05.02.2019

The end of torrents era in Russia

Currently, a total of 80% of pirated films and almost 90% of TV series are being watched online

The falling popularity of torrents is a trend that has been observed for a few years now, but 2018 was a true turning point. Currently, in Russia 80% of pirated films are being streamed online, while for TV series this figure approaches almost 90%. Torrents are living out their last days as they are actively being forced out by large monopolists—pirate CDN providers that offer access to films and TV series supplied by thousands of one-day websites. According to Group-IB, in Russia there are around 15 pirate CDN providers that illegally distribute video content, 4 of which are major operations.
Pirate paradox
Here is a short history of the fight against piracy in modern Russia: in 2015, the adoption of amendments to Russia's anti-piracy law (Federal Law No. 344-FZ) created the opportunity to obtain court rulings to block websites that regularly infringe copyright. In 2016, for example, the Moscow City Court (Mosgorsud) granted more than 700 requests to protect intellectual property. Pirates responded by creating "mirror websites", i.e. copies of the main resource with the same promoted pirates' brand (e.g. kinogo, kinokrad, and many others).

The "Law on Mirror Websites" was signed in autumn of 2017. It stipulates that copies of pirate websites can be blocked by courts within 24 hours, and search engines are required to exclude blocked "mirror websites" from search results. Once the law was adopted, all major pirates' brand networks were shut down. Pirates were forced to find new ways of restoring traffic on their platforms.
Technical knockout
A small percentage of pirate websites continued to use torrent technologies, but their numbers decreased every year. However, 2018 became the year this technology began to fade away. Currently, 80% of pirated films are watched online, while for TV series this figure reaches almost 90%. For now, torrents continue to be used to share pirated copies of software and video games.

Much of the pirate underground has adopted advanced technologies of content distribution—pirate CDNs (Content Distribution Networks). CDNs store hundreds of thousands of files containing films and TV series, and offer a technical service that allows to automatically place this content on pirate websites. Some of these technical CDN providers also offer web modules that autofill sites with film posters and descriptions, and in some cases even supply unique reviews.

This technological breakthrough has given pirates dozens of times more opportunities for business and, consequently, as many more opportunities to make money. Nobody considers their domain or platform to be invaluable anymore, and the possibility of them being blocked is no real threat. Pirates register dozens of domain names, content on these websites is filled automatically, and if the website is blocked, its search ratings are "transferred" to a new website. This allows pirates to retain top positions in search engine results even if the original resource is blocked, which is not prohibited by the law.
Players galore
According to Group-IB, in Russia there are around 15 pirate CDN providers that illegally distribute video content, 4 of which are major undertakings. Recently, Group-IB identified providers whose databases contained more than several hundred thousand files (in September, Group-IB announced that the database of just one pirate CDN takes up more than 5 petabytes of server space and contains around 300,000 files, and the monthly cost of maintaining such an infrastructure amounts to around $100,000).
"Unfortunately, the appearance of CDNs has made life much easier for both users and pirates, too. Users no longer need to click links on torrents and search for more or less watchable copies. It's fairly easy for users to go onto a streaming website with a built-in typical online player and turn on anything they want. What's more, the players themselves are optimised for smart TVs and mobile devices. Pirates do not manually upload content to such players, as is done with players used on social networks, for example. A CDN player automatically pulls content from a huge database. The player can be incorporated into countless pirate websites—they all take the video from the same source, i.e. the pirate CDN. This means that pirates do not need to upload content to their servers or think of new layouts; they can simply incorporate someone's player into their website and wait for viewers"
Dmitry Tyunkin,
Deputy Director of Anti-Piracy at Group-IB
The conclusion is simple: the number of pirate websites is indeed increasing, as is the number of blocked websites and websites that have been made obsolete. What's more, while in the past viewers visited a handful of large portals, users are now shared between a large number of smaller platforms. Viewers' interest in watching pirated copies is also growing rapidly. According to Group-IB (September 2018), the number of searches in popular search engines for free films and TV series to watch amounted to nearly 10 billion in a single year in Russia.

It's important to note that, in 2018, leading search engines, social networks, and copyright owners finally managed to sit down at the negotiating table and hold highly productive discussions in Russia. A notable example is the signing of the anti-piracy memorandum on cooperation between the abovementioned market players. The memorandum has now been fully implemented and any links that infringe copyright are quickly banned from search results. Nevertheless, it is too early to talk about a complete victory. Pirates know how to adapt to changing markets and receive support in the form of active sponsors among clandestine casinos and bookies. Not to mention creating a pirated website and moving content to it from a CDN provider is becoming increasingly easier and cheaper.