Monthly Archives: September 2015

Paramount Pictures Fails to Silence uTorrent Discussions

paramountWeek in and week out copyright holders scour the Internet to detect and report millions of alleged infringements.

Most attention goes out to Google which receives around a dozen million takedown requests per week for its search engine alone.

Many of the reported links are from torrent sites such as The Pirate Bay and point to pirated content. However, some of the URLs copyright holders complain about to Google are not infringing at all.

Last week Paramount Pictures asked for the removal of various discussions at the forums of the popular torrent client uTorrent. The notices claim that the discussions are “infringing” but the threads themselves show no evidence of that.

For example, Paramount sent a takedown notice to protect the 2009 movie “Imagine That.” The list of allegedly infringing URLs includes a uTorrent forum thread, as shown below.

imaginethread

After reading the topic we could find no mentions of a pirated movie. Instead, the only mention of “imagine that” was in the post below, which doesn’t appear to be infringing at all.

imaginethat

The same error was repeated several times in other targeted discussions on utorrent.com. One notice lists a forum thread that allegedly offers an infringing copy of “Ghost,” but again the topic itself is completely unrelated to the movie.

ghost

This also happened to a thread where a user pointed out that he was “clueless” about something. This apparently rang alarm bells at Paramount’s content protection company who assumed that this person was referring to a pirated copy the film “Clueless.”

Talking about clueless, the same notice also targets the Disqus profile of the user “Clueless°,” simply because he or she shares a name with the movie title.

clueless

The most likely explanation for the errors is a lack of oversight. Paramount’s content protection company scans the Internet for keyword combinations and when movie titles are used in combination with other ‘suspicious’ terms such as “torrent,” URLs may be flagged automatically.

Unfortunately these mistakes are not isolated incidents. In recent years we’ve highlighted countless examples of takedown requests that censor legitimate content, often hurting traffic for the affected sites.

The good news is that Google appears to have white-listed several domains, including utorrent.com and Disqus. This means that while the links reported on behalf of Paramount Pictures were not removed, less prominent sites may not be so lucky.

MPAA and RIAA’s Megaupload Lawsuits Delayed Until 2016

megaupload-logoNearly four years have passed since Megaupload was shutdown but aside from Andrus Nomm’s plea deal there has been little progress in the criminal proceedings.

Dotcom and several of his fellow Megaupload defendants are currently in the midst of an extradition hearing to determine whether they will be sent to the U.S. to stand trial.

But regardless of the outcome there’s more legal trouble ahead for Kim Dotcom and the defunct file-hosting service. In addition to the criminal case, Megaupload and Dotcom were sued last year by the major record labels and Hollywood’s top movie studios.

Fearing that they might influence criminal proceedings, Megaupload’s legal team previously managed to put these civil actions on hold and this week it requested another six month stay.

Yesterday U.S. District Court Liam O’Grady granted Megaupload’s request in the RIAA lawsuit under the same conditions as the earlier orders.

Judge O’Grady’s order

megastay

A similar order is also expected in the MPAA case, as the movie studios haven’t objected to another extension.

The ruling means that both the MPAA and RIAA cases will now be delayed until April 2016, given that the criminal proceeding has progressed by then. A stay was also granted in a third civil suit filed by the music group Microhits on similar grounds.

Considering the legal action on multiple fronts and the fact that civil cases can take over half a decade to complete, Megaupload is likely to be tied up in legal proceedings for years to come.

Rightscorp Retains Dallas Buyers Club Copyright Troll Lawyer

When the anti-piracy activities of Rightscorp became a topic for public discussion around four years ago (under the name Digital Rights Corp), the company was taking a fresh look at solving the piracy problem.

Rather than going down the RIAA route of aggressive and ruinous litigation, the company began asking for $10 from Internet users found to be downloading and sharing their clients’ content.

Ten bucks was hardly a big deal but it took just 12 months for the fees to be increased to $20 when the company felt account holders could be squeezed for a bit more cash.

The company is currently going through a financial crisis and as a result wants $30 for each alleged offense. The escalation is an indication of a business under pressure and a fresh announcement from Rightscorp suggests that it’s about to get even more aggressive in order to force settlement.

Yesterday the company revealed it has signed an agreement with lawyer Carl D. Crowell of Crowell Law in Salem, Oregon. While he works with other companies too, Crowell is perhaps best known for his work with notorious copyright troll Dallas Buyers Club.

According to Rightscorp, Crowell will be working with the anti-piracy firm’s clients to raise awareness and “educate people” about the effects of piracy. He will also be sending notices to infringers while pursuing litigation against “persistent and egregious infringers.”

Retaining Crowell might be the clearest sign yet that Rightscorp understands the current limitations of its “pay $30″ business model. Rightscorp sends its notices via ISPs and has no idea of the true identity of the people they’re trying to force a payment from. As a result and without a credible threat of litigation, Rightscorp’s targets are simply free to ignore the company’s emailed threats.

Should they subsequently receive correspondence from Mr Crowell, however, who has a track record with companies like Dallas Buyers Club, then the situation could very well take on a more urgent tone, forcing a payment and keeping Rightscorp and its clients happy.

“Crowell has been recognized by the courts for his successful targeting of the worst offenders that illegally download films and TV shows to make sure they are held accountable for their actions with dozens of judgments and injunctions against infringers,” says Rightscorp CEO Christopher Sabec.

“This agreement will be beneficial to both parties and our clients and we hope with our continued efforts to see an increase in public awareness and recognition of the problems with online piracy and greater respect and appreciation for the value and work of the artists we represent.”

The team up with Crowell, who last month claimed it was impossible for BitTorrent users to remain anonymous online, is the second legal partnership publicly announced by Rightscorp.

In August the company said it had signed an agreement with lawfirm Flynn Wirkus Young to target users who ignore DMCA notices and settlement offers sent by copyright holders. Cases filed earlier in the year on behalf of Rotten Records targeted Comcast users, among others.

While Rightscorp appeared to start out with fresh ideas, it appears that the company is now well and truly on the path to becoming yet another aggressive copyright troll outfit. The big question now is how this new approach will sit with ISPs in the United States, many of whom willingly forward Rightscorp DMCA notices settlement threats to their customers.

RUTracker Says Copyright Holders Can Moderate its Torrents

rutrackerLast week Russian telecoms watchdog Roscomnadzor marked the two-year anniversary of a 2013 amendment to copyright legislation by releasing details of how many times the law has been used to block sites.

Since August 1, 2013, Roskomnadzor received 189 copyright-related complaints from rights holders and access to 282 sites was restricted as a result.

Unsurprisingly, several torrent sites have been targeted over the past 24 months including The Pirate Bay, the world’s most controversial index. This week, however, the spotlight falls on Russia’s most popular torrent site.

Known as Torrents.ru before a controversial domain seizure in 2010, RUTracker is a huge site with a thriving community. According to Alexa it is the 17th most popular site in the whole of Russia and as a result attracts a lot of attention.

This week the National Federation of the Music Industry (NFMI), a group which counts Sony, Universal, Warner and EMI among its members, will attempt to have RUTracker permanently blocked by local ISPs. According to NFMI CEO Leonid Agronov, his group tried to negotiate with RUTracker over the removal of content but the effort came to nothing, leaving legal action as the only option.

Nevertheless, RUTracker says the site is still prepared to work with NFMI, initially on the basis of traditional notice-and-takedown, in an effort to stave off a nationwide blockade.

“Of course, we are ready for talks, but it is not clear what we can arrange. If we receive from rightsholders links to the data that violates their rights, we can remove them during the day,” a site spokesperson said.

“If copyright holders act in accordance with established practices, by sending us an email notice referencing the items that violate their rights, we would long ago have removed them, as we do in thousands of similar cases. But they chose the court instead.”

However, RUTracker says it is actually prepared to go way beyond standard takedowns, by effectively giving copyright holders torrent moderation rights on the site.

“If there are many links [that breach copyright] we can give the rightsholders their own special account, and they can remove links that violate their rights. Similar to [the system available] on YouTube, for example,” the source added.

At this late stage it seems unlikely that the record labels will back away from their efforts to have RUTracker blocked, but even if successful that may only serve to discourage the site from cooperating fully on takedowns in the future.

In any event, RUTracker appears prepared for the long haul. After being founded in 2004 the site has just celebrated its 11th birthday, a somewhat rare achievement in the torrent world.

“Over the years everything has happened – bad and good,” the site said in a statement.

“We’ve tried to block the whims of some copyright holders, although we are always ready for constructive cooperation on copyright, and most of them have reached a compromise that would accommodate the interests of both the authors of the content and its consumers.

“They are trying to drown out the various computer hooligans, but our friends help us to cope with it. We are told that ‘RUTracker is not the same, and will die soon’, and we smile at the skeptics, increasing our audience with petabytes of content!” the site concludes.

RUTracker is mostly popular with Russians although on-site language options now encourage visits by many thousands of users from Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus. English speakers are also enjoying the tracker in increasing numbers, thanks to Google Translate and a little patience.

Russian Facebook Ordered to Crack Down on Piracy

In 2014, Universal Music and Warner Music ran out of patience with Russian social networking giant VKontakte.

Alongside claims that VK facilitates large-scale copyright infringement, the labels filed a copyright complaint with the Saint Petersburg & Leningradsky Region Arbitration Court.

“VK’s music service, unlike others in Russia, is an unlicensed file-sharing service that is designed for copyright infringement on a large-scale. To date the company has taken no meaningful steps to tackle the problem,” IFPI’s Frances Moore said at the time.

Today, more than a year later, a decision has been handed down. According to Russian news agency TASS, the Court largely upheld the claims of the labels. As a result, VKontakte is now obliged to implement “effective” filtering technology to prevent infringement of Universal’s and Warner’s rights.

According to IFPI this means that VK will not only need to remove the labels’ music from its service, but also prevent the re-uploading of the same in the future.

“This is a very important and positive decision for the Russian music market and for music creators in Russia. VK’s infringing music service has been a huge obstacle to the development of a licensed business in Russia, making available hundreds of thousands of copyright infringing tracks to more than 70 million daily users,” says IFPI CEO Frances Moore.

“Now, the Russian court has ordered VK to use technology to stop infringements. This is good news for rights holders in Russia. We now look to VK to implement the court’s decision and stop these ongoing infringements.”

While the labels will be content with what could amount to a significant victory, they didn’t have things entirely their own way. The Court rejected their calls for 36 million rubles ($547,000) in compensation.

Sony Music was originally involved in the action against VKontakte but dropped out after agreeing a confidential settlement last summer.