These so-called “copyright trolling” efforts have been a common occurrence in the United States for more than half a decade, and still are.

While copyright holders should be able to take legitimate piracy claims to court, there are some who resort to dodgy tactics to extract money from alleged pirates. The evidence isn’t exactly rock-solid either, which results in plenty of innocent targets.

A prime candidate for the latter category is a man who was sued by Venice PI, a copyright holder of the film “Once Upon a Time in Venice.” He was sued not once, but twice. That’s not the problem though. What stood out is that defendant is no longer alive.

The man’s wife informed a federal court in Seattle that he passed away recently, at the respectable age of 91. While age doesn’t prove innocence, the widow also mentioned that her husband suffered from dementia and was both mentally and physically incapable of operating a computer at the time of the alleged offense.

These circumstances raised doubt with US District Court Judge Thomas Zilly, who brought them up in a recent order (citations omitted).

“In two different cases, plaintiff sued the same, now deceased, defendant, namely Wilbur Miller. Mr. Miller’s widow submitted a declaration indicating that, for about five years prior to his death at the age of 91, Mr. Miller suffered from dementia and was both mentally and physically incapable of operating a computer,” the Judge writes.

The Judge notes that the IP-address tracking tools used by the copyright holder might not be as accurate as is required. In addition, he adds that the company can’t simply launch a “fishing expedition” based on the IP-address alone.

“The fact that Mr. Miller’s Internet Protocol (‘IP’) address was nevertheless identified as part of two different BitTorrent ‘swarms’ raises significant doubts about the accuracy of whatever IP-address tracking method plaintiff is using.

“Moreover, plaintiff may not, based solely on IP addresses, launch a fishing expedition aimed at coercing individuals into either admitting to copyright infringement or pointing a finger at family members, friends, tenants, or neighbors. Plaintiff must demonstrate the plausibility of their claims before discovery will be permitted,” Judge Zilly adds.

From the order

Since the copyright holder has only provided an IP-address as evidence, the plausibility of the copyright infringement claims is not properly demonstrated. This means that the holder was not allowed to conduct discovery, which includes discussions with defendants.

The court, therefore, ordered Venice PI to cease all communication with defendants effective immediately, until further notice. This order applies to a dozen cases which are now effectively on hold.

The copyright holder has been given 28 days to provide more information on several issues related to the evidence gathering. This offer of proof should be supported by a declaration of an expert in the field.

The Judge wants to know if an IP-address can be spoofed or faked by a BitTorrent tracker, and if so, how likely this is. In addition, he questions if the material that was tracked (possible only part of a download) is actually playable. And finally, the Judge asks what other evidence Venice PI has against each defendant, aside from the IP-address.

“In the absence of a timely filed offer of proof, plaintiff’s claims will be dismissed with prejudice and without costs, and these cases will be closed,” Judge Zilly warns.

The harsh order was noticed by copyright troll skeptic FCT, who notes that Venice PI will have a hard time providing the requested proof.

Venice and other “copyright trolls” use the German company Maverickeye to track BitTorrent pirates on a broad scale. They are also active with their settlement demands in various other countries, most recently in Sweden.

If the provided proof is not sufficient in the court’s opinion, it will be hard for them and other rightsholders to continue their practices in the Washington district.

The full order is available here (pdf).

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The decision was welcomed by the music industry, which looked forward to having more sites blocked in due course.

Soon after, local music rights group LSG sent its lawyers after several other large ISPs urging them to follow suit, or else. However, the ISPs dug in and a year later, in May 2016, things began to unravel. The Vienna Higher Regional Court overruled the earlier decision of the Commercial Court, meaning that local ISPs were free to unblock the previously blocked sites.

The Court concluded that ISP blocks are only warranted if copyright holders have exhausted all their options to take action against those actually carrying out the infringement. This decision was welcomed by the Internet Service Providers Austria (ISPA), which described the decision as an important milestone.

The ISPs argued that only torrent files, not the content itself, was available on the portals. They also had a problem with the restriction of access to legitimate content.

“A problem in this context is that the offending pages also have legal content and it is no longer possible to access that if barriers are put in place,” said ISPA Secretary General Maximilian Schubert.

Taking the case to its ultimate conclusion, the music companies appealed to the Supreme Court. Another year on and its decision has just been published and for the rightsholders, who represent 3,000 artists including The Beatles, Justin Bieber, Eric Clapton, Coldplay, David Guetta, Iggy Azalea, Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga, Metallica, George Michael, One Direction, Katy Perry, and Queen, to name a few, it was worth the effort.

The Court looked at whether “the provision and operation of a BitTorrent platform with the purpose of online file sharing [of non-public domain works]” represents a “communication to the public” under the EU Copyright Directive. Citing the now-familiar BREIN v Filmspeler and BREIN v Ziggo and XS4All cases that both received European Court of Justice rulings earlier this year, the Supreme Court concluded it was.

Citing another Dutch case, in which Playboy publisher Sanoma took on the blog GeenStijl.nl, the Court noted that linking to copyrighted content hosted elsewhere also amounted to a “communication to the public”, a situation mirrored on torrent sites like The Pirate Bay.

“The similarity of the technical procedure in this case when compared to BitTorrent platforms lies in the fact that in both cases the operators of the website did not provide any copyrighted works themselves, but merely provided further information on sites where the protected works were available,” the Court notes in its ruling.

In respect of the potential for blocking legitimate content as well as that infringing copyright, the Court turned the ISPs’ own arguments against them somewhat.

The ISPs had previously argued that blocking The Pirate Bay and other sites was pointless since the torrents they host would still be available elsewhere. The Court noted that point and also found that people can easily upload their torrents to sites that aren’t blocked, since there’s plenty of choice.

The ISPA criticized the Supreme Court’s ruling, noting that in future ISPs will still find themselves being held responsible for decisions concerning blocking.

“We do not support illegal content on the Internet in any way, but consider it extremely questionable that the decision on what is illegal and what is not falls to ISPs, instead of a court,” said ISPA Secretary General Maximilian.

“Although we find it positive that a court of last resort has taken the decision, the assessment of the website in the first instance continues to be left to the Internet provider. The Supreme Court’s expansion of the circle of sites that be potentially blocked further complicates this task for the operator and furthers the privatization of law enforcement.

“It is extremely unpleasant that even after more than 10 years of fierce discussion, there is still no compelling legal basis for a court decision on Internet blocking, which puts providers in the role of both judge and hangman.”

Also of interest is ISPA’s stance on how blocking of content fails to solve the underlying issue. When content is blocked, rather than removed, it simply displaces the problem, leaving others to pick up the pieces, the Internet body argues.

“Illegal content is permanently removed from the network by deletion. Everything else is a placebo with extremely dangerous side effects, which can easily be bypassed by both providers and consumers. The only thing that remains is a blocking infrastructure that can be misused for many purposes and, unfortunately, will be used in many places,” Schubert says.

“The current situation, where providers have to block the rightsholders quasi on the spot, if they do not want to engage in a time-consuming and cost-intensive litigation, is really not sustainable so we issue a call to action to the legislature.”

The domains that were listed in the case, many of which are already defunct, are: thepiratebay.se, thepiratebay.gd, thepiratebay.la, thepiratebay.mn, thepiratebay.mu, thepiratebay.sh, thepiratebay.tw, thepiratebay.fm, thepiratebay.ms, thepiratebay.vg, isohunt.to, 1337x.to and h33t.to.

Whether it will be added later is unclear, but the only domain currently used by The Pirate Bay (thepiratebay.org) is not included in the list.

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Companies accused of using Microsoft software without permission usually get a letter asking them to pay up, or face legal consequences.

Rhode Island-based company Hanna Instruments is one of the most recent targets. The company stands accused of using Microsoft Office products without a proper license.

However, instead of Microsoft going after Hanna in court for copyright infringement, Hanna has filed a lawsuit against BSA and Microsoft asking for a declaratory judgment that it did nothing wrong.

The lawsuit is the result of a long back-and-forth that started in June. At the time, BSA’s lawyers sent Hanna a letter accusing it of using Microsoft products without a proper license, while requesting an audit.

Hanna’s management wasn’t aware of any pirated products but after repeated requests, the company decided to go ahead and conduct a thorough investigation. The results, combined in a detailed spreadsheet, showed that it purchased 126 copies of Microsoft Office software, while only 120 were in use.

Perfectly fine, they assumed, but the BSA was not convinced.

Since Hanna only had Microsoft generated key cards for the most recent purchases, the company used purchase orders, requisitions, and price quotes to prove that it properly licensed earlier copies of Microsoft Office. Not good enough, according to the BSA, which wanted to see money instead.

The BSA’s lawyers informed Hanna that the company would face up to $4,950,000 in damages if the case went to court. Instead, however, they offered to settle the matter for $72,074.

From the complaint

Hanna wasn’t planning to pay and pointed out that they sent in as much proof as they could find, documenting legal purchases of Microsoft Office licenses for a period covering more than ten years. While the BSA appreciated the effort, it didn’t accept this as hard evidence.

“…the provision of purchase orders, price quotes, purchase requisitions are not acceptable as valid proof of purchase to our client. Reason being, the aforesaid documents do not demonstrate that a purchase has taken place, they merely establish intent to make a purchase of software,” the BSA wrote in yer another email.

Interestingly, the BSA itself still failed to provide any solid proof that Hanna was using unlicensed software. The Rhode Island company repeatedly requested this, but the BSA simply replied that it’s neither appropriate nor efficient to request evidence from their clients in every case.

The BSA then went a step further and suggested that Microsoft did the company a favor by approaching it directly. The alternative would have been to call in the U.S. Marshals and raid the company’s headquarters.

“The rights holders had the alternative option of simply commencing litigation and seeking a court order permitting a raid by U.S. Marshals,” the BSA’s lawyers wrote in one of their letters.

This ‘threat’ wasn’t completely in vain. In the past, the BSA and Microsoft’s accusations have developed into fully-fledged raids, with armed law enforcement officials assisting the software vendor, taking away computers for further inspection.

Still, Hanna maintained that it didn’t do anything wrong. At this point, they’d spent $25,000 on disproving the BSA’s “baseless” claims, and saw no other option than to take the matter to court.

Late last week the company submitted a complaint against Microsoft and the BSA in a Rhode Island federal court, asking for a declaratory judgment and monetary compensation.

“To date, the Defendants have not provided any documentation supporting the baseless allegation that Hanna illegally copied Microsoft Office, in spite of repeated requests by Plaintiff’s counsel that BSA produce such information,” the complaint reads.

“By this Complaint, Hanna seeks a declaration by the Court that it has not infringed any Microsoft copyrights, that Hanna has been harmed by BSA’s relentless and unsupported charges, and that Defendants pay Hanna’s costs and expenses for this action, together with reasonable attorney fees, and any additional monetary award this Court deems appropriate.”

It’s now up to the court to decide who’s right and who’s wrong, but the case already provides a rare and intriguing insight into the anti-piracy practices of Microsoft and the BSA.

This isn’t the first time that one of these cases has gone to court. In Belgium, the BSA and Microsoft lost a similar case. Here, a local company was ordered to pay a settlement on the spot or lose its computers. With law enforcement at the ready, the owner decided to pay, despite owning valid licenses.

The full complaint is available here (pdf).

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While the lobbying talks take place behind closed doors, quarterly disclosure reports provide some insight into the items under discussion.

The MPAA’s most recent lobbying disclosure form features several new topics that weren’t on the agenda last year.

Among other issues, the Hollywood group lobbied the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives on set-top boxes, preloaded streaming piracy devices, and streaming piracy in general.

The details of these discussions remain behind closed doors. The only thing we know for sure is what Hollywood is lobbying on, but it doesn’t take much imagination to take an educated guess on the ‘why’ part.

Just over a year ago streaming piracy boxes were hardly mentioned in anti-piracy circles, but today they are on the top of the enforcement list. The MPAA is reporting these concerns to lawmakers, to see whether they can be of assistance in curbing this growing threat.

Some of the lobbying topics

It’s clear that pirate streaming players are a prime concern for Hollywood. MPA boss Stan McCoy recently characterized the use of these devices as “Piracy 3.0” and a coalition of industry players sued a US-based seller of streaming boxes earlier this month.

The lobbying efforts themselves are nothing new of course. Every year the MPAA spends around $4 million to influence the decisions of lawmakers, both directly and through external lobbying firms such as Covington & Burling, Capitol Tax Partners, and Sentinel Worldwide.

While piracy streaming boxes are new on the agenda this year, they are not the only topics under discussion. Other items include trade deals such as the TPP, TTIP, and NAFTA, voluntary domain name initiatives, EU digital single market proposals, and cybersecurity.

TorrentFreak reached out to the MPAA for more information on the streaming box lobbying efforts, but we have yet to hear back.

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My or better say our YouTube channel is towards the amazing amount of 80.000 subscribers! We have gone a long-long way for just less than 2 years of this fantastic journey and I feel really blessed to share my passion with you guys daily through all the possible social media. Of course YouTube is the main reason everything started and will continue to be my highest priority. To every single one of you that made it happen, whether you are subscribed or just watch my videos, I feel to share my gratitude and a huge THANK YOU!

For most people may not seem much but for me it means the world. I will continue with the same if not even more passion to share any insights, reviews, tips and news with you guys and girls. And I am planning for a new giveaway really soon but will try to make it big. Not as big as I would like since I think I should give back to every each one of you but I will try my best!

Boom Shakalaka Baby!

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More than seventeen years later that doomsday scenario hasn’t come to pass, not because piracy has been defeated – far from it – but because the music, movie and related industries have come to the market with their own offers.

The music industry were the quickest to respond, with services like iTunes and later Spotify making serious progress against pirate alternatives. It took the video industry far longer to attack the market but today, with platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Video, they have a real chance at scooping up what might otherwise be pirate consumption.

While there’s still a long way to go, it’s interesting to hear the progress that’s being made not only in the West but also piracy hotspots further afield. This week, Brazil’s Exame reported on a new study published by Google.

Focused on movies, one of its key findings is that local consumer interest in Netflix is now greater than pirate alternatives including torrents, streaming, and apps. As illustrated in the image below, the tipping point took place early November 2016, when searches for Netflix overtook those for unauthorized platforms.

Netflix vs Pirates (via Exame)

While the stats above don’t necessarily point to a reduction in piracy of movies and TV shows in Brazil, they show that Netflix’s library and ease of use is rewarded by widespread awareness among those seeking such content locally.

“We’re not lowering piracy but this does show how relevant the [Netflix] brand is when it comes to offering content online,” Google Brazil’s market intelligence chief Sérgio Tejido told Exame.

For Debora Bona, a director specializing in media and entertainment at Google Brazil, the success of Netflix is comparable to the rise of Spotify. In part thanks to The Pirate Bay, Sweden had a serious piracy problem in the middle of the last decade but by providing a viable alternative, the streaming service has become part of the solution.

“The event is interesting,” Bona says. “Since the launch of streaming solutions such as Netflix and Spotify, they have become alternatives to piracy. Sweden had many problems with music piracy and the arrival of Spotify reversed this curve.”

Netflix launched in Brazil back in 2011, but Exame notes that the largest increase in searches for the platform took place between 2013 and 2016, demonstrating a boost of 284%. Even more evidence of Netflix’s popularity was revealed in recent surveys which indicate that 77% of surveyed Brazilians had watched Netflix, up from 71% in 2016.

Importantly, nine out of ten users in Brazil said they were “extremely satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the service, up from 79% in the previous year. An impressive 66% of subscribers said that they were “not at all likely to cancel”, a welcome statistics for a company pumping billions into making its own content and increasingly protecting it (1,2), in the face of persistent pirate competition.

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Following a $15 million defeat against Elsevier in June, the American Chemical Society won a default judgment of $4.8 million in copyright damages late last week.

In addition, the publisher was granted an unprecedented injunction, requiring various third-party services to stop providing access to the site.

The order specifically mentions domain registrars and hosting companies, but also search engines and ISPs, although only those who are in “active concert or participation” with the site. This order sparked fears that Google, Comcast, and others would be ordered to take action, but that’s not the case.

After the news broke ACS issued a press release clarifying that it would not go after search engines and ISPs when they are not in “active participation” with Sci-Hub. The problem is that this can be interpreted quite broadly, leaving plenty of room for uncertainty.

Luckily, ACS Director Glenn Ruskin was willing to provide more clarity. He stressed that search engines and ISPs won’t be targeted for simply linking users to Sci-Hub. Companies that host the content are a target though.

“The court’s affirmative ruling does not apply to search engines writ large, but only to those entities who have been in active concert or participation with Sci-Hub, such as websites that host ACS content stolen by Sci-Hub,” Ruskin said.

When we asked whether this means that ISPs such as Comcast are not likely to be targeted, the answer was affirmative.

“That is correct, unless the internet service provider has been in active concert or participation with SciHub. Simply linking to SciHub does not rise to be in active concert or participation,” Ruskin clarified.

The above suggests that ACS will go after domain name registrars, hosting companies, and perhaps Cloudflare, but not any further. Still, even if that’s the case there is cause for worry among several digital rights activists.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation believes that these type of orders set a dangerous precedent. The concept of “active concert or participation” should only cover close associates and co-conspirators, not everyone who provides a service to the defendant. Domain registrars and registries have often been compelled to take action in similar cases, but EFF says this goes too far.

“The courts need to limit who can be bound by orders like this one, to prevent them from being abused,” EFF Senior Staff Attorney Mitch Stoltz informs TorrentFreak.

“In particular, domain name registrars and registries shouldn’t be ordered to help take down a website because of a dispute over the site’s contents. That invites others to use the domain name system as a tool for censorship.”

News of the Sci-Hub injunction has sparked controversy and confusion in recent days, not least because Sci-hub.cc became unavailable soon after. Instead of showing the usual search box, visitors now see a “403 Forbidden” error message. On top of that, the bulletproof Tor version of the site also went offline.

The error message indicates that there’s a hosting issue. While it’s easy to conclude that the court’s injunction has something to do with this, that might not necessarily be the case. Sci-Hub’s hosting company isn’t tied to the US and has a history of protecting sites from takedown efforts.

We reached out to Sci-Hub founder Alexandra Elbakyan for comment but we’re yet to receive a response. The site hasn’t posted any relevant updates on its social media pages either.

That said, the site is far from done. In addition to the Tor domain, Sci-Hub has several other backups in place such as Sci-Hub.io and Sci-Hub.ac, which are up and running as usual.

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The scheme started in Germany years ago, and copyright holders later went after alleged pirates in Australia, Denmark, Finland, the UK, US, and elsewhere.

This summer, the copyright holders behind the movie Dallas Buyers Club added Spain to the mix, going after dozens of alleged pirates in Bilbao and San Sebastian. The ‘filmmakers’ are part of a tight group of so-called copyright trolls which are constantly expanding their business to other countries.

While they have had some success, mainly by sending out settlement letters, in Spain the first court case brought bad news.

The Commercial Court of Donostia dismissed the claim against an alleged file-sharer due to a lack of evidence. Dallas Buyers Club identified the infringer through an IP-address, but according to Judge Pedro José Malagón Ruiz, this is not good enough.

“The ruling says that there is no way to know whether the defendant was the P2P user or not, because an IP address only identifies the person who subscribed to the Internet connection, not the user who made use of the connection at a certain moment,” copyright lawyer David Bravo tells TorrentFreak.

“A relative or a guest could have been using the network, or even someone accessing the wifi if it was open,” he adds.

In addition, the Judge agreed with the defense that there is no evidence that the defendant actively made the movie available. This generally requires a form of intent. However, BitTorrent clients automatically share files with others, whether it’s the intention of the user or not.

“The upload of the data from the P2P programs occurs automatically by the program configuration itself. […] This occurs by default without requiring the knowledge or intention of the user,” Judge Malagón Ruiz writes in his verdict, quoted by Genbeta.

In other words, these BitTorrent transfers are not necessarily an act of public communication, therefore, they are not infringing any copyrights.

The case provides hope for other accused file-sharers who are looking to have their cases dismissed as well. Not in the last place because the defense was coordinated online, without active involvement of a lawyer.

Bravo, together with two colleague lawyers, offered self-help forms to accused file-sharers free of charge. Defendants could use these to mount a proper defense, which paid off in this case.

“This ruling sets a precedent,” Bravo tells TorrentFreak, noting that it’s a clear setback for the copyright holders who are involved in these mass file-sharing lawsuits.

While the lawyer cautions that other courts may come to a different conclusion, it appears that Dallas Buyers Club and other copyright trolls will meet some fierce ‘p2p coordinated’ resistance in Spain.

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According to a statement from German authorities, the Attorney General in Dresden and various cybercrime agencies teamed up this week to take down sites dedicated to sharing copyright protected material via the Usenet (newsgroups) system.

Huge amounts of infringing items were said to have been made available on a pair of indexing sites – 400,000 on Town.ag and 1,200,000 on Usenet-Town.com.

“Www.town.ag and www.usenet-town.com were two of the largest online portals that provided access to films, series, music, software, e-books, audiobooks, books, newspapers and magazines through systematic and unlawful copyright infringement,” the statement reads.

Visitors to these URLs are no longer greeted by the usual warez-fest, but by a seizure banner placed there by German authorities.

Seizure banner on Town.ag and Usenet-Town.com (translated)

Following an investigation carried out after complaints from rightsholders, 182 officers of various agencies raided homes and businesses Wednesday, each connected to a reported 26 suspects. In addition to searches of data centers located in Germany, servers in Spain, Netherlands, San Marino, Switzerland, and Canada were also targeted.

According to police the sites generated income from ‘sponsors’, netting their operators millions of euros in revenue. One of those appears to be Usenet reseller SSL-News, which displays the same seizure banner. Rightsholders claim that the Usenet portals have cost them many millions of euros in lost sales.

Arrest warrants were issued in Spain and Saxony against two German nationals, 39 and 31-years-old respectively. The man arrested in Spain is believed to be a ringleader and authorities there have been asked to extradite him to Germany.

At least 1,000 gigabytes of data were seized, with police scooping up numerous computers and other hardware for evidence. The true scale of material indexed is likely to be much larger, however.

Online chatter suggests that several other Usenet-related sites have also disappeared during the past day but whether that’s a direct result of the raids or down to precautionary measures taken by their operators isn’t yet clear.

Update: New information provided by German authorities states that raids have also been carried out against the suspected operators of Usenet portal UsenetRevolution.info. The total number of suspects, reportedly aged between 23 and 72-years-old, sits at 42.

The main suspects are said to be a 49-year-old man (the assumed administrator of the site), his 39-year-old wife, and three other individuals aged 42, 53 and 41, described as uploaders and/or moderators of the platform.

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Whether music, news, sport or just chat, TuneIn provides more than 120,000 radio stations and five million podcasts to 75,000,000 global users, both for free and via a premium tier service.

Accessible from devices including cellphones, tablets, smart TVs, digital receivers, games consoles and even cars, TuneIn reaches more than 230 countries and territories worldwide. One, however, is about to cause the company a headache.

According to a report from Music Business Worldwide (MBW), Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group are suing TuneIn over unlicensed streams.

MBW sources say that the record labels filed proceedings in the UK High Court last week, claiming that TuneIn committed copyright infringement on at least 800 music streams accessible in the UK.

While TuneIn does offer premium streams to customers, the service primarily acts as an index for radio streams hosted by their respective third-party creators. It describes itself as “an audio guide service” which indicates it does not directly provide the content listened to by its users.

However, previous EU rulings (such as one related to The Pirate Bay) have determined that providing an index to content is tantamount to a communication to the public, which for unlicensed content would amount to infringement in the UK.

While it would be difficult to avoid responsibility, TuneIn states on its website that it makes no claim that its service is legal in any other country than the United States.

“Those who choose to access or use the Service from locations outside the United States of America do so on their own initiative and are responsible for compliance with local laws, if and to the extent local laws are applicable,” the company writes.

“Access to the Service from jurisdictions where the contents or practices of the Service are illegal, unauthorized or penalized is strictly prohibited.”

All that being said, the specific details of the Sony/Warner complaint are not yet publicly available so the precise nature of the High Court action is yet to be determined.

TorrentFreak contacted the BPI, the industry body that represents both Sony and Warner in the UK, for comment on the lawsuit. A spokesperson informed us that they are not directly involved in the action.

We also contacted both the IFPI and San Francisco-based TuneIn for further comment but at the time of publication, we were yet to hear back from either.

TuneIn reportedly has until the end of November to file a defense.

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