More than a quarter-century after the United States, Canada, and Mexico approved the NAFTA trade agreement, the North American countries have now signed off on a new trade deal.

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) will accommodate changes in trade that the three countries have witnessed over the years, especially online.

The road to this final deal wasn’t without obstacles. After agreeing on the text a year ago, new demands and proposed changes were tabled, some of which were included in the Protocol of Amendments that was published this week.

The amendments don’t cover copyright issues, but the previously agreed text certainly does. For example, USMCA will require all countries to have a copyright term that continues for at least 70 years after the creator’s death.

For Canada, this means that the country’s current copyright term has to be extended by 20 years. This won’t happen instantly, as the country negotiated a transition period to consult the public on how to best meet this requirement. However, an extension seems inevitable in the long term.

Another controversial subject that was widely debated by experts and stakeholders is the DMCA-style ‘safe harbor’ text. In the US, ISPs are shielded from copyright infringement liability under the safe harbor provisions of the DMCA, and the new deal would expand this security to Mexico and Canada.

This expansion was welcomed by many large technology companies including Internet providers and hosting platforms. However, many major entertainment industry companies and rightsholder groups were not pleased with the plans, as they have been calling for safe harbor restrictions for years.

US lawmakers also raised concerns. Just a few weeks ago the House Judiciary Committee urged the US Trade Representative not to include any safe harbor language in trade deals while the Copyright Office is reviewing the effectiveness of the DMCA law.

As the USMCA negotiations reached the final stage, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi weighed in as well, trying to have safe harbor text removed from the new trade deal.

Despite this pushback, there is no mention of changes to the safe harbor section in the final amendments. This means that they will remain in the USMCA, much to the delight of major Internet companies.

That said, copyright liability protection also comes with obligations. The agreement specifies that ISPs should have legal incentives to work with ISPs to ensure that copyright infringements are properly dealt with.

This framework shall include “legal incentives for Internet Service Providers to cooperate with copyright owners to deter the unauthorized storage and transmission of copyrighted materials or, in the alternative, to take other action to deter the unauthorized storage and transmission of copyrighted materials,” the agreement reads.

The USMCA specifically mentions that ISPs must take down pirated content and implement a repeat infringer policy if they want to apply for safe harbor protection. This is largely modeled after the DMCA law.

The safe harbors for copyright infringement and the takedown requirements don’t apply to Canada as long as it continues to rely on its current notice-and-notice scheme. However, the country will enjoy safe harbors for other objectionable content, modeled after section 230 of the US Communications Decency Act.

While the three North American countries have reached an agreement, the text still has to be ratified into local law and policy. So it may take some time before it has any effect.

Commenting on the outcome, Canadian copyright professor Micheal Geist notes that the safe harbor for objectionable content is a win for freedom of expression. The additional 20-year copyright term is a setback, although the negative effects can be limited by requiring rightsholders to register for such an extension.

On the other side, rightsholders are also pleased, at least with parts of the new agreement.

“The USMCA’s provisions to strengthen copyright protections and enforcement will benefit the U.S. motion picture and television industry and support American jobs,” MPA Chairman and CEO Charles Rivkin says.

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To most users of mobile computing devices such as phones and tablets, they exist to be used however the consumer sees fit. However, the majority are restricted to prevent the adventurous from doing whatever they like with their own hardware.

To bypass these restrictions, users can utilize a so-called jailbreak tool. These unlock the digital handcuffs deployed on a device and grant additional freedoms that aren’t available as standard. As such, they are popular with modders who enjoy customizing their hardware with new features that otherwise wouldn’t exist.

Since it is viewed as one of the most restrictive manufacturers, Apple hardware and software face almost continual ‘attacks’ from people wanting to jailbreak its devices. There are many communities online dedicated to this scene, including Reddit’s 462,000-member /r/jailbreak forum.

Yesterday, however, chaos reigned after Reddit’s legal team received multiple DMCA notices against a number of threads detailing a pair of prominent jailbreak tools – Checkra1n and UNc0ver.

“Reddit Legal have removed 5 posts (all release posts) for checkra1n and unc0ver. We don’t know what exactly was the copyright about. Admins never told us, we just saw their actions in our mod log,” a moderator explained.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many linked the issues facing /r/jailbreak to an earlier drama on Twitter when an iOS hacker called S1guza published an Apple decryption key that led to his tweet being taken down following a DMCA notice. It took a few hours but the tweet was ultimately reinstated last evening. No specific reasons were given for taking it down, and none were provided for putting it back up.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

The Twitter takedown was sent by Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP, a company that has acted on Apple’s behalf in the past. The notice itself, published on the Lumen Database thanks to Twitter, also provides no useful details as to why the tweet was targeted.

Since Apple was behind the takedown on Twitter and the most obvious culprit in respect of the DMCA takedowns on Reddit, many fingers were pointed towards the Cupertino-based company. However, despite the best efforts of the moderators on /r/jailbreak, Reddit’s admins would not provide the necessary information to identify who filed the DMCA notices or on what grounds.

With uncertainty apparently the order of the day, moderators of the discussion forum took the drastic decision to put their platform into lockdown.

“Locking down the subreddit to prevent new threads is one of the ‘standard’ responses moderators take to show the admins that the mod team isn’t playing, and that they are serious and ready to remedy the issue,” a post from the mods reads.

“Too many DMCA notices eventually end up with a warn and a ban (or just a ban) from the admins to whatever subreddit these notices are being sent to.”

While the DMCA notices in themselves are clearly the biggest issue here, unlike Twitter and Google, for example, Reddit does not routinely share DMCA notices it receives with an external database such as Lumen. If it did, the additional transparency would perhaps help to shine some light on the topic and prevent heavy self-imposed actions, such as the voluntary lockdown of the jailbreak sub.

Moderators report that Reddit’s admins were initially unresponsive to requests for information and that a database that tracks DMCA notices sent to Reddit didn’t provide any helpful details on the sender of the notices.

Last evening, however, one of the affected jailbreak developers ‘qwertyoruiopz’
announced on Twitter that things were some way to being resolved on Reddit and the sub had been taken out of ‘lockdown mode‘.

Soon after, a welcome response from Reddit’s admins was published, effectively signaling the all-clear.

While the message was well-received, /r/jailbreak shouldn’t have been obliged to take such serious action to preserve its existence. The jailbreaking of iOS devices is considered legal in the US and the DMCA notices filed against Reddit clearly caught everyone by surprise.

It remains unknown whether they were indeed sent by Apple so the possibility remains that they were sent by some kind of imposter, trying to unsettle the community. Nevertheless, it is good news that all complaints have been lifted due to the claims being invalid, as per Reddit’s admins.

Without transparency from Reddit, however, the true nature of what happened is likely to remain a mystery. That being said, the moderators of /r/jailbreak deserve a big pat on the back for taking decisive action, quickly. Things could have really spiraled out of control but by showing good intent early on, things were brought back into line relatively quickly.

Now, let’s see those notices to determine who sent them, and why.

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While most piracy activity has shifted to streaming in recent years, U.S. courts have still been overloaded with BitTorrent related piracy lawsuits.

This phenomenon, often dubbed as copyright trolling, started roughly a decade ago and remains ongoing.

This scheme can be both simple and lucrative. Rightsholders file complaints against “John Does” who are initially only known by an IP-address. They then request a subpoena to obtain the subscriber details and demand a settlement from the account holder.

In recent years, the vast majority of the U.S. lawsuits were filed by two adult entertainment companies; Strike 3 Holdings and Malibu Media. Together, they filed over 3,300 new cases last year, which was an all-time record.

Initially, it appeared that they would continue on the same course this year. During the summer we reported that Strike 3 alone had already filed over a thousand new complaints. However, in recent months that changed drastically.

Looking through the federal court records we noticed that there was a notable absence of new cases from both Strike 3 Holdings and Malibu Media. Instead of filing hundreds of new cases, both companies haven’t been active for weeks.

Strike 3 filed its latest complaint in early August, more than four months ago. Malibu Media had its latest filing spree in August as well and only submitted seven new complaints after that, most recently in October.

 

Strike 3’s latest cases

The sudden halt in activity is remarkable, especially since both companies have different legal teams. It’s also a clear deviation from previous years. However, there’s no clear explanation for the hiatus, nor do we know how long it will last.

It could be that the companies are awaiting the outcome of certain legal proceedings. For example, in a few cases this year the court denied expedited discovery. This makes it impossible for the rightsholders to obtain the personal details of infringers.

Strike 3 has appealed that ruling and may await its outcome before filing any new cases, to prevent wasting filing fees.

In addition, there is the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling from last year in the Cobbler Nevada v. Gonzales case. In that matter, the Court ruled that identifying the registered subscriber of an IP-address is by itself not enough to argue that this person is also the infringer.

This Appeals Court ruling has also proven to be a setback for both Malibu Media and Strike 3 Holdings.

Whether these legal developments are indeed a factor is unknown. Whatever the reason may be, we can already conclude that the all-time record for file-sharing cases in the U.S. won’t be broken this year. The current total is still under 2,000, with just three more weeks to go.

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That Google knows every detail of what its users search for is no secret – after all, the company itself processes all of the requests.

Armed with this data, Google publishes its annual ‘Year in Search‘ report, the latest of which appeared yesterday. From our perspective, there were very few – if any – piracy-related aspects to report, something which should be encouraging to rightsholders.

However, after the BBC published its take on Google’s UK search statistics, noting that several questions in the “How to” category were directed at how to watch sports events and TV shows, the Federation Against Copyright Theft took to Twitter to issue a warning.

“Whether it’s a re-stream on social media, a piracy site, or using a TV-connected device, avoiding official providers to access content is illegal,” FACT wrote, linking to the BBC article.

Of course, it is FACT’s job to draw attention to such things but we wondered, given that Google is quite specific about the top titles searched for in 2019, whether Google’s search results were worthy of particular panic. Or, indeed, whether “where to watch” searches should always be considered dangerous and piracy related. But first, some background.

Over the past several years, copyright holders and anti-piracy groups have regularly complained that Google and other search engines help people find content online in a way that prioritizes pirated over legitimate content.

That isn’t the company’s intention, of course, but there have been numerous instances of pirate sites appearing higher in searches than those offering licensed content. In the UK, Google and various industry players agreed to tackle this and similar issues with the signing of a voluntary anti-piracy agreement back in 2017.

So, when placed alongside these top “how to” searches, has it worked?

#1: How to watch Champions League Final

This search clearly related to the match between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool from which the latter emerged victorious, two goals to nil. However, the related Google search is particularly interesting since all of the top results showed users how to watch the match for free.

While that might sound like a cause for concern, these results linked exclusively to completely legal streams offered via established broadcasters. Clearly, the incentive to pirate had been mostly eliminated by giving consumers what they want.

#2: How to watch Game of Thrones

As one of the most popular shows in living memory, it’s no surprise that Game of Thrones appears in Google’s top search lists for the UK. In past years, this kind of search would’ve likely displayed ‘pirate’ results prominently but that is no longer the case. In our tests we had to go through several pages of Google results with links to either buy the show or articles detailing how to watch the show legally first. Pirate results were not prominent.

#5: How to watch KSI vs. Logan

Given the controversy surrounding this pair of YouTube celebrities, searches on how to watch the fight were bound to score highly. However, a search for the fight yet again yielded pages and pages of legitimate sources or articles detailing how to access the bout legally.

#10: How to watch Chernobyl

The results displayed following a “where to watch Chernobyl” search are very similar to those that are returned following a similar Game of Thrones query. One has to skip through pages and pages of legitimate results to find any pirate sources and, on the way, the emphasis to go legal is clear.

The legal choices, as they appear in Google’s results, are as follows: YouTube, Google Play, Amazon, NowTV, HBO, Sky, Hulu, iTunes, Showmax, DirectTV, HBONordic, HBOGo, and Verizon. Admittedly, not all of those are available to UK users, but that’s four pages deep into the results and not one pirate link in sight.

Conclusion

While this is a very limited sample, there does appear to have been a notable change in the way that Google displays its results in the UK when faced with a basic query of “where to watch X”. There is now a pretty clear bias towards legitimate sources in results presented in the first few pages.

Of course, those that wish to refine their searches to actively seek out pirated content will have more immediate success, that’s the way searches work. However, it’s now more difficult to argue that users will be diverted to pirated sources when they’re seeking out legal options, at least for the samples listed above.

It’s worth noting, however, that pirate users’ viewing habits are probably shifting. There is now less reliance on search engines and more emphasis on apps and tools that are designed to produce infringing results by default, which is the exact opposite of what Google offers in respect of the above.

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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ABS-CBN, the largest media and entertainment company in the Philippines, is continuing its legal campaign against piracy.

Over the past several years, the company has singled out dozens of streaming sites that offer access to ‘Pinoy’ content without permission, both in the US and abroad.

While these traditional sites remain a key focus for the company, ABS-CBN is expanding its scope in the US by going after an alleged seller of pirate streaming boxes.

In a complaint filed at a federal court in Texas, the company accuses local resident Anthony Brown of selling and promoting pirate devices through the Life for Greatness website. By doing so, the man violates ABS-CBN’s rights, the company stresses.

“Defendant has been engaged in a scheme to, without authorization, sell Pirate Equipment that retransmits ABS-CBN’s programming to his customers as Pirate Services,” the complaint, filed at the Southern District of Texas Court, reads.

The media company notes that its own investigators purchased pirate equipment from Brown, which was then shipped from within Texas. These orders were likely placed at the Life for Greatness website, which remains online at the time of writing and is operated by ‘1700 Cuts Technology.’

In addition, the complaint notes that the pirate devices were advertised and promoted through various Facebook pages. This includes two personal profiles and a business page for “Lifeforgreatness.”

“Defendant has used several Facebook.com social media pages to advertise and promote the availability of the Pirate Equipment for sale by
Defendant,” the complaint notes.

The Facebook pages also remain online today. And indeed, the Lifeforgreatness account is used to advertise what appear to be pirate streaming boxes and subscriptions. This is in part carried out by utilizing footage that shows the logos of ABS-CBN and other major entertainment outfits.

In a Facebook post, the box vendor writes that cable companies overcharge customers each and every day. By switching to one of the advertised boxes, people can cut their bills and still get the same channels, the post adds.

“The box automatically updates on its own as well as provides content that you are currently paying between $4.99 to $300.00 a month for. The Smart to box have over 500,000 movies, TV shows and Live TV from every country the world including the USA,” the post adds.

This is not an isolated incident. There are hundreds of similar businesses that (re)sell pirate boxes and subscriptions while advertising them on social media. The defendant, in this case, seems to be a relatively small fish with just a few dozen Facebook likes.

However, that doesn’t mean that ABS-CBN is holding back when it comes to its demands.

The media company requests hundreds of thousands in damages for providing unauthorized access to its communication signals, which violates the Communications Act. In addition, it asks for $2 million in statutory damages for every trademark infringement.

Interestingly, there is no copyright damages claim. However, the company does want the seller to halt his infringing activities and requests the court to impound the pirate devices.

A copy of the complaint filed by ABS-CBN at the Southern District of Texas Court is available here (pdf).

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Pirate IPTV providers have become a pretty big deal in recent years.

Offering cut-price access to otherwise subscription TV channels, PPVs, and video-on-demand archives, customers have flocked to them in their millions.

One popular provider operating in the space is Helix Hosting but if a message that appeared on the service’s homepage is anything to go by, the Christmas period may become memorable for all the wrong reasons.

The statement, published hours ago on the official Helix Hosting homepage, claimed that Helix had been hacked and was being held to ransom. The implication of the message was typical: Helix should pay up to appease the attackers or face potential damage to their business.

“Helix Hosting Has Been Hacked – They have had the option to pay a small amount to protect its customers or have all customer details leaked online putting you all at risk,” the message read.

“They have chosen to not accept this offer and would prefer your details to be leaked online.”

Pay up – or else

The overall threat was to release the personal details of all customers and resellers of Helix but to “make it fair”, the proposed leak would also expose “at the least” one owner and/or staff member of the service along with their name, address, phone numbers, and IP addresses.

While someone had clearly placed the message on the front page of the site, other areas of the Helix site remained functional for a while. At the time the ‘hacked’ notice appeared, Helix’s app and repo indexes were functioning normally and its web player login page was also accessible.

However, as the minutes passed by, other aspects of the web portal were apparently disabled and the ransom message disappeared too. This morning, however, the ‘hacked’ message is back for all to see.

Only time will tell how this episode will end and whether the threats to go nuclear on Helix over its failure to “pay a small amount” will be carried out. It’s also unclear what information Helix holds and what use that information would be to third-parties, even if it was leaked online.

The warning currently on display still mentions a 23:00 deadline to pay the ransom but there is no indication of which day, country, or time zone that refers to. So, depending on the timing, the leak could’ve happened already, could be about to happen, or may not even happen at all.

That said, giving in to blackmail is a big decision to make, especially when copies of data are easily made leaving attackers in a position to have a second bite at the cherry on a whim.

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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This week we have two newcomers in our chart.

Ad Astra 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 RankRank last weekMovie nameIMDb Rating / Trailer
Most downloaded movies via torrents
1(…)Ad Astra6.9 / trailer
2(1)Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood7.9 / trailer
3(2)Rambo: Last Blood6.6 / trailer
4(4)The Irishman8.4 / trailer
5(10)Abominable7.0 / trailer
6(3)Gemini Man5.7 / trailer
7(…)Doctor Sleep7.6 / trailer
8(6)It Chapter Two6.8 / trailer
9(7)Joker (Subbed HDRip)8.8 / trailer
10(8)Hustlers6.5 / trailer

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The Pirate Bay is well known for its huge database of magnet links which allow users to download most types of content imaginable.

Over the past few days, however, the platform has been adding a brand new feature that will please those who prefer to access movies and TV shows instantly, rather than waiting for them to download.

As the image below shows, in addition to the familiar magnet and trusted uploader icons displayed alongside video and TV show releases, the site also features a small orange ‘B’ graphic.

In some cases (but currently not all), pressing these buttons when they appear next to a video release diverts users to a new platform called BayStream. Here, the chosen content can be streamed directly in the browser using a YouTube-style player interface.

Loading times appear swift when the content is actually available and as the screenshot below shows, the material appears to be sourced, at least in some cases, from torrent releases.

BayStream.co in-browser video player

The new feature appears to be in its early stages of development and in tests doesn’t always perform as planned. In particular, accessing the ‘B’ links using various Pirate Bay ‘proxy’ sites can cause them to break with various errors. Nevertheless, when things go to plan (usually when selecting more popular content) the system appears effective.

When one accesses the BayStream homepage directly, without using links found on TPB, what appears is a fairly plain file-hosting upload interface. It claims that files up to 20GB can be uploaded and stored on the platform and at least for now, there’s no mention of premium accounts or affiliate programs.

BayStream upload page

The big question, perhaps, is whether this is a Pirate Bay-operated platform or one run by outsiders. The familiar ‘Kopimi‘ logo at the bottom suggests that it could be someone who supports the ‘pirate’ movement but anyone can use the image freely, so that’s not the best pointer.

Public sources reveal that the site does have other links to Sweden and in some cases entities linked, however loosely, to the Kopimist movement. But again, those don’t provide solid pointers to the nature or identities of the operators of the site.

The Pirate Bay previously launched its own file-hosting platform, BayFiles, way back in 2011. That disappeared after the 2014 raid on a Stockholm datacenter but was later relaunched under new ownership.

The addition of BayStream links to The Pirate Bay isn’t the first time that the world’s most famous torrent site has dipped its toes into streaming waters. In 2016, the site experimented with ‘Stream It!” links next to all video torrents, playable via a browser plug-in called Torrents-Time.

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Every week, YouTube’s users upload millions of hours of videos. As with any user-generated content site, this also includes copyright-infringing content.

YouTube tackles this problem by processing takedown notices and using its Content-ID system to automatically remove allegedly infringing content.

However, according to copyright holders, this is not good enough. That includes Bollywood filmmaker Suneel Darshan, who filed a lawsuit against YouTube and Google India in 2011. Now, eight years later, a local court has ruled in his favor.

A few days ago, the District Court of Gurgaon held that the video platform did indeed infringe on the rights of the filmmaker. The Court issued an injunction preventing YouTube from violating his copyrights going forward and awarded roughly $700 in compensation.

The ‘damages’ amount is relatively low, especially after a prolonged legal battle, but Darshan says that he is planning to file a separate case to claim his full losses. A copy of the verdict has not been published online, as far as we know.

According to local media reports, YouTube and Google’s lawyers argued that the video platform was merely an intermediary, which should not be held directly liable.

In addition, the companies pointed out that they have a functional DMCA takedown policy that allows any copyright holder to request the removal in infringing content by pointing out specific URLs. This is something the filmmaker failed to do.

Darshan and his legal team held that YouTube and Google profited from the “unauthorized exploitation” of copyrighted works by sharing ad-revenue with the user who uploaded the content. As a result, the filmmaker lost part of his income.

The Court eventually sided with the copyright holder ruling that if Google and YouTube were aware of the content, they could have located the URLs to remove the infringing videos.

While the ruling is a setback for the video platform, the case is likely to be appealed. For now, however, the filmmaker is happy with the victory which he describes as an “encouraging judgment.”

That said, the journey towards this victory has been prolonged and difficult. YouTube and Google pushed back hard, Darshan says, quoted by the Free Press Journal.

“We faced many challenges while fighting this case. They made so many claims that it is not their jurisdiction and then they told me that I don’t hold the right to this content. So I had to prove my ownership, it is like parents proving that it is their child,” Darshan says.

YouTube hasn’t commented publicly on the case yet. The company is currently involved in several copyright infringement cases, including two that are with the European Court of Justice, which are expected to have a broad impact.

Similar to the Indian case, the top EU court will have to decide whether YouTube can be expected to go beyond responding to takedown notices that detail specific URLs.

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In May 2019, TF discovered that the RIAA had obtained a DMCA subpoena which compelled CDN company Cloudflare to reveal the identities of several site operators using its services.

Among the several domains listed was DBR.ee, a file-hosting site that had was utilized by some of its users for hosting pre-release music leaks. This clearly didn’t sit well with the RIAA and within a month of the subpoena being obtained, DBR.ee shut itself down.

Initially it wasn’t clear if the subpoena and the closure were linked but soon after a message appeared on the site which advised that it had been shut down for copyright infringement following action by the RIAA, IFPI, and Music Canada.

The DBR.ee shutdown notice

Early September, however, a new site appeared. Sporting the DBREE name and graphics but located under a different URL (DBREE.co), the site seemed to want to pick up where the original had left off. It’s not currently known whether the same people are behind the resurrection but the RIAA appears keen to find out.

Late November the RIAA obtained a pair of DMCA subpoenas at a Columbia federal court, one targeting domain registrar Namecheap and the other CDN service Cloudflare. Their aim is to uncover the identities of several site operators, DBREE.co’s included.

“The purpose for which this subpoena is sought is to obtain the identity of the individual assigned to these websites who has induced the infringement of, and has directly engaged in the infringement of, our members’ copyrighted sound recordings without their authorization,” the subpoenas read.

DBREE.co stands accused of infringement on three tracks – Lover by Taylor Swift, Under the Graveyard by Ozzy Osbourne, and Thailand by Lil Uzi Vert.

FLACC.org, a music release blog that links to content hosted elsewhere, is also accused of infringing copyrights on three tracks from Celine Dion, Ed Sheeran, and Tech N9ne.

Hiphopeasy.xyz, an album, single, and mixtape indexing site, is currently offline. Nevertheless, the RIAA claims it infringed the rights of Post Malone, Travis Scott, and Ed Sheeran. Another platform, identified by the RIAA as operating from Ovzy.xyz and its subdomains, is also inaccessible.

As usual, the subpoenas require Namecheap and Cloudflare to give up every piece of information they hold on the site’s alleged operators. Both companies are also asked to consider “the widespread and infringing nature” of the sites to determine whether they are in breach of terms of service agreements or repeat infringer policies.

Whether Namecheap or Cloudflare have any useful information to hand over to the RIAA remains to be seen but they are both expected to comply.

The DMCA subpoenas are available here and here (pdf)

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