Streaming Movie Sites May Be Traps to Catch Illegal Viewers

On June 30, 2010, the FBI seized the domain names of several illegal movie pirating websites. The crackdown was part of a joint investigation involving the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). At least 9 websites were targetted for illegally linking to or hosting pirated movies. The sites named in the seizure are TVShack.net, ThePirateCity.org, Planetmoviez.com, ZML.com, Flespump.com, Now-Movies.com, Movies-Links.tv, NinjaThis.net, and Ninjavideo.net. Majority of these websites do not actually host videos themselves, but post links to other websites which actually host the streaming videos online, such as Loombo.com, NovaMov.com, Fairyshare.com, and MegaVideo.com. The websites that were shut down received an estimated combined total average of 6 million visitors per month. Since the Feds busted these websites, they have replaced all the illegal movie links with simple banners that explain how the site has been seized by the FBI, and details that warn others that it's illegal to upload or distribute copyrighted material. The operation itself to crackdown on these sites is called "Operation in Our Sites" and is part of the Obama Administration's new war on copyrighted movie pirates.

But many people in the public are sceptical about the results of this operation, and point out that it won't be successful, because everytime the FBI shuts down one site, the owners of some of the sites who live in other countries will just buy a new domain name and relaunch the site again under that name. Word of mouth spreads quickly on the internet, especially on social sites and forums like Yahoo Answers, Myspace, and Facebook. Rumors are already spreading on the internet, that one of the sites Movies-Links.tv, has already reinstated itself with a new domain name and moved to Watch-Movies-TV.info. I've seen many people state that Movies-Links.tv is not working, and then I've seen other's reply to them and state that the site has moved to a new address. I had read in the news that the FBI had raided homes with search warrants in 11 U.S. states and seized all domain names that were registered in the United States. So I assumed that the owners of Movies-Links.tv must live in another country or at least registered a new domain name in another country this time. I have to admit, I was a bit curious about where the owners lived, because I assumed they would have been arrested already or in federal custody. Then I decided to check to see who owns the new website Movies-Links.tv, and investigated a little to see where this new doman was registered. I figured it would be registered in China, Russia, Nigeria, or somewhere where it's hard for U.S. authorities to catch and prosecute criminals. I also figured that the information would be private, since website owners have an option of making their personal information private or public. After digging a little deeper, my curiosity was sparked even more by what I found.

The contact information for the website Watch-Movies-TV.info states that it's owned by a person who lives in Childersburg, Alabama. The person's name and address are public, for all to see. Now what I find so suspicious about this, is the fact that this person seems to have no problem with the fact that their contact information is public, and that they reside in the United States, in light of all FBI raids and seizures. If your website or domain name was seized, and you know the FBI is after you and you are doing something illegal, why would you remain public and in Alabama of all places? The websites that were shut down were making lots of money each month from all the advertisers. So if Movies-Links.tv was shut down, but somehow got away from the Feds, why would they open up shop again in a U.S. state, with all the money they made? Surely a person who owns a sophisticated website with millions of viewers would know all about contact information and would be aware that their name and address are exposed. Plus the FBI supposely seized their advertising accounts, so how are they still going through the same advertisers again and getting paid? It just doesn't make sense.

Another suspicious detail is the fact that the domain name was registered on June 5th, 2010. I know Movies-Links.tv has switched domain names a few times (watch-movies.net and watch-movies-links.net for example) , so having other domain names on hand is not out of the ordinary for them. But with the huge revenue they were making, wouldn't you expect them to have registered lots of names in advance, instead of registering a new one every few months or so? I'm a domain investor myself, so I realize how buyng domain names similar to those used by popular sites can be profitable, since many people looking for those sites may type the wrong name in to their url address bar and find your site instead. So why wouldn't they buy up all the similar names they could in advance? Also, it's quite coincidental that this particular name was registered just 25 days before the FBI took the other domain name.

I didn't want to jump to conclusions, even with all these strange details that I found. I figured that maybe they somehow faked the contact information just to toy with the FBI, because hackers, scammers, criminals, and even most website developers probably know how to fake their contact information and put a fake address and name down when they register domain names. So I researched a little more to see what I could find. That's when I discovered that this new site at Movies-Links-TV.info, the one with Alabama contact information, is actually hosted by a website hosting company called ZoneEdit.com. I was curious where this company has it's headquarters. I assumed that it must be located outside the country, or the FBI could easily have the site shut down again. I assumed wrong and found that ZoneEdit.com is located in Vancouver, Washington. It's a legit hosting company, because it's affiliated with Dotster, which is one of the largest and more reputable domain name registration services on the web. So if Movies-Links-TV.info is really the same owners of one of the sites that was closed by the Feds, then why would they make the stupid mistake of hosting their site with an American based company again? It only costs about $20-$100 to host a site with that many visitors each month, and they could have gone with any hosting company in the world. Why choose an American company over all the other options? Something really smells fishy about this situation.

My theory is that the FBI, or some other Government agency, may have had plans to launch fake websites that look like free movie websites, and launched some of those fake sites after they took down the others. It may not even be Government authorities, but may be the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) themselves. The MPAA has sued many people for downloading illegal movies, but one thing they have had a problem with, is catching people who watch streaming videos on illegal websites. To catch people who download copyrighted movies, they usually put some kind of tracking software or spyware on a movie file, and then upload it to Kazaa, Limewire, or any other P2P or Torrent sites. So users who think these sites are safe, may get a letter in the mail and realize that getting a virus from those sites is the least of their problems. The MPAA can't put that software on a streaming video, so I believe they may be trying to do the next best thing, which is creating an "illegal" site of their own. Doing this allows them to monitor all the visitors to a site, and to see which movies they voluntarily click on. It allows them to keep logs and record ip addresses. Then, if they can find some way to prosecute these people, they can contact their internet service providers and find out their addresses. Imagine if they compiled millions of addresses over the course of a few months or a year, and then sent out subpoenas to all those people who reside in the U.S. and participating countries. If they threaten to sue all those people, some may pay up out of fear, while others may choose to fight it in court. When it comes to streaming videos, it's a very foggy area and even many attorneys for the Entertainment Industry are not sure if it's illegal to watch streaming movies online or not. Even if it's not illegal, the MPAA may still threaten to sue, in order to profit off all those people who pay up immediately, then drop the lawsuit on the few people who choose to fight it in court. This may sound like a crazy conspiracy theory, but I would never underestimate the MPAA. They seem very determined to catch movie pirates, and it's only natural for them to start to adapt and change their ways of catching them. Watch-Movies-TV.info may or may not be one of these fakes sites I'm speaking of, and may in fact be legit. But the details about it are very sketchy and the timing of everything couldn't be more suspicious. Even if this particular site is the real deal, there could still be many more traps out there disguising themselves as real sites. It seems like the most logical next step for the MPAA to take. I guess in this particular situation, only time will tell.





comments powered by Disqus