The US Government uses its diplomatic power to address piracy worldwide. One of the annual highlights is the USTR’s annual review of ‘notorious’ pirate sites. Given the associations with criminal activity, this list should be constructed with great care. However, for the second time, the USTR made a serious mistake by listing a wrong domain name.
Last week, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) issued its latest “Out-of-Cycle Review of Notorious Markets.”
The overview of piracy-connected sites and services is put together with help from copyright holders and is used to motivate the targets and foreign authorities to take action.
This year’s list has drawn widespread coverage in the news as it targeted Amazon’s foreign domain names, which were named in the same breath as The Pirate Bay, Uploaded, and Fmovies.
While this certainly deserved to be highlighted, there is another issue worth pointing out. As it turns out, the USTR’s list contains a vital mistake, as it lists the wrong domain for the pirate streaming site Fmovies.
This is how the most recent notorious markets report describes Fmovies:
“According to right holders, Fmovies allegedly streams unauthorized movies and TV shows directly to computer desktops or through IPTV apps on illicit streaming devices. The continued listing of Fmovies in the NML demonstrates the ongoing challenges of streaming piracy.”
While there isn’t anything wrong with this description, the USTR calls out Fmovies.is as the main domain. However, this domain name is not linked to the pirate streaming site, and it hasn’t been for a few years.
Fmovies.is is currently owned by UK company Marshall Domains LTD, which specializes in buying domain names. These domains are typically bought in an auction after the original owner allows them to expire, and are monetized by the company in various ways.
TorrentFreak spoke to the owner, David Marshall, who informs us that he bought the Fmovies.is domain in 2018. Not in an auction this time, but he registered it normally as it was simply available, likely after an earlier listing was deleted.
The domain name previously belonged to the ‘pirate site’ Fmovies but Marshall stays far away from anything piracy-related and simply uses an advertisement feed to monetize the type-in traffic.
“Like all my domain purchases, the goal is to take advantage of the type-in traffic it still receives by parking it with a domain parking company and monetizing the traffic,” Marshall says.
Marshall doesn’t believe that the listing will impact the value of his domain. In theory, however, it could have a significant impact as the “notorious” tag generally makes domains a top enforcement priority.
In this case, there is little to enforce and a quick visit to the Fmovies.is domain makes that clear. That also makes it even stranger that it ended up on the USTR’s blacklist.
The US Government can technically hide behind the MPA, which reported the Fmovies.is domain name, but then again it may be a good idea to double-check these reports before announcing them to the world. Especially because it’s not the first time this happened.
In 2016 the USTR made a similar error when it added the wrong Putlocker domain to its list of notorious sites. This domain was also owned by Marshall’s company. The Government never apologized or corrected the error.
Despite the repeated mistakes, Marshall is quite understanding. After all, his whole business is built around people making domain name typos and errors.
“To be honest, I think it would be a very easy mistake to make on their part as some of the domains are confusingly similar,” he tells TorrentFreak. “The similarity to other domains/websites is intentional on my part as my goal is to monetise any type-in traffic that would otherwise be going to waste.”
The USTR is also in good company. When the European Union published its very first blacklist of ‘Counterfeit and Piracy’ domains it also made several mistakes. These included the listing of non-pirate targets such as 1channel.ch, again owned by Marshall Domains.
Many thanks to TorrentFreak for the breaking news.