NetNames analysis of the payment processors used by the ten most popular direct download cyberlockers and the ten most popular streaming video hosts commonly used for infringement has found that all sites offering premium memberships remain able to accept payments via Visa and Mastercard, either directly or via a third party payment processor.
The Piracy Analysis team at NetNames confirmed that while PayPal has all but disappeared as a payment option for cyberlockers and video hosts, users can still employ the best known debit and credit cards to obtain premium memberships, and sites can still gather revenue via the largest payment systems worldwide. Four of the top cyberlockers and six of the top streaming sites also accept American Express (two of these sites even accept Diners Club) and eight of the twenty sites now accept BitCoin. A spreadsheet containing the results of the analysis is available to download here.
Before it began its crackdown on piracy sites, PayPal was the most popular method to buy premium memberships at piracy sites like cyberlockers and video streaming sites. Yet by July 2013, only a single cyberlocker – the recently launched Mega – accepted PayPal directly, a site apparently able to convince PayPal of its legitimate file storage credentials. The absence of PayPal from the piracy scene led to significant disruption particularly amongst cyberlockers, and a diversification of the payment methods on offer. NetNames analysis found 24 different payment processors in use by the top ten cyberlockers with few of these deployed by more than one. Most frequently encountered were eastern European and Russian payment processors such as Firstdata.lv, Paysafecard, Micropayment.ch, and Webmoney.ru, each used by three cyberlockers.
For example, Letitbit.net offered just two payment methods for premium members in 2011 (excluding third party resellers) and the option to pay via PayPal or via credit card. In July 2013, LetItBit advertised six different methods of making payment. Visa and Mastercard payments were accepted via Firstdata.lv and users could also join by paying via direct bank transfer (for most European countries), SMS, or a phone call to a premium line. In addition, the ‘other payment methods’ link shown in the image redirects to payment firm EasyPayOnline.us which opens up additional methods of payment such as BitCoin or WebMoney.
This wide range of lesser unknown payment processors and less mainstream payment methods are now typical in the sector. For instance, Turbobit has agreements with 14 different payment systems, three of which accept Visa and Mastercard.
There was more commonality between the payment processors used by streaming video sites, most likely because of ownership ties between many of the sites. For instance, four of the sites in the Novamov group (Novamov, MovShare, NowVideo, and Videoweed) each accept 16 different methods of payment, including BitCoin PaySafeCard, Moneygram, Western Union, Sofort.com, WebMoney.ru, and ten other merchants.
While many of the alternative payment processors lack the mainstream acceptance and reputation of PayPal, there are a few exceptions. For instance, Western Union is occasionally used through third party processor/reseller downloadnolimit.com. Also, the 4Shared cyberlocker employs the Zong mobile payment service; a company that is owned by eBay and is branded as ‘A PayPal Service’.
As well as offering a range of payments on their own websites, most hosts also advertise the services of a number of membership resellers. NowVideo.eu goes so far as to integrate the reseller’s payment system into its own membership page, but most sites offer a simple list of authorised resellers sortable by country, language and payment method. These resellers tend to be able to accept a number of local methods of payment often including SMS based payments and country-specific payment methods such as PagSeguro in Brazil.
A fragmented landscape
The forced move away from PayPal complicated the payment systems established by many piracy sites. In the long-term, the shift has led to a fragmented payment landscape with a range of merchants spread around the globe and a mix of local and worldwide payment methods on offer to users. It is not as simple to operate as a large payment-accepting piracy site as it was, but it remains, at present, possible to survive. Some users may be reticent to send their credit card details via an unknown third party Latvian payment processor while others might prefer the perceived anonymity. Many would likely not notice or care at all.
However, the ability of so many sites to employ solutions which directly accept Visa and Mastercard payments should be a concern to rightsholders. The two payment companies have made much of their anti piracy policies. However, there are obvious indications that more persistent or proactive action needs to be taken against smaller merchant processors which allow piracy sites to use their relationships with Visa and Mastercard to establish legitimacy (for instance, every page on the TurboBit web site uses the Visa and Mastercard logos), gather revenue, and continue in operation.
Written by Ricky Bruce, Piracy Intelligence Analyst, NetNames
Article extracts from NetNames Scrutiny publication.
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