2022 Highlights Europe: Rights-holders lean on law enforcement. New regs passed against piracy

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Europe’s Audiovisual Anti-Piracy Alliance (AAPA) estimated that media industry stakeholders lost an estimated €3.21 billion in annual revenue in 2021, while infringing ‘IPTV’ providers in Europe made €1.06 Billion in revenue in 2021. It estimated that seventeen milliion consumers between the ages of 16 and 74, representing 4.5% of the EU+UK population, used illicit IPTV services in 2021.  This was up from an estimated 3.6% of the population in 2018.

Many of the anti-piracy efforts in Europe have been collaborations between media industry stake-holders and law enforcement, since that region has strong local, regional and national police forces, as well as multi-national law enforcement organizations such as Interpol and Europol.

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One example was the disruption of VPNlab.net, which involved coordinated actions in Germany, the Netherlands, Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Latvia, Ukraine, the US and the UK, seizing or disrupting the 15 servers that hosted VPNLab.net, used by many cybercriminals to distribute malware and ransomware.

The Spanish football (soccer) league, LaLiga, has led the fight in that country, using an anti-piracy platform that it developed itself.  Spanish National Police agents, in a joint operation with EUROPOL, arrested four individuals operating several websites to advertise subscription packages consisting of more than 2,600 television channels and 23,000 movies and TV series. In addition, they had more than 95 resellers located in Spain, the United Kingdom, Malta, Portugal, Cyprus and Greece.

Italy’s Federation for the Protection of the Audiovisual and Multimedia Industries (FAPAV) estimated that piracy of live sports alone amounted to €267 million.  The Special Privacy Protection and Technological Fraud Unit of the Guardia di Finanza of Rome seized 545 Telegram messaging accounts in October, used to distribute intellectual property illegally to more than 430,000 subscribed users. The Cybersecurity Operations Centers of the Italian Postal Police dismantled a streaming operation that was illegally distributing football matches, movies, TV programming and other content, promoted through social media; to an estimated 900,000 subscribers.

In the UK, local and regional police forces arrested numerous business owners that were showing premium sports programming without licenses, and individuals selling illegal devices and operating illegal streaming sites, were penalized.  Authorities also issued multiple site blocking orders to ISPs.

France launched ARCOM on January 1, 2022, consolidating two separate government agencies, the former High Authority for the Dissemination of Works and Protection of Rights on the Internet (HADOPI) with France’s Superior Audiovisual Council (CSA)

Piracy in Russia, which after all, is partially in Europe, has spiked since the beginning of the Ukraine war.  The Russian government essentially legalized piracy and lowered royalties to rights-holders to zero in response to rights holders and distributors pulling out of the country.  In January, Russia’s FSB had arrested 14 alleged members of a Russia-based ransomware gang, including a hacker behind the 2021 attack on the Colonial Pipeline in the United States, and pointedly said that cooperation “would cease if the United States and Western allies impose sanctions in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine,” which happened a month later.

The European Union published its landmark Digital Services and Digital Markets acts, which is likely to have a fundamental impact on the practices of non-EU companies doing business in the EU. It goes into full force on Jan. 1, 2024. While neither Act mentions ‘piracy’ by name, new obligations under the Digital Services Act include new measures to counter illegal content online and obligations for platforms to react quickly, and strengthened traceability and checks on traders in online marketplaces to help ensure product and service safety

The EU also updated its annual Counterfeit and Piracy Watch List, which identifies types of infringing distribution as well as individual operators.

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