“Piracy Monitoring Outfit Uses Flawed Tracking Technology”

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Every day anti-piracy outfits monitor millions of unauthorized BitTorrent transfers. Among other things, the data collected is used to sent stark warnings to alleged pirates. However, according to a torrent site owner the tracking methods of these companies are not all foolproof.

pirate-runningNearly a decade ago, research from the University of Washington revealed that some piracy tracking outfits were painfully sloppy.

The researchers found that not all anti-piracy companies actually check if someone’s sharing a file, before sending out their DMCA notices. As a result, a local printer at a university was branded a serial pirate.

This mistake is the result of passive monitoring, where tracking outfits don’t verify if an IP-address in a BitTorrent swarm is actually trading pieces of a copyrighted file. This results in many false accusations, not least because many trackers insert random IP-addresses.

While this practice has become more rare in recent years, tracking methods at some companies are still not perfect.

TorrentFreak was recently approached by a torrent site operator who regularly scrapes trackers and BitTorrent’s DHT to discover new metadata. While his system is setup specifically to gather information (not to share any content), he is still accused of doing so by copyright holders.

“In less than 24 hours of indexing we’ve received more than a dozen DMCA notices from IP-Echelon, claiming that we are ‘distributing copyrighted video files’,” the site owner explains.

The odd part is that these notices we’re not meant for the website, but targeted the server that gathered the torrent information. These are similar to the warnings regular downloaders receive through their ISP, and list the IP-address and port that was allegedly used to “distribute” the files.

TorrentFreak has seen copies of the notices in question, which are sent on behalf of major movie studios including Paramount Pictures. They were not sent to the torrent site directly, but to its hosting provider instead.

“IP-Echelon has become aware that the below IP addresses have been using your service for distributing video files, which contain infringing video content that is exclusively owned by Paramount,” the tracking company writes.

“We are requesting your immediate assistance in removing and disabling access to the infringing material from your network. We also ask that you ensure the user and/or IP address owner refrains from future use and sharing of Paramount materials and property,” the notice adds.

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The torrent site owner doesn’t deny that he is fetching information from the same BitTorrent swarms IP-Echelon is monitoring, but says that his systems are specifically configured not to share any infringing content.

In fact, he also received notices for a server that only fetches torrent metadata from the DHT.

“This server just fetches infodata, never starts any piece transfers. It was setup specifically as a ‘clean’ box and never participated in any torrent transfers,” he says.

According to the site owner this shows that IP-Echelon doesn’t really bother to check if the people they accuse are actually sharing any substantial copyrighted data, unless they see metadata as “infringing” too.

“To qualify for ‘sharing’ you have to actually share content. That is, have a piece of data, advertise that as available, and then send at least a valid piece of data when asked to. That would be proper actionable evidence.

“IP Echelon just seems to spam anyone who turns up in peer lists,” he adds.

When asking for additional details the site owner explained that his DHT fetching method uses libtorrent’s ‘disabled_storage’ storage setting. This means that no data is stored on the server, so there would be no infringing pieces to upload either.

TorrentFreak contacted IP-Echelon to hear their side of the story, but the company preferred not to respond in detail. Instead, they left the following comment.

“We do not comment in the press regarding IP-Echelon’s technology and operations. However, we can assure you that all statements made by IP-Echelon in dispatched notices are accurate,” the company replied.

“Any recipient of a notice who has concerns about its legitimacy is welcome to get in touch with us direct,” the company added.

Without a comprehensive audit on both ends it’s hard to conclusively say which side is right. However, this is certainly not the first time that torrent tracking methods have been called into doubt.

Earlier this year researcher Aymeric Vitte TorrentFreak revealed extensive research showing that very few DHT tracking outfits actually check whether a BitTorrent user is actively uploading content.

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