16 minutes reading time (3136 words)

Torrent Sites - The History, Mistakes and Failures

The History

Since the invention of the Internet, software piracy has been a stable activity online, and with broadband came media piracy of Music, TV and Movies. Before bit-torrent, both software and media were shared on download sites (many of which have since been shut down) but this was problematic because site owners quickly disabled links generating high traffic meaning pirated downloads quickly shifted from site to site and downloaders were forced to search numerous links to find one working. 

The appearance of Napster in 1999 promoted a distributed sharing scheme where files could be stored over many hosts, and downloaded in chunks. Napster, which is now long since gone, spawned a host of lookalike peer-to-peer sharing programs such as Gnutella, BearShare, Limewire, Kazaa, Grokster and many more. 

The appearance of BitTorrent in April 2001, thanks to Bram Cohen who designed the protocol, allowed large files to be shared in a different way. Instead of one site hosting the file, and downloaders taking that file, with BitTorrent the file is split into hundreds (or thousands) of chunks and those chunks are spread over hundreds (or thousands) of hosts. The concept is that everyone who downloads the file, then shares bits of the file with other users, quickly creating a distributed source for the file over many hosts. 

BitTorrent however, had no way within the protocol to 'advertise' a searchable list of files available. This was deliberate and not a flaw in its design. To find the files to download, websites would spring up with a searchable list of 'link's that could point a BitTorrent client to a tracker (a service that maintains a list of chunks available on various internet hosts) which was also run by the site and from that a file can be downloaded. These websites were operated free-to-use but with ad-revenue providing some income. 

Whilst there was a core following of these BitTorrent index sites, the vast majority of internet users were completely unaware they existed. Fast forward a few years and by 2003 "ThePirateBay.org" was founded by a Swedish organisation Piratbyran. After a year of operation the site indexed 60k torrent files, and by the end of 2005 the site would index 2.5M torrent files. It must be noted here that whilst the site indexed 2.5M torrent files, the availability of those files was significantly less. Regardless, this file sharing infrastructure did not go unnoticed by the American's and their 'media companies' who through the "Motion Picture Association of America" referred to as the MPAA herein, began a legal assault on such sites even though they were outside of the USA. 

The Mistakes

In 2006, The raid of the Pirate Bay's Servers by Swedish Police admittedly after pressure from the USA hit the global news headlines and millions of new users were introduced to the fantastic world of torrents. The Pirate Bay, after having its servers seized was down for a full 3 days before appearing back online and with its significantly increased user base thanks to the media coverage. If there was ever a moment in time where BitTorrent became mainstream then this was it. 

Having failed miserably to have any significant impact on the Pirate Bay the MPAA and others began a campaign to targeting home users for downloading the content, most of whom were children, but again this proved totally ineffective as well as being a source of major embarrassment. 

In the years that followed the MPAA and associates targeted various torrent indexing websites and pursued the operators until they eventually closed the sites, most notably Suprnova, TorrentSpy, LokiTorrent, BTJunkie, What.cd, Mininova and many others. The remaining, and probably the most popular sites remain active, which at time of writing are Demonoid, KickassTorrents, and of course The Pirate Bay

In the next and clueless assault by the American lead coalition of media conglomerates, governments were leveraged to enforce DNS blocks on the domain names of sites like The Pirate Bay. These 'court orders' were then imposed on major ISP's to change their systems to block lookup's for these domains, and instead show a page telling the user why it was blocked. This was not only a clueless waste of everyone's time and money, but it drove torrent indexing sites into a huge array of mirror's, each simply replicating the content of the source. The Pirate bay and many other similar sites also started hosting anonymous onion sites on the Tor network, which circumvented any blocks and gave visitors anonymity. 

This very action, not only had zero effect on visitors to their chosen torrent sites, because lists of valid mirrors sprung up to help direct traffic, but it created a network of mirrors and mirrors of mirrors all sharing and distributing torrent magnet links effectively rendering any further DNS blocking pointless. 

In July 2007, Kickass Torrents which was probably the second most used torrent index site was closed down, again by actions from the USA, soon to re-appear as katcr.co run by the same people as the original site. Once again this change was widely publicised on the internet and users searches for the new site were quickly redirected. The site moved yet again to katcr.to shortly after and this seems to be its new home. There were of course a stream of court orders forcing ISP's to block this and other domains for Kickass Torrents, but an impressive list of mirrors immediately sprung up to carry traffic around these blocks. 

The Landscape

Tor, The Onion Project began in 2006 as a way to browse the internet anonymously. That is, all other ways to browse the internet are certainly not anonymous as your ISP tracks every site you visit, every port you open and of course every file you download. Various government entities further track you activities both through leveraging ISP's and by sniffing traffic at interconnects, and of course App's and software are equally guilty of rampant privacy violations. Tor provides a simple framework to allow anonymous browsing by routing your traffic securely to an endpoint far away, often in another country. Tor which can be easily downloaded for free from www.torproject.org easily and efficiently circumvents any DNS level blocking forced on ISP's by court orders, and the sustained growth in Tor users would suggest this is not unknown. 

Regardless, today and at the time of writing The Pirate Bay, Kickass Torrents and their many mirrors are still online and still serving requests a decade later. Knowing that BitTorrent and its index sites are here to stay, we should consider why they are popular and look at the motivation for piracy and the real world effect this may have on content creators. 

The MPAA and the other interested parties, in general allege in court that every movie shared on BitTorrent is a loss to the industry, but to anyone with common sense, that's simply untrue. For many, probably the vast majority of downloaders, if BitTorrent wasn't available they simply wouldn't watch the movies, or wait until they can buy bootleg copies. Given this, the actual loss to the industry is small and in fact BitTorrent is diminishing the market for copied DVD's. 

You can simply divide BitTorrent users who download copyright material into two distinct groups, Those who cannot afford or cannot access the media that they are downloading, and those who can afford to buy but choose to download instead. 

You will not be surprised to learn that the second group, those who can afford but download instead is a tiny minority and this minority is the only group who are in fact depriving the media producers and content creators of their duely deserved revenue, and this is in fact a relatively small amount. So why the chaotic and disproportionate attack on these sites and their operators? The question has yet to be answered, but you could theorise that its a general lack of understanding of how the internet works, the actual target, and organisations desperately trying to appear as though they are doing something, even if its completely ineffective. A wise man once told me that the only winners in any litigation are the lawyers, and there's probably an element of this here too. 

The Recap

Torrent Sites like The Pirate Bay and Kickass Torrents don't host any files, they simply catalogue a list of links and those links point to trackers which then point to the actual files. Trying to close down these files is now impossible because the approach thus far as simply fragmented them into thousands of mirrors. Trying to intimidate the downloaders results in nothing but embarrassment. Trying to block sites using DNS is pointless because they are all accessible via mirrors and of course Tor. 

The Solution

The solution is a blindingly simple one, make content available legally and affordably. In the UK for example, our 'network' TV is poor by any standard carrying only out of date content with endless repeats. Our broadcast TV is even worse. Our Netflix and Amazon Prime are vastly castrated versions of those available to USA viewers, and networks like HBO, SyFy, ABC, etc are just unavailable full stop. So, if you want to access current content what options to you have? BitTorrent satisfies a demand simply because it exists.

In the future, I hope that ALL video content is available through aggregated networks like netflix and Amazon Prime to all countries and people at monthly rates which they can easily afford. Sites and networks who want users to 'buy or rent' a movie or show will slowly die out as will the use of peer-to-peer for sharing copyright media. You only need to look at Spotify or Amazon Music to see that this model actually works in the real world. Listen to any music you like at any time for a small monthly cost.

There are doubtless going to be 'groups' who disagree with that assessment, but those 'groups' are also going to be aligned with the organisations who feel they are somehow wronged by BitTorrent and Peer-to-Peer. The content creators, and producers are going to have to re-think the way media is distributed and licensed instead of desperately trying to hang on to a system that is no longer fit for purpose in the 21st Century. 

It should be noted that neither the company nor I in any way wish to promote distribution of copyright material, there are laws in place which make such activity illegal in some countries. This article simply explains to those with an interest, how and why it occurred, and possible solutions. 


The Wreckage

List of UK Court Orders to Date forcing internet Service providers to block websites at the DNS level. Can you imagine the amount of money paid to lawyers to prepare, apply for, and execute these orders? and then the cost to Independent ISP's to make changes to their systems to allow this to happen?

Date of Court Order: 27/04/2012
Identity of parties who obtained the Order: Members of BPI (British Recorded Music Industry) Limited and of Phonographic Performance Limited
Blocked Websites: The Pirate Bay

Date of Court Order: 05/07/2012
Identity of parties who obtained the Order: Members of the MPA (Motion Picture Association of America Inc)
Blocked Websites: Newzbin2

Date of Court Order: 28/02/2013
Identity of parties who obtained the Order: Members of BPI (British Recorded Music Industry) Limited and of Phonographic Performance Limited
Blocked Websites: KAT or Kickass Torrents websites

Date of Court Order: 28/02/2013
Identity of parties who obtained the Order: Members of BPI (British Recorded Music Industry) Limited and of Phonographic Performance Limited
Blocked Websites: H33t

Date of Court Order: 28/02/2013
Identity of parties who obtained the Order: Members of BPI (British Recorded Music Industry) Limited and of Phonographic Performance Limited
Blocked Websites: Fenopy

Date of Court Order: 26/04/2013 and 19/07/2013
Identity of parties who obtained the Order: Members of BPI (British Recorded Music Industry) Limited and of Phonographic Performance Limited
Blocked Websites: Movie2K and Download4All

Date of Court Order: 01/07/2013
Identity of parties who obtained the Order: Members of the MPA (Motion Picture Association of America Inc)
Blocked Websites: EZTV

Date of Court Order: 16/07/2013
Identity of parties who obtained the Order: The Football Association Premier League Limited
Blocked Websites: First Row Sports

Date of Court Order: 08/10/2013
Identity of parties who obtained the Order: Members of BPI (British Recorded Music Industry) Limited and of Phonographic Performance Limited
Blocked Websites: Abmp3, BeeMp3, Bomb-Mp3, eMp3World, Filecrop, FilesTube
Mp3Juices, Mp3lemon, Mp3Raid, Mp3skull, New AlbumReleases, Rapidlibrary

Date of Court Order: 08/10/2013
Identity of parties who obtained the Order: Members of BPI (British Recorded Music Industry) Limited and of Phonographic Performance Limited
Blocked Websites: 1337x, BitSnoop, ExtraTorrent, Monova, TorrentCrazy, TorrentDownloads, TorrentHound, Torrentreactor, Torrentz

Date of Court Order: 30/10/2013
Identity of parties who obtained the Order: Members of the MPA (Motion Picture Association of America Inc)
Blocked Websites: Primewire, Vodly, Watchfreemovies

Date of Court Order: 30/10/2013
Identity of parties who obtained the Order: Members of the MPA (Motion Picture Association of America Inc)
Blocked Websites: YIFY-Torrents

Date of Court Order: 30/10/2013
Identity of parties who obtained the Order: Members of the MPA (Motion Picture Association of America Inc)
Blocked Websites: Project-Free TV (PFTV)

Date of Court Order: 13/11/2013
Identity of parties who obtained the Order: Members of the MPA (Motion Picture Association of America Inc)
Blocked Websites: SolarMovie, Tube+

Date of Court Order: 18/02/2014
Identity of parties who obtained the Order: Members of the MPA (Motion Picture Association of America Inc)
Blocked Websites: Viooz website, Megashare website, zMovie website, Watch32 website

Date of Court Order: 04/11/2014
Identity of parties who obtained the Order: Members of BPI (British Recorded Music Industry) Limited and of Phonographic Performance Limited
Blocked Websites: Bittorrent.am, BTDigg, Btloft, Bit Torrent Scene, Limetorrents, NowTorrents, Picktorrent, Seedpeer, Torlock, Torrentbit, Torrentdb, Torrentdownload, Torrentexpress, TorrentFunk, Torrentproject, TorrentRoom, Torrents, TorrentUs, Torrentz, Torrentzap, Vitorrent

Date of Court Order: 19/11/2014
Identity of parties who obtained the Order: Members of the MPA (Motion Picture Association of America Inc
Blocked Websites: Watchseries.It, Stream TV, Watchseries-online, Cucirca
Demonoid, Torrent.cd, Vertor, Rar BG, BitSoup, Torrent Bytes, Seventorrents, Torrents.fm, YourBittorrent, Tor Movies, Torrentz.pro, Torrentbutler, IP Torrents, Sumotorrent, Torrent Day, Torrenting, Heroturko, Scene Source, Rapid Moviez, Iwatchonline, Los Movies, Isohunt, Movie25, Watchseries.to, Iwannawatch, Warez BB, Ice Films, Tehparadox

Date of Court Order: 20/11/2014 (expired on 11/11/2018)
Identity of parties who obtained the Order: Cartier International AG, Montblanc-SImplo GmbH, Richemont International S.A.
Blocked Websites: CartierLove2U, IWCWatchTop, ReplicaWatchesIWC, 1iwc, MontBlancPensOnlineUK, MontBlancOutletOnline

Date of Court Order: 5/12/2014 (expired on 05/12/2018)
Identity of parties who obtained the Order: Cartier International AG
Blocked Websites: Pasmoldsolutions, PillarRecruitment     

Date of Court Order: 17/12/2014
Identity of parties who obtained the Order: Members of BPI (British Recorded Music Industry) Limited and of Phonographic Performance Limited
Blocked Websites: Bursalagu, Fullsongs, Mega-Search, Mp3 Monkey, Mp3.li, Mp3Bear, MP3Boo, Mp3Clan, Mp3Olimp, MP3s.pl, Mp3soup, Mp3Truck, Musicaddict, My Free MP3, Plixid, RnBXclusive, STAFA Band

Date of Court Order: 29/4/2015
Identity of parties who obtained the Order: Members of the MPA (Motion Picture Association of America Inc)
Blocked Websites: afdah.com, watchonlineseries.eu, g2g.fm, axxomovies.org, popcorntime.io, flixtor.me, popcorntime.se, isoplex.isohunt.to, eztvapi.re, eqwww.image.yt, yts.re, ui.time-popcorn.info

Date of Court Order: 7/5/2015
Identity of parties who obtained the Order: The Football Association Premier League Limited
Blocked Websites: Rojadirecta, LiveTV, Drakulastream

Date of Court Order: 21/5/2015
Identity of parties who obtained the Order: Members of The Publishers Association
Blocked Websites: Avaxhm, Ebookee, Freebookspot, Freshwap, Libgen, Bookfi, Bookre

Date of Court Order: 25/2/2016 (expired 31/01/2019)
Identity of parties who obtained the Order: Cartier International AG and Montblanc-SImplo GmbH
Blocked Websites: Perfect Watches, Purse Valley, Montblanc Ebay, Montblanc.com.co, Replica Watches Store

Date of Court Order: 5/5/2016
Identity of parties who obtained the Order: Members of the MPA (Motion Picture Association of America Inc)
Blocked Websites: Couchtuner, MerDB, Putlocker, Putlocker Plus, Rainierland, Vidics, Watchfree, Xmovies8

Date of Court Order: 14/10/2016
Identity of parties who obtained the Order: Members of the MPA (Motion Picture Association of America Inc)
Blocked Websites: 123Movies, GeekTV, GenVideos, GoWatchSeries, HDMovie14, HDMoviesWatch, TheMovie4U, MovieSub, MovieTubeNow, Series-Cravings, SpaceMov, StreamAllThis, WatchMovie

Date of Court Order: 08/03/2017 - (expired on 22/05/2017)
Identity of parties who obtained the Order: The Football Association Premier League Limited (“FAPL”)
What is blocked by the Order: Various Target Servers notified to Virgin Media by FAPL or its appointed agent from the date of the Order for the duration of the FAPL 2016/2017 competition season

Date of Court Order: 25/07/2017 (expired 13/05/2018)
Identity of parties who obtained the Order: The Football Association Premier League Limited (“FAPL”)
What is blocked by the Order: Various Target Servers notified to Virgin Media by FAPL or its appointed agent for the duration of the FAPL 2017/2018 competition season.

Date of Court Order: 20/11/2017
Identity of parties who obtained the Order: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, Universal City Studios Productions LLP, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., Paramount Pictures Corporation, Disney Enterprises, Inc., Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.
What is blocked by the Order: Couchtuner.fr, Couchtuner.video, Fmovies, MyWatchSeries.ac, SockShare, WatchEpisodeSeries.com, WatchSeries.do, WatchSeries-Online.pl, YesMovies, Yify-Torrent

Date of Court Order: 21/12/2017 (expired 26/05/2018)
Identity of parties who obtained the Order: Union des Associations Européennes de Football (“UEFA”).
What is blocked by the Order: Various Target Servers notified to Virgin Media by UEFA or its appointed agent from the date of the Order for the duration of the UEFA 2017/2018 competition season.

Date of Court Order: 18/07/2018 (expired 13/05/2019)
Identity of parties who obtained the Order: The Football Association Premier League Limited (“FAPL”)
What is blocked by the Order: Various Target Servers notified to Virgin Media by FAPL or its appointed agent for the duration of the FAPL 2018/2019 competition season

Date of Court Order: 24/07/2018 (expired 12/07/2019)
Identity of parties who obtained the Order: Union des Associations Européennes de Football (“UEFA”)
What is blocked by the Order: Various Target Servers notified to Virgin Media by UEFA or its appointed agent for the duration of the UEFA 2018/2019 competition season

Date of Court Order: 20/09/2018
Identity of parties who obtained the Order: MATCHROOM BOXING LIMITED ,MATCHROOM SPORT LIMITED
What is blocked by the Order: Various Target Servers notified to Virgin  Media by Matchroom or its appointed agent up to and including 1 October 2020.

Date of Court Order: 28/11/2018
Identity of parties who obtained the Order: QUEENSBERRY PROMOTIONS LIMITED
What is blocked by the Order: Various Target Servers notified to Virgin Media by Queensbury Promotions Ltd or its appointed agent up to and including 1 December 2020.

Date of Court Order: 15/07/2019
Identity of parties who obtained the Order: The Football Association Premier League Limited (“FAPL”)
What is blocked by the Order: Various Target Servers notified to Virgin Media by FAPL or its appointed agent for the duration of the FAPL 2019/2020 competition season

Date of Court Order: 16/07/2019
Identity of parties who obtained the Order: Union des Associations Européennes de Football (“UEFA”)
What is blocked by the Order: Various Target Servers notified to Virgin Media by UEFA or its appointed agent for the duration of the UEFA 2019/2020 & 2020/2021 competition seasons

 

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