British Government Wants to know who still funds pirate sites *TorrentFreak
Convinced that pirate sites only stay online when they are making a profit, the City of London Police have decided that revenue deprivation should be a key strategy in their fight against piracy.
Launched in 2014 and monitored by the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU), the “Infringing Websites List” (IWL) contains details of pirate sites nominated by rights holders and provides the basis for future enforcement by through escalating actions.
Once PIPCU has formed the opinion that a site is probably illegal, it sometimes comes into direct contact with the operators of the site. Warning of potential prosecution for offenses under the Fraud Act 2006, the Designs and Patents Copyright Act 1988 and even the Serious Crime Act 2007, PIPCU suggests closing as an alternative.
In recent correspondence seen by TorrentFreak, PIPCU offers to help a site operator legitimize its MP3 pirating site, but only gives 14 days notice for any further action, including “disrupting the infrastructure Internet”.
Welcome to the blacklist
Funded by the government and run by the City of London Police under the banner of Operation Creative, the IWL is backed by major rights holders including the BPI, IFPI and The Publishers Association, as well as groups international organizations such as the MPA.
The IWL is shared between brands, advertising companies, agencies and affiliates, who are informed that responsible companies boycott pirate sites because it a) protects their image and b) deprives pirate sites of the money they they need it so much. Anti-piracy groups also have access to the IWL, but despite paying the bill, ordinary people don’t have access to the Operation Creative portal to see it.
Well, in theory at least.
So how many sites are on the list?
The IWL is in a constant state of flux due to the addition of new domains and the removal of others. That being said, we believe that 1,530 domains are currently on the list, including torrent sites RARBG, 1337x, TorrentGalaxy, and YTS. The list also includes several domains referencing Pirate Bay but to our knowledge, the main domain of the site is not present.
Streaming giant Fmovies is listed multiple times in multiple areas with Bflix and Soap2Day. YouTube ripping sites such as Yout and YTMate are also blacklisted, along with many others serving specific foreign language markets.
The list seems to cover the most important targets and hundreds of areas that many people are completely unaware of. That’s on top of a few hundred more that could disappear overnight without anyone noticing, but that’s partly the purpose of the list.
All sites start slowly, but when more famous sites get blocked, sudden growth can appear out of nowhere. With fewer advertising opportunities, it’s certainly possible that sites likely to grow will throw in the towel before that happens.
Over 6,000 domains have already appeared on the IWL
The 1,530 figure was a bit of a surprise at first, as we expected many more domains to be listed. That being said, an indexing scheme used in the IWL allows us to have an informed estimate of the total number of domains targeted since its inception in 2014.
Our estimate is 6,039 domains, leading to the tentative conclusion that around 4,500 domains have been removed from the list over the years. Assuming that sites remain on the list until they stop infringing, one could conclude that after appearing on the IWL, 75% of sites either clean up their act or simply die. .
That kind of result would be something to shout about, but the IWL deals in specific areas, not sites. in itself. It is possible that a single site has had multiple domains and appeared on the list multiple times over the years. Plug-and-play sites also tend to reappear quickly with new identities and domains, further muddying the waters.
The reality is that we don’t know all the details and given the secrecy so far, that’s unlikely to change. What we do know is that the UK government is very keen to know everything and is willing to spend taxpayers’ money to find out.
Government wants data on pirate sites listed by IWL
According to the official government portal Government Online, between 1,200 and 1,500 government tenders and contracts are advertised each week. On October 10, the Intellectual Property Office launched a call for quotations for:
A tracking portal, providing ad stream data for requested websites that are considered to be involved in copyright infringement.
“This tender is being administered by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) and the contract will be awarded and paid for by the IPO. The benefits and results of the services will be provided by the supplier to the responsible police unit Intellectual Property Crimes (PIPCU), which is a strategic partner of the IPO,” the RFP states.
“The initial term of the contract will be from date of award (following this tender process) to March 31, 2024. This is expected to be 15 or 16 months.”
Data sought by the government
The Intellectual Property Office lists several minimum requirements for its portal, including the following:
• Total number of ads and estimated ad impressions on IWL domains
• Total number of brands and total number of advertising intermediaries
• Total number of IWL domains containing advertising
• Type of advertising campaign, for example, brand name, gambling, adult or sponsored
• Ability to click on a domain and get a screenshot of the domain and ad
• Data should be visually represented by graphs and charts.
• Be able to focus on one or more areas
• Be able to focus by type of campaign, for example, brands or gambling
• Being able to focus on a particular brand
• Provide a quarterly report in a particular area such as gambling advertisements
The specs suggest that in addition to measuring the volume of ads that keep pirate sites afloat, the IPO may need data to support action against specific industry sectors, perhaps through education, persuasion or other means provided by the strategic partner, PIPCU.
The RFP states that while the IPO pays the bill, all services will be provided to PIPCU. The initial contract is expected to last 15 or 16 months, with an option to extend up to 25 months.
The maximum budget for the initial term is £5,500 (including VAT) per month and although all companies will have to bear the bidding process, it seems more than likely that White-Bullet will win the contract.
The company specializes in this type of work and recently won a new contract to maintain the database behind the list of counterfeit websites.
Finally, a paragraph in the RFP caught our eye as being a little out of the ordinary and if the claim is true, PIPCU may have a softer side that never gets publicized.
Maybe PIPCU’s contact isn’t a disaster?
The police’s Intellectual Property Crimes Unit is well known for blacklisting sites, arresting those involved in continuous piracy, seizing tens of thousands of counterfeiting-related domains, and conducting spyware operations. similar application.
Interestingly, the description of the unit by the Intellectual Property Office suggests much more than that.
“Operation Creative, for the first time in the UK, has a strong focus on early intervention aimed at engendering the principles of restorative justice as a means of providing early warnings to offenders, giving them the opportunity to develop their activities into practical legitimate”, the IPO. Explain.
The concept of restorative justice has been gaining ground in British government circles for some time. The theory is that by opening lines of communication between criminals and their victims, the parties may be able to find ways to undo the harm and discover a way forward.
The problem here is that sites get blacklisted by IWL because they are heavily used for hacking, their operators have proven to be uncooperative, and in many cases their sites have already been blocked in the UK on the basis of a High Court injunction.
The suggestion that after all this they could be invited to have a cup of tea with the MPA or BPI, to discuss where it all went wrong and how to move forward, seems quite unbelievable. Times are changing, there’s no doubt, but things don’t change this a lot, surely?
The appendix of the call for tenders and specifications can be downloaded here (1,2, pdf)