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Netflix Is Less Annoying to VPN Users Now, But Some Titles Are ‘Hidden’

Netflix has started to treat VPN users differently. Instead of preventing them from playing any content, the popular streaming service now allows VPN users to play content that's globally available. At the same time, however, it has begun hiding titles with geographical restrictions, without informing users.

Five years ago, Netflix started blocking customers who tried to access its service over a commercial VPN or proxy service.

These changes came after copyright holders repeatedly complained that ‘pirates’ were bypassing Netflix’s geographical restrictions.

The VPN ban caused a lot of frustration for legitimate VPN users, many of whom had no intention of breaking any rules. At the same time, the VPN ‘pirates’ found workarounds by picking services that managed to bypass Netflix’s restrictions.

Netflix ‘Unblocks’ VPN Users

Today, Netflix is still taking measures to keep VPN and proxy ‘pirates’ at bay, but the company has made some changes to make its service more bearable to VPN users.

Previously, VPN users could still log in and browse all titles that were available in their region. When they clicked play, however, a notice would pop up to inform them that the content wasn’t accessible through a VPN.

This has now changed. While it hasn’t yet been officially confirmed by Netflix, several tests using VPN servers from all over the world show that all visible content in the Netflix library can be played.

Hiding Titles for VPN Users

We emphasize the word visible here because there are still some restrictions. If Netflix detects that you’re using a VPN, it will hide titles with geographical licensing restrictions.

This issue was first spotted by uNoGS, which keeps an up-to-date database of titles that are available on Netflix in different countries. The site first noticed that something new was going on last month.

“We first noticed major changes with Netflix around May 1st. Along with forcing us to re-write a bunch of our legacy tools we noticed that a lot fewer titles were showing up with our scraper scripts,” uNoGS operator Brian tells us.

The site’s users also started to complain that some titles were not available on Netflix, unlike the site claimed. As it turned out, Netflix had begun hiding titles for VPN users.

Positives and Negatives

At the same time and on the upside, Netflix stopped blocking VPN users from playing titles for which it holds global licenses, including most of its own original series and TV shows.

In other words, VPN users should no longer run into any blocked content. They just see less content in their Netflix library. This makes VPNs more usable on Netflix and takes away a lot of frustration.

However, without disclosing these changes, it’s also confusing. Many people use a VPN for other reasons than bypassing Netflix’s restrictions. They now see less content but have no idea why or how to get full access.

When Netflix first made its changes, uNoGS noticed that VPN users could still play ‘hidden’ content by accessing it with a direct URL. However, accessing hidden content from a blocked VPN now brings up the dreaded “VPN error.”


Finally, it’s worth noting that some VPN servers are not detected as such by Netflix. These can still bypass geographical restrictions.

For example, when we use Netflix with a regular connection from Canada we can see Iron Man 3. When we use a Canadian VPN that’s blocked by Netflix, Iron Man 3 is gone. And with a Canadian VPN that’s not blocked by Netflix, the film shows up again.

The same applies to many other titles that are available in a limited number of countries.

Why these changes were implemented is not clear. We asked Netflix for a comment but, at the time of writing, we have yet to hear back from the company.

UNoGS and VPNcompare, which also highlighted the issue, both believe that the uptick in VPN usage during the COVID-19 pandemic might have something to do with it. Whatever the case, Netflix may want to inform their users why certain titles have suddenly disappeared.


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Court Orders ISPs to Block 56 ‘Pirate’ IPTV Servers Over Serie A Piracy

Following a complaint by football league Serie A, an Italian court has ordered 'preventative measures' that require the country's ISPs to block 56 servers connected to pirate IPTV services. According to the government's Guardia di Finanza, seven IPTV 'structures' have been rendered "unusuable".

The rights to broadcast live football around Europe is a massive business but according to the major leagues, sport is being undermined by pirate services offering cheap illicit subscriptions.

This week the Premier League obtained an extension to an existing injunction compelling Irish ISPs to conduct ‘dynamic’ blocking of pirate IPTV services. Hot on the heels of that order, Italian authorities are reporting a new operation aimed at preventing piracy of matches broadcast by local top-flight league, Serie A.

Complaint from Serie A Triggers Investigation and Blocking

After receiving a complaint from the world-famous league, which plays host to Juventus and superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, an investigation was carried out by the Special Goods and Services Unit of the Guardia di Finanza, a government agency tasked with tackling financial crime.

The unit, which has carried out numerous anti-piracy operations over the years, worked with the prosecutor at the Court of Rome to construct a blocking order to disrupt their targets’ activities.

According to GdF, the Court of Rome has now handed down an order that requires local Internet service providers to block 56 servers connected to the supply of pirate IPTV services in Italy and overseas.

The agency says that it expects to render ‘unusable’ at least 160,572 illegal customer subscriptions organized within a system of seven illegal IPTV providers.

Large Network of IPTV Resellers Disrupted

The investigation also uncovered a large network of resellers linked to the business, 900 in total, with more than 600 directly linked to customers in Italy and the remainder operating overseas. A typical package reportedly offered by the resellers contained around 450 TV channels plus 30,000 pieces of video-on-demand content such as movies and TV shows.

The action was welcomed by local anti-piracy group FAPAV, which estimates the piracy group turned over around 1.6 million euros every month.

“This is a further demonstration of the important work carried out in the fight against piracy offenses on the web. The ramifications on national territory of almost 627 resellers (plus 273 internationally) of the illegal service in question and the other numbers that emerged in this operation, once again draw attention to the real dimensions of this crime, which is often still commonly underestimated,” said Federico Bagnoli Rossi, FAPAV Secretary-General.

“It also appears that the phenomenon is increasingly rooted internationally, with cells operating abroad and in coordination with our territory. It is essential to continue on this path to avoid the proliferation of these illegal services that seriously damage the audiovisual industry.”

According to GdF, the blocking injunction is unusual in that it also covers two websites and two Telegram channels allegedly involved in the exploitation of IPTV subscribers’ personal details.

“The investigations also made it possible to identify two Telegram channels whose administrators, among other things, after hacking the aforementioned systems dedicated to the illicit dissemination of multimedia content, attempted to extort money from the ‘pirates’ who managed them with threats to publish on two websites, data and credentials relating to active illegal subscriptions,” GdF reveals.

In recent months, particularly since the demise of the Xtream Codes operation last September, reports of IPTV sellers being hacked have been on the increase. TF previously reported on at least two cases (1,2) but we are aware of more, most of which have featured attempts to extort cash in exchange for pilfered data.

The specific details of the Serie A blocking order haven’t been released to the public so it remains unclear whether it is static and likely to be circumvented with relative ease or ‘dynamic’, as is the case with the injunctions obtained by the Premier League. In any event and given the scale of the pirate IPTV business, suppliers and consumers will be looking for ways to nullify the order.

This latest move to support Serie A comes on the heels of a similar action in January which required local ISPs to block 15 pirate IPTV providers. A month later, Italian police said they had reported 223 subscribers of pirate IPTV services to the judicial authorities for “receiving stolen goods”.



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Napster Founder’s ‘Screening Room’ Obtains Patent for P2P-Polluting Anti-Piracy Tech

Napster Founder’s ‘Screening Room’ Obtains New Patent for P2P-Polluting Anti-Piracy Tech

Napster co-founder Sean Parker became a billionaire by being at the right place at the right time and making smart business decisions. A few years ago, he co-founded a new company, Screening Room, which hoped to revolutionize the movie industry. While the plan has yet to come to fruition, the company did obtain a new anti-piracy patent this week.

Sean Parker is a prominent name in the history of online piracy.

The American entrepreneur co-founded the file-sharing application Napster, which popularized file-sharing with the public at large.

Parker later gained fame as the first president of Facebook which helped him to become the billionaire he is today. In addition to becoming a philanthropist, he also remains involved in new startups, including one with an indirect piracy angle.

Four years ago, Parker co-founded a new company called Screening Room, which envisioned making the latest blockbusters available in people’s homes on the day of release. For $50 per movie, people should be able to enjoy new movies on their own screens, instead of going to a movie theater, the plan went.

This home viewing option would not only be convenient but could also remove the incentive for some people – those who can afford it – to go out and pirate films.

Several key players in the movie industry were skeptical and today the plan has still not come to fruition. Nevertheless, the company remains active and recently rebranded to SR Labs, hiring former Sony Pictures Home Entertainment president Man Jit Singh as its new CEO.

With Singh, the company now has strong connections to the movie industry. And while the official site doesn’t reveal any news, the company did score a small victory this week after being awarded a new patent.

Screening Room’s New Anti-Piracy Patent

Over the past several years, Screening Room (SR Labs) has obtained several technology-related patents, including some with an anti-piracy angle. The new patent (pdf) granted this week sits in that same niche.

Titled: Pairing Devices to Prevent Digital Content Misuse, the patent describes a system where home access to movies can be tightly controlled. This includes pairing a phone or tablet to a TV and making sure that the viewer has all the necessary permissions throughout a broadcast.

The patent is filled with complex descriptions of how the system would operate and also comes with a dedicated anti-piracy strategy. For example, HDMI piracy will be prevented by disabling access to a movie when it’s no longer paired to the authorized TV.

Invisible Watermarks

In addition, the system comes with a dedicated piracy crawler that scours the web for pirated copies. When an unauthorized copy is detected, the system can use the embedded watermark to find the source and take appropriate action.

“When the web crawler identifies a film, it scans it for watermarks. If a match is found, the account that matches the ID found in the watermark can be held accountable and, if necessary, disabled,” the patent description reads.


The use of watermarks is not new and piracy groups have become very skilled at removing unique identifiers. However, Screening Room notes that its watermarks are pretty much tamper-proof.

“The watermark is persistent, invisible to the naked eye and irremovable without the destruction of the underlying image. A watermark thus operates as a digital beacon stitched into the fabric of the film,” the patent reads.

Polluting P2P Networks with Corrupt Files

The anti-piracy measures don’t stop there. With or without a watermark, a movie can still spread to millions of people. Screening Room has considered this as well and will use a “P2P polluter” to overwhelm pirate sites and services with corrupted copies.

“Once [a watermark] is detected outside of the content distribution network, the movie distribution system distributes corrupted files of the same film at a ratio of 1,000 to 1 via peer-based distribution. Therefore, immediately ‘diluting’ the infringement to a rate that would be extraordinarily frustrating, if not impossible, for further piracy of that copy to take place.”

The stringent anti-piracy tools may be a response to early critique from movie theaters, which claimed that Screening Room’s plans would fuel pirate sites.

P2P pollution is far from new and dates back to the days of Napster itself. While it can be effective, it does little to stop distribution through pirate streaming sites, which are much more popular today.

Future Plans?

Screening Room’s plans are not completely new. In fact, the patent is a continuation of a similar filing that was submitted a few years ago, which focused on “sonic signals.” However, if anything, it shows that Screening Room is still planning to go ahead with its new movie distribution plans.

What these plans entail remains a mystery. When Variety questioned the company a few weeks ago it only revealed that it has over two dozen patents related to “innovative secure delivery architecture.” This week, they added yet another one to their list.

Screening Room plans to help the movie industry move forward and seeks cooperation. This was also reiterated by Parker, who highlighted that the industry has been hurt by the COVID-19 crisis while adding that “this too shall pass.”

“In the face of existential threats, it is only by summoning our greatest abilities — our collective creativity and innovative capacities — that we have not only survived, but also prospered,” Parker said.

“We need to work together to preserve the cinematic experience, not only for writers and filmmakers, but also for the moviegoing public, and for the benefit of future generations who have yet to experience the magic of cinema themselves.”


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Copyright Trolls Demand Cash For Alleged Movie Piracy Back in 2013

Companies connected to the Robert Redford movie The Company You Keep are writing to customers of Sky demanding that they pay a sizeable settlement or face being taken to court. Bizarrely, the alleged infringements took place seven years ago in 2013, well beyond the six-year limit usually available to copyright holders.

In so many different ways, large and small, good and bad, 2013 was a memorable year.

In politics, Barack Obama was inaugurated for his second term as US president and Baroness Thatcher, the UK’s first female prime minister, passed away aged 89. It was also the year when Edward Snowden blew the whistle on NSA spying and the words “twerk” and “selfie” were added to the dictionary.

While these events may be a distant memory for most, people who were customers of ISP Sky back in 2013 are now being given a crash-course in history. After being dormant for years, copyright trolls are now writing to individuals claiming that if they don’t pay a sizeable settlement, they face being dragged to court over alleged movie piracy.

Alleged Infringement, Seven Years Ago

In September 2014, TorrentFreak learned of a UK court case that had just appeared before the Chancery Division. TCYK v British Sky Broadcasting featured the company behind the Robert Redford movie The Company You Keep demanding the personal details of Sky subscribers who had allegedly downloaded and shared the movie without permission.

During March 2015, Sky confirmed it would be handing over the details of some of its customers to TCYK, warning that it was likely that the company would demand compensation for infringements that were allegedly carried out up to two years previously.

Some People Probably Paid Up, Others Did Not

From experience we know that when faced with scary-looking copyright infringement claims, some letter recipients pay up. The reasons for this are varied, from admitting they were in the wrong through to being flat-out scared of the consequences, regardless of fault. However, some people weren’t so easily pushed around and chose to hire a lawyer to fight their corner.

In 2015, some people targeted by TCYK hired UK-based lawyer Michael Coyle of Lawdit Solicitors to deal with their predicament. TorrentFreak was informed that in several cases and after obtaining legal representation, TCYK and business partners Hatton and Berkeley backed away from their demands. However, to the surprise of almost everyone, half a decade later they are now back again repeating the same things.

Remember Us? We’re Back Again For Another Go

During the past several weeks, TCYK via London-based Hatton & Berkeley have been writing to people they originally sent claims to back in 2015. In order to protect the identities of those who were kind enough to share their correspondence with us, we won’t publish the letters here in full. However, we can provide the following outline.

The letter begins with a statement that H&B Administration has “recently taken over management” of the allegations against the recipient, noting that their member TCYK LLC (the companies are in an LLP together) has a “legitimate claim in relation to the unauthorized distribution” of the movie The Company You Keep.

What follows is a speculative calculation of damages the alleged infringer supposedly caused seven years ago, taking the supposed BitTorrent ‘swarm size’ (people sharing the movie) at the time of infringement, multiplying it by the retail cost of the movie, and ending up with a gross profit of which the company is claiming 70%.

Again, we won’t detail specific sums here but we’ve seen claims in excess of £2,000.

As we highlighted two years ago, the calculation as presented is flawed and could come under pressure if subjected to scrutiny. Nevertheless, none of that stops companies from piling on the pressure and they at least claim to be serious about taking matters to court.

Pay Up or Else….Again

“These claims will be issued in the IPEC (Intellectual property and Enterprise Court) 14 days from the sending of this letter. At which point a claim form with the particulars of claim attached will be served upon you. In order to avoid this, you may email or call at the address stated below and offer a settlement of the claim,” the letters seen by TF read.

Interestingly, the letters also provide links to two sources, claiming that they both offer “official guidance” on how to deal with a copyright infringement letter.

One source is the government itself but the other is available on the website of the Federation Against Copyright Theft, a private company that along with TCYK, is part of H&B Administration LLP, the business entity handling the actual copyright claim.

Will a Claim Older Than Prince George Hold Up in Court?

This is perhaps the biggest question here. While a copyright claim can be brought any time up to six years after the alleged offense, some of the claims reviewed by TorrentFreak are outside that period by several months. We spoke to lawyer Michael Coyle who raised doubts over whether a claim could be brought.

“I was always under the impression that the limitation period under the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 is six years from the date when the alleged infringing act is committed, which means that (in normal circumstances) once that time has expired, plaintiffs are unable to go to court and pursue a case for damages,” he explained.

The other interesting factor is that when pursuing the case against Sky all those years ago, TCYK characterized its predicament as particularly urgent. Yet, after receiving several denials of their claims back in 2015, they appear to have waited five long years only to respond with yet another claim for cash.

Only time will tell whether they’ll succeed in wringing a few hundred pounds from their targets seven years on but as things stand, the odds of succeeding in court make for an interesting calculation.


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Record Labels Deny That Piracy Notices Were ‘Deceptive and Fraudulent’ Threats

ISP Charter Communications is accusing several major record labels of having violated the Colorado Consumer Privacy Act. The music companies allegedly sent copyright infringement notices for tracks they didn't own the rights to, resulting in false accusations against subscribers. While the record labels don't deny that mistakes were made, they argue that Charter's claims don't hold up in court.

Last year, a group of major music companies sued Charter Communications, one of the largest Internet providers in the US with 22 million subscribers.

Helped by the RIAA, Capitol Records, Warner Bros, Sony Music, and others accused the ISP of deliberately turning a blind eye to its pirating subscribers.

Such claims are not new. The same music companies have sued several ISPs in the past and booked a major victory when a jury ordered Cox to pay a billion dollars in damages for turning a blind eye to piracy on its network.

Charter is determined to avoid ending up in a similar position. In March, it denied the copyright infringement allegations in court while striking back with some accusations against the record labels. According to Charter, the companies abused the DMCA by sending notices for tracks they didn’t own the rights to.

Fraudulent Piracy Notices Violated the Colorado Consumer Privacy Act?

At the end of April, the ISP expanded its claims by arguing that by sending false takedown notices, the record labels also violated the Colorado Consumer Privacy Act. This claim comes on top of the accusation that the music companies violated the DMCA.

“In the course of their business, the Record Company Plaintiffs caused their agent, the RIAA, to engage in unfair, unconscionable, deceptive, deliberately misleading, false, or fraudulent trade practices,” Charter argued, while highlighting the unauthorized copyright infringement notices.

The false notices harmed Charter, which spent significant resources processing the notices. In addition, they also impacted the broader public, who were falsely accused of breaking the law and received “baseless threats” based on the inaccurate notices.

These are strongly worded claims. However, according to the record companies they don’t hold up in court.

Record Labels Ask Court to Dismiss Charter’s Claims

This week, they submitted their answers to the Colorado federal court. As indicated before, the music companies ask the court to dismiss the claim that they violated the DMCA, arguing that the notices were not intentionally sent in error. In addition, the companies argue that the DMCA claim is barred because Charter didn’t remove or block any infringing content.

In a similar vein Warner Bros, Sony Music and the other labels also dispute the deceptive and fraudulent trade practice accusations under the Colorado Consumer Protection Act. These don’t hold us and should be dismissed as well, they say, for two separate reasons.

Firstly, the music companies argue that the DMCA preempts Charter’s CCPA counterclaim. The issue at hand is a DMCA matter and Congress intended for federal law to exclusively govern the DMCA notice process, which would mean that a state law claim can’t apply to the same conduct.

This argument doesn’t mean that there were no inaccurate notices sent. That’s also the case with the second defense from the record labels, which holds that Charter failed to state a proper claim under the Colorado Consumer Protection Act.

A proper claim would require proof that the music companies knowingly sent false notices and intended to mislead and deceive the receivers. This isn’t something Charter can prove, the labels say. The labels may have sent notices for music they didn’t own, without being aware of it.

In addition, Charter hasn’t provided any evidence that its customers were harmed, according to the labels. While subscribers may have received inaccurate threats, they were not disconnected from the Internet.

“Charter has not alleged that its subscribers suffered any harm resulting from any allegedly inaccurate notices. Indeed, Charter does not allege that it ever suspended or terminated a single subscriber based on infringing use of its network identified in an inaccurate notice sent by Plaintiffs,” the labels write.

The ISP will likely disagree with how the labels present the issue and ultimately it is up to the court whether Charter can continue to pursue its claims in court, or not.


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Amazon Profits From Pirate IPTV So Can’t Sue Pirate IPTV Provider, Court Hears

In April, a coalition of entertainment companies headed up by Universal, Paramount, Columbia, Disney and Amazon sued 'pirate' IPTV provider Nitro TV. In an answer to the complaint, Nitro's operator states that since Amazon profits from sales of 'pirate' IPTV packages on its platform, the action should be barred.

Early April, companies owned by Columbia, Amazon, Disney, Paramount, Warner, and Universal filed a lawsuit in a California district court targeting ‘pirate’ IPTV provider Nitro TV and alleged operator Alejandro Galindo.

The complaint alleged that Nitro TV offered subscription packages consisting of thousands of “live and title-curated television channels” throughout the United States and abroad, available via the web, mobile devices, and smart TVs.

Complaint and Preliminary Injunction

“Defendants’ unlawful conduct in operating Nitro TV directly and willfully subverts that ecosystem through pursuit of illicit profits from massive and blatant infringement of Plaintiffs’ Copyrighted Works,” the lawsuit added.

Central to the case are Nitro TV’s ’24/7′ channels, offering TV shows such as Friends and Peaky Blinders plus movies including Spider-Man and Captain America. The companies alleged direct copyright infringement, demanding $150,000 per infringed work or, in the alternative, contributory copyright infringement in the same amount.

The plaintiffs further demanded preliminary and permanent injunctions, the former of which was granted by the Court in May.

Answer to Complaint

It took a while but Alejandro Galindo has now filed his answer to the complaint. It features broad denials to the vast majority of the plaintiffs’ allegations but then goes on to list 12 affirmative defenses, beginning with the assertion that the complaint fails to state a claim for which relief can be granted against the defendant.

However, things start to get interesting when moving to other defenses, with Galindo claiming that the plaintiffs failed to mitigate damages and have ‘unclean hands’. The basis for the claims appear to be that Amazon allegedly allows sellers of ‘pirate’ IPTV packages to distribute their products via the Amazon sales platform.

“Amazon Profits From Pirate IPTV Sales”

“Plaintiff has failed to mitigate their damages and is engaged in selective enforcement as there are 100’s if not thousands of IPTV sellers on the Amazon website. Meaning, Amazon profits from the alleged wrongdoing and have known about this for a long time,” the answer reads.

“Defendant’s actions were innocent in nature and not willful or with an intent to injure. Plaintiff Amazon creates a situation where it sanctions IPTV services leading the average ordinary person to believe there is nothing wrong in acting as a seller or reseller of their services,” it adds, noting that there had never been any “culpable intent” by Galindo.

Claiming that each cause of action is barred in whole or in part under the doctrine of Estoppel and Waiver, Galindo’s answer states that Amazon’s alleged profiting from the sale of ‘pirate’ IPTV subscriptions implies authorization of such products.

“Plaintiff are profiting from the conduct they allege is illegal and allow others to continue to sell IPTV services on their website thus encourage, aiding, abetting, ratifying and consenting to the alleged wrongful conduct,” it states.

DMCA Safe Harbor and Discovery

Finally, the answer notes that Nitro is protected under the safe harbor provisions of the DMCA but at this stage provides no reasons as to why that should be the case. Galindo demands a trial by jury so in the meantime, the parties will engage in a discovery process that will entail picking Nitro apart with a fine toothcomb.


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Torrentz2.eu Domain Suspended by Registry on Public Prosecutor’s Order

The popular torrent meta-search engine Torrentz2 is no longer accessible through its main .eu domain name. The domain was suspended by the EURid registry pending an investigation, triggered by a Public Prosecutor's order. Torrentz2, meanwhile, continues to be accessible through its alternative .is domain.

With millions of visitors per day, Torrentz2 is the most-used torrent meta-search engine on the Internet.

Torrentz2 took over from the original Torrentz site, which closed its doors during the summer of 2016, and continued business as usual.

The site’s popularity hasn’t gone unnoticed by copyright holders who successfully requested the site to be blocked in countries around the world. The Torrentz2.eu domain remained operational in other parts of the world but this weekend that changed as well.

Starting a few hours ago, Torrentz2 became unreachable. Instead of seeing the site’s familiar homepage, browsers return an error message informing people that the site can’t be reached.


While downtime can happen for a variety of reasons, a quick glance at the domain’s status shows that something serious is going on. The EURid registry has placed the domain on ‘serverhold,’ which means that it’s suspended and under investigation.

“This domain name is registered to the domain name holder as shown in WHOIS, but is temporarily inactive (i.e. website and email do not function) and under investigation,” the registry reports.


The EURid registry doesn’t provide any more details but the actions are likely part of an enforcement effort related to copyright infringement allegations.

Indeed, the Torrentz2 operator informs us that the action is the result of an order from a public prosecutor.

“Torrentz2.eu has been suspended upon Public Prosecutor’s Order,” the site’s operator says, adding that its backup domain, Torrentz2.is, is still functioning.

The site operator didn’t mention the jurisdiction or country the order came from. We asked for clarification and further details and will add those if we hear back.

In the past, the EURid registry also took action against torrent sites, including the original Torrentz.eu, putting these domains ‘on hold.’ This was done after a complaint was filed with the Brussels prosecutor. These domains remained operational, however, and the ‘on hold’ status was eventually removed.

In this case, Torrentz2.eu has been harder hit. Users can no longer access the site from its original domain name. The site’s official backup domain Torrentz2.is, which is managed by Iceland’s ISNIC registry, remains available.


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ISP Ordered to Hand Over Pirates’ Details After Cracked Software ‘Phoned Home’

Alleged pirates who installed cracked copies of expensive Siemens CAD tools on their computers are facing potentially huge settlement demands after the software "phoned home" informing the company of the illicit use. The Australian Federal Court has ordered ISP Telstra to hand over the personal details of the suspected infringers.

Reports of movie companies tracking down alleged pirates in order to extract cash settlements are commonplace today.

After IP addresses are monitored in BitTorrent swarms, companies regularly obtain court orders requiring ISPs to hand over the personal details of alleged infringers, to whom they send correspondence threatening a lawsuit, unless they pay up of course.

On first view, a case in Australia seems to follow a similar pattern but the details reveal a more interesting set of circumstances.

In an application filed at the Federal Court in Australia, Siemens Industry Software Inc asked the Court to compel local ISP Telstra to reveal the identities and personal details of “20 potential infringing users” who used “cracked” versions of its software.

However, instead of tracking these alleged pirates in BitTorrent swarms, Siemens obtained evidence of their infringement directly from their computers.

Expensive Software With the Ability to “Phone Home”

The software in question, NX and Solid Edge, are extremely expensive CAD packages that come in individually licensed modules carrying price tags of up to AUS$60,000 (US$41,200) each, with bundles topping out at more than AUS$337,000 (US$231,000) according to Siemens’ application. What’s special in this case is that both pieces of software are able to “phone home”, providing the developer with evidence of infringement.

“In order to prevent and detect copyright infringement Siemens has developed and uses an ‘automatic reporting function’ or ARF, which it has embedded in each of the asserted software products. It cannot be removed or ‘switched off’ from the asserted software,” wrote Justice Burley in his order handed down last Friday.

The ARF is able to identify the specific computer on which unlicensed copies of software are used, information that is then transmitted back to Siemens when the computer running the software is connected to the Internet.

Siemens is on the lookout for “cracked” versions with their protection removed, examples of which can be found on The Pirate Bay, among other sites.


“The primary method of copyright infringement about which Siemens is concerned is where the alleged infringer uses versions of the asserted software that have been ‘cracked’ or tampered with by a person or (more likely) a company who is licensed to use some, but not all of the asserted software. The cracking allows the infringer to have full access to all of the modules of the asserted software without having paid to licence them,” Justice Burley added.

How the ARF works was detailed to the Court in a confidential affidavit but there are claims that it is sometimes able to identify the person who cracked the software, the email address of the entity using the software, plus an IP address, in this case those allocated to Telstra customers.

“Material Reproduction” of the Software in Breach of Copyright

Considering that the ARF is part of the software in question and was able to communicate back to Siemens, the Court was convinced that a “material reproduction” of the software had probably taken place without a license, in breach of copyright. As a result, Telstra is now required to hand over the details of the subscribers associated with the IP addresses identified by Siemens.

In his order, Justice Burley seeks to ensure that any information obtained by Siemens is used appropriately, referencing the ultimately-failed Dallas Buyers Club case of 2015. Interestingly and perhaps of comfort to those who may have downloaded Siemens’ software purely for home use, the company has assured the Court that it will not pursue people who have not used the software commercially.

TorrentFreak was able to obtain ‘NFO’ text files that were released by cracking/piracy groups associated with the Siemens products in the case detailed above. While they contain detailed instructions on how to get the software running without paying, they appear to be oblivious to the existence of the ARF.

The Federal Court Order, which includes the IP addresses targeted by Siemens and a copy of the letter it intends to send alleged infringers, can be obtained here (pdf)


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Global Pirate Site Traffic Drops to New Low After COVID-19 Peak

When governments began to implement lockdown measures to hamper the spread of COVID-19, hundreds of millions of people were asked to stay at home. This resulted in a piracy peak. While some thought that this increase could be permanent, global traffic to pirate sites has already dropped and is now at a new low.

When the COVID-19 pandemic started to spread across the globe this year, there were noticeable changes in Internet traffic patterns.

Internet usage went up overall, with YouTube being the big winner. However, pirate sites noticed a significant boost in visitor numbers as well.

This was illustrated early March in the most affected regions, a trend we could later see elsewhere too, coinciding with lockdown measures. This was subsequently backed up by a report from piracy tracking company MUSO which found measures traffic to pirate sites increased by over 50% locally.

Today, COVID-19 still keeps a tight grip on society in many countries. But there are also positive signs. In many regions the situation is starting to improve and, as a result, lockdown measures are being loosened, with people picking up life as usual.

If we look at the global visitor counts of pirate sites, this change is also noticeable. The graph below, based on data from MUSO, shows that visitor numbers started to drop again in May and are now lower than they were before the pandemic started.

Global Visits to Pirate Sites January 1 – May 31, 2020


The graph below includes all types of pirate sites and all countries, so it doesn’t mean that the effects are the same everywhere. In some countries, the peaks and subsequent drops were more pronounced than elsewhere, but the overall downward trend is obvious.

The type of pirate site makes a difference too. For example, the Coronavirus peak is most visible for sites that offer pirated films. This may be in part due to the fact that movie theaters closed in a lot of countries.

Global Visits to Film Pirate Sites January 1 – May 31, 2020


On Sunday March 1st, film pirate sites received roughly 60 million visits. This went up to 86 million on the second Sunday of April and dropped down to 46 million during the last Sunday in May.

Music piracy sites, on the other hand, were less affected by the pandemic it seems. Instead, the four-month trend shows pretty much a gradual decline.

Global Visits to Music Pirate Sites January 1 – May 31, 2020


While there are individual differences between countries the peak is clearly over. In fact, the number of pirate site visits is now at a new low point, which is roughly a 25% drop compared to the start of the year.

As mentioned before, the pandemic isn’t over yet, so we should caution that traffic patterns may also change again. That said, these broad and global changes suggest that the influx of new visitors to pirate sites is not going to be permanent.


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