BitTorrent sites are a long-established mechanism for downloading video of all kinds but in recent years streaming of content, YouTube-style, has increased massively in popularity. While plenty of authorized content is available via streaming, so are thousands of mainstream movies. Now the lawyer for Sweden’s top anti-piracy company has admitted that using these sites to watch illicit content is not illegal and little can be done to stop it.
For those who are prepared to invest in an hour-long learning curve, obtaining content via BitTorrent often becomes the number one choice online.
Nevertheless, that learning curve will always be a step too far for some and that’s why sites like YouTube have become so popular. Everyone knows how a search box works and recognizing a ‘play’ button is simple, even for those who last used one on a cassette deck.
As YouTube has grown to become the number one streaming venue online, other sites have been blossoming in the background. Less likely to carry user home videos but extremely likely to link to the latest Hollywood blockbusters, sites like Movie4K (formerly Movie2K) and Primetime.ag (formally LetMeWatchThis) are pulling in millions of visitors every day. They are simple to use and deliver content immediately, so it’s little wonder they are so popular.
With BitTorrent, users are sharing content with others, which is the activity that gets a small minority in trouble with copyright holders. With streaming, no such problem exists. A user downloads video directly from a server and no third parties can see what is going on. No lawsuits, zero hassle. But just because people can’t see what goes on, does it necessarily follow that the activity is legal?
“As the law stands today, you can not say it is illegal,” admits Henrik Pontén from Swedish anti-piracy group Rättighetsalliansen (Rights Alliance).
Pontén says the effect on rightsholders is the same as if people actually download the content and likens the streaming of content to benefiting from other people’s crimes. However, there are clear problems from an enforcement perspective. In addition to users being safe from the law, streaming sites are often located overseas which complicates matters further still.
Justice Minister Beatrice Ask told P3 that the government has its eye on the problem but admitted nothing is in the legislative pipeline to deal with it.
“This is something that has come about in recent years and of course we’re following it very carefully. But it is also difficult for the law to keep pace with change all the time. It’s not only a Swedish problem but an international one and there is a big discussion about it,” the minister said. “We have no planned legislative changes going on today, but we are following what is happening and the discussion.”
In March, fresh calls were made to Congress in the United States to upgrade streaming from a misdemeanor to a felony. Earlier efforts stalled along with the doomed SOPA legislation.
In the UK, three recent cases involving streaming highlight the range of measures available to rightsholders.
The first, against UK resident Richard O’Dwyer, resulted in an amicable solution after an extradition battle was fought over his former site, TVShack. The second involved the harsh criminal punishments handed down to the admin of SurftheChannel.
More recently the site Movie2K (now Movie4K) was blocked by ISPs following High Court action initiated by the MPA. This, says Henrik Pontén, is where the battle could end up.
“If these perpetrators are using vast resources to hide, going abroad to hide their identities, then we have to ask the question – what should we do? It has been tested in other countries and it has a good effect.”
“There is a desire to say something to those who commit these kinds of acts – you’re driving the trend towards blocking,” Pontén concludes.
The latest example of that in the UK was revealed late last week when the Premier League approached ISPs to block Firstrow1. A few hours later TorrentFreak received a message from Pirate Reverse, one of the leading proxy operators.
“We saw your recent article about the Premier League trying to censor firstrow1.eu so we created firstrowproxy.com,” the email read.
And so it continues………