As one of the leading CDN and DDoS protection services, Cloudflare is used by millions of websites across the globe.
As with any service of its size, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the company’s clientele includes many pirate sites. This includes the likes of The Pirate Bay.
In recent years many copyright holders have complained about Cloudflare’s involvement with these platforms. However, the company maintains its position as a neutral Internet intermediary.
Copyright holders can request Cloudflare to share which hosting company serves the underlying content, but the CDN provider doesn’t assume the role of copyright police. That is, it doesn’t terminate accounts for copyright infringement unless there’s a court order.
Considering this well-known stance, it came as a surprise when the owner of the video hosting service RapidVideo informed us late last year that Cloudflare suspended the site’s account.
While RapidVideo doesn’t see itself as a ‘pirate’ site, many copyright holders beg to differ. In fact, the website was reported as a notorious market to the US Government just a few months ago.
Cloudflare’s didn’t suspend the site for copyright infringement though. Instead, support informed the owner that they took this action due to a breach of the terms. More specifically, because it exceeded the “limitation on Non-HTML Caching.”
As it turns out, Cloudflare can suspend the accounts of customers who use the service to cache a disproportionate amount of non-HTML files, including images, movies, or audio files. RapidVideo didn’t use Cloudflare to cache videos, but it did cache video thumbnails (images) through it.
Apparently, that was enough to trigger a suspension, the CDN’s support team informed the site owner.
“We are not a hosting provider nor do we allow our services to store files, or be linked to file storage sites. Using Cloudflare’s services primarily as an online storage space, including the storage or caching of a disproportionate percentage of images, movies, audio files or other non-HTML content is prohibited.”
After RapidVideo contacted us we learned that several other video hosting sites had suffered the same fate. Some of these were linked to major streaming sites and generated large amounts of traffic since they were caching video files.
RapidVideo’s operator told TorrentFreak that he believes that the number of DMCA complaints may have influenced this decision. The “non-HTML” rule may be a convenient option to throw out sites that could cause trouble, especially since Cloudflare has been taken to court over alleged copyright infringement a few times already.
Since many of the suspended sites are indeed branded as pirate services, we asked Cloudflare whether reported copyright infringements played a role in the suspension decisions. However, the company informed us that this was not the case.
“Cloudflare takes steps periodically to address the disproportionate caching of certain resources relative to the other traffic for a domain in a content-neutral way,” Cloudflare’s General Counsel Doug Kramer says.
“This includes situations, covered in our Terms of Service, such as the streaming video/audio across our platform, as well as ‘file lockers’ sites which are not permitted,” he adds.
The response states that Cloudflare’s suspension decisions are content-neutral and not piracy related. According to Kramer, disproportionate caching activity could potentially lead to a negative impact on other Cloudflare users.
But what about the statement that Cloudflare can’t be used to store files, or be linked to file storage sites? That suggests that file-hosting sites are simply outlawed. However, that’s not covered in the Terms of Service.
So it appears that these sites are ‘fine’ as long as they don’t cache a disproportionate amount of non-HTML content. This is likely what Mediafire does. As one of the largest file storage platforms on the Internet, Mediafire can still use Cloudflare without problems.
RapidVideo didn’t attempt to make amends (see update below). The site, which previously routed several terabytes of data through Cloudflare, moved on to Cloudflare competitor CloudDNS and continues to operate from there.
Update: Rapidvideo contacted Cloudflare after a few weeks. The site owner was informed that there was no way to become a customer again because the site violated Cloudflare’s terms of usage.