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Stream-ripping, Cloudflare and Telegram all appear in US record industry’s updated piracy gripe list

By | Published on Thursday 3 October 2019

Piracy / Hacker

The US government is once again putting together its Notorious Markets report where it names and shames the websites, apps and companies that the American copyright industries reckon are responsible for particularly high levels of piracy. And earlier this week the Recording Industry Association Of America submitted its piracy gripe list for consideration.

The Notorious Markets report is put together by the US Trade Representative with the aim of informing the American government on piracy issues for whenever it’s in discussions with foreign governments on intellectual property matters. The sites and businesses that are named and shamed are therefore usually based outside the US, though they often have a considerable user-base within the United States.

To what extent the report actually helps with efforts to crack down on these piracy operations is debatable, but it has become a useful annual update on what kinds of infringement the copyright industries – including the music industry – reckon are most prevalent and most problematic at any one time.

There’s also an element of putting these sites and companies on notice that they are a concern for copyright owners and may be on the receiving end of legal action in the future. Some of the named operations will therefore be concerned about being listed. Though, it has to be said, some piracy set-ups probably consider being included as a badge of honour.

The RIAA’s submission confirms that, for the music industry, stream-ripping sites remain the biggest concern. These, of course, are the websites that allow users to turn temporary streams into permanent downloads. “The overall popularity of these sites and the staggering volume of traffic they attract evidence the enormous damage being inflicted on the US record industry”, the RIAA tells the US Trade Representative.

“Several countries around the world have found these stream-ripping services to be unlawful, including Australia, Denmark, Russia, Spain and Italy. Several stream-ripping services have also shut down after a demand or lawsuit from the record companies. Unfortunately, however, new or variant stream-ripping services rise up to take their place”.

Revealing that it is now routinely monitoring 200+ stream-ripping sites, RIAA then lists some of its key targets. That includes Russia-based and 2Conv, which the US record industry previously unsuccessfully sued in the American courts.

“US record companies filed a lawsuit against these sites in 2018 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, alleging copyright infringement on a massive scale”, the RIAA explains. “The court granted the Russian defendant’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, despite substantial facts that support jurisdiction over the defendant in the United States”.

Summarising why it thinks the court was wrong to dismiss the case on jurisdiction grounds, the RIAA goes on: “In 2018 alone, the sites had almost 32 million United States users who, collectively, conducted over 96 million stream-ripping sessions and downloaded hundreds of millions of songs from defendant’s servers to their own personal devices in the United States. The decision is now on appeal to the US Court Of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit”.

Alongside stream-ripping, the RIAA also discusses MP3 search sites, BitTorrent indexing sites, cyber lockers, unlicensed download stores, web hosting companies which have a slack attitude to copyright issues and providers of so called reverse proxy services.

The latter group includes Cloudflare, an entirely legitimate internet services firm that recently listed on the New York Stock Exchange, but which has long been criticised by the music industry for providing services to piracy websites. Cloudflare has, albeit reluctantly, responded to complaints from copyright owners in the past – especially where court orders have been secured – but the RIAA says that issues remain.

By using Cloudflare’s reverse proxy service, piracy sites can hide their precise location, ie their IP address. “More and more pirate sites employ reverse proxy services, most commonly Cloudflare, to obfuscate their IP address, creating obstacles to enforcement against such sites”, the RIAA recaps in its submission.

“While Cloudflare will provide the underlying IP address upon request when presented with an infringing URL”, the submission goes on, “Cloudflare also notifies its customer of the request, whereby the customer can quickly migrate its site to a new hosting ISP while continuing to utilise Cloudflare. Since there is no real-time access to the site’s location, any IP address provided by Cloudflare one day may be inaccurate the next”.

Most of the companies targeted in the RIAA’s gripe list have been criticised before. There is, of course, the customary name-check of the uber-resistant Pirate Bay. “The site makes no pretence of legitimacy, fails to respond to any takedown notices, and has previously ridiculed those who have sent them such notices”, the RIAA notes.

But there are some interesting newer entries in the record industry’s document, in particular sometimes controversial messaging app Telegram.

The RIAA says it has no problem with messaging app technology in general, but has issues with this particular platform because it allows users to share large content files – up to 1.5GB, which is significantly larger than rival Whatsapp, for example. Plus, as far as the labels are concerned, Telegram doesn’t do enough to deal with takedown notices from copyright owners when these larger files being shared are unlicensed music files.

The RIAA then explains that channels on the Telegram platform can “include scripts known as bots which provide some level of interactivity within the channel, sometimes allowing users to request specific content from the channel. Telegram offers many user-created channels which are dedicated to the unauthorised distribution of copyrighted recordings, with some channels focused on particular genres or artists”.

“Telegram itself hosts many of the copyrighted recordings made available through these channels and the RIAA has sent [takedown] notices to Telegram containing over 18,000 instances of copyrighted recordings offered without authorisation through these channels”, the submission goes on. “Telegram claims that it forwards our notices to the channel operators who are responsible for removing the infringements listed in our notices”.

However, many of those channel operators ignore the takedown notices, it adds. And, “Telegram makes no apparent attempt to verify that channel operators have complied with our notices and does not seem to have any kind of repeat infringement policy”.

Interestingly, Telegram was created by the founders of Russian social network vKontakte, another platform that used to prominently appear in the music industry’s submission to the US Notorious Markets report each year, until the social media firm negotiated licensing deals with the record companies. Although VK actually continued to get name-checked in the Notorious Market document itself thanks to ongoing complaints from the movie industry.

It remains to be seen how much of the RIAA’s griping gets directly pasted into the next edition of the American government’s key piracy round-up.