Monthly Archives: August 2019

Disney and Charter Team Up on Piracy Mitigation

With roughly 22 million subscribers, Charter Communications is one of the largest Internet providers in the US.

The company operates under the Spectrum brand and offers a wide variety of services including TV and Internet access.

In an effort to provide more engaging content to its customers, this week Charter signed a major new distribution agreement with The Walt Disney Company.

The new partnership will provide the telco’s customers with access to popular titles in Disney’s services, including Hulu, ESPN+ and the yet-to-be-launched streaming service Disney+.

The fact that these giant companies have teamed-up is a big deal, business-wise and for consumers. Most Spectrum subscribers will likely be pleased to have more options, but there may also be a subgroup that has concerns.

Away from the major headline, both companies also state that they have agreed to partner up on piracy mitigation.

“This agreement will allow Spectrum to continue delivering to its customers popular Disney content […] and will begin an important collaborative effort to address the significant issue of piracy mitigation,” says Tom Montemagno, EVP, Programming Acquisition for Charter.

The public press releases give no concrete details of what this “piracy mitigation” will entail. It does mention that the two companies will work together to “implement business rules” and address issues such as “unauthorized access and password sharing.”

TorrentFreak reached out to Charter for further details, but the company said that it’s not elaborating beyond the press release at this time.

The term “mitigating” suggests that both companies will actively work together to reduce piracy. This is interesting because Charter is currently caught up in a major piracy liability lawsuit in a US federal court in Colorado.

Earlier this year the Internet provider was sued by several music companies which argued that the company turned a blind eye to piracy by failing to terminate accounts of repeat infringers. In addition, Charter stands accused of willingly profiting from these alleged copyright infringements.

Charter’s new agreement with Disney suggests that there could be a more proactive anti-piracy stance going forward. One possibility might be a more strict repeat infringer policy but, without further details, it remains unclear what the “piracy mitigation” entails precisely.

In any case, it will be interesting to see how the two companies plan to put a dent in current piracy levels, and what that means for Charter customers.

Man Tried to Burn Down Telecoms Watchdog to Avenge Pirate Site-Blocking

While copyright holders and many governments see site-blocking as a reasoned and measured response to copyright infringement, some people view it as overkill.

People should be able to access whatever content they want without rich corporations deciding what should and should not appear on computer screens, the argument goes.

For former student Pavel Kopylov, blocking of pirate sites in Russia has gone too far. So, to make his displeasure obvious to Roscomnadzor, the government entity responsible for carrying it out, last year he attempted to burn one of its offices down – three times.

On April 2, 2018, reportedly dissatisfied that his favorite torrent tracker had been blocked, Kopylov went to the local offices of Roscomnadzor,
smashed a window, and threw a bottle of flammable liquid inside together with a burning match. The attempt was a failure – the fire didn’t ignite and a guard was alerted by the noise.

Almost two weeks later, Kopylov returned for a second try. This time a fire did ensue but it was put out, without causing catastrophic damage. A third attempt, on May 9, 2018, ended in complete failure, with a guard catching the would-be arsonist before he could carry out his plan.

Nevertheless, the prosecutor’s office saw the attacks as an attempt to destroy Roscomnadzor’s property by arson, an offense carrying a penalty of up to five years in prison. The prosecution sought two years but in the end, had to settle for considerably less.

Interfax reports that a court in the Ulyanovsk region has now sentenced the man for repeatedly trying to burn down Roscomnadzor’s regional office. He received 18 months probation but the prosecution intends to appeal, describing the sentence as excessively lenient.

Anti-Piracy Efforts Are Unlikely to Beat Sci-Hub

Sci-Hub has often been referred to as “The Pirate Bay of Science,” but that description really sells the site short.

While both sites are helping the public to access copyrighted content without permission, Sci-Hub has also become a crucial tool that arguably helps the progress of science.

The site allows researchers to bypass expensive paywalls so they can read articles written by their fellow colleagues. The information in these ‘pirated’ articles is then used to provide the foundation for future research.

What the site does is not permitted, according to the law, but in the academic world, Sci-Hub is praised by many. In particular, those who don’t have direct access to expensive journals but aspire to excel in their academic field.

This leads to a rather intriguing situation where many of the ‘creators,’ the people who write academic articles, are openly supporting the site. By doing so, they go directly against the major publishers, including the billion-dollar company Elsevier, which are the rightsholders.

Elsevier previously convinced the courts that Sci-Hub is a force of evil. Many scientists, however, see it as an extremely useful tool. This was illustrated once again by a ‘letter to the editor’ Dr. Prasanna R Deshpande sent to the Journal of Health & Allied Sciences recently.

While Deshpande works at the Department of Clinical Pharmacy at Poona College of Pharmacy, his latest writing is entirely dedicated to copyright and Sci-Hub. In his published letter (no paywall), the researcher explains why a site such as Sci-Hub is important for the scientific community as a whole.

The Indian researcher points out that Sci-Hub’s main advantage is that it’s free of charge. This is particularly important for academics in developing countries, who otherwise don’t have the means to access crucial articles. Sci-Hub actually allows these people to carry out better research.

“A researcher generally has to pay some money ($30 or more per article on an average) for accessing the scholarly articles. However, the amount may not be ‘small’ for a researcher/research scholar, especially from a developing country,” Deshpande notes.

Aside from the cost issue, Sci-hub is often seen as more convenient as well. Many professors use the site and a recent survey found that it’s used to conduct research by 62.5% of all medical students across six countries in Latin America.

According to Deshpande, these and other arguments lead to the conclusion that Sci-Hub should be supported, at least until there is a good alternative.

“Reading updated knowledge is one of the essential parts of lifelong learning. Currently, Sci‑Hub is the only answer for this. Therefore, Sci‑Hub has various advantages because of which it should be supported,”
Deshpande concludes.

This is of course just the opinion of one researcher, but the web is riddled with similar examples. A simple Twitter search shows that many academics are sharing Sci-Hub links among each other, and some have even created dedicated websites to show some of the latest working Sci-Hub mirrors.

The major publishers are obviously not happy with this. Aside from lawsuits against Sci-Hub, they regularly send takedown notices to sites that link to infringing articles, including Google.

Recently Elsevier took it a step further by going after Citationsy, a tool that allows academics and researchers to manage citations and reference lists. The service previously published a blog post summing up some options for people to download free research articles.

This blog post also linked to Sci-Hub. Elsevier clearly didn’t like this, and sent its lawyer after Citationsy, requesting it to remove the link.

Citantionsy founder Cenk Özbakır initially wasn’t sure how to respond. Linking to a website isn’t necessarily copyright infringement. However, challenging a multi-billion dollar company on an issue like this is a battle that’s hard to win.

Eventually, Özbakır decided to remove it, pointing to a Google search instead. However, not without being rather critical of the move by Elsevier and its law firm Bird & Bird.

“I have of course taken down any links to Sci-Hub on Citationsy.com. @ElsevierLabs obviously thinks making money is more important than furthering science. Congratulations, @twobirds! We all now that the only thing this will achieve is less people reading papers,” Özbakır wrote on Twitter.

The ‘linking’ issue was later picked up by BoingBoing which also pointed out that many of Elsevier’s own publications include links to Sci-Hub, as we also highlighted in the past.

While not all researchers are unanimously backing Sci-Hub, it appears that this type of enforcement may not be the best way forward.

Pressuring people with cease and desist notices, filing lawsuits, and sending takedown notices certainly isn’t sustainable in the long term, especially if they target people in the academic community.

Perhaps Elsevier and other publishers should use the massive popularity of Sci-Hub as a signal that something is clearly wrong with what they are offering. Instead of trying to hide piracy by sweeping it under the rug, Elsevier could learn from it and adapt.

DISH Files $10m Copyright Infringement Lawsuit Against Easybox IPTV

As the use of unlicensed IPTV services continues to gain popularity with consumers around the world, content owners and broadcasters are faced with a growing illicit market to disrupt.

As a result, copyright infringement and similar lawsuits against ‘pirate’ IPTV providers are definitely on the rise, with US-based broadcaster DISH Network at the forefront.

This week, DISH filed another lawsuit in the United States, this time targeting ‘pirate’ IPTV provider Easybox IPTV. This ‘company’ (the term is used loosely, given the unknown structure of the operation) appears not dissimilar to several others previously targeted by the broadcaster.

The model adopted by Easybox suggests the outfit primarily targets less experienced IPTV users, something that’s supported by the operation offering ready-configured (aka ‘fully-loaded’) devices as well as add-on subscription packages.

Part of the Easybox IPTV offering

The DISH lawsuit, filed in a Texas federal court, list DOES 1-5 individually and collectively doing business as Easybox IPTV. DISH doesn’t appear to know the identities of the people it’s suing but has concluded they may be from China.

The broadcaster says that historical WHOIS records for the service’s domain name suggest a China base while delivery time for devices sent to China is much quicker than those sent to the United States.

At issue are DISH’s ‘protected channels’, i.e those it supplies as a result of licensing agreements obtained from various TV networks. These allow the company to “distribute and publicly perform” in the United States “by means including satellite, OTT, Internet protocol television (‘IPTV’), and Internet.”

Easybox IPTV’s service, which offers “more than 1,000 channels” to its subscribers, includes the ‘protected channels’, a breach of the broadcaster’s rights, according to DISH.

“Defendants use their Easybox Service to transmit the Protected Channels over the Internet to Service Users soon after the original authorized transmission,” the complaint reads.

“Defendants capture live broadcast signals of the Protected Channels, transcode these signals into a format useful for streaming over the Internet, transfer the transcoded content to one or more servers provided, controlled, and maintained by Defendants, and then transmit the Protected Channels to Service Users through OTT delivery.”

An interesting element to the case are the efforts expended by DISH, in advance of this lawsuit, in order to get Easybox to cease-and-desist its activities. According to the broadcaster, since January 27, 2016, DISH and its partners sent at least 116 infringement notices, all of which were ignored.

“Instead [of responding], Defendants prevented DISH’s counsel from viewing Easybox.tv by blocking their Internet Protocol (‘IP’) addresses,” the complaint adds.

On top of the direct notices, from February 8, 2016, more than 170 additional complaints were sent to CDNs associated with the Easybox service. DISH believes at least some of these were forwarded to the IPTV provider since it later countered by switching to different CDN providers.

All that considered, DISH is demanding a permanent injunction against Easybox (and anyone acting in concert with it) preventing it from “transmitting, streaming, distributing, or publicly performing in the United States, with any Easybox set-top box, smart IPTV subscription, subscription renewal, or any other device, application, service, or process, any of the Protected Channels or any of the programming that comprises any of the Protected Channels.”

DISH also seeks a ban on the distribution, sale, promotion or advertising of Easybox services and/or devices, including any inducement for others to carry out the same.

In addition, it requests statutory damages for 67 or more registered works at the rate of $150,000 each (more than $10 million) plus any profits generated by Easybox due to the infringement of non-registered works.

The DISH complaint against Easybox can be downloaded here (pdf)

Netflix’s First Pirate Site Blocking Application Granted in Australia

The rate at which ‘pirate’ sites are being blocked in various countries raises the question of how many more there are left to block.

The answer, it seems, is plenty more yet.

Back in May, yet another application filed in Australia’s Federal Court presented a unique feature – the inclusion of US-based streaming giant Netflix as one of the applicants.

This was the first time the company had appeared requesting a blocking application in the region, claiming infringement of its works Santa Clarita Diet and Stranger Things.

Netflix didn’t appear on its own. The application was headed by local movie giant Roadshow Films and supported by other prominent movie companies such as Disney Enterprises, Universal City Studios, Warner Bros., Television Broadcasts Limited, TVBO, and Madman Anime Group.

Together they demanded the blocking of over 130 domains related to close to 90 torrent, streaming, and similar sites by more than 50 local ISPs.

The claims were filed under Section 115a of Australia’s Copyright Act, which can grant injunctions to force local ISPs to prevent their subscribers from accessing overseas-based ‘infringing locations. It’s taken three months, but the content companies have now been successful.

This morning, Justice Thawley in the Federal Court ordered the respondents including Telstra, Optus, TPG, Vocus, and Vodafone, to take “reasonable steps to disable access to the Target Online Locations” within 15 business days. Each ISP will be handed AUS$50 per domain by the applicants to cover compliance costs.

In common with previous orders, the ISPs were given the option to utilize DNS, IP address, and/or URL blocking techniques (or any other technical means agreed in writing between them and the applications) to prevent access to the sites.

Of course, sites often decide to take countermeasures when orders such as this are handed down in order to circumvent blocking, so the order allows the studios to provide additional information so that these can be swiftly dealt with by the ISPs moving forward.

An updated/amended domain and URL list (there can be changes following an original application) is yet to appear in court records. However, the list of sites and domains in the original application can be viewed in our earlier report.

The order handed down this morning can be found here (pdf)