Wednesday, October 17, 2007

PINAC : Business Stats

As part of an ongoing update, I am reprinting old pieces of mine here as well. This piece originally appeared here on in Late 2004, and referenced the top of this no-longer published page on

A Problem for Business

Every weekend, 7,000 open markets in the UK trade in pirate videos and DVDs.

Every weekend, eh. Exactly 7,000? Is that based on examination of every open market in the UK? More likely that's a figure extrapolated from a small sample area; or, in simple-speak, they scaled up a small area to the size of the UK and rounded. It’s a made up number. There isn't even an 'approximately' there.

Seizures of pirate DVDs increased by a massive 405% from 2002 to 2003 and the seizure level throughout this year is looking to be dramatically up on this figure. Actions against DVD piracy web sites for the first quarter in 2004 are already at a similar level to that for 2003.

If they made 10 seizures in 2002, and 40 in 2003, that's a 400% increase, so is 1 to 4. It says nothing about the level of seizures in 2003 or 2004 because it doesn't give a FIGURE, or HOW those figures are reached. Is it the number of seizures? The number of discs seized? The number of titles? Besides, since these seizures and actions are obviously 'A problem for business' (else why would it be here) then they need to be stopped.

The value of the black market in pirate DVDs in the UK is estimated at between £400 million and £500 million in 2003 and is expected to exceed £1 billion within three years.

Estimated by whom? On what basis? The MPAA estimates that its members lose approximately "$3 billion annually in potential worldwide revenue due to piracy". So, accordingly, nearly 1/3 of that is to counterfeit sales in the UK alone. When you add in the fact that the MPAA’s figure includes revenue lost to FREE downloads, then it’s pretty obvious that someone’s telling lies. It’s ridiculous to believe that the UK’s responsible for HALF of the MPAA’s WORLDWIDE losses. So, either the MPAA is understating their losses (extremely unlikely) or PIAC is overstating in an attempt to mislead. (source:, first paragraph)

Downloading of illegal film and television files has tripled in the last twelve months and over 1.6 million people are now estimated to be downloading illegal films and TV shows every week.

Again, it is hard to see what the point of this is. The majority of those downloading TV episodes are those unable to see them any other way. Ex-pats in the USA, for instance, have no other way to keep up with The Bill. It's not as if this was a potential ad-watching customer lost. Indeed, it's a potential ad-watching customer to be GAINED, as in general, people will request the show to be shown on their local stations. To also put in context, remember that, on the BBC and ITV, 1.6M viewers is average for most shows. How many times a week does Coronation Street or EastEnders pull 10x that many viewers?
That’s TV; as for movies the main problem is simple to understand – the cost. Downloading takes time, and blank media. A pirate copy is just cheaper. In neither case is the quality so good, so it MUST be something about the price, and maybe the distribution method.

Ben jones

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Reading Comprehension is not Required for Microsoft

Sometimes, it's clear that people have difficulty reading, other times it's clear they have difficulty writing. A lot of the time, people who suffer in both these cases write on blogs, and call themselves some kind of expert. Of course, the very worst of these, are those that are computer programmers. Have you looked at programs these days? They're sometimes ten times the size equivalent programs were a decade ago, and run generally about the same speed as those equivalent programs did on the computers of the time, and they certainly don't do even four times as much as those programs of the Win98 era did. The only area which has kept up with the bloat, has been bugs (and the associated patches and fixes). Why I have brought this up, is due to a 'writer' called John Carroll, who 'blogs' for ZDnet.

In this article, he supposedly goes through the Pirate Party of the US website, and looks at their issues. It is here that he shows those very values of a writer I stated at the top.

The Pirate Party defines copyright as only being suitable to recoup costs. After that, companies and individuals should not be able to control the distribution of their intellectual work.

I looked at the issues page, and indeed the entirety of the website, and couldn't find any such definition. It would appear that his definition is based on the following statement (taken from the first paragraph of their copyright page).

As such, the Framers instituted copyrights for “limited times” only; once an opportunity to recoup costs had passed, open distribution could once again be in an open manner.

In short, Mr. Carroll sees "once an opportunity to recoup costs had passed" and reads "as soon as costs have been recouped". It is exactly that kind of poor linguistic comprehension that has put the US in the terrible state it's in. Furthermore, it's clear that only the littlest of effort was made in researching this, and even the multitude of other articles that have appeared in the past week about the Pirate Party were ignored. Had he read more than the first paragraph, he would have seen just how far his assumptions, and their resulting arguments, are from the mark. Let me refer to Variety, for instance, which is pretty much the news source for the entertainment industry. In their latest issue, they include an interview with a spokesman for the US Pirate Party. he says "But in an age of massive distribution, it should be easy to recoup investment and make money in 14 years."

Of course, he then makes the classic argument, that copyright infringement is theft. There are many varied definitions of theft, but the general theme is that it is the taking of property from one person, by another without permission, depriving the original owner of the property. Copyright infringement however, can best be described as the reproduction of a piece of copyrighted work without the permission of the rights owner. The main difference is that the original owner still has their item, and is not deprived of it. I'm not even going to go into the whole shoplifting is the same as downloading analogy (I will just say that the movie studios still get paid for shoplifted DVDs, its just the retail stores that lose out). He is reinforced in this by the CEO of a pre-press company, who says “How many members of this new Pirate's Party do you think make their living as artists, musicians, writers, programmers, designers, or journalists. I think I already know this answer.” I know there is at least two, but then I actually bother to look up facts. A little research gave me the answer that the spokesman quoted before, is writing a book (and has a patent, as well as worked on TV shows, including one for ZDTV/ZDnet, back when John Carroll was still just an angry forum user) whilst the 'interim administrator' in Utah is a journalist. Want more? Rick Falkvinge, the head of the Swedish Piratpartiet, used to work at Microsoft (as a project leader, no less) and a smaller software company. It might seem that the CEO would be better off playing golf, that trying to play at political pundit.

Of course, dealing with people who have their own agenda, and Carroll's may be for his job. With the success of Joost (created by the same people that brought you kazaa), and other IPTV projects, perhaps he fears that he'll be left to misread websites, and spout poorly-reasoned (and worse researched) drivel.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

3rd Annual Fair Use Day Arrives

The 3rd annual Fair Use Day Is about to start, July 11 to be exact. A day to celebrate and learn about things is not new. There are similar days and even months for everything from “black history” to trees and even talking like a pirate, but it is not common for something that governments are attempting to legislate out of existence.

I’m just an average guy with a common interest in the rights we are all losing.” said Fair Use day’s founder, Eric Clifford, speaking exclusively to TorrentFreak. “The ability to access and interact with our culture is being stripped away and it’s will only get worse if the public doesn’t do something about it soon.

Eric says his idea for a day to celebrate and raise awareness of fair use came about from a Linux support group IRC chat. “[It was] the usual problems with copy protection and DVD’s. A group of us were ticked off about the lack of fair use and the “day” thing just popped into my head.” Whilst it had a fairly impressive start (they were ‘boingboinged‘ the first year) he says it’s been difficult to get any sort of attention brought to it.

That does appear to be changing, however, as this year, the Pirate Party of the US has issued a press release in support of the day. “It is important the people are aware of what they can legally do with regards to copyrighted material.” said a spokesman for the party.

Fair use is in dire straights in the US right now, at least according to GNU founder and copyright critic Richard Stallman: “With laws laws like the DMCA in the US, and the DADVSI in France, corporations have bought our governments and turned fair use into a sham. Nominally, you still have the right of fair use, but any tools that would let you use it are forbidden. Government of the people, by the people, for the people - it isn’t.

However, things are not all bad. Virginia Congressman Rich Boucher has proposed a bill, dubbed ‘The Fair Use Act’ which may go some way to restoring fair use rights restricted by the DMCA. The EFF has a page detailing it, including a form letter to send to your representatives here.

US Pirate Party Press Release

Originally posted on TorrentFreak

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Lessig moves on from Copyright fight

Lawrence Lessig, author of “Free Culture”, and CEO of Creative Commons, has announced his plans to scale back his work in Intellectual Property (IP) fields, including lectures and talks, to work on a new project – the 'corruption' of the political process.

Ten years ago, Lawrence Lessig started in the fight for fairer and more culturally sound IP laws. He gained great prominence for his work in Eldred v. Ashcroft, and is viewed by many as a true cornerstone on the fight to opposed the absurd copyright laws being implemented and enhanced worldwide.

His statement today (itself a clarification of what he had earlier announced at iCommons) about his stepping down and the redirection of his aims might come as a surprise to many. He claims it was brought about from a combination of Barack Obama's decision to run for the US Senate (described as “up or out”) and what Al Gore calls the corruption of the political system.

He'll continue to be CEO of the Creative Commons, and on the board of iCommons, but he'll be withdrawing from other similar groups in the near future. Lets hope he has as much success at his new area of conquest, as he has in highlighting the current problems in the area of “intellectual property”

Saturday, June 02, 2007

IFPI claims piracy is ‘Made in China’

If you were to take press statements made by the anti-piracy lobbyists, everyone in South East Asia is busy camcording movies, working in ‘illicit replication factories’ or smuggling people across borders to sell counterfeit CDs, DVDs, and VHS tapes. They’re also responsible for global warming, the fall of society in general, and most importantly, the drop in profits by the media companies.

Being only able to milk Billions when they feel they should be making Trillions seems to have given them tunnel vision when it comes to reading reports such as the “Summary of Community Customs Activities on Counterfeit and Piracy Results at the European Border - 2006” (link) by the European Commission.

Reading the statement by the IFPI, for instance, gives you a certain sense of deja vu, in that you know what’s going to be in the press release, before its even been opened. It’ll include some few choice statistics, which may or may not be presented in context, and say how this “points to the increasing damage that piracy is doing to the creative industries in Europe and the European economy”. Of course, at the same time, it’ll take great care to avoid linking to such a damming document, because that will then put the figures in context.

A claim that 23 Million counterfeit CDs, DVDs and cassettes were seized at the EU borders might be a big story, if you write it that way. If you write that the report says that this is actually only 9.18% of all the goods we seized in that time period, it doesn’t quite have the same impact. To contrast, over 150 million packets of cigarettes, or their equivalent, were grabbed in the same time period, and accounted for some 62% of the haul.

Similarly, claim that its grown by 137% since 2005 also looks impressive, and then you contrast that with clothing, which was the number 2 biggest item which grew by 175%. More revealingly, the statistics in the report are broken down in the clothing and accessories category, into sportsware, other clothing, and accessories. More items of clothing accessories (such as bags, sunglasses, hats etc.) were stopped than CDs, DVDs, and cassettes – 24,887,263 versus 23,216,560, and which had a staggering 570% jump. Most telling of all though is the fact that overall, the total number of items seized went up by 234%, so in terms of percentage of goods, CD/DVD/Cassettes fell. Even the number of cases grew by 136%

Of course, no press release on this subject would be complete without a target. In this case, it’s China, claiming that since 93% of the relevant confiscations originated in china, that they’re the source of all this evil and must be stopped. Whilst the origins of the confiscated packages might be china, the report doesn’t give the actual location where the goods were created. It may be china, or it may be another country with China an intermediate point for warehousing.

Most telling of all, though, page 13 of the 15 page report, where it lists the rights broken as to why the goods were taken. It lists trademark violation as the reason for 87.13% of the cases, and patent violation for another 12.32% - leaving copyright infringement, designs and models, and unknown all fighting it out for the last 0.55%. Clearly, copyright infringement isn’t the big problem everyone claims it to be.

ben Jones

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Anti-Piracy Group Flyers at Cannes Film-Festival

French antiP2P agency CoPeerRight has been distributing flyers to advertise their new services to film makers and executives at the Cannes Film Festival. Titled “Bytes Corrupted”, the company claims it can “protect your rights, before and after the digital piracy of your films.”

A closer look at their claims reveals it is nothing more than a standard IP trace and obfuscation technique. Their first step is to log the IP’s of those sharing it, reporting this to both the ISP of the users, and the service producers. The second, to attempt to flood the system with fake versions of those files.

How the thinking behind this goes to protect any rights before it’s been released onto the internet is unknown. Pretty much the only way to do this is to have a watchdog in the agency’s employ overseeing every single screening of those films – it’s well known that the vast majority of “film piracy” is committed by so-called industry insiders, and those are also the people entrusted to keep the copies secure, as well as being in the best position to make high quality copies of them.

The second phase of the Bytes Corrupted plan is a method that’s been around for more than 10 years, and is suggested by the plans name. In essence, it is the same plan that the RIAA tried years ago with Napster, in that they attempt to flood the networks with fake/corrupt versions of the file, hiding the real ones. The only problem is that this isn’t 1997 any more, and sites like Mininova have user accounts, where uploaders can attach a user name to the upload, giving a sort of ‘badge of quality’ to the torrent, that copycat fake uploaders can’t match. It already helps on Mininova to identify fake axxo film, as well as EZTV & VTV TV-torrent uploads.

Ultimately, its another 3rd rate anti-p2p effort undertaken by someone with no head for the fluid and dynamic world of file sharing, and probably more business acumen than techknowlege, and is doomed to be as impotent as most of these other techniques and services offered by a plethora of other anti-p2p companies.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

MPA Asia, new Ad, same old crap

For what seems like the umpteenth time of reporting, the MPA is launching a new campaign, this time in the Asia-pacific region, about ‘piracy’ (or copyright infringement as it should properly be termed). This one features a new advert (ooh!) produced for the Asia pacific market (gosh!) and for the first time, produced by the MPA-Asia Pacific, rather than locally and ‘ad-hoc’ (wow!). It’s all a part of something called ‘Operation Tripod’

Needless to say, the press release for such things contains the usual junk, garbage statistics and figures made to sound more impressive. The MPA’s Operation Tripod press release (here) makes the claims of “During the past 12 months, 20 instances of camcording have been reported or forensically matched to cinemas in the Asia-Pacific region,” and, “Worldwide, camcorded copies comprise around 90 percent of early release pirate discs.” Great numbers, first for intimidation “we can identify you”, (although the real meaning of “we can occasionally identify the cinema, if its really unique or you leave the adverts in, although we have probably just had someone report seeing you do it” is not so intimidating) and the second, by Asia-Pacific regional director, Mike Ellis, possibly tries to convey the ‘massive scope’ of this problem.

Thing is though, the numbers don’t add up (like that's a surprise!). In the US alone, there were 603 films with a cinema release in 2006. Let’s make a low assumption of 200 that were shown in the AP region. Double it for local films not released to US cinemas, so 400 films. They average 2 camcorded copies released to the net, not counting copies made by scene groups internally, or which lost ‘the race’ and were never released. 800 camcorded copies; they identified 20. A 1 in 40 success rate, and that’s erring heavily towards the MPA – you’d have better luck on a roulette wheel.

As usual, they overlook the main problem – if people want to see a film, it will be watched. If people want to download it, they will. Spiderman 3 has had cam’s and TS’ out since opening weekend, and its still raking in massive amounts of money at the box-office, worldwide. As always, instead of targeting the ‘HOW’ and trying to threaten or intimidate people, they need to take a long hard look at the ‘WHY’ and address those problems.


Sunday, May 13, 2007

Universities studied by Congress

Last week, the Ranking member of the House Judiciary committee (Lamar S. Smith, Republican, Texas 21st Website) and the Chairman of the subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property (Howard L. Berman, Democrat California’s 28th Website [2]) wrote to a dozen or so universities, with detailed questions asking about their handling of intellectual property and the university network systems. They were joined by Howard Coble (R-NC), Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-NC) and George Miller (D-CA)

They say they expect a reply by the end of May. “By answering the survey, universities will be required to examine how they address piracy on their campuses.” One of the universities targeted for the letter was University of Wisconsin at Madison, which had previously told the MPAA that it would not forward on the organizations threatening letters to its students. It was later joined by others in the U of W system. The universities were chosen after Mr. Bermans. Subcommittee asked the MPAA for a list of the 25 campuses receiving the most notices.

Of course, what the 5 representatives fail to understand is, no matter how many prosecutions take place, the problem will not go away. This isn’t like treating cholera – dealing with the symptoms won’t eventually defeat the problem. The underlying cause needs to be addressed, and that’s unlikely to happen, certainly not when they’re using one of the major causes of the problem, the MPAA, as their major sources of information and direction. Indeed, in the first 2 minutes of a hearing held by the subcommittee: “An Update – Piracy on University Networks” in early March, figures from the LEK study were quoted - the same study which no-one outside LEK/MPAA knows how the figures are developed and arrived at.

ben Jones

Related links
MPAA press release here

Saturday, May 12, 2007

When is TV not TV?

When it’s not watched on a television set. This is a trend that will be increasing over time, especially in the US. TV viewing figures are down, internet and mobile technology is improving, and storage media is increasing in both capacity and reliability whilst simultaneously decreasing in size and cost. Throw in some cable company consolidations, and result is a recipe for televisual upheaval.

None of this is entirely unexpected, except perhaps to the network executives. Many techno-literates have been using non-traditional viewing methods for some time now – be it automated time shifting, downloads from places like the iTunes Store, via bittorrent; streaming from the internet be it from a network website, or something like shoutcast; or even on mobile devices such as a video iPod, or a Verizon v-cast enabled phone.

With a springtime drop of some 2.5Million viewers over last years figures, broadcasters should start to feel a little worried. Within the next week or two they will be unveiling their fall lineups to advertisers, and a ratings drop like this will only make their position weaker in the negotiations with advertisers.

A good portion of the blame for the drop can be placed squarely on the shoulders of the network executives themselves. Schedules that take breaks for no logical reason, mixing in repeats that are sometimes only a week or two old, disrupt the viewing habits of the audience. Fox addressed this problem with their scheduling of 24 the past 3 years, starting them in January and running them until the end of May without a break - clearly a lesson learnt by watching their UK counterpart, BSkyB.

The network suits must also address what could potentially be the most obvious problem, one that is at the same time both easy and hard to rectify – program quality. The majority of sitcoms are predictable and repetitive, drama’s clich├ęd, and the game shows either ‘classics’ or based around public humiliation. Worse, many of these are not even ‘American’ shows; the likes of “American Idol”, “Deal or no Deal”, “The Office”, and “Are you smarter than a 5th grader” are adapted from UK TV shows. Not that its ‘new’ as the 70s TV series “Sanford and Son” is based upon the 60’s BBC series “Steptoe and Son”. Nor does it show any signs of stopping as this fall will see a US adaptation of the BBC series “Life on Mars” amongst other new shows.

The other half of the equation comes from the technological sectors, where US TV networks are almost as reticent to experiment with, and embrace new technologies as the music industry. Storage space for both desktop computers and mobile devices has increased in capacity exponentially – A cell phone can have more than 2 GB of storage space, somewhere in the region of 3 times the capacity of an average desktop hard drive some 10 years ago. An iPod can be bought with 80 GB of storage space, that’s more than hard drives just 5 years ago. Price has fallen too, making them even more attractive. The major US retail chain Wal*Mart sells a 2 GB microSD card for just $45, each and every day. Shop around and you can find it for less. This proliferation of relatively cheap mobile storage media means mobile videos are more desirable. Why watch that show on the TV, having to sit through the adverts, when you can get the show later that night, and watch it on your way to work, with no adverts, and can pause it if need be?

Of course, the video has to make its way onto the player in the first place, and that’s where what could be thought of as the final nail in the coffin of the ‘telly’ is introduced. Comcast’s CEO and Corporate Chairman, Brian Roberts, gave on Tuesday (the 8th) the first public demonstration of Comcast’s prototype “wideband” cable modem. The test demonstration hit speeds of up to 150 megabits a second, that’s 50% faster than traditional cat5 networking technology and about 3x faster than the maximum data throughput on an 802.11g wireless connection. Current cable modems in the US typically reach 10mbits/second at most. Of course, he was quick to point out it would be several years before we could start seeing it in our homes, but it’s certainly a sign for the future.

In short, television will have to shake up their long established business models, embrace quality over hype, write their schedules with the viewer in mind, and not the advertisers, and look into new technologies (the UK has had ‘interactive’ television of a sort since the start of the decade) or even look into reinventing old ones such as teletext previously technologically unfeasible under the old broadcast standards. It won’t happen, same as the music industry has so far failed to change its models since the arrival of Napster in the late 90s, although some are beginning to come around.

ben Jones

Monday, March 26, 2007

Milwaukee mail

Recently, the University of Wisconsin (based in Madison, WI) announced that it would not forward on threatening letters from the RIAA to its students. Now, some of the other schools in the system are going along with it in what can only be seen as a setback to the recording industry's thuggish policies.

According to an email sent to all members of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) such letters will not be passed on to students. The full text of the email reads

SUBJECT: Illegal File Sharing at UWM
This announcement is being sent to all known UWM faculty, staff and student e-mail addresses.
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has recently increased its threat of lawsuits against students and others who engage in illegal digital file sharing. This is in response to perceived violations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, which specifically addresses copyright infringement of digital materials such as music, movies and software.
As you may know from recent press reports, the RIAA is now targeting individuals who live in university residence halls or use university computing resources. Because the RIAA can only identify violators by their ISP (Internet Service Provider) identifier, they are sending letters to universities requesting that these letters be forwarded to students, faculty and staff.
The RIAA notified UWM of its plans to send settlement proposal letters for individuals on the UWM campus whom they believe are guilty of violating federal copyright laws. These letters request that a monetary settlement be made by the violator in lieu of court action by the RIAA.
After consultation with UW System, our own legal counsel and with our understanding of federal law, UWM has decided that these letters will not be passed on to individuals. However, should RIAA send UWM a lawful subpoena for users’ account information, UWM will comply.
It is important to be aware of copyright law and avoid illegal P2P (peer-to-peer) file sharing.
For more information, visit the UWM Information Security Web Site at

This is clearly a boon to its students, where there are more important things to do than respond to a glorified extortion letter. Bravo Wisconsin for standing up for your students, and dealing with the RIAA's cheesy plan appropriately.

Ben Jones

Private Protection?

There is a statement you'll often see on p2p forums, and in IRC channels. It usually comes in a discussion about “getting caught” or “letters been sent” and it goes something like “the safest thing is to join a private site”[image]. The other oft-proposed solution, blocklists, has been discussed before. Are private sites any safer though?

In preparing this piece, I spoke to several private site admins, and a few public tracker admins as well. The results may surprise you.

There are three main areas of concern, that the server may get seized, or that an anti-p2p agent may infiltrate the site. Seizure is a risk for all torrent trackers, or indeed all servers period, as both pirateBay, and indymedia can attest to. This has both good and bad points, in that you get the site shut down quickly, but on the downside, you REALLY have to have your ducks in a row before doing so. Additionally, you may take out the site admins, but you can often create a negative publicity backlash, especially if you take down other people's servers at the same time. 'Infiltration' is a more time consuming method, but can yield better results. This was the method used to mount evidence for the elitetorrent raid (operation d-elite) in May 2005. The third method is describable in many ways, depending on your opinion of the target of it. It can range from “surrendering to extortion” to “getting paid off” but means the server owner has been contacted by one or more groups or agencies, and has agreed to hand everything over voluntarily. There is only one real example of this so far, Lokitorrent.


Put simply, this is the method of :
  1. Going to the hosting company,
  2. Gaining entry (with or without a 100% legal and valid warrant) and
  3. Physically removing the servers from their racks,
  4. Then taking them into custody.
Often, search warrants will also be served on any members of the site also within jurisdiction and considered 'big enough'. Once they are taken into custody, the hard drives can then be examined and entered into evidence for possible criminal proceedings. How do private sites deal with this?

Well, depending on the site, you might be safe, whereas others you might as well just hand yourself in on others. All that I spoke to stored the total ratio (including upload and download counts) email address, and username/password. Many also save a list of what torrents you've uploaded to the tracker, although that list usually only contains active torrents active.

The email address and username/password is a bad thing. It counts as 'personally identifiable information', basically meaning you can't say “it wasn't me that did it'. Odds are you probably have an email from the torrent site in your email account with your username and password. If the password matches any other password you use, or if your computer shows records of having accessed that email account, that's a link made to you that will be very hard for you to explain away.

Of course, such seizures are rare, and to date there has been no activity against individual users of the sites, but it must be pointed out that of the two public tracker admins I contacted, (Anakata of the pirateBay, and the one of the tracker suppliers to EZTV and VTV's) both said that their trackers did not save any user data at all, it was all in volatile ram, meaning when they're pulled, or even when the power goes out, the data is gone. Only the most secure of the sites I spoke to (scenetorrents) offered this for its uploaders and staff)


This is more the sort of thing that copyright enforcement groups are generally better at. It takes a lot of time, and manpower, which they have, unlike the understaffed and overworked criminal investigators the world over . Not to say that such departments are not capable, there really are more important ACTUAL crimes, that affect everyday people in a major way that they should be dealing with instead. At its most basic, its someone, joining a site, and collecting info. Depending on the sites membership policies, and its popularity, this can be very easy, it can be hard. Quite a few are now invite-only, so first you have to find someone with an invite, and acquire one somehow. Methods for this alone have a huge range, from “hey any1 got an invite to xyz' on a forum [image], to building up a relationship and bona fides on an IRC network such as p2p-net, or EFnet. Others, such as the British TV+radio site UKnova are so popular that when an inactive account is purged, the empty membership can be snapped up within 5 minutes.

So, is there anything stopping these people joining? Well, in a word, no. It's unlikely a member of the BSA will try and register for a site from his office computer, for instance, but there is nothing stopping someone from doing so. One site however (Bitsoup) did give a sign up warning [image], albeit an old favourite making a comeback. Once someone is on, they then have the job of collecting IP addresses from the tracker. In this regard, private trackers are inherently much less secure. On most private sites, all users can view all the usernames of peers also on the torrent with them, and sometimes their upload and download averages.

If they were to compile lists of users on a torrent with the IPs on the torrent, it might be hard to match them, but do it over a few dozen torrents, and they'll start seeing the same IP ranges appearing only when a certain username is on it – they've now identified the IP address of that user. It is impossible to do this with a public tracker, as put simply, there is no username telling anyone when a certain person is on a torrent. Add in DHT, and that people tend not to have any loyalty to a certain tracker, mean its impossible to build this sort of complete peer overview without private sites.

So, copyright enforcers may be members of your favourite private tracker, do the sites do anything about it? Again, in a word, yes. None of the sites would go into detail with me how to monitor for such users (and I doubt I'd understand them if they did – software guys have a tendency to revert to their own private language when asked a technical question) but I was told by all of them that they employed a mixture of automated, and user-based methods to detect and report suspicious activity. Basically everything from a user reporting a peer acting suspiciously on up.


Whilst private sites can prevent you from getting the letters and emails from your ISP or enforcement agency, They are not a perfect solution. Dealing with these sites takes time and effort, a lot of it, and that's more than many rights holders care to do right now. It is relatively easy to go to somewhere like mininova, and find a torrent for your property, then grab the IPs and send an email to the corresponding ISPs, it's much more involved to do the same with private sites. In that aspect, private sites are safer. Until the majority (or at least a large percentage) of material on a private site belongs to one rights holder, that holder is unlikely to target that site. There are exceptions, of course, depending on the material in question – the elitetorrents bust over Star Wars Ep3 showed that.

In the long term however, when and if the procedure for prosecuting file sharers through civil court becomes easier, such sites will be far more hazardous to use. The very practice of restricting usage to certain identified members is its achillies heel. Using a groups own membership and activity records against itself has been a prosecution tactic for many decades. Seizures happen, infiltrations have gone on for a while now, and some might say it's only a matter of time.

In their favour, private sites have generally much faster speeds than public torrents, meaning your window of exposure for downloading is shorter. However due to the more limited availability of the torrent, and the greater importance on ratio, you can have a vastly greater upload window, and it's uploads that are usually targeted. They also generally have content policies, meaning fakes, malware and misnamed torrents are kept to a minimum.

Overall, in some ways they're safer, in just as many ways they're a liability. To put it another way, you're safer from the more common small-time infringement notification, but a much easier target for the (much rarer) big-time operations.

Ben Jones

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With thanks to the following people
Feeling of SceneTorrents
Dragonheart, at Bitsoup
[pm] at Uknova
Anakata at the PirateBay
a staff member at Tvjunkies
and the admin for some of vtv and eztv's trackers

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Swedish swashbucklers Spurn Secret Spying

Over in Sweden, their Pirate Party (the mother of all the other ones), Piratpartiet, Has been busy working on some pending legislation over there. Or rather, working on bringing attention to it. Over the last two weeks, members of the group formed a petition, and sent out a newsletter about the laws, which are set to vastly broaden the scope of government communication interception, as well as not requiring the group who would be conducting the surveillance, the National Defence Radio Establishment (FRA) to obtain a court order before commencing. Instead, it would be under the authority of a parliamentary committee.

In the two weeks since they started this work, the issue has now gone from an almost unheard-of piece of back-door legislation, to the source of major controversy in Sweden. To quote Rick Falkvinge, head of the Piratpartiet:

“We've been networking heavily, talking to people, organizing rallies, petitions, written and distributed newsletters, etc. A lot of this has taken place outside the eyes of the traditional media, in a social network context, just like we're good at.

Our work went so-so; we staged a rally in several locations across the nation that got 2 minutes of coverage in every news broadcast that night, but the break came about 2 weeks ago when we posted a newsletter about all the pipeline big-brother laws this spring at the same time as we started a petition. It wasn't necessarily the petition that made or broke the push; I like to regard it as the small effort that pushed past the tipping point.

If you're interested in reading the newsletter and understand Swedish (or have a decent translator), it's here.

Anyway, influential bloggers all over the political spectrum picked up both the petition (which does not mention us) and the newsletter (which is very tied to us) and started repeating the message. Within the first day, people from the top brass of the far-right liberal youth league as well as the party leader of the far-left communist party (who's in parliament) had signed the petition. Some youth league organizations also decided to back it as organizations, and repeated the message on their own front pages.

We're not given credit - we chose to not push our name, but rather the message - but everybody links to our petition and repeats the words of it, and right there at the petition footnotes is "Created by Christian Engstr?m, Piratpartiet et al".

Two weeks later, today, editorials all over Sweden are up in arms about the impending legislation and it's starting to get mainstream media coverage as well. Some are calling the law "Lex Orwell". We're not attributed in mainstream media, but the blogosphere is aware of who's been pushing the issue and who hasn't.

Politicians are feeling the pressure and are starting to backpedal, going defensive instead of visionary.”

Well done to all those involved in getting the word out. Legislation like this only manages to curb one thing – civil liberties. There are many things that are getting pushed through in the name of combating terrorism, and since per2peer is often linked to terrorism nowadays (see one of my first pieces here)

It could be said that yet again Swedish politicians are, if not buckling under the wishes of the US government, at least trying to emulate them. One can only wonder what would have happened if someone had done this in the US when the PATRIOT act was being introduced.

ben Jones

Other links
'Big brother' surveillance makes waves in Sweden (English,

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Men in Black (T-shirts)

Pirate Party of the USAI don't usually like to replay or appear to copy press releases, nor do I feel that reproducing what is basically in a press release is a good habit, or that you should really do it. Does a competition announcement, however, fall into that category?

Regardless, The Pirate Party of the US have kicked off on what could be called their first major act, since they went live in July of 2006, with a competition to design a T-shirt for use by the group. As I write this a closing date has yet to be announced, if you're handy with the old digital art canvas, it's worth a try.

More details here:

ADDENDUM 13/3/07 - The closing date has now been set as 8pm EDT on Monday 16th April. (thats 5pm PDT, and midnight GMT)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Sorry for the absence

It's been quiet here, I know. I've had a lot of personal issues to deal with, and as such, I've had to put this on the back burner for a while. Never the less, I'm back. Expect more here soon.

ben Jones