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These days, there are software programs which are used to view copyrighted content, most notably, Kodi (a newer version of the XMBC software).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:
- Can I get caught viewing streamed Tube-like videos, and
- 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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