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Film Industry Claims Victory in Shutdown of Major Piracy Sites

By David Jones
Nov 4, 2015 4:25 PM PT

The Motion Picture Association of America ran a victory lap on Tuesday, after announcing the shutdown of movie and television torrent sites Popcorn Time and YTS. The shutdowns resulted from major legal wins in Canada and New Zealand.

Film Industry Claims Victory in Shutdown of Major Piracy Sites

The MPAA last month obtained injunctions against the sites in those countries, effectively blocking them from further operation. The two court decisions originally were sealed, but they have been released, the MPAA said.

Popcorn Time and YTS existed for the sole purpose of distributing stolen movies and television shows, with no compensation going to the people who created them, according to MPAA Chairman Chris Dodd, a former U.S. senator.

"By shutting down these illegal commercial enterprises, which operate on a massive global scale, we are protecting not only our members creative work and the hundreds of innovative, legal distribution platforms, but also the millions of people whose jobs depend on a vibrant motion picture and television industry," he said.

Legal Trail

Six member companies of the MPAA last month filed suit in federal court in Canada, claiming that three Canadian operators of the Popcorntime.io fork enabled, authorized and induced copyright infringement of movies and television shows.

The Popcorntime.io fork had 1.5 million unique visitors just during the month of July, MPAA said. The court issued an injunction on Oct. 16, ordering the shutdown of the main site and corresponding app.

Around the same time, MPAA filed a separate suit against a New Zealand resident who operated YTS, accusing him of facilitating copyright infringement. The New Zealand court granted an injunction against the site, which had a global Alexa ranking of 584 and 3.4 million unique visitors in August, according to Comscore.

YIFY, a release group with more than 4,500 illegal movie titles, is considered an affiiate of YTS, according to MPAA. It also has disappeared from the Web.

Chasing Tails

The entertainment industry may be accomplishing little more than putting out random fires that will reignite in other locations.

"The history here is typically when they shut down one site, another one pops up," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

"Their best efforts to reduce or eliminate piracy would be to make movies far more accessible and far more affordable," he told the E-Commerce Times.

The vast majority of movie fans are getting their entertainment legally, streaming films and television shows over the Web, Enderle pointed out. However, there remains a hardcore group that will flock to sites like The Pirate Bay, which has been a target of the industry in the past. Though it has been shut down several times, it has managed to pop up again after each closure, finding a home in a new country where existing laws leave major loopholes.

"The content industry is playing piracy whack-a-mole, said Eli Dourado, head of the tech policy program at the Mercatus Center. "The more pirates they take down, the more they encourage even more decentralized means of engaging in piracy."

The only way to effectively combat piracy is to "prioritize convenient and timely access to content through legitimate means," he told the E-Commerce Times.

"Clearly, putting a simple-to-use interface on what amounted to an intellectual property theft engine was a red line," observed Ian Trump, security lead at LogicNow.

"Making movies easy to grab illegitimately was a little too brazen, and the simplification of torrenting was the straw that broke the criminal torrenting back," he told the E-Commerce Times.

What to Do

"The problem needs to be addressed at a strategic rather than tactical level," maintained GreatHorn CEO Kevin O'Brien. "So long as a market exists for this content -- and stolen movies are simply a subset of the broader set of illicit data that can be accessed, bought and sold online -- mechanisms for finding and accessing them will continue to crop up."

The solution is to establish stronger security controls that would make the cost of circumventing them prohibitive, he suggested. Automated detection at the network or DNS level could accomplish that goal.

"From a technical level, the implementation would essentially be about automatically analyzing Web traffic at the DNS or ISP level, and then looking for patterns that correlate to illegal activity," O'Brien told the E-Commerce Times.

It would be possible to dig deeply into data patterns to determine if something untoward were happening, he said.

"The question then becomes what one does with that data," O'Brien continued.

"There is a fundamental question of privacy here. Going after individual users is probably not the right approach, but being able to track anomalous activity to potential exploit-specific sites and networks is less problematic -- and more likely to be effective," he said.

"In many ways, this is the future of cybersecurity," O'Brien remarked. "Whether it's the MPAA stopping illegal movie downloads or it's the protection of data held on corporate networks from theft across the dark Web, we need to be talking about 'ambient security' that can detect patterns in massive data and traffic flows, not individual sites and users."

A Place for Torrenting

One ongoing concern in the tug of war is that the crackdown on film piracy ultimately could constrain the innovation of a technology that has legitimate and safe purposes -- allowing users to access large files of data without the need to invest in excessive bandwidth, noted Mitch Stoltz, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

"This may have the potential to make BitTorrent software and other file-sharing software into contraband," he told the E-Commerce Times. "That would be a loss for everyone."


David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain's New York Business and The New York Times.


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