developing new ways to counter abuse, which continues to evolve.”

As a result of these measures, Google rejects all requests it believes were sent by impostors. That said, many of the ‘dubious’ notices that were sent previously have not been flagged, or the URLs that were reported remain deindexed.

Google says that there are various types of abuse, some effecting legitimate content, and others target pirate content. While reported links form abusers are not always reinstated, affected sites can always submit counternotices. However, Google will not reinstate pirate URLs.

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

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Watch Tower DMCA Subpoena Row Settled After Judge Hands Out Vulgarity Warning

Back in March we reported that the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, the publisher for the Jehovah’s Witness religious group, had gone to court to obtain a DMCA subpoena.

The aim of the group was to discover the personal details of a self-declared ‘apostate’ who uploaded Jehovah’s Witness sermons to YouTube in breach of copyright. These are usually open-and-shut cases but when an anonymous movant stepped in to contest the application, things got pretty stormy to say the least.

As reported in April, the anonymous individual filed a series of documents with the court, branding leaders of the religious group as ‘pedophiles’ and suggesting that Judge Cathy Seibel’s alleged friendship with Watch Tower’s attorney could be undermining the judicial process. While largely irrelevant to our copyright-focused reporting, it should be noted that those claims were just the tip of the iceberg.

Profanities aside (and they were present in abundance), the anonymous movant declared protection under fair use doctrines and drew attention to the fact that despite filing applications for 59 DMCA subpoenas, Watch Tower had never followed up with an actual copyright lawsuit. These matters and more were subsequently addressed by Watch Tower and Judge Seibel.

Watch Tower: DMCA Subpoena Process Was Used in Good Faith

In a memorandum and declaration, Watch Tower attorney Paul D. Polidoro said that beginning June 2018, the religious group undertook “concentrated efforts” to address the “global theft” of its intellectual property. Part of this was exercising its rights under the DMCA, including applying for subpoenas. According to Polidoro, however, these didn’t bear much fruit.

Using the words of the anonymous movant against him, the attorney noted that things like “VPNs, anonymous proxies, and TOR exit nodes” frustrate Watch Tower’s enforcement efforts to discover the true identities of alleged infringers.

“When some identifying information was obtained, usually the infringer resided outside of the United States, such as in South America or Europe,” Polidoro wrote.

“At the end of last year, Watch Tower’s Legal Department was finally able to identify a few potential domestic defendants to bring a copyright infringement action. Undertaking litigation with its attendant expenses was and is carefully considered because Jehovah’s Witnesses’ efforts are ‘supported entirely by voluntary donations’.”

In the end, however, Watch Tower decided that legal action against someone was required and in December 2019 took the decision to sue an alleged copyright infringer. According to the filing, work on the case has been taking place since the beginning of 2020 but due to the coronavirus pandemic, the complaint was delayed.

“Watch Tower’s forthcoming copyright infringement lawsuit will not end its efforts to take steps to address other ongoing continued infringements. To this end, Watch Tower will continue to avail itself of its statutory rights to pursue DMCA subpoenas to identify other potential defendants,” Polidoro warned.

Watch Tower: No Fair Use in This Case

What followed was a case-by-case analysis of five videos posted by the movant to YouTube. In previous filings, the movant stated that the videos were “undercover” recordings of Jehovah’s Witness sermons but according to the religious group, they were all posted in their entirety and without criticism, as might be the case when attempting to make a fair use claim.

Only making matters more complicated was a subsequent motion to quash by the anonymous movant which stated that the DMCA subpoena itself was invalid because the five videos referenced by Watch Tower had already been removed from YouTube by YouTube itself, before the notices had been issued.

“[B]y the time Watch Tower had issued its DMCA notices for the five allegedly infringing videos in the case at hand, the five videos had already been removed by Google/YouTube because Google is a huge piece of shit who doesn’t have to do their fucking jobs right,” the motion notes.

“So ‘Hooray for the pieces of shit at Google for being so quick on the trigger and heavy-handed with their ban hammer!’ But I guess that means that this subpoena must be quashed.”

No, Possibly, and Mind Your Language, Judge Declares

“Having heard further from the parties, I deny the motion to quash,” Judge Siebel wrote in her recent order settling the matter.

“Watch Tower has provided an explanation for why it has not pursued more cases, as well as evidence that the alleged infringement would not constitute fair use because the videos are full-length and not accompanied by criticism. That there may be criticisms in the comments section [on YouTube] does not render the initial postings fair use.”

On the validity of the DMCA subpoena, the anonymous movant may enjoy more success, but only within tight parameters.

“Movant argues that the subpoena is unenforceable because the videos were all taken down before Google received notice. I am dubious, because this allegation contradicts what Movant alleges elsewhere — that the videos were taken down only after the notices were received — and because in Watch Tower’s initial declaration, it attached a letter it sent to Google asking it to take down the videos,” the Judge notes.

“But the subpoena would be unenforceable if the material had been taken down before the notices were received, so Watch Tower’s counsel should provide Google with a copy of this text order, and Google is advised that compliance with the subpoena is not required if in fact the videos were taken down before Google received any notice of the possible infringement.”

With the matter of the DMCA subpoena now apparently over, Judge Siebel took the time to add some personal advice to conclude her order. Having made no attempt to rein in any of the language used in the dispute thus far, she had the last word indicating she was far from happy.

“Finally, some free advice for Movant: Inflammatory, vulgar and abusive language in court filings is not a good idea.”

Related court filings can be found here and here (pdf)

Image credit: Pixabay

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

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US Copyright Office’s DMCA Tweaks Trigger ‘Internet Disconnection’ Concerns

After several years of public consultations and stakeholder meetings, the US Copyright Office issued its review of the DMCA’s safe harbor provisions.

The report doesn’t propose any major overhauls of the DMCA. Instead, it aims to fine-tune some parts, to better balance the interests of copyright holders and online service providers (OSPs).

More drastic suggestions were put on the backburner. Those include pirate site blocking and a ‘takedown and staydown’ requirement for online services, which would require mandatory upload filtering.

Not Everyone Is Happy with the Report

The Copyright Office’s attempt to create more balance is well-intended but not everyone is pleased with it. For example, a statement released by several prominent music industry groups, including the RIAA, shows that they wanted and expected more.

The music groups provide a list of things big technology platforms could do to address the concerns raised in the report. However, their first suggestion is to ensure that ‘takedown’ means ‘staydown.’ That’s one of the things the Copyright Office explicitly did not recommend, as there may be a negative impact.

On the other side, there was a lot of critique of the apparent disregard for a key party in the DMCA debate, the public at large. The Copyright Office frames DMCA issues as a ‘copyright holders’ vs. ‘online service provider’ debate, but the voice of the public is glanced over at times.

Looking at the suggestions in the report, however, it’s clear the public will be heavily impacted by the proposed changes. This is also a problem signaled by some digital rights groups.

Disconnecting Alleged Copyright Infringers

According to Public Knowledge, the Copyright Office’s recommendations are ill-considered. The digital rights group believes that the report heavily favors copyright holders while totally overlooking the interests of millions of regular Internet users.

The proposals don’t only harm the general public, they also fail to recognize copyright abuses, including false DMCA notices, the group adds.

“In a contentious debate, it comes down on the same side (copyright holders) in nearly every instance, and disregards ample evidence that the DMCA is often abused by people looking to censor content they have no rights over,” the group notes.

Public Knowlege takes offense to the Office’s comments regarding repeat infringers. These stress that people’s Internet access be disconnected based on allegations of copyright infringements by copyright holders.

“Astonishingly, the Copyright Office buys into the idea that users should be subject to being cut off from internet access entirely on the basis of allegations of copyright infringement,” Public Knowledge writes.

The DMCA text is currently not clear on whether allegations are good enough, but the Office’s recommendation is backed by an Appeals Court order. Nonetheless, Public Knowledge doesn’t believe it should be law.

“Congress should not be making it easier for private actors to completely and unilaterally remove a person’s ability to access the internet,” the group writes. “The internet is not just a giant copyrighted-content delivery mechanism; it is the fundamental backbone of modern life.”

Public Knowledge is not alone in its criticism. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) also stresses that the interests of the public are largely ignored, tilting the “balance” towards copyright holders.

“For example, the proposal to terminate someone’s Internet access—at any time, but especially now—is a hugely disproportionate response to unproven allegations of copyright infringement,” EFF wrote on Twitter.

Copyright Office Cherry-Picking?

It’s worth noting that court decisions are not always leading to the Copyright Office. The Appeals Court previously ruled that a repeat infringer policy doesn’t have to be written down, for example, but the Office now suggests updating the DMCA to change this.

Requiring a written repeat infringer policy, contrary to the Appeal Court ruling, would favor copyright holders. The same is true for confirming the other Appeal Court ruling, which concluded that ISPs must deal with repeat infringers based on allegations alone.

This doesn’t mean that the Office is always taking one side, however. As mentioned earlier, the report also denied the top demands from copyright holders by not recommending site blocking and ‘takedown – staydown’ policies.

Disagreement Remains

By highlighting these positions from two opposing sides of the debate, it is clear that the Copyright Office report includes positive and negative elements for all stakeholders. While it attempts to create more balance, disagreement remains.

This has also been the general theme of the DMCA revision debate over the past several years. The demands from one side usually hurt the other, and vice versa. It took a long time before the Office finalized its views and given what’s at stake, pushing any changes through Congress is not going to be easy.

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

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Cloudflare Ordered to Reveal Operators of Popular Pirate Sites Manga1000.com

Obtaining the personal details of individuals behind pirate sites is rarely straightforward.

When they’re visible at all, domain registrations can be hidden behind privacy services, faked, or even both, while hosting companies tend not to comply with demands to reveal information when they’re unsupported by a valid court order.

One of the methods increasingly deployed in recent times is to target a potential weak spot. Thousands of pirate sites use the services of CDN company Cloudflare and as a US-based entity, Cloudflare is compelled to comply with the orders of the court. So, with copyright infringement allegations in hand, rightsholders apply for a so-called DMCA subpoena to force Cloudflare to hand over site operators’ personal details.

This tactic was recently used by Shogakukan, one of Japan’s largest publishers of manga content. In an application for DMCA subpoena filed at a California district court this month, lawyers for the company explained that in order to protect its copyrighted content, Shogakukan needs to identify the people behind two domains – manag1000.com and manga1001.com.

Manga1000.com screenshot

“It has recently come to Shogakukan’s attention that certain users of your services have unlawfully published and posted certain contents on the website located at [manga1000.com and manga1001.com],” the application reads.

“We demand that you immediately disable access to the Infringing Work [detailed in the image below] and cease any use, reproduction, and distribution of the Original Work. Specifically, we request that you remove or disable the Infringing Work from [the websites] or any of your system or services.”

Shogakukan Infringed Works

In all but a slight domain difference, manga1000.com and manga1001.com seem identical. They both offer manga titles in ‘raw’ format and enjoy a decent number of visitors – around five million per month per domain according to SimilarWeb stats.

Manga1000 enjoys slightly more traffic at around 5.1 million visits per month which means it’s almost ready to break into the list of Top-500 most-visited sites in Japan, period.

Shogakukan has taken interest in both domains more recently, filing DMCA takedown complaints with Google to delist more than 500 URLs. Now, however, it appears to have more concrete legal plans on the horizon, demanding that Cloudflare spills the beans on its allegedly pirating customers.

The DMCA subpoena, which was duly signed off by the court, now compels Cloudflare to hand over highly-detailed information.

That includes all information sufficient to identify the operator and/or owner of both sites who “uploaded, hosted, and/or contracted with another provider to host the infringing content” owned by the publisher. Shogakukan also demands billing and administrative records that reveal the infringers’ names, physical addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses, credit card numbers, and hosting providers, plus any and all logs of IP addresses.

Cloudflare is required to present the relevant details to Shogakukan’s legal team in San Francisco by June 5, 2020, but whether that request will lead to any useful information remains to be seen.

As reported last September, Shogakukan and three other major manga publishers previously sued Mangamura ‘replacement’ site Hoshinoromi in a New York federal court, noting that Cloudflare was helping the site’s operators to conceal their identities.

Earlier this month, however, the publishers filed a notice of voluntary dismissal after months of work trying to identify the operators of the site ended without bearing fruit. Back in February, a lawyer for the plaintiffs told the court (pdf) that the defendants had “gone to considerable lengths to conceal their identities and avoid legal process.”

After the court granted the publishers’ request for expedited discovery, the publishers served subpoenas on four Internet companies that provided services to Hoshinoromi, demanding that they hand over information on the defendants. While they received plenty of information back, things didn’t go especially well.

After receiving dozens of files including technical logs containing 1,000 unique records and more than 100 unique IP addresses spanning a 16-month period, the publishers were forced to hire an outside consulting company to perform an analysis of the data. In the end, however, none of the data personally identified the operators of Hoshinoromi.

Shogakukan will be hoping for a better result this time around.

Shogakukan’s application for DMCA subpoena against Cloudflare be found here (pdf)

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

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Spotify Launches Crackdown on Tools Offering Premium Service For Free

Spotify is currently the most popular music streaming platform in the world with 286 million users. An impressive 130 million subscribe to the company’s premium service with the remainder using the ad-supported tier.

Somewhere in those figures are a small minority who enjoy the features of Spotify Premium but yet manage to do so without paying the subscription fees charged by the company. This is achieved by deploying various hacks and workarounds that remove the restrictions imposed on users of the ad-supported service.

In many cases this means users obtaining a hacked variant of the Spotify software, often on the Android platform. These applications don’t subject users to adverts and in some cases claim to enable other features such as unlimited track skipping and a departure from enforced shuffling.

Needless to say, Spotify views these applications as a threat to its business model. The company has previously taken action against specific tools in an effort to make them harder to find but more recently the Swedish streaming service appears to have stepped up its efforts.

Beginning back in March but increasing as the weeks have passed, Spotify AB has been sending DMCA notices to Google targeting domains that appear to be offering the types of tools highlighted above. Torrentfreak learned of the complaints from a third-party and we were able to track many of them down using the Lumen Database repository.

The majority targeted at Google’s search indexes contain similar wording, with claims that the domains in question are infringing on Spotify’s intellectual property rights. However, the company goes further still with allegations that the tools are designed for fraudulent purposes.

“This site uses Spotify intellectual property in its content without authorization and this falsely suggests Spotify sponsorship or endorsement of the website and violates Spotify exclusive rights,” many read.

“We reasonably believe that it is the intention of its owners to use it as an instrument of fraud.”

Spotify DMCA complaint to Google

At the time of writing Spotify has targeted at least 20 domains with requests like this one to remove more than 60 URLs. Many seem to be so-called APK download sites or similar platforms giving hints and tips about how to obtain Spotify and indeed other services for free, with accompanying links.

However, when testing the domains in the numerous takedown notices our interest was piqued by at least one that triggered a Malwarebytes ‘fraud’ alert. Spotify took a particular interest in this domain by targeting 14 of its URLs, which raises the question of what type of fraud is taking place on the site.

SpotifyPlus.com blocked

Spotify appears to use the term in connection with using its intellectual property and accessing its platform in an unauthorized manner but it wouldn’t be a huge stretch to think that something even more nefarious might be at play with some modified APK files available online today.

In the vast majority of cases, Google has complied by delisting the requested URLs. At the time of writing there are a handful of more recent Spotify complaints marked as pending a decision (1,2,3)but it would be no surprise if they were removed during the days to come.

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

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Hacker Mods Old Calculator to Access the Internet, CASIO Files DMCA Complaint

Hobbyist electronics hacker and YouTuber ‘Neutrino’ only has 10 videos on his channel but many are extremely popular.

Back in April he constructed his own interactive and contactless handwash dispenser to help people avoid the coronavirus and earlier this month published an absolute gem, transforming an old CASIO scientific calculator into something better.

After a not inconsiderable amount of work, Neutrino’s device was able to communicate with similar devices nearby and even connect to the Internet. Pretty impressive for a supposed amateur.

As standard, the CASIO calculator chosen for the project can be picked up on eBay for just a few dollars but other components are also required, as listed on Neutrino‘s YouTube channel. After desoldering the solar panel and various other steps, Neutrino managed to squeeze an OLED display into the space, along with a WiFi module and other goodies.

“Since we were in lockdown I wanted to do something really fun, which can keep me occupied for a week or two,” Neutrino informs TF.

“I did not have many components to work with so using this calculator (CASIO fx-ms991) was not a problem, because it was roughly 5+ years old and it was given by my uncle.”

Gizmodo published an article on the invention earlier this month, highlighting that it could potentially be used to cheat in exams. Neutrino says he doesn’t want that but does hope that the hack will inspire others to learn and participate in the ‘maker community’.

But now, just a couple of weeks after winning plenty of praise, the project has also attracted the attention of an anti-counterfeiting organization working for CASIO.

REACT describes itself as a not-for-profit organization with over 30 years experience in fighting counterfeit trade. “One of our main objectives is to keep the costs of anti-counterfeiting actions affordable,” its site reads. A wide range of high-profile companies are listed as members, from Apple to Yves Saint Laurent and dozens in between.

This week REACT wrote to Github, where Neutrino has his ‘Hack-Casio-Calculator‘ repository, with a demand that it should be completely taken down for infringing its client’s intellectual property rights.

“I am writing on behalf of CASIO, which is a member of REACT (also known as the Anti-Counterfeiting Network ). REACT actively fights the trade-in counterfeiting products on behalf of its members,” the complaint reads.

“It came to our attention that the below-mentioned repository is using copyrighted source code in order to modify Casio’s copyrighted program.

“The code the repository contains is proprietary and not to be publicly published. The hosted content is a direct, literal copy of our client’s work. I hereby summon you to take expeditious action: to remove or to disable access to the infringing content immediately, but in any case no later than ten days as of today.”

The full DMCA notice submitted to Github is available here and claims that the “entire repository is infringing” and that hosted content is a “direct, literal copy of [CASIO’s] work.

The repository has been disabled by Github in response to the complaint so validating the notice’s claims is not straightforward. That being said, Neutrino informs TF that the claim is nonsense and all work is his own.

“They accuse me of using copyrighted source code in order to modify CASIO’s copyrighted program. But my code has nothing to do with it,” he explains.

“The code was written completely from scratch and all the libraries included in my source file were open-source. Everything was clearly mentioned in the [now removed] readme file of my GitHub repository. They also allegedly accuse me by stating that ‘The entire repository is infringing’, but in reality whatever the original content they pointed out has nothing to do with my code.”

Neutrino informs us that he has already filed a DMCA counternotice with Github to get his project back. While he may yet be successful, this is just the type of action that has ‘freedom-to-tinker’ proponents throwing their hands up in despair wondering why big corporations have nothing better to do.

Unfortunately, these types of complaints can discourage people from being innovative or sharing their ideas and knowledge, the exact opposite of what Neutrino hoped to achieve. CASIO may somehow feel it’s in the right here but it does seem just a little bit petty.

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

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US Copyright Office’s Proposed DMCA Fine-Tuning Could Be Bad News for Pirates

In 2016, the U.S. Government launched a public consultation to evaluate the impact and effectiveness of the DMCA’s Safe Harbor provisions.

In response, the Copyright Office received a lot of input, including more than 92,000 comments. Various rightsholders weighed in, as expected, and so did technology companies, law scholars and civil rights groups.

This week, the Copyright Office released its long-awaited report (pdf), summarizing the public input, while offering several recommendations to lawmakers on how to move forward.

The overall conclusion is that there’s a clear discrepancy between how copyright holders and online services view the DMCA. Online service providers (OSPs) are quite pleased with it, while rightsholders see it as outdated and ineffective.

This imbalance comes as no surprise. However, the task of the Copyright Office is to find a way forward. To that end, the report provides some guidance to ‘fine-tune’ a variety of issues but doesn’t propose any broad changes.

“The Office is not recommending any wholesale changes to section 512, instead electing to point out where Congress may wish to fine-tune section 512’s current operation in order to better balance the rights and responsibilities of OSPs and rightsholders in the creative industries.”

This fine-tuning also applies to the ‘repeat infringer’ issue, which has become a hot topic in recent years. Repeat infringers are at the center of several lawsuits between copyright holders and ISPs, which most recently resulted in a billion-dollar damages award against Cox.

The Copyright Office recognizes that there is quite a lot of uncertainty in this area. One problem is the lack of transparency, as ISPs are not required to have a published, or even written repeat infringer policy.

A repeat infringer policy that exists merely in someone’s head is good enough at the moment. This is not ideal, and Congress could address this.

“Given the broad scope of the safe harbors, having a clear, documented, and publicly available repeat infringer policy seems like the appropriate minimum requirement in order to comply with the statute, as well as to act as a deterrent to infringement,” the Office notes.

In addition, it also recommends Congress to provide more clarity on when a user’s account should be terminated. There is currently no clarity on when ISPs should take action and if that requires a takedown notice from a copyright holder.

Another very relevant topic addressed in the report highlights the current restrictions on DMCA subpoenas. At the moment, these suboenas are regularly used to request details of website owners from third-party intermediaries such as Cloudflare or domain name registrars.

These subpoenas are cheap and quick, as they are signed off by a court clerk and don’t require any oversight from a judge. However, they come with restrictions as well, as courts previously concluded that they can’t be used to identify pirating subscribers.

The Copyright Office wonders whether this should change. In mentions that, at the moment, the tool is rarely used, also because the current interpretation doesn’t allow it to be used against regular ISPs to identify pirating subscribers.

“This provision has proven to be little-used by rightsholders, in part because of how restrictively courts have interpreted it and in part because the information gleaned from such subpoenas is often of little use,” the Office notes.

The report recommends Congress to clarify the language of this section. While it understands that some companies might abuse a broader interpretation to extract settlements from file-sharers (i.e. copyright trolls), that shouldn’t hold back lawmakers from considering it.

[“T]he Office does not countenance stripping rightsholders from any realistic ability to enforce their rights, even if doing so may prevent some bad actors from abusing the primary mechanism by which rightsholders may vindicate those rights,” it notes.

The Copyright Office says that it favors “a legislative fix” to address ambiguity in this section of the DMCA to clarify whether this applies to regular ISPs, or not. At the same time, however, the “litigation tactics” of “certain companies” deserve a proper discussion.

“To properly address these concerns, however, the conversation should focus on the actual tactics at issue, rather than using section 512(h) as a proxy to wage those battles,” the report reads.

This is an important recommendation, as making DMCA subpoenas available to identify pirating subscribers will change piracy enforcement drastically. The RIAA tried to use this method over a decade ago and failed. However, if the DMCA language is changed, rightsholders could go after hundreds of thousands of pirates at minimal cost and without judicial oversight.

The report runs to nearly 200 pages and it’s impossible to summarize it all. What is worth mentioning, however, is that the Copyright Office is not sold on two of the top demands from copyright holders. Those are, a ‘notice and staydown’ requirement and ‘site blocking.’

The Copyright Office understands that rightsholders would like a requirement to prevent pirated content from being uploaded, as is also required in the EU by Article 17 of the new Copyright Directive. However, it’s not yet convinced that this is right for the US.

First of all, it would require a “fundamental shift of intermediary liability” in the country. In addition, it is not clear what effect a filtering requirement would have on speech and competition. Those issues would need more research for Congress to consider it at all.

“[I]t is the opinion of the Office that a general staydown requirement and/or mandatory OSP filtering should be adopted, if at all, only after significant additional study, including of the non-copyright implications they would raise,” the report reads.

The same is true for pirate site blocking. While there is some evidence on the effectiveness and implications in other countries, this is not always consistent, and more research is needed.

“While some of these studies report statistically significant reductions in piracy, other studies have shown smaller or no reductions,” the Copyright Office writes.

“Thus, it is difficult to weigh the benefit of such orders against the potential speech impacts, arguing in favor of additional, dedicated study before adopting such a proposal.”

Overall, the report includes some positive and some negative elements for both sides. This was unavoidable, as rightsholders and online service providers have opposing views on how the DMCA safe harbors should function.

The Copyright Office believes that more balance can be achieved by file-tuning the current language. While this sounds mild, the implications for the repeat infringer and DMCA subpoenas could be far-reaching.

That said, the report just provides recommendations. Whether these will be turned into amendments and new legal requirements is up to Congress.

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

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GitHub Reinstates Popcorn Time Code Despite MPA ‘Threat’

For more than half a decade, Popcorn Time has been a thorn in the side of Hollywood.

The ‘Netflix for Pirates’ offers an easy-to-use application that opens the door to a library of thousands of streamable movies and TV-shows.

The Motion Picture Asociation (MPA) recognized this threat early on and pressured the original developers to throw in the towel. That worked, but it came too late as the open-source project was swiftly revived by others.

Today, Popcorn Time lives on through many project forks. The most popular is PopcornTime.app, which like its predecessor, shares its source code publicly on the developer hosting platform GitHub. This allows others to download, modify, and share it.

The MPA is not happy with this and took action recently. The movie industry group informed GitHub, which is owned by Microsoft, about the infringing nature of the software. According to the MPA, the application includes links to pirate sites, pirate APIs, and pirate torrent trackers, which are used to download pirated movies and TV-shows.

On top of that, the MPA suggested that GitHub itself may be liable for copyright infringement if the company fails to take action.

While the MPA’s interpretation of the law is likely not shared by GitHub, the company did remove the Popcorn Time code. In most cases that would be the end of the story, but Popcorn Time was not backing off without a fight.

The developers submitted a DMCA counternotice explaining that the MPA’s request is not legitimate. The code is owned by Popcorn Time, not the MPA, and Popcorn Time asked GitHub to restore access.

“The code is 100 % ours and do not contain any copyright [sic] material please check again,” the developer wrote.

The app’s developers made a good point here. The identified code (not the built app) is not directly copyright infringing and it contains no direct links to copyright-infringing material either. This means that a DMCA notice may not be the right tool here.

Faced with both requests, GitHub has now decided to restore full access to the Popcorn Time repository.

This decision doesn’t necessarily mean that it agrees with the app developers, however. The DMCA simply prescribes that, following a counternotice, content can be restored after two weeks, unless the claiming party files a lawsuit.

In this case, the MPA chose not to file a lawsuit against the Popcorn Time operators, so the code repositories are back online again.

Whether the MPA will follow-up with further action has yet to be seen. However, the whole episode highlights an interesting issue. There is little doubt that the Popcorn Time application is a pirate app. However, the code, as hosted by GitHub, is not infringing per se. As such, regular takedown notices don’t appear to work here.

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

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MPA/ACE Wants Cloudflare to Identify Operators of Nites Pirate Streaming Site

There are many strategies for disrupting the activities of pirate sites and services. Blocking, for example, leaves sites intact but aims to prevent users from visiting platforms so easily.

This presents a window of opportunity for pirates who through VPNs, proxies and mirror platforms, can still access the sites in question. A much more permanent option is shutting services down completely, a tactic currently being deployed by the Motion Picture Association and global anti-piracy coalition ACE, the Alliance For Creativity and Entertainment.

While details are hammered out behind the scenes, ACE – which is headed up by the studios of the MPA plus Netflix and Amazon – reaches agreements with site operators to shut down their operations. This can sometimes involve a cash settlement (such as in the Openload case) but the most visible sign is the handing over of domain names to the MPA, to prevent any resurrection.

This appears to have been the plan behind the recent closure of Nites.tv, a polished streaming and torrent platform that rapidly grew in popularity over the past several months. In April, following an announcement that it was shutting down to protect copyrights, Nites.tv disappeared and its domain was eventually taken over by the MPA. However, that wasn’t the end of the matter.

This week, an almost perfect clone of Nites.tv reappeared under a new domain, Nites.is. It has all of the features of the old site with identical functionality, suggesting that the ACE action to shutter the original site had been seriously undermined. Who is behind this reincarnation isn’t known but several major Hollywood studios are now trying to find out.

In an application for a DMCA subpoena filed at a California court this week, Jan Van Voorn, the Executive Vice President and Chief of Global Content Protection at the MPA, explained that Nites.is infringing on the rights of Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Universal City Studios, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Warner Bros. Entertainment, Amazon Content Services and Netflix Studios.

“The purpose for which this subpoena is sought is to obtain the identities of the individuals assigned to these websites who have exploited ACE Members’ exclusive rights in their copyrighted motion pictures without their authorization,” the application reads.

“This information will only be used for the purposes of protecting the rights granted to ACE Members, the motion picture copyright owners, under Title II of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.”

The companies, all members of ACE and represented by the MPA, request an order that would compel Cloudflare to hand over the personal details of the entities behind Nites.is. That information, according to the MPA, should include names, physical addresses, IP addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses, payment information, account updates and account histories.

What happens next is dependent on a few factors, starting with the information held by Cloudflare. Presuming the subpoena is granted, the big question is whether the CDN company has any useful information to hand over to the MPA. If it doesn’t, the trail could go cold, at least for now. If Cloudflare does have pertinent details, however, then the people behind Nites.is can expect a follow-up from the MPA.

The big question is whether those people, whoever they might be, are the same people as those behind Nites.tv. If they are (and presuming a settlement agreement was signed with the MPA/ACE to shut down permanently), then it will be a question of whether MPA/ACE are open to another settlement or in light of any breach, feel inclined to take the matter further.

ACE does not respond to requests to comment on any ongoing cases so at least for now, it will be a waiting game to see how this plays out.

The DMCA subpoena application documents can be found here (1,2,3)

From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, torrent sites and more. We also help you to find the best anonymous VPN.

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Takedown Notices From Netflix are Skyrocketing, But Are They Legit?

When Netflix had just started offering online video content years ago, piracy wasn’t seen as a major threat.

This changed when the streaming platform transformed itself into one of the biggest content producers, offering a wide variety of exclusive content.

Adapting to this changed reality, the company started working with third-party companies to issue takedown requests. Soon after, it also launched an in-house anti-piracy team and joined several copyright protection groups, including the MPA.

Today, Netflix is a major player in the anti-piracy scene. The company is involved in a wide variety of enforcement efforts, ranging from cease-and-desist letters and lawsuits to DMCA takedown notices.

In the latter category, we noticed an unusual change over the past few weeks. The number of takedown notices Netflix is sending to Google has skyrocketed.

The streaming service started sending these notices in 2016 and over the years averaged roughly 20,000 requests per week, which is fairly normal for a company of its size. However, over the past few weeks his number went up and up, reaching more than half a million reported URLs last week.

The graph below clearly shows a drastic increase towards the end. The first peak this year came in mid-March when 127,000 URLs were reported, a sixfold increase compared to previous weeks. This figure increased to 153,000 then 260,000 and after a temporary dip, went all the way up to 622,000.

It’s unclear what’s behind this 3000% increase in just a few months. Looking more closely at the targeted sites we see that French pirate streaming sites are among the major targets.

For example, Netflix reported more than 100,000 URLs from serie-streaming.net during the first week of May. This is more than half of the total number of links that were ever reported from the site. We see similar spikes with other domains, including hdpstream.la, ds-streamingvf.com, and voirseriestreaming.com.

We asked Netflix for a comment on these increased enforcement measures but, at the time of writing, we have yet to hear back. One possible explanation could be that the company is ramping up its efforts as traffic to pirate streaming sites has increased during the coronavirus pandemic.

That said, there is another viable option as well. In theory, these notices may have been sent by a competing pirate site masquerading as Netflix. We have seen similar abuses in the past, where pirate sites exploit the DMCA to downrank competitors in Google’s search results.

The latter theory is not unlikely. The recent notices seem to generate hundreds of separate “reporter” accounts in Google’s transparency report, which we have also seen in similar abuse cases. Also, they target content that’s not available on Netflix, including Disney’s The Mandalorian and HBO’s Westworld.

On top of that, the requests aren’t phrased in proper English either. “All works on this website is copyrighted for netflix and this website not allowed to share this content,” one reads.

Without an official comment from Netflix, that’s just speculation. But, what we do know is that Google hasn’t flagged any of the submissions as suspect and has removed many of the reported URLs. So whether they are legit or not, the notices have definitely had a major impact on the targeted sites.

From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, torrent sites and more. We also help you to find the best anonymous VPN.