‘U.S. Hosting Companies Are Most Popular Among Pirate Sites’

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The US and the EU both publish an annual list of "notorious" pirate sites, hoping to encourage foreign countries to step up and take action. Interestingly, however, it appears that most of the popular 'pirate sites' are still hosted by US and EU companies. Needless to say, rightsholders would like these companies to do more to keep such sites out.

A few days ago the United States Trade Representative (USTR) published its latest overview of ‘notorious markets’.

The annual publication highlights some of the most problematic ‘piracy’ websites, as pointed out by copyright holders. It includes torrent sites, streaming platforms, as well as stream-rippers.

The goal of the list is to motivate foreign governments to take action against these websites. This type of diplomatic pressure is not new. In fact, a similar tactic was used more than a decade ago, when the US urged Sweden to take out The Pirate Bay.

The USTR’s list of ‘notorious markets’ also called out hosting providers that do not properly respond to takedown notices. To some, the overall impression may be that pirate sites are mostly hosted by ‘shady’ companies operating from ‘exotic’ locations. This, however, isn’t true.

A recent analysis by Volker Rieck and Jörg Weinrich of the German anti-piracy publication WebSchauder shows that most of the top pirate sites appear to be hosted by US companies

The research looked at the domain names for which Google received most takedown requests, assuming that these are infringing websites. From the top 5,000 domain names, 3,645 were still active, and the authors of the report then looked up where they are hosted. 

A massive chunk of these domains, 41.9 percent to be precise, use Cloudflare. While this is a US-based company, it’s not technically a hosting service, and for outsiders, it’s hard to identify the true hosting locations of these sites.

That leaves a little over 2,000 domain names. The WebSchauder authors determined the hosting provider for each of these, which resulted in some rather interesting findings.

As it turns out, more than a third of all the remaining ‘pirate’ domains were hosted by US companies. This applies to the public facing front of the sites but data may also be hosted elsewhere. Amazon is the most popular US-based host, with 7.1% of the non-Cloudflare domains, followed by Confluence Networks and NameCheap, with 6% and 4% respectively. 

And then there’s Europe. Following in the footsteps of the US, the EU also launched its own notorious markets report, again, highlighting pirate websites that are presumably the responsibility of foreign authorities. However, it turns out that many pirate sites are also hosted in the EU.

The most popular host of all ‘pirate’ sites is the Dutch hosting provider LeaseWeb, with more than 13% of the sites, 289 to be precise. It’s no surprise that the Netherlands is in second spot, behind the US, looking at the headquarter location of the hosting companies. 

Together, WebSchauder found that hosting providers in the US and the Netherlands are good for 59% of all the non-Cloudflare protected ‘pirate’ site domain names. 

Of course, hosting companies are not automatically liable for everything their clients do. When they categorically ignore complaints, they may be held liable, but that’s something a court must decide. As such, it may be perfectly fine to host these sites.

Still, it’s odd that the US and the EU keep pointing fingers at other countries when the majority of the pirate sites are hosted in their jurisdictions. This is welcome ammunition for rightsholders and sites such as WebSchauder. 

“Both the EU and the US should first sweep their own farm before complaining again and again in long reports of notorious disturbers abroad,” the WebSchauder report reads.

“The problem of unregulated distribution does not take place exclusively in exotic countries but predominantly in Western Europe and the USA. If you want to solve it, you have to start here and finally assign responsibility to the datacenters.”


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