Over the years and due to their popularity and resilience, a number of pirate sites have become household names. The Pirate Bay is perhaps the most obvious example in the torrent space along with competitors RARBG and 1337x.
In pirate streaming, in part due to the way sites tend to copy each other’s branding, obvious long-standing players are less easy to identify. However, one platform that has stood the test of time is PrimeWire, which in one form or another has been around for perhaps eight years – even longer if its previous branding 1channel.ch is taken into account.
PrimeWire’s domains are blocked by court order in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Norway, Denmark and Portugal, and the site has been repeatedly branded a ‘notorious market’ by the MPA.
MPA & ACE Prepare Legal Action Against PrimeWire
Despite all of this negative attention, PrimeWire has managed to stay in business but last month there were fresh signs that the MPA and Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment hadn’t given up the fight.
As part of a flurry of DMCA subpoenas filed during November in the United States, PrimeWire once again found itself under pressure after the MPA/ACE obtained permission to compel Cloudflare to hand over whatever details it holds on the operator of PrimeWire.
A new lawsuit filed in the United States this week reveals that while that particular effort didn’t achieve its key goal (aside from identifying an IP address in Texas), it hasn’t deterred the MPA from going ahead with a new lawsuit designed to bring PrimeWire to its knees.
Hollywood & Netflix File Copyright Infringement Lawsuit
Filed by companies operated by Paramount, Universal, Warner, Columbia, Disney and Netflix, the lawsuit targets 10 “John Doe” defendants together doing business as PrimeWire. Three domains are listed – PrimeWire.li, PrimeWire.ag and PrimeWire.vc – which together offer access to a vast library of thousands of TV shows and movies including recent theatrical releases Ghostbusters: Afterlife and Disney’s Encanto.
“The scale of Defendants’ infringement is breathtaking. Defendants have drawn approximately 20 million monthly visits to the PrimeWire Websites in the United States, a number that has been growing,” the complaint reads.
“Over half of global traffic comes from users in the United States. Unsurprisingly, PrimeWire is one of the most popular websites for finding pirated content in the United States.”
PrimeWire Facilitates Access to Pirated Content
In common with countless similar portals, PrimeWire doesn’t directly host pirated content but acts as an index for movies and TV shows hosted elsewhere. The streams are either embedded in the PrimeWire site or delivered to users through third-party sites and repositories to which PrimeWire curates links.
“Defendants encourage and induce the supply and consumption of infringing content through the PrimeWire service. Defendants use the Copyrighted Works as the bait to lure the largest possible audience, so that Defendants will profit from advertisements shown to their users.
“By their conduct, Defendants intentionally induce and knowingly contribute to the unauthorized reproductions, public performances, and display of the Copyrighted Works on a massive scale,” the complaint reads.
Back in 2013 we published an interview with a person who at the time supplied movie and TV shows to sites including PrimeWire. According to the complaint this type of activity continues at PrimeWire, with the site’s operators putting submitted links through a moderation process. This demonstrates that they know the content is infringing.
“Once users start using PrimeWire, Defendants continue to urge them to post links to infringing content. Defendants tell users which ‘approved’ sites they can use as sources for infringing streams, and Defendants emphasize sites that pay users for uploading infringing content,” they add.
Advertising and Referral Schemes
The complaint states that the purpose of PrimeWire is to make money from the illegal exploitation of copyrighted content. This is allegedly achieved in a number of ways including through the use of third-party advertising networks such as Clickadu.
“The ad networks link advertisers to the PrimeWire service. The advertisers pay the networks, and the networks then credit PrimeWire with a share of that revenue when users open the ads on the PrimeWire site,” the complaint notes, adding that PrimeWire also generates revenue from VPN company referral schemes.
Defendants “Know” Their Activites Are Illegal
In an effort to show that infringement on the site is willful, the studios say that the conduct of the PrimeWire operators includes measures to hide their identities. For example, some of the site’s moderators use aliases (Dev_Team, Silverrain, Fugitive, and drodman250) while domains are registered with false information. Comments published on-site are also cited.
“Defendants openly mock the idea of being constrained by legal rules. Defendants’ ‘Legal Stuff’ webpage tells users that the ‘governing law’ for use of the site ‘will be that of the Klingon Empire, the country in which primewire.ag is based and from which all services are provided’,” the complaint adds.
PrimeWire is Illegal, Unfair Competition
According to the lawsuit, the PrimeWire service is not just illegal but also acts as unfair competition to VOD services including Disney+, HBO Max, Hulu, Netflix, Paramount+, and Peacock. The complaint also indicates why users of the site might prefer it to those legitimate services.
Aside from being free, PrimeWire offers access to a library of titles “not available on any single licensed VOD service.” This, of course, is because PrimeWire does not worry itself with the complexities of obtaining licenses for content, something which places it at an unfair competitive advantage that undermines the business models of the plaintiff studios.
“If left unchecked, Defendants’ infringing conduct will continue to grow. Defendants’ user base will continue to expand. All of this conduct is causing immediate and irreparable harm to Plaintiffs, and that harm will continue until Defendants are enjoined from engaging in their illegal conduct,” the studios add.
Copyright Infringement Claims
The plaintiffs allege that PrimeWire intentionally induces the infringement of copyrighted works by supplying links to external sources. This violates the studios’ exclusive right of public performance, they say.
The complaint adds that the defendants further induce infringement of their exclusive rights of reproduction and public performance by encouraging users to supply infringing links to movies and TV shows.
“In order for a link to provide access to an infringing stream, a third party must make an infringing reproduction of the Copyrighted Work to serve as the source copy for the stream. The streams from those infringing copies to Defendants’ users are themselves infringing public performances of the underlying works,” the complaint notes.
As a result, the plaintiffs say they are entitled to damages and defendants’ profits (to be determined at trial) or, alternatively, statutory damages up to the maximum of $150,000 per infringed work. The sample of content allegedly infringed on PrimeWire and listed in the complaint reaches 138 movies and TV shows.
The studios’ second cause of action alleges contributory copyright infringement.
“Defendants systematically amass from third parties thousands of links to Copyrighted Works that necessarily were reproduced before being hosted by third-party websites and cyberlockers (i.e., third-party server repositories that store infringing copies of movies and TV shows) from which end users can stream the content directly,” the complaint reads.
“Defendants materially contribute to the third parties’ infringement. Defendants configure and promote the use of PrimeWire to connect users to unauthorized online sources streaming Plaintiffs’ Copyrighted Works.
“By operating PrimeWire, Defendants facilitate, encourage, and enable the direct infringement of Plaintiffs’ Copyrighted Works.”
On the basis that the infringement is willful, the studios again demand $150,000 in statutory damages for each infringed work plus attorneys’ fees and full costs.
Demands For Injunction
Finally, the plaintiffs request an injunction that will prevent the defendants from hosting, linking to, making available and/or indexing any of their copyrighted works, or taking any action that would enable any third party to do so.
They also ask the court to issue an order to disable the site’s domain names and IP addresses.
The complaint and list of infringed works can be found here and here (pdf)