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Operation Evil Web: Police Target 58 Sites, IT Experts & 1,000 IPTV Subscribers

Over the past several years Italy’s Guardia di Finanza has been applying increasing pressure to various players in the piracy ecosystem.

In addition to targeting distributors of movies, TV shows and live sports via subscription services, the authorities have also homed in on suppliers of pirated newspapers and periodicals. A new law enforcement operation revealed Wednesday continues along those same lines.

Operation Evil Web

The new action is being spearheaded by the Economic-Financial Police Unit of the Guardia di Finanza of Gorizia. The unit reports that following an investigation it was able to secure a preventative seizure order to block access to 58 websites and 18 Telegram channels.

With combined annual traffic of around 80 million visits, the authorities claim that by blocking these platforms they have disrupted around 90% of the audiovisual and editorial piracy carried out in Italy. Given the availability of pirated content in the region, regardless of blocking, that figure sounds optimistic but the operation is clearly significant nonetheless.

Investigation Into IPTV Expanded Overseas

According to the GdF, the investigation began by targeting an IT expert operating under the online nickname of ‘Diabolik’. The authorities haven’t yet positively identified this developer but given the existence of a Kodi addon called Diabolik441 dedicated to Italian content with links to the Evil King branding (GdF’s operation is called ‘Evil Web’), it seems likely this was one of their targets. An Android application using the same name is also featured in a GdF video (see below).

After reportedly identifying Diabolik, the investigation broadened to several regions of Italy and then overseas, including Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States. Three other IT experts also became part of the investigation, identified by GdF as ‘Doc’, ‘Spongebob’, and ‘Webflix’.

Again, GdF hasn’t identified these alleged IT experts using anything other than their nicknames but nevertheless describes them as “real oracles” when it comes to the illegal distribution of movies, pay TV, live sports, cartoons, newspapers, magazines, manuals, and even pornography. All four developers have been reported to the “competent judicial authorities” for prosecution.

Authorities Trying to Identify 1,000 IPTV Subscribers

In Italy, piracy-enabled set-top devices are called ‘pezzotto’ and in common with many regions, are used by huge numbers of end users hoping to gain free or cheap access to pirated movies, TV shows, and live sports. GdF says work is now underway to identify around 1,000 pezzotto/IPTV subscribers – some local, some overseas – so that they can be prosecuted for breaches of copyright law and receiving stolen goods.

According to the authorities, penalties can reach up to three years in prison and a fine of 25,000 euros. Similar penalties were mentioned back in Febraury when the Guardia di Finanza said it had reported 223 subscribers of pirate IPTV services to the judicial authorities.

Enhanced Site-Blocking Procedures

GdF reports that thanks to a new “procedural innovation”, it is now possible to more effectively block sites that facilitate access to previously blocked domains.

“This procedural innovation is allowing, day by day, the immediate inhibition of hundreds of new web domains illegally created in order to circumvent the original provision of the Judicial Authority,” its announcement reads.

“In addition, the procedures for international judicial cooperation have been activated – and are still in progress – in order to seize the servers from which multimedia contents are distributed in violation of copyright.”

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

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

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

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

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

IPTV Raid and Arrest But Authorities Didn’t Expect This

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

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

Hungary IPTV1

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

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

Hungary IPTV 2

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

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

Hungary IPTV 3

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

Hungary IPTV 4

An Operator of the Service Was Scared of the Coronavirus

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

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

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

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

Damage to Copyright Holders But Also Paying No Taxes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Operation Hotwire Targets Illegal IPTV

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

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

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

Laundry List of Copyright Infringement Related Charges

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

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

Kayla Thomeh is charged as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Epic Stream

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

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

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

Further Action This Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Anti-Piracy Browser Plug-In

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

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

Does the Plug-In Perform as Advertised?

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

Vistalworks Plug In

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

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

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

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

The Bad and the Ugly

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

Vistalworks High Risk

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

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

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

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

Vistalworks High Risk 3

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

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

Unfortunately, Blunders Can Be Anti-Consumer Too

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

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

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

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

Vistalworks Caution

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

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

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

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

Conclusion – Word Filters Are Notoriously Untrustworthy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright Infringement Lawsuit Against CCM

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

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

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

Lawsuit Demands Injunctive Relief and Damages

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

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

Preliminary Injunction

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

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

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

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

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

Injunction Also Targets Resellers of the CCM Service

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

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

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

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

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

The preliminary injunction is available here (pdf)

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

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Streams For Us & Other IPTV Suppliers Shut Down Following ACE Threats

As the popularity of pirate IPTV suppliers, sellers, and resellers continues to grow, entertainment industry companies – which were initially quite slow to combat the threat – are now piling on the pressure.

The momentum arrives via the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE), the huge anti-piracy coalition featuring the combined power of Hollywood, Netflix, Amazon, plus a broad array of global entertainment industry names.

While ACE’s press office sits quietly by, knowing all but saying pretty much nothing, news of fresh ACE activity hits TF’s newsdesk several times every month and regularly features action against IPTV providers. This week offers no let-up in that trend.

‘Streams For Us’ Shuts Down Under ACE Pressure

There are hundreds of IPTV brands on offer today and Streams For Us was one of the better-known providers. Until this week, that is, when it suddenly shut down.

As always, rumors varied from the operators “doing a runner” with the cash to being forced out of business due to actual or potential legal action. From the information received by TF thus far on the matter, it appears that the latter applies in this case.

It is extremely common for ACE pressure to begin with a cease-and-desist notice. At this point it’s up to the IPTV entity to decide on the direction – ignore it and carry on or comply with its terms. Streams for Us was placed under pressure by ACE and subsequently shut down.

That will almost certainly not be the end of the matter though, as ACE also likes to tie up loose ends, including taking over domains and perhaps reaching a settlement offer. The terms of any settlement are almost always confidential but depending on how quickly an agreement can be reached, it’s likely that Streams For Us domains will be transferred to the MPA shortly after.

Precisely when this pressure to close began isn’t clear but according to reports, the Streams For Us 24/7 VOD channels were removed a few days ago. So-called 24/7 channels specialize in a particular TV series, showing episodes constantly.

While popular with customers, these channels require copies of the episodes to be stored on – and distributed from – a server, a breach of copyright law and a clear head above the parapet for those seeking to exploit the ‘streaming loophole‘.

At the time of writing, streamsforus.net and forushosting.com are both down along with the service’s social media accounts.

Other IPTV Brands Go Down, Potentially Due to the Above

After Streams For Us went down, other IPTV brands – some of which appear to have connections to the targeted provider – also disappeared according to users.

Thunder IPTV, Commando IPTV, Nue Media, Net Streams are all reportedly down at the time of writing, with reports suggesting that some acted as resellers or rebrandings of the Streams For Us service. TheHeroTV also appears to have gone down during the past few days too but we were unable to establish if connections exist to the above.

Whether any of these brands were targeted individually by ACE is currently unknown but if the claims of reliance on Streams For Us channels are true, cutting off the head may have achieved the desired result without that being necessary.

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

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The Players Klub IPTV Was Targeted By ACE, Seized Domains Reveal

In 2020, people looking for a pirate IPTV supplier are presented with dozens upon dozens of options.

While it’s believed there are relatively few groups supplying high-level sources for much of the content, many smaller providers plus sellers and resellers are saturating the marketplace, each looking for a piece of what has become a massive market.

The Players Klub

During 2017 or thereabouts, a new brand entered the market with a splash. Labeled The Players Klub (TPK), the service attracted a loyal following with pretty cheap plans (including what appears to have been limited free giveaways) offering a wide range of live TV channels plus a comprehensive movie and TV show VOD platform.

Late 2019, The Players Klub reported ‘changes’ to the service, reporting that it had suffered a “hostile takeover within the business” and as a result would be rebranding under a different name. The new name, ‘TopDog’ (or TPKTopDog) didn’t appear to last long, however.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when the change took place but the ‘TopDog’ branding was later changed to ‘Game Masters’ but even that appeared problematic.

According to the service, someone who used to work for the platform (but left under a cloud) was spreading fake information in order to cause trouble. In a tit-for-tat move, the warring parties asked users to report each others’ pages to Facebook for abusive practices.

The Players Klub Declared Dead….

One thing that remained relatively constant (at least through early name changes and disruption which continued until recently) was the ability to acquire TPK/TopDog using various sites under the MintPanel branding.

However, those domains proved themselves to be unreliable, with various options – MintPanel.net, MintPanel.co and MintPanel.digital – all appearing and then dropping out of use, to the apparent frustration of customers.

The sequence of events is muddy, to say the least, but we can confirm without any shadow of a doubt that none of those domains remain in the possession of TPK/TopDog/Game Masters. In fact, they are all under new management at the Motion Picture Association (MPA), which is clearly not a good sign.

Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment

There’s no easy way of knowing when global anti-piracy coalition ACE, with MPA at the helm, started to put pressure on the variously-branded IPTV providers using the MintPanel domains. What we can be sure of, however, is that early this month they changed hands and now sport the ownership details of the MPA.

MintPanel Seized

While MintPanel.net was transferred on September 1, 2020, MintPanel.co took a little longer and was transferred over to Hollywood control four days later, the same day as Mintpanel.digital.

All now show the familiar Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment seizure banner before redirecting users (including prospective and existing customers) to the ACE anti-piracy portal for an unwelcome surprise.

ACE Seize Redirect

Game Masters IPTV Lives On?

Around three months ago, a long thread developed on Reddit after a Game Masters customer alleged that the IPTV supplier wasn’t providing service after taking payment. The problems appear to have raised their heads after the payment portal used at the time (Gmasterpanel.com) suffered difficulties along with a Discord support channel, that also disappeared.

However, Gmasterpanel.com isn’t in the hands of the MPA/ACE, neither is its alleged replacement Gamers.services. It currently doesn’t seem possible to sign up to Game Masters from that domain itself but according to various reports, the underlying service is working, although who is providing that now is anyone’s guess.

The ACE Juggernaut Rolls On

As reported last week, ACE is currently pressuring Android piracy app TVZion to shut down but that action, like this against TPK/TopDog (and potentially Game Masters), has gone completely unreported by the anti-piracy group.

In fact, just a tiny proportion of ACE actions are made public by the coalition itself, possibly due to confidentiality agreements reached with piracy players but, at least in some instances, because ACE isn’t ready to reveal its achievements in public yet.

Part of the problem, at least potentially, is that some services agree to die then morph into something else.

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

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Copyright Alliance Again Urges Congress To Close Streaming Piracy Loophole

Last month, entertainment industry-backed group Digital Citizens Alliance and content protection company NAGRA published a new study that estimated the pirate IPTV market to be worth a billion dollars each year in the US alone.

These types of piracy studies are nothing new but what is interesting about this particular market is that even the biggest ‘pirate’ US players, if they take caution in what type of content they offer and how, are unlikely to find themselves on the wrong end of an aggressive criminal prosecution.

There are caveats and exclusions but in general terms, streaming piracy is not a felony in the United States.

The ‘Streaming Loophole’

That such a loophole exists in the United States under what many believe are some of the most strict copyright laws in the world is a surprise in itself. But exist it does and here’s how it came to be.

Under existing criminal copyright laws, felony penalties are only available for infringements that breach the exclusive rights of reproduction and distribution, i.e the unlawful copying of content and distribution to others. In many cases, however, streaming is viewed as infringing public performance rights, which is considered a misdemeanor.

The end result is that, regardless of the scale of a pirate streaming operation and how much revenue is generated by it, the hands of the authorities are effectively tied in respect of offenses that would otherwise attract years in prison.

Exceptions Exist, It’s Not a Complete Free-For-All

As ongoing cases against Megaupload and Jetflicks demonstrate, streaming offenses can sometimes enter the criminal realm. While some streaming services exploit the loophole cited above, others can face criminal charges when they are deemed to have breached reproduction and distribution rights, by copying infringing content and distributing it to others.

Also, as highlighted by the Department of Justice in a letter to the Senate last year, criminal prosecutions may also follow when unlicensed streaming operations are alleged to have committed other crimes, such as money laundering and racketeering, charges also being faced by Kim Dotcom and his Megaupload co-defendants.

Pressure Building To Close The Loophole

In an opinion piece published in The Hill yesterday, Keith Kupferschmid, chief of powerful industry group Copyright Alliance, again raised the issue of the loophole.

Echoing the sentiments of law enforcement groups, entertainment companies, filmmakers and sports groups that have contributed to the debate thus far, he urged Congress to ensure that “in appropriate large-scale commercial cases”, felony penalties are available to federal prosecutors.

“Virtually every significant form of willful, commercial piracy can be prosecuted as a felony under appropriate circumstances — including copying CDs, illegal file sharing, and even ‘camripping’ movies in the theater,” he wrote.

“But unlike all of these, streaming piracy — no matter how widespread or organized, and regardless of the amount of damage done — can only be prosecuted as a misdemeanor simply because when the laws were drafted streaming video wasn’t an option.”

Indeed, the laws that currently limit felony penalties to infringements involving reproduction and distribution were put in place almost three decades ago. At that time, widespread Internet use wasn’t yet a thing and the possibility of streaming movies or TV shows to the public was a distant dream.

Congress “Working Hard” to Close the Loophole

“Fortunately, Congress is working hard to solve this problem — convening negotiations and developing a simple two-page proposal that would close this ‘streaming loophole’ and ensure that in appropriate large-scale commercial cases, felony penalties are available to federal prosecutors,” Kupferschmid wrote.

“The resulting proposal is a consensus product with broad-based support. It is narrowly tailored to address the serious problem of commercial streaming piracy ensuring ordinary internet users, legitimate businesses, and non-commercial actors have nothing to fear from this proposal.”

The mention of ordinary Internet users remaining unaffected by these proposals is of interest. The last time a bill was presented to amend the relevant sections of the law – 17 U.S.C. § 506 and 18 U.S.C. § 2319 – to render criminal breaches of public performance rights punishable as felonies, things didn’t go well for copyright holders.

The Commercial Felony Streaming Act

Back in 2011, Bill S.978 – labeled the Commercial Streaming Felony Act – was introduced to the Senate in an effort to render unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content for “commercial advantage or personal financial gain” a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

However, despite assurances that the intent wasn’t to penalize regular Internet users, concern began to build that ‘normal’ people (such as Justin Bieber who launched his career by posting cover versions of songs to YouTube) could be considered felons under the amendments.

Ultimately, however, the contents of the proposed amendments, which later formed part of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), were never passed due to unprecedented public outcry.

Not a Done Deal, But Momentum is Building

While companies that rely on streaming and physical product sales are desperate for the “streaming loophole” to be well and truly closed, this time around they will not have to contend with the scale of the uproar that accompanied the far-reaching SOPA bill.

Indeed, there seems to be optimism that Congress will see fit to accept the proposals which, according to Kupferschmid, are being formed with the assistance of tech companies, not potentially at their expense as per last time around.

“This highly transparent and rigorous process which included participation from groups and organizations of all perspectives — including the creative community and victims of streaming piracy as well as those representing internet users, technology companies, internet service providers and civil society — has been lauded across Capitol Hill as a model way to vet and develop new proposals,” he wrote in The Hill. “It’s time for Congress to close the streaming loophole.”

Given all of the circumstances and developments of the last decade, particularly considering the rise of legal and illegal streaming, the environment today is literally and figuratively years apart from SOPA. As a result, it arguably presents the perfect opportunity for Congress to deliver.

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

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High Court Grants Premier League IPTV Blocking Order, Fans Beg For More Legal Options

While there’s no doubt that humans have been kicking objects around for fun for thousands of years, organized football as we know it today has existed in the UK since the 19th century.

Today, however, football faces a threat like never before. The coronavirus pandemic has thrown the sport into chaos, with schedules massively disrupted and leagues thrown into turmoil.

In an effort to return to some kind of normality the new Premier League season is set to start on September 12. However, with social-distancing restrictions still in place, fans will be banned from stadiums for the foreseeable future.

In the 21st century, the logical solution would be to air all Premier League matches on TV or via the Internet for UK fans to enjoy. At it stands, however, 160 of the planned 380 top-tier games will not be shown in the UK, leaving fans frustrated that they’re being left behind. And there are good reasons for that upset.

If fans want to watch the limited matches that are available, they’ll have to subscribe to several services – Sky Sports, BT Sport and Amazon Prime – at a cost of around £100 per month. If they want the rest, there’s no legal option so combined with the price and lack of choice, some fans turn to pirate IPTV providers instead. That’s something the Premier League is working to prevent.

Premier League Obtains a New Blocking Order

Over the past several years, the Premier League has obtained blocking orders from the High Court, which give it permission to compel ISPs to block pirate streaming services. The last order, which aimed to cover the 2019/2020 season, ran out on July 27, 2020.

However, ISP Virgin Media’s portal now reports that new permission has been granted by the High Court via a “sealed order”, which will cover the 2020/2021 season.

Virgin will be required to block “Various Target Servers notified to Virgin Media by FAPL or its appointed agent for the duration of the FAPL 2020/2021 competition season.” While yet to publicly report the new order, all other major ISPs will be required to follow suit.

We’ve previously covered how these blocking orders work from a technical perspective. Their sole aim is to prevent people from watching matches via illegal providers but the plans for limited legal airings in the UK under pandemic conditions places these efforts into a whole new light.

UK Fans Are Being Backed Into a Corner

With significantly higher prices, a limited legal offering, and a stadium ban in full effect, UK fans are not only being backed into a corner, on the world stage they’re being treated as second-class supporters of their own sport.

All Premier League matches are available to watch live in other countries and at vastly cheaper prices. Citizens of the US, for example, will be able to use NBC channels and streaming services to watch all 380 matches at a vastly reduced price.

Other international services showing matches unavailable in the UK include DAZN, Optus Sport, QQ Sports, Sport TV1, and fuboTV, but it is impractical and/or impossible for UK fans to access them all. Legally that is.

Pirate IPTV Providers Are The Ultimate One-Stop-Shop

By their very description, it’s clear that pirate IPTV providers are illegal. That aside, what they do very effectively is cut through all the red tape. Football fans are not only greeted with the live matches offered by Sky and BT Sport, but also all of the matches offered by NBC and, where necessary, any and/or all of those shown by the other legal providers mentioned above.

While price is clearly a huge factor for UK fans, freedom to choose which matches to watch live is a massive draw too. The Premier League knows this, the government knows this, as does the Football Supporters’ Association, which is campaigning for all games to be shown live in the UK.

“We all want to get back to games when it’s safe to do so,” said FSA Chief executive Kevin Miles in comments to the BBC this week.

“But it’s not in anyone’s interests to have a situation where fans excluded from grounds for reasons of health or Covid-related capacity reductions feel they have no option but to resort to illegal pirate broadcast schemes.”

Comments from an IPTV Insider

Last evening TorrentFreak spoke with someone with inside knowledge of IPTV providers and he agreed that the new season will be covered in depth by pirate suppliers.

“All the games will be available through different providers like the ones you mentioned and many more, and will almost definitely increase the amount of people using illicit options. It’s almost like [the Premier League] are trying to make more people use illicit options,” he said, demanding anonymity.

“Illegal IPTV providers will use the legitimate sites to take the streams and redistribute them either via the original source URL or they will simply use HDMI encoders to do so. This is nothing new and in effect the illegitimate providers will continue most likely un-affected in obtaining the content.

“We cannot forget however that many people who watch the Premier League illicitly actually have a legit subscription and only use these services to watch the content that they are not able to watch legitimately,” he added.

What Next and Will the Premier League Change Its Position?

At the moment, the Premier League has declined to comment but it does have a shareholders’ meeting today so it’s at least possible that something positive may come from that. Our IPTV insider is less optimistic, since he believes that any decisions made will be in the interests of the Premier League, not in the interests of fans. A glaring and persistent error, he says.

Whatever the outcome, at some point in the future the Premier League and indeed all providers of live sporting content will have to realize that if they are underserving supporters, someone else will come along and exploit that service gap. Blocking and pirate supplier crackdowns have a limited effect so it seems logical that in order to defeat them holistically, the consumer has to be played onside.

And that, as always, means putting all content into a convenient package and making that available to fans at a reasonable price. Until then, pirate suppliers have all the oxygen they need to keep taking a piece of the pie, not to mention a not insignificant slice of the revenue.

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

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DISH Network Sues Universe IPTV For Mass Copyright Infringement

US broadcaster DISH Networks is well known for its seemingly relentless pursuit of groups and individuals who access and rebroadcast the company’s content without permission.

In recent years, DISH has targeted a number of ‘pirate’ IPTV providers, sometimes under the Federal Communications Act and in other instances under copyright law. A new lawsuit filed in the United States falls into the latter category and claims that unlicensed IPTV service Universe IPTV infringes its exclusive rights.

Copyright Infringement Lawsuit Targets Universal IPTV

The suit targets five ‘doe’ defendants, together doing business as Universe IPTV and Universe TV. The complaint alleges that the service’s business was carried out via several domains, including but not limited to World-Universeiptv.com, Uni-Update.com, and UniWeb.online.

DISH explains that it has contracts and licensing deals to transmit more than 400 channels in the United States and also acquires copyrights for shows that air on various channels, whether transmitted via satellite or the Internet. Some of these works are registered with the Copyright Office in the US while DISH holds the exclusive distribution and public performance rights for others that are unregistered.

Universal IPTV has not been authorized by DISH to distribute these protected works and channels, the suit claims, so has therefore breached the company’s exclusive rights.

“Defendants distribute, sell, and promote Universe Subscriptions to consumers, including Service Users, and to resellers, including Universeonlinetv.co; Universeiptv.stream; Universeiptvs.com; Iptvuniverse.net; and Universe2iptv.com, with knowledge that these and other resellers distribute, sell, and promote Universe Subscriptions to Service Users,” the complaint reads.

“Defendants promoted the Universe Service on their World-Universeiptv.com website, instructing consumers that ‘[t]here are more than 40,000 channels, films and series in every country in the world,’ ‘we are constantly expanding the number of channels,’ they have ‘[a]ll channels,’ and ‘we continuously update our service’,” DISH adds.

Universe Advertised on Facebook and Instagram

The complaint alleges that Universe advertised to consumers and potential resellers of its service on social media, including Instagram and two Facebook accounts, where it promoted the availability of channels including CBC and CBC Drama, among others.

DISH says that the social media platforms removed these pages for violations of Facebook’s policy on copyright infringement. A Twitter account was also deleted but a Telegram page offering the service remains online.

DISH Asked About Becoming a Reseller Via WhatsApp

Via its websites and social media, subscriptions were offered at the rate of $70 for 12 months, $40 for six months and $22 for three months worth of access. The IPTV supplier also invited people to get in touch via WhatsApp to become a reseller, so that’s exactly what DISH did as part of its investigation.

“In July 2020, DISH’s investigator contacted Defendants through WhatsApp at +43 [redacted] to inquire about becoming a reseller of Universe Subscriptions.

“Defendants responded that the price for one three month Universe Subscription was 20 Euro (approximately $22) and the price for ten three month Universe Subscriptions was 200 Euro (approximately $220) with payments to be made to their PayPal account [redacted]@gmail.com,” the complaint reveals.

Attempts to Take Down Universal IPTV Failed

Universe IPTV reportedly told DISH investigators that they live in Austria but it appears that the broadcaster’s attempts to take their service down weren’t successful.

Between August 27, 2019 and the filing of its lawsuit, DISH sent at least 10 cease-and-desist notices to the IPTV outfit, none of which received a response. During roughly the same timeframe, DISH also filed at least 14 complaints with CDN networks associated with the Universe service, some of which were forwarded to the defendants. However, DISH claims that even CDNs took action to remove content, Universe simply shifted to other CDNs or locations.

Copyright Infringement Claims Running to At Least $5 Million

In addition to demanding a permanent injunction against the defendants under 17 U.S.C. § 502 of the Copyright Act, preventing Universe IPTV from streaming, distributing, publicly performing, and selling or providing its content in the United States, DISH also demands substantial damages.

“For 37 or more registered works, statutory damages as awarded by the Court up to $150,000 per registered work infringed under 17 U.S.C. § 504(c), or the Defendants’ profits attributable to the infringement of those registered works under 17 U.S.C. § 504(b),” the complaint requests.

For any and all unregistered works (DISH lists more than 200), the company demands defendants’ profits attributable to the infringement of those works. When all is considered, the broadcaster is requesting well in excess of $5 million in damages and potentially, depending on the discretion of the court, substantially more.

In common with other pending lawsuits of its type, DISH also seeks to take control of Universe IPTV’s domains.

A copy of the complaint can be found here (pdf)

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