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Sunday, December 30, 2012

UK Streaming Link Site Operators Handed Suspended Jail Sentences

Two brothers from the UK in their mid-twenties have been convicted for operating websites that indexed links to unauthorized streams of copyrighted movies. The pair were charged in 2010 and this week were handed nine month suspended jail sentences and ordered to complete 150 hours of unpaid work. The convictions follow an investigation by West Yorkshire Police in collaboration with the movie industry group FACT, who feel that in the UK the tide is turning in favor of copyright holders.
With more than a million monthly visitors filmzzz.com and legalmovies.tv were among the most-visited movie streaming indexes back in 2009.
The sites were operated by Faraz and Ayaz Saddiq, two brothers from Leeds, UK. In common with other “linking” sites they didn’t host any copyrighted content but merely linked to it. However, that did not prevent the men from running into trouble with the law.
Tipped off by the Hollywood-funded anti-piracy group FACT, West Yorkshire Police’s Economic Crime Unit launched an investigation into possible copyright offenses. The police confirmed that the two men were responsible for the sites in question and in August 2010 they were charged.
According to the complaint the Saddiq brothers were responding to takedown requests, but made no effort to remove other clearly infringing content. The men were warned that they could be committing a criminal offense under copyright law but continued to operate the websites.
Last week 27-year-old Faraz Saddiq and his 26-year-old brother Ayaz were both sentenced to a 9 month jail terms, suspended for two years. In addition they were ordered to carry out 150 hours of unpaid work.
FACT welcomes the verdict and reports a significant change in attitude since the owner of TV streaming links site SurfTheChannel was sentenced to four years jail-time earlier this year.
“We have seen a definite shift since the conviction and sentencing of Anton Vickerman which proved conclusively that running an ‘indexing’ or ‘search’ site is criminal activity,” a FACT spokesperson told TorrentFreak today.
FACT is using the Vickerman verdict to convince operators of other streaming sites to “voluntarily” hand over their domains to escape prosecution, which many have done since.
“FACT seeks to reduce pirate activity by targeting source piracy and those running criminal businesses providing access to pirated material. However, not every case needs to end up in criminal prosecution and we always attempt to contact site operators to ask them to comply with the law,” FACT explains.
“Anyone who creates content, who works in the film or broadcasting sector or whose family relies on the income from someone working in those areas deserves the right to be protected,” FACT adds.
With these new convictions it appears that the UK has transformed into something of a no-go area for streaming link sites. This is quite different from the position two years ago. In 2010, the admins of TV-Links, a similar linking website, were acquitted because their website was deemed to be a ‘mere conduit’ of information.

U.S. and Russia Announce Online Piracy Crackdown Agreement

The United States and Russia have announced an agreement to crack down on online piracy. The countries have agreed to disrupt sites that facilitate infringement and take action against their operators. As a result, uncertain times may lie ahead for the many BitTorrent and other file-sharing sites hosted in Russia.The agreement also allows for the improved takedown of infringing content and discussions on allowing Russian rightsholders to use the United States’ “six strikes” system.
For many years Russia has been viewed as a soft touch on the issue of copyright infringement.
Dozens, perhaps hundreds of allegedly infringing sites operate there with impunity, some due to aspects of Russian law and others simply because authorities have no interest in doing anything about them.
Of course, this situation is unacceptable to the United States where authorities and rightsholders regularly take the opportunity to complain about the poor levels of protection provided by the Russian authorities. Time and again Russia has given the impression that something might be done, but up to now progress has been slow.
However, yesterday came an announcement from United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk which suggests that for the U.S. things are moving more quickly towards a favorable situation.
Kirk said that the United States and Russian Federation have reached agreement on an Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Action Plan aimed at improving copyright protection and enforcement online.
“Strong IPR protection and enforcement are vital to promoting innovation and creativity by securing the rights of innovators and the creative community, attracting high-technology investment, and fostering the jobs necessary for long-term sustainable growth,” the action plan reads.
If carried through, the plan could have serious implications in the file-sharing space.
According to the USTR, in addition to conducting enforcement actions against unauthorized camcording, agreement has been reached to “disrupt the functioning” of sites that “facilitate criminal copyright infringement.” In addition to disruption – whatever form that may take – Russia has reportedly agreed to take action against the creators and operators of sites through which copyright infringement is committed.
The plan also reveals an agreement on the thorny issue of takedowns. The removal of links to infringing content is a big deal at the moment, with Google being hit particularly hard by rightsholder and their agents. Russia has been criticized in the past for not doing enough on this front but according to the plan has agreed to “provide for takedown of infringing content.”
The USTR also reports that Russian authorities have agreed to conduct “meaningful consultations” with rights holders to take action against high-priority websites. In the short term the sites on that list will probably be the ones submitted to the USTR by the RIAA and MPAA for the “Notorious Markets” report. If that is indeed the case, expect discussions on BitTorrent giant RUTracker, cyberlocker RapidGator, and social networking site Vkontakte.
There are also dozens of public and private torrent sites, plus file-hosting services hosted in Russia at this very moment. Up to now they’ve had a very easy ride and only time will tell if that will change as a result of the agreement.
The plan also gives an idea of where the U.S. sees potential weakness in current Russian law that could hold back potential legal action. According to the USTR, Russian authorities have agreed to support “special legislation” to combat Internet piracy that will “establish a fair framework for liability of Internet service providers in appropriate cases of infringement of intellectual property rights over the
The vast majority of the report is targeted at larger entities that might be engaged in or connected to online piracy, but the USTR appears to have dangled a carrot that would enable Russian companies to target U.S. citizens in a limited way. The United States has agreed to discuss the possibility of allowing Russian rightsholders to use the upcoming “Copyright Alerts” system.

BitTorrent is used by millions of people every day, including people who work at major Hollywood studios.

After revealing that employees at Hollywood movie studios are pirating movies themselves, we now move on to some other high profile organizations. As it turns out, the Big Three record labels are also using BitTorrent to pirate movies and software. And they’re not alone, we also found plenty of pirates at the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, the U.S. House of Representatives and at various European Parliaments.
Most TorrentFreak readers know that when you use BitTorrent without a VPN, the whole world is able to see what you’re downloading and where from.
Dozens of companies collect this incriminating data on alleged BitTorrent pirates, and some even go as far sharing this information in public. This allows us to reveal that unauthorized downloads occur even in the most unexpected of places.
Yesterday we documented that employees at several of the largest Hollywood movie studios are avid BitTorrent users. Today we’ll highlight a few other organizations, starting with three of the biggest record labels, Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group.

Universal Music Group

At Universal Music Group employees have been caught downloading several movies and TV-shows including The Cleveland Show, Transformers and Finding BigFoot. Below are three of the torrents that were shared from static IP-addresses registered to the record label, but there are many more.

Sony Music Entertainment

At Sony Music Entertainment’s New York office we found plenty of BitTorrent pirates as well. The XBox 360 game “Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions” and a recent episode of Gossip Girl are among the downloaded titles the record label is linked to.

Warner Music Group

IP-addresses registered to Warner Music Group are sharing on BitTorrent as well. An episode of Suits for example, and the movies House at the End of the Street and Finding Nemo.
And there’s more.
The U.S. Department of Justice, who are accusing Kim Dotcom of sharing a 50 Cent track, harbors several BitTorrent pirates in their offices too.
The same can be said for the Department of Homeland Security, where not all employees appear to be law abiding citizens.
Sometimes the content that’s being downloaded is rather topical for the organization or institution. For example, here’s what an employee of the “Army Air Force Exchange Services” has downloaded.
And then there are the lawmakers at the U.S. House of Representatives where we see that, among other things, the TV-shows Game of Thrones and Person of Interest are being downloaded.
BitTorrent is also used in the highest political offices in Europe of course.
Moving across the pond we see unauthorized downloads at national parliaments such as the German Bundestag, the Dutch Tweede Kamer, the Spanish Cortes Generales and also at the European Parliament itself.
We can go on and on….
Perhaps what we can learn from this exercise is that there are BitTorrent pirates in all decent sized companies and institutions. We can repeat the above for every outfit that has IP-addresses registered in their name, and a search for FacebookNetflix (!) or Microsoft will bring back plenty of results.

Hollywood Studios Caught Pirating Movies on BitTorrent

BitTorrent is used by millions of people every day, including people who work at major Hollywood studios. Those who are said to be suffering the most from online piracy are no stranger to sharing copyrighted files themselves. New data reveals that employees at Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros., Disney, Sony Pictures and 20th Century Fox are openly pirating movies, games and other forms of entertainment while at work.
While Christmas is a time for sharing there are certain files that some people believe should be excluded from that experience.
For more than a decade the MPAA has waged war against “thieves” who dare to share their movies online. Online piracy is costing the creative industries billions of dollars in lost revenue, they say.
The Hollywood group is therefore one of the main facilitators of the “six strikes” copyright alerts plan that will begin in the coming year. The main goal of this plan is to educate members of the public about piracy, and point them to legal sources.
However, new data uncovered by TorrentFreak shows that the MPAA might want to start in-house, as plenty of copyrighted material is being shared by employees of major Hollywood studios. With help from BitTorrent monitoring company Scaneye we found that BitTorrent piracy is rampant in Hollywood.
Let’s take a look at some of the files these Hollywood studios are sharing, starting with Paramount Pictures. Keep in mind that what we show here is just a small fraction of the files that are actually being shared. It’s the tip of the iceberg.
Static IP-addresses registered to Paramount were associated (e.g.) with the downloading of a wide variety of content as can be seen below. The indie production Battle Force was one of the movies shared, as well as the Lionsgate film The Hunger Games. And what about Happy Feet, a movie distributed by competitor Warner Bros?

Paramount Pictures
At Warner Bros. BitTorrent is also used by many employees. Here there appears to be a particular interest in adult entertainment. The Expendables 2 is also among the titles that were downloaded via Warner Bros. IP-addresses. This is not without risk, as the makers of the movie are known to sue alleged BitTorrent downloaders.

Warner Bros.
Moving on, we see that Sony Picture employees are sharing games, TV-shows and movies at work. The list below includes 20th Century Fox’s Ice Age: Continental Drift, and an episode of Top Chef.

Sony Pictures
20th Century Fox employees appear to be sharing the least out of all studios we checked. We only found three titles: the independent film Jeff, Who Lives at Home, an episode of 90210 and the Ubisoft game Hollywood Squares.

20th Century Fox
Disney is the last studio we checked out, and even at this mighty copyright icon employees are carelessly sharing files on BitTorrent. Fast and Furious 6, for example, and the TV-shows Person of Interest and Downton Abbey.

Walt Disney
The above is no surprise of course. Last year the now defunct website YouHaveDownloadedalready revealed that BitTorrent is used at virtually every company.
That said, it never hurts to point out that Hollywood isn’t without ‘sin’ when it comes to piracy. The MPAA and others lobby very hard for anti-piracy measures, but can’t even stop piracy in the offices of their own member studios.
Finally, we want to point out that we also “caught” BitTorrent Inc. sharing several files on BitTorrent. Interestingly enough, these files were all legally distributed with permissionfrom the makers.

Will New UK Censorship Impact Torrent Sites?

Last week, UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced a new porn filtering system that will go online sometime during the coming year. However, the blockades, which are intended to deal with porn, may end up developing into a backdoor ban on BitTorrent and other file-sharing related sites.
Online censorship is a controversial subject. It’s often used in an attempt to ‘protect’ a group of people from something, but it rarely works as intended, and once in place feature-creep often sets in.
Unfortunately, in the rush to censor content for the claimed good of some group or other, the unintended consequences of these systems usually take a back seat.
In 2008, the UK Internet Watch Foundation (a private company operating confidentially) added a Wikipedia page to their list with the result that all Wikipedia visitors fromCleanfeed-using ISPs used one of a handful of IP addresses, leading to user verification issues and bans.
Another example closer to home involves UK ISP TalkTalk. They offer their customers a filtering system already and TorrentFreak – strictly a news resource – is unavailable when customers turn on the option to block file-sharing sites.
Not all such consequences are unintended, however. The new anti-porn lists, which are opt-out, may end up instituting a block on torrent and other filesharing-related sites. The listswere announced along with a piece by Prime Minister David Cameron in the Daily Mail newspaper (which has plenty of sexually-charged content of its own), who had run a morality campaign on the topic for the last few months.
Torrent site blocking has been postulated occasionally and has been implemented in the UK via High Court orders, which have both over-reached and been easily circumvented. Site blocks in other countries have also been tried, mainly against the claimed “root of all evil”, The Pirate Bay, albeit with extremely limited success (seriously).
The lengthy and costly High Court approach may not be needed now though. Many torrent sites contain, to a greater or lesser extent, pornographic content, as well as more acceptable (but likely still to be blocked) ‘adult’ or ‘mature’ content. As such, we can only assume that torrent sites will be included initially or added later on.
This will be another blow against independent artists and creators who have leveraged the power of torrents to distribute content. And like all other attempts to legislate some personal interpretation of morality, it’s doomed to fail at its intended use, while creeping to the personal desires of those in charge, to the public detriment.
We’ll report more on how these lists impact torrent sites when more details become available.
UPDATE/Clarification 17:33 29/12/2012
While many commenters have pointed to this BBC piece about it being rejected, the piece was written about the rejection of an ‘opt-out’  system, and printed 4 days before Prime Minister Cameron’s Daily Mail announcement. In his plan, the system will be opt-in, and involve the ISPs in some form, but will have the default values (for people that just click through without reading) to turn on a basic level of filtering, if there are children in the house.

Genetic Database to Be Created in UK

Advocates expressed concerns over a £100 million project that will see DNA information of 100,000 cancer patients mapped out in a database. Big Brother Watch has called the plan “wholly wrong”. In the meanwhile, David Cameron promised that the plans will be worked on over the next 5 years to finally hold the genetic details of every UK citizen.

According to the Prime Minister, this move will push the boundaries of science and allow genetic sequencing by unlocking the power of DNA information. However, the UK’s genome plan has also raised some concerns that the information could be used to create commercial deals with such entities as drug firms. People also fear that people having access to the database might use the genetic codes in order to identify and track everyone on it, as well as their relatives.

The Prime Minister’s office also promised that the genome sequencing would be entirely voluntary and the patients will have a choice to opt out without affecting their NHS care.

While the Conservative-Lib Dem Coalition has faced criticism that it’s dismantling the NHS to an outstanding extent, the Prime Minister said the £100 million funding will come from existing NHS budgets. This money will initially be spent on training scientists and creating secure systems to process the data.

According to privacy and civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, the NHS shouldn’t be treated as a government asset, but rather details of people’s illnesses, treatments and hugely personal data. They believe that if private companies want access to medical records, they should ask permission, because it is entirely wrong for this to be an opt-out scheme: everyone can see the implications for privacy. Apparently, assurances of anonymity have been demonstrated to be hollow in other states, so it’s just a matter of time before insurance or marketing companies try to make use of this information.

Despite the outfit has made assurances that the information would be absolutely anonymized before it’s stored, it warned that the government has to listen to a range of opinions, including patient and privacy outfits, in order to prevent policy being introduced just to appease large pharmaceutical firms. They aren’t sure that this policy has fully taken into consideration the real privacy concerns sharing large volumes of patient data entails.

UK Highway Cameras Appeared Useless

It recently turned out that the advanced snooping technology of the British Highways Agency has proved so useless that no drivers at all have received tickets for speeding on the M25.

Although a lot of users of the largest carpark in the world may be surprised that anyone could go fast enough to get a speeding ticket, it’s clear that at least someone must have got past 70 miles per hour during the past year. Local newspapers explained that certain technical and legal difficulties were the reason why the Highways Agency couldn’t switch on the network of 36 new digital cameras.

The cameras were purchased and installed in order to enforce variable speed limits on the London orbital motorway. It was found out that the equipment was wasted only after AOL wondered which section of the road netted the most cash. Surprisingly enough, it turned out that the cameras had caught no speeders at all.

After the first digital camera was installed three years ago, the Highways Agency representative admitted that it had still not received statutory authority to use them in a number of English counties. In the meantime, in other parts of the road, the difficulties were “technical”, with the older generation of “wet film” cameras being upgraded to new digital devices. However, it also turned out that for some reason in a few counties these cameras haven’t even been tested.

The Highways Agency representative failed to reveal how much the overhead cameras had cost or when the organization would be able to use them. In the meanwhile, Jim Fitzpatrick, Labour’s road safety spokesperson, pointed out that the M25 was widely used as a racetrack by many reckless drivers, so it was ridiculous that the network didn’t work.

According to Claire Armstrong, representing the anti-camera group named Safespeed, there’s the only question: if the Highways Agency believed that the cameras were any good, then why wasn’t the outfit using them? 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

UK Copyright Outfit Advised for Transparency

The Open Rights Group made an attempt to avoid complications of website blocking, at the same time having in mind transparency and accountability. The outfit asked ISPs to maintain the public lists of blocked sites, provided by the entertainment industry.


In 2012 the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) in cooperation with ISPs managed to block such websites as The Pirate Bay and Newzbin2 across the country. Nevertheless, these giants were only the primary targets, while received injunctions enable the outfit to block other sites providing access to “rogue websites” via alternative addresses. The lists in question are sent to ISPs that ultimately apply the blockage.

In the meantime, the Open Rights Group asks for transparency and accountability, because this method can easily result in mistakes. For instance, The Pirate Bay injunction lets the music industry lobby group to ask Internet service providers to block www.thepiratebay.se, its sub-domains and all other IP addresses or URLs serving to enable or facilitate access to TPB.

According to media reports, the latest collateral damage appeared to be The Promo Bay – a completely legal site started by The Pirate Bay. In the meanwhile, ORG believes that other sites could share the same fate.

According to Jim Killock, the executive director of the Open Rights Group, the BPI is planning to obtain blocking orders for around 50-100 sites, and each order will allow the outfit to create a ban list of clone websites or IP addresses. Killock points out that these ban lists might end up blocking up to 500 or more domains and IP addresses, all at the behest of the British Phonographic Industry.

As you can understand, there is a clear need for transparency, because there are too many mistakes, which are only being corrected thanks to public pressure. That’s why the Open Rights Group call on Internet service providers and the UK music industry to publish the blocking lists in order to ensure legal transparency and public accountability.

At the moment, the BPI hasn’t provided any comments regarding the ORG’s initiative.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

UN Allowed Deep Packet Inspection

Despite the fact that Germany warned about the implications of allowing deep packet inspection, a UN summit decided that this method can help protect copyrighted works.


Media reports confirm that a UN summit has approved the Chinese proposals to spy on BitTorrent file-sharers. Back in November, Dubai held a meeting where ITU agreed upon a secret Y.2770 proposal, which allowed access to the papers to members only. Another meeting began this week, where the American government and a few Internet companies harshly criticized the decision.

Despite the secrecy around the proposal, a Korean standards body revealed a document saying how network operators are planning to identify embedded digital watermarks in MP3 files and uploading BitTorrent users.

The opponents argue that UN’s agency barely acknowledges that DPI has privacy implications and the potential privacy threats associated with the technology might be mitigated. The matter is that deep packet inspection proves useful in addressing network attacks, detecting malware, or managing applications. However, it also draws attention on other issues like governmental surveillance. The arguments are that mandatory standards can’t be a good idea even if they are well thought through. If the organization forces the world’s tech firms to adopt standards developed in a body which can’t even conduct privacy analysis, it may face dire global consequences for online trust and users’ rights.

The secret proposal also asks Internet service providers to decrypt their subscribers’ online traffic. However, this method has been already used by a number of ITU member countries: for example, Amesys (a unit of the French firm Bull SA) helped Moammar Gadhafi spy on his people in 2011.

This is not the only example: this past summer, New York Times reported about FinSpy – a malware sold by a British firm. The software allowed the distant activation of computer cameras and microphones and was linked to repressive governments, including Turkmenistan, Brunei, and Bahrain.

Anyway, in spite of all warnings, the Y.2770 proposal seems to become just another censorship instrument for the governments to spy on its people and whatever else.


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