Law-abiding hosting providers don't openly and explicitly welcome pirate sites. At the same time, many of these third-party service providers have historically taken a neutral position in copyright conflicts. However, under EU law and supporting legal precedents, hosting companies are required to take action against infringement, as doing nothing can become quite costly.

Earlier this month, torrent search engine MagnetDL mysteriously went offline, and there’s still no trace of the site today.

The site had previously gone offline after it faced copyright-related hosting challenges, which may have also played a role in its disappearance.

MagnetDL’s recent troubles were followed by the voluntary shutdown of pirate streaming site Animeflix a few days ago. While both sites operate in different niches and have nothing to do with each other, at some point they shared the same hosting company.

Hosting MagnetDL and Animeflix?

Data suggests that both sites have used the services of Hungarian hosting company ServerAstra. This may be a total coincidence, of course, but in our quest for additional information we contacted the company to see if it was able to provide insight into recent events.

As expected, ServerAstra refused to confirm or deny that it hosted MagnetDL or Animeflix. That’s an understandable response, as online services have to abide by strict privacy regulations in the EU. It also means that we don’t get to learn more about these two specific cases.

Luckily, however, ServerAstra was able to provide additional insight into how the EU Copyright Directive has changed the position of hosting providers in Europe. This directly affects alleged ‘pirate’ sites.

Historically, many hosting providers preferred not to get involved in copyright disputes. They often referred takedown notices to their clients, so the parties could resolve these matters directly. The approach was similar to that taken by prominent domain registrars and registries.

In recent years, many hosting providers have adopted more strict policies to ban trouble-causing pirate sites. Under the EU Copyright Directive adopted five years ago, this is now a requirement.

The EU Copyright Directive requires websites that publish ‘user-uploaded’ content to have a proper takedown policy, aimed at minimizing copyright infringement. If such a policy is not in place, complaints may be escalated to the upstream hosting provider.

Strict Rules Under the EU Copyright Directive

ServerAstra’s co-founder and CTO, Andrew Azarov, informs us that so-called pirate sites are not welcome at their company and that they abide by strict rules, largely dictated by the Copyright Directive.

“[Per the Copyright Directive] any website hosting content submitted by third parties must have a contact form, list an entity responsible for the website and react to abuse complaints directly within a very short (12 hours) time,” he explains.

“If there is no such information on the website or complaints are not responded to within a reasonable timeframe – the copyright owner or complainer with power of attorney may escalate to upstream hosting.

“Customers will be suspended and/or terminated in violation of copyright if they do not comply with demands of copyright holders,” ServerAstra’s CTO stresses.

Azarov notes that escalation could mean ServerAstra blocking an IP address or handing over the personal details of a customer to the complaining party. Put differently, copyright holders can obtain the personal details behind an infringing site without intervention from the courts or law enforcement.

Sharing Customer Info with Rightsholders

ServerAstra doesn’t happily share customer information with third-parties due to privacy concerns. However, the company learned the hard way that refusing to do so can lead to legal trouble and hefty fines.

In the past, the hosting provider would only share information in response to requests from the local police, or through the EUROPOL cooperation system, but under the EU Copyright Directive it will now respond directly to rightsholders or authorized representatives.

ServerAstra initially rejected requests for information, arguing that personal information was protected by its privacy policy and EU privacy law (GDPR). This resulted in a lawsuit at a court in Hamburg, Germany, which required the company to pay a hefty fine for its refusal to cooperate.

The hosting company is not in a position to share the details of this case, which remains private, but it means that it will hand over personal details of customers under the right conditions.

To keep costs low this process is largely automated, Azarov explains. While the company can’t share any individual details, it has already taken ten actions in response to ten copyright complaints during this month alone.

Pirate Site Troubles

Whether MagnetDL or Animeflix were subject to such an action is unknown. These sites are not typical user-generated content sites, as the operators managed and organized the content. However, both sites linked to content uploaded by third-parties.

Needless to say, when a website is clearly copyright infringing, we don’t expect any reputable host to challenge the definition of Online Content-Sharing Service Providers (OCSSP) under the EU Copyright Directive.

All in all, it’s safe to say that the hosting environment in Europe has become more challenging for pirate sites in recent years. While there will always be companies catering to these types of services, copyright holders have gained extra enforcement powers in Europe, which is precisely what the EU Copyright Directive aimed to achieve.