The European Union recognizes that online piracy poses a serious threat to copyright holders and the public at large.
In recent years, Europe has updated legislation to deal with modern piracy threats. This includes a requirement for large platforms to deter repeat copyright infringers.
The regulation is mostly targeted at legitimate user-generated content platforms such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. However, traditional pirate sites are also on the EU’s radar, with several of the worst offenders highlighted in the recent piracy and counterfeiting watchlist.
According to the EU, pirate sites lead to “high financial losses” for copyright holders. Members of the public face risks too, such as piracy-related malware and scammers determined to obtain their credit card details.
Scammers Exploit Europa.eu
The EU warning highlights a real threat. While not all pirate sites are malware traps, scammers are known to use piracy to lure and exploit people. Ironically, this problem is now causing issues for the European Commission’s official website.
Over the past few months, we have documented how scammers are exploiting weaknesses in various Europa.eu portals including, most recently, the European School Education Platform. These scams exploit public upload tools to share .pdf files, which in turn advertise pirated versions of the latest blockbusters.
People who fall for these scams are in for a huge disappointment. Instead of gaining access to pirated movies, they are redirected to shady sites that often promise ‘free’ content in exchange for the visitor’s credit card details.
The European Commission has been aware of the problem for months and is working on it. After we published a second article on the topic last month, a spokesperson informed us that a long-term solution is being sought, without taking away opportunities for EU citizens to speak out.
“We are aware of it and continue working to resolve it. Long-term solutions require changes in the way we enable citizens to exchange with the Commission. It is extremely difficult to proceed quickly without disrupting the services offered to European citizens.
“We are working closely with all the concerned services to find the best solutions with the least possible disruption,” the EC spokesperson added.
Pirate Ads Trigger Hundreds of DMCA Notices
Despite these best efforts, the problem continues. Every day hundreds of fresh piracy scam adverts appear on Europa.eu and copyright holders are beginning to take action.
The EU website hosts the scams but doesn’t store any infringing material. Nonetheless, dozens of rightsholders have reported the dubious URLs. We don’t know how many reports the EU received, but Google’s transparency report shows that the search engine received over 500 DMCA notices for the Europa.eu domain alone.
At the moment, about a dozen URLs are being flagged each week, with a peak of more than 80 reported links. These DMCA notices, most of which point to the aforementioned piracy scams, are sent by rightsholders including IFC Films, Paris Filmes, and Sky UK.
Google Removes Europa.eu URLs
In several instances, the European Commission isn’t able to spot the problematic uploads. For example, a .pdf advertising a pirated copy of the film “The Last Manhunt” remains online today, more than two weeks after it first appeared. Following a DMCA notice, Google decided to remove the link from its search results.
In other cases, the Commission spots the scammy ads and removes them. When that happens, Google typically takes no action. According to Google’s records, the company has removed roughly two dozen Europa.eu URLs from its search results thus far.
The European Commission is well aware of the problem but this ongoing problem shows that dealing with repeat ‘infringers’ is not always straightforward.