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Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Search Engines Are Slammed for Encouraging Piracy

The entertainment industry has accused search engine providers for doing not enough to prevent people from finding pirated content on the Internet. It claims that over 50% of people looking at copyright infringing material used search terms which suggested innocent intent.
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The MPAA said that almost 60% of the search queries users enter before accessing infringing material contained generic of title-specific keywords only. In other words, users weren’t necessarily seeking to find pirated content when they began a search – instead of searching for a phrase which would imply a search for illegal content, like “torrent” or “free download”, users only entered the name of the movie and were served up links to illicit material.

The industry insists that search engines remain the most popular way users access illegal content: 3/4 of the respondents admitted to using a search engine to discover pirated content or navigate around domains with infringing material. At the same time, the report shows that only 20% of users access pirated content via search engines, while 35% come from linking services. The rest come from the “other” sources.

In response, Google repeats that it can’t be held liable for people’s decisions to access illegal content like movies and TV shows. But the MPAA still charges the anti-piracy methods of the search giant with being ineffective. The industry claimed that Google’s plan to “demote” the search ranking of websites supporting piracy, enacted a year ago, actually left referrals to those websites flat. However, the Internet Association argues that the industry was blaming the Internet and technology for its problems, because in reality, the worldwide web is empowering content creators and consumers to access more legitimate material than ever before.

The search giants declined to comment at first, but the recent anti-piracy report revealed that Google laid out exactly how it decides to demote and remove infringing websites. The company used the number of valid copyright removal notices as a signal for ranking purposes, but never removed pages from results until receiving a specific removal request. Google explained that even for the sites with the highest numbers of notices, the number of noticed pages was just a tiny fraction of the total number of pages on the website. This is why it would have been inappropriate to take down entire sites.

Google “Condemned” By UK Politicians For Linking to Piracy


A British House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee report has today “condemned” Google’s failure to adequately respond to the issue of online piracy and its refusal to block “infringing” websites on the grounds they might also carry legal material. Citing the recent successful prosecution of a streaming site admin, the committee also calls for punishment in such cases to be extended to 10 years imprisonment.
google-bayDuring the last couple of years entertainment companies have heavily criticized Google for linking to copyright-infringing material in its search results.
Google has responded by removing many millions of links but apparently that’s just not enough. In the past couple of weeks the world’s largest search engine has become a punching bag for the music andmovie industries and today they find themselves battered again, this time by a British House of Commons report.
The Culture, Media and Sport Committee comprises MPs from several parties including those from the Conservative / Liberal Democrat coalition government and Labour opposition. Today in a new report aimed at supporting the creative economy, the Committee dedicates an entire section to copyright and piracy issues. It has many targets for criticism but begins with a swipe at the UK’s leading Internet rights groups.

Open Rights Group

“The relationship between the strength of Britain’s creative industries and robust copyright laws is acknowledged by the Open Rights Group which aims radically to liberalise the use and sharing of copyrighted content.
“While we share the Open Rights Group’s attachment to freedom of expression via the internet, we firmly repudiate their laissez-faire attitudes towards copyright infringement,” the Committee says.
Repeating industry claims that film and music piracy results in lost annual sales of £400 million (while noting it could be well in excess of £1 billion) the report says the Open Rights Group’s “quibbles” that the figures “were not based on exact science” should not detract from the damage piracy causes the creative economy.

IP Crime Unit and site blocking

cityoflondonpoliceThe report goes on to mention the creation of a newCity of London Police unit dedicated to cracking down on intellectual property crime and reveals that a first-of-its-kind conference is being planned “to bring players from across the world to London” to discuss enforcement issues.
On the blocking of infringing websites by ISPs the Committee said there were signs that the courts are making it easier, citing comment from the MPAA supporting “improvements to the justice system” to allow site blocking orders to be obtained more efficiently.
“We encourage businesses to use the current law to bring claims wherever it is feasible for them to do so. There nonetheless remains a systemic failure to enforce the existing laws effectively against rife online piracy,” the report notes.
But inevitably the big guns were turned on the messenger.

Google in the firing line again

The Committee begins by quoting Google itself, who at the time were removing around 9 million URLs from its indexes every month at the request of copyright holders. This was countered with information provided by the BPI who said that despite Google’s alleged algorithm changes, the instances of infringing sites turning up in the top 10 results had fallen only marginally, from 63% in August 2012 to 61% a year later. Clearly the Committee are unimpressed.
“We strongly condemn the failure of Google, notable among technology companies, to provide an adequate response to creative industry requests to prevent its search engine directing consumers to copyright-infringing websites,” the report states in emphasized bold type.
“We are unimpressed by their evident reluctance to block infringing websites on the flimsy grounds that some operate under the cover of hosting some legal content. The continuing promotion by search engines of illegal content on the internet is unacceptable. So far, their attempts to remedy this have been derisorily ineffective,” it continues.
“We do not believe it to be beyond the wit of the engineers employed by Google and others to demote and, ideally, remove copyright infringing material from search engine results. Google co-operates with law enforcement agencies to block child pornographic content from search results and it has provided no coherent, responsible answer as to why it cannot do the same for sites which blatantly, and illegally, offer pirated content.”
Turning up the heat further still in an attempt to have Google held accountable through the reporting of a government office, the report has more proposals.
“We recommend that the Intellectual Property Office’s annual reports include an assessment of the degree of online copyright infringement and the extent to which identified search engines and other internet services facilitate this. We further recommend that the Government consider how it might incentivise technology companies to hinder access via the internet to copyright infringing material.”
Of course, while “carrots” are offered to do something about infringement, no document of this nature could conclude without a recommendation to bring out the sticks.

10 years in jail for “serious” online infringement

Citing the successful prosecution of SurftheChannel owner Anton Vickerman, the report notes that while large scale copyright infringement in the offline world can result in harsh penalties, online those punishments are limited to two years. To sidestep this issue a decision was made to prosecute Vickerman on counts of Conspiracy to Defraud which ultimately secured a four year jail sentence. In future the Committee would like to see such maneuvering become unnecessary.
“We recommend that the maximum penalty for serious online copyright theft be extended to ten years’ imprisonment. Criminal offences in the online world should attract the same penalties as those provided for the physical world by the Copyright, etc. and Trade Marks (Offences and Enforcement) Act 2002,” the Committee notes.

Digital Economy Act

Finally the report criticizes the delay in implementing the controversial Digital Economy Act, stalled now for the best part of three years. In particular, the issuing of warning notices to infringers should come sooner rather than later.
“We recommend that a copyright infringement notification system envisaged by the Digital Economy Act be implemented with far greater speed than the Government currently plans. By targeting information letters to the worst infringers, early implementation will, we believe, serve an important educative purpose which could percolate more widely,” the report states.
However, if the government can’t get its act together, a voluntary scheme between ISPs and copyright holders should be put in place.
“We are encouraged by the progress that has been made towards instituting a voluntary system of warning letters following discussions involving internet service providers and rights owners. If this can be achieved by mutual cooperation rather than legislation, it will be a major step forward.
“However, should voluntary initiatives such as this prove unsuccessful then the Government should ensure that the equivalent measures in the Digital Economy Act are promptly put into effect,” the Committee concludes.

Microsoft Wants Google to Censor Its Wikipedia Page


It’s no secret that copyright holders are trying to take down as much pirated content from Google as they can. This sometimes leads to unavoidable mistakes, but the track record Microsoft is building leans toward sheer incompetence. Last week the software giant’s anti-piracy partner asked Google to remove a link to its Office 2007 Wikipedia entry, several pages on Microsoft.com, and an open source software project for SharePoint templates.
microsoft-pirateUpdate: Microsoft ditched the anti-piracy company that sent the embarrassing takedown notices.
Day in and day out copyright holders send hundreds of thousands of DMCA takedown notices to Google, hoping to make pirated movies and music harder to find.
During the past month alone copyright holders asked Google to remove 20,497,209 URLsfrom its search results. Unfortunately, not all of these requests are legitimate.
Microsoft in particular has a horrible reputation in this regard. While most of the URLs submitted on their behalf do indeed link to infringing content, not all requests are correct. In fact, some takedown notices are rather embarrassing.
Last week, for example, one of Microsoft’s notices asked Google to take down the Wikipedia entry for Office 2007. As can be seen below, in the same notice the software giant also wants a perfectly legitimate tutorial on Microsoft.com taken down.

Microsoft Ditches Anti-Piracy Partner After Embarrassing DMCA Takedowns


A few hours after TorrentFreak uncovered yet another embarrassing list of DMCA takedown requests sent on behalf of Microsoft, the company has decided to cut its partnership with the anti-piracy company responsible. The software giant was forced to apologize for inaccurate notices once too often and has just informed the French anti-piracy outfit LeakID that it’s no longer allowed to send notices on Microsoft’s behalf.
microsoftOver the past year the number of DMCA takedown requests sent out by copyright holders has increased dramatically, and so have inaccurate notices targeting legitimate content.
Microsoft has been one of the most active notice senders and over the past year alone has asked Google to remove more than 10 million infringing URLs from its indexes.
The software giant has also developed a reputation for sending a lot of false notices, most of which have been sent through the French company LeakID.
This morning we again reported on some rather embarrassing takedown notices, which asked for the removal of Microsoft’s own website, its Wikipedia entry and an Open Source project. If that wasn’t bad enough, Microsoft also claimed ownership of a porn video.
It turns out this was the final straw for the company. Microsoft has just announced that it has decided to stop working with LeakID effective immediately.
“Microsoft is committed to ensuring that enforcement measures are appropriate and completely accurate. We are investigating the circumstances of this takedown and have instructed the vendor that it is no longer authorized to send notices on our behalf,” a Microsoft spokesman just informed TorrentFreak.
This makes Microsoft the first company to publicly cut its ties with an anti-piracy company for making too many embarrassing mistakes.
Microsoft’s troubles with LeakID started last year when a DMCA notice ordered Google to remove legitimate webpages from AMC Theatres, BBC, Buzzfeed, CNN, HuffPo, TechCrunch, RealClearPolitics, Rotten Tomatoes, ScienceDirect, Washington Post, Wikipedia and even the U.S. Government.
In another notice Microsoft asked Google to remove a Spotify.com URL and on several occasions they even asked Google to censor their own search engine Bing.
Hats off to Microsoft for taking a stand on this matter in public. For us it probably means that we’ll have fewer mistakes to point out in the future, but it also shows that all our previous digging expeditions have not been in vain.

Mobile Companies Refused to Comment NSA Spying

Major mobile companies refused to say why they hadn’t challenged the court orders which compel them to hand over user’s sensitive information. The phone firms still guard their silence over the controversial collection of metadata by the National Security Agency. A few days ago the secretive foreign intelligence surveillance court declassified its legal reasoning for approving the agency’s phone metadata program periodically over the past 6 years.

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No comments were produced by Verizon, the telecoms giant that was revealed to be under a secret court order to disclose details of the phone records of millions of its subscribers. AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile US also refused to provide any comments over the issue.

CenturyLink, Louisiana-based company, stated that it respects and protects the privacy of its subscribers and only provides information to the authorities when required by law. The company declined to comment on matters of national security.

In its declassified opinion, the surveillance court explained that no telecoms company has ever challenged its orders for the bulk collection of phone records. The opinion implied that by failing to challenge the legality of the move, the mobile companies were accepting its constitutional status.

Seeking clarification, the industry observers asked 5 of the top American mobile companies whether their lack of resistance to the collection of their phone records was indeed an implicit acceptance of its legality. The phone companies were also asked how they could justify to their own subscribers the decision not to challenge the surveillance court orders, while many online giants, including Yahoo, have contested the legality of such data collection. However, no comments were provided to the reporters asking the companies to clarify whether their compliance with the surveillance court orders relating to agency’s data collection was voluntary, or whether they were pressured into conceding without protest.

The decision of the mobile giants not to comment on the NSA requests puts the companies in a very peculiar position. They should understand that by withholding their internal views from the people (their customers, to be precise), the companies are setting themselves apart from equivalent online giants that preferred taking a more bullish stance. In addition, phone companies should realize that they are shrouding themselves in more secrecy than even the secretive foreign intelligence surveillance court – one of the most tight-lipped institutions in the world.

Google Will Ditch Cookies

The search giant has decided to kill cookies and is ready to switch to an anonymous identifier for advertising – AdID. It would replace 3rd-party cookies as the way advertisers track users’ browsing activity for marketing purposes.
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The new instrument will allow users to limit advertisement tracking via browser settings. AdID can be reset by the browser every year, and people are able to create a secondary AdID for super secret Internet browsing sessions.

In case Google goes ahead with the plan it could mark a major change in the $120 billion digital advertising industry. The AdID would only be passed to advertisers and advertisement networks which have agreed to basic guidelines. The search giant believes it would give consumers more privacy and control over how they surf the web.

The company is going to show the idea to industry participants, government bodies and consumer groups very soon. Industry observers confirm that lately 3rd-party cookies have been too popular, and many browsers started blocking them. In case Google follows through with its own version of this approach, the users will get more control over how they are tracked on the Internet. At the same time, it will also give Google a lot more power.

Brazil Calls for Online Freedom from Surveillance

President of Brazil Dilma Rousseff claimed that the country is fed up with US Internet spying, and announced that it will set up a local network to divorce itself from the Internet. President also ordered a series of measures to enhance online independence and security.

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Rousseff is miffed that the US National Security Agency intercepted her own communications, hacked into the state-owned Petrobras oil company’s network, and even spied on the citizens who entrusted their personal data to social networks and search engines. Today industry observers are worried that such moves indicate the beginning of the Balkanization of the Internet.

For example, director of the Open Technology Institute said that that the global backlash is only beginning and seems to get worse in coming months. At the moment, Brazil wants online data to be stored locally, but this could break popular software apps and services and endanger the open structure of the worldwide web. Moreover, this would be very time consuming and costly, while encouraging repressive governments to seek greater technical control over the web to crush free expression.

In most cases, it is nations advocating greater “cyber-sovereignty” wanting such control, with Western democracies led by the US and the EU in opposition. In response, the repressive countries can now say that is just making it easier for Western governments to spy on them.

American digital security experts warned that moves from Brazil can embolden some of the “worst nations out there” to seek more control over their Internet. Apparently, the “worst nations” include Russia, China, Iran and Syria.

President of Brazil is going to build an underwater fiber optic cable directly to Europe. Moreover, Rousseff is planning to link to all South American nations into a network free of US surveillance. This is because there’s a common understanding between Brazil and the EU data privacy. Brazil has claimed that the negotiations are underway in South America for the deployment of land connections between all countries. Another suggestion is to build more Internet exchange points to route the local traffic away from potential interception. The country’s postal service is also going to create an encrypted email service which could serve as an alternative to Gmail and Yahoo. 

There Are 430 Million Active Pirates Out There

A recent survey has discovered that online piracy is growing rapidly (well, this wasn’t a news). According to the estimations, 432 million people per month used the worldwide web to access copyright infringing material. Within a month, all these pirates consumed 9,567 petabytes of illegal content, mostly via BitTorrent. To put it simply, about 25% of all Internet traffic is attributed to piracy.

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The conclusion of the report was also nothing new – despite anti-piracy policies and enforcement actions, piracy cannot be stopped. The researchers admit that the practice of infringement is “tenacious and persistent”. Sometimes the industry succeeds in limiting infringement, but not for long. At the moment, the piracy universe not just persists in attracting more users, but also hungrily consumes increasing amounts of bandwidth.

Among the most visible trends the observers point at direct download “cyberlockers” losing plenty of visitors within the last couple years, while other platforms, on the contrary, expanded their user bases. So, within 2012, the number of pirates using cyberlockers decreased by 8%, and the most obvious reason for this is MegaUpload shutdown. In the meantime, the number of file-sharers using BitTorrent and video streaming platforms grew by 27% and 22% accordingly.

Today most illegal file-sharers use direct download and torrent services, both accounting for 200 million unique users per month. This figures excluded users who never download any infringing content, and their share is only 4% for BitTorrent and 8% for direct download services.

The total bandwidth generated by illegal file-sharers in Europe, North America and Asia-Pacific is estimated at over 9,500 petabytes of data – so, you can guess that global traffic far exceeded 10,000 petabytes. Here BitTorrent is the absolute leader, and this makes sense – people both download and upload content, thus generating twice as much traffic. At the same time, cyberlocker users downloaded relatively little data – about 338 petabytes per month.

Talking about regional trends, direct download services are preferred in the Asia-Pacific region, and BitTorrent is popular in Europe and North America. Although there is no clear way these numbers could be translated into losses for the entertainment industry, the latter will undoubtedly leave no opportunity unused to turn the results of the survey to its advantage.

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