Once Branded Notorious Pirates, Sites Agree to Filter Out Pirated TV Shows

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Around a decade ago, when the RIAA informed the USTR that two Czech 'cyberlockers' were causing problems, their chances of survival seemed somewhat limited. Today, Hellspy and Hellshare are still going strong but after months of negotiations with local TV companies, significant change lies ahead. More serious problems with the music industry could derail everything.

hellspyIn early January 2012, many operators of successful, public file-hosting sites were looking forward to another productive year. Over the space of just a few days, everything changed.

The destruction of Megaupload by the US government had serious implications for sites with a similar business model. Sites that paid cash to uploaders based on file popularity seemed particularly vulnerable, so it was not unexpected when some threw in the towel. For the brave and the bold, another throw of the dice was in order.

RIAA Reports Hellshare and Hellspy

Later in 2012, the RIAA submitted its regular report to the United States Trade Representative, requesting various sites to be branded notorious pirate markets. KickassTorrents, Torrentz and ExtraTorrent were among those nominated but while none of those sites are alive today, two lesser-known sites bucked the trend.

Launched around 2009, Hellspy and Hellshare had successfully weathered the Megaupload storm. Servicing the local market in the Czech Republic, the platforms also rewarded uploaders based on the popularity of their files.

Whether that was a calculated risk or a reckless gamble is up for debate, but eight years later they are still doing their thing across three domains – Hellshare.cz, Hellspy.cz and Hellspy.sk.

No Shortage of Copyright Complaints

According to Google’s Transparency Report, all three domains are regularly reported for carrying infringing content. Companies including StudioCanal, MGM, Columbia Pictures and Sky Italia are regular complainaints, even though an overwhelming number of recent notices sent to Google are not in the search engine’s indexes.

According to messages on Hellshare and Hellspy today, 100 downloads of a 1000MB file earn uploaders 5000 ‘credits’. This on-site digital currency can be spent to enable faster downloads and other features but whether that’s actually the case right now isn’t clear. In 2018, the Municipal Court in Prague informed server operators I&Q Group and Hellspy SE that rewards must not be paid to uploaders.

Nevertheless, traffic appears to be good. SimilarWeb reports an upturn in visitors over the past few months pushing hellspy.cz towards the top 600 most-visited sites in the Czech Republic. Whether that will continue following an announcement yesterday remains to be seen.

Time to Start Filtering Uploads

The Association of Commercial Television (AKTV) represents the rights of broadcasters in the Czech Republic. Founded in 2017 by the Nova, Prima and Óčko television networks, AKTV’s responsibilities include defending the rights of its members and ensuring that everyone respects copyrights.

As reported by the RIAA all those years ago, Hellshare and Hellspy are operated by I&Q Group and Hellspy SE. In an announcement Wednesday, Nova, Prima and Óčko revealed a groundbreaking agreement with Hellshare.cz , Hellspy.cz and Hellspy.sk.

According to the TV companies, the platforms have agreed to implement filtering to prevent TV shows being uploaded, and/or appearing in search results.

Negotiations reportedly took place over several months but the filtering system itself doesn’t sound particularly advanced, at least not when compared to advanced fingerprinting tools like YouTube’s Content ID. Reports suggest that it targets filenames, duration and types of files, whenever they are uploaded or searched for by users.

There is an agreement in place for the system to be tweaked over time in response to user behavior, but that can be unpredictable – sometimes deliberately.

Several Weeks of Testing and Everyone Appears Happy

Jan Vlček, president of AKTV and CEO of TV Nova, says the parties needed to reach an understanding for the good of the TV industry, and to send a message to the sites’ pirate users.

“Our primary goal is to minimize the amount of our content illegally shared online. We invest large sums in the order of hundreds of millions a year in production, and such a massive violation of copyrights, as we are witnessing in the Czech Republic, significantly reduces the return on our investments,” Vlček says.

“The agreement with I&Q GROUP is a good signal for us that a common language can be found that will help prevent massive depreciation of our investments, and that it is not unreasonably time consuming or financially demanding for storage operators. A signal should also be sent to uploaders that sharing protected content is not legal.”

I&Q Group and AKTV cooperated on the filtering system and according to I&Q, everything works as planned – a bonus considering the requirements of the EU’s updated Copyright Directive.

“We developed and deployed the filters prepared in cooperation with AKTV at the beginning of the autumn television season, and we have already spent several weeks testing them in practice,” says I&Q Group CEO, Jan Hřebabecký.

“We can therefore state that they provide relatively easy and effective filtering of copyrighted content, which is especially important for services of our type in light of the upcoming amendment to the copyright law, which imposes new obligations on us in this area.”

Crack Open The Champagne? Not Yet…

According to an entry dated October 31, 2022, on the Official Journal of the European Union, the Supreme Court in Prague is currently seeking advice from the EU Court to help determine the outcome of an important copyright case.

In that matter, the defendants are I&Q Group and Hellspy SE. They’re up against the Czech arm of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. IFPI is the RIAA’s big brother. Both are known for their persistence – not to mention long memories.

The Supreme Court seeks answers to these questions:

1. Does the spirit and purpose of Directive 2000/31/EC (1) preclude Article 14(1) thereof from being interpreted as meaning that the liability of a provider of an information gathering (hosting) service for the contents of such service includes liability for the manner in which such service is provided?

2. Does the spirit and purpose of Directive 2000/31/EC allow for Article 14(1) thereof to be interpreted as meaning that the rules for limiting the liability of a provider of an information gathering (hosting) service set out therein cannot exclude the private-law liability of such a provider for the choice of a particular business model for the provision of the service, even if that model has the potential to benefit from copyright infringement?

3. Does the liability waiver set out in Article 14(1) of Directive 2000/31/EC apply to the provider of an information gathering service, and selection from it by means of a search engine, in terms of liability for the manner of its provision, if that manner encourages the service recipient to store the information on it without the consent of the copyright holders, but without the active participation of the service provider in the copyright infringement?


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