But that presumes that all sites are equal and ACE picks victims randomly, which is certainly not the case. There will always be good reasons behind an action, they just aren’t made public.
On one hand, ACE is likely to have bigger, longer-term projects, with strategic or even political goals in mind. On the other, it may want to stop emerging sites from gaining momentum and repopulating a niche. But if a site has a million or more visits per month and ACE has spotted a point of leverage, the odds suddenly start to shift.
Last week German news publication Tarnkappe reported that at least three domains belonging to HDFilme, a streaming site with around 12 million monthly visits, had suddenly started redirecting to the ACE anti-piracy portal. A similar redirect was seen on xCine, a streaming platform that had been enjoying more than four million visits per month in its own right.
ACE Confirms Shutdown of Both Streaming Sites
In an announcement this week, ACE confirmed it was behind the closure of both sites, which specialized in mainstream movies and TV shows directed at the German-speaking market.
“HDFilme, xCine, and seven associated domains that had been operating since 2019, provided illegal access to more than 23,000 movies and an estimated 100,000 television series episodes; they attracted over 16 million visitors monthly,” the ACE statement reads.
ACE doesn’t detail specific domains but Tarnkappe previously reported that HDFilme domains hdfilme.io, hdfilme.tv, and hdfilme.cx were affected. We’re now able to add at least two others to the list – hdfilme.net and hdfilme.cc.
The main domain of xCine (xCine.me) was an obvious target for ACE, but it appears the site had another domain with minimal but growing traffic. After receiving attention from ACE, xCine.tv won’t be making any more gains. But that’s only six domains and ACE mentioned seven.
Linking Domains Helps Investigations
No single piece of information allows a group like ACE to take down two popular sites, but site operators can make it easier for investigators to move to the next piece of the puzzle.
In this case, the operator behind HDFilme used one Google Analytics account across several domains, some related to piracy, others seemingly not. Running down that list of domains reveals Watchmoviehd.org and perhaps as expected, that also redirects to the ACE portal.
Coincidentally or not, several new HDFilme-themed domains were registered in July and August. Who registered them is unclear but overall there are at least 170 similarly-named domains on record. The domains xCine.me and xCine.tv were also linked through the use of one analytics account but gave less information away.
HDFilme and xCine Operated Out of Vietnam
ACE says that HDFilme and xCine were run from Vietnam by the same person, who was identified via legal actions in Europe and “cross-regional” investigative work. The anti-piracy group says the operation to shut the sites down was the first of its kind in the country.
“Our focus on Vietnam is a key part of our ongoing efforts to reduce piracy in the Asia Pacific region and throughout the global creative ecosystem,” says Jan van Voorn, Executive Vice President and Chief of Global Content Protection for the Motion Picture Association and Head of ACE.
“ACE will continue to target the operators of Vietnam-based piracy services who put consumers at risk of egregious malware, undermine investment into the country, reduce tax contributions to government, and stifle creativity.”
MPA: Vietnam Has a Big Piracy Problem
In its submission to a 2022 report on foreign trade barriers, the MPA described the online piracy situation as “rampant” and the response to infringement in the country as “ineffective”.
“Vietnam is host to some of the most egregious piracy sites and services in the world. These piracy sites inflict damage not only on the local marketplace but just as often harm MPA productions from around the world,” the MPA said.
“Regardless of extensive evidence of serious infringement provided by rightsholders, there has traditionally been a lack of coordination and transparency among related ministries and agencies and a seeming lack of government commitment to ensure effective enforcement of copyright protection.”
The popularity of HDFilme and xCine probably made them attractive to ACE in their own right. But throw a lead from Europe and a political hot potato into the mix, suddenly there’s a strategic target. The one that Hollywood really wants is FMovies, but whether Vietnam is ready for that is another story.