2011: Striking Pirates and Stopping SOPA

The year of Internet censorship wouldn't be complete without the SOPA soap, the row between Megaupload and Universal, three-strikes plans and the countless other censorship attempts and anti-piracy actions that were carried out in the second half of the year. Luckily, there were also a few positive things to report on.

During the second half of the year SOPA dominated much of the news, but of course there were plenty of other interesting things going on too.

Below is a selection of some of the most remarkable topics covered here on TorrentFreak in the latter part of 2011. Part 1 (covering the first 6 months of the year) can be found here.

Feel free to add your assessment of the last year in the comments section below.

July

BitTorrent had its 10th birthday at the start of July, and inventor Bram Cohen was kind enough to share his thoughts on the past decade with us.

In the same month the MPAA, RIAA and all major ISPs in the US announced a deal to curb piracy with a six-strikes warning system. Under the agreement the ISPs agreed to send “copyright alerts” to subscribers whose Internet connections are used for copyright infringement. Repeated offenders will not be disconnected from the Internet, but could be slowed down instead.

Around the same time, the French authorities provided some details on the scope of their three-strikes law, Hadopi. During the first 9 months of operation, a total of 18 Million file-sharers were tracked. This mass discovery process resulted in 470,000 first warning emails, which equals a little over 50,000 per month. The number of people who received a second warning is currently stuck at 20,000 and only 10 Internet subscribers received a third warning.

Yet another ruling (final this time) confirmed that ‘pirate’ sites operate lawfully in Spain. newsbinIn India things started working differently, with copyright holders obtaining the power to order ISPs to block sites deemed to be infringing.

Following a hearing in London’s High Court, leading UK ISP BT was forced to block subscriber access to Usenet indexing site Newzbin2. After an attempt to stop the blockade the order went into effect in November. The blocking decision was the first of its kind in the UK on copyright grounds and increased the pressure on other ISPs to follow suit, which Sky did later in the year.

Oh, and sadly enough file-sharers were denied official religion status in Sweden.

August

The mass-BitTorrent lawsuits in the US continued at a rapid pace and by August 200,000 people had been sued for allegedly sharing copyrighted material online.

The UK communications regulator OFCOM published a report which came to the conclusion that blocking ‘pirate’ websites would not be effective. Ironically enough the document wasn’t redacted properly, revealing a comprehensive guide on how to bypass all possible blocking attempts.

The US domain name seizures resulted in another arrest. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) apprehended a 19-year-old man who allegedly ran HQ-Streams.com and HQ-Streams.net, domains that were previously seized by ICE in February.

Two of the original Pirate Bay founders launched a one-click file-hosting service called Bayfiles. The new service is dedicated to respecting copyrights while offering its users a great platform to store and share files.

Meanwhile, anti-piracy lawyers sue a dead person and a blind man.

September

Early September five people connected to the video streaming and download site NinjaVideo were indicted by a grand jury on copyright infringement and conspiracy charges. NinjaVideo was one of the sites first targeted by Operation in Our Sites mid-2010. The authorities hold the defendants responsible for providing access to unauthorized movies and TV-shows between 2008 and 2010, which allegedly earned the site more than $500,000. In the same month the site’s founder Hana Beshara and co-defendant Matthew Smith plead guilty, and two others followed in October.

hotfileThroughout 2011, the Florida-based file-hosting service Hotfile has battled in court with five major movie studios. In September, Hotfile turned the tables on Warner Bros., suing the movie studio for fraud and abuse. Hotfile accused the movie studio of systematically abusing its anti-piracy tool by taking down hundreds of titles they don’t hold the copyrights to, including open source software. Among other things, Hotfile is looking for damages to compensate the company for the losses they suffered.

After blocking The Pirate Bay and BTjunkie, Italian lawmakers proposed several new measures that will put Internet users at risk of losing their connection after one alleged infringement. These copyright complaints can be sent by anyone, not just the copyright holder in question.

The German Pirate Party scored an unprecedented win in the elections for the Berlin state parliament. The Pirates got 9 percent of the vote, which translated into 15 parliament seats. A few weeks later the party polled double digits across the country. With 10 percent of the total vote, the Pirates would become the third largest party in the country if federal elections were held.

Oh, and girls are not into the Pirate Bay at all, but those who are fancy porn just as much as men.

October

In Belgium the Antwerp Court of Appeal ordered Belgian ISPs Belgacom and Telenet to initiate DNS blockades of 11 domains connected to The Pirate Bay. A few days after the verdict The Pirate Bay registered depiraatbaai.be, a new domain not covered by the court order. By the end of the month this domain was already on its way into the top 100 most-visited domains in Belgium.

The Stockholm District Court sentence against Pirate Bay founder Gottfrid Svartholm was finalized after he failed to appear at the Court of Appeal. Svartholm, also known as Anakata online, did not appear at the appeal trial last year because he was hospitalized in Cambodia. He later went missing. The Court of Appeal decided to finalize the initial verdict of one year jail time and a fine of $1.1 million. The other defendants await a decision on their request for a Supreme Court appeal.

censorA report showed that the majority of users on The Pirate Bay value their anonymity online, but how anonymous can they really be if VPN-providers don’t value the privacy of their customers?

On October 26, Representative Lamar Smith introduced the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which is the House version of the Senate’s PROTECT IP (PIPA) bill. This marked the start of a months-long Internet battle that was still ongoing at the end of the year.

Aside from making streaming of copyrighted content a felony, the pending bill aims to make it easier to put sites that facilitate copyright infringement out of business. Should SOPA become law, authorities and copyright holders will have a broad range of tools to censor sites they deem to be facilitating copyright infringement. Aside from domain seizures, they can demand that search engines remove ‘rogue sites’ from their results, order ISPs to block these domains, and cut off their payments providers.

Meanwhile, Justin Bieber face the prospect of jail for pirating.

November

The SOPA soap continued. Mid-November leading civil liberties and tech policy organizations called for an Internet-wide day of protest against censorship. Every hour more than 23,000 emails were sent to Congress via the American Censorship campaign and Tumblr users alone made 3.6 calls per second.

US authorities carried out the largest round of domain name seizures yet as part of their continued crackdown on counterfeit and piracy-related websites. Right before “Cyber Monday” more than 130 domain names were taken over by the feds to protect the commercial interests of US companies. The new round came exactly a year after 82 domains, including Torrent-Finder, were taken over in 2010.

Across the pond, the European Parliament adopted a resolution which criticized domain name seizures of “infringing” websites by US authorities. According to the resolution these measures need to be countered as they endanger “the integrity of the global internet and freedom of communication.” With this stance the European Parliament joins an ever-growing list of SOPA opponents.

groovesharkUniversal Music filed a lawsuit against the popular music streaming service Grooveshark. The music label claimed that bosses and other workers at Grooveshark personally uploaded many thousands of infringing tracks to the service, and could demand hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. Grooveshark denied the claims and is determined to fight back.

At the end of November, Rick Falkvinge, founder of the first Pirate Party in Sweden and TorrentFreak columnist, earned a spot in Foreign Policy’s prestigious list of Top 100 Global Thinkers.

December

More than a year after Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) seized the domain of music blog Dajaz1, they finally gave it back. It turned out that the seizure was a mistake.

SOPA continued to dominate the news all over the Internet. Wikipedia aired a plan to censor itself to protest the pending bill, and the General Manager of the largest online community Reddit said that the bill would “almost certainly mean the end” of the popular site. Reddit’s users also played a key role in convincing domain registrar GoDaddy to drop their support for SOPA.

A new service called YouHaveDownloaded exposed what people behind an IP-address are downloading on BitTorrent. Using this data, we were able to show that unauthorized downloads occur even in the most unexpected of places, from the palace of the French President, via the Church of God, to the RIAA and the US House of Representatives. Ironically, the RIAA blames another company for pirating though their IP-addresses.

Early December, cyberlocker service Megaupload pulled off one of the biggest file-sharing marketing coups in recent memory. Their Mega Song, a production by Printz Board and Kim Dotcom, featured some of the biggest names in pop and show business including P Diddy, Will.i.am, Alicia Keys, Kanye West, Snoop Dogg, Chris Brown, The Game, Mary J Blige , Kim Kardashian, and even boxer Floyd Mayweather.

Within hours, Universal had vented their fury by having the Mega Song removed from YouTube, even though they had no legal right to do so. Megaupload and its founder Kim Dotcom responded by filing a lawsuit against Universal. The label responded with a “so what?” attitude but Megaupload made it clear that Universal won’t get away so easily – questions must be answered.

Finally, downloading copyrighted content for personal use will stay legal in Switzerland and The Netherlands.

That’s it for 2011, we’ll be back next year.

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