Surprised By File-Sharing Snitches? You Shouldn’t Be

Opinion

It was revealed Friday that the Oron cyberlocker service agreed last month to hand over the full details of users alleged to have breached an adult studio's copyright. Many observers pledged never to use the service again, branding Oron 'snitches' and the lowest of the low. But snitching in the anti-piracy world is nothing new, it's just that we tend not to hear about it. Just how the snitches like it.

We’ve all the seen the scenes in movies. The gallant hero tied to a chair, overlooked by a cruel interrogator flanked by two armed and burly minders. The blinding spotlight tears into his eyes, the cold steel of his binding chains weighs him down as much as the responsibility ahead.

But when his captor lays it on the line, explaining in graphic detail what will follow should his non-compliance continue, his response is valiant. He spits in his tormentor’s face and laughs out loud, accepting his fate and resigning himself to history.

Well, that’s for the movies and in the cold light of day, on lesser matters than saving an entire nation or the life of a loved one, human responses are rarely so honorable.

On Friday it was revealed that file-hosting service Oron had agreed in principle to settle a lawsuit with adult studio Liberty Media. Part of that deal was to not only hand over alleged copyright infringers, but also help with their prosecution.

There was almost universal shock and outrage at this news, but why anyone should be surprised at Oron’s actions is well, a bit of a surprise really. Snitching on pirates has been going on for as long as someone has been interested in punishing them. So what motivates people to turn informant?

In Oron’s case the motivation appears to be straightforward self-preservation. With a potentially ruinous lawsuit hanging over their head, this file-locker has chosen to feed a small number of customers to the hungry copyright lions at Liberty Media. But if you think Oron are alone, think again.

In March we reported that the UFC had taken down Greenfeedz, a site offering illicit streams of UFC events. But as part of the arrangement it now transpires that Greenfeedz handed over the personal details over people who merely viewed UFC events via the site. Fifteen of those are now being hunted down in Zuffa, LLC v. DOES 1-15

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Skin-saving is a common theme with file-sharing informants. Although he was only hired as a coder for streaming links site SurfTheChannel, in 2011 Boston resident Brendan DeBeasi soon found himself facing a charge of conspiracy to commit copyright infringement and with it a five year prison sentence and $250,000 fine.

In the end he never served a day, instead preferring to work out a deal with the authorities to testify against the operators of SurfTheChannel.

But for every case like this we hear about, there a potentially dozens more. Remember EliteTorrents, the first BitTorrent site to be raided in the United States and its admins and uploaders jailed? FBI documents handed to TorrentFreak by a reader researching the case appear to show that someone very close to the site was working with the MPAA as early as February 15th, weeks before the FBI received the official complaint on March 1st and months before the actual raid.

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Who the person was and why they did what they did remains a mystery, but it’s quite possible they were under pressure to save their own skin. But there are other motivations for turning informant too.

The UK’s Federation Against Software Theft runs a so-called “grass hotline” where people can inform on their companies for using under licensed software. FAST rely on two human traits to gather information on targets – greed (informants can get paid) and the lust for revenge. Reportedly, FAST snitches are often ex-employees with a grudge.

And grudges are dangerous things, particularly in the world of private BitTorrent trackers. On two occasions last month TorrentFreak was approached by clearly angry individuals who asked us to report on alleged wrong doing at a pair of trackers, one very small, one very large. The motivation obviously wasn’t money or to save the person’s skin, it was born out of conflict and desire to do damage.

But whether it’s to make money, save money, avoid lawsuits, avoid prison or execute revenge, people are prepared to inform on file-sharers. So don’t be too surprised when you hear about it again – and again.

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