Every day millions of people download or stream pirated movies, which are readily available online through hundreds of dedicated sites.
To the broader public, pirate sites and services are the gateways to a darker side of the entertainment world. In turn, however, these sites are heavily reliant on the crucial ‘suppliers’ at the top of the piracy pyramid.
The Piracy Supply Chain
Broadly speaking, there are two ‘supplier’ groups in this supply chain. On one side, ‘The Scene’, a conglomerate of often intertwined groups that release ‘their’ content on private topsites. Rules and security are key in The Scene, but in 2020, a series of raids demonstrated that it’s not impenetrable.
In addition to Scene groups, there are also P2P groups. The latter operate more loosely and are generally connected to private sites, including torrent trackers where they publicly release pirated movies and TV shows.
Scene releases eventually appear on the wider internet through third parties, but P2P groups often upload their content straight to the public.
Unlike The Scene, P2P groups don’t have to abide by a particular set of rules, but privacy is still a top priority. Release group members risk criminal prosecution and multi-year prison sentences should they be identified by anti-piracy groups or law enforcement agencies.
EVO – The Leak Kings
EVO, short for EVOLUTiON, is a high-profile P2P group whose activities stood out in recent years. The group released a steady stream of new movie and TV show titles and gained pirates’ admiration by leaking many screeners way ahead of their official premieres.
For several years in a row, EVO opened the “screener season” by releasing leaked copies of upcoming films. This included Oscar contenders, but also several Netflix titles that originated from festival screenings.
EVO was also the first to release an early Blu-Ray copy of ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ last year, and a high-quality copy of the blockbuster “Dune” in 2021, ahead of its official U.S. premiere.
Needless to say, movie industry insiders viewed EVO as a major threat. There was little doubt that rightsholders were doing everything in their power to track down the group. A few months ago, those enforcement efforts paid off.
Last November EVO stopped releasing new titles. This was highly unusual as EVO previously uploaded over a dozen titles each week. This suggested that something had happened to the group and the rumor mill led to suspicions of a potential bust.
At the time, TorrentFreak heard from several sources claiming that EVO had been dismantled by the authorities, but none could provide solid proof. One mentioned an operation in Spain, while another referred to an undocumented raid where equipment was seized.
We also reached out to the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE) last November due to its involvement in many enforcement operations. At the time, ACE was unable to share any further insight, but that position has now changed.
A few days ago, ACE boss Jan van Voorn informed TorrentFreak that several people connected to EVO were tracked down by ACE last year. This culminated in an enforcement action last November and ACE continues to collaborate with Portuguese authorities as part of an ongoing investigation.
“I can finally confirm that we identified the leaders of the EVO release group and are actively working with the Portuguese authorities on the case,” Van Voorn said.
The statement is in line with information we received from another source last November, which stated that EVO was a Portuguese group.
The fact that the investigation isn’t yet complete means that very little can be shared publicly at this stage. We pressed for further details but most of our follow-up questions remain unanswered.
After discussing the matter with the Portuguese authorities, ACE was able to confirm that “several arrests have been made” without mentioning the location of these suspects.
When EVO disappeared last year, another prominent release group called iFT also went quiet. ACE couldn’t confirm that iFT is linked to the investigation, nor can it share how the suspects were tracked down.
ACE notes that the alleged crimes of the people involved relate to intellectual property, but there are other charges as well. Unfortunately, however, the anti-piracy coalition is unable to share further information, at least not at this time.
No Leaked Screeners
The crackdown is a major win for ACE and the broader film industry. EVO was known for its early leaks of prominent screeners and in an interview, openly blamed Hollywood for keeping piracy relevant.
The recent arrests also appear to have had an immediate impact on the availability of leaked screeners. For the first time in the history of online piracy, no notable screeners leaked last year.
ACE also noted the lack of screener leaks. The enforcement action last November appears to have effectively shut down EVO and likely spooked others who may have had access to screeners.
“Yes, EVO has been one of the most prolific release groups out there. Actions by ACE and the Portuguese authorities put an end to their activities,” Van Voorn notes.