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Why so slow MPAA?

18 October 2017

I recall a few years ago that the MPAA and other groups representing copyright owners were hot on the heels of anyone using a P2P network to pilfer content.

The word "piracy" was bandied about with gay abandon and we were told that this kind of thing would cripple the movie, TV and music industries.

Well despite the predictions of doom and gloom, all those industries seem to be doing "very nicely thank you" and torrents continue to provide many folk with a firehose of "free", albeit not legal, content.

And now of course, we have the new kid on the block -- KODI and its plugins.

For well under $100 it is now possible to buy a small, nondescript Android device that plugs into your TV set or monitor and can seek out just about any movie or TV program ever made then display it (for free) in the comfort and convenience of your home.

Oh dear, how will the studios survive now?

What has surprised me most about this latest method of pilfering copyrighted material is that the MPAA and other bodies seem to have been very slow to move. Are they tiring of the classic game of "whackamole"?

Of course it's much harder to crack down on this new paradigm for copyright infringement because you can't track the downloaders as easily as you can with a P2P network.

For those who don't know, the latest model is that people rip movies and TV shows then upload the files to a dropbox site (and there are scores of them). Once safely on "the interwebs", the details of the file's contents and its unique URL are then uploaded to an index site such as PrimeWire.

PrimeWire (and other similar sites) do a great job of indexing all these references into a database that is searchable and also contains nice categorisation.

So here's how the Kodi add-ons work...

When you search for a particular movie, the addon scrapes these index sites, cutting out all the crap and simply building a local index of the many drop-box URLs that appear to contain the content you're seeking. That info is then displayed and the viewer can choose a "source" (dropbox file) from which to stream the movie or TV program concerned.

In theory, the dropbox sites don't automatically know there's illicit content on their servers and the index sites don't actually have any copyrighted material on theirs so, as long as the operators of the services involved honour any DMCA take-down notices, everything's sweet.

Of course the effect is that for under $100, the man in the street can end up with a very slick set-top-box affair that seems to work very similarly to the offerings from NetFlix or Amazon and even includes illicit access most of the content those services provide. The big feature is that there's just no monthly fee and, so far, no real risk of being pinged for copyright infringement.

What's more, even if someone using such a system did have their house raided under an Anton Piller court order, there'd be nothing to see. The content isn't actually downloaded for later viewing (as is the case with a P2P network) -- it's streamed and transient caches are wiped at the end of a stream session. No incriminating evidence is left on the box and since these devices generally have no hard drives, a power cycle will finish the job if necessary.

Slowly, the affected parties are waking up to the threat that this new model poses to them and trying to do something about it. Right now they're going after the low hanging fruit in the form of those vendors stupid enough to advertise complete systems (hardware and software) who openly advertise the capabilities of such systems.

In the UK, a number of very similar prosecutions are also underway.

However, for those who are smart enough to do a bit of the leg-work themselves by purchasing a more generic piece of hardware and downloading some stuff from the internet, there seems to be no easy route for authorities to clamp down on things.

One thing that has amazed me is that the PrimeWire website remains up an active after many years of operation. Surely, although it's only one of many, the iconic status of this indexing site would make it a perfect target for those who seek to protect their copyrighted material from piracy. Take out PrimeWire and you send a message to the rest of the players, surely?

I know that some countries have tried to block access to PrimeWire at a DNS or IP level but as we all know, that's just another round of "whackamole" and it's a very simple task to work around such primitive road-blocks on the Net.

So I'd like to hear from readers -- how do you think the creative industries will try to mitigate the effect of these KODI boxes with their clever little plug-ins and the massive network of dropboxes that now contain copies of almost everything that has ever been commercially released on TV or in the theatres?

Or is it simply too late? Has that horse bolted?

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