Streaming Site Shuts Down, Offers Unique Perspective on Anti-Piracy Pitfalls

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Earlier this month, popular streaming site Time2Watch closed its doors, vowing never to return. While a pirate site shutting down is nothing out of the ordinary, the operators of the platform bowed out with a lengthy goodbye note containing words of advice for those considering setting up a similar site of their own. Pitfalls, it seems, are not hard to find.

Pirate KeyBack in March we reported on an order handed down by a Paris court. It required France’s leading ISPs to prevent their customers from accessing around three dozen pirate sites.

In addition to blocking internationally famous torrent sites YTS and EZTV, the order also covered many locally important streaming sites, among them Time2Watch, a site that was once one of France’s top 300 sites, period. According to information made public by the site’s operators, this resulted in delisting activity by Google at the request of French anti-piracy group ALPA.

This prompted the site to switch domains but the mitigation action continued, with the site also losing two Twitter accounts. Interestingly, the site admits that although DNS blocks are often described as ineffective, when combined with domain issues the effect can be significant. In fact, through a combination of factors, Time2Watch decided to throw in the towel earlier this month, leaving some rather interesting information behind.

DNS Blocking – More Effective Against New Users Than Existing

According to Time2Watch (T2W), when it was blocked by ISPs and delisted by Google, traffic dropped by 20%. Blocking in France isn’t particularly tough, especially when compared to that deployed in the UK since it only targets DNS. However, T2W says that the mantra of “just change domain” or “change to a new DNS” doesn’t provide a solution when site-blocking by DNS is dynamic, i.e updatable by rights holders to include new domains.

When combined, these methods cause a site to die “little by little”, since when organic traffic gets hit again and again, sites are forced to resort to more and more advertising, not to mention lower quality advertising and money-making schemes that can be detrimental to users. This can develop into a downwards spiral as the pressure mounts, something that isn’t conducive to growth.

Anonymity and Measures For Prospective Site Operators

Running any type of pirate site has its risks but according to T2W, some streaming and torrent site operators aren’t taking the necessary precautions. Simply by using publicly available information, the site says it could’ve easily closed several down due to carelessness, if it was that way inclined – which it is not.

T2W doesn’t name names, but it points to people being careless with their pasts – Facebook pages, names, addresses, and Twitter accounts, for example. It also highlights the dangers of using past nicknames or avatars (especially ones that are unique) that can be linked to more recent pirate activity. In contrast, the site recommends using nicknames that are very common so they don’t stand out on Google.

In addition to using a good VPN at a minimum, the site also cautions against spilling out personal details to those who know about operators’ piracy activities. This friendliness may seem innocent enough at the time but could come back to haunt people.

“Don’t trust anyone. Do not go to Discord servers, do not try to be popular, do not brag to your friends or certain communities who know what you’re doing. Keep a low profile, share your files, and don’t commit an error that could fall on you even in the very distant future,” the advice reads.

The Myth that Cloudflare Protects Pirate Sites

Over the past couple of years, rightsholders have been complaining that CDN service Cloudflare helps to protect pirate sites, giving their operators anonymity. However, T2W says this is simply a lie.

“Cloudflare will not protect you, NOT FOR A SECOND. They will hand over the name of your host, and otherwise the IP address of your server, to any authority which requests it. And even in some cases your connection IP address, your account data, means of payment, etc,” T2W warns.

“One type of silliness that we see a lot for people who get into the business is to buy a server with their PayPal or bank account, usually at OVH, thinking that they will be safe with Cloudflare in front. Run away poor fools, while there is still time!”

In summary, T2W says that users of Cloudflare must only connect their ‘front-end’ server to the company and this should be a reverse proxy to the rest of the infrastructure, one that can be changed at any time.

Interestingly, T2W says that in choosing an actual host, the best advice comes from the MPA. Referencing a recent TorrentFreak article detailing the MPA and RIAA’s submissions to the USTR for its notorious markets list, T2W says that various hosts are nominated there for good reason.

The same can be said for domain registrars. Again, pointing to the industry groups’ complaints about Peter Sunde’s Njalla, T2W notes that the company made it to the list by “annoying them with their resistance.”

Time2Watch Disappears Into the Night

For those interesting in reading the entire ‘goodbye’ statement, it’s available here in French (pdf). However, those hoping for some kind of reincarnation will be disappointed, since that doesn’t appear on the agenda.

“Time2Watch has closed and will never reopen in any other form,” T2W’s statement reads.

“The database was destroyed as well as the site’s source code, and they were not transmitted to anybody, so impossible to see a Time2Watch return. All the sites you will see in the future resembling ours (with a domain name or a similar design) will only be clones that will hate your wallet.

“Beware of scams,” the team concludes.

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