Tag Archives: can I get caught streaming movies?

Pornhub Lawsuit. We CAN Get Caught Viewing Streamed Tube-like Videos

Copyright trolls just convinced a California Federal Judge to force Pornhub to disclose the list of its users.

Last night, I coincidentally revisited the question of “Can I get caught viewing streamed Tube-like videos.”  I was concerned that with the advances in websites providing streamed content, that perhaps users who view copyrighted content without a license might be at risk of being sued for copyright infringement.

Now considering the Pornhub lawsuit, I realize that 1) any website owner with a Google Analytics account puts all of his users at risk for being sued, and 2) any internet user who does not block the Google Analytics trackers puts himself at risk of being sued.

Why it was time to revisit whether someone can get sued for viewing streamed movies.

The reason I was looking into it was because it has been a few years since I wrote that article, and streaming copyrighted content has become more prevalent now than it was a few years ago.

Most users use only one or two pieces of software, most notably, Kodi.

These days, there are software programs which are used to view copyrighted content, most notably, Kodi (a newer version of the XMBC software).  A few weeks ago, I was asked to review the risks of installing Kodi software on an Amazon TV Fire Stick device.

But with the bittorrent-based copyright infringement lawsuits being found out for what they are — a scheme where the copyright holder does not actually have evidence of infringement — I knew that copyright holders would seek other avenues and technologies to use as a data source to file copyright infringement lawsuits for streaming.

Discussing the likelihood of a user being sued for viewing streamed content.

In answering whether a user can get sued for viewing content streamed over the internet, I reviewed two articles:

  1. Can I get caught viewing streamed Tube-like videos, and
  2. Should porn viewers expect their histories to become public?

Here WERE my initial thoughts:

(NOTE: Based on the Pornhub lawsuit that I will discuss shortly, I believe that any internet user can get caught viewing copyrighted content.)

1. I initially thought that there was a low likelihood a copyright holder would be able to obtain the IP address of the infringer.

In the first article, I came to the conclusion that NO, AN INTERNET USER WOULD *NOT* BE ABLE TO BE CAUGHT VIEWING STREAMED CONTENT ON A YOUTUBE-LIKE WEBSITE because 1) the copyright holder would not be able to obtain the IP addresses of the viewers of the content (no longer true), and 2) all lawsuits to date against internet users have been for bittorrent activity (which technically is trackable).

2. “Tube” websites likely do not keep logs (I never considered something like a Pornhub lawsuit, or how Google Analytics exposes every visitor to a lawsuit).

I also assumed that a Tube-like website (such as we see in the Pornhub lawsuit) or any website that provides pirated content would not keep logs on their users — and if they did, they would never reveal them to a copyright troll.  Thus, I concluded that the copyright holder would not be able to learn which IP address visited which page on which Tube site.

However, in recent years, website owners use Google Analytics to track their users.  Each “tube” website is a business of their own, and I’m guessing they generate millions in ad revenue selling all sorts of products to their users.  Thus, it is a no-brainer that they would have a Google Analytics account.

Why Google Analytics can create a whole new class of copyright trolls.

Google Analytics can expose the IP addresses (and the browsing habits, and, and, and…) of the website visitors, and my guess is that Google would comply with a subpoena sent to it to unmask the IP addresses of the users who visited a particular website linked to a Google Analytics account.

Thus, there was no need to sue the Tube website holder like they did in the Pornhub lawsuit.  This was a misstep.

3. Copyright Trolls are generally lazy

Other factors which led to my initial opinion a few years back was that copyright trolls are generally lazy.  The entire business model of the copyright trolls is focused on leveraging the least amount of time to extract the largest amount of money from their victims.

Initially, I reasoned that filing a lawsuit against a website owner, and then correlating that list of IP addresses obtained from that website owner was already too much work for a troll.  Then, having to go through a second step of sending subpoenas to the ISPs to discover the identity of the account holder who was assigned that IP address on that particular date and time (and doing so before the IP address lease logs were purged according to the ISP’s IP retention policy), well, that would be too many steps for a troll.

However, with the introduction of Google Analytics, even this laziness is mitigated.  A troll wouldn’t need to fight the Tube website.  Rather, he would subpoena the logs from the Google Analytics account.  Then, he would obtain the identity of the account holder who had that IP address from the ISPs.  No Pornhub lawsuits would be needed.

In sum, this is no longer such a difficult thing to do. 

4. Most pirate website owners are outside the US

Initially, I thought that even if copyright holders were willing to file the lawsuit and overcome each of the other roadblocks, most pirate-content is hosted by companies which are outside of the US (and thus it would be difficult to pull them into a US court to comply with a US federal court order).

Again.  I am almost sad to say that the website owner is not needed in a lawsuit to unmask the identity of the internet users who visited a particular page.  Why?  That page is likely tracked by a Google Analytics account.

For these reasons, in 2015, I concluded that there was almost no way an internet user could get caught for viewing pirated content on a Tube-like site.

However, even so, I still recommended they use a VPN just in case I was wrong (and in hindsight, maybe I was wrong.  Maybe Google Analytics already was widespread back in 2015, but I simply did not know about it).

Pornhub lawsuit ordered Pornhub.com to expose copyright infringers

Fast forward to 2017 — Pornhub has just been forced by a judge to expose its users.

Okay, this was unexpected.  I never expected a federal judge to order a Tube-site to reveal the identity of its users.  Today, a California federal judge judge did just that.  So in the context of this article, the financial ‘incentive’ that I considered a few years ago (that maybe a copyright holder could bribe a website owner to disclose its logs) ended up being the force of a court order signed by a federal judge.  

As described in the TorrentFreak article, Pornhub has been forced to provide the names, e-mail addresses, IP addresses, and other data exposing the identity of uploaders of pirated videos.  

Pornhub Lawsuit Target: Uploaders and Users who create accounts on pirate websites.

There was one caveat that I mentioned in my “Can I get caught viewing streamed Tube-like videos?” article, and that caveat was that viewers and users who create an account on a pirate Tube site risk having that account information exposed at a later date. This has now been shown to be true in the Pornhub lawsuit, as it was exactly THIS USER INFORMATION which is sought by the copyright holders.

BACKGROUND: At the time that I wrote the articles, the Ashley Madison hack just happened, where millions of names of individuals who had a paid accounts on the Ashley Madison website (a website set up for the purpose of having an adulterous affair).  Also in the news were various reports of hackers who were claiming that they will soon expose the porn viewing habits of all users, and that was the subject of my October 18th, 2015 article.

It simply made sense that it was only a matter of time before a Tube website was hacked, or something was done (now we know – Pornhub lawsuit was filed) to unmask the records surrounding the registered users and uploaders to these sites.

WHAT AN INTERNET USER CAN DO TO PREVENT HAVING THEIR WEB BROWSING HISTORY EXPOSED

1. Use a VPN

Even last night, I came to the conclusion that ordinary users who protect and encrypt their internet connection by using a VPN would not be at risk if such a lawsuit or a hack actually happened.

 

I am still skeptical as to whether the California court will succeed in identifying anyone other than the users who uploaded content (or who created accounts on the Tube sites), however, I remain cautious about whether Pornhub had a Google Analytics account.

2. Block the Google Analytics tracker

And now seeing the risk that Google Analytics creates for the internet user, I recommend every user install tracker blocker software on their browsers, specifically to block the Google Analytics tracker.  Tracker blockers include add-ons and extensions such as EFF’s Privacy Badger, or Ghostery.  The Pornhub Lawsuit teaches us to block Google Analytics

The Pornhub Lawsuit teaches us to block Google Analytics

 

Lastly, a word of warning as to advancing technology.

Last night, the “Google Analytics” piece of the puzzle did not even occur to me.  However, there was one big thing that did keep nagging at me, and it is worth mentioning:

BITTORRENT NOW OFFERS STREAMING

If I were to sound the warning call, it would be against using this feature.  Bittorrent is how 99.999% of the copyright infringement defendants across the US have been caught.

1. STREAMING VIA BITTORRENT IS STILL USING BITTORRENT

I cannot say this more simply.  Streaming content via bittorrent still requires a bittorrent swarm in order to obtain and play that content being acquired and streamed.  And if there is a bittorrent swarm, there is a copyright holder recording the IP addresses of the bittorrent users in that swarm who are sharing the streamed content to the other bittorrent users in that swarm.

2. POPCORN TIME IS STILL USING BITTORRENT

I have had it out with the Popcorn Time software developers so many times already, and the last I checked Popcorn Time still uses bittorrent to obtain and serve the movie content to its users.  Thus, Popcorn Time requires a bittorrent swarm and if there is a bittorrent swarm, there is a copyright holder monitoring that swarm.

SUMMARY

In sum, while it initially did not look like copyright holders would file a lawsuit to unmask the identity of internet users who visit a particular movie or streamed content, as I thought through the topic in writing this article, I see very clearly that IT IS NOW POSSIBLE.  

So far, I understand that the Pornhub lawsuit is only looking to unmask those who had accounts on Pornhub.  But who knows if Pornhub website owners used Google Analytics to track their users.  As I mentioned before, if Pornhub has a Google Analytics account, EVERY INTERNET USER WHO VISITED THEIR SITE (OR ANY TUBE SITE) IS NOW AT RISK.

So looking at this topic with fresh eyes (and knowing now a thing or two about analytics whereas in 2015 I didn’t even know such data existed), it only makes sense that internet users of porn SHOULD BE CONCERNED that their identities could get unmasked in a lawsuit such as this one.

 Discuss your Streaming Movie Case With a Cashman Law Firm Attorney


CONTACT FORM: If you have a question or comment about what I have written, and you want to keep it *for my eyes only*, please feel free to use the form below. The information you post will be e-mailed to me, and I will be happy to respond.

NOTE: No attorney client relationship is established by sending this form, and while the attorney-client privilege (which keeps everything that you share confidential and private) attaches immediately when you contact me, I do not become your attorney until we sign a contract together.  Also, the contents of topics discussed on this site are not meant to be considered legal advice to act upon or not act upon.  Contact your attorney for answers specific to your particular circumstance.

Can I get caught streaming movies over the internet?

Streaming movies via bittorrent is illegal, and you can get sued for copyright infringement if you are caught.  Apps such as Popcorn Time use bittorrent to stream movies to its viewers, so these users can get caught.  Currently, it is difficult to get caught streaming movies via a YouTube-like “tube” site because there is currently no easy way to monitor traffic to these sites.

BACKGROUND: I started writing an answer to the question of “Who cares if I was ‘seen’ downloading?  Doesn’t everyone use bittorrent anyway? Why is this illegal?” in the ME2 Productions Lawsuit Q&A article posted last night, and in answering, I got onto a really interesting tangent of how governments use child pornography, sex traffickers, and terrorists as an excuse to violate your rights against unlawful search and seizure (your right to use a VPN, to stay anonymous, to encrypt your phone, to encrypt your hard drive, etc.).  This should be an article of its own, but in writing that article, I stumbled into the “can I get caught streaming movies” topic, so enjoy the article.

Streaming movies via bittorrent is the newest way to get caught.

IS IT ILLEGAL TO STREAM COPYRIGHTED VIDEOS? DOES COPYRIGHT LAW APPLY TO DOWNLOADING, UPLOADING, SEEDING, OR STREAMING MOVIES OVER THE INTERNET?

Answer: Copyright holders are very protective over the WAY in which people view their copyrighted content.  The law gives them a number of exclusive rights (which means that they can legally sue and destroy the financial futures of anyone who violate and/or infringe those rights).  Of those exclusive rights (the right to make copies (download), the right to distribute copies (share/upload), the right to display (streaming movies), if any of these are infringed, they get antsy because each violation of these rights stops them from being able to monetize [make money from] the movie, or ‘work’ that they created.

Even issues such as whether a particular movie is played on this TV network or that TV network, or whether it is sold in this store or that store, or whether and how it is released on to DVD for rental purposes (and whether the copyright holder will allow their movie to be streamed on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime Video) — all of these considerations are called ‘considerations of licensing’ which are the ‘rights’ or ‘property’ of the copyright holder.

How bittorrent is said to infringe the exclusive rights of the copyright holder.

Downloading a copyrighted video on bittorrent apparently violates the copyright owner’s exclusive right to make copies.  Seeding or uploading a video on the bittorrent network violates that copyright owner’s exclusive right to distribute copies.  They would even argue that streaming movies without a license violates that copyright holder’s exclusive right to display the copyrighted video, so even watching a video which is streamed on some ‘tube’ website arguably comprises copyright infringement, and the movie lobbyists have manipulated politicians to increase damages over and over, likely through bribery and filling the pockets of these politicians with contributions to their election funds, and the like.  It’s a greedy process, and the only person screwed is the end user who clicks on a video link, watches that streamed movie, and gets sued.

But ‘Everyone Does It.’

So you see, it does not matter whether ‘everyone does it.’  Bottom line, movie companies over the last seven years have figured out a way to sue ISP internet subscribers individually for the infringement of their copyrighted movies.  This means that the movie companies (or the ‘copyright troll’ companies who license the rights to sue for the infringement of these rights) have figured out a way to apply the nasty $150,000 statutory damages fine to the end user who clicks on a bittorrent link and opts to download or stream that movie (statutory damages means that if you did it, you are ‘guilty’, akin to a buzzer going off or guns being shot when someone steps passed a patrolled red line).

EVERYONE DOES IT. BUT CAN I GET CAUGHT STREAMING MOVIES? CAN I GET SUED? FINED? PUT IN JAIL?

Originally (back when I was in law school), nobody tracked the bittorrent networks, and so people could share files readily without worrying about getting ‘caught’ (akin to the current state of technology where you can go on YouTube, or some abstract piracy website (e.g., Putlocker), or you can use some piece of software (e.g., Kodi) and sometimes view full-length versions of copyrighted films, but the mechanism to get ‘caught’ is not yet in place).  The reason for this is because copyright holders are not yet taking the time to subpoena the web analytics to determine which IP addresses visited which specific pages showing which specific copyrighted movie was viewed or streamed without a license.  Even if they did, many of the webmasters are out of the US anyway, so good luck finding out who they really are, and good luck pulling them into court.

How criminal copyright statutes are being used against bittorrent websites.

(This is an ongoing fight where the creators of The Pirate Bay, Kim Dotcom / the MEGA.co.na site, Putlocker, and a number of other bittorrent site owners are being arrested in their home countries, and the US government is trying to extradite them into the US so that they can be charged with the criminal side of the copyright laws here in the US.  In short, the political power of the movie companies is strong, and they have governments as their servants, and this is a fight that has touched you with your copyright infringement lawsuit, but nobody is bringing you to jail over it.  Copyright infringement lawsuits are civil, which means the copyright holder is merely suing for money damages ($150,000) as a remedy for the infringement.)

HOW GOVERNMENTS USE CHILD PORNOGRAPHY, SEX TRAFFICKING, AND THREATS OF TERRORISM TO TAKE AWAY OUR CIVIL RIGHTS.

Just because it is currently difficult to get caught streaming movies because the website owners are outside of the U.S. (or because the technology to do so is not yet in place) is not to say that the government isn’t TRYING to find a way to force these sites to keep logs of their internet traffic, and it does not mean that they are not TRYING to find a way to put a lock-and-key on the internet itself with a ‘Universal Internet ID’ or some tracking device forced upon you like shackles.  If US citizens don’t remain vigilant, governments (including our own) will put these shackles on you, and every website you visit will be monitored and logged, AND THEY WILL DO THIS BY CLAIMING THAT THEY WANT TO PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS AND THE RIGHTS OF CHILDREN.

This is their sneaky way of getting you to give up your rights.  Governments will use something as nasty, disgusting, horrible, and decrepit as child pornography, sex trafficking, or even terrorism, and they will claim that in order to fight this, they must lock down EVERYONE’s internet in order to fight these horrible activities.  And, because nobody wants to be on the side of the guy with child porn on his computer (this is almost ALWAYS the circumstance when the government wants to advance some horrible law, they choose some person to charge with a crime and advance THAT CASE through the courts to the US Supreme Court, and as a result of the horribleness of that selected POS defendant…), nobody speaks up in his defense (because nobody wants to defend a child porn defendant because of the stigma associated with it), and so governments pass laws taking away your rights to privacy and anonymity claiming that they are doing it to protect children against this guy.  [This is why almost all case law which advances some great concept usually has some nasty, horrible person as the defendant who ends up being protected from his crime (or not)].

ACTUAL LAWSUITS HAPPENING ABOUT RIGHTS AGAINST FORCED DECRYPTION OF YOUR CELL PHONE AND ENCRYPTED HARD DRIVES

This is actually happening now as we speak — not with the issue of internet privacy and forcing a universal internet ID on internet users, but with the argument of whether a court can force someone charged with a crime to disclose the password of his phone, or whether they can force a defendant to decrypt an encrypted hard drive.  The sneaky thing is that they are using some guy caught with child porn on his encrypted drive to force the law making it okay for governments to force its citizens to give up its rights against unreasonable search and seizure.

And, other governments are passing laws making it illegal to run VPN services “because child pornographers and sex traffickers use these devices in order to further their criminal activities.”  So because some terrorist uses an encrypted chat, or because some child porn defendant encrypts his hard drive, now I need to strip naked and show the world exactly which websites I am visiting, who I speak to, what I buy, what doctor I visit, and all my secrets??  No thank you.  Governments should leave its’ law abiding citizens alone and not punish us because some sicko uses the same privacy mechanism to mask his nasty crime.

ANSWER: STREAMING MOVIES IS [LIKELY] ILLEGAL, BUT AT THE MOMENT YOU CAN’T GET CAUGHT (YET).

In short, for the moment, streaming movies via a ‘tube’ website, or via some obscure out-of-the-US-based website will violate copyright law, but there is a very low likelihood that you’ll get caught or sued for it.  This will change in the future, and governments will likely continue to infringe on your rights against unlawful search and seizure (even to the point that they might make it illegal to use a VPN service), but for now, valid activist groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and activist attorneys such as myself and a number of others still hold governments back from growing in power and authority to the point that ‘the boot of the government crushes the skull of its citizen.’


CONTACT FORM: If you have a question or comment about what I have written, and you want to keep it *for my eyes only*, please feel free to use the form below. The information you post will be e-mailed to me, and I will be happy to respond.

NOTE: No attorney client relationship is established by sending this form, and while the attorney-client privilege (which keeps everything that you share confidential and private) attaches immediately when you contact me, I do not become your attorney until we sign a contract together.  That being said, please do not state anything “incriminating” about your case when using this form, or more practically, in any e-mail.