Pirate Sites That Scam Other Pirate Sites’ Branding Are About To Regret It *TorrentFreak
Ten years ago, the High Court in London ordered all major ISPs in the country to block The Pirate Bay. The injunction could not prevent the site from functioning but indirectly left its mark in a more insidious way.
To demonstrate the futility of blocking, hundreds of Pirate Bay-themed proxy sites and mirrors have swarmed online, ready to stick to the man. Most looked and functioned like The Pirate Bay itself and, undermining the injunction, quickly became go-to platforms in the UK. Within the file sharing community, it was seen as a glorious yet functional display of the “Hydra Effect”. But more was to come.
Sever all heads at once
Over the next decade, more than 20,000 sites and 75,000 domains will end up blocked in 39 countries, a total that now includes mirrors and proxies that make it easier to access previously blocked sites. Thousands are covered by dynamic injunctions, which means that if previously banned sites use new domains to circumvent the block, these will be blocked faster than the originals, no legal process necessary.
Meanwhile, however, another type of irritant is gaining ground.
Rise of the Big Fat Phony
In a mainstream hacking scene where blocking has normalized the use of sites that simply look like the original, impostor sites with big branding are easily gaining ground. Since the sites they impersonate are blocked by ISPs and removed from Google’s list, fake pirate sites (not to mention malicious sites) often dominate the top results.
The case of the long-dead streaming site 123movies is a good example. The MPA won an injunction to block the site in October 2016 after 123movies.to became the most used pirate site in the UK. A month later, it was confirmed that half a dozen additional 123movies domains had also been blocked.
In March 2018, the MPA called 123movies the world’s most popular pirate site. Two days later, 123movies.closes following a criminal investigation.
After attracting tens of millions of visitors each month thanks to the closure of competing domains, in May 2021 the operator of another 123movies site, operating from 123movies.la, was identified by Hollywood and also forced to close.
As a result, many other unaffected 123movie-branded sites stepped in to reap the benefits.
And there’s more
Continuing the endless fight, over the following months MPA injunctions hit more and more pirate sites featuring the 123movies brand, such as 123movies-one.com, 123moviess.online, 123movies-one.com, 123-movies .gy, 123-movies.as, 123-movies.gs, 123movies.ms, 123-movies.sx, 0123movies.cam and 123moviesready.org.
At this point, it’s not hard to imagine the frustration setting in at the MPA. While areas are sometimes covered by existing injunctions, others require more work and more court appearances. Although it was not apparent at the time, the blocking orders obtained at the end of last year marked an important turning point in the war against these impostor sites.
More blocking injunctions reverse the trend
Orders obtained by the MPA last October and December were for domains such as 123movies.online, 123moviesfun.ch and 0123movies.net, 1-2-3movies.com, 123movies.vu and watch123movies.ch.
But, of course, that wouldn’t solve the problem either. At least not immediately.
The application has not been made public, but the MPA returned to the High Court this summer with two sets of new domains and sought blocking under an earlier order. As far as we can establish, they included 123chill to, 123series.ru, d123movies.to and w-123movies.com.
The first set was dealt with without a hearing, but the second set was described by the High Court as “something of an extension of the relief” which had been granted earlier.
A hearing was held and here is what happened.
Injunctions neutralized from clone and impostor sites
Referring to two injunctions targeting the domains of 123 films and issued by Judge Falk and Judge Johnson late last year, Judge Meade said the following:
“The problem is that when an order in the form granted by Falk J or alternatively by Adam Johnson J (as he did in December 2021 and which I will come back to later), the reaction of people willing to to infringe this type of copyright is to create a website with a different but very similar domain name,” the judge wrote.
According to a confidential witness statement provided by an MPA attorney, when 123 movie domains were blocked as a result of the December order, “traffic declined, as expected.” But then a new problem arose.
“[O]Other websites with very similar names have taken over and either increased previous traffic or started from scratch and grown to heavy traffic, with the effect that although the specifically targeted websites have been significantly reduced, overall traffic through websites with 123 Movies in their name was not very limited, if at all,” Judge added.
Highlighting the difficulties in identifying impostor site operators and establishing direct connections to sites already blocked by injunctions, the judge found that the issue of ownership was irrelevant.
“It doesn’t really matter: the problem clearly exists and has a real impact. In my view, this shows not only that the commercial problem facing the plaintiffs is not solved, but that the order of the court, while effective, is much less effective than it otherwise would have been.
Clone sites and imposters punished for copying
The MPA came up with a very simple solution. If new domains appear with a similar branding to 123movies and exist to infringe on its members’ rights in the same way as those already blocked, they should be blocked in the same way, regardless of ownership or connections to previous targets.
Upon review, Judge Meade found the proposal “necessary, effective, dissuasive” and not excessively costly or complicated. Websites conducting ‘overwhelmingly infringing activity’ using a ‘similar colored name’ to an existing blocked website will also be blocked by all major UK ISPs.
After the order was issued, the MPA blocked 123 additional branded domains, including 123movieshub.cfd, 123movieshd.icu, 123movies2022.org, 123moviesprime.com, 123movies.tools, 123moviesfree.quest, 123moviesfree.rest and 123moviesfree.mom.
Then, in a single wave implemented yesterday, the implications of the MPA’s new powers really hit home. Over a hundred domains from 123 brands have been blocked by UK internet service providers.
Of course, this standard will almost certainly be applied to other “pirate brands” at some point and, as far as we can see, GoMovies domains may already be in the mix.
Finally, it’s worth pointing out that Australia is also testing a similar format, but it’s unlikely to stop there and will likely spread fairly quickly.
It remains to be seen whether this newfound freedom from blocking will end the flood of generic streaming platforms, but, at the very least, copying the names of other sites to get search engine clicks may soon be a thing of the past.