Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Piracy Boosts Concert Ticket Sales, Hurts Box Office Revenue

Over the past decade there have been dozens of detailed reports researching the prevalence and effects of piracy.

With a wide array of results, it’s hard to draw uniform conclusions but as the research adds up, stable patterns start to emerge.

The Global Online Piracy Study, published by the University of Amsterdam’s Institute for Information Law (IViR) today, is an important contribution to this field.

The research is the result of extensive consumer surveys among 35,000 respondents, including over 7,000 minors, in 13 countries. Combined with similar data collected in 2014, it shows how online piracy habits are changing.

One of the main conclusions is that the number of online pirates is decreasing in most of Europe. This decline is visible in France, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and Sweden. Of all surveyed countries, only Germany saw a slight increase in the number of pirates.

In the surveyed countries across Europe, the piracy rate among Internet users is the highest in Spain, but this is topped by Brazil, Thailand, and Indonesia in the full sample.

Number of Internet users accessing content illegally

TorrentFreak spoke to Dr. Joost Poort, one of the authors of the report, who notes that pirates and legal users are largely the same people. In fact, roughly 95% of all pirates also consume content legally, and they typically spend twice as much as their non-pirating counterparts.

This doesn’t mean that pirates are rich, of course. In fact, the research shows that a higher per capita income is linked to a lower number of pirates per legal users. In other words, ‘poorer’ countries have relatively more pirates.

Lower income = more pirates

When people are asked about the reason why they pirate, the cost factor is also frequently mentioned. Pirating is free which is convenient for those who have little to spend. But does that mean that it also leads to a decrease in sales? Is piracy hurting revenues?

According to the research, there’s an overall negative effect of piracy on media sales. However, this doesn’t apply to minors. The latter makes sense, as that group has relatively little to spend anyway.

“This study confirms earlier studies in finding statistical evidence that illegal consumption of music, books, and games displaces legal consumption,” the report reads.

“However, the displacement coefficients are surrounded with substantial uncertainty. Separating these results between minors and adults suggests that displacement occurs for adults and not for minors.”

What’s also worth highlighting is that piracy doesn’t affect all media and entertainment types the same. It even benefits some revenue streams.

For example, the data suggest that every ten music albums pirated leads to three extra concert or festival visits. However, at the same time, it leads to a significant drop in physical album sales and digital downloads, while music streaming remains unaffected.

For video content, including movies, online piracy doesn’t appear to affect sales of physical copies or digital downloads. Here, however, cinema visits and online streams are severely impacted.

“For live concerts and music festivals, a positive sampling effect is found. For audio-visual content, no such sampling seems to occur for the cinema, which suffers from statistically significant displacement, as do digital streams.”

To give an illustration, the data suggest that ten downloaded movies would in general lead to four missed cinema visits.

While the research provides evidence for the negative effects of piracy, the authors don’t see any evidence that stricter copyright laws or enforcement against individuals are a good solution.

Instead, legal content providers should focus on making their work readily available for a good price.

“In terms of policy, obviously hunting down the industry’s largest customers is not the best of ideas. Rather, push for better availability, affordability, and findability of legal content. Affordability of large platforms in lower-income countries is certainly an issue,” Poort tells us.

“If you must do something in terms of enforcement, website blocking seems to be a much better strategy than going after consumers. There is some solid looking evidence for effectiveness in the UK.”

Finally, it is worth noting that this is a follow-up to a controversial EU-funded study. That report made headlines last year because the European Commission held it back. The latest version is funded by Google which had no such restrictions.

“This builds on the EU study that caught some traction because the commission was very reluctant to publish it. This time, Google financed it and respected our academic interests and independence so much better than the Commission did…,” Poort says.

A copy of Global Online Piracy Study is available here (pdf).

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Tron Wants to Give BitTorrent Users Financial Incentives to Seed

Late May, TorrentFreak learned that Justin Sun, the entrepreneur behind the popular cryptocurrency TRON, was about to acquire BitTorrent Inc, the company behind the uTorrent and BitTorrent Mainline torrent clients.

BitTorrent Inc. acknowledged that negotiations were underway but few official details became available until last week when both BitTorrent Inc. and the TRON Foundation confirmed the acquisition had taken place.

“We are excited to announce that TRON has officially closed its acquisition of BitTorrent,” BitTorrent Inc. announced.

“With this acquisition, BitTorrent will continue to provide high quality services for over 100M users around the world. We believe that joining the TRON network will further enhance BitTorrent and accelerate our mission of creating an Internet of options, not rules.”

The joining of the TRON network and in excess of 100 million BitTorrent users is an intriguing proposition but precisely how the pair will mesh and provide value to each other is yet to be revealed. Following a new announcement from Sun, however, we have an early sign that the bandwidth of at least some BitTorrent users could eventually become monetized.

Under the current arrangement, BitTorrent users in public torrent swarms are left to make their own decisions about what content they obtain, where from, and for how long they choose to share that content (seed) once they have it on their own machines. It’s a personal choice that has few motivations beyond basic altruism.

This system has worked exceptionally well for more than 15 years but it now appears that Sun has plans to introduce financial incentives into the equation, a move that he believes will improve the quality of the BitTorrent sharing experience.

“Currently, we are exploring the possibility of using the TRON protocol to improve the BitTorrent protocol, in order to make BitTorrent protocol faster and lengthen the lifespan of BitTorrent swarms. I hope the integration of TRON and BitTorrent will allow both parties to work better as one in the future,” Sun says.

“By integrating the TRON network into Bittorrent, we aim to improve on the currently existing altruism. At this point, there are no incentives for peers who have completed downloading to continue to seed. We intend to extend rewards to peers who seed torrents, infusing more resources into the torrent ecosystem.”

The common sense conclusion is that Sun envisions a system in which BitTorrent users can earn TRON (TRX) by sharing content with other BitTorrent users. This appears to be based on the theory that people will share more and for longer when they’re being rewarded financially for doing so.

If people are able to be incentivized in this manner, the knock-on effect should be a greater number of seeders overall and a corresponding increase in upload bandwidth availability. In theory, at least, this should not only translate to faster downloads but also greater content retention.

“The TRON network will serve as the underlying protocol of the Secret Project. Hundreds of millions of BT users across the globe will become a part of the TRON ecosystem,” Sun notes.

“BT will be the largest application on the TRON network, which will allow TRON [to] surpass Ethereum on daily transactions and become the most influential public blockchain in the world.”

While it’s clear that Sun envisions BitTorrent users having the ability to get paid for seeding, it’s unclear who will be picking up that bill. The most obvious conclusion is that the people who utilize that extra bandwidth (downloaders) will have to pay to access it, but that part of the puzzle is currently up in the air.

The other interesting possibility is that given BitTorrent users’ ability to get paid for seeding (and presumably downloaders being charged for downloading) there is the opportunity for a legitimate content market operating with a twist on traditional buy/sell lines. Sun hints at that within his announcement.

“The integration of BitTorrent and TRON will offer new possibilities to global payment and settlement of online content. The creators of this content could reach hundreds of millions of global users through this decentralized network without any intermediaries,” he writes.

There can be little doubt that the monetization of the BitTorrent ecosystem has the potential to startle those who have become accustomed to an entirely altruistic system. However, Sun is offering a number of assurances, including that his “Secret Project” will not associate itself with any mining projects, meaning that torrent clients themselves won’t become slaves to the system.

“Various industries will be significantly affected by these changes. Secret Project will not associate itself with any mining projects, nor will it have any negative impact on BT user experience,” Sun adds.

“For BT users, Secret Project is only going to strengthen the current BT protocol and make it stronger and more competent.”

While it’s early days, these words should be of some comfort to those who fear that the entire system could eventually become monetized to the detriment of free users who’ve supported the system for many years. That would be a nightmare scenario for millions of users and would almost guarantee an exodus.

However, acting as a behavior regulator is the ability of BitTorrent users to adopt whichever torrent client they like if uTorrent or BitTorrent Mainline prove too restrictive or unpalatable. Given that keeping user numbers up is probably one of the main priorities, people shouldn’t expect anything too drastic in the short term.

Finally, it’s worth pointing out that the idea of paid seeding isn’t new. Back in 2015, we reported on JoyStream, a torrent client that aimed to improve BitTorrent by facilitating Bitcoin payments in exchange for upload bandwidth – or content, whichever way one prefers to look at it.

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Monday, July 30, 2018

EA Takes Down ‘Open Source’ SimCity 2000 Remake

SimCity 2000 is without a doubt one of the most iconic games in history, one that paved the way for hundreds of other ‘building’ titles.

The game was first released in 1993 for Apple computers, but it later made its way to the PC and several gaming console platforms as well.

After more than a quarter-century, SimCity 2000 still receives plenty of interest from nostalgic gamers who like to relive their early gaming experiences. This is likely one of the reasons why developer Nicholas Ochoa decided to code a remake using the Electron framework.

The game, titled OpenSC2K, was released on GitHub earlier this year and received quite a bit of attention on sites such as Reddit and Hacker News.

While it is billed as an “open source” version, the remake did include original artwork, belonging to Electronic Arts. These images and sounds are definitely not free to use, something the developer is fully aware of now.

A few days ago Electronic Arts sent a DMCA takedown notice to GitHub asking the platform to remove the infringing repository from its site.

“Assets from the game SimCity 2000 are being infringed upon,” EA writes. The company points out that the game can be purchased legally through Origin where it’s still being sold for a few dollars.

While OpenSC2K is far from a full remake, Electronic Arts makes it clear that the SimCity 2000 assets are not for public use.

“The current audiovisual output of the repository creates content that infringes on Electronic Arts copyright. As long as that continues to happen, no other changes other than removal is sufficient to address the infringement,” the company writes.

Soon after this DMCA notice was submitted, OpenSC2K was indeed taken offline, replaced with GitHub’s standard DMCA notification.

The takedown effort shouldn’t come as a complete surprise to the developer. When he announced the project earlier this year, several people pointed out the potential copyright issues.

This is also the reason why the developer came up with an asset conversion tool early on. That would make it possible to replace the original artwork with open source content, however, due to some code changes and other priorities, this hasn’t happened yet.

“The assets are not freely licensed but are currently being included. I have a working asset conversion tool that can pull the original game art from the game files, but I’ve since pushed out a complete rewrite of the engine that broke a few things,” the developer wrote.

TorrentFreak reached out to the developer to ask whether he’s considering bringing the game back without the infringing artwork but at the time of publication, we were yet to hear back.

What remains, for now, are a few screenshots and YouTube videos of the remake in action.


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German Supreme Court: WiFi Operators Not Liable For Pirating Users

In many jurisdictions it’s common for those who commit wrongs online to be responsible for their own actions. In Germany, things haven’t been so straightforward.

Due to a legal concept known as ‘Störerhaftung’ (‘interferer liability’), a third party who played no deliberate part in someone else’s actions can be held responsible for them.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this legal quirk has made itself known in a number of file-sharing cases where customers have used someone else’s WiFi to commit infringements.

While this was convenient enough for copyright holders (there was always someone to blame), it meant that few people wanted to operate open WiFi. This stood in stark contrast to the situation in many other EU countries where open WiFi networks are both ubiquitous and good for trade.

In 2016, the German government promised to do something about the problem by
ensuring places like cafes and hotels would exempt from costs for court proceedings when people use their infrastructure for things such as infringement.

In 2017, regulation was put in place to help facilitate greater access to open WiFi but the environment remained chilled. Despite assurances operators wouldn’t be prosecuted under German law, many believed that EU law might still hold them liable.

Last week, however, an important step was taken when Germany’s supreme court upheld the 2017 amendments to the Telemedia Act. The Federal Court of Justice (BGH) decided that the legislation is indeed compatible with EU regulations.

The case relates to an incident back in 2013 when a man challenged a company attempting to fine him for sharing a game online. DW reports that the IT worker had been running several open WiFi networks and Tor servers, one of which was used to download and share the game Dead Island.

In common with many copyright-troll style cases, game owner Deep Silver, a subsidiary of Koch Media, demanded that the man pay 1,000 euros to make a supposed lawsuit go away.

Acknowledging there should be a means for incidents of copyright infringement to be dealt with, the BGH found that WiFi providers can be told to prevent access to file-sharing services and even block entire websites, something which helps copyright holders prevent sharing of their works.

In 2016, in a case involving Pirate Party member Tobias McFadden, the European Court of Justice previously ruled that WiFi providers cannot be held liable for third-party infringements providing local courts or authorities can order WiFi providers to take measures to stop repeat incidents of infringement.

“[T]he directive does not preclude the copyright holder from seeking before a national authority or court to have such a service provider ordered to end, or prevent, any infringement of copyright committed by its customers,” the Court found.

The case ruled upon last week is now likely to head off to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for a final decision.

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Top 10 Most Pirated Movies of The Week on BitTorrent – 07/30/18

This week we have three newcomers in our chart.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is the most downloaded movie.

The data for our weekly download chart is estimated by TorrentFreak, and is for informational and educational reference only. All the movies in the list are Web-DL/Webrip/HDRip/BDrip/DVDrip unless stated otherwise.

RSS feed for the articles of the recent weekly movie download charts.

This week’s most downloaded movies are:
Movie Rank Rank last week Movie name IMDb Rating / Trailer
Most downloaded movies via torrents
1 (8) Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (subbed HDRip) 6.5 / trailer
2 (1) Escape Plan 2: Hades 3.9 / trailer
3 10) Sanju 8.8 / trailer
4 (2) Rampage 6.3 / trailer
5 (3) Tully 7.2 / trailer
6 (…) Extinction 5.9 / trailer
7 (6) Avengers: Infinity War (HDCam) 9.1 / trailer
8 (4) Ready Player One 7.7 / trailer
9 (…) Raazi 7.9 / trailer
10 (…) Deadpool 2 (Subbed Rip) 8.0 / trailer

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN reviews, discounts, offers and coupons.

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Sunday, July 29, 2018

Google Categorically Refuses to Remove The Pirate Bay’s Homepage

In recent years, Google has had to process an incredible number of takedown requests, aimed at ‘pirate’ sites in search results.

While most of these notices do indeed list links to copyright-infringing content, not all are.

There are the obvious errors, where Wikipedia, Justice.gov, or NASA are targeted, for example. But even sites with a clear pirate stigma have pages that are not directly infringing.

Take The Pirate Bay’s homepage, which contains the iconic pirate ship logo, a search box, as well as some other links. However, there is no direct mention of copyright-infringing content that warrants a ‘takedown.’

That doesn’t prevent copyright holders and various reporting agencies from trying to remove it from Google though. Data provided by the Lumen team, which maintains an archive of all the DMCA notices Google search receives, shows that Pirate Bay’s homepage has been targeted dozens of times.

This year alone, at least 15 separate takedown notices ask Google to remove ThePirateBay.org from its index. Most of these are sent by the reporting agency Digimarc, on behalf of book publishers such as Penguin Random House, Kensington Publishing, and Recorded Books.

The most recent was sent just a few days ago, accusing TPB’s homepage of hosting or linking to an infringing copy of “Star Wars: The Original Radio Drama.” A few days earlier a similar notice accused the same page of linking to the French version of Stephen King’s The Running Man.

These notices also list other totally unrelated links which are hard to explain, as the image below shows. However, we won’t dwell on that here.

One of the takedown attempts

Over the years, The Pirate Bay’s homepage has been targeted more than 70 times. And even then we’re only counting the official domain names, ThePirateBay.org and ThePirateBay.se.

The oldest public notice we could find was sent by the American sports promotion company Zuffa. In January 2013 the company identified several infringing Pirate Bay links, but also added in the site’s homepage.

While there’s no shortage of reports, TPB’s homepage is still in Google’s index.

Since TPB’s homepage is not infringing, Google categorically refuses to remove it from its search results. While the site itself has been downranked, due to the high number of takedown requests Google receives for it, ThePirateBay.org remains listed.

Google did remove The Pirate Bay’s homepage in the past, by accident, but that was swiftly corrected.

“Google received a (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) take-down request that erroneously listed Thepiratebay.org, and as a result, this URL was accidentally removed from the Google search index,” Google said at the time.

“We are now correcting the removal, and you can expect to see Thepiratebay.org back in Google search results this afternoon,” the company added.

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DI.FM Thwarts Pirates But Prefers to Focus on Great Electronic Music

Anyone with a keen interest in electronic music styles will probably be aware of DI.FM, aka Digitally Imported. The service, which offers close to 100 channels of curated content, is a goldmine of classics and upcoming tracks covering every conceivable genre.

From Chiptunes to Deep House, from Bassline to Drum and Bass, DI has something for everyone. It’s available for free, ad-supported, or premium if people want zero adverts and high-quality streaming. Of course, premium models tend to attract pirates and DI’s experience is no different.

For several years, a Russia-based service known as DiForFree has, perhaps unsurprisingly, been offering DI.FM for free. All of DI’s channels were mirrored by the service, pumping out 320K audio via a web interface and an Android app. It’s unclear how many people used the pirate product but it’s safe to say that those who used it, loved it.

Back in May, however, DiForFree began to break down. At first, it was unclear why channels were disappearing from the service but a policy change at DI itself provided an explanation.

DI previously offered free premium trials via its site, a feature that was leveraged by DiForFree to obtain access to DI’s high-quality channels. With a switch to free trials only being offered via DI’s iOS and Android apps, DiForFree lost its source for accounts. On May 21, the pirate service announced that it may not be able to continue but was looking for solutions.

The real DI.FM

After a period of literal radio silence, in recent weeks DiForFree began to come back to life. It seemed that they’d solved the trial problem and last week, most if not all channels were working again. Then, during the past few days, everything shut down in a more dramatic way than before.

“You probably already noticed that nothing works. So, we were amused here on all fronts,” DiForFree told its users.

“Since May 25, we have been working on a paid subscription, but now they have an account that is automatically blocked when a certain number of connections are exceeded.”

Adding insult to injury, DiForFree reported that DI had discovered the IP address of the server it had been using to extract content. After that was blocked, nothing worked.

“Most likely this is the end. If we do not come up with anything, then the service will be closed, the code will be published on GitHub or somewhere else, and the domain will be sold and forgotten,” DiForFree said this week.

With things looking pretty final, TF spoke with DI founder and CEO Ari Shohat to find out more about the service and the issues raised by rogue services tapping its content.

“I started DI.FM (then called Digitally Imported) back in 1999. I was in college, and all I wanted to do was to share good music with others,” Shohat informs TF.

“It started with one channel, and evolved into what is now over 90 channels. We also plan on launching a Playlists section as well in the near future, further providing more varieties and combinations of great electronic music.”

So has a war been raging behind the scenes between DI and DiForFree? According to Shohat, not really.

“We haven’t been waging any war. We’ve just finally been getting around to plugging a few inefficiencies of which we were always aware,” he explains.

“All the methods that [DiForFree] (and others) have used in the past, we were aware of them from day one. They and some others started with abusing our free trial system, scripting things to start automatic seven-day trials, among other things. It’s just that to dedicate our limited resources on working around this would bring in diminishing returns, if any at all.”

Shohat says that while winning a battle here and there is possible, losing the war is a likely scenario since there are always people intent on getting something for free. So, instead of spending disproportionate resources on dealing with pirates, the company chose to do what it does best – service its legitimate customers.

“We were focusing on our needs and other development items for actual real users who were happy to use our service as it was, rather than go on a wild chase wasting time. I wish the music industry back in the day took this approach as well, to let pirates do what they do without making a big stink and just work to make different services better and more available for all, to compete with piracy,” he says.

“Recently we found a bit more time, and finally did some of the changes we planned all along which we knew would limit this activity. As everyone knows, this is a constant ‘tug of war’.”

Shohat told us that he’s not pro-piracy and from a business perspective he doesn’t want people short-cutting his premium offer. That being said, he did hint at a grudging admiration for the persistence of pirates and assumes there are some really talented people behind operations like DiForFree.

On the piracy front overall, Shohat acknowledges that it’s not going away anytime soon but believes that a reluctance to innovate years ago fanned the flames under a problem that persists today.

“My outlook on these things is definitely through the prism of what happened in the Napster era. The record industry, it seemed to me, did everything it could to prolong its days of selling CDs rather than evolve digital. And so this meant going to war with ‘pirates’,” he notes.

“But I saw that so many of the people who pirated only did so because there were no legal alternatives – you could have your wallet open and there was no legal and/or good service which could serve your needs. Not only that, it seemed like until Apple they did everything they could to limit innovation and wouldn’t even work on making it happen. And even then they reluctantly went along with Apple. That is what pissed me off most of all.”

Shohat says that in respect of digital services, the landscape today is very different from the one back then. Digital revenues are on the rise but the turnaround could’ve happened so much sooner if the record industry had reacted earlier.

“In my opinion, this could have happened a decade earlier would they just focus on innovation and giving the users what they wanted rather than fighting piracy, which in the end turned out to be not that big a deal once good legal options existed.

“One way to look at piracy is like the canary in the coalmine, if you have a big piracy problem then something is wrong with what you are doing – either your process sucks, you have leaky buckets, or your service sucks and people go elsewhere to get what they want or how they want it.

“It’s a bit like those who short stocks when they feel a company is going to have bad times – it should be a signal to do something different, not to point fingers and blame them for creating a problem,” he concludes.

DI.FM is available here for free but at just a few bucks a month, its premium offer is well worth the money. Android and iOS users can also get a month free trial.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN reviews, discounts, offers and coupons.

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Saturday, July 28, 2018

No, Pirate Sites Are Not the #1 Online Source For Malware

Protecting children in our society is one of the noblest things one can do. In both the physical and digital worlds, children need high-quality guidance.

While most of this support should come from parents and others closely involved with a child’s upbringing, groups like UK non-profit Internet Matters are there to provide advice when the adults around need help themselves.

This week the London-based group teamed up with the Mumsnet website to publish a guide titled “Internet safety and the dangers of digital piracy.” Perhaps unsurprisingly given recent trends, the report focuses on the apparent threats posed by “fully-loaded” set-top boxes running Kodi and similar applications.

“[I]f your children stream illegal content online, also known as digital piracy, it can expose them and you to cyber threats, disturbing pop-ups and unexpected harmful content,” the guide notes.

“The risks typically associated with digital piracy can take place on dodgy websites and preloaded streaming devices, sometimes known as Kodi boxes, but they can also occur through any number of illegitimate apps on mobiles, tablets or smart TVs.”

While some of the claims made in the guide are overly generic, it does make some very good points. Accessing content from illegal streaming sites rarely comes with the age restrictions available on services such as Netflix, for example, so parents should always be aware of the risks and act in a supervisory role.

“Explicit adverts may pop up and there’s no standard organization of age-restricted content, meaning 18+ films like Fifty Shades can sit right next to U-rated content such as Finding Nemo,” the guide notes.

The guide also correctly states that some fully-loaded devices can come with porn apps installed. Again, it’s the responsibility of the parent to ensure that their children aren’t left unsupervised to use such a device, particularly (given their child’s age) they were probably the one to buy it.

There are few complaints when it comes to the guide’s legal advice either. As part of the EU, streaming copyrighted content in the UK is illegal, as is marketing and selling pre-loaded devices configured for piracy. All ok so far, but then the guide mixes apples and oranges to spook the unknowledgeable reader.

“Whilst families haven’t yet been the target of police investigations, the consequences
of watching pirated content should be considered, both from a legal standpoint
and the inappropriate content children could be exposed to,” the guide notes.

“For example, a man was recently hit with an £85,000 demand for sharing his stream of a pay-to-view boxing match on Facebook with over 4,250 people.”

The kind of person who can get value from this kind of basic guide isn’t going to appreciate the differences between someone who streams to the public and someone who watches a stream at home. Simply reading “£85,000 demand” might be enough for them to throw their device in the trash (which may have been the intention), but perhaps we’re being a little bit picky here.

Statements like these, however, deserve no such leeway.

Like the majority of claims in the guide, this statement is offered without citing a source. So, we contacted Internet Matters to ask where this information had been obtained. Unfortunately (and despite having several days to do so) they didn’t respond.

The reason we asked is simple: we don’t believe either element of the claim is true. So, we approached some experts for their opinions. We asked two questions based on the precise wording of the Internet Matters claim.

1. Are pirate sites the most common source of malware infection? If not, what is the most common source/vector?

2. Does streaming pirated media put devices at direct risk of infection?

The first responses came back from respected security expert Mikko Hypponen from F-Secure.

“Pirate sites are not the most common source for infections, and it hasn’t been since the early 1990s. Today, the most common ways of getting infected are via malicious email attachments, browser plugins and extensions and web exploit kits,” he told TorrentFreak.

“Streaming pirated media is not a security risk, as long as the user does not install additional applications, browser plugins or codecs to stream.”

We also received a detailed response from Luis Corrons, Security Evangelist at Avast, who told us that the Internet overall is the most common source of malware, but websites are not the sole driver.

“If we look at some of the biggest malware outbreaks, like SQLSlammer, Blaster or the recent WannaCry attack, they all are network worms that have infected millions of computers without having to visit any webpage,” Corrons explained.

“The problem with pirate sites is that it’s hard to know who is behind them. If you visit YouTube or Vimeo, most people are familiar with their parent companies. But in the case of some obscure websites, there’s a chance they could have been built by cybercriminals looking to infect visitors, steal credentials and personal information.”

While it’s certainly possible that pirate sites can be a source of malware, Bogdan Botezatu, Senior E-Threat Analyst at Bitdefender, told us it is extremely difficult to assess the amount of malware on pirate sites, not least since many sites come and go on a regular basis.

However, he did indicate that when content from pirate sites is consumed via set-top devices, there’s less of a risk than when people access it via a web browser.

“Since these web services offer streaming through Kodi add-ons, the user never really get to interact with their home page, but rather with the Kodi dashboard. Most of these addons load content from [pirate] websites and stream it via Kodi. This dramatically minimizes the chances of the user interacting with rogue ads or deceptive links,” Botezatu explained.

So does Botezatu agree with Internet Matters when they claim that streaming pirated media itself “puts devices at direct risk of infection”?

“No, not directly, although I would not recommend anyone to resort to this,” Botezatu said.

“With extremely few exceptions where some vulnerabilities in the user’s video player could be exploited to run arbitrary code, media streaming is safe. I am unaware of any campaigns that use movie files for malware dissemination other than the Wimad Trojan back in 2012.”

The stance that streaming media is not inherently dangerous is shared by Corrons at AVAST.

“Streaming media does not pose any particular risk level of infection. It doesn’t matter if the media is pirated or not,” he said.

While it’s a bit of a shame that Internet Matters had to claim things that aren’t true to drive its point home, they’re by no means the only organization to do so.

Earlier this year, the Industry Trust for IP Awareness made a similar claim, noting that “Illegal streaming websites are now the number one propagation mechanism for malicious software as 97% of them contain malware.”

With assistance from Adam Kujawa, Director of Malware Intelligence at Malwarebytes, we debunked that statement back in February. It’s disappointing but not entirely surprising we’ve having to do so again several months later.

There are plenty of valid reasons for not letting kids loose with piracy-configured boxes, not least since they could see content that adults might prefer them not to. Notably, however, the exact same thing can be said about YouTube and Facebook, or even the Internet in general.

When anyone uses the Internet for anything there are security risks, so parents should always tell their kids to be cautious when they’re online, no matter what the device or content being consumed.

Surprisingly, the Internet Matters report – which has a strong focus on malware – doesn’t even mention installing anti-virus or anti-malware software to protect devices. Concerned parents should note that both can be obtained for free and are easy to install.

The Internet Matters guide (which despite the criticism does contain great advice on parental responsibility) is available here (pdf)

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Court: UEFA Can Expand Its Pirate Stream Blocking Efforts

Now that the World Cup is over, football teams in Europe are slowly starting to get ready for the new season.

This is also true for UEFA, the international body that governs football throughout Europe. These preparations take place on the pitch, but also in the online arena and the courts.

In the UK, UEFA successfully applied for an extension and expansion of the pirate stream blocking order the High Court handed down late last year. Under this order, ISPs are required to block pirate streams of several of the most popular games.

The order for the upcoming season was issued by High Court Justice Arnold. It received no opposition from the ISPs and some, likely those who have skin in the game, supported the renewal.

The evidence provided by UEFA convinced the High Court that the initial blocking order was a success, without it resulting in any meaningful collateral damage.

“The evidence filed by UEFA in support of this application demonstrates that the First Order was very effective in achieving the blocking of access to the Target Servers during UEFA matches,” Justice Arnold writes.

“Moreover, no evidence has been found of overblocking despite checks having been undertaken. There was one incident on which a stream was erroneously blocked, but it was not a case of overblocking because it was in fact an infringing stream although not covered by the terms of the First Order.”

As with the Premier League blocking renewal, which was issued last week, there are also some small changes. The number of targeted streaming servers has expanded, for example, and there’s a shorter delay in notifying the affected hosting provider to prevent the targets from circumventing the measures.

In addition, UEFA was also granted permission to expand its blocking efforts to protect additional UEFA competitions.

The affected streaming servers and competitions are not mentioned by name in the order. It’s likely, however, that several major competitions such as the Champions League and the Europa League are covered.

The blocking extension and expansion covers all the major UK ISPS including BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media and will remain in place for the months to come. If it remains successful, UEFA is likely to request another update after that.

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Friday, July 27, 2018

Kodi's GitHub codebase new face and better documentation

Every software developer knows that keeping code documentation up-to-date is difficult and time consuming, specially if code in need of said documentation is changing fast. Like, Flash fast. Among code documentation, the process of compiling the code is probably the poorest of cousins. After all, developers do know how to compile the software they write and writing documentation is not as glamorous as writing code. Given a choice, developers will always choose the latter over the former.

Though that was not Kodi's case, for years our build guides were spread between Kodi's Wiki and GitHub, generating confusion. To make matters worse, guides were often contradicting, not kept up-to-date and generally lacking in detail. To solve this predicament, we decided that Kodi's build guides should be kept alongside the code, where developers can easily update them when code changes.

Writing build guides might seem simple. It isn't. On one hand, people writing the guides are usually very comfortable with the process and tend to forget small but crucial steps. On the other hand, guides must be written taking the average user into account, not the seasoned developer. Let's not forget that the word "compiling" intimidates a lot of users, novice and seasoned alike and, as with many things in life, they seem utterly scary until you try. Once you know how to do them, they become an extremely easy and fun process. Most times, anyway.

That led to a conclusion: guides must not contain any ambiguity or room for interpretation. Plain spoon-fed copy and paste was the target. The result is a bunch of build guides for most common platforms and OSes Kodi runs on. Those include Android, FreeBSD, iOS, macOS, RaspberryPi, Windows and a general Linux guide. Popular Linux distributions among Kodi users, like Fedora, Ubuntu and openSUSE also have dedicated guides.

Starting with Kodi v18 Leia, our build guides are kept up-to-date against the current code base. Hopefully, up-to-date against a single pull request or code commit. This might seem of little importance but consider this: if, in two years time, you decide that you want to compile Kodi Leia for whatever reason, you won't need to dig through the Wiki, forum guides, old HOW-TOs, etc, to achieve what should be a simple task. The correct build instructions are right there, alongside the code. Of course, there are things we can't control and in two years a lot can change. Your shiny new OS or hardware might not be compatible with an older Kodi version. That's not our fault, by the way. ;)

Producing nice build guides wasn't the only thing we did. We also decided to overhaul Kodi's GitHub face, making it a little nicer to look at and a bit more informative about the project. It now links to Kodi's most important resources (downloads, site, forum, wiki, etc.), and has a section dedicated to those wanting to contribute to Kodi.

Since GitHub is a developer space, we couldn't complete the task without providing a few guides for code contributors. This includes a contributing guide, code guidelines, and a simple git-fu reference guide for those not familiar with git.

The full list of new documents and guides can be seen here. We hope you like them and help us improve them and Kodi.

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Record Labels Are Willing to Settle ‘Repeat Infringer’ Case with ISP

Last year several major record labels, represented by the RIAA, filed a lawsuit against ISP Grande Communications accusing it of turning a blind eye to pirating subscribers.

According to the labels, the Internet provider knew that some of its subscribers were frequently distributing copyrighted material, but failed to take any meaningful action in response.

Grande refuted the accusations and filed a motion to dismiss the case. The ISP partially succeeded as the claims against its management company Patriot were dropped. The same was true for the vicarious infringement allegations, as the court saw no evidence that the ISP had a direct financial interest in the infringing activity.

The labels disagreed, however, and were not ready to let any claims go. In May they submitted a motion for leave to file an amended complaint including new evidence obtained during discovery. Among other things, they argued that Grande willingly kept pirating subscribers abroad, to generate more revenue.

While both sides were going head to head in court, the labels also attempted a peace offering. Court documents submitted this week show that the record labels offered a settlement agreement to the ISP two months ago.

Per the court’s scheduling order, Grande was required to respond to the offer within a month, but thus far a response has yet to come in. In a new status report submitted his week, the labels say they are still open to a settlement.

“Plaintiffs remain ready and willing to participate in a meaningful attempt to resolve the case without further litigation, including through a mediation, which Plaintiffs previously proposed to Grande and Patriot Media Consulting, LLC,” the labels write.

“Otherwise, if Grande and Patriot have no interest in discussing settlement, Plaintiffs will continue vigorous prosecution of this case to recover damages for Grande’s and Patriot’s extensive and harmful infringement of Plaintiffs’ copyrighted sound recordings.”

The details of the settlement offer remain unknown, but it’s likely that they will come at a cost for the ISP. Grande’s attorney informed the labels that more time was needed to prepare a thorough response, something the company also told the court this week.

“Due to the nature of Plaintiffs’ written offer of settlement, Grande notified Plaintiffs that it would require additional time to prepare and transmit its official written response.” Grande’s attorney notes.

The ISP now expects to have its response to the settlement offer ready next week. Given that it took nearly two months to reply, this will likely be more complex than a simple yes or no.

The record labels’ letter is available here (pdf), and Grande’s response can be found here (pdf).

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Sky Blocks Pirate Sites With Traffic Analysis and Google Cloud

During March 2017, the Premier League obtained a blocking injunction from the High Court which compelled ISPs including BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media to block ‘pirate’ football streams in real-time.

Due to its reported success, the Premier League applied for a second order which was handed down in July 2017. It ran from August 12, 2017 to May 13, 2018 and contained a renewal clause. The Premier League was successful in its latest application, obtaining a new order from the High Court last week.

This extension applies to BT, EE, Plusnet, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media, with all of the ISPs required to work with the Premier League to stop pirate content from reaching their subscribers. While all will do so, it’s clear that some are a little keener than others.

Sky, BT, and Virgin are all football broadcasters in their own right, so have a vested interest in complying with the High Court order. How they go about that has never been revealed in public but a new report from ComputerWorldUK shows how much effort Sky are prepared to put in.

Speaking during Google Cloud Next in San Francisco this week, Mohamed Hammady, CTO at Sky UK revealed that his company spends close to $8 billion a year on content, with broadcasting rights of the Premier League ($1.6 billion) representing the “crown jewel” of its sports spending.

To protect that investment (while complying with the Premier League’s High Court order), Sky has turned to Google Cloud technology.

Hammady said that the team at Sky collected its NetFlow traffic information as a means of “sampling the traffic on our core network.” This sampling produced 500 billion data records in a year, a volume best handled by the professionals.

“Using BigQuery and an in-house algorithm – which cost $10,000 (£7,500) to develop – we are now able to continuously study traffic patterns with an always up to date list of suspect pirate sites,” Hammady said as quoted by CWUK. “Once they have been confirmed as illegal they are shut down.

Hammady said running a query on Google Cloud takes Sky less than 30 seconds and costs the company just 23 cents, a good deal according to the Sky CTO.

“The result is a phenomenal reduction in pirate sites in the UK,” he said.

While the High Court order was obtained by the Premier League and Sky was a defendant in that case, it’s clear that rather than opponents, these content companies are working hand-in-hand to reduce piracy.

Also, from the little we know, it seems that Sky is also happy to obtain data from the network traffic generated by its customers in order to target pirate sites.

It’s a somewhat unusual situation to hear discussed in public, given that most ISPs prefer to be seen as content agnostic “dumb pipes” that seek no control (or awareness) of what their customers might be doing online.

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