Piracy Bots Channels Are Rampant on Telegram, But For How Long?

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Telegram is an essential communication tool for millions of people. For some, it's a source of the latest piracy releases too, with channels reaching hundreds of thousands of pirates each. Chasing Telegram pirates remains a cat-and-mouse game but behind the scenes, progress is being made.

telegramWith over half a billion active users around the globe, Telegram is one of the most used messaging services.

The communication platform helps to connect people from all over the world, with end-to-end encryption providing improved security when compared to some other players in the market.

Telegram can also be an excellent medium to broadcast messages to a wider audience. Through dedicated one-way channels, people can share news, status updates, and emergency alerts, for example.

Telegram on the Anti-Piracy Agenda

Like all technology, these broadcast channels are not only used for legitimate purposes. Pirates use them too, as evidenced by regular mentions in piracy discussions. Not too long ago, the European Commission placed the Telegram app on its Counterfeit and Piracy Watch List.

The app was also mentioned in recommendations to the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) this year, with the International Intellectual Property Alliance calling for stricter policies on Telegram’s part, including the addition of Know Your Business Customer (KYBC) rules.

“Telegram should be more accountable in relation to infringements occurring or being facilitated over its service,” the recommendation advised.

“IIPA recommends that more be done to encourage KYBC disciplines on intermediaries like Telegram and to encourage operators like them to responsibly cooperate.”

Courts Get Involved

Piracy concerns and policy musings like these haven’t been restricted to lobbying and policy efforts. Telegram has also been taken to court on several occasions.

In Portugal, for example, a local court ordered Telegram to block access to more than a dozen piracy-related channels. Similar measures were also taken in Israel and Italy. In India, Telegram a court order required Telegram to disclose the identities of several pirating users.

By now, Telegram is well aware of the piracy challenges but that hasn’t put an end to the problem.

While doing research this week, we randomly stumbled upon a Telegram bot that directed us to a channel sharing pirated movies. This wasn’t just some fringe channel; with over a quarter million subscribers it has a massive reach.

Takedown… And Repeat

This isn’t an isolated incident. Those who know where to look find no short of dedicated piracy channels and bots, some of which have massive audiences. That is, until they’re pulled offline.

TorrentFreak spoke to the operator of a popular channel, who prefers to remain unnamed. They note that Telegram takes down links and channels all the time but that doesn’t seem to be much of a problem.

telegram pirates

Just as websites can easily switch to new domain names if they’re targeted, Telegram channels can rotate to new names as well. The operator we spoke with remained rather vague, but we get the impression that landing pages and bots are used to spread traffic and anticipate these takedown efforts.

130,000 Enforcements

We reached out to Telegram asking for some statistics and further detail on their takedown and enforcement efforts. However, the company did not respond to our request.

The Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE) was willing to share its experiences. The anti-piracy group, which represents Hollywood’s major movies studios and Netflix, has dealt with Telegram for a few years now.

“Initially, Telegram did not respond to notice and takedown requests,” says Jan van Voorn, Head of ACE and Chief of Global Content Protection at the MPA.

Since then, Telegram has improved its effectiveness and as things stand today the majority of all takedown requests are processed within a day.

“We have been focused on improving their [takedown notice] compliance and now have over 130,000 enforcements on Telegram with over a 90% removal rate, including many infringements removed within 24 hours,” van Voorn says.

ACE also notes, however, that results are inconsistent and there’s still a lot of progress to be made in order to successfully crack down on piracy channels, bots, and repeat infringers.

Active Collaboration

This progress is in the making. The prevalence of piracy abuse on Telegram has resulted in more direct cooperation between ACE and Telegram, which aims to tackle the issue head-on.

“ACE has established cooperation to address urgent escalations and has continued outreach to seek further improvements in removing infringing channels, disrupting piracy bots, and terminating services to repeat infringers,” Van Voorn explains.

If this cooperation is successful, it may eventually become harder for pirate channels to survive. At least the ones with hundreds of thousands of members.

That’s not the case today, however. While we were writing this article, thousands of new members flooded to the piracy channel we referenced earlier, which now has 271,720, 274,006, 277,169, 280,339 members.

Meanwhile, YTS, one of the largest torrent sites out there, also officially joined Telegram a few days ago. For now, it just uses the channel to share status updates, but you never know what will happen next.

Update: Not copyright related, but VPN provider TorGuard just informed us that it has dealt with some seemingly disturbing Telegram related issues too.

In a Medium post, the company writes that its channel was deleted, after which it was “improperly resurrected and handed over to a known fraudster, by a paid insider at Telegram.”


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