Roberto Escobar, brother and former accountant to drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, has sent a letter to Netflix demanding a billion dollars (not a joke) and the right to review all future episodes of the streaming company’s hit show Narcos, to make sure that he and his family are portrayed accurately.
It’s no secret that copyright holders are trying to take down as much pirated content as they can, but one anti-piracy outfit is targeting everything that comes into its path. Over the past week Copyright UNIVERSAL has tried to censor legitimate content from Netflix, Amazon, Apple, various ISPs, movie theaters, news outlets and even sporting leagues.
The story in Sweden is somewhat famous. Sweden was home to the Pirate Bay and had sky high piracy rates. And then Spotify — a company also born in Sweden — launched at home. And piracy rates fell off a cliff. But only for music. Piracy for other products such as TV and movies remained high. Under pressure from the US, Sweden passed a strict anti-piracy law, IPRED. And, when it went into effect, there was a notable decline in piracy rates… but, within months, those rates rebounded to where they had been before, as people quickly figured out new ways to do what they were doing before. And then Netflix launched in Sweden. And piracy rates for TV and movies dropped.
Piracy monetization firm Rightscorp has signed an agreement to provide lawfirm Flynn Wirkus Young with the IP-addresses of persistent pirates. The data will be used to target U.S. Internet users who ignore DMCA notices and settlement offers sent by copyright holders. The first cases are already in progress.
Last month the European Commission adopted a new Digital Single Market strategy with the aim of improving consumer access to digital goods and services. Among other things the Commission says it plans to end the “discriminatory practice” of “unjustified” geo-blocking.
“I want to see every consumer getting the best deals and every business accessing the widest market – wherever they are in Europe,” Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said.
Another part of the strategy is to modernize European copyright law to enable consumers to more easily enjoy online content, such as accessing content they purchased at home in other countries across the EU.
Speaking at music industry event Midem in Cannes yesterday, former Estonian prime minister Andrus Ansip who serves as Vice President for the Digital Single Market shared his vision for the strategy.
“Our people have to get the possibility to buy content [across Europe] like they do at home and our businesses must get the possibility to sell across the European Union like they do at home,” Ansip said.
“Today, we don’t have a Digital Single Market in the European Union. We have 28 relatively small markets and for small European companies it’s practically impossible to understand those 28 different [sets of] regulations.”
Ansip underlined that what is possible in the offline world must be possible in the online world and key issues must be addressed if parity is to be achieved.
“Today, the four basic freedoms in the EU – free movement of people, goods, services, capital – it’s a reality in a physical [world] but it’s not reality in the online world,” Ansip said.
Describing the music industry as a “pioneer” that has grown out of disruption to largely abandon geo-blocking by enabling cross-border access, Ansip addressed concerns that the EU’s plans for modernization of copyright law are something to be feared by content creators.
“I don’t think people here in this room or elsewhere have to be worried. Today, I would like to enjoy [film] masterpieces created by creators. I am ready to pay but because of copyright restrictions, because of geo-blocking, they are not accepting my money,” Ansip said.
“Our aim is to create a win-win situation. I would like to enjoy, I will pay, creators will get more money. This is our way. We don’t want to destroy the whole copyright system based on a principle of territoriality. We have to allow cross-border access to digital content to all people, we have to allow portability.”
Ansip said there are 100 million Europeans who would like to access content in other members states but they can’t because of geo-blocking. Around 271 million cross-border trips with at least one overnight stay are carried out by Europeans each year yet those people cannot always get access to the content they bought legally back home while doing so.
This is just one indication that the law needs to change, but piracy itself will be challenged.
“According to public opinion polls, 68% of film viewers say they are using [illegal] downloads. 20% of Internet users in the European Union are using VPNs to get access to digital content. That’s a huge amount of money that our creators are losing today, so of course we will pay more attention to ‘Follow the Money’ [anti-piracy strategy],” Ansip said.
Assuring content holders that the EU Commission is not hostile towards copyright and rightsholders, Ansip asked the Midem audience to consider the 30% of Canadian Netflix users who use a VPN to access the U.S. version of the service.
“In the European Union our creators are losing huge amounts of money because of piracy but honestly, somehow our legislation is pushing people to steal,” he said.
“Take Spotify, for example. We can say that if somebody is able to provide services with better quality with higher speed, then people prefer to act as honest people. They are ready to pay. They don’t want to steal.”
Highlighting the success of Norway in slashing piracy rates, Ansip says that was achieved by first offering access to quality legal services.
“The European Commission wants to protect the rights of creators but first we have to provide legal access to digital content to all people. Then it will be more fruitful to tackle piracy,” Ansip said.
The FCC’s net neutrality rules don’t even go into effect until June 12, but they’re already benefiting consumers. You’ll recall that the last year or so has been filled with ugly squabbling over interconnection issues, with Level 3 accusing ISPs like Verizon of letting peering points congest to kill settlement-free peering and drive Netflix toward paying for direct interconnection. But with Level 3 and Cogent hinting they’d be using the FCC’s new complaint process to file grievances about anti-competitive behavior, magically Verizon has now quickly struck deals with Level 3 and Cogent that everybody on board appears to be happy with.
And it’s not just Verizon; Level 3 also quickly managed to strike a new interconnection deal with AT&T, and Cogent CEO Dave Schaeffer recently proclaimed Comcast has also become suddenly more amicable of late, turning on ports for capacity quickly and when needed. Comcast, like AT&T and Verizon, has also suddenly announced a new interconnection deal with Level 3 Comcast says it was “delighted” to sign.
That players in the transit and ISP space are suddenly getting along so wonderfully when ISPs insisted net neutrality rules would result in the destruction of the Internet is nothing short of miraculous. It’s almost as if the FCC’s new net neutrality rules are already benefiting consumers, companies and a healthy internet alike!
Netflix performance on FiOS Internet service has been solid ever since Netflix paid Verizon for a direct connection to its network.
Even Verizon’s basic 25Mbps fiber service should be plenty for Netflix, which streams in standard quality at 3Mbps and HD at 5Mbps. But Verizon sales reps told one customer that his 50Mbps service won’t provide the smoothest Netflix experience available. For that, he needs to upgrade to 75Mbps.
In a blog post titled “Verizon Falsely Promising Better Quality Netflix Streaming With Faster, More Expensive Internet Tier,” streaming video industry analyst Day Rayburn wrote yesterday that multiple Verizon sales reps gave him this pitch.
In an effort to gain more subscribers HBO launched its standalone “HBO Now” service earlier this year.
The subscription allows Americans to access HBO’s content, including Game of Thrones, without the need to have a television subscription.
With the offer HBO hopes to drive people away from pirate sites, but it also created a new form of unauthorized use. As with Netflix and Hulu, many people outside the U.S. signed up for the service through VPNs and other geo-unblocking tools.
While Netflix is still fairly lax about geo-unblocking, HBO is now cracking down on the practice. A few days ago thousands of VPN and proxy “pirates” started to receive worrying email warnings.
As Internet users demand more freedom online alongside an ability to consume media in a manner of their choosing, tools allowing them to do so are gaining in popularity.
Notable has been the rise of VPN services, which not only provide an increased level of privacy but also allow users to appear in any country they choose. This opens up a whole new world of content availability – such as better service from Netflix – often at better prices than those offered on home turf.
While popular with consumers, this behavior is frowned upon by distribution companies that spend huge sums of money on content licensing deals specific to their regions of coverage. Losing customers to overseas providers isn’t part of their plan and now some are doing something about it.
Earlier this month media companies SKY, TVNZ, Lightbox and MediaWorks told several Kiwi ISPs that if they don’t stop providing VPN services to their subscribers, legal trouble would be on the horizon.
Within days one of their targets, Unlimited Internet, pulled its VPN service after receiving a letter from a lawfirm claiming breaches of the Copyright Act. However, CallPlus and Bypass Network Services have no intention of caving in to the media giants’ demands.
“To receive without warning a grossly threatening legal letter like that from four of the largest companies in New Zealand is not something we are used to,” wrote Bypass CEO Patrick Jordan-Smith in a letter to the media companies.
“It smacks of bullying to be honest, especially since your letter doesn’t actually say why you think we are breaching copyright.”
Pulling no punches and describing his adversaries as a “gang”, Jordan-Smith likens the threats to those employed by copyright trolls in the United States.
“Your letter gets pretty close to the speculative invoicing type letters that lawyers for copyright owners sometimes send in the US ‘pay up or shutdown or else were are going to sue you’! Not fair,” he writes.
“We have been providing the Global Mode facility for 2 years. In all that time, none of your Big Media Gang have ever written to us. We assumed they were OK with Global Mode and we continued to spend money innovating the facility and providing innovative NZ ISPs with a service that their customers were telling them they wanted – a service that lets people pay for content rather than pirate it.”
The response from Bypass hasn’t been well received by the media companies who now say they will carry through with their threats to sue over breaches of copyright.
“Our position has not changed and unless they remove the unlawful service we will begin court action in the next few days,” says TVNZ chief executive, Kevin Kenrick.
“Each of our businesses invests significant sums of money into the rights to screen content sourced legitimately from the creators and owners of that copyrighted material. This is being undermined by the companies who profit from promoting illegitimate ways to access that content.”
Claiming that the action is aimed at defending the value of content rights in the digital world, Kenrick says that the legal action is not consumer focused.
“This is not about taking action against individual consumers or restricting choice, indeed each of our businesses are investing heavily in more choice so New Zealanders can have legitimate access to the latest TV shows and movies,” the CEO concludes.
While the commercial position of the TVNZ chief is understandable, his claim that this legal action isn’t aimed at reducing choice simply doesn’t stack up. Kiwis using Netflix locally get access to around 220 TV series and 900 movies, while those using a VPN to tunnel into the United States enjoy around 940 TV series and 6,170 movies, something which Bypass Networks believes is completely legal.
“[We provide our service] on our understanding that geo-unblocking to allow people to digitally import content purchased overseas is perfectly legal. If you say it is not, then we are going to need a lot more detail from you to understand why,” Jordan-Smith informs his adversaries.
“Simply sending us a threatening letter, as frightening as that may be, does not get us there and is not a fair reason for us to shut down our whole business.”
While VPN services have always been associated with privacy, in recent years they have bloomed into tools providing much more than a simple way to stay cloaked online.
For a relatively small fee, users of the most popular VPN services can tunnel out of their country of origin and reappear in any one of dozens of countries around the world. This opens up a whole new world of media consumption opportunities.
Citizens of the United States, for example, can access BBC iPlayer just like any other Brit might, while those in the UK looking to sample the widest possible Netflix offering can easily tunnel right back into the U.S.
This cross-border content consumption is not popular with entertainment companies and distributors. It not only undermines their ability to set prices on a per-region basis, but also drives a truck through hard-negotiated licensing agreements.
Tired of dealing with ISPs including Slingshot who offer a dedicated ‘global mode‘ VPN service for customers, last week media companies in New Zealand ran out of patience.
“We pay considerable amounts of money for content rights, particularly exclusive content rights. These rights are being knowingly and illegally impinged, which is a significant issue that may ultimately need to be resolved in court in order to provide future clarity for all parties involved,” Lightbox, MediaWorks, SKY, and TVNZ said in a joint statement.
“This is not about taking action against consumers; this is a business-to-business issue and is about creating a fair playing field.”
Before being granted limited local access to Netflix just last month, Kiwis were required to level their own playing fields by paying for a VPN service and an account at an overseas supplier in order to legally obtain a decent range of premium content. However, the media companies now want to bring an end to that free choice via legal action. Today they claimed their first scalp.
This morning Unlimited Internet became the first ISP to respond to media company pressure by pulling its geo-unblocking service known as “TV VPN” after receiving a warning letter from a lawfirm.
The letter, which has been sent out to several local ISPs, informs Unlimited Internet that its VPN service infringes the Copyright Act of 1994.
Unlimited Internet director Ben Simpson says that while his company doesn’t necessarily agree with that assertion, it has taken down the service nonetheless.
“Geo-unblocking services are a direct result of consumer demand for access to content that is not made available to the New Zealand market,” Simpson says.
“To be on the safe side, we have taken legal advice on this matter and I have made a firm call that we will sit on the sideline until a legal precedent has been set.”