“Right now, the most popular illegal site in the world, 123movies.to (at this point), is operated from Vietnam, and has 98 million visitors a month,” MPAA’s Executive Vice President & Chief of Global Content Protection, Jan van Voorn said.
That wasn’t the first time the site had been called out. Last year the US Ambassador to Vietnam called on the local Government to criminally prosecute the site’s operators on their alleged home turf. In addition, the site was also on the radar of the office of the US Trade Representative, which featured 123movies in its latest Notorious Markets report.
While 123movies has changed names several times over the course of the last few months, it was still a relative newcomer. It first emerged less than three years ago, but quickly became a dominant player.
According to the announcement, however, it will be all over in a few days. With millions of potential estranged users, that will leave a huge gap to fill.
The reason for the planned closure decision is unknown. Speculation would suggest legal pressure being high on the list, but the 123movies team hasn’t commented on its motivation.
When Spotify launched its first beta in the fall of 2008, many people were blown away by its ease of use.
With the option to stream millions of tracks supported by an occasional ad, or free of ads for a small subscription fee, Spotify offered something that was more convenient than piracy.
In the years that followed, Spotify rolled out its music service in more than 60 countries, amassing over 160 million users. While the service is often billed as a piracy killer, ironically, it also owes its success to piracy.
As a teenager, Spotify founder and CEO Daniel Ek was fascinated by Napster, which triggered a piracy revolution in the late nineties. Napster made all the music in the world accessible in a few clicks, something Spotify also set out to do a few years later, legally.
“I want to replicate my first experience with piracy,” Ek told Businessweek years ago. “What eventually killed it was that it didn’t work for the people participating with the content. The challenge here is about solving both of those things.”
While the technical capabilities were certainly there, the main stumbling block was getting the required licenses. The music industry hadn’t had a lot of good experiences with the Internet a decade ago so there was plenty of hesitation.
The same was true of Sweden, where The Pirate Bay had just gained a lot of traction. There was a pro-sharing culture being cultivated by Piratbyrån, Swedish for the Piracy Bureau, which was the driving force behind the torrent site in the early days.
Interestingly, however, this pro-piracy climate turned out to be in Spotify’s favor. In a detailed feature in the Swedish newspaper Breakit Per Sundin, CEO of Sony BMG at the time, suggests that The Pirate Bay helped Spotify.
“If Pirate Bay had not existed or made such a mess in the market, I don’t think Spotify would have seen the light of the day. You wouldn’t get the licenses you wanted,” Sundin said.
With music industry revenues dropping, record labels had to fire hundreds of people. They were becoming desperate and were looking for change, something Spotify was promising.
At the time, the idea of having millions of songs readily and legally available was totally new. Many immediately saw it as an “alternative to music piracy” and even Pirate Bay founder Peter Sunde was impressed.
“It was great. It was always what was missing in the pirate services, that intuitive interface,” Sunde told Breakit.
Sunde also believed that The Pirate Bay and all the buzz around piracy in Sweden was a great boon to Spotify. But while the latter turned into a billion-dollar business that’s about to go public, Sunde and the other TPB founders still owe the labels millions in damages.
“Without file-sharing, The Pirate Bay and the political work done by Piratbyrån, it was not possible to get the licensing agreements Spotify received,” Sunde said. “Sometimes I think I should have received 10, 20 or 30 percent of Spotify, as a thank you for the help.”
In addition to creating the right climate for the major record labels to get on board, The Pirate Bay also appears to have been of more practical assistance.
When Spotify first launched several people noticed that some tracks still had tags from pirate groups such as FairLight in the title. Those are not the files you expect the labels to offer, but files that were on The Pirate Bay.
Also, Spotify mysteriously offered music from a band that decided to share their music on The Pirate Bay, instead of the usual outlets. There’s only one place that could have originated from.
Earlier this month, fans of Dragon Ball Super in Mexico started a movement on social media which suggested that everyone should be able to watch episode 130 (titled “The Greatest Showdown of All Time! The Ultimate Survival Battle!!”) together in public.
Surprisingly, this movement started receiving support from various local governments, many of which agreed to erect large screens in public places, from town and city squares to football stadiums.
Official government Twitter accounts lit up with announcements from the authorities, with posters like the one below issued for many of the events.
While this all sounded wonderful in practice, there was a huge problem. According to Toei Animation, the Japanese company behind the hit anime show, no one had the licensing rights to show Dragon Ball Super in public.
The company issued a statement condemning the plans, branding the proposed performances as “illegal screenings that incite piracy” while urging people to support the creators by only watching on officially licensed platforms.
As Saturday drew near, some regions announced that without permission from Toei, their screenings would not go ahead. Others, however, offered no cooperation whatsoever, effectively informing Toei that it was powerless to do anything to stop what would amount to government-approved mass piracy.
Whether Toei had anything to do with it or not isn’t clear, but on Friday the ambassador of Japan took the highly unusual step of writing to various local governments with a demand for them to cancel the events. El Espanol obtained a copy of the letter, as shown below.
The letter from the Ambassador of Japan
“The Government of Japan is aware that episode 130 and 131 of the Dragon Ball Super series, whose copyright belongs to Japanese company Toei Animation, will be shown in public places and places without the author’s due authorization,” the letter reads.
“In the event the exhibition is illegal, the Government of Japan wishes that it be suspended.”
It seems that as a result of the letter, some of the screenings were canceled, causing much disappointment for the fans of the series. However, in some areas of Mexico the events went ahead anyway, with tens of thousands of massively enthusiastic people in attendance.
But it didn’t stop there. The DBS fever also spread to Chile, Peru, El Salvador and Ecuador, with outdoor events attracting huge cheering crowds.
Así se proyectó Dragon Ball Super en México y el mundo - YouTube
Whether there will be any diplomatic fallout from these shows of defiance isn’t yet clear but if anyone needed a visualization of what torrent sharing might look like if it took place in the physical realm, there are no better examples than these videos. In Ecuador, where more than ten thousand people gathered in just one location, fun was had by all.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi 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.
In recent years copyright holders have been rather concerned with the health of pirates’ computers.
They regularly highlight reports which show that pirate sites are rife with malware and even alert potential pirates-to-be about the dangers of these sites.
The recent “Meet The Malwares” campaign, targeted at small children, went as far as claiming that pirate sites are the number one way through which this malicious software is spread. We debunked this claim, but it’s hard to deny that pirate sites have their downsides.
While the operators of pirate sites are usually unaware, advertisers and malicious uploaders sometimes use their sites to distribute adware or malware. But does that put people at significant risk? Research from Carnegie Mellon University Professor Rahul Telang provides some further insight.
For a year, Telang observed the browsing and other computer habits of 253 people who took part in the Security Behavior Observatory. The results, published in a paper titled “Does Online Piracy make Computers Insecure?” show that there is a link between pirate site visits and malware.
“We find that more visits to infringing sites does lead to more number of malware files being downloaded on user machines. In particular doubling the amount of time spent on infringing sites cause a 20 percent increase in malware count,” Telang writes.
This effect was only visible for pirate sites, and not for other categories such as banking, gambling, gaming, shopping, social networking, and even adult websites.
Through the Security Behavior Observatory, all files on the respondents’ computers were scanned and checked against reports from Virustotal.com. This also includes adware, but even without this category, the results remain intact.
“Even after we classify malware files into adware and remove them from analysis, our results still suggest that there is a 20 percent increase in malware count due to visits to infringing sites. These results are robust to various controls and specifications.”
Interestingly, one would expect that people who frequently visit pirate sites are more likely to have anti-virus software installed. However, this was not the case.
“We also find that users who visit infringing sites do not take any more precautions than other users. In particular, we find no evidence that such users are more likely to install anti-virus software. If anything, we find that infringing users are more risk taking,” the paper reads.
A 20 percent increase in malware sounds dramatic, and while we don’t want to downplay these results or the risks involved, it’s worth highlighting the absolute numbers.
The research estimates that, when someone doubles the amount of traffic spent on a pirate site, this person adds an extra 0.05 of a piece of malware per month, with the average being 0.24. So, most people encounter no malware in a typical month. This means that pirate sites are an increased a risk, but it’s not as extreme as sometimes portrayed.
There is also no evidence that malware is predominantly spread through pirate sites. Looking at the total sample, the average number of malware files found on a pirate’s machine is 1.5, compared to 1.4 for those who never visit any pirate sites at all.
While there’s certainly some risk involved, it’s doubtful that the results will deter many people. Previous research revealed that the majority of all pirates are fully aware of the malware risks, but that they .
For millions of people around the world, subtitles are the only way to enjoy media in languages other than that in the original production. For the deaf and hard of hearing, they are absolutely essential.
Movie and TV show companies tend to be quiet good at providing subtitles eventually but in line with other restrictive practices associated with their industry, it can often mean a long wait for the consumer, particularly in overseas territories.
For this reason, fan-made subtitles have become somewhat of a cottage industry in recent years. Where companies fail to provide subtitles quickly enough, fans step in and create them by hand. This has led to the rise of a number of subtitling platforms, including the now widely recognized Undertexter.se in Sweden.
The platform had its roots back in 2003 but first hit the headlines in 2013 when Swedish police caused an uproar by raiding the site and seizing its servers.
“The people who work on the site don’t consider their own interpretation of dialog to be something illegal, especially when we’re handing out these interpretations for free,” site founder Eugen Archy said at the time.
Vowing to never give up in the face of pressure from the authorities, anti-piracy outfit Rättighetsalliansen (Rights Alliance), and companies including Nordisk Film, Paramount, Universal, Sony and Warner, Archy said that the battle over what began as a high school project would continue.
“No Hollywood, you played the wrong card here. We will never give up, we live in a free country and Swedish people have every right to publish their own interpretations of a movie or TV show,” he said.
It took four more years but in 2017 the Undertexter founder was prosecuted for distributing copyright-infringing subtitles while facing a potential prison sentence.
Things didn’t go well and last September the Attunda District Court found him guilty and sentenced the then 32-year-old operator to probation. In addition, he was told to pay 217,000 Swedish krona ($26,400) to be taken from advertising and donation revenues collected through the site.
Eugen Archy took the case to appeal, arguing that the Svea Hovrätt (Svea Court of Appeal) should acquit him of all the charges and dismiss or at least reduce the amount he was ordered to pay by the lower court. Needless to say, this was challenged by the prosecution.
On appeal, Archy agreed that he was the person behind Undertexter but disputed that the subtitle files uploaded to his site infringed on the plaintiffs’ copyrights, arguing they were creative works in their own right.
While to an extent that may have been the case, the Court found that the translations themselves depended on the rights connected to the original work, which were entirely held by the relevant copyright holders. While paraphrasing and parody might be allowed, pure translations are completely covered by the rights in the original and cannot be seen as new and independent works, the Court found.
The Svea Hovrätt also found that Archy acted intentionally, noting that in addition to administering the site and doing some translating work himself, it was “inconceivable” that he did not know that the subtitles made available related to copyrighted dialog found in movies.
In conclusion, the Court of Appeal upheld Archy’s copyright infringement conviction (pdf, Swedish) and sentenced him to probation, as previously determined by the Attunda District Court.
Last year, the legal status of user-created subtitles was also tested in the Netherlands. In response to local anti-piracy outfit BREIN forcing several subtitling groups into retreat, a group of fansubbers decided to fight back.
After raising their own funds, in 2016 the “Free Subtitles Foundation” (Stichting Laat Ondertitels Vrij – SLOV) took the decision to sue BREIN with the hope of obtaining a favorable legal ruling.
In 2017 it all fell apart when the Amsterdam District Court handed down its decision and sided with BREIN on each count.
The Court found that subtitles can only be created and distributed after permission has been obtained from copyright holders. Doing so outside these parameters amounts to copyright infringement.
In January, a coalition of Canadian companies called on the local telecom regulator CRTC to establish a local pirate site blocking program, which would be the first of its kind in North America.
The Canadian deal is supported by Fairplay Canada, a coalition of both copyright holders and major players in the telco industry, such as Bell and Rogers, which also have media companies of their own.
Before making a decision on the proposal, the CTRC has launched a public consultation asking Canadians for their opinion on the matter. In recent weeks this has resulted in thousands of submissions, with the majority coming from ordinary citizens.
The responses themselves range from an unequivocal “another push by Bell to control all forms of communication,” to very elaborate and rather well-documented arguments.
From the responses we’ve seen it’s clear that many individuals are worried that their Internet access will be censored. The term “slippery slope” is regularly mentioned, as well as the corporate interests that back the plan.
“I strongly oppose any attempt for internet censorship, especially any attempt brought forth by a commercial entity. The internet is and should remain a free flowing source of information that is not controlled by any individuals or groups political or corporate interests,” Shanon Durst writes in her comment.
“If there is concern for illegal activities taking place on the internet then those activities can be addressed in a court of law and the appropriate actions taken there,” she adds.
The same type of arguments also come back in the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s (EFF) submission.
“It is unsurprising that the entertainment industry would rather construct its own private body to bypass the court system in making decisions about website blocking,” the EFF writes.
“But if it is allowed to do this, will the newspaper industry be next to propose and fund a private body to make determinations about defamation? Will the adult entertainment industry propose establishing its own private court to determine the boundaries of the law of obscenity?”
While they appear to be in the minority, there are several commenters who back the proposal. Where most individual responses oppose the plans, it appears that many submissions from organizations are in favor.
A lot of these responses come from outfits that are concerned that piracy is negatively impacting their livelihoods, including Canada Basketball, The Association of Canadian Publishers, and Pier 21 Films.
“Canada’s current tools to combat piracy are not working. The FairPlay proposal is a proportionate response that reflects the modern realities of piracy,” Laszlo Barna, president of Pier 21 Films writes.
“As participants in the legal sports and entertainment market in Canada, this proposal will reduce the theft of content and support the ability to invest in, produce, and distribute the great content that our fans crave,” Canada Basketball concurs.
Drawing conclusions based on this limited sample of comments is hard, aside from the finding that it will be impossible to please everyone. Thankfully, research conducted by Reza Rajabiun and Fenwick McKelvey, with support from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, provides additional insight.
The visualization below gives an overview of the most statistically significant concepts emphasized by respondents in their submissions, as well as the relationship among these concepts.
A visualization of significant comment concepts (image credit)
The quantitative content analysis is based on 4,000 submissions. While it requires some interpretation from the reader, many of the themes appear to be closely aligned with the opposition, the researchers write.
“According to their CRTC submissions, Canadians believe that the proposal is a ‘bad’ ‘idea’ because it enables ‘corporations’ and the ‘government’ to restrict ‘freedom’ of ‘speech’ and ‘flow’ of ‘information’ among ‘citizens.’ The fear of setting a bad ‘precedent’ is closely associated with the potential for ‘censorship’ in the future.”
Many of the same words can also be in a different context, of course, but the researchers see the themes as evidence that many members of the public are concerned about the negative consequences.
“Overall, it is easy to see that Canadians tend to view the proposed blocking regime not just in terms of its benefits for fighting ‘piracy’; they also perceive that setting up a national blocking regime may be a threat to their economic interests as ‘consumers’ of ‘legitimate’ ‘media’ and of their political ‘rights’ as ‘citizens’,” they write.
At the time of writing nearly 8,000 responses have been submitted. There is no easy way to determine what percentage is for or against the proposal. When the deadline passes on March 29, CRTC will review them manually.
When that’s done, it is up to the telecoms regulator to factor the different opinions into its final decision, which won’t be an easy feat.
In 2005, it used the then relatively new technology to share hundreds of DRM-free tracks from participating artists. It was a practical, fast, and cheap solution that worked well.
The official torrent releases continued for three years but since 2008 this task has been unofficially taken over by the public. SXSW still showcases music on their site, for sampling purposes, but no longer via torrents.
However, once it’s out on the Internet it only takes one person to make a torrent archive. For many years, the operator of SXSW Torrent has taken on this task and 2018 is no exception.
This year’s archive is released in two torrents, which consists of 1,276 tracks totaling 8.24 gigabytes of free music.
All the tracks released for the previous editions are also still available and most of these torrents remain well-seeded. The 2005 – 2018 archives now total more than 15,000 tracks and 85 gigabytes of data.
TorrentFreak spoke to the operator of SXSW Torrent who told us that it’s the tenth year in a row that the site has compiled the archive. His motivation is partly selfish, serving as preparation for his yearly SXSW Music trip, but also because many others are relying on it.
“Many people come back every year, so I can’t leave them hanging,” the SXSW Torrent operator previously told us.
Apparently, these people prefer to download everything in one go, as opposed to browsing through the SWSX site to sample the music.
It’s clear that these efforts are appreciated by the public. With tens of thousands of downloaders each year, the SXSW torrents attract quite a bit of traffic. For some, it almost makes up for not being able to attend the festival in person.
However, the term ‘free’ music has changed over time. While SXSW Torrent was never asked to take any files down, the torrents are not officially authorized. This means that some artists or rightsholders, may not like the idea of their music being shared this way
When SWSX released the torrent we happily encouraged people to download the tracks, but now that’s no longer the case.
The good news is that there are plenty other options out there. Aside from the showcases on the official website, SXSW has published official Spotify and YouTube playlists where people can enjoy the the music, without any concerns.
This year’s SXSW music festival is currently underway in Austin, Texas and ends on Sunday. The torrents, however, are expected to live on for as long as there are people sharing.
Streaming site Kinox has proven hugely problematic for German authorities and international rightsholders for many years.
Last year, following a three-year manhunt, one of the site’s alleged operators was detained in Kosovo. Despite this and other actions, the site remains online.
Given the profile of the platform and its popularity in Germany, it came as no surprise when Kinox became the guinea pig for site-blocking in the country. Last month following a complaint from local film production and distribution company Constantin Film, a district court in Munich handed down a provisional injunction against Internet provider Vodafone.
In common with many similar cases across the EU, the Court cited a 2017 ruling from the European Court of Justice which found that local authorities can indeed order blockades of copyright-infringing sites. The Court ordered Vodafone to prevent its subscribers from accessing the site and shortly after the provider complied, but not willingly it seems.
According to local news outlet Golem, last week Vodafone filed an appeal arguing that there is no legal basis in Germany for ordering the blockade.
“As an access provider, Vodafone provides only neutral access to the Internet, and we believe that under current law, Vodafone cannot be required to curb copyright infringement on the Internet,” a Vodafone spokesperson told the publication.
The ISP says that not only does the blocking injunction impact its business operations and network infrastructure, it also violates the rights of its customers. Vodafone believes that blocking measures can only be put in place with an explicit legal basis and argues that no such basis exists under German law.
Noting that blockades are easily bypassed by determined users, the ISP says that such measures can also block lots of legal content, making the whole process ineffective.
“[I]nternet blocking generally runs the risk of blocking non-infringing content, so we do not see it as an effective way to make accessing illegal offers more difficult,” Vodafone’s spokesperson said.
Indeed, it appears that the Kinox blockade is a simple DNS-only effort, which means that people can bypass it by simply changing to an alternative DNS provider such as Google DNS or OpenDNS.
Given all of the above, Vodafone is demanding clarification of the earlier decision from a higher court. Whether or not the final decision will go in the ISP’s favor isn’t clear but there is plenty of case law at the European level that suggests the balance of probabilities lies with Constantin Film.
When asked to balance consumer rights versus copyrights, courts have tended to side with the latter in recent years.
With millions of visitors per day, pirate streaming site 123movies, also known as GoMovies, is a force to be reckoned with.
The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is fully aware of this and previously alerted the US Trade Representative about this “notorious market.”
However, since the site is not operating from the US, Hollywood’s industry group is also reaching out to 123movies’ alleged home turf, Vietnam. Following in the footsteps of the US ambassador, the MPAA seeks assistance from local authorities.
The MPAA is currently in Vietnam where it’s working with the Office of the Police Investigation Agency to combat pirate sites. According to the MPAA’s Executive Vice President & Chief of Global Content Protection, Jan van Voorn, 123movies is one of the prime targets.
“Right now, the most popular illegal site in the world, 123movies.to (at this point), is operated from Vietnam, and has 98 million visitors a month,” Van Voorn said, quoted by VNExpress.
“There are more services like this – sites that are not helpful for local legitimate businesses,” he adds.
The MPAA hopes that the Vietnamese authorities will step in to take these pirate sites offline, so that legal alternatives can grow. In addition, it stresses that the public should be properly educated, to change their views on movie piracy.
While it’s clear that 123movies is a threat to Hollywood, there are bigger fish out there.
The 98 million number MPAA mentions appears to come from SimilarWeb’s January estimate. While this is a lot of traffic indeed, it’s not the largest pirate site. The Pirate Bay, for example, had an estimated 282 million visitors during the same period.
TorrentFreak asked the MPAA to confirm the claim but at the time of writing, we have yet to hear back. Perhaps Van Voorn was referring to streaming sites specifically, which would make more sense.
In any case, it’s clear that Hollywood is concerned about 123movies and similar sites and will do everything in its power to get them offline.