Monthly Archives: May 2016

MPAA Lobbyist / SOPA Sponsor to Draft Democratic Party Platform

berman-smallLast week Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz chose a panel of individuals to draft the party’s platform.

As previously reported, 15 were selected, with six chosen by Clinton, five chosen by Bernie Sanders and four chosen by Wasserman Schultz. While other publications will certainly pick over the bones of the rest of the committee, one in particular stands out as interesting to TF readers.

Howard L Berman is an attorney and former U.S. Representative. He’s employed at Covington & Burling as a lobbyist and represents the MPAA on matters including “Intellectual property issues in trade agreements, bilateral investment treaties, copyright, and related legislation.”

It will come as no surprise then that the major studios have been donors throughout Berman’s political career. As shown in the image below, the top five contributors are all major movie companies.

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Born in 1941, Berman’s work with the film industry earned him the nickname “the congressman from Hollywood” and over the years he’s been at the root of some of the most heated debates over the protection of intellectual property.

In 2007 and as later confirmed by Wikileaks, Berman was one of the main proponents of ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.

Just five short years later Berman was at the heart of perhaps the biggest copyright controversy the world has ever seen when he became a co-sponsor of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).

“The theft of American Intellectual Property not only robs those in the creative chain of adequate compensation, but it also stunts potential for economic growth, cheats our communities out of good paying jobs, and threatens future American innovation,” Berman said in the run-up to SOPA.

While these kinds of soundbites are somewhat common, it’s interesting to note that Berman showed particular aggression towards Google during hearings focusing on SOPA. On November 16, 2011, Berman challenged the search giant over its indexing of The Pirate Bay.

google-bayInsisting that there “is no contradiction between intellectual property rights protection and enforcement ensuring freedom of expression on the Internet,” Berman said that Google’s refusal to delist the entire site was unacceptable.

“All right. Well, explain to me this one,” Berman demanded of Google policy counsel Katherine Oyama.

“The Pirate Bay is a notorious pirate site, a fact that its founders proudly proclaim in the name of the site itself. In fact, the site’s operators have been criminally convicted in Europe. And yet…..U.S.-Google continues to send U.S. consumers to the site by linking to the site in your search results. Why does Google refuse to de-index the site in your search results?” he said.

Oyama tried to answer, noting that Google invests tens of millions of dollars into the problem. “We have hundreds of people around the world that work on it,” she said. “When it comes to copyright….”

Berman didn’t allow her to finish, repeating his question about delisting the whole site, again and again. Before Berman’s time ran out, Oyama was interrupted several more times while trying to explain that the DMCA requires takedowns of specific links, not entire domains. Instead, Berman suggested that Oyama should “infuse herself” with the notion that Google wanted to stop “digital theft.”

“[T]he DMCA is not doing the job. That is so obvious,” he said. “[Y]ou cannot look at what is going on since the passage of the DMCA and say Congress got it just right. Maintain the status quo.”

These arguments continue today in the “takedown, staydown” debate surrounding the ongoing review of the DMCA, with Hollywood lining up on one side and Google being held responsible for the actions of others on the other. But simply complaining about the DMCA is a little moderate for Berman.

Almost one and a half decades ago in the wake of Napster and before the rise of BitTorrent, Berman had a dream of dealing with peer-to-peer file-sharing by force. In 2002 he proposed the Peer To Peer Piracy Prevention Act, which would have allowed copyright holders to take extraordinary technical measures against file-sharers in order to stop the unauthorized distribution of their content.

H.R.5211 sought to amend Federal copyright law to protect a copyright owner from liability in any criminal or civil action “for impairing, with appropriate technology, the unauthorized distribution, display, performance, or reproduction of his or her copyrighted work on a publicly accessible peer-to-peer file trading network.”

The bill didn’t deal in specifics, but “impairing” was widely believed to be a euphemism for DDoS and poisoning attacks on individual file-sharers in order to make sharing impossible from their computers.

At the time “shared-folder” type sharing apps were still popular so bombarding networks with fake and badly named files would also have been fair game, although distributing viruses and malware were not on the table. Eventually, however, the bill died.

Berman, on the other hand, appears to be very much alive and will be soon helping to draft the Democratic Party platform. On past experience his input might not be too difficult to spot.

Google Promotes Pirate Movie Ratings In Search Snippet

google-bayIn recent years Hollywood has taken a rather aggressive approach against Google. The movie studios believe that the search engine isn’t doing enough to limit piracy, and have demanded more stringent measures.

One of the suggestions often made is to boost the visibility of legal movie services in search results. For example, show a list of streaming and download portals when users search for a movie.

In recent months Google has experimented with exactly this. People who search for classic “pirate” terms may see ads for legal options. In addition, the search engine now shows a snippet with all sorts of movie details when people search for a title.

This movie information also includes reviews and ratings from around the web, with links to IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic and other prominent sites. A useful feature for sure, but Hollywood will not like all of the sites that are featured.

Among various established sources, Google is also showing ratings from the “pirate” streaming site FMovies. As can be seen below, FMovies user ratings are tucked between IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes, using the rather inviting title “Watch Free Movies Online.”

Watch Free Movies Online (context, different search)

love-pirate-google

While FMovies ratings only appear incidentally, we have seen it across different browsers and on both desktop and mobile searches.

The link in question points directly to the FMovies page where a high quality stream of the film is readily available. In addition, users can opt to download it directly to their computer or mobile device.

Love (2015)

fmovies

The FMovies ratings appear in the movie snippet because FMovies is using Google’s review markup. This allows any site to be featured there, when it complies with all the quality guidelines.

When Google announced the ratings feature last year it said it offers “publishers with an opportunity to increase the discoverability and consumption of their reviews using markup,” but we doubt that pirate sites are meant to be included.

Ironically, one of the tools that is supposed to divert people from pirate searches is now used to link people to one directly. Mistake or not, the movie studios will use these and other examples to argue that Google still has a long way to go.

Meanwhile, FMovies is enjoying the free traffic, for as long as it lasts.

10 Years Ago Hollywood Awoke The Pirate Bay ‘Beast’

pirate bayMost of the site’s current users are probably unaware that without a few essential keystrokes in the site’s early years, The Pirate Bay may have not been here today.

May 31, 2006, less than three years after The Pirate Bay was founded, 65 Swedish police officers entered a datacenter in Stockholm.

The policemen had instructions to shut down the Pirate Bay’s servers, which were already seen as a major threat to the entertainment industry.

At the time The Pirate Bay wasn’t the giant it is today though. And ironically, the raid only made the site bigger, stronger and more resilient.

While the police were about to enter the datacenter, Pirate Bay founders Gottfrid and Fredrik got wind that something was up.

In the months before the raid they were already being watched by private investigators day and night, but this time something was about to happen to their trackers.

At around 10am in the morning Gottfrid told Fredrik that there were police officers at their office, and asked him to get down to the co-location facility and get rid of the ‘incriminating evidence,’ although none of it, whatever it was, was related to The Pirate Bay.

As Fredrik was leaving, he suddenly realized that the problems might be linked to their tracker. He therefore decided to make a full backup of the site, just in case.

When he later arrived at the co-location facility the concerns turned out to be justified. There were dozens of policemen floating around taking away dozens of servers, most of which belonged to clients unrelated to The Pirate Bay.

Footage from The Pirate Bay raid

In the days that followed it became clear that Fredrik’s decision to start a backup of the site was probably the most pivotal moment in the site’s history. Because of this backup Fredrik and the rest of the Pirate Bay team managed to resurrect the site within three days.

Of course, the entire situation was handled with the mockery TPB had become known for.

Unimpressed, the site’s operators renamed the site “The Police Bay” complete with a new logo shooting cannon balls at Hollywood. A few days later this logo was replaced by a Phoenix, a reference to the site rising from its digital ashes.

Logos after the raid

tpb classic

Instead of shutting it down the raid brought the site into the mainstream press, not least due to its swift resurrection. All the publicity also triggered a huge traffic spike for TPB, exactly the opposite effect Hollywood had hoped for.

Despite a criminal investigation leading to convictions for the site’s founders, The Pirate Bay kept growing and growing in the years that followed.

The site’s assets, meanwhile, were reportedly transferred to the Seychelles-based company Reservella.

Under new ownership several major technical changes occurred. In the fall of 2009 the infamous BitTorrent tracker was taken offline, turning The Pirate Bay into a torrent indexing site.

Early 2012 The Pirate Bay went even further when it decided to cease offering torrent files for well-seeded content. The site’s operators moved to magnet links instead, allowing them to save resources while making it easier for third-party sites to run proxies.

These proxies turned out to be much-needed, as The Pirate Bay is now the most broadly censored website on the Internet. In recent years ISPs all around the world have been ordered by courts to block subscriber access to the torrent site.

While TPB swiftly recovered from the “original” raid, it did suffer nearly two months of downtime late 2014 when another raid took place.

Initially it was believed that some of the site’s crucial servers were taken by the police, but the TPB team later said that it was barely hit and that they took the site offline as a precaution.

While the first raid make The Pirate Bay stronger, the two-month stint of downtime was a big hit. While the site still has millions of visitors per day, it is no longer the most dominant player, and is still suffering from regular outages.

That said, The Pirate Bay is expected to live on and on. To celebrate its turbulent past the site’s operators declared May 31 to be Pirate Independence Day a few years ago.

“Let today be the pirates’ Independence Day! Today we celebrate the victories we’ve had and the victories that will come. Today we celebrate that we’re united in our efforts. Keep on seeding!” the TPB team said at the time.

But remember, if there hadn’t been a recent backup back in 2006, things may have turned out quite differently.

YouTube Threatens Legal Action Against Video Downloader

sadyoutubeWith over a billion users YouTube is the largest video portal on the Internet.

Every day users watch hundreds of millions of hours of video on the site, and for many it’s a prime source to enjoy music as well.

While YouTube is a blessing to thousands of content creators, there are also concerns among rightsholders. Music labels in particular are not happy with the fact that music videos can be easily downloaded from the site with help from external services.

To address the problem YouTube is contacting these third party sites, urging them to shut down this functionality. Most recently, YouTube’s legal team contacted the popular download service TubeNinja.

“It appears from your website and other marketing materials that TubeNinja is designed to allow users to download content from YouTube,” the email from YouTube’s legal team reads.

According to YouTube the video downloader violates the terms of service (ToS) of both the site and the API. Among other things, YouTube’s ToS prohibits the downloading of any video that doesn’t have a download link listed on the site.

Later, Google’s video service adds that if the site owner continues to operate the service this “may result in legal consequences.”

Email from YouTube’s legal team

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Despite the threatening language, TubeNinja owner Nathan doesn’t plan to take the functionality offline. He informed YouTube that his service doesn’t use YouTube’s API and says that it’s the responsibility of his users to ensure that they don’t violate the ToS of YouTube and TubeNinja.

“Our own ToS clearly states that the user is responsible for the legitimacy of the content they use our service for,” Nathan tells us.

TubeNinja doesn’t believe that YouTube has a very strong case and Nathan has asked the company for clarification. He also mentions that Google’s very own Chrome service lists many plugins that offer the exact same functionality.

“They don’t even seem to enforce removal of Chrome plugins that enable users to do the exact same thing,” Nathan says.

“Also the fact that services like Savefrom, Keepvid, clipconverter etc have been around since 2008, we find it hard to believe that there is any legal case at all. Kind of like suing a maker of VHS-recorders for users taping the television broadcast,” he adds.

This isn’t the first time that YouTube has taken action against download services. The site has gone after similar sites in the past

In 2012 Google went after Youtube-mp3.org with a message similar to the one TubeNinja received, but despite these efforts the site remains one of the most used conversion tools with millions of visitors per day.

Police Target 50 Streaming Sites, Detain Five Suspects

gdf-logoWhile torrents remain popular with millions of file-sharers, cheaper bandwidth and faster Internet connections have contributed to an explosion of content being streamed online.

Today there are thousands of sites offering huge libraries of unauthorized content, all of it available via a YouTube-like interface accessible via any Internet browser. With a non-existent learning curve, it’s piracy anyone can get involved in.

As a result these kinds of sites can quickly gain a massive following and efforts to hinder their operations continue every day. With millions of links being removed from search engines and site-blocking a regular occurrence, other more aggressive options are also regularly explored.

Currently that is the stance of prosecutors in Rome, Italy, who say they have carried out a large operation to shut down a network of sites offering live sports events, movies, TV shows and concerts without permission from copyright holders.

Titled Operation Match Off 2.0, the action was carried out by the Comando Unità Speciali (Special Command Unit) of the Guardia di Finanza (GdF), a department under Italy’s Minister of Economy and Finance tasked with dealing with financial crime.

According to GdF the operation targeted 50 sites running on 41 servers located on three continents. Three servers were seized locally in Italy. After raids were carried out in a number of regions across the country, five suspects were detained. Further details on the sites and the suspects are yet to be released.

The sites are said to have offered live streaming of sports, on-demand content such as movies and TV shows, plus scheduling features in return for a ten euro payment per month. Italian authorities say the equivalent official offering would cost nearer 100 euros.

GdF report that the five suspects had built of a “vast network” of users and were generating huge profits from them.

“To understand the scope of the operation we detected the presence of more than 340,000 registered users within a community,” GdF said in a statement.

“Assuming that everyone had an illegal ‘subscription’, you can, with a simple calculation, estimate that the turnover is nearly €3,500,000 monthly ($3.89m), or more than €40,000,000 ($44.46) per year.”

Should they be found guilty, the five suspects would face fines and up to four years in prison.