From peer-to-peer to live streaming: the methods of illicit access to protected works via internet are diversifying

The bête noire of the cultural industries, the rapid development of illegal downloading has led rights holders to take legal action and to try to dissuade Internet users from engaging in such practices. But in twenty years, it is clear that not only have these illegal behaviors not ceased, but that the methods used to unlawfully access these contents have diversified, as shown by a new study published by the hadopi.

The success of commercial Internet access offerings in the 1990s and the gradual increase in data rates led to the proliferation in the 2000s of peer-to-peer file exchange systems such as Kazaa, eMule and BitTorrent. In addition to downloading via peer-to-peer networks, new access methods have been added: direct download, streaming, live streaming or IPTV.

Nevertheless, the general mechanism of illicit access to content remains the same for the end consumer. In order to analyze in detail the interactions of the different actors participating in the ecosystem of the illegal access to dematerialized cultural goods, the Hadopi commissioned a study at Ernst & Young Advisory, realized between January and June 2018, in partnership with the General Directorate of Media and Cultural Industries (DGMIC).

At the heart of this increasingly complex ecosystem are three types of so-called central actors: contributors, web hosts and SEO sites. Each of these central players, as well as consumers, now use a variety of services through a host of legal and illegal techniques and intermediaries.

Central actors

A contributor sends a file to a host whose link is then accessible to the consumer through an SEO site. These contributors, also known as  uploaders , in order to distinguish them from Internet users who download content called  downloaders , the plural also posts links to SEO sites and takes part in additional services such as subtitle translation. There are those who make it a real economic activity and those who are motivated by  “a philosophy advocating the free dissemination of cultural goods, rather than by a search for profit” .

Web hosts offer several modes of access to content: direct download ( Direct DownLoad – DDL ); peer-to-peer download, which allows the consumer to receive or retrieve a file on their computer; the  streaming or playback of a video stream requires no download; the  live streaming  to watch live video content filmed live and finally the IPTV ( Internet Protocol Television ), which refers to the live reading of a television program broadcast  via the Internet.

SEO sites, whether general or specialized, allow the consumer to access the content and to choose the access mode. The apparent separation between web hosts and SEO sites masks, in the words of the Hadopi, a  “nested operation” , the purpose of which is to separate their activities in order to protect the hosts whose regime of liability is limited as soon as possible. when they are not aware of the illegal nature of the content they offer.

Video aggregators and configured TV boxes complete the ecosystem of the central players. Video aggregators are applications or software that unlawfully access content with a quality of service similar to that provided by legal platforms. These video aggregators are available as applications that can be installed on a computer, tablet, smartphone or electronic box. As for the TV boxes, they are connected to the internet and can broadcast a stream or content on a conventional TV and their configuration passes through media players to access video content.

Services used by central actors

Evolving anonymously, web hosts and SEO sites rely on technical intermediaries to scramble or hide their online activities, improve the quality of services for Internet users, but also on service providers such as payment platforms or advertising intermediaries. Advertising agencies, as well as affiliate platforms – which allow a merchant website (affiliator) to promote its products or services, for a fee,  via other (affiliate) publisher websites – are used by SEO sites to display advertising on behalf of advertisers on their website. The Charter of Best Practices in Online Advertising for the Respect of Copyright and Neighboring Rights, signed with the main advertising actors as part of the government’s anti-piracy action plan in 2015, has had the effect of considerably limiting the number of actors operating in the illicit market ( see  Rem  36, p.). Nevertheless, some advertising agencies such as PubDirect in Switzerland, AdCash in Estonia and Adbooth in Spain, have specialized almost exclusively in the illicit market. The main payment intermediaries, such as Paypal, also played the game of drying up the financial resources of SEO sites, quickly replaced by new players such as AlloPass, or Skrill.

Web hosts use technical players to provide transport, security and storage of content, the majority using a CDN  ( Content Delivery Network) operator  , whose purpose is to replicate content hosted in different geographical locations and to operate a routing mechanism when a consumer connects to it, in order to optimize the download or the flow of content ( see  Rem  16, p.42 ).

SEO sites use two techniques to prevent the content from being detected by the authorities and to replace the “inactive” links. These sites use “link obfuscators”. In order to avoid posting a direct link to hosted content on their site, the so-called obfuscation technique consists of forcing the consumer to perform a manual operation on an intermediate screen before displaying the link to the hosting platform. When rights holders make withdrawal requests to which the hosts are legally obliged to act, the use of link obfuscator by the referencing site considerably complicates the automatic collection of these links by the authorities.

Services used by consumers

A small proportion of consumers of illicit content use a variety of services to anonymize their connection or facilitate their use. Hadopi estimates that the rate of users among illegal consumers using a VPN ( Virtual Private Network  ) is 5%. A VPN allows its users to access remote servers as on a local network, masking their IP address to bypass blocking measures. These VPN services are close to proxies or “proxy servers”, which make a service almost identical, and are chosen by 1.8% of users among illegal consumers, according to the Hadopi; while 0.2% of users among illicit consumers use  seedboxesalso known as Virtual Private Servers ( Virtual private server  – VPS). A  seedbox , whose name comes from the word  seed , “source” in the jargon of the download, is a private computer server that generally uses the BitTorrent protocol to send and receive content, making invisible the IP address of the computer. the user.