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Pirate Bay Founder Warns US Govt. Against Mafia-Esque Copyright Lobby

Peter Sunde was one of the key people behind The Pirate Bay in the early years, a role for which he eventually paid with his freedom.

While he cut his ties with the notorious torrent site many years ago, his activist nature hasn’t vanished.

In recent years Sunde has focused on several other projects. His links to the domain registration service Njalla and the Ipredator VPN, which merged recently, are well known.

RIAA and MPA Report Njalla

Coincidence or not, many copyright holders are not happy with these ventures either. This month, several copyright industry groups reported Njalla to the US Trade Representative (USTR), branding it a ‘notorious market.’

According to the RIAA and MPA, services such as Njalla are a threat because they offer extensive privacy protection to domain name registrants. This ultimately prevents copyright holders from identifying the operators of pirate sites.

It is no secret that Njalla was founded to offer privacy for domain registrants. Indeed, the company sees privacy as a fundamental right. A right that is increasingly threatened.

Peter Sunde Writes the USTR

Instead of staying on the sidelines, Peter Sunde decided to write a letter to the USTR as well. Not to defend Njalla per se, but to warn against the threat major US corporations present to the Internet.

“Being mentioned, both by name, and also through some of my earlier performance pieces, I felt it would be justified that I also bring a comment for the good of the discourse,” Sunde writes in his letter.

“As you might know, I am one of the people that was involved in the earlier times of The
Pirate Bay, one of my more known art pieces,” Sunde notes, adding that the ‘artwork’ was exhibited at prestigious festivals, inspiring millions of artists and fans around the world.

Sunde’s Letter

sunde letter

Over the years Sunde has launched several projects to support Internet freedom, freedom of speech, and online privacy. At the same time, however, he watched major US companies use their powers to centralize the Internet and restrict the free flow of information.

The Centralization Threat

As a result, the established differences in the physical world are more and more reflected online. Those with power and money, have the most influence and control.

“This is something that is very much the fault of a few Central North American companies and their lobbying efforts,” Sunde writes.

“We’re now living in a world with fake news and trolls as presidents. We can’t take the rights to information for granted. We should not centralize the control over information, in any shape or form.”

The letter is not so much about the fact that Njalla has been nominated as a notorious market. In fact, Njalla isn’t mentioned at all. Instead, it’s a frontal attack on the lobbying efforts by wealthy organizations that are trying to control the Internet.

This critique isn’t new. The Pirate Bay was founded to make it easier for people to share whatever they want. The site aimed to make information free, a mantra Sunde still supports today.

Information Should be Free

Increasingly, major US companies are trying to seize control over the information that’s shared online to further their own interests, Sunde says. This has to stop.

“Information is the cornerstone of our cultural heritage, democracy, common knowledge, and common language. This should not be something that a few opportunistic rich lobbying organizations should get the right to dictate terms for,” he writes.

“Claiming that basically half of the internet, half of the world, are enemies of one’s business model should rather be a wake-up call to realizing that this business model is archaic and that it’s time to adapt to reality.”

The Pirate Bay co-founder knows all too well what he is up against. The same companies had him followed and ultimately sent him to prison. However, that wasn’t ‘just’ according to Sunde.

Mafia-esque Practices

While powerful industry groups may claim to represent artists, Sunde believes that power and money are the true drivers here.

“The same organizations that promise to protect artists and culture are the ones screwing them over; always fiscally (like with Hollywood Accounting), sometimes physically (Harvey Weinstein is not the first nor last one).”

This comes at the expense of the public at large, who see their power and control over information diminish rapidly.

“These organizations are willingly putting our global democracy in jeopardy. The legislation brought forward by their lobbying, to protect one business model affected by the internet, is also being used for stopping people in opposition from overthrowing dictators.

“As long as these mafia-esque organizations are allowed free reign over the immaterial rights discourse, they will never relinquish their power nor money to the intended recipients,” he warns.

Fighting for The Future

These are strong words and harsh accusations but Sunde stands behind them 100%. He believes that it’s time to invent new business models that benefit not just major companies, but also artists and the public at large.

While the USTR aims to protect copyright holders and American corporate interests, Sunde urges the Office to keep track of the broader picture. After all, the Government is supposed to serve the people, not just privileged corporations.

“These are not righteous organizations. These are not the voice of the people. These are not elected officials. They are the antithesis of that. Please keep that in mind, making your decisions and own thoughts going forward,” Sunde concludes.

A full copy of Peter Sunde’s letter to Jake Ewerdt, USTR’s Director for Innovation and Intellectual Property, is available here (pdf)

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

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Tech Giants Protest Nomination for US ‘Notorious’ Markets List

Every year, the US Trade Representative (USTR) issues an updated review of “Notorious Markets” that facilitate copyright infringement.

This overview is put together with help from copyright holders and is used to motivate the targets and foreign authorities to take action.

Historically, the online part of the list has been limited to “foreign” sites and services. These are often websites associated with piracy, such as The Pirate Bay, Uploaded, and Fmovies. However, the scope changed significantly this year.

US Tech Companies as Notorious Piracy Markets

In its latest request for comments, the USTR said it would focus on the role of third-party intermediaries. Not only that, the inquiry is no longer limited to foreign sites and services either, which is a clear deviation from earlier years.

Various copyright holders and industry organizations used this momentum to call out some of the largest tech US companies as notorious markets. They named Amazon, Facebook, Namecheap, Cloudflare, and many others. Needless to say, the accused were not happy.

This week many of these large tech companies responded to the allegations. Many of these rebuttals came in through trade organizations, such as the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), which represents Amazon, Facebook, and Cloudflare.

USTR Should Focus on Foreign Companies

The CCIA’s reply doesn’t go into detail regarding the various piracy-facilitating allegations that were made against its members. Instead, it argues that expanding the annual review to include US companies is inappropriate and goes beyond the USTR’s mandate.

“In addition to straying beyond the purposes of the Notorious Markets report, the targeting of U.S. companies would exceed USTR’s mandate,” CCIA writes.

“USTR would compromise the effectiveness of the Notorious Markets report as a tool for identifying foreign markets of concern and for engagement with foreign trading partners if it were to focus in the Report on the practices of domestic U.S. companies,” the group adds.

Facebook Opposes Nomination

Facebook also sent in an individual rebuttal summing up many of its efforts to combat piracy and counterfeiting. In addition, the company stresses that US companies should not be nominated for the notorious markets list.

The social media platform notes that the USTR’s review process is meant to highlight inadequate enforcement and other copyright-related problems in foreign countries that harm US companies. Pointing the finger at US companies suggests that US policy is lacking.

“In this context, nominating Facebook, a U.S. company, represents an unwarranted criticism of the domestic U.S. IP enforcement system and reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of Special 301 as a trade tool,” Facebook notes.

“It is unfortunate that a submission about a U.S. company should distract from USTR’s important work in securing adequate and effective protection for intellectual property rights by U.S. trade partners,” the company adds.

Amazon and Cloudflare Respond

Amazon also replied to its nomination, but the company focused more on countering the copyright infringement accusations. For example, Amazon stresses that it has zero tolerance for counterfeiting and piracy, while providing a detailed overview of its policies.

The same is true for Cloudflare. The company provides CDN services for millions of sites, which includes pirate sites as well. As a result, it has been frequently characterized as a piracy facilitator in recent years.

Some copyright holders, including the RIAA, accuse the company of “hosting” pirated content but the CDN provider rejects this accusation. It sees itself as a content-neutral intermediary that simply passes on bits and generally doesn’t store anything permanently.

“We continue to be frustrated by RIAA’s efforts to conflate ‘hosting,’ something we generally do not do and has distinct legal obligations under the DMCA, with providing CDN services, which have different legal obligations,” Cloudflare notes.

Another accusation, that Cloudflare helps pirate sites to conceal their true hosting locations, is also disputed. Copyright holders can easily obtain the hosting company of any website by filling out a simple form.

In addition, the CDN provider also works with “trusted reporters” including the RIAA, MPA, and law enforcement authorities, who can easily obtain the IP-address of alleged pirate sites.

i2Coalition Defends Neutral Intermediaries

The final submission we want to highlight comes from i2Coalition, which represents several VPN companies, domain name services, CDN and hosting providers. These all risk being nominated if the USTR expands its scope.

While there may be some bad apples, i2Coalition reminds the USTR that many neutral intermediaries take online piracy seriously and should certainly not be seen as notorious markets.

“We urge USTR, in reviewing and distinguishing among the variety of service providers and other entities operating in online markets, to remember that neutral intermediaries are not notorious markets,” i2Coalition writes.

The submissions make it clear that the tech companies are not happy with the direction the USTR is taking. Whether these rebuttals will prevent them from being listed in the upcoming notorious markets review remains to be seen.

In any case, the USTR’s 2020 notorious markets list will be highly anticipated. Not just by copyright holders and tech companies either. Pirates may also find it useful, as a recent comment suggested.

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

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Twitter Under Fire for Refusal to Attend Senate’s Anti-Piracy Hearing

The US Senate’s Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property is looking for better ways to tackle the ever-present threat of online piracy.

Specifically, it’s working with various stakeholders to see if the DMCA can be improved to better suit today’s online environment.

Improving the DMCA

The effort was announced by Senator Thom Tillis last year, who organized several hearings on the matter in recent months. The Subcommittee invited roughly 50 witnesses to share their views. This included copyright industry representatives, legal scholars, as well as digital rights experts.

The lawmakers questioned these experts on several possible solutions, including site blocking. Next month these hearings will come to an end. The last topic of discussion is ‘voluntary agreements’ and to see what major online services can do, Senator Tillis invited key players including Facebook and Twitter.

These online platforms are familiar with the halls of the US Congress as they are regularly asked to testify. Just last week, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey were questioned on censorship and suppression during the past election.

Twitter Refuses to Testify at Hearing

However, it turns out that Twitter is not planning to make someone available for the upcoming hearing on voluntary anti-piracy initiatives. Despite repeated requests from Tillis’ staff over the past months, the social media platform declined to attend.

This decision came as a massive disappointment to Senator Tillis, who shared his dismay in a letter to Twitter’s CEO.

“I was incredibly disappointed to learn that Twitter has declined my invitation to send a witness to my subcommittee’s December 15 hearing on the role of voluntary agreements and technological measures in addressing copyright piracy online.

“For this final hearing, it is critical that the subcommittee hear about how key online platforms combat piracy via voluntary agreements and technological measures,” Tillis says.

‘Twitter Doesn’t Take the Piracy Problem Seriously’

The senator says that Twitter’s position contrasts that of Facebook, as Mark Zuckerberg promised to make a witness available. This rejection is problematic, he adds, suggesting that the company’s anti-piracy efforts are below par.

“Twitter has been less engaged in working with copyright owners on voluntary measures and technological tools, and now has rebuffed my request to testify. The only reasonable conclusion one can draw from your actions is that Twitter simply does not take copyright piracy seriously.”

Instead of sending someone to the hearing, Senator Tillis now requests Twitter’s CEO to answer a series of questions in writing. And if those remain unanswered, he threatens to find another way to compel the social media platform to testify.

Senator Tillis Questions Twitter

The letter makes it clear that the senator is not happy with Twitter’s refusal to attend the hearing. It also suggests that Twitter’s anti-piracy policies are lacking, a sentiment that’s also reflected in the questions being asked.

For example, Twitter is accused of refusing to negotiate licenses or business agreements with record labels and being “slow to respond to copyright infringement”. This stands in contrast to other social media companies that “have done the right thing.”

Rampant Infringement

Senator Tillis adds that Twitter “continues to host and permit rampant infringement of music files on its platform” and that it hasn’t taken any “meaningful steps to address the scale of the problem.”

These are all statements that preface questions about Twitter’s policies and anti-piracy efforts. For example, the company is asked how many DMCA notices it has received, what steps it has taken to address piracy, and whether it is trying to license the music that’s used on the platform.

Tillis also wants to know how Twitter views voluntary agreements and whether it’s engaged in any, how repeat infringers are dealt with, and if it has taken any steps to proactively take down pirated content and to resolve its issues with the RIAA.

Censoring Conservatives

The questions also touch on the subject of manual moderation. The letter mentions that Twitter has gone to great lengths to flag, disclaim, and censor content from conservatives and asked whether these same ‘human’ moderators are also used to tackle online piracy.

The language is quite hostile and one doesn’t have to read between the lines to conclude that Twitter hasn’t made itself loved in the halls of Congress, not with Senator Tillis at least.

That sentiment is reflected throughout the questions and comes back at the end as well.

“I hope that you will respond by December 4 and demonstrate to my colleagues and I that you do, in fact, take copyright piracy seriously,” Senator Tillis concludes.

A copy of the full letter, courtesy of MTP, is available here

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

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Anti-Piracy Coalition Seeks Powerful New Tools To Tackle IPTV Piracy in the EU

While groups such as the Alliance For Creativity and Entertainment are mentioned frequently for their widespread anti-piracy activities, the Europe-based Audiovisual Anti-Piracy Alliance (AAPA) is also engaged in key work to reduce online infringement.

Counting broadcasting giants BT, Sky, Canal+, beIN, DAZN, and OSN among its members, AAPA also plays home to major sports companies including the Premier League, Serie A, LaLiga and DFL. Not to mention powerful anti-piracy technology companies such as Irdeto, Nagra, and Viaccess-Orca.

With a key interest in preventing streaming piracy, much of it consisting of live events, AAPA members have played a crucial role in many recent pirate IPTV investigations but in common with other organizations with similar goals, the group would like additional tools to make its job easier and more effective.

Rapid Growth in Streaming Piracy Demands a Strong Response

According to AAPA, its members are concerned by the rapid growth and availability of unlicensed content online and as a result, are seeking assistance from the European Union.

One of the group’s first targets is Europe’s planned Digital Services Act (DSA), which rightsholders hope will include strict “know your customer” rules compelling hosting companies, domain registrars, and advertisers, to more closely vet their prospective clients. But for the AAPA, this is only the beginning.

No Additional Liability Exceptions, ‘Duty of Care’

Given the nature of its members, AAPA majors on the need to introduce measures to mitigate the growth of pirate IPV operations which, according to the group, represent a “low risk, high return” business model that is being exploited during the coronavirus pandemic as people tend to stay at home.

As the availability of illicit content availability soars, AAPA says there has been a lack of quality and response rate from online intermediaries to takedown notices. As a result, the European Commission’s intention to lay down “more stringent” rules is encouraging but “in no event” should that lead to new or broader liability privileges, exemptions, or protection regimes already provided for by existing law.

In respect of the DSA, the AAPA is seeking better tools to deal with piracy of live content, which it says is underserved by the current framework. The AAPA says that most of its members’ content is finger-printed and/or watermarked so it is possible to swiftly identify it. That means it may be treated differently, outside current limits.

“A proper ‘duty of care’ should apply to the so-called ‘passive platforms’, without putting into question current exemptions applicable to online intermediaries in the e-commerce Directive, it adds.

Takedown/Staydown, Rapid Live TV Piracy Blocking

In addition to the Know Your Customer proposals, AAPA is seeking the adoption of harmonized “notice and action” procedures, including broader criteria to justify takedown requests, the ability to send multiple links for removal in one notice to avoid delays in processing, and an obligation among platforms and providers to supply clear contact information where requests can be sent.

AAPA is also seeking new powers when dealing with live content, which represents a large proportion of its members’ repertoires. The group says there should be an obligation to implement a system for expeditious removal of live pirated content, which should be removed immediately or in any event, no longer than 30 minutes after a complaint.

Disputes over whether content should be taken down “should not result in the removal of illegal or potentially illegal content being delayed”, the group adds.

In common with other rightsholders that are required to issue repeat takedown notices for what is essentially the same content, AAPA is calling for a takedown/staydown regime, meaning that once content has been removed following an official notice, it should not subsequently reappear on the same platform.

Dealing With Repeat Infringers

Taking a lead from the United States, AAPA is seeking measures from the EU designed to prevent people from repeatedly infringing copyrighted content. The group is therefore calling for service providers to have clear and published anti-policies that contain deterrent measures for dealing with repeat infringers, including by restricting and/or blocking access to users who have been reported for uploading and even downloading illegal content.

Incorporating an additional element of ‘know your customer’, AAPA asks the EU to require that online platforms and services implement “layers of verification” to user accounts (one suggestion is ‘user-fingerprinting’ technology, to prevent pirate services from creating multiple accounts to evade suspensions and blocking.

Measures to Tackle ‘Off-Platform’ Infringement

According to AAPA, there are problems with platforms like YouTube and Facebook that go beyond pirated content stored on their platforms. In addition, these services also contain material, such as tutorial videos or comment sections, that direct users to off-site resources that allow for the consumption of unlicensed content. In these cases the Copyright Directive doesn’t apply, AAPA warns, so additional action is required.

“Measures should be taken at EU level to increase liability and duty of care of online content sharing platforms in this respect, regardless of whether such online content sharing platforms are considered as active or passive hosting service providers.”

Broader, More Flexible Injunctions Valid at the EU Level

Blocking injunctions that require ISPs to restrict access to named pirate sites and more recently servers involved in the supply of pirate IPTV services have been gaining traction around Europe. However, the AAPA believes that these could be more effective if, in the future, they are not only valid across borders but also have the ability to be issued repertoire-wide.

The suggestion appears to be based on the theory that an injunction obtained in one country of the EU should then be enforceable across all 27 countries, with the applicants’ entire catalog of content protected as a result.

“[A] central repository/database could be set up for site blocking injunctions issued by member states at the EUIPO. The latter could verify the details of the injunctions and provide translations into all official EU languages. This site-blocking record could then be used as a reference by rightsholders to have ISPs implement the blocking in their local territories,” the AAPA writes.

Auditing of Online Platform/Services’ Anti-Piracy Tools

Finally, while platforms such as YouTube and Facebook have implemented their own anti-piracy systems (such as Content ID), the AAPA’s members don’t appear to be 100% convinced they can be trusted or operated without bias. As a result, the group is demanding audits to weed out any potential issues.

“[C]ontent recognition tools deployed by online platforms to detect illegally uploaded copyright content should be made transparent to an independent authority (at national or European level) and regularly audited to make sure they do not include pro-piracy bias and that they cover the full spectrum of uploaded content with the same conditions,” the AAPA concludes.

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

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‘The US Piracy Watchlist is a Marketing Campaign for Pirate Sites’

Every year, major copyright industry groups prepare a list of the most notorious pirate sites, which are publicly reported to the US Trade Representative (USTR).

These overviews provide input for the USTR’s annual notorious markets overview, where sites such as The Pirate Bay, Fmovies and Rapidgator have appeared as repeat offenders.

Pressure Tool

The goal of this process is to identify pressing piracy problems and to encourage foreign administrations, where these portals are often operating from, to take action. It’s very much a diplomatic pressure tool with the ultimate goal of helping US rightsholders tackle online piracy.

Over the past years, there has been a lot of debate about which sites and services should be included. Not everyone agrees that YouTube downloaders and domain registrars are piracy havens, for example. And Amazon and Alibaba have protested their listings as well.

A few days ago we spotted a late submission for the 2021 notorious markets list. This comment was submitted by former criminal defense practitioner Jim Zhoui who’s based in Las Vegas. He is also critical of the annual list, but for a very different reason.

Watchlist is Counterproductive

According to Zhoui, the USTR’s notorious market list is counterproductive. Instead of effectively stopping piracy, it offers “reliable advertising space and exposure” to pirate services, which runs contrary to its intended goal.

“The purpose of this comment is to highlight the nature of this very organization and this regulation as a facilitator of the traffic it purportedly is attempting to enjoin,” he writes in his letter to the USTR.

Zhoui explains that, in recent years, the free and open access aspect of pirate sites has diminished. Most services are now being run by ‘businesses’ that are willing to take legal risks in exchange for profit. More visitors means more profit.

This battle for market share has created fierce competition among some pirate platforms, with some portals offering uploaders pay-per-download schemes. The more popular the uploads are, the more money site owners earn through advertisements.

‘USTR Advertises for Pirate Sites’

The challenge for pirate site operators, according to Zhoui, is that there are limited means to promote themselves. “That, however, is where the USTR comes in.”

From USTR’s 2019 Notorious Markets List

ustr 2019

Pirate sites can’t easily show how trustworthy they are in terms of longevity, payout, and reliability, Zhoui notes. However, the annual USTR watch list, which is widely covered in the media, does that for them.

News Sites Highlight Piracy Havens

“Each year the existence of such market lists are reported as news websites that aggregate tech-related news. The open nature of the submissions of course creates a frame of reference that isn’t present when there’s no formal index service,” Zhoui writes.

In other words, the list that is supposed to help fight piracy is acting as an advertising campaign where many of the most notorious pirate sites are conveniently summarized.

“The numbers are conveniently given in most of the reports, and the more exaggerated, the more advertising it represents. Sites like Rapidgator.com are mentioned year after year and continues to rank on top of traffic rankings on services such as Alexa,” he adds.

The former criminal defense practitioner admits that some pirate sites get taken down. However, that’s just a drop in the bucket, as new ones appear just as quickly, with the ‘best’ ones showing up in future USTR lists.

Zhoui stresses that the American tendency to enforce its own laws in other countries is better left in the dustbin of history. Many foreign countries already take action against pirate sites, but they do it based on their own laws.

Taxpayers Don’t Benefit

So, instead of using taxpayer money to keep the notorious market overviews in place, copyright holders may be better off taking their complaints to the authorities in the relevant countries directly.

“At a time when COVID and years of trade war have decimated the American economy it seems particularly absurd for the American taxpayer to take up such frivolous expenditures,” Zhoui notes, referring to the notorious markets list.

“This is effectively both an advertising campaign for black marketeers at the taxpayer’s expense, except the taxpayer is paying twice – once for the ads and once for the hapless efforts at enforcing the unenforceable, investigating the unprosecutable, bellicosity without teeth.”

The full comment from Jim Zhoui, who describes himself as a concerned taxpayer from Las Vegas, is available here (pdf).

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

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La Liga Nominates Namecheap, eBay, Telegram and Shopify for ‘Piracy Watchlist’

Every year copyright holder groups get the chance to share their list of “notorious” piracy actors to the US Trade Representative.

These recommendations serve as the basis for USTR’s annual report, which is a diplomatic tool to pressure companies and countries to take action.

In recent years this list has slowly expanded to include not only pirate sites and counterfeit markets, but also third-party intermediaries.

Focus on Intermediaries

The USTR follows this trend and has made online intermediaries a ‘focus issue’ this year. This was illustrated earlier this week when the RIAA and MPA ‘nominated’ several hosting services, domain registries, and advertisers.

These two groups are not alone as many other rightsholders have chimed in as well. This includes Spain’s top football league ‘La Liga‘ which submitted several recommendations that, for the public at large, are not typically associated with piracy.

“Our biggest concern consists of the illegal streaming of live sports competitions by people or companies that are not authorized to do so,” La Liga writes.

IPTV and Streaming Threats

The organization starts by highlighting several illegal IPTV services such as Megaplay, Seko IPTV, VolkaIPTV, ATN and King 365 TV, as well as IPTV playlist forums including IPTV URLs and IPTV SAT. These are the usual suspects one would expect.

The second category includes illegal streaming sites like Pirlo TV, BeIN Match and Yalla Shoot, as well as streaming link sites, such as Cable Gratis TV, Hulk Sport and Hulk Sport. Most of these are clearly infringing as well.

La Liga then moves into the intermediary area by highlighting hosting providers. According to the sports organization, these companies can help to prevent infringements but, in most cases, they don’t.

Uncooperative Hosting Companies

Rightsholders often complain about abuse by pirate sites and services but these complaints don’t have any effect.

“It should be noted that most of the Hosting Providers Companies ignore e-mails and letters referred to IPR infringements,” La Liga writes, after which it sums up the most relevant companies.

This list includes Namecheap, which is located in the US, as well as the Canadian e-commerce platform Shopify. US-based CDN provider Cloudflare gets a mention as well, together with the Russia-based Offshore-Servers and BlueAngelHost from Pakistan.

“Preventive actions are needed to avoid that IPR infringers can host illegal content so easily on the Hosting Provider Companies’ servers,” La Liga notes, while demanding “quick responses and effective solutions” from these intermediaries.

la liga intermediary

The sports league provides no details on what infringing content these companies host or what action they fail to take. However, it clearly demands a more active and aggressive anti-piracy stance.

eBay and Alibaba

The latter also applies to eBay and Alibaba. These companies are listed in the e-commerce category and reportedly offer illegal set-top boxes and IPTV deals.

While these are “somewhat cooperative” in terms of enforcement, according to La Liga, they can do more.

The list of notorious piracy markets continues with ‘cyberlockers’ such as Mega, MediaFire, and Uptobox. These can be used legally, the recommendation notes, but are often used to share pirated content as well.

Telegram

The latter also applies to social media and communication apps. La Liga calls out Telegram specifically in this regard, noting that it’s “extremely complicated and slow” to remove illegal content from the platform.

“We have detected that Telegram is increasingly being used to illegally share copyright-protected contents through certain channels. Those channels have significantly increased their users, La Liga writes.

These and other recommendations will be taken into account by the USTR which will issue its final list of “notorious markets” in a few months. Whether Namecheap, eBay, Telegram, and Shopify will be called out, has yet to be seen.

Over the past several years, copyright holders have repeatedly called on third-party intermediaries to increase their anti-piracy efforts. The USTR now follows this lead by making it a focus issue and these recommendations are part of the strategy.

However, it’s still an odd sight to see eBay and Namecheap being mentioned alongside The Pirate Bays of this world.

A copy of La Liga’s submission to the US Trade Representative is available here (pdf)

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

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RIAA and MPA Want Domain Registries and Njalla on US Piracy Watchlist

Responding to a request from the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR), the RIAA and MPA have submitted their annual recommendations for the “notorious markets” list.

The submissions identify online and offline piracy hubs to help guide the U.S. Government’s position towards foreign countries when it comes to copyright enforcement.

Traditionally, copyright holders have reported typical pirate sites to the USTR. The position is no different this year, as The Pirate Bay, YTS, Rarbg, 1337x, Popcorn Time, Leakthis, Rapidgator, and Anonfiles are prominently listed.

The music industry also lists various YouTube download sites while the movie group highlights illegal IPTV services. However, this year’s recommendations go much further than just websites, with the RIAA and MPA singling out various third-party intermediaries as well, including domain name registries.

RIAA and MPA Target Domain Name Services

In its latest submission, the MPA points out that these domain name companies are in a pivotal position, since they can help to shut off pirate sites that are clearly problematic.

“The registry, directly or via its contractual relationship with registrars, has the ability to withdraw or disable domain names used by websites engaged in massive copyright infringement,” the MPA writes.

While some registrars and registries do indeed take sites offline following copyright holder complaints, not all do. The MPA, for example, highlights the .IS, .RU, .TO and .TV registries as candidates for the notorious market list.

These registries provide services to pirate sites including torrentz2.is, rlsbb.ru, fmovies.to and lostfilm.tv and are reportedly taking no action in response to copyright holder reports and/or law enforcement requests.

What isn’t mentioned is that these companies abide by local laws. The .IS registry, for example, does respond to Icelandic court orders and the .TO registry complies with US court orders. They don’t work with rightsholders voluntarily though.

“Pirate Bay Founder’s Njalla”

The MPA and RIAA have also put the domain privacy service Njalla on their respective recommendation lists. The service, which was launched by Pirate Bay co-founder Peter Sunde a few years ago, acts as a privacy shield between the registrar and the domain owner.

Both copyright groups note that Njalla provides its service to many pirate sites and they also highlight Sunde’s involvement.

“Many copyright infringing services are using this service to prevent right holders from identifying the operators of pirate sites. In fact, the service openly advertises on its website that some of its operators ‘have also been involved in projects like The Pirate Bay and Piratbyrån’,” the RIAA writes.

1337

The RIAA is also suspicious of Njalla’s corporate name, 1337 LLC, which is almost identical to the pirate site 1337x.to.

“The service is run by 1337 LLC based in Nevis in the Caribbean and was established by Peter Sunde (one of the co-founders of The Pirate Bay). Furthermore, 1337 LLC shares its name with 1337x.to which is a notorious torrent index website also listed in this submission.”

That last comment suggests that the group may not be aware of what “1337” stands for. That also applies to the RIAA’s correction of a Njalla quote that mentions the term “internets.”

Internets (sic)

internets
By listing several domain name companies and services, the RIAA and MPA continue to highlight more third-party intermediaries as notorious markets.

Their recommendations also call out bulletproof hosting providers, communication tools including Telegram, CDN services such as Cloudflare, and advertisers that work with pirate sites.

Sunde Defends Njalla

TorrentFreak spoke to Njalla co-founder Peter Sunde who fiercely rejects the accusations. He believes that privacy is a great good and sees it as his duty to protect users.

“Neither MPA nor RIAA has bothered to contact us before this. We’re guessing it’s because what we do is not only extremely legit and needed, but it’s also going hand in hand with what most progressive democracies have understood; it’s important to protect user data,” Sunde says.

The RIAA and MPA also complained about the GDPR, the EU’s new privacy law, which prompted many domain registries to shield WHOIS data, Sunde says.

“GDPR is a Njalla-Light and this is probably a much bigger problem for the RIAA and MPA. But their biggest threat is themselves. They’re still angry that they’re not in control of the internets.

“Njalla is recommended by human rights groups and privacy experts as a must-have in order to protect your privacy online. Like antivirus software, secure email, a firewall, and a VPN,” he adds.

Critique is Not New

Njalla isn’t new to critique. The company has been repeatedly criticized for ‘protecting’ pirate sites. However, the company views itself differently. It’s not impressed by legal threats and prefers to highlight its love for cats instead.

Njalla response

njalla legal threat

Sunde hasn’t been involved in The Pirate Bay for many years and says he doesn’t own a stake in Njalla either. However, he is the public face of the company. While copyright holders see this as a bad thing, Sunde frames it differently.

“While MPA and RIAA see it as a negative thing that I’m involved, it’s one of the main reasons why Njalla has the trust of the people, just because I’m obviously on the side of integrity, the opposite of MPA.”

That the RIAA doesn’t appear to know the historical significance of the “internets” reference or the widely known term ‘1337’ says enough about their technological expertise, according to Sunde.

“If the name 1337 has them worried, it’s because they’re obviously not 1337 themselves,” he notes.

The most recent recommendations from the RIAA and MPA try to put even more pressure on third-party intermediaries. While many of these are certainly not typical ‘pirate’ outfits, the groups hope to motivate them to do more to curb copyright infringement.

A copy of RIAA’s submission to the USTR is available here and the MPA’s copy can be found here. The US Government will review these recommendations and will issue its final list of notorious markets in a few months. Below is an overview of all ‘online’ sites and services which are named by the RIAA and/or MPA.

Domain companies: Njal.la, .TO Registry, .RU Registry, .IS Registry, .TV Registry

Hosting services: Ecatel/Quasi Networks, FlokiNET, Cloudflare (and other CDNs), Amaratu/KoDDos, BlueAngel Host, Ddos-Guard.net, HydraX.net.

Payment provider: VoguePay

Advertising companies: 1XBET, GetB8.com, PopAds and PopCash, RevenueHits

Apps: Telegram, Everstream, Mobdro, PopcornTime, TVTap, Unblock Tech.

IPTV: BIPTV.best and BestBuyIPTV.store, Buy-IPTV.com, GenIPTV, GenIPTV, King365tv.com, King-IPTV.net.

Pirate sites (&cloud/social hosting): ytmp3.cc, mp3juices.cc, flvto.biz and 2conv.com, y2mate.com, savefrom.net, mp3-youtube.download, newalbumreleases.net, rnbxclusive.vip, leakth.is, intmusic.net, pluspremieres.to, ak47full.com, kingdom-leaks.com, 720pizle.org & Dizilla.com, Bs.to, Cda.pl, Cinecalidad.to, Dytt8.net, Dy2018.com, Dygod.net and Ygdy8.com, Egy.best, Fmovies.to, Gimyvod.com, “Indo 21”, MrPiracy.top, thepiratebay.org, 1337x.to, rarbg.to, torrentz2.eu, Rutracker.org, Tamilrockers.ws, Yts.mx, Pelisplus.me, Phimmoi, Rezka.ag, Superflix.net, Topflix.tv, Zt-za.com, Baidu Pan, Baidu Pan, Collaps.org, Gounlimited.to, Mixdrop.co, Uploaded.net, Uptobox.com, Vivo.sx, VK.com, zippyshare.com, rapidgator.net, turbobit.net, chomikuj.pl, dbree.org, filecrypt.cc, wi.to, ddownload.com, anonfiles.com, mp3fiesta.com.

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

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Movie Industry: VPNs and Tor Pose a Threat to Legitimate Streaming Platforms

The Motion Picture Association (MPA) represents several of the largest movie industry companies.

Traditionally its members were restricted to top Hollywood studios such as Disney and Warner Bros, but last year streaming giant Netflix joined as well.

The newcomer hasn’t changed the MPA’s main goal, which is to deter piracy around the globe. The group tackles copyright infringement directly by going after site owners and app developers, but it’s also heavily involved in lobbying efforts.

Foreign Trade Barriers

This week the MPA sent an overview of global copyright-related challenges to the US Trade Representative (USTR). The submission was sent in response to a request for comments in preparation for the Government’s yearly report on foreign trade barriers.

The 85-page document provides a detailed overview of several major US trading partners. The US Government can use this as input for international discussions, hoping to improve the situation for US film companies.

While many of the concerns and complaints are not new, there are a few that stand out, starting with the MPA’s concern about ‘circumvention services’ such as VPNs and the Tor Network, which can be used by ‘geolocation pirates’.

Problematic VPN and Tor Use

Whether the term piracy is appropriate here is up for debate, as the targeted users pay for legitimate streaming services. However, they can use tools such as VPNs to access them in locations where the platforms and content are not licensed.

For example, if Netflix is not available in country X, people could use a VPN to make it appear they come from country Y, where the service is legally available. This is a problem, MPA notes, particularly in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

“Circumvention services, such as VPNs, DNS masks or Tor networks, are widely available in the UAE and are used to access and stream content from Internet-based TV and Video-On-Demand services that legitimately operate in different territories, but have not been licensed for the UAE.

“This poses a direct threat to legitimate platforms which are currently offering the same content in the UAE,” MPA adds.

The submission doesn’t state why this is a particular concern in the UAE, where Netflix is legally available. Nor does it mention which services are accessed without permission there.

What stands out most is that the MPA brands these content-neutral tools as ‘circumvention services,’ which is a negative term in copyright circles. Also, the submission suggests that it’s a problem that these services are available, but what would the solution be? Banning VPNs and Tor would be excessive, as these have plenty of legitimate uses too.

Pirate Bay Problems

Besides the VPN and Tor problem, the MPA’s submission highlights more traditional piracy challenges as well. The Pirate Bay is mentioned a few times, for example, to highlight that German domain registrars are not as cooperative as the anti-piracy group would like.

“Several German domain name registrars remain uncooperative, and as such, create a safe haven for internet access through notoriously rogue domain names, such as The Pirate Bay domain names,” the group writes.

“Even when domains are disconnected by registrars, they fail to ‘freeze’ the domain, thus enabling the infringers to transfer the domain to a new registrar and continue the illicit activities.”

The Pirate Bay is also highlighted in relation to Sweden. Despite the criminal convictions of several of the site’s founders, the notorious torrent site remains available.

According to the MPA, Sweden must update its copyright law to properly tackle these and other piracy challenges.

“Swedish law must also change in order to curb organized commercial piracy, as evidenced by the difficulties thwarting The Pirate Bay – an operation the court system has already deemed illegal.

“These necessary changes should include better tools for the police and aim to stop illegal sites that keep running after being raided by the police, and even after being convicted by a court of law,” the MPA notes.

Scene Raids and P2P Groups

The MPA also mentions the recent Scene raids, which were partially linked to Sweden. Several topsites were taken down and the movie industry is keeping an eye on the situation to make sure that they don’t come back.

“The Scene was substantially disrupted in August 2020 via a global action. However, the opportunity for new groups to take their place remains, and the MPA continues to monitor the landscape to confirm that the group does not resurface,” MPA writes.

In the Western Hemisphere, there are plenty of piracy concerns as well. Here, the MPA highlights more activity among P2P release groups, which operate more openly than those from The Scene.

“Internet release groups have been identified in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru. These groups are overtly profit driven and utilize different distribution channels to release illicit content.

“Rather than closely-held topsites, some of these groups operate public websites and work at the P2P level,” the MPA adds, noting that these groups also recruit operatives in Russia and the United States.

Positive Notes

The above are just a few of the topics that were highlighted in the MPA’s submission. While the group mostly focuses on shortcomings, it also signals some positive developments here and there.

The MPA is most positive about Australia, which “developed excellent tools to fight online piracy” including pirate site blocking. The movie industry group says it will provide more guidance to the Australian Government to improve even further.

A copy of the MPA’s comments regarding the 2021 National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers is available here (pdf)

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

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Tech Giants Want EU ‘Safeguard’ to Proactively Remove Pirated Content

Prominent tech companies such as Twitter, Facebook and Google, all respond to takedown notices, as they are legally required to do.

Major copyright holder groups believe this is not enough. They have repeatedly called on these platforms to do more to curb online piracy.

This is a controversial issue, as the EU Copyright Directive negotiations highlighted last year. The public at large fears that proactive measures such as automated upload filters will result in overblocking and restrictions of free speech.

The leading Internet companies have been critical of upload filters as well but they are not against further action. Earlier this year industry group EDiMA, which represents Twitter, Facebook, Google, TikTok, Mozilla, and others, proposed a landmark Online Responsibility framework.

Tackling Piracy With Proactive Algorithms

With this framework, the tech giants propose to use algorithms to tackle illegal content including piracy, beyond what’s currently required by law. The word ‘filter’ isn’t mentioned specifically, but that’s pretty much what you get when using algorithms proactively.

The proposed framework refers to ‘illegal’ content and avoids the term copyright, but we have confirmed that anti-piracy measures are certainly covered.

“The Online Responsibility Framework would facilitate proactive action by service providers against any and all illegal content, including copyrighted content,” Siada El Ramly, Director General of EDiMA tells TorrentFreak.

This week, EDiMA released a new paper as part of the plan. The group highlights that its members want to do more to tackle illegal content but stress that this is tricky under current EU law.

“Online service providers want to do more to voluntarily and proactively remove illegal content from their services, and society wants the same. However, there are important barriers under the current regime which prevent them from doing so.”

Existing EU law requires online service providers to remove illegal content if they have actual knowledge of its presence. They are, however, not obliged to find and police all illegal content uploaded by users, which helps to prevent overblocking that can harm free speech.

While the tech companies generally value free speech, this ‘protection’ of user rights now finds itself in the way. It makes it harder for online services to proactively remove pirated content, which they are eager to do.

Safeguard Paves Way For Proactive Measures

EDiMA, therefore, calls for a new legal safeguard that allows tech companies to use proactive measures, such as upload filters, without the risk of being held liable for having ‘actual knowledge’ of illegal content.

“The association is calling for the introduction of a legal safeguard which would allow companies to take proactive actions to remove illegal content and activity from their services, without the risk of additional liability for those attempts to tackle illegal content,” the group says.

“Current EU rules lack this crucial provision, which has a chilling effect on service providers who want to do more to tackle illegal activity online.”

Actual Knowledge

The term ‘actual knowledge’ is key here. The tech companies want to use algorithms to detect and remove illegal material, but they don’t want this to constitute having ‘actual knowledge,’ which means that they can be held liable afterward.

In the US this is not an issue because of the “good samaritan” principle and EDiMA now calls for a liability safeguard in the EU as well.

“The Framework and the legal safeguards would complement the existing copyright directive by facilitating service providers making ‘best efforts’ to ensure that copyrighted material, for which no license was agreed, would not be available on their service,” El Ramly tells us.

“It would remove the disincentive that exists for service providers to find and remove this material, and instead encourage it.”

Automated Filters Are (not) a Problem

EDiMA positions its framework as a great solution for all involved, including users, but the tone of their message is completely different from what we’ve seen in the past.

Just a few months ago, many of the same companies that are part of EDiMA warned against the EU Copyright Directive as algorithms and upload filters may harm free speech.

The EU proposal, however, makes clear that companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok see proactive algorithmic actions – which can be translated to automated filters – as a good solution.

Keeping User Rights in Mind

EDiMA’s proposal does keep the rights of users in mind as well. It stresses that its proposed framework still prohibits the requirement for a general monitoring obligation. In addition, people should have the right to appeal removals of their content.

This appeals process should be transparent. Users have the right to know why something was removed and additional human reviews may be required. Also, while an appeal is pending, it should be possible to reinstate flagged material.

“These specific safeguards will ensure that users have a meaningful way to get an explanation as to why their content was removed and to contest removals should they wish to do so,” the proposal reads.

“They will also ensure that service providers have clear and proactive policies in place when it comes to which content is allowed on their services, while fostering transparent dialogue with their users.”

Easing into The Copyright Directive?

All in all, it is safe to say that the major tech companies do see a future for automated filters. Perhaps this shouldn’t come as a surprise, as companies already widely use these today, including YouTube’s Content-ID system.

It appears that with EDiMA’s Online Responsibility Framework and the extra “safeguards” the tech companies try to pave the way for a smooth implementation of the EU Copyright Directive, on their terms.

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

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EU Allows Accused ‘Pirate’ Sites to Rebut Copyright Holder Claims

Following the example of the United States, the EU started publishing its very own piracy watchlist two years ago.

The annual ‘Counterfeit and Piracy Watch List’ is put together by the European Commission. As in the US, it is based on reports from copyright holder groups that report several problematic sites and services.

For example, the first watch list included ‘non-EU’ targets such as The Pirate Bay, Torrentz2, Rapidgator, Uploaded, Sci-Hub, and H2converter. In addition, some third-party intermediaries such as Cloudflare were called out as well.

EU’s 2020 Piracy Watchlist

The European Commission is currently working on its 2020 watchlist and has already completed the public consultation. This resulted in a list of sites and services which are now being vetted for publication.

“This list will again identify and describe the most problematic marketplaces […] in order to encourage their operators and owners as well as the responsible local authorities and governments to take the necessary actions and measures to reduce the availability of IPR infringing goods or services,” the Commission writes.

A common critique with this type of watchlist is that they are often based on one-sided input. The ‘piracy’ and ‘copyright infringement’ claims come from copyright holders and are often repeated before hearing from the accused party.

EU Commission Consults Accused Sites

The European Commission breaks with this tradition. It has recently contacted several accused parties, allowing them to have their say. TorrentFreak spoke to the operator of a torrent site who, on the condition of anonymity, agreed to share the letter he received from the Commission.

“We contact you because the website you operate was one of the reported marketplaces,” the letter starts.

“According to the stakeholders, [redacted] is reportedly a popular BitTorrent website hosted in [redacted] facilitating access to a wide range of content, including music, films, TV programmes, software and videogames.”

The Commission acknowledges that the targeted site responds to takedown notices, but copyright holders report that infringing material is usually quickly reposted. In addition, the site reportedly generates income from ad revenue and pay-per-install links that could link to malware.

Based on these third-party reports, the EU Commission is inclined to add the site to the forthcoming piracy watch list. However, it allows the site operator to have his say as well.

“Based on the public consultation, we are considering including the name of the site you operate in the next edition of the Watch List. We would like to give you the opportunity to express your views concerning the above-mentioned allegations reported by stakeholders and to send us your comments.”

Proper Verification is Welcome

The site operator we spoke with isn’t sure whether he is going to reply. However, it is laudable that targeted sites are allowed to chime in before the list is published.

It’s not entirely clear what constitutes a ‘pirate’ site in the eyes of the EU Commission. The letter suggests that simply taking down reported files isn’t good enough as they will simply reappear. However, that same logic applies to many sites and services, including YouTube.

When the European Commission announced its most recent consultation earlier this year it said that all information received will be thoroughly verified. This is crucial, as its first report wasn’t free of errors, and included a perfectly legitimate site.

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