Over the years, copyright trolls have been accused of involvement in various dubious schemes and actions, but there’s one group that has gone above and beyond.

Prenda Law grabbed dozens of headlines, mostly surrounding negative court rulings over identity theft, misrepresentation, and even deception.

Most controversial were the shocking revelations that Prenda itself produced adult videos and uploaded their own torrents to The Pirate Bay, creating a honeypot for the people they later sued over pirate downloads.

The allegations also raised the interest of the U.S. Department of Justice, which indicted Prenda principals John Steele and Paul Hansmeier late 2016. The US Government accused the pair of various crimes, including money laundering, perjury, and wire fraud.

As the case progressed both defendants signed plea agreements, admitting their guilt in the fraudulent scheme. Last month this resulted in a 14 year prison term for Hansmeier, and today,  John Steele learned of his fate.

During a hearing this morning, U.S. District Judge Joan N. Ericksen convicted Steele to a five-year prison sentence. In addition, the disbarred attorney must pay his victims little over $1.5 million in restitution.

Today’s sentencing ironically comes 11 years after Steele was first admitted to the bar.

The lower sentence, compared to Hansmeier, comes as no surprise. It was specifically recommended by the prosecution, which stressed that Steele didn’t shy away from the ugly truth of his crimes and was very cooperative following the indictment.

“Unlike co-defendant Hansmeier, Mr. Steele accepted responsibility for his actions and immediately began zealously and passionately cooperating with the Government,” the prosecution said previously.

“Even before the Government shared the evidence with the defense, Mr. Steele was in their office speaking to numerous law enforcement agents
and prosecutors about everything he did. He never lied and never minimized his actions.”

According to the US Department of Justice, Steele deserved a significant prison term. However, his cooperation and genuine remorse should be taken into account.

Based on the sentencing guidelines Steele faced a potential prison sentence of more than 12 years, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin Langner recommended five years in prison instead.

Judge Ericksen went along with this recommendation. The Judge noted that courts “are not a tool in the box for anybody’s hustle,” adding that the five-year sentence was “imminently fair,” as the Star Tribune report.

“I condemn the actions that you took in committing this crime. I congratulate you, however, on the actions you took” in responding to the charges, Judge Ericksen said.

Although both Hansmeier and Steele have been sentenced, the Prenda saga is not completely over yet.

Hansmeier previously informed the court that he is appealing both the sentence and conviction. The Prenda principal challenges the reasonableness of the sentencing and the application of the sentencing guidelines.

A request from Hansmeier to await the result of the appeal as a free man was previously denied.

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More than a year ago, TF revealed that Justin Sun, founder of cryptocurrency TRON, was planning to buy BitTorrent Inc.

The sale was completed in 2018 and was followed by an announcement this January that the company planned to augment the BitTorrent protocol with a method to speed up downloads using a new token called BTT.

The idea is that people can earn BTT by seeding content for longer, thus providing more bandwidth for the swarm. This bandwidth can then be purchased using BTT by those who want faster downloads.

A few hours ago, BitTorrent Inc. released a new version of the Windows uTorrent client – version 3.5.5 (build 45287) – with an early implementation of the promised features. The interface is largely the same as before but with the inclusion of a BitTorrent Speed button on the left pane. Pressing it reveals the following;

The BitTorrent Speed dashboard

As indicated in the ‘balance’ section, all new users are gifted 10 BTT. An AMA conducted on YouTube by TRON founder and BitTorrent CEO Justin Sun and BitTorrent’s VP of Product Justin Knoll revealed that this was to “bootstrap” BitTorrent Speed. The idea is to reward early adopters and create a little bit of supply so that people are able to use tokens to experience faster downloads.

The next step of the setup is to create a wallet in which to store users’ BTT. The process is very simple indeed and only requires the user to input a secure password.

Enter a secure password

The process is very straightforward and once complete, it’s then up to the user to load up their uTorrent software with a torrent file of their choice. The fact that BitTorrent Inc. doesn’t get involved in this process was underlined during the AMA, with Knoll indicating that people should simply head off onto the web and find torrents themselves.

Tests shared with TF on a random torrent with several hundred active peers quickly revealed around 9 other peers offering a BitTorrent Speed “boost”, a fact revealed in the dashboard. With the ‘Speed Increase’ toggle turned on, it was claimed that the download was 219.2% faster than usual. Any ‘bidding’ for this claimed additional speed currently takes place automatically.

Alleged speed-boost

While the torrent speed would no doubt have gained momentum as more seeds and peers were found, switching the toggle back and forth didn’t seem to make much difference to actual download speeds in the client. Occasionally, pressing the button from off to on did increase the download speed but at times, switching the toggle the other way also had the same effect.

Without longer-term detailed network analysis, it is extremely difficult to see whether any positive fluctuations are a result of BitTorrent Speed or just regular peers and seeds ebbing and flowing as they usually do. For now, the new system can only be taken at face value and even then with caveats.

Certainly, sudden claims in the client that a 25,000%+ speed boost was taking place simply cannot be true, unless it suddenly stopped most transfers and then calculated from there. The fact is that not enough information is currently provided in the client to draw any accurate conclusions.

It’s also worth considering that before this feature was made available, the same bandwidth would have been available in the swarm without discrimination, so the only possible boost for uTorrent users this morning would have been obtained to the detriment of others in the swarm using a different client. Unless people were immediately seeding more.

Nevertheless, this is very early days for the system, something that was underlined in the AMA several times. Indeed, some users may notice that their gifted 10 BTT balance doesn’t seem to change in their client, a point addressed by Knoll.

“You’re probably unlikely to see [your BTT run out] with this early build, you’re more likely to see increased download speeds and a balance that stays approximately the same as when you install it. If you do run out, the way you can refill the wallet is by connecting it to another wallet or seeding torrents,” he explained.

Of course, the big push has surrounded the ability of users to earn BTT for seeding. However, that doesn’t seem particularly likely in the version just released.

“In this early build while we’re still evolving the product and getting a larger and larger userbase of BitTorrent Speed users, you should expect to see much more speed improvements and less earning for seeding,” Knoll said.

“The earnings you can expect depend on a variety of factors. Demand for the file is part of it, how many seeds are already available is part of it. It’s easier to earn if you’re seeding a file where you’re one of a smaller number of seeds than when there’s a lot of users who are trying to download it. You want to be in a file where a lot of wallet users are trying to get it.”

Finding those torrents is currently down to the skill of the user but BitTorrent Inc. suggests that in the future there could be a system that is able to “find files that are under-provisioned” in order to assist those looking to earn tokens.

One of the questions raised in the AMA is whether BitTorrent Speed is anonymous, something that was initially answered by Sun. The quality of his audio on the live stream was particularly weak compared to that of Knoll but he responded as follows;

“Sure, I think BitTorrent Speed isn’t changing anything over our existing product, so for BitTorrent clients and uTorrent clients we don’t collect any people’s name, their data, so we know who they are. So right now BitTorrent Speed is the same, so you can spend (inaudible) your BTT (inaudible) and we don’t have control over your assets and any identity,” he said.

Knoll then chimed in with a more detailed response that more accurately describes what will going on from a technical perspective.

“The BitTorrent protocol, I would say, is not entirely anonymous, in the sense that when you join swarms the other participants in that swarm have knowledge of your IP address. So in designing BitTorrent Speed, we didn’t really change things too much from that point of view.

“The only change being that you connect to another peer and are making a payment to that peer in terms of BTT payment, so there’s additional activity there that didn’t exist in the BitTorrent protocol. Like Justin said, that activity is not connected directly to an email address or other personally identifiable information, it’s just connected to a public key basically, that’s created as part of the BitTorrent Speed creation process.

“If you take it from your Speed wallet and put it on the blockchain, then it becomes subject to the anonymity guarantees of the blockchain which means that things are understood by pseudonyms,” he added.

“So it’s a publicly inspectable ledger and if you tell somebody ‘hey, my public key is XYZ’, then they can go back and look at your entire transaction history and that would start to apply if you take your BTT onto the TRON blockchain and disclose to someone else what your account ID is.”

As mentioned earlier, this implementation of BitTorrent Speed is only available on uTorrent for Windows but there are plans to expand this to Mac and Linux users in the future. Additionally, there’s also a possibility that users of other torrent clients could get involved.

“There are a lot of open source torrent clients that are based on common libraries so if we’re able to get support for BitTorrent Speed into those libraries then you could see support on a number of different clients that are more or less white labels of existing open source torrent libraries,” Knoll said.

Users interested in testing out the new uTorrent can do so here.

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The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is the world’s leading mixed martial arts promotion in the world.

It is based in the United States and as a result, the majority of its events take place there, meaning that fans in Europe face having to stay awake all night if they are to watch live UFC events.

Since 2013, this has been possible for subscribers to BT Sport, who have enjoyed all live shows as part of their regular subscriptions. However, that all changed on Saturday night with UFC 239, which BT Sport recently decided shouldn’t be included in customers’ packages after all.

Instead, people were told they’d have to pay out an extra £19.95 to view the admittedly-stacked card on BT Sport Box Office, a decision that went down like a lead balloon with fans, especially those who’d taken out a subscription solely for UFC events.

In the weeks leading up to the fight, there were long discussion threads on various forums (including BT Sport’s own) complaining about the move and suggesting a boycott.

Whether this took place at scale on Sunday morning UK/Ireland time isn’t yet known but fan outrage was clear to see on social media, including in a poll conducted by MMA reporter Niall McGrath.


Of course, a boycott of PPV buying doesn’t necessarily mean a boycott on watching the event. Indeed, if fans’ claims leading up to the event were anything to go by, many would be hitting the pirate high seas Saturday/Sunday to express their displeasure at BT Sport’s decision.

Widely circulated ‘boycott’ poster

Since live events are mainly streamed from ‘pirate’ websites, obtaining viewing figures is not as easy as tracking users in torrent swarms, for example. However, we spoke to a seller of ‘pirate’ IPTV services before and after the event to see if there had been any greater uptake than usual.

“No more orders than we usually get on a Friday/Saturday/Sunday but more people definitely asked if we could get BT Sport Box Office for the fights. We couldn’t promise that channel in advance but we have others that give the same thing. Good enough,” the seller explained.

A long thread on Reddit, which appeared after the fights finished on Sunday, patted everyone on the back who took part in the boycott. As expected, it’s littered with comments about BT Sport screwing over dedicated fans and, of course, people turning to piracy.

“It literally took me 40 seconds on my first duckduckgo search (because google censors a lot of this kind of stuff) to find a site where I was able to watch the entire event live in HD with no interruptions. Hard for a pathetic business model to compete with that,” one commenter wrote.

“Cancelled my bt sports and got an IPTV set up,” said another. “Probably the smoothest viewing experience I’ve had watching any UFC event. No commercials and no cutting the sound on interviews every time someone swears.”

And then things descended to the bottom, quickly.

With another fan declaring that this is the first time “in years” he’d pirated an event, the discussions continued with how that’s possible, where to do it, and the inevitable private messages where one can only guess at the content but draw an obvious conclusion. And this isn’t even a piracy-focused sub-Reddit, it’s /r/mma with close to 780K members.

While people will rightly point that this is a mere subset of BT Sport’s customers not paying an extra £19.95, the people who turned to a pirate IPTV service on Saturday/Sunday will have immediately discovered that ALL of BT Sport’s live content is also available for less than £10 per month.

If pirate IPTV gains traction with them (and their friends, and their friends’ friends), £30 to £40 per month regular subscriptions to BT Sports could get boycotted too, along with those paid to Sky Sports and other companies.

Bloody Elbow’s piece on why BT Sport’s decision to go PPV with UFC 239 was wrong really hits the spot but only time will tell if the PPV model in the UK will persist – or if it will go down with a huge headache quicker than previously undefeated Ben Askren did during the red-eye hours of Sunday morning.

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This week we have one newcomer in our chart.

Shazam! 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 (1) Shazam! 7.3 / trailer
2 (4) Alita: Battle Angel 7.5 / trailer
3 (…) Hellboy 5.3 / trailer
4 (5) Shaft 6.4 / trailer
5 (2) Pet Sematary 6.0 / trailer
6 (3) Dumbo 6.5 / trailer
7 (8) Captain Marvel 7.1 / trailer
8 (6) Escape Plan: The Extractors 4.5 / trailer
9 (8) After 5.5 / trailer
10 (10) Pokémon Detective Pikachu 6.9 / 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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In recent years, various copyright holder groups embraced a “follow-the-money” approach in the hope of cutting off funding to so-called pirate sites.

Thus far this has resulted in some notable developments. In the UK, hundreds of advertising agencies began banning pirate sites in 2014 and in Denmark and elsewhere there are similar initiatives.

While many rightsholders and advertisers are positive about these developments, there is little international coordination. This is a gap the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) hopes to bridge with a new project. 

WIPO, which is part of the United Nations, was founded more than 50 years ago with the aim of protecting intellectual property. This includes combating online piracy, something it hopes to facilitate with its  ‘BRIP’ Database, short for “Building Respect for Intellectual Property.”

The goal of the project is simple: allow stakeholders from member states to report problematic sites and share this list with advertisers, so they can block bad apples. This will result in less money going to pirate sites, making it harder for them to generate profit. 

The idea for such a global database was first introduced by WIPO in 2017 and, behind the scenes, it was developed into a fully operational resource. According to a document released in preparation for a future WIPO’s Advisory Committee on Enforcement meeting, it is now ready to go public. 

“The BRIP Database is now open for the acceptance of Authorized Contributors from WIPO Member States and Authorized Users from the advertising sector,” WIPO writes.

“It comprises a secure, access-controlled online platform, to which authorized agencies in WIPO Member States may upload lists of websites which deliberately facilitate the infringement of copyright.”

The BRIP database aims to cut revenue to pirate sites. In addition, it’s also useful to major brands who don’t want their products or services appearing on copyright-infringing websites.

“The intention is to reduce the flow of money to illegal website operators, to protect brands from tarnishment and to reduce the risk that legitimate advertising may lend an appearance of legality to illegal websites, to the confusion of consumers,” WIPO clarifies.

Each member state may appoint their own designated submitters who can add suspected pirate sites to the database. The Italian telecom regulator AGCOM and the Korean copyright protection agency KCOPA have already tested it in advance of the official launch. 

In other countries, trade organizations and copyright enforcement bodies will likely join in as well. In the UK, for example, the City of London Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) is likely to join, as they already maintain a similar list.

How it works (sourse: WIPO)

According to WIPO, international cooperation will ensure that stakeholders from all over the world can benefit from each other’s work. This is also helpful in order to block foreign pirate sites, which may not always be easy to identify due to language barriers. 

Another advantage is that local member states don’t have to set up their own blocklist systems. They can simply use the BRIP system and get going right away. 

Flagged ‘dummy’ sites (source: WIPO)

There are downsides to the BRIP database as well. For example, it appears that there is little transparency, as the public at large doesn’t have access to the lists of blocked sites. This could be a concern, as WIPO itself states that not all blocked sites are clearly copyright-infringing. 

“The operation of the BRIP Database is not based on any assertion by WIPO that any particular site has, as a matter of law, infringed copyright. Rather, the qualification for inclusion of a national list on the platform is that the list contains ‘sites of concern’,” WIPO writes.

“WIPO defines a site of concern as ‘an online location which is reasonably suspected by an Authorized Contributor of deliberately infringing or facilitating the infringement of copyright and related rights, whether in its country of establishment or elsewhere.”

Since the BRIP database doesn’t include any comprehensive information on why a site is included, this could potentially lead to over-blocking.

WIPO clarifies that it won’t get involved in any infringement related decisions. Its role is to administer the technical platform, to assist contributors and users, and to promote the BRIP database to a broad audience.

“The project responds to increased interest among policy-makers in methods of building respect for intellectual property which rely on voluntary cooperation, rather than on judicial or other compulsory measures,” WIPO notes.

“Its success will, however, depend on the extent to which it is adopted by Member State agencies and the advertising sector.”

The latter part is crucial. While higher-tier advertisers and major brands would like to avoid pirate sites, there are also plenty of advertising outfits that still love to work with pirate sites

In fact, there are many players in the advertising industry that specifically target them.

More information on the BRIP database is available here (pdf), courtesy of the WIPO secretariat.

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In recent weeks, TF was able to speak to a member of The Scene, the shadowy network of individuals and groups sitting right at the apex of the so-called ‘piracy pyramid’.

If the tip of this polyhedron represents the exclusive few, the progressively larger and lower portions constitute the increasing masses, all enjoying the pirated content flooding down, albeit without the consent of those at the very top.

Our introduction dealt with a selection of the basics, from how The Scene is structured to who takes on various roles. Our contact – “Source” – runs his own release group, something we were able to verify by having a unique marker placed in a Scene release. However, he also touched on something that’s rarely discussed in public.

So-called WEB releases are videos obtained from streaming services, particularly Netflix and Amazon. Not to be confused with WEBRip content, which is obtained using technology such as hardware capture cards or software-based ‘capping’ tools, WEB releases involve downloading the raw video files to a computer or server.

“Source” describes himself as a programmer with involvement with WEB releases. For security reasons he wasn’t prepared to identify which groups he’s affiliated with but he did provide an overview of the process.

“Content for WEB releases are obtained by downloading the source content. Whenever you stream a video online, you are downloading chunks of a video file to your computer. Sceners simply save that content and attempt to decrypt it for non-DRM playback later,” he says.

When accessing the content, legitimate premium accounts are used, often paid for using prepaid credit cards supported by bogus identities. It takes just a few minutes to download a video file since they’re served by CDNs with gigabits of bandwidth.

“Once files are downloaded from the streaming platform, however, they are encrypted in the .mp4 container. Attempting to view such video will usually result in a blank screen and nothing else – streams from these sites are protected by DRM.

“The most common, and hard to crack DRM is called Widevine. The way the Scene handles WEB-releases is by using specialized tools coded by The Scene, for The Scene. These tools are extremely private, and only a handful of people in the world have access to the latest version(s),” “Source” notes.

“Without these tools, releasing Widevine content is extremely difficult, if not impossible for most. The tools work by downloading the encrypted video stream from the streaming site, and reverse engineering the encryption.”

Our contact says that decryption is a surprisingly quick process, taking just a few minutes. After starting with a large raw file, the finalized version ready for release is around 30% smaller, around 7GB for a 1080p file. Subtitle files, which can be numerous on a typical WEB release, are not encrypted, meaning there’s nothing further to do.

Although evasive over the name of the WEB groups he’s affiliated with, “Source” told us his role involves creating scripts for downloading content in an automated manner from Widevine-protected sites.

“A simple example is a bot, where you feed a stream URL and a release gets downloaded, packed and uploaded to topsites fully automatically, with no human interaction needed,” he explains.

“Source” says that the decryption tools he’s familiar with mainly target protected content using Windows tools and Google Chrome. He also mentioned exploits for Smart TVs and other platforms but wasn’t able to provide additional details on those or the apparent exploit of iTunes which saw 4K content leak online earlier this year.

However, he did reveal that, in an attempt to ensure that Scene decryption tools don’t leak out to the wider public, some versions of the Scene’s tools only work server-side and are protected by Hardware ID (HWID). The aim here is to restrict which machines are capable of running the software.

Perhaps surprisingly, “Source” went on to send us screenshots of what he said were two Widevine decrypter tools in action. One of them, which has been redacted to hide some sensitive information, is shown below.

Since we’re always protective of our sources, the supply of these screenshots raised alarm bells with us. If these decryption tools are so secretive, why would he put himself at risk by allowing us to publish images of them?

It transpires that in common with other ‘pirate’ content, Scene-only tools sometimes leak out too. “Source” told us that the screenshots he provided were culled from older tools that were leaked and subsequently offered for sale on the wider Internet, so that’s why he is comfortable with them being published.

“There are countless other tools,” he added, “but I can’t publicly say about them.”

He did, however, point us to an online platform where the tools had been offered in exchange for bitcoin.

We spent some time looking around but couldn’t immediately match the screenshots to any specific software on offer. Surprisingly, part of the problem was the sheer number of Netflix and Amazon ripping tools being offered by various anonymous parties.

Given the high prices being attached to these products and their illegal nature (circumvention, in this case, would constitute a breach of the DMCA), we weren’t prepared to buy or test them. However, it is clear that this is an area ripe for exploitation, with several buyers claiming that supplied tools do not work as advertised.

As a result, we can’t say for sure whether any of the software being offered in public is real, currently works, or indeed ever worked. It is obvious, considering the number of releases being made, that tools inside The Scene are working as intended, something that may have been underlined by the recent release of 4K video sourced from Netflix.

But for pirates, this may not be the case for much longer. “Source” says that the flood of WEB releases (also known as WEB-DL in the P2P arena) may start to dry up – at least for a while.

“Widevine is expected to update their DRM, and the only working Windows-based crack (I’m aware of) is strictly regulated, and most groups won’t get access to it, compared to the current older tools not requiring any sort of server-side or hardware verification for use,” he concludes.

Part 3 of this series, dealing with the technical aspects of The Scene, is a work in progress.

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The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has been battling online piracy for years, but the problem remains.

Roughly a decade ago torrent sites were the main threat. In recent years that switched, first to cyberlockers, and then to online streaming.

While the MPAA has pursued civil lawsuits against pirate sites and services throughout the world, it believes that more progress can be made through criminal prosecutions.

In a recent testimony before the  U.S. House of Representatives, MPAA’s Senior Counsel Neil Fried explains that these criminal cases have a much broader impact, using the Megaupload case as an example.

“Although the U.S. government does not take many such actions, those they do can have a greater deterrent effect than civil suits because criminal cases bring more attention, along with the possibility of jail time for convicted culprits,” Fried notes.

“Indeed, a 2012 U.S. action against Megaupload—then the largest piracy ‘cyberlocker,’ accounting for 4 percent of all internet traffic—increased lawful digital sales by 6.5 to 8.5 percent for three major studios in 12 countries,” he adds, citing an academic study from an MPAA funded research group.

Hollywood’s anti-piracy outfit hopes that the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) will continue to investigate piracy cases. In order to facilitate this, the MPAA says it has already reported several unnamed piracy streaming operations, hoping for a similar effect.

“The MPAA has pending a number of criminal referrals to DOJ regarding streaming piracy operations, with the goal of replicating a comparable uptick in legitimate consumption,” Fried notes.

These referrals have not been made public, but it’s clear that the MPAA would like to see some streaming-related criminal prosecutions. This could be streaming sites, but also illegal IPTV services, or companies that sell pirate streaming boxes.

The MPAA has fed law enforcement with information leading to piracy-related indictments on several previous occasions. The anti-piracy group triggered the criminal prosecution of members of the BitTorrent release group IMAGiNE, as well as the Megaupload and KickassTorrents cases.

The latter two cases are still on hold, pending the outcome of extradition requests in New Zealand and Poland respectively. Considering the slow progress in these cases, it could be that the DoJ is not too eager to take on another online piracy case just yet.

The MPAA’s criminal referrals are part of its three-pronged approach to combating online piracy. This further involves voluntary anti-piracy initiatives with third-party services, as well as civil lawsuits against copyright-infringing sites and services. 

The voluntary initiatives include agreements with domain name registrars, advertisers, payment processors, which are encouraged to cut their ties with known pirate sites.

On the civil action side, the MPAA’s activity has recently been coordinated through the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE). This group has filed civil cases against streaming box vendors and IPTV services, and also conducts “knock and talks,” targeting pirate add-on developers

In recent years there haven’t been any criminal cases against streaming piracy outfits. The MPAA, however, urges lawmakers to ensure that the feds expand their horizons and pursue cases against these streaming piracy operations.

“Our hope is that Congress will encourage DOJ to move forward with those cases,” Fried notes in the testimony.

The full testimony from the MPAA’s Neil Fried, was submitted for hearings in the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce (pdf) and the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation (pdf).

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It is fairly common for anti-piracy outfits to describe pirate sites and devices as “scams” but despite being mostly illegal, they deliver what they promise and rarely attempt to defraud the public.

Over in Germany, a much more sinister operation is being reported, one that involves more than a couple of hundred sites that claim to be legal but are actually a huge money-making scheme for fraudsters.

In the example shown below, AsoFlix looks like a regular pirate streaming platform. However, the site claims to be legitimate, despite the fact that the irregular capitalization of its various movie categories suggests an unprofessional offer.

No content can be accessed before registering and when users try to sign up, they are asked to enter all of their personal details. This is where the trouble starts.

In return for handing over their names, addresses, credit card and cellphone numbers, users are given a five-day free trial but according to police, this amounts to a so-called “subscription trap”. Buried away in the terms and conditions is a note that if “users do not unsubscribe during the free trial, your account will automatically be upgraded to a one-year premium account.”

In the case of Asoflix, that’s the princely sum of € 395.88 per year, charged in one transaction. Worst still, local news outlet Tarnkappe reports that the sites actually have “little to no works” on offer, which means a huge bill and no return for those unfortunate enough to sign up. Police add that they cannot say whether any content offered is licensed, although that seems unlikely.

The scam was first uncovered in 2018 but according to police, it is very much ongoing. They have published a list of the domains involved in the fraud which number around 220 (TF tests reveal that a number are now inactive), alongside warnings not to pay up.

The problem is that many victims are receiving pressure from the sites to do just that via bogus debt collection letters threatening to seize property, pensions, bank deposits, and even unemployment benefits. And in a sign of how sophisticated the scam is, police say that videos have been posted to YouTube supposedly featuring lawyers who advise that the demands for cash are legitimate.

Video advising that the scam on GadaFlix.de is legal (credit: German police)

It’s worth noting that AsoFlix and GadaFlix (the site referenced in the YouTube screenshot above) are identical, yet they claim to be owned by different companies. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a report from Germany connects this scam with an earlier one involving bogus copyright infringement notices.

Since we highlighted AsoFlix above, we took a closer look at who might be behind the service. Strangely, given the heat this and similar platforms are under in Germany, the AsoFlix site actually lists its owning company as FOXRUSH FILMS LTD, England.

Whether this is actually the owning company is unknown, but a company by that name does exist in the UK having been incorporated in 2013. It is currently listed as dormant and since its inception has never reported any trading. Google Maps shows the address as a small mid-terrace house in a residential area of Coventry. According to EU databases, the VAT number provided by AsoFlix doesn’t exist.

TorrentFreak checked a number of the companies listed on these scam sites as their owners and many are incorporated entities in the UK. While it’s possible the scammers trawled Companies House in search of random companies to blame, further investigation by the authorities is needed to draw a definitive conclusion.

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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Pirated copies of movies appear online every day in a variety of formats, such as CAM, DVDRip, WEBRip, and Web-DL.

The latter, which usually come from streaming and download services such as Netflix, Amazon, or iTunes, have proven to be a reliable source for pirates over the years.

In general, that doesn’t apply to 4K releases. These are protected by the highest encryption standards. In the case of Netflix, this is Widevine’s highest level DRM. Cracking this is seen as the holy grail by pirates.

While there is no confirmation that the keys have been cracked, a flurry of new 4K Netflix leaks suggests that there’s at least some type of vulnerability that allows outsiders to decrypt the original steams.

Over the past 24-hours several 4K releases of prominent Netflix releases spread across various pirate sites. The leaks comprise of the entire third season of the Netflix exclusive “Stranger Things,” which came out yesterday.

The leaked episodes originate from the DEFLATE release group and are all marked as ‘INTERNAL’ releases, such as “Stranger Things S03E01 INTERNAL 2160p WEB H265-DEFLATE.”

In the past, we have seen several 4K videos being ripped from Netflix. In fact, the first rips came out four years ago. However, the WEB tags on today’s releases indicate that these files were directly decrypted from the original files, which means that there’s no loss in quality. 

“Untouched releases must be considered as anything that has been losslessly downloaded by official (offered) or unofficial (backdoor) methods,” official Scene rules dictate.

These untouched releases are rare. We’ve only previously seen these types of Netflix leaks for a brief period in 2017. At the time, the releases stopped following a Widevine update, a source informed TorrentFreak.

Stranger Things leak (compressed, 36MB untouched)

Exactly how the release group was able to pull off these new leaks is unknown. The leaks were pointed out by Tarnkappe and TorrentFreak reached out to Netflix for a comment on the matter, but at the time of publication, we have yet to hear back. 

The DEFLATE release group is no stranger to novel 4K leaks. Earlier this year the same group also released several movies from iTunes, including the entire James Bond collection. That was the first breach of its kind on iTunes

The fact that two groups have been able to decrypt the 4K releases indicates that this ‘breach’ is widespread. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see more titles appear during the coming days, until the hole is patched again.

Update: We previously mentioned the UHDCANDY releases of Jessica Jones and Black Mirror but there were “depred,” so we removed those from the article.

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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