During 2016 it became clear that Ukrainian authorities were prepared to get a little more tough on local piracy. After resident sites appeared for several years on the “Notorious Markets” list published by the United States Trade Representative, something had to give.
In November, the first concrete signs became evident when FS.to, one of the country’s most popular pirate sites, was shut down by Ukraine’s cyber-crime police.
The raid, triggered by a complaint from the MPAA, saw 19 people arrested and around 60 servers seized. However, just a few days later an even bigger scalp was claimed.
Founded in 2009, EX.UA was Ukraine’s largest cyberlocker and one of the largest sites in the country, period. The site enjoyed millions of visitors every day, but it was all to come to an end. Citing legal problems on top of DDoS attacks and other sundry issues, the site’s owners said they were shutting down at the end of November 2016. That must have pleased the United States.
After some adjustment, the site extended its closure deadline to the end of the year, ostensibly to allow users to get control of their files before the shutdown. However, with the new year now firmly underway, it appears that the site had a surprise up its sleeve.
“The decision to terminate the activities of [EX.UA] has generated a lot of questions from users, including where they can now store their files,” the operators said in an announcement.
“During the existence of EX.UA, the service became a personal memory drive to many Ukrainian citizens. It stores personal archives, professional documents, and personal collections of files.”
In short, while EX.UA will now be consigned to history, the ability of its users to store files won’t be going away anytime soon. In fact, it appears things will be improved.
“We inform you that the EX.UA service will be restarted on the domain FEX.NET (the File EXchange Network). It has been implemented on a new technology platform that will provide additional ease of use,” the team explain.
Of particular interest is how the site’s operators have hardened the service. The platform (at FEX.NET) now features anonymous sharing of files of any format and file size. Each file will be given a security key which will initially grant access to a file for seven days, after which it will be deleted.
On top, the service will automatically convert uploaded media files for viewing and playback on various devices.
“This feature set is basic and will be expanded. Within two months [of launch], we will implement additional file-sharing features, including the launch of a permanent repository and streaming cloud,” the operators say.
For the paid user, prices appear to be modest. For the first 100,000 local customers, FEX is offering 1TB of storage for $1 per month.
“We live in the information age. Information is the key to the development of modern society,” the site’s operators say.
“The site will be fully protected and completely safe. We are determined to offer the world technology that is better and cheaper than that already in existence. We want to show that innovations are born here.”
While the closure of EX.UA will have been welcomed by rightsholders, the rise of FEX.NET is almost certainly not what they bargained for. Time will tell how things will play out but it certainly looks like mass file-sharing will continue, albeit anonymously and out of sight.
Finally, the owners of EX.UA say they are attempting to sell their old domain for $1m, with all proceeds going to a children’s charity. It’s not clear whether anyone has yet made a suitable offer.