Last September, international cyber-security firm Group-IB revealed that almost all movies released in 2018 had been leaked online.

While that isn’t particularly surprising, the company went on to highlight the activities of an organized group of “camcording” pirates in Russia.

“This group is financed by online-casinos, which support online-pirates as well. Online-casinos integrate their ads in the pirated copies and TV-shows in the form of logos, captioning or even as audio tracks,” Andrey Busargin, Director of Brand Protection at Group-IB, told TorrentFreak.

Pirated ‘Destination Wedding’ featuring Azino777 watermark

According to Group-IB, the major player utilizing this tactic is Azino777. The gambling service is unlicensed and therefore illegal in Russia. Under orders from the court, it is currently blocked by local ISPs along with hundreds of its own mirror sites. Nevertheless, the business is doing everything it can to recruit new customers.

In 2018, Azino777 was reported to be one of Russia’s top advertisers, outspending leading search engines Yandex and Google, and even Coca Cola and Pepsi. Now, however, a crisis could be looming following a blunder by a court in neighboring Ukraine.

Online casinos are illegal in Ukraine, so the authorities there have been taking a keen interest in Azino777. Following a criminal investigation by local police, it’s reported that the casino’s alleged offices in Kiev were raided in June 2018 and equipment seized.

This week, Russian news outlet The Bell discovered that a court in Kiev had failed to redact the name of 33-year-old Russian IT expert Albert Valiakhmetov from documents relating to that operation. The publication’s investigation, which references Ukraine court documents, indicates that the Russian is the suspected creator of Azino777.

While Azino777 is still operational, it’s clear that the heat is being turned up on the operation, both in Russia and Ukraine, which could have a potential impact on the piracy landscape in both countries.

Last week, TorrentFreak reported on data provided by Group-IB, which indicated that streaming piracy in Russia is dominated by professionals operating ‘pirate’ CDNs ( Content Distribution Networks) that not only supply movies and TV shows, but also additional services that make it easy to setup and maintain a pirate site. According to Group-IB, Azino777 is deeply involved.

“Azino777 has become an integral part of the existing ecosystem of pirated content in Russia. Azino777 closely cooperates with key pirated resources, placing advertising on such pirate CDNs as Moonwalk (the largest in Russia) and HDGO (second most popular),” says Dmitry Tyunkin, Deputy Director Anti-Piracy at Group-IB.

“In the case of Moonwalk, most often pre-roll and mid-roll ads are bought
(excluding ad inserts in the body of the video). In the case of HDGO, a unique precedent was achieved; the advertising network was built into the player. This meant that, apart from the classic pre-roll/mid-roll ads, all new content uploaded into the player is marked with a watermark and advertising within the video file itself.”

The amount of advertising in each title depends on the popularity of the release. Tyunkin says that the number of ads can vary between one and four, and can even include audio ads that are dubbed at the request of Azino777. Given the number of releases, the scale is impressive.

According to Group-IB data, in 2018 a total of 218 movies appeared in ‘cam’ format, with more than 90% of them containing advertising. TV shows posted with exclusive voiceovers exceeded 540 titles. Overall, the company believes that Azino777 is responsible for around 1,415 movie releases and 1,835 TV shows.

Group-IB says it can’t put a value on the revenues generated by these activities but says that the advertising format (via pirated content) is effective. The content spreads naturally and advertising on pirate sites is cheap – four to five times less than on equivalents in the US or EU – and the number of sites is huge.

“The estimated number of existing portals that are indirectly (through advertising networks and pirate CDNs such as HDGO) or directly linked to this casino is approximately 6,100 portals,” Tyunkin says.

Interestingly, Azino777 isn’t the only – or indeed first – company to embark on this kind of mass marketing. Group-IB says that JoyCasino was the first to experiment with the pirate model, with 1XBet trying the same in India and English speaking countries.

In short, there are takers around to fill the niche, even if Azino777 somehow falls.

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It is no secret that copyright holders are monitoring unauthorized BitTorrent downloads around the world.

In most cases, this results in harmless takedown notices but increasingly, these warnings are triggering settlement demands or automated fines.

Movie distributor Dutch Filmworks is planning similar action in the Netherlands.  The company initially hoped to send the first settlement demands more than a year ago, but this plan was stalled.

Without voluntary cooperation from ISPs, the movie company had to get a court order to request the personal details of account holders whose IP-addresses were caught pirating. It turns out that this is not going to happen, at least not yet.

In a decision published today, the Central Netherlands Court denied the request from Dutch Filmworks, following an objection from local Internet provider Ziggo.

The movie company requested the personal details connected to 377 IP-addresses which allegedly shared a copy of‘ ‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard,’ a title that has come up in so-called “copyright trolling” cases in the US as well.

In its conclusion, the Court states that is it indeed against the law to upload or download movies without permission. As such, Dutch Filmworks is entitled to damages. And to request damages, it does indeed require the personal details of account holders.

However, the Court adds that, in this case, Ziggo is not required to share any personal information. The verdict notes that it’s unclear how the movie company plans to approach the account holders, and whether it sees these people as the offending downloaders.

According to the Court, an account holder who’s linked to an IP-address is not necessarily the downloader. This is an argument we’ve seen in many foreign cases as well.

On top of that, it is unclear whether the proposed settlements, which are expected to be around €150 per infringement, do indeed match up with the actual damages the movie company suffered. That number may be a ‘fine’ to some extent, which shouldn’t be part of a settlement.

“The amount that [Dutch Filmworks] DFW now wishes to receive, presumably € 150, – is, however, in no way substantiated and it is not excluded that in the amount of damage to be requested by DFW also elements of a fine,” the verdict reads.

All in all, the Court sides with Ziggo. The ISP doesn’t have to expose its users and Dutch Filmworks is ordered to pay the costs for the court proceedings.

A spokesperson for Ziggo told the Dutch news site that the company is “satisfied” with the result. Dutch Filmworks refrained from commenting at this time and will issue a statement next week.

Considering the time and resources that have gone into the data collection, as well as the fact that local anti-piracy group BREIN plans to go after frequent BitTorrent uploaders, this is probably not the last we’ve heard of it.

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Dedicated anime pirate sites are popular around the globe, but in Latin America they are huge.

AnimeYT has been one of the main players in the area. With millions of regular visitors, it was the top pirate site in countries including Argentina Chile, Peru, and Mexico.

The site is among the top 50 most-visited websites on the entire Internet in these countries, beating traditional streaming and torrent sites by a landslide.

The massive reach of these sites is a thorn in the side of copyright holders, which are increasingly taking action in response. Over the past weeks, several Brazilian anime sites folded after legal threats and this weekend AnimeYT shut down as well.

In a goodbye message, AnimeYT’s operator “TioYT” mentions the situation in Brazil as the reason for the decision. He doesn’t point a finger at a specific legal threat and chooses to end with a personal message instead.

“I spent many years translating animes, arguing with fans, watching anime girls on this page. So much that when I look back at my life, I think that at least a quarter of my memories are linked to this site, to this community,” the operator writes.

“Remember that behind the dude you call ‘TioYT’ there’s a common and ordinary guy who has his own problems, his family, who has other responsibilities and who is more than anything very grateful for all the love and the support they everyone has shown to the website in general,’ he adds.

Farewell AnimeYT

The shutdown has created a lot of uproar on social media and many of the site’s former users are taking out their anger on the legitimate anime streaming platform Crunchyroll, which is seen as the driving force behind many of the recent shutdowns.

Crunchyroll has reportedly gone after several Brazilian anime sites but, thus far, we haven’t seen any official confirmation that it approached AnimeYT directly. It could also be that there are other rightsholders involved.

The anime battle (@haslaisfeed)

Another popular anime site that shut down last week is AnimeMovil. This site currently redirects to Crunchyroll. The site reportedly took this decision after the Japanese studio Toei Animation went after it for publishing a copy of  Dragon Ball Super Broly, shortly after it premiered.

The shutdowns have resulted in a surge of new traffic flowing to AnimeFLV, another popular anime site in Latin America. In addition, inventive users have also started to upload Dragon Ball episodes to porn sites, hoping that they’re safe there.

While AnimeYT and AnimeMovil could certainly be classified as pirate sites, many people relied on them to get the latest anime shows quickly. 

That anime is more than a simple pastime for kids was made clear last year when local Mexican authorities planned to premiere the 130th episode of Dragon Ball Super in football stadiums and other public places, even though they had no license to do so.

Although several massive anime sites have now fallen, it’s expected that others will fill this gap, as is usually the case. That doesn’t mean, however, that AnimeYT and the others aren’t missed dearly; a quick search on social media makes that quite clear.

In memoriam…

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While India has a thriving movie market that is loved both at home and overseas, it also has serious problems with piracy.

With around 1,000 films produced every year, most major titles are quickly pirated and distributed on the black market, whether on physical media (for around $1 per copy) or for free via the Internet.

One of the key problems is the swift availability of Indian movies on pirate sites, often within hours of their theatrical debut. Aside from the so-called screener copies that sometimes leak out, around 90% of ‘pirate’ releases can be tracked to unauthorized in-theater recordings, usually via camcorders or cellphones.

To target this unlicensed copying, earlier this year the Indian government proposed amendments to the Cinematograph Act to deter people from undermining the local movie industry. On the table were three-year jail sentences for pirates and/or a maximum fine of Rs.10 Lakhs (US$14,000), with the aim of plugging a claimed $US2.7 billion hole in the market.

As it transpires, things move quickly in India. In an announcement Wednesday by Sitanshu Kar, Principal Spokesperson for the Government of India, it was revealed that the amendments to the 1952 Act have been passed by the Union Cabinet.

As detailed above, no one will be able to legally make audio or video recordings of a movie (or part thereof) without first obtaining permission from copyright holders.

Also outlawed is the use or attempted use of a device (likely a cellphone or similar) to record or transmit any part of a movie, something which immediately rules out any type of live streaming or transfer.

As detailed in the January 2019 proposals, punishments will indeed go ahead on the basis of a potential three-year jail sentence and/or a maximum fine of Rs.10 Lakhs (US$14,000) for infringers.

While the new punishments will likely act as a deterrent to some, they are unlikely to tame India’s big online boogeyman.

Despite massive court-ordered blocking by dozens of ISPs against a long list of its domains, torrent site TamilRockers looks set to continue business as usual, both with its high-profile cam-sourced leaks and regular taunting of the authorities.

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Over the past two years, there’s been a wave of copyright infringement lawsuits against alleged cheaters or cheat makers.

Take-Two Interactive Software, the company behind ‘Grand Theft Auto V’ (GTA V), is one of the major players involved. The company has filed several lawsuits in the US and abroad, targeting alleged cheaters.

Last August the company filed a case against Florida resident Jhonny Perez, accusing him of copyright infringement by creating and distributing a cheating tool. The software, known as “Elusive,” could be used to cheat and grief, interfering with the gameplay of others.

The “Elusive” cheat was previously sold online at prices ranging from $10 to $30, depending on the package. Before filing the lawsuit, Take-Two attempted to find out exactly how much money was made in the process, but Perez failed to hand over detailed financial records.

Initially, the game company was open to negotiating a settlement but, due to the lack of response, it saw no other option than to take the cheat maker to court. Perez, however, did not respond to the complaint which prompted Take-Two to file for a default judgment.

According to the company, it’s clear that the cheat maker is guilty of both direct and contributory copyright infringement. As such, it asked the New York federal court for the maximum statutory damages amount of $150,000, plus $69,686 in attorney’s fees.

Take-Two argued that these damages are warranted because the cheating activity resulted in severe losses. According to an estimate provided by the company, the harm is at least $500,000. In addition, the maximum in damages should also act as a deterrent against other cheat developers.

This week the court ordered on the motion for default judgment, siding with the game company.

“Take-Two has been irreparably harmed by Mr. Perez’s infringing conduct and will continue to be harmed unless enjoined,” US District Court Judge Kevin Castel writes in his order.

“Mr. Perez’s Elusive program creates new features and elements in Grand Theft Auto which can be used to harm legitimate players, causing Take-Two to lose control over its carefully balanced plan for how its video game is designed to be played,” he writes.

In addition, the Judge notes that the cheat discouraged users from future purchases and gameplay and that the unlimited currency cheat undermined Take-Two’s pricing and sales of legitimate virtual currency.

The Court, therefore, finds the cheat maker guilty of both willful direct and willful contributory copyright infringement, as well as breaching Take-Two’s user agreement.

Judge Castel ordered Perez to may the maximum statutory damages of $150,000 and an additional $66,868 in attorney’s fees. To our knowledge, this is the highest damages amount that has ever been awarded in a game cheating case.

In addition to the monetary damages, the Court also issued a permanent injunction prohibiting the cheat maker from continuing infringing activities moving forward.

Elusive hasn’t been available for sale since last year. It was taken offline after Perez was contacted by Take-Two.

“After discussions with Take-Two Interactive, we are immediately ceasing all maintenance, development, and distribution of our cheat menu services,” a public announcement read at the time.

At the time, the cheat maker informed its users that it would donate the proceeds to a charity which Take-Two could pick. However, the default judgment makes it clear that this money should go directly to the game company instead.

A copy of the order granting Take-Two’s default judgment against Mr. Perez is available here (pdf).

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When it comes to civil anti-piracy enforcement, BREIN is without a doubt one of the best-known players in the industry.

Backed by Hollywood and other content industries, the group has been active for more than two decades in the Netherlands.

Aside from shutting down sites and going after sellers of pirate streaming boxes, BREIN is also planning to go after BitTorrent users. By using in-house software that automatically gathers IP-addresses of seeders, hundreds if not thousands of copyright infringers can be easily pinpointed.

At first sight, this practice is very similar to the “copyright trolling” efforts that are common around the world. However, the Dutch anti-piracy group is taking a more reserved approach.

Instead of going after the IP-addresses of anyone who’s connected to a torrent swarm, BREIN is mostly interested in structural seeders who upload content for a longer period of time. In other words, the group wants to target those who frequently offer pirated content.

This decision was brought up by BREIN director Tim Kuik in the Dutch podcast “Met Nerds om Tafel” recently.  There, he explained that his organization represents a wide variety of rightsholders and not all of them support the idea of going after casual downloaders.

“Our enforcement efforts apply to all these copyright holders. Therefore, they all have to agree on how this takes place. At the moment there is no consensus within that group on how to deal with individual end-users,” Kuik says.

BREIN’s director believes that focusing on structural uploaders is the best approach in the case anyway.

“Personally, I have always had my doubts about going after individual downloaders. I believe you have to focus on the supply side,” he notes.

In theory, it’s possible for rightsholders to go after casual downloaders but that’s not something BREIN can do collectively. They work with funds that come from various parties who all have to agree on an approach.

TorrentFreak reached out to Kuik to clarify who the main targets are. Kuik says that pirate sites and services are the prime focus and that the planned mass settlement effort will focus on the most prolific uploaders in this ecosystem.

“We focus on early and large uploaders that function as a source of unauthorized content and we will expand that to frequent and prolonged uploaders that function as a lubricant keeping unauthorized content available over time,” Kuik tells us.

“Hit & run end users are at the end of the chain. We think they can best be approached with measures that raise their awareness, such as blocking access to illegal sites with referral to a landing page that explains why,” he adds.

Sending informative alert emails to users whose IP-addresses are linked to sharing pirated material is also an option. However, that’s something ISPs will have to cooperate with.

Enforcement may eventually shift to downloaders if there’s a situation where it’s impossible to go after the suppliers, Kuik notes. Then it makes sense to target downloaders as well.

This could also apply to torrent users. Kuik tells us that if other enforcement measures, such as site blocking or going after a hosting company, fail structurally the demand side could get more into the spotlight.

For now, however, uploaders are the targeted only. When BREIN plans start its campaign is yet unknown.  That said, Dutch torrent users have more to fear than BREIN alone.

Movie distributor Dutch FilmWorks (DFW) also received permission from the Data Protection Authority to monitor and track BitTorrent pirates. They are expected to target downloaders as well.

In the podcast, Kuik also provided some further insight and commentary on piracy in general. The issue of availability also came up. In particular, the fact that Game of Thrones is only available through a single telecom provider in the Netherlands, Ziggo.

This means that some people can’t access it legally, even if they wanted to. Kuik agreed that this is “strange,” but also noted that it’s one of the exceptions.

“That’s a particularly strange situation, in my opinion, but that’s something that should be taken up with Ziggo,” he says.

For BREIN’s director, it was never a preconceived plan to become a public copyright enforcement figure. After his law study, he took a summer job at a joint venture between the movie studios Paramount and Universal. This is where it all started.

“That’s when ‘E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial’  premiered in theaters, which was heavily pirated on videotapes. This also happened with other movies but E.T. made a lot of money and Steven Spielberg was extremely concerned. In a meeting, he burst into tears about it. Something had to be done,” Kuik says.

As a young legal expert, Kuik was called in to help. That would eventually turn him into a leading figure in the copyright enforcement world who helped to found dozens of local anti-piracy outfits around the world.

This work is appreciated by many rightsholders, but it also results in quite a few hateful comments from people who disagree with BREIN’s efforts. That doesn’t really bother Kuik much through.

“My fans are at the copyright holders. If you don’t have any enemies then you never stood up for something,” Kuik concludes.

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With millions of new videos uploaded every week, YouTube is the world’s most popular platform for user-uploaded content.

While the majority of uploaded works cause no issue, copyright holders regularly file strikes or claims against uploaders, complaining that they’ve used their content without permission.

As reported on many occasions, this can sometimes prove controversial and today the Kenyan government waded into a dispute after a rendition of the country’s national anthem was subjected to takedown demand.

The video was uploaded by 2nacheki, which claims to be the largest YouTube channel from Africa. It featured their take on the ‘Top 10 Best National Anthems in Africa’, with the Kenyan anthem coming out in the number one position.

Unfortunately, however, the channel soon received notification from YouTube that their video had infringed upon the rights of UK-based music company De Wolfe Music, a claim that was made via content monetization company AdRev Publishing.

Needless to say, the channel was pretty shocked to see this claim on their account. Not only does the Kenyan government consider the piece (titled ‘Ee Mungu Nguvu Yetu’ (‘O God, of all Creation’)) to be its property, but it was written by the Kenyan Anthem Commission in 1963 to serve as the state anthem after independence from Great Britain, where De Wolfe is based.

Only adding to the complications is that since the anthem is more than 50 years old, it has officially fallen into the public domain. This has caused the Office of the Attorney General and Department of Justice to issue a joint press release denouncing the action against a piece of its heritage.

“The National Anthem is over 50 years and has thus fallen into public domain. However, given the place of National Anthem in any country and the provisions of the National Flags, Emblems and Names Act (Cap 99 laws of Kenya) there is additional protection of the anthem against misuse and improper use,” the statement reads.

“Under that Act, the use of the National Anthem, emblems, names and other similar symbols is restricted and its use shall be subject to written permission by the minister in charge of interior.”

Kenyan government is not impressed

Further muddying the waters is that variant of the anthem uploaded to YouTube by De Wolfe is not the same version as the one playing in the video it has attempted to take down, with the former completely devoid of the lyrics usually associated with the song.

It’s unprecedented for a national government to get so closely involved in a YouTube copyright dispute so it seems probable that the claim against the video will be resolved relatively quickly.

However, that a third-party company can so easily claim content of others as their own is a problem that will take a while to fix, unless there is a more vigorous response when dealing with controversial takedown attempts.

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In 2016, the U.S. Government launched a public consultation to evaluate the impact and effectiveness of the DMCA’s Safe Harbor provisions.

In response, the Copyright Office received a lot of input, including more than 92,000 comments. Various rightsholders weighed in, as expected, and so did technology companies, law scholars and civil rights groups.

After a review of the initial comments, the U.S. Copyright Office found that that there was little agreement on how to move forward.

The MPAA, RIAA, and other industry groups called for extensive revisions including a ‘notice-and-stay-down‘ policy, for example. But, many service providers objected to this and said that the current system is capable of dealing with infringing content.

The Copyright Office reviewed the various positions, but more than two years have passed and nothing has changed. At least, not in terms of US policy changes. In the courts and other countries, things are moving forward quickly. 

To review these changes and developments, the Copyright Office has announced a new public roundtable on possible changes to the DMCA’s safe harbor provisions. This is scheduled to take place in April and stakeholders and the public at large are being asked to chime in

“The Office is now announcing that it will convene an additional roundtable to enable interested members of the public to address relevant domestic and foreign developments that have occurred since the close of the written comment period on February 6, 2017,” the Copyright Office writes.

The roundtable will have two sessions. The first will deal with US case law developments since the last meetings. This will include the BMG vs. Cox case, which touched on the appropriateness on repeat infringer policies of Internet providers. 

This “repeat infringer” issue cause quite a bit of uproar in the ISP community and several providers have tightened their policies in response. Those that fail to terminate persistent pirates, may be held liable. 

The second session will focus on foreign developments and how these relate to the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of Internet service provider liability. This includes the EU copyright reform proposals, such as Article 13.

“Since 2017, several other countries also have addressed issues of copyright infringement and online service provider liability. For example, in Europe, work towards a possible new Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market has been underway since 2016,” the Copyright Office writes.

The European Article 13 proposal, often referred to as the “upload filter” plan, creates new obligations for online service providers. This is closely related to ISP liability, and therefore relevant to the US Government’s DMCA review as well. 

Another sensitive but important topic is website blocking. While pirate site blocking was already commonplace in many countries at the time of the first roundtables, recent developments in Australia have brought it into the realm of ISP liability.

“[T]he Australian Parliament recently passed an amendment to its copyright law that provides copyright owners with additional tools to enforce their rights regarding infringing content online, including injunctions to block domain names,” the Copyright office writes.

The amendment in question allows copyright holders to apply for injunctions that will not only target infringing ‘online locations’ but also their appearances in searches. This means that Google and other search engines can be required to remove entire domains from their search results.

The US Copyright Office would like to hear from US stakeholders and the public with their thoughts on these developments. Specifically, if they are relevant to the ongoing DMCA review.  

“The Office is aware that such proposals have generated widespread debate, with stakeholders expressing a variety of views concerning the potential implications for copyright owners, online service providers, and members of the public.

“At the roundtable, participants are invited to identify and discuss recent law and policy developments in other countries that bear on issues related to the effectiveness, ineffectiveness, and/or other impacts on online service provider liability.”

Needless to say, the roundtable and the public comments will undoubtedly result in a wide range of opposing views again.

It’s not a secret that rightsholders would like to see site blocking and increased ISP liability in the US. However, these measures tend to trigger quite a bit of opposition from digital rights activists and the broader public,

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This week we have two newcomers in our chart.

Bohemian Rhapsody 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(1)Bohemian Rhapsody8.3 / trailer
2(4)The Grinch6.3 / trailer
3(…)Mortal Engines6.3 / trailer
4(2)A Star is Born8.0 / trailer
5(3)Aquaman (Subbed HDRip)7.7 / trailer
6(5)Hunter Killer6.7 / trailer
7(7)Bumblebee (Subbed HDRip)7.2 / trailer
8(…)Velvet Buzzsaw (Subbed HDRip)7.2 / trailer
9(9)Venom7.0 / trailer
10(10)Widows7.2 / trailer

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While torrent sites are still important sources of unofficial content for hundreds of millions of users worldwide, streaming sites are undoubtedly eating into their market share.

Streaming platforms, easily accessible on the web and often sporting a Netflix-style interface, are enjoyed by expert pirates and the less savvy alike.

With a point-click-watch approach, streaming sites offer simplicity and convenience, features that regular torrent sites do not usually offer. As a result, a report shared with TorrentFreak by Moscow-based cyber-security company Group-IB indicates that 80% of pirated movies in Russia are now streamed, a figure that increases to 90% for TV shows.

Perhaps of more interest, however, is the supply chain and business model in place to get this content to the end-user while making a profit on the way.

In a report published earlier this week, it was revealed that in 87% of cases the first public copies of premiere titles appeared on torrent sites first, before spreading out to other platforms. While this underlines the continuing importance of torrent sites, Group-IB informs TF that “large monopolists” are now supplying content to thousands of websites via dedicated ‘pirate’ Content Delivery Networks (CDN).

“Much of the pirate underground has adopted advanced technologies of content distribution—pirate CDNs (Content Distribution Networks). CDNs store hundreds of thousands of files containing films and TV series,” the company reveals.

Group-IB says it has identified 15 ‘pirate’ CDN providers in this business while describing four as “major undertakings”. One CDN, for example, contains around 300,000 files sitting on more than five petabytes of server space.

While the storing of pirate content on servers is long-established, Group-IB says that these suppliers go an important step further by not only supplying video ‘wholesale’, but also additional services to help people set up their own professional pirate sites.

The ‘pirate’ streaming supply & consumption model (credit: Group-IB)

Running this kind of CDN is an expensive proposition. Group-IB estimates that the 300,000 file CDN mentioned above costs around $100,000 per month to maintain. This, however, is recouped via the content and services offered to pirate streaming site operators.

“Illegal videos are monetized via built-in CDN players. CDN platforms pay the pirate website owners on a CPM (cost per mille or thousand impressions) model. The CDNs are sponsored by bookies and online casinos, whose ads get ‘built-into’ the CDN players,” says Dmitry Tyunkin, Deputy Director Anti-Piracy at Group-IB.

“The CDN operators then become a kind of ‘wholesalers’ of pirated content that gets quickly and easily ‘fed’ to an almost unlimited number of pirate public-facing websites, such as movies and TV shows streaming portals.

“Some of these technical CDN providers also offer web modules that autofill sites with film posters and descriptions, and in some cases even supply unique reviews.”

A sample site utilizing ‘pirate’ CDN content and players

Group-IB provided TF with details of a CDN named ‘Moonwalk’, which reportedly began operating in 2013. The company says it carries around 33,490 movies and TV shows via a maximum bandwidth of 400 Gb/s, paying out $0.60 per 1,000 views.

Given the size of these kinds of operations, we asked Group-IB whether they are a target for local law enforcement. The company said that while most developers are Russian-speaking, their infrastructure is now hosted outside the country.

“It’s not easy to take any legal actions against CDN providers for copyright owners in Russia, since CDN is a network of servers, which in most cases now are located outside of Russia,” Tyunkin says.

“Most of them in fact are located in Europe, and in the Netherlands in particular, close to so-called Internet backbones, the principal data routes between large computer networks and core routers on the Internet, for faster content distribution.”

Another interesting aspect of these pirate CDNs and the sites they service is that they appear to be undermining site-blocking efforts in the country.

While thousands of pirate domains are blocked in Russia under instruction of the Moscow City Court, the availability of CDNs behind the scenes means that any domain or site targeted for blocking can simply move on, with a minimum of disruption and with its content source intact.

“Nobody considers their domain or platform to be invaluable anymore, and the possibility of them being blocked is no real threat,” the company says.

“Pirates register dozens of domain names, content on these websites is filled automatically, and if the website is blocked, its search ratings are ‘transferred’ to a new website. This allows pirates to retain top positions in search engine results even if the original resource is blocked, which is not prohibited by the law.”

The end result is that while the number of blocked sites is increasing, there is also a trend of users who previously visited larger sites being spread over a larger number of smaller platforms. The anti-piracy memorandum signed last November by content and tech companies is having an effect, Group-IB says, but it’s “too early to talk about a complete victory.”

“Pirates know how to adapt to changing markets and are receiving support in the form of active sponsors among clandestine casinos and bookies. Not to mention creating a pirated website and moving content to it from a CDN provider is becoming increasingly easier and cheaper,” the company concludes.

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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