Monthly Archives: January 2017

Internet Freedom Day: How Massive ‘Blackout’ Protests Killed Two Anti-Piracy Bills

internetfreedomsopaAt the start of the decade several new bills were introduced in the United States, aiming to make it easier for copyright holders to enforce their rights online.

The proposals, including SOPA and PIPA, would’ve streamlined the shutting down of allegedly infringing domain names and threatened to increase liability for third party services, among other things.

Fearing broad Internet censorship, the proposals ignited a wave of protests led by various activist groups. But, what started as a small protest movement was swiftly elevated to mainstream news, when tech giants such as Google and Wikipedia joined in.

Exactly five years ago, following months of scattered protests, the opposition peaked into a massive Internet blackout campaign.

As a result, the balance of power tipped and Hollywood and the music industry were forced into retreat. Soon after the blackout, both bills were declared dead, a victory which is still frequently referenced today.

A year after the succesfull blackout campaign, January 18 was declared Internet Freedom Day. While the first celebration attracted international news headlines, it’s now become a relatively small event.

Still, many of the concerns that were brought up half a decade ago remain relevant today. Site blocking efforts and domain name seizures are still high on the agenda, and the same is true for search engine ‘censorship’ and liability for ISPs and other third party services.

What has changed is that, instead of tackling these issues through legislation, rightsholders are now focusing on individual lawsuits and voluntary agreements.

This means that for activists, Internet Freedom Day could still be relevant now, both as a remembrance and as a call to action. In any case, it’s worth noting that without the protests things could have been very different today.

Below are a few of the many ‘blackout’ pages that were up (or down) five years ago.

Wikipedia

Wikipedia was completely inaccessible for 24 hours, except the pages about censorship, PIPA and SOPA, of course.

Google

Google blacked out its logo to protest PIPA/SOPA and added a link to a resource page where people could take action.

google strike

Reddit

Reddit directed its users to a resource site where they could take action.

reddit

Imgur

The image sharing site Imgur offered information on the protests as well as steps to take action.

imgurprotest

Demonoid

Demonoid, one of the largest BitTorrent communities at the time, went dark completely, with a nice spotlight effect.

demonid

Firefox

Firefox users were welcomed with a dark themed default homepage, alerting people about the looming PIPA/SOPA threats.

Craigslist

The online classified advertisements portal Craigslist directed the public to a resource site where they could take action.

craigslist-blackout

WordPress

WordPress joined the protest too, and decided to censor itself for the day.

wordpress

Minecraft

Minecraft protested as well, but in red with the tagline “PIPA & SOPA, How About NOPA.”

pipa

TorrentFreak

Yes, we also took part, giving readers the option to save the Internet, or… Meh…

torrentfreak-blackout

ISP Says it Won’t Send BREIN’s Anti-Piracy Warnings

breinlogoAs one of Europe’s most prominent anti-piracy groups, BREIN is at the forefront of copyright enforcement in the Netherlands. In early January the outfit revealed some its achievements over the past year, including enforcement actions against hundreds of sites and prolific uploaders of pirate content.

While tackling those closer to the top of the tree, BREIN has had a tendency to leave regular ‘pirate’ users alone. However, in recent times it has been developing plans to target Internet subscribers with ‘educational’ warning notices.

This past weekend, BREIN chief Tim Kuik said that his group hopes to bring about behavioral change among downloaders by contacting them via their ISPs.

“The ISPs can then send the account holder a warning which informs them that their account has been used to infringe copyright. The message is that they are bringing you up to date with illegal activities,” Kuik said.

Last year, the Dutch Data Protection Authority (Autoriteit Persoonsgegevens) gave BREIN permission to collect the IP-addresses of pirating BitTorrent users, allowing the group to target uploaders on a broader scale. But the group still needs help from service providers, since it needs to tie those addresses to individual accounts.

“The Data Protection Authority recommended we make arrangements with the ISPs on the processing of the personal data. Because we do not have the identity of the user,” Kuik said on Sunday.

However, unlike in the US and UK where similar programs are already underway, Dutch ISPs are giving the plan a less than warm welcome. In comments yesterday, leading cable provider Ziggo confirmed it will not participate in BREIN’s program.

“As an ISP we are a neutral access provider. This does not include the role of active enforcement of rights or interests of third parties, including BREIN,” said spokesman Erik van Doeselaar, as quoted by Tweakers.

Other providers aren’t excited by BREIN’s plans either. KPN, based in The Hague, said that there are many unknowns when it comes to privacy.

“As an ISP we can not pass judgment on the legality and proportionality of the plan,” said spokesman Stijn Wesselink.

A third ISP, XS4All, said the anti-piracy outfit’s plans haven’t yet been made clear.

“I won’t the slam the door before I’ve seen [BREIN’s] plans, but it seems highly unlikely that ISPs will act as enforcers,” said spokesman Niels Huijbregts.

BREIN, on the other hand, believe that ISPs should cooperate, since when customers download and share copyrighted content without permission, they breach their providers’ Terms of Service.

The anti-piracy outfit hopes to introduce a scheme similar to the one now underway in the UK, which has received cooperation from four major ISPs.

BREIN says it wishes to mirror the UK effort by having ISPs send educational notices to encourage users towards legal services. However, the anti-piracy outfit is not on the best of terms with local providers and hasn’t been for many years.

Both Ziggo and XS4All are currently embroiled in prolonged legal battle with BREIN, who want the providers to block subscriber access to The Pirate Bay.

Thus far the ISPs have refused, steadfastly sticking to their position that, as a service provider, the copyright wars are not their battle. It now seems likely that the same stance will carry over to the proposed warning notice scheme.

BT’s Piracy Warning Information is Confusing and Outdated

btAs recently reported, UK ISPs will soon partner up with the Get it Right From a Genuine Site campaign to send warning notices to users whose accounts have been used to share copyright content.

While the campaign is educational in both tone and aim, it is still likely to worry warning recipients, even though there are no immediate repercussions for being caught. With that in mind, ISPs are preparing to inform their users as to what the scheme is all about.

A couple of hours ago via its website, it appears that BT became the first ISP to officially announce the campaign’s arrival. Virgin Media has had a section bookmarked on its site for some time but currently there is no information available.

The other ISPs involved, TalkTalk and Sky, seem less prepared at this point, so well done to BT for going first. However, BT’s announcement has the potential to cause confusion, despite starting well.

“Peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing is the transfer of data from one person’s computer directly to multiple other computers without the use of an intermediate server. This is known as a file sharing network and is set up using peer-to-peer software on your computer (also known as a programme, application or client),” it reads.

From here, BT gets its apples and pears a bit mixed up.

“You may have heard of networks like Gnutella, Napster, Torrentz and ThePirateBay. If your computer is online and you make files available for sharing in a peer-to-peer network, other members within that network can download files from you without you noticing,” the ISP writes.

While Gnutella and Napster are indeed the names of peer-to-peer networks, both Torrentz and ThePirateBay are torrent index sites. What makes the situation even more confusing is that the Napster peer-to-peer service has been dead for 15 years and is now a legitimate content platform. That could make less well-informed Napster customers believe they’re paying for a product that could get them a warning notice.

The Gnutella network (on which the LimeWire operated) is technically alive but on continual life support, and Torrentz shut down last year so doesn’t even exist. And suggesting that people can download files from torrent users without them knowing is clearly a step too far.

That said, BT correctly gives The Pirate Bay a prominent position, since the vast majority (if not all) of the warning notices going out will target BitTorrent users. However, instead of telling users how BitTorrent sharing works, the ISP focuses on how old-fashioned and largely redundant applications offer content for download.

By default, peer-to-peer software applications search for and share content on your computer with others. Normally, peer-to-peer software usually runs as soon as you turn on your computer and continues to run in the background. Even if you disable sharing/uploading, copyrighted content in a “shared” folder on your computer it can still be seen by others using the same peer-to-peer network. Some peer-to-peer software can even reset your preferences to resume uploading.

While the above might have been true when KaZaA, LimeWire and Morpheus ruled the pirate seas way over a decade ago, this is not the way BitTorrent works at all. BitTorrent users are completely aware of what they’re sharing, because they have to obtain a torrent file first to get the content. BitTorrent software does not search users’ computers for content to share without their permission, users are in complete control.

In fact, the ‘shared folder’ applications referenced by BT are more or less antiques in today’s file-sharing landscape. Like VHS and cassette tapes, there are still people out there using ‘shared folder’ applications, but these people are not the focus of the GetitRight campaign. Giving them a prominent mention is confusing and makes little to no sense.

Things also get messy when BT ventures into the world of file-sharing protocols and clients.

There are many different file types (also called protocols) that are used for the file sharing, such as BitTorrent, Deluge, iLivid, and Tixati etc. Each Protocol will have its own client. Popular BitTorrent clients are Vuze, Transmission, Deluge, uTorrent, Tribler, Tixati, BitComet, Torch etc.

First off, the term ‘file types’ is not interchangeable with the term ‘protocol’. A file type is something like .doc, .mp3 or .avi. A protocol is the technical communications system a file-sharing client relies upon to share with other clients. While BitTorrent is indeed a file-sharing protocol, Deluge, iLivid and Tixati are either torrent clients or download managers, they are not file-sharing protocols at all.

All that being said, in the rest of the announcement BT does a good job of explaining how users are tracked by copyright holders and detailing when notices will be sent out. It also offers reassurance that users’ details have not been shared with copyright holders and that broadband services will not be affected as a result of receiving a warning.

Finally, BT also provides some new information which indicates that users will able to see what content they’re being accused of downloading by following a link in warning notices. BT customers will be required to login using their BTID and password which will get them access to the Get it Right Information Portal.

“Once you click through the link on the email you will land on a BT page which from where you can go through to the portal. BT only provides you a secure access to the Get It Right Information Portal so that your data is kept completely confidential,” the company concludes.

While there’s clearly no intent on BT’s behalf to mislead, its advisory (here) could be improved by the removal of several paragraphs and the editing of others.

Received a warning notice from any UK ISP? Contact TF in confidence here.

Update: BT has now updated its advisory, removing the outdated information and correcting the errors.

Netflix is ‘Killing’ DVD Sales, Research Finds

netflix-logoWe’re all familiar with the claims that piracy is “killing” the movie industry, but legal alternatives are in constant competition as well.

Over the past decade, TV and movie companies have taken part in a massive ‘experiment’ in which they’ve had to reinvent their business models, adapting to rapidly changing demands from consumers.

In part responding to piracy, the movie industry started offering their own online video download options, and with bandwidth becoming cheaper and more readily available, streaming services such as Netflix soon followed.

However, having more legal options available doesn’t automatically mean that more money is rolling in. The next challenge is to set them up in a way that doesn’t cannibalize existing products while optimizing long-term revenue.

For many years disc sales have been the prime revenue source for the movie industry, bringing in billions of dollars a year in the U.S. alone. Netflix’s streaming service is a direct competitor to these sales, but to what effect?

A new study published by researchers from Hong Kong universities provides some empirical evidence on this issue. Through a natural experiment, they looked at the interplay between Netflix availability and DVD sales in the United States.

The experiment took place when the Epix entertainment network, which distributes movies and TV-shows from major studios including Paramount and Lionsgate, left Netflix for Hulu in 2015.

Since Hulu has a much smaller market share, these videos no longer reached a large part of the audience. At least not by default. The researchers used difference to examine the effect on DVD sales, while controlling for various other variables.

The results, published in a paper this week, show that DVD sales increased significantly after the content was taken off Netflix, almost by a quarter.

“Our difference-in-difference analyses show that the decline in the streaming availability of Epix’s content leads to a 24.7% increase in their DVD sales in the three months after the event,” the paper reads.

“Our results validate the industry’s concern that video streaming services displace physical DVD sales.”

Of course, this doesn’t mean that all studios should pull their content from Netflix. It does show, however, that there are a lot of variables in play that require careful assessment from a business point of view.

For example, it appears that percentage-wise the bump in DVD sales is the largest for new movies and movies that did better in theatres.

“In addition, we find that the cannibalization between two media is stronger for DVDs released more recently and for movies with better box office performances,” the researchers note.

This may also be one of the prime reasons why most recent releases are not on Netflix, and why the most popular movies of the past decade are unavailable as well. It’s not to annoy consumers, but to maximize profits.

The research above has its limitations. It only focused on DVD sales and not on other physical and digital revenue sources, for example. That said, the present data clearly suggests that content owners might be wise to keep titles off Netflix for a while, especially the blockbusters. Similarly, it affirms that there’s little harm in putting their older back catalogs on the streaming service.

Of course, this strategy will also keep piracy intact, which plays a role as well. However, that doesn’t necessarily have to be an oversight. It might also be a calculated risk, as lowering piracy might also lower legal revenues through other sales channels.

It might take a few extra years and many more experiments before we truly know what works and what doesn’t. And by then the rules of the game will have probably changed again.

Record Labels Target ‘Singing’ President Obama with Takedown Notices

barrrack-victoryEvery hour of the day dozens of anti-piracy outfits scour the web to find copyright-infringing content, which they then target with takedown notices.

At TorrentFreak we keep a close eye on the notices that are sent to Google search, through the Lumen database, and every now and then we see some unusual requests.

Most recently, we spotted several takedown notices that reference President Obama.

In some of these cases, it was pretty clear that someone had made a mistake. For example, when a few links related to Obama’s “State of the Union” speech were confused with a song from the band “State of the Union.”

As a result, several pages linking to copies or downloads of the President’s yearly address were deindexed by Google.

The wrong “State of the Union”

statunion

A broader trend, however, is record labels going after the President’s musical talents.

More specifically, the parodies produced by the popular YouTube channel “baracksdubs.” These videos, which have millions of views, are also on the ‘watchlists’ of anti-piracy groups.

The ‘cover’ of Justin Bieber’s Sorry, for example. Copies and links to this and other ‘dubbed’ tracks were targeted many times in recent takedown requests, with claims that they’re “allegedly infringing” Justin Bieber’s rights.

sorry

Barack Obama Singing Sorry…(original)

So have the associated record labels lost their sense of humor?

Since the original YouTube videos are still online, it’s unlikely that the labels are intentionally targeting these parodies. They are probably getting flagged by mistake based on keyword triggers.

Some of the links in question are from sites that often link to copyrighted content as well. Many index YouTube videos, allowing users to download them as MP3s. This makes it harder to spot these kinds of errors, especially when most of the takedown process is automated.

The “baracksdubs” people probably don’t mind the issue, as long as their videos remain online, but it shows that mistakes are easily made.

Oh. And for what it’s worth, the issue doesn’t apply exclusively to President Obama. President Elect Trump is getting the same treatment, so we can probably see plenty more of this in the future.

Trump too…

trumptoo