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Piracy Shield: Influential Consumer Union Attempts to Break AGCOM’s Silence

Logo piracy shieldTo say that Italy’s much-heralded pirate IPTV blocking scheme got off to a controversial start would significantly underplay events of the past two months. And yet pretty everyone knew it was coming.

A TorrentFreak source familiar with the scheme’s development, introduction, and current operations, warned us in 2023 that the system and the ideas that underpin it are fundamentally flawed. We were even shown how the system could be subverted, the only surprise today is that it still hasn’t happened.

Other technical details showed how over-blocking was always inevitable but could’ve been mitigated to an extent with a pragmatic approach to matters such as blocking duration and the rapid rectification of blocking errors. Yet, interest in these and similar proposals was brushed aside in favor of what Italy has now.

Excluding the Experts

The entities best placed to advise on these issues, Italy’s 300+ Internet service providers, were not invited to the discussions. Interlocutor status was granted to just four ISPs, all of which were (and still are) neck-deep in other complex matters, including merger and restructuring talks. Almost everyone else was summarily ignored.

The end result is a substandard system that ISPs are mandated by law to use, purely for the benefit of other companies, but at their own expense. That same law carries financial penalties for ISPs who fail to block, yet carries no penalties whatsoever for those who overblock. The law does include provisions that allow overblocking victims to complain, yet is being executed in a manner that makes complaining impossible.

These complaints and many more have been delivered to telecoms regulator AGCOM via several mechanisms, including letters, emails, FOIA requests, and countless times via the media. Yet despite the protection of citizens’ fundamental rights being one of its main tasks, and a mandate that includes dispute resolution, the authority has mostly shown a preference for one-way communication; an appearance at a recent hearing, for example.

National Consumers Union Demands Answers from AGCOM

Founded in the 1955, Italy’s Unione Nazionale Consumatori is a non-profit organization whose exclusive statutory purpose is to safeguard and defend the interests of consumers. Today that includes aspects of ecommerce and with a seat on the National Council of Consumers and Users (CNCU) at the Ministry of Economic Development, the government’s ear is never too far away.

In a letter to AGCOM, titled ‘FOOTBALL: Does Piracy Shield Work?’ UNC seeks clarification on the functioning of the Piracy Shield platform and its intended purpose, i.e. blocking infringing streams.

“As a consumer association we are on the front line against piracy, but it is obvious that only the culprits must be intercepted and obscured, i.e. the IP addresses intended exclusively and univocally for the illicit diffusion of protected content, not the innocent ones which have nothing to do with online piracy and who only have the misfortune of sharing the IP address with the sites targeted by AGCOM,” writes Massimiliano Dona, lawyer and president of the National Consumers Union.

“As they say, better to have a guilty person free than an innocent person in prison,” Dona continues, highlighting the ambitious aim of blocking illicit streams within 30 minutes of being reported.

“However, since it is one thing to design an instrument and another to put it into action, we ask AGCOM to report on how many innocent people have ended up in these traps, given the conflicting data that has emerged so far.”

Why is it Impossible to Complain?

As previously reported, those negatively affected by overblocking can file a complaint within five days of the blocked IP addresses being published on the AGCOM site. Thus far, however, AGCOM hasn’t published any IP addresses, rendering the complaint process impossible.

UNC would like to know why AGCOM doesn’t publish the IP addresses in the same way that Consob (financial scams) and Ivass (insurance) do, after first taking a swipe at the lack of due process.

“We ask AGCOM why it doesn’t do as Consob and Ivass do. When they block an illegal site they also issue a press release with the list of blocked sites […] which allows a possible right of defense to the interested parties, from which this law instead seems to derogate, given that in cases of seriousness and urgency, which concern live broadcast content, first viewings of cinematographic works, the precautionary measure can be adopted without any cross-examination,” the letter reads.

“This could also be acceptable, if the right of defense were allowed at least ex post. Instead, the complaint against the blockades carried out must be presented within just five days, yet not from the notification to the direct interested party of the blockage, as happens for any type of other sanction, from fines of the Highway Code to tax bills, but, as AGCOM writes on its website: from the publication of the list of blocks carried out on this internet page.

“It’s a shame that on that page there is no list of blocks carried out, but only the number of blocks day by day,” UNC’s lawyer concludes.

AGCOM Has Been Rejecting Complaints From Cloudflare Customers

After initially dismissing the wrongful blocking of Cloudflare as ‘fake news’, AGCOM eventually admitted that Cloudflare had indeed been blocked in error.

Last month Cloudflare wrote to all of its customers affected by the rogue blocking urging them to file an official complaint with AGCOM. Some people had already complained but no matter how their complaints were presented, AGCOM used rules (known and unknown) to reject every single one.

In this example, AGCOM claimed that since the block was removed “shortly after its blocking” (around four or five hours) there are no grounds for a complaint. Furthermore, people only have five days after the IP address is published to make a complaint; the response makes no mention of the fact that the IP address was never actually published.

cloudflare agcom

Another rejection, publicly posted on X by Ernesto Castellotti, concerned a legitimate FOIA request sent to AGCOM in February. The basis for the rejection was novel, if nothing else.

“AGCOM responded to my FOIA, in short ‘denied due to motivated opposition from interested parties.’ This answer is MADNESS, I am legitimately interested in having access to that data as a direct interested party as a victim of the erroneous blocking,” Castellotti wrote.

Source Code Spilled, Cloudflare Whitelisted?

We haven’t been able to confirm that this information is accurate, but we can confirm that the source who supplied it has been reliable in the past.

We’re informed that after the Cloudflare overblocking debacle, Cloudflare IP addresses are now on the Piracy Shield whitelist. Or, at least, IP addresses will be tested to ensure they don’t belong to Cloudflare before they’re blocked. Bottom line, Cloudflare IP addresses appear to be off-limits moving forward. We’ll see.

Last week, someone apparently annoyed at AGCOM, Piracy Shield, and the entire “censorship” system, posted the anti-piracy platform’s source code on GitHub. In a normal world, that code would’ve been immediately removed following a DMCA takedown notice but, against all sensible predictions, somehow it remains live today.

AGCOM hasn’t responded with an official statement, at least to our knowledge, which makes the lack of response here somewhat predictable, given its recent radio silence on almost everything else. But if logic says the repository should’ve been removed immediately, logic also says that there must be a reason for leaving it up.

With the possibility that AGCOM may feel more inclined than ever to send deterrent messages, presumably any Italians who downloaded the repo did so using a VPN. We understand that rightsholders blame IPTV pirates and those affiliated with them for the leak, but whether there’s any proof of that is a complete unknown.

From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more.

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