If you get a letter through the post accusing you of Internet piracy, you must be guilty. That’s the message from most copyright trolls and infuriatingly, even some ‘neutral’ lawyers commenting on these cases. But while it might seem daunting, putting up a fight is not only the right thing to do, but can also cause claimants to back off.
Following a series of blocking orders issued by the High Court, UK Internet providers Sky, TalkTalk, Virgin, BT and EE are currently required to restrict access to many of the world’s largest torrent sites and streaming portals.
More than 100 websites have been blocked in recent years and today the court issued the first injunction against domains that offer no direct links, but only software.
The order, obtained today by Hollywood’s Motion Picture Association, targets five popular Popcorn Time forks: popcorntime.io, flixtor.me, popcorn-time.se, and isoplex.isohunt.to.
In his order Judge Birss notes that the Popcorm Time software has little to no legal use. Instead, he mentions that it’s mostly used to download and stream pirated movies and TV-shows.
“It is manifest that the Popcorn Time application is used in order to watch pirated content on the internet and indeed it is also manifest that that is its purpose. No-one really uses Popcorn Time in order to watch lawfully available content,” Judge Birss writes.
“The point of Popcorn Time is to infringe copyright. The Popcorn Time application has no legitimate purpose,” he adds.
Like any form of censorship web blockades can sometime lead to overblocking, targeting perfectly legitimate websites by mistake.
This is also happening in the UK where Sky’s blocking technology is inadvertently blocking sites that have nothing to do with piracy.
In addition to blocking domain names, Sky also blocks IP-addresses. This allows the site to stop https connections to The Pirate Bay and its proxies, but when IP-addresses are shared with random other sites they’re blocked too.
This is happening to various customers of the CDN service CloudFlare, which is used by many sites on the UK blocklist. Every now and then this causes legitimate sites to be blocked, such as CloudFlare customers who shared an IP-address with Pirate Bay proxy ilikerainbows.co.uk.
Although the domain is merely a redirect to ilikerainbows.co, it’s listed in Sky’s blocking system along with several CloudFlare IP-addresses. Recently, the CDN service received complaints from users about the issue and alerted the proxy owner.
“It has come to our attention that your website — ilikerainbows.co.uk — is causing CloudFlare IPs to be blocked by SkyB, an ISP located in the UK. This is impacting other CloudFlare customers,” CloudFlare wrote.
The CDN service asked the proxy site to resolve the matter with Sky, or else it would remove the site from the network after 24 hours.
“If this issue does not get resolved with SkyB though we will need to route your domain off CloudFlare’s network as it is currently impacting other CloudFlare customers due to these blocked IP addresses.”
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.”
Following a series of High Court orders six UK ISPs are required to block subscriber access to many of the largest pirate sites.
The efforts started in 2012 and the list continued to grow in the years that followed.
In a new wave the BPI, which represents the major record labels, has teamed up with music licensing outfit Phonographic Performance Limited to obtain an order targeting a series of MP3 download sites.
This latest round expands the UK blocklist by 17 MP3 download sites, including stafaband.info, rnbxclusive.se, plixid.com and mp3.li. It brings the total number of blocked sites over a hundred, 110 to be precise.
Nearly all of the newly blocked sites are so-called MP3 search engines. However, the list also includes megasearch.co, a website that allows users to find files on the Mega cloud storage service founded by Kim Dotcom.
Early March, US-based company TCYK LLC began demanding cash from customers of the UK’s second largest ISP, Sky Broadband. In 2014 TCYK monitored BitTorrent swarms for individuals sharing their movies without permission and eventually forced Sky to hand over the alleged file-sharers’ personal details.
Virgin Media customers were targeted by an almost identical wave of letters shortly after, this time sent by well-known copyright troll outfit Mircom. Representing several overseas porn companies, Mircom also want cash to make supposed lawsuits go away.
This week the latter case provided a sinister twist. After TF revealed that Mircom was trying to hide its identity from its domain WHOIS, a reader reported the company to domain registry Nominet. Soon after Mircom.co.uk revealed its true operator to be GoldenEye International, another copyright troll outfit that had featured in previous UK cases. Emails currently being sent to letter recipients also confirm that GoldenEye are handling their claims.
The apparent murkiness of these cases only adds to the anxiety of letter recipients, but today they have some good news. Michael Coyle of Southampton-based Lawdit Solicitors informs TorrentFreak he will give his time for free to defend those accused.
Coyle is one of the most experienced UK-based solicitors in the file-sharing arena. Since 2008 he has spoken with or acted for more than 700 individuals who have received so-called Letters of Claim, including those involved in the infamous ACS:Law case that ended with solicitor Andrew Crossley being severely disciplined.
Coyle says he expected that affair to signal the end of ‘trolling’ in the UK but recent events have sadly proven him wrong.
Any regular reader of these pages will be familiar with the term “copyright troll”. These companies have made a business model out of monitoring file-sharing networks for alleged copyright infringements, tracking down alleged offenders and then demanding hard cash to make supposed lawsuits go away.
The practice is widespread in the United States but also takes place in several countries around Europe. Wherever the location, the methods employed are largely the same. ‘Trolls’ approach courts with ‘evidence’ of infringement and demand that ISPs hand over the details of their subscribers so that the copyright holder can demand money from them.
During September 2014, TorrentFreak became aware of a UK court case that had just appeared before the Chancery Division. The title – TCYK LLP v British Sky Broadcasting Ltd – raised eyebrows. From experience we know that TCYK stands for The Company You Keep and is the title of the film of the same name directed and starring Robert Redford, appearing alongside Susan Sarandon and Shia LeBeouf.
While the movie itself is reportedly unremarkable, the response to it being unlawfully made available on file-sharing networks has been significant. In the United States TCYK LLC has filed dozens of copyright infringement lawsuits against Internet subscribers in many states including Illinois, Colorado, Ohio, Florida and Minnesota, to name a few. Those interested in their U.S-based activities can read about them extensively on ‘troll’ watching sites DTD and Fight Copyright Trolls.
The big news today, however, is that TCYK LLC is about to start demanding cash from customers of the UK’s second largest ISP, Sky Broadband. TorrentFreak approached Sky back in September for information on the case but after several emails back and forth the trail went cold. We can now reveal what has transpired.