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“We Love our Pirates” – Crowdfunding Piracy

- August 8, 2017 - 1 Comment

In the past few years there have been all kinds of interesting crowdfunding projects – namely enlisting the masses to raise funds for new innovative ideas. In fact, this has been recognized as a powerful mechanism for launching new products.

One particularly unusual (not to say galling) crowdfunding project recently got my attention. The project was established to crowd-source the funds to pay off a legal settlement involving three sites-owners who’ve developed illegal add-ons for free viewing of premium content on the ‘Kodi’ platform.

In May 2017, three websites in Israel were sued by “Zira.” Zira is an industry copyright protection organization operating on behalf of content owners to protect their intellectual property. Before the cases went to court, all three reached a settlement with Zira and shut down. They also agreed to pay 50,000 NIS (approximately 14,100 USD) in damages to Zira. A few days later, a link appeared online in Kodi and streaming related communities directing people to a new crowdfunding project. This soon appeared all over the relevant social media circles, and was named “Protecting the defendants of Zira”.

Figure 1: Screenshot in Hebrew: heading states: “Protecting those Sued by Zira”

 

Michael Hayut, the project initiator, claims that all three authors of the illegal add-ons are victims and deserve protection. The crowdfunding was launched with a target of 30,000 NIS (approx. 8,450 USD) to help the three pay the sum agreed upon. Several hours later, they had raised over 50,000 NIS (approx. 14,100 USD), from 678 donors.

The message to Zira and authorities is clear – the Kodi add-ons provided an extremely popular service. The public seemed to be saying: “we love our pirates and we will protect them”.

This is a dangerous precedent. In many countries, video pirates are seen by the public as modern day Robin Hoods. Stealing from the “rich” broadcasters and providing the precious content to the masses for free. With this distorted perception, it is no wonder that illegal streaming providers feel so safe and act so brazenly. Even if they get caught, people will raise money for them. But are there really enough people out there willing to fund the pirates? Just as an example, according to this article from April 2017 almost five million Britons use pirated TV streaming services.

Let’s assume each of one them would be willing to donate a single pound to keep their favorite pirate providers safe. Imagine the incentive to illegal add-on developers who know they have 5 million pounds to back their activities.

Such crowdfunding projects seem to be turning into a trend.

Several weeks later, on June 13th, 2017, Zira shut down a website called “Torec” that had been providing copyrighted Hebrew-language subtitles for free – for over 12 years. The site had been making a significant profit from premium membership and advertisements. Despite this, people began a fundraising campaign for the site-owner through the same crowdsourcing platform.

The idea seems to be adopted on the other side of the ocean as well. In June 2017, TVAddons, widely considered the number one library for Kodi add-ons, was sued in the US and Canada. Soon after, the site shut down without explanation. Its Facebook page has also disappeared. On August 1st 2017, the site owner, Adam Lackman appeared back online with an ambitious crowdfunding project, attempting to raise 250,000 USD for a legal battle. In just two days, he already had 7% ($17,862) raised by 427 people! Three days later, the sum increased to 10% ($24,434) raised by 617 people.

Figure 2: Screenshot of TVAddons fundraising, taken on day 5.

 

Similar crowdfunding projects are happening in other types of piracy as well. In July 2017, members of a Russian speaking forum called “sat-forum in the deep web” initiated a fundraising campaign to finance the hacking of a satellite broadcaster and its conditional access protection.

Figure 3: Screenshot of forum thread in Russian discussing Crowd-Source funding Piracy

 

When it comes to video piracy, the public’s perception of right and wrong is not so clear-cut. Those donating to the pirates are “normative” people; they would never consider shoplifting, yet feel at ease with theft of content that may have cost its rightful owners huge sums to produce or procure.

It appears pirates have discovered an unexpected tailwind to encourage them. Will crowdfunding piracy become a global phenomenon? Feel free to use the comment box below to share your thoughts with us.

For more on our piracy intelligence research findings, please see these related blog posts:

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1 Comments

    Copyright deserves respect. But people that lacks ethics wants things for free. Protecting intellectual property is a must.

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