U.S. Government Lists Top Torrent Sites as Piracy Havens
A new report published by the United States Trade Representative has listed the world’s largest BitTorrent sites and cyberlockers as some of the most problematic copyright infringers in the world. Popcorn Time and its derivatives are mentioned too, with the former’s creation blamed on YIFY/YTS. Domain name registrars are also placed under the spotlight.
In its latest “Out-of-Cycle Review of Notorious Markets” report the United States Trade Representative (USTR) lists some of the world’s largest file-sharing sites as venues for prolific copyright infringement.
“Commercial scale trademark counterfeiting and copyright piracy cause significant financial losses for rights holders and legitimate businesses, undermine critical U.S. comparative advantages in innovation and creativity to the detriment of American workers, and can pose significant risks to consumer health and safety,” the report begins.
“The Notorious Markets List (“List”) highlights select online and physical marketplaces that reportedly engage in and facilitate substantial copyright piracy and trademark counterfeiting.”
It’s no surprise that The Pirate Bay is on the USTR list again this year but its first mention is framed as a success. The December 2014 raid against the famous site is quite properly noted but then subsequent references paint a confusing picture.
While the USTR correctly notes that the site eventually resumed operations at ThePirateBay.se, it also claims that the site first came back online at ThePirateBay.si “as well as under several other domain names”. This account runs counter to the actual sequence of events which were regularly documented online.
Although not mentioned specifically by name, numerous PirateBay clones also make an appearance, notably the version created by the IsoHunt.to team.
KickassTorrents is also proving to be a thorn in the side of the USTR. Now reporting that the site is based in Canada, the U.S. government notes that the site reaped the rewards of the Pirate Bay takedown in December by scooping up additional traffic. It notes that the site has had domain name difficulties recently (praising the action by the .SO registry) but concedes that the site remains fully operational.
Meta-search engine Torrentz.eu makes another appearance on the list this year but with an added twist. The USTR is now referring to the site as being part of a group called ‘Movshare Group/Private Layer’ which includes various Torrentz domains plus Putlocker.is, Nowvideo, Movshare, BitSnoop and Novamov, among others.
“This group of affiliated and extremely popular sites, with ties to Switzerland,
Netherlands, Panama, Canada, and other countries, reportedly uses multiple technologies to make available countless unauthorized copies of movies, games, music, audiobooks, software, and sporting event broadcasts,” the USTR writes.
YTS.re or YIFY as it’s still known, receives particular focus in the U.S. government report. Noting that the site has millions of visitors every month and is continuing to grow, the report makes a curious allegation – that YTS is responsible for creating Popcorn Time.
“Yts.re’s operators also created a desktop torrent streaming application called ‘Popcorn Time,’ similar to [Spanish-focused version] ‘Cuevana Storm’,” the report reads.
An interesting situation has also developed around Bulgarian torrent sites Zamunda and Arena.bg. Both sites have been present on the USTR’s list for many years and in practical terms nothing has changed in respect of the way the sites offer copyrighted material. However, the U.S. government now says that both will now be removed from the list.
“[In] recognition of Bulgarian law enforcement efforts and recent reports that the operators of these sites agreed with rights holders to remove links to unauthorized movies upon notification, the sites [have been removed],” the report reads.
Predictably the massively popular Russia-based RuTracker remains a “notorious site” this time around but the problems facing war-torn Ukraine haven’t given that country a free pass. The USTR remains concerned over the country’s approach to protecting copyright so torrent site ExtraTorrent.cc remains on the list alongside hosting site EX.ua.
A curious addition to the list is the Spain-focused EliteTorrent. Criticized for removing content following rightsholder complaints only to replace it at a later date, the site no longer exists having shut itself down in January 2015.
With millions of visitors every day, file-hosting site 4shared heads the USTR list. The government notes that the site works with rightsholders by implementing a scanning system to remove unauthorized material but apparently that’s not enough. Complaints from the music industry means that the site remains on the list this time around.
Uploaded.net, another regular feature of the USTR report, makes another appearance this time around. While claiming the site has alleged links to Switzerland and Netherlands, the U.S. government plucks figures directly from the recent and controversial NetNames cyberlocker report by claiming the site generates $6 million per year in revenues.
With Google being asked to remove close to 10 million links from ZippyShare.com, it’s little surprise that the file-hosting site is present on this year’s list.
“The site offers features that make piracy more ‘infringer friendly,’ including through accelerated downloading. Its revenues reportedly come from paid advertising, which targets the millions of users who download files from the site,” the report reads.
But despite being one of the largest sites of its type, Russia’s Rapidgator gets only a short mention, possibly due to the USTR’s belief that its popularity is declining. Social network VK or vKontakte is given much more focus, however. The USTR cautiously notes the site’s efforts to reduce infringement but concludes that much more needs to be done.
On the linking front Baixeturbo.org gets a notable mention.The site has been in operation for almost seven years and is reportedly popular with Brazilians. However, it’s hosted in the UK so should in theory be an easy site for the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit to disrupt. Nevertheless, it remains online and features prominently in the USTR’s list.
The USTR Notorious Markets report usually focused on sites and services involved in online copyright infringement, but this time around the government appears to be widening the net. For the first time legitimate companies that simply register domain names are being put under the spotlight.
“This year, USTR is highlighting the issue of certain domain name registrars. Registrars are the commercial entities or organizations that manage the registration of Internet domain names, and some of them reportedly are playing a role in supporting counterfeiting and piracy online,” the report reads.
“Some registrars..[..]…reportedly disobey court orders and other communications, including from government enforcement authorities. Some registrars apparently even advertise to the online community that they will not take action against illicit activity, presumably to incentivize registrations by owners and operators of illicit sites.”
The USTR singles out Canada-based Tucows as “an example of a registrar that fails to take action when notified of its clients’ infringing activity. Consistent with the discussion above, USTR encourages the operators of Tucows to work with relevant stakeholders to address complaints,” the USTR writes.
In common with previous years the report begins with a short summary of successes. Spanish site Seriesyonkis.com and Blu-ray ripping software vendor Aiseesoft were commended for their positive actions and with some reservations noted, Chinese site Xunlei was removed from the latest list.
Action taken against the German-based linking site Boerse.bz was also deemed worthy of a mention but its resurrection as Boerse.to was relegated to a fine-print footnote.
Putlocker.com, a site reportedly targeted by law enforcement in 2012 and 2013 (later rebranding to FireDrive in 2014) has also been removed from the list. The USTR notes that the site may not have completely mended its ways but since traffic has dropped dramatically the site has lost its “notorious” status.
While there are no real surprises in the report, the addition of domain registrars is a notable development. Expect this element to grow in future editions and for the cat and mouse game with most other sites to continue.