Notorious markets list highlights illicit streaming devices and apps

The US Trade Representative’s Notorious Markets report has highlighted the emerging piracy model of illicit streaming devices as a growing concern, adding three online applications to the 2017 list.

According to the US Trade Representative (USTR), global sales and use of illicit streaming devices (ISDs) – media boxes and other devices with piracy applications that allow access to unauthorised content from the internet – are increasing and pose a direct threat to content creators, sports leagues, and live performances, as well as legitimate streaming, on-demand, and over-the-top media service providers.

The spotlight on the new trend features in a special focus section of the 2017 Special 301 Out-of-Cycle Review of Notorious Markets report, which lists 25 online markets and 18 physical markets “around the world that are reported to be engaged in and facilitating substantial copyright, piracy and trademark counterfeiting”, which undermines the innovation and intellectual property rights of US IPR owners in foreign markets. Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba’s Taobao platform was relisted for the second year.

ISD piracy, where devices with apps or add-ons that stream or download unlicensed content via cyberlockers and streaming websites, denies right holders their ability to control their intellectual property, bypasses the right holders’ terms of use, and undermines the licensing fees paid by distributors, the USTR report says, adding that the black market stands to bring in an estimated revenue of $840m a year in North America alone, at a cost to the entertainment industry of roughly $4bn-$5bn a year.

“The growth of ISDs is a troubling threat to the pay TV and other content industries and undermines incentives for companies to improve services or offer a greater selection of content in more markets,” the report says. “As ISD piracy grows, it is critical for governments and stakeholders to work together to combat this threat to revenues for legitimate methods of distribution for television, movies, sports casting, and other live events.”

In light of the threat posed by ISD piracy, three infringing apps and portals that connect streaming devices to illicit content – TVPlus, TVBrowser and KuaiKan – have been added to the 2017 Notorious Markets list.

According to the USTR these app and add-on developers are reportedly operated by related companies in China to provide users around the world with television, live sports, and content protected by copyright and related rights. This family of apps, which has been downloaded more than 64 million times, allow viewers in China to stream infringing content on mobile devices or high definition televisions “posing an additional threat to an already fragile market for legitimate over-the-top and online content platforms in China”.

Charles Rivkin, chairman and chief executive of the Motion Picture Association of America, said ISDs, specifically, represent a “considerable and growing threat” to the film and television community, adding that an estimated 6 per cent of North American households have devices with specific software configured to access pirated content.

“USTR’s report rightly shines a much-needed spotlight on this specific type of notorious market, which impacts the livelihoods of so many American workers,” Rivkin said. “We commend the USTR for highlighting global strategies to combat this ever-evolving threat, and look forward to working with USTR and the broader interagency team to protect and enforce US intellectual property rights.”

Besides the three ISD piracy apps and add-ons listed, the 2017 report of notorious online markets includes examples of various technologies, obfuscation methods, revenue models, and consumer harm, some of which may lack safeguards for consumer privacy, security, and safety.

Among the online markets listed are: numerous cyberlockers (online file storage providers) that allegedly allow access to copyrighted content such as videos, books, music and video games; stream-ripping sites, which strip audio from copyrighted videos on sites such as YouTube; online marketplaces, including Taobao and IndiaMart – the latter allegedly facilitates global trade in counterfeit and illegal pharmaceuticals; “pirate” servers that infringe on the copyrights and circumvents the technological protection measures of “free-to-play” video games; sites hosting copyright infringing content; illegal online pharmacies; a Russian social networking site; as well as other cases of streaming piracy and illegal downloads.

The Association of American Publishers (AAP) welcomed the notorious markets report, noting that the USTR had drawn attention to all six piracy sites documented by AAP including Libgen, Sci-hub, Bookfi, Rapidgator, DHGate, and

“Publishers greatly appreciate the diligent work of USTR Ambassador Lighthizer and his team to support US copyright owners by publicly identifying and pressuring bad actors through the Notorious Markets process,” said Maria Pallante, president and chief executive of AAP. “Given the overwhelming scale and borderless nature of piracy on the internet, cooperation between and among governments is an essential legal strategy.”

While counterfeiting and copyright infringement has boomed on the internet, the USTR says infringing physical media and physical markets selling counterfeit goods continue to be prevalent in some countries. China is singled out, with the report mentioning six markets allegedly peddling fake goods. Markets in Argentina, Canada, India, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, Paraguay, Spain, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and Vietnam are also listed.

The USTR called for governments to provide targeted, modernised enforcement tools to combat piracy and reduce the flow of counterfeit products, such as border-enforcement measures and enhanced criminal penalties.

The American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) “praised” the notorious markets report, describing it as an “important tool” in the fight to protect intellectual property.

“By identifying marketplaces that promote the sale of counterfeits products, we are all able to prioritise areas of risk for governments, law enforcement and brands to better monitor and combat IP infringement. This report also provides consumers with information on marketplaces that are selling fake products that oftentimes do not meet safety and other standards,” said Rick Helfenbein, president and chief executive of the AAFA.

He added: “Protecting intellectual property is a never-ending task and requires continuous improvement. If you are standing still in the fight against counterfeits, you are moving backwards. Therefore, it is essential that governments, law enforcement authorities, and brands collaborate to stem the flow of counterfeit merchandise.”

Photo by Osman Rana on Unsplash

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