The ‘Counterfeit and Piracy Watch List’ is a similar report published by the European Commission. In common with its American cousin the list is based on input from various stakeholder groups but in this case, piracy and piracy-supporting services outside the EU.
Submissions for the 2022 report include detailed input from the Motion Picture Association, the trade industry group for the major Hollywood studios and Netflix.
The ‘Piracy Problem’ Summary
The submission begins with the MPA highlighting the scale of the problem using findings from various studies. Almost one in four internet users visit pirate sites, pirate sites have profit margins between 86% and 93%, and their users expose themselves to a higher risk of malware, for example.
None of the cited studies are published directly by the MPA but it’s worth noting that some – including those published by the UK government and Digital Citizens Alliance – are based on data supplied by the MPA itself. Nevertheless, there’s no denying that the MPA and its partners face a complex piracy landscape and will take all the help they can get.
Pirate IPTV Services
For several years, pirate IPTV services have been a key enforcement target for the MPA and affiliated anti-piracy coalition Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment. The MPA says that the technical infrastructures of these services are often “vast and complex”, which makes the identification of content sources and service operators extremely challenging.
In addition, pirate IPTV services drive other illegal businesses such as subscription resellers and entities involved in distributing and selling illegally sourced TV channels. Other players include suppliers of infrastructure and support services, such as hosting providers, media servers and panel hosters, some of which knowingly support pirates “and become bad actors in their own right.”
Highlighting some of the most problematic players, the MPA begins by drawing attention to BIPTV.best and BestBuyIPTV.store. Based in Vietnam but very popular in Europe, the service reportedly offers more than 10,000 channels and 19,000 VOD titles such as movies and TV shows. The studios believe that BestBuyIPTV has more than 900,000 users, 12,000 resellers (effectively independent sales agents) and 2,000 re-streamers – entities that use BestBuyIPTV channels in their own IPTV offerings.
Tunisia-based King-IPTV.net has been operating for six years, offering 16,000 channels and 20,000 VOD titles to subscribers. Importantly, the MPA says the service also offers IPTV restreaming, which could mean that its channels feed “hundreds” of IPTV and streaming platforms worldwide.
Theking365tv.pro is said to be located in North Africa and appears to be a relatively small player, especially when measured against GenIPTV. Reported as operating a front-end in the UK (genip.tv) and a back-end in Switzerland (geniptv.net), the MPA says GenIPTV is one of the largest IPTV providers in the world with multiple resellers providing access to 10,000 international channels and 52,000 VOD titles.
IPTVForest.org, VolkaIPTV and Gogo IPTV are also concerns for the MPA. These reportedly operate from the UK, Tunisia, and Algeria, providing thousands of live channels plus VOD. The former reportedly uses the services of UK-based hosting platform DataCamp, which is currently being sued by DISH Network in the United States.
Linking and Streaming
In addition to several smaller players in Singapore, Vietnam, and UAE, the MPA highlights some extremely popular sites in its ‘linking and streaming’ category. Many host no content of their own, instead linking to infringing content on other platforms. Others are believed to have their own supply of movies and TV shows to “maintain continuity” and “avoid takedowns” actioned on third-party hosting platforms.
The largest by far is Egypt-based Egy.best, which appeared to shut down in 2019, a victory partially claimed by the MPA. Since the site’s return, Egy.best and sister sites egybest.xyz and egybest.com now boast almost 167 million visitors per month. Hosted in Russia and utilizing Cloudflare services in the US, the MPA says that Egy.best will soon become the most popular pirate site globally.
With 141m+ visitors per month, Argentina-based Cuevana3.io isn’t that far behind but its inclusion in the MPA’s report is now outdated since the site’s domain went offline in March. The recent move to Cuevana3.me will cause the site’s traffic to dip but longer term it will remain a major player and of interest to the MPA.
Other major players listed in the report are detailed as follows:
Rezka.ag (Ukraine, 93 million visits per month), Fmovies.to (Vietnam, 78 million), Pelisplushd.net (Peru/Uruguay, 70.5 million), Cima4u.ws (Egypt, 37 million), Seasonvar.ru (Russia, 35.7 million), Gnula.nu/se (Latin American, 27.3 million), Dytt8.net, Dy2018.com, Dygod.net, and Ygdy8.com (China/Taiwan, 27.3 million), Topflix.vc (Brazil, 22.8 million), Gimytv.com (Taiwan, 24.2 million), Fullhdfilmizlesene.com (Turkey, 17.6 million), Rlsbb.ru (Iran, 6.7 million) and Solarmovie.to (Switzerland, 3.2 million).
Cyberlockers and Streaming Hosts
Linking sites rely on cyberlockers and streaming hosts to provide access to movies and TV shows. According to the MPA, content stored on these sites is also made available via apps, social media, forums, blogs and email. Enforcement can be tricky.
“[C]yberlockers and video hosting services frequently provide several unique links to the same file and use proxy services to mask the locations of where the site and content are hosted. If a content owner sends an infringement notice for one of the links, the others may remain up, enabling continued infringement,” the studios inform the EC.
“No meaningful measures are in place to prevent the upload and publication of clearly infringing content. On top of that, many cyberlockers and video hosting services do not respond at all to takedown notices,” the MPA adds, noting that many generate revenue from advertising and pay uploaders via reward schemes.
At the top of the list with 1.4 billion visits per month sits Russian social media giant VK.com. It appears to be an imperfect fit for the category given the MPA’s criteria but there are obvious problems with people uploading pirated content to VK. Nevertheless, the MPA actually spends time explaining what VK does right.
In 2016, VK limited the use of third-party applications that allow pirated content to be downloaded and it also blocks pirate platforms from accessing videos stored on VK. The MPA further notes that VK is responsive to takedown notices and offers a content filtering tool for rightsholders. However, VK now needs to be more proactive when it comes to dealing with infringement, the MPA says.
Similar criticism are leveled at Baidu Pan, the cloud storage service operated by Baidu in China. The MPA says the company provides takedown tools and demotes new infringing video listings in search results. However, the studios claim that takedowns need to be actioned more quickly, filtering technology needs to be deployed, and repeat infringers should be suspended or terminated.
Given that the above services appear to be cooperating with the MPA, its complaints to the EC are a sign that even after implementing systems that go beyond the standards required by local law, more requests to do better will ultimately follow. That being said, the MPA suggests that many services do substantially less.
They include Uptostream.com/Uptobox.com (UAE, 38 million per month), Uploaded.net (Switzerland, 19.5 million), Mixdrop.co (Russia, 35 million), Streamtape.com (Switzerland, 32 million), Hqq.to (Belize, 32.9 million), and Waaw.to (Belize, 26.4 million).
This section reads like a step back in time. Many of the sites have been the subject of legal actions of one kind or another over many years but somehow continue to operate.
Utilizing ad network RevenueHits in Israel and ‘masked’ behind Cloudflare, 1337x.to tops the MPA’s list in traffic terms with 76.9 million visitors per month. Russia-based, Seychelles-owned RuTracker comes next with 41.1 million, with The Pirate Bay relatively close behind with 33 million.
Another Russian language site, Rutor.info (17.3 million), is claimed to operate out of Switzerland while Morocco-based YggTorrent focuses on the French language and serves 16 million visitors per month.
Torrent search engine Zooqle.com also makes an appearance along with Gimmepeers.com, a small private tracker said to be based in Canada. There are much bigger targets in the private torrent scene than Gimmepeers but for reasons that aren’t immediately clear, they are omitted from the MPA’s submission to the EC.
Hosting and Other Infrastructure Services
Pirate sites need third-party services to operate and for this reason the MPA calls out several in its report. On the hosting side, “bulletproof” hoster Host-palace.com (Netherlands/India), Private Layer (Switzerland) and DDoS-Guard.net (Russia) stand accused of being pirate-friendly, with Russia’s Mnogobyte blamed for providing the infrastructure behind massive ‘pirate CDNs‘.
Many domain name registries are also listed for providing services to pirate sites including those operating .to, .tv, .ru, .bz, and .io domains. The MPA doesn’t allege any specific wrongdoing but strongly suggests that registries have the power to disable domains used by sites engaged in “massive copyright infringement”.
Advertising networks and brands including 1XBET, Mgid, GetB8, AdsKeeper, and Propellor Ads all make an appearance, despite the latter angrily describing previous MPA accusations as “legally baseless and libelous.”
Finally, the MPA lists various platforms that supply off-the-shelf services, making it easy for would-be pirates to easily get into the game. These include simple setup piracy content systems, pirate content provision, and IPTV dashboards.
For example, 2embed.ru (Russia) is described as a “pirate content management system” currently used by at least 30 sites generating 200 million views per month, with Fembed.com (Vietnam) providing similar services. Collaps.org (Russia) is described as a ‘pirate CDN’, an off-the-shelf facilitation service that makes it easy for would-be pirates to create and monetize a pirate service.
Last but not least, Pirate Bay founder Peter Sunde’s Njal.la (St Kitts and Nevis) is called out for acting as a domain name proxy service for pirates. There are no specific allegations of legal wrongdoing but there is a strong suggestion that the MPA views anonymity as a hindrance to its enforcement activities.
The full MPA submission to the European Commission can be found here (pdf)