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US Trade Rep Identifies 7 Online Platforms as Significant Threats to Music Creators

The USTR's 2021 Review of Notorious Markets for Counterfeiting and Piracy shows a slight improvement from 2020.

A U.S. government report highlighted the ongoing challenges that piracy poses to creators around the world, including from seven online platforms that pose significant threats in the music realm.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), in its 2021 Review of Notorious Markets for Counterfeiting and Piracy released Thursday (Feb. 17), identified 42 online markets and 25 physical markets that reportedly engage in or facilitate significant trademark counterfeiting or copyright piracy.

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The 2021 findings reflect a slight improvement over the 2020 report, which identified eight online threats to music creators. Last year’s list includes all the same sites listed this year in addition to Russian social media site VK. While VK is still listed in the 2021 report for its popularity in the illegal downloads of videos and e-books, last year’s report noted that “VK [had] taken steps to address piracy and is constructively engaging with the music industry are encouraging.”

The latest report once again called out the Russian stream-ripping site FLVTO, which allows users to download converted YouTube videos as digital audio files. The site is reportedly hosted in Finland but operated out of Russia.

In December of 2021, a U.S. judge ordered Russian national Tofig Kurbanov — who operates FLVTO and another similar site — to pay more than $80 million in damages for circumventing YouTube’s anti-piracy measures and infringing copyrights of audio recordings. The suit was brought by more than a dozen labels including UMG Recordings, Warner Records and Sony Music Entertainment.

George York, senior vp of international policy at RIAA, which has been battling FLVTO in a Virginia federal court, said the RIAA welcomes the USTR report’s “prioritization of the types of theft that target the music community and do considerable harm to creators, including pre-release piracy and stream-ripping.” 

Other entities the USTR highlighted include the site 1337X, which provides torrents that give access to unlicensed movies, TV shows, music and software. Variants of 1337X have come under blocking orders in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Malaysia, Portugal, and the United Kingdom. It’s unclear where 1337X is located, as the platform uses reverse proxy services to hide the location of its hosting servers.

The report also identifies DYTT8 as “one of the most popular non-English torrent sites in the world.” The platform provides links to movies, television, music and software and is considered a particular threat to legitimate content providers both in and out of China — the country from which it receives the most traffic — due to its user-friendly interface.

Also listed in the USTR report is NewAlbumReleases, which is said to run out of the Czech Republic but masks its location via proxy services. The site provides unauthorized downloading of pre-release and newly released music.

Meanwhile Rapidgator, reportedly run out of Russia, was identified by many report contributors as a key threat given that it hosts unlicensed high-quality, recent and pre-release content.

Finally, the report highlights Rarbg, operated out of Bulgaria, as one of the world’s most popular torrent sites, which has been subject to blocking efforts in Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Malaysia, Portugal, and the United Kingdom.

While the USTR focuses on several infringing services for music in Europe, including in Russia, “this is a critical global challenge that we also confront in Asia, Latin America and Africa,” York says. He notes that the RIAA has “seen concerning amounts of pre-release piracy grow in Nigeria, where such sites have come to thrive in the midst of gaps in both legal protections for creators and enforcement actions against online theft.”

The USTR has published the Notorious Markets List annually since 2011 to “increase public awareness and help market operators and governments prioritize intellectual property enforcement efforts that protect American businesses and their workers,” the agency says in a statement.