Along with the RIAA and several other industry groups, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) submitted its overview of “notorious markets” to the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) this week.

These submissions serve as input for the USTR’s yearly overview of piracy ‘markets’ which helps to shape the Government’s global copyright enforcement agenda.

The ESA, which represents video game companies including EA, Nintendo, Sony, Take-Two Interactive and Ubisoft, hopes that the interests of its members will be taken into account. In its report, the group lists various pirate sites that allow the public to download games for free.

Torrent sites are among the most significant threats according to the ESA, with The Pirate Bay being a key player. According to the game companies, TPB is a “major source” of copyright infringement that operates “with the assistance” of an unnamed U.S.-based CDN provider.

The less popular Skytorrents is the only other torrent site that’s included, while the list of ‘rogue’ sites also includes the linking sites oceanofganies.com and darkumbra.net, plus the cyberlockers rapidu.net, ltichier.com.

Pirate sites are not the only rogue actors. A special mention goes out to the so-called bulletproof hosting service FlokiNET. ESA reports that this company ignores its takedown requests, which allows the sites team-xecuter.com and sx.xecuter.co to operate freely.

“FlokiNET is a hosting provider that does not respond to notices of infringement or warning letters concerning their hosting and support of infringing websites. Despite attempts to send notices to FlokiNET’s abuse contacts pursuant to FlokiNET’s Acceptable Use Policy, the notices go ignored,” ESA writes.

These two FlokiNET hosted sites enable piracy of Nintendo Switch games and similar sites were previously blocked in the UK.

Finally, the ESA also highlights so-called “pirate servers” or “Grey Shards” that offer free access to subscription-based game services. Cloud-based games are less vulnerable to traditional forms of piracy but these “rogue” services circumvent the technological protection measures.

“When users are diverted to play on such servers, video game publishers are not able to monetize their online content on as described above and thus face reduced opportunities to recoup their investment in new distribution platforms,” the ESA notes.

As an example, the ESA lists Firestorm-servers.com and Warmane.com. The latter allows over 20,000 people per day to play World of Warcraft without paying the monthly subscription fee Blizzard requires.

While the purpose of the submission is to identify “notorious markets” that operate outside of the US, ESA frequently mentions that pirate sites are assisted by a US-based CDN provider. The provider in question is not named, but the game companies are clearly referring to Cloudflare.

In a footnote, ESA mentions that CDN’s have legitimate purposes, but that they also allow pirate sites to hide their true hosting location, while speeding up file transfers. Roughly half of the highlighted sites work with the unnamed CDN, they note, stressing that this has to stop.

“[I]t is important that all U.S.-based CDNs join ISPs, search engines, payment processors, and advertising services that have successfully collaborated with rights holders in recent years to develop reasonable, voluntary measures to prevent sites focused on copyright infringement from using their services,” ESA writes.

In a few months, the US Trade Representative will use the submissions of the ESA and other parties to compile its final list of piracy havens. The U.S. Government can then alert the countries where ‘rogue’ sites operate, in the hope that local authorities take action.

A copy of ESA’s submission for the 2019 Special 301 Out-of-Cycle Review of Notorious Markets is available here (pdf).


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