Police Arrest 14 People Behind 8 Million-User Piracy & Subtitle Site

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After years of pressure from the authorities and Hollywood, 14 people said to be behind the famous Chinese piracy and subtitling site YYeTs.com have been arrested. At least for now, the site - also known as Renren Yingshi - remains online but for how long isn't yet clear.

China USBack in 2014, the MPAA made its usual ‘notorious markets’ submission to the USTR and among regular targets such as The Pirate Bay and Popcorn Time, the Hollywood group highlighted the activities of China-based YYeTs.com.

At the time, the site – which is also known as Renren Yingshi – was described as the most popular dedicated download site for copyrighted content in China, providing links in various formats, including for the popular Xunlei and BitTorrent clients. It rose to fame after being founded in 2004 by a group of Chinese students living in Canada.

Notably, the site was also called out for offering crowd-sourced Chinese subtitles for Western content, something that helped boost infringement of US-made movies and TV shows. On the other hand, it allowed local users to easily consume otherwise unavailable content, to the disappointment of both Hollywood and the Chinese government, albeit for different reasons.

Chinese Government Takes Action

On November 22, 2014, visitors to YYeTs and another subtitle-focused site, Shooters.cn, found the platforms in considerable trouble. With Shooters announcing its immediate closure, YYeTs said that it would be offline for a while, ostensibly to “clean up” its site. State-run news services indicated that the sites had been targeted for infringing the rights of foreign companies.

YYeTs somehow managed to survive, as it had done previously following similar enforcement action in 2010. This week, however, it became clear that the site is under pressure once again after being targeted by local police.

According to local media reports, police in Shanghai arrested 14 people under suspicion of being involved in the operations of YYeTs/Renren Yingshi, which was recently reported to have eight million registered users.

“Investigations showed that the suspects set up several companies engaging in the distribution, operation and maintenance of the ‘Renren Yingshi’ mobile app and a related web portal by setting up or leasing servers in China or overseas since 2018,” the People’s Daily reported Wednesday.

It’s believed that those arrested in this week’s operation systematically downloaded movies and TV shows from pirate websites located outside China, added subtitles, and distributed the captioned videos from their own servers in breach of copyright.

Specific dates for the arrests haven’t been circulated in the media. But, in mid-January, there were several reports that China-based pirate sites had closed their doors to new members. It’s likely those precautionary measures were linked to the current arrests.

A report from SCMP notes that China has hundreds of subtitling sites similar to Renren Yingshi that originally used volunteer translators. Over time, however, site operators have chosen to hire translators to generate Chinese subtitles for foreign movies and TV shows, paying around $60 per video.

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