Monthly Archives: August 2015

Denmark is the Latest Front in Scandinavia’s Stand Against Piracy

20 prominent piracy sites have been blocked by a district court in Denmark, in the latest move from a Scandinavian country fighting back against online piracy. The action stems from the continued hard work of Rights Alliance, who earlier this year achieved a block on 12 other important sites in Denmark’s piracy ecosystem.

Flag of Denmark ("stutflag" version)

Flag of Denmark (“stutflag” version) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Similar blocks have been achieved around Europe this year, leading to a feeling of renewed impetus in the creative community that the fight back against those who trade on their work without permission

Even against that backdrop of increased activity across the continent, there is something especially satisfying about seeing progress made in Scandinavia. The region is very much at the forefront of music streaming, in both legal and unlicensed channels, making it something of a symbolic battle in the wider war to stamp out content theft.

The Pirate Bay logo

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Two of the most recognized names at both ends of the spectrum, Spotify on the legal streaming side and The Pirate Bay on the illegal side, both started in Sweden. The tug of war between each side has been tumultuous in recent years but there are now signs that legal streaming is forging ahead, while illegal sites face an uphill battle against increasingly vigilant authorities.

And it isn’t just blocks and punishment of piracy that Denmark is focusing on to curb illegal activity.

Back in May, the Danish Ministry of Culture announced important new partnerships with prominent technology companies and ISPs, aimed at promoting ethical content consumption online.

That initiative focused more on non-legislative solutions, such as working with ISPs to weed out sites that facilitate piracy and encouraging digital advertising networks to shut off the flow of ad income to piracy sites, which the Digital Citizens Alliance continues to report as a key motivator for those who trade on unlicensed content.

In this microcosm of the streaming content world we see in play the three pillars of the anti-piracy fight that can make a difference across the macro environment:

  • 1) Legal alternatives to piracy sites,
  • 2) Initiatives to educate consumers about those sites and explain the damage that piracy sites do to creators, alongside partnerships to cut off ad revenue,
  • 3) Punitive measures to deter owners of piracy sites and the ability to take them offline if they persist in sharing unlicensed content.

There has been an imbalance in the past, due to a lack of legal streaming sites in the mainstream consciousness and limited efforts to cut off ad revenue to their illegal peers. Now, with all three pillars firmly established and gaining traction, it looks like creators will finally be able to push back on the pirates, with Scandinavia showing us the way forward.

 

 

 

The Sky Is Falling, At Least in the EFF’s Digital World

“What color is the sky in your world?” 

A polite and gently humorous way to tell another party that their reality may be a little different to the one the rest of us are experiencing. Unfortunately it’s Chicken Little, if you’re the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and you inhabit a digital world in which the sky is constantly falling.

 

Nowhere is that more evident than this week, as the organization that charges itself with “Defending Your Rights In the Digital World” channels the righteous efforts of its legal team towards supporting Movietube, a site that excels in ripping off the digital rights of creators.

The concept is simple, until you choose to complicate and obfuscate in the manner that the EFF has down to a fine art.

Movietube and the  sites that it associates with its service are operated to serve up stolen content, unpaid and unlicensed from its original creators. That content gives the site a selling point to attract its traffic, on the basis of which it sells advertising, subscriptions, or both. Less some minor hosting and maintenance costs, the gap between what the site should have paid for that content and what it can bring by providing it for free is pure profit. Profit that the creative talent behind said content can never see, of course, because Movietube and its ilk are ripping them off without compunction or a care for the law.

The latter is important, because these sites operate outside of national law, in the digital world that the EFF is so staunchly defending. This is a world in which the creator has no rights or respect, and serves simply to make the content that others can profit from. To confirm this, look no further than the site’s policy on content licensing:

“Luckily we are not a US company, so we do not need to respect US laws.” -Movietube

By running their sites from countries without the motivation or means to pursue them, the current legal framework makes it extremely difficult to protect intellectual property across some international borders. Productions that might cost hundreds of millions of dollars and countless creative hours to make are immediately released for free public viewing in this reality, which begs the question: how are creators supposed to live in this world the EFF is trying to mould?

 

 

But while it conveniently ignores the legal transgressions of piracy sites in favor of spouting its latest Doomsday scenario, the EFF simultaneously exaggerates the legal action being sought by rightsholders in their suit against Movietube.

Far from seeking “one court order to bind… the entire Internet,” as the rather Tolkien-esque language employed in a blog by EFF lawyer Mitch Stoltz proclaims, studios are in fact seeking injunctions based on infringement complaints that are well established in copyright case law.

Moreover, these actions are pursued in federal courts that fully respect our founding legal principle of due process. Action is only taken against defendants if and when an independent court determines that the legal rights of US creators have been violated, and only binds third parties that have direct ties with the infringing party, by actively aiding that copyright infringement.

With these details presented, the only recourse for those with a pathological fear of any legal action involving Internet content restriction is to muddy the waters. By painting the issue with broad strokes Doomsday scenarios and infusing the discussion with the fear-mongering so characteristic of technology lobbying.

The sky is falling…. again.

Which brings us back to SOPA; such a frequently used crutch of the technology lobby that its original context matters not a jot, so long as it supports that aforementioned skyline from falling to whatever is chosen as this week’s extinction level event.

The EFF and its well-positioned cronies around the tech sector keep returning to SOPA for one reason: it’s the perfect rabble-rouser. SOPA is to tech populism as Obamacare is to the political far-right in the US, a cultural shorthand guaranteed to raise the ire of your rank and file, regardless of how it is twisted or inaccurately applied as a comparison.

As effective as this tactic is, it tends to be rolled out whenever the underlying argument against the actual issue is inherently weak. After examining the content of Movietube’s character, and the exaggerated rhetoric of the EFF’s argument against penalizing it, we’ll leave you to decide which world is the better one for creators to live in.

 

Beware Your Webcam! Overseas RAT Hackers Invade U.S. Homes

Webcams are among the latest tools being used by hackers,  who literally peek into bedrooms. This from a report, Selling Slaving,  just released by the Digital Citizens Alliance (DCA), focusing on a subset of hackers known as “ratters.”

The name is an acronym for “Remote Access Trojans,” an easily accessible type of malware that enables hackers to take control of individual computers from afar.

The computers ratters enlist in their efforts are known as slaves. DCA found international hackers invading the privacy of devices in 33 states, as well as other countries, with many providing commentary in Arabic about the response of their victims.

 

A RAT victim unknowingly captured by her own webcam. The video ran on YouTube – not the advertisement.

The malware is loaded by unknowing, often young users who frequent pirates sites like Pirate Bay and KickassTorrents. Once loaded the malware opens the door to everything on a computer, including its webcam. The invasion of privacy is made even worse by the fact that many ratters post videos, including victims’ names and IP addresses on videos posted on YouTube.

In a disturbing twist, many ratters make money through YouTube’s partner program, running ads on the videos for major brands, and splitting the revenues with YouTube.

The Digital Citizens Alliance also found that a number of ratters engage in the practice of “sextortion,” requiring victims to make videos or else face humiliation online though the use of information that they have acquired from their computers.

Here is a summary of some of the most compelling findings:

  • “Ratters” are aggressively launching 1:1 attacks on consumers and “slaving” their devices, is a growing problem. It takes ratters little time to slave hundreds of devices. From there, they can gather private information off those devices, which they can then use to “sextort” the owners of the devices. Some of the ratters’ victims have been forced to make videos where they must do as the ratters say or be publicly humiliated.
  • On the hackers’ chat room, Hack Forums, there are more than 1.5 million posts that discuss acquiring, creating, and spreading RATs (as of 7/22/15). Digital Citizens found one post where a Hack Forums participant offered access to the devices of girls for $5 and guys for $1. We found repeated posts where ratters said the best places to spread RATs were YouTube and content theft sites, like Pirate Bay and KickassTorrents.
  • Digital Citizens went on to YouTube and scoured through hundreds of ratters’ videos with ads from well-known companies – running alongside the videos. Many videos had the faces of victims and IP addresses to hacked computers. In fact, Digital Citizens researchers found IP addresses potentially connected to devices in 33 states and dozens of other countries.
  • On Hack Forums, ratters talked about how content theft sites, like Pirate Bay, and KickassTorrents, were great places from which to spread RATs.  Researchers also found YouTube videos demonstrating how to use content theft sites to trick victims into downloading dangerous malware.
  • Ratters can make money through YouTube Partner Program. If a ratter joins the YouTube Partner Program, and, like the videos in our report, their video is “approved” then it starts to be monetized. In the Partner Program, YouTube promises to split ad revenues with that approved videos for their traffic. You start getting views on YouTube, you start making money – potentially thousands of dollars. In a survey of 200 RAT videos Digital Citizens researchers found ads running on nearly 40 percent.