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The rise of cyberlockers—how online piracy is fighting back

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Illegal downloading is on its way out. A new report released by polling firm YouGov has found that only 10% of people in the UK now use illegal downloads to access music, down from 18% in 2013. And the recently released Global online piracy study from the University of Amsterdam argued that entertainment streaming services such as Spotify and Netflix mean that far fewer people are accessing copyright-infringing content.


Despite this, pirated songs, films and TV shows are still widely available online. For example, the Amsterdam study also found that 36% of the UK population has accessed illegal content online in the last year. The shift from downloads to streaming is real but it hasn't solved all the entertainment industry's problems because piracy has also shifted in a similar way. A growing fraction of illegal content is now accessed through streaming "cyberlockers", YouTube-like websites often used to upload and share video content without permission. There has recently been significant growth in their use, with 10% of infringers using cyberlockers in 2017, up from 4% in 2016.


Together with my Ph.D. student Damilola Ibosiola and other colleagues, I recently published research showing that most illegal streaming cyberlocker content is distributed by just a handful of providers, as opposed to the millions of people who used to share files illegally through peer-to-peer downloading software. This might make it easier for law enforcement to contact the host of an illegal file, but it also means that they are up against people with extensive experience in evading detection. As a result, the pirates are constantly fighting back.


Because of this, we wanted to understand how the cyberlockers used by pirates operate, and shed light on this murky domain. We built software to monitor the videos uploaded onto popular cyberlockers, as well as "indexing websites", which maintain a directory of links to reliable sources of videos on cyberlockers. In total, we identified over 795,000 links.

How it works


What we found was truly fascinating, a dynamic ecosystem of competing players, constantly striving to evade detection and being forced to takedown content. This is perhaps not surprising given our observation that these operations were apparently very fragile.


For example, one website we studied was taken offline three months into our measurements. But these kinds of departures were also complimented by various new cyberlocker arrivals.


All seemed in a constant flux, with links being added and deleted regularly. A total of 55% of cyberlockers saw growth during our measurement period, while 45% saw a decline. But the apparent diversity of cyberlockers may be rather superficial. By examining certain features of the sites to infer potential relationships, we discovered that, in many cases, individual operators were running multiple different websites.


A total of 58% of all videos that we monitored were held by just two major hosting providers, although from the outside they appeared to be dispersed across 15 apparently independent cyberlockers. This meant action against one company could take down a huge chunk of illegal material.


Our guess was that this was largely a product of the cat-and-mouse game played between cyberlockers and copyright enforcers. These enforcers monitor popular websites to identify infringing content, and then use legal notices to request its removal.


We observed cyberlockers use many techniques to fly under the radar of these enforcers. A total of 64% of the sites we studied did not have search features, making it difficult to find content from their front page, and 42% obscured their true content by hiding it among various obscure copyright-free videos.


To get an idea of how successful the copyright enforcers were, we also used data from Lumen, which records cease and desist letters concerning online content. We were surprised to find that 84% of the notices we monitored were apparently acted upon, with cyberlockers taking down the content. What was less surprising to find was that it usually wasn't long before the very same content emerged elsewhere (often on the same cyberlocker under a different page).


It seems that online piracy is less of a technical game, and more of a socioeconomic one, with pirates and law enforcers constantly innovating around each other. In most cases, both sides of the debate are driven by financial incentives. It therefore seems likely that the long-term solution will be for the media industry to create new business models that deplete those incentives. Until then, the game will continue.


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Moved from the "Guides & Tutorials " forum

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The rise of the cyberlockers again is more to due to Kodi  and APKs than it is the cyberlockers this time.  They dont make the money off of them that they did before megaupload  got raided in 2012 there just a few paid leechers making most of the money ... Pirate sites   dont like Kodi because it blocks  people from there ads and stuff and cyberlockers dont like kodi ether because it blocks there ads and people buy a 3rd party leecher instead. As far as knowing how many people pirate nobody really knows no more because so many use Vpns  . Let them keep thinking what there doing is working and  piracy will always be a problem but what they don't know want hurt them . i downloaded so much stuff over the years i need to buy another hard drive and i already have 3 externals  part of the reason i started using kodi as well  so i don't have too store it .    Pirates  dont care  what they think .


What anti  piracy never talks about after a movie gets so many years old and it gets re released they hardly ever kill a link  they mostly just go after new movies  as far as music  they like 5 diffrent ways to get it without even using cyberlockers plus legal options so no wonder they think they are wining the war on music because i hardly ever use cyberlockers to download it any more only if a friend needs something they can't find i will upload it for them  .

Edited by steven36

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I like cyberlockers for exactly the reason @steven36 stated, they don't go after old movies or music.  I spent most of my life across one ocean or another and because of the circumstances of those overseas trips (I have never had a passport in my life) I missed out on many movies and lots of music.  Fortunately a lot of groups put those old shows on cyberlockers and they don't get taken down so I am able to get them and watch them years later when they aren't available anywhere else.  Some of the music is out of print and not even available thru services like Oldies dot com.  And since it isn't my money that pays for the cyberlockers it is a win-win situation.

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