For people who enjoy movies and TV shows but prefer not to offer a monthly subscription, Pluto TV is one of the more popular legal services.
By region, Pluto TV offers up to 250 “channels” covering TV shows, movies, general entertainment, documentaries, sports, and news. For those who prefer just the audio, Pluto TV offers a selection of music channels as well.
Pluto TV is available on Android and iOS mobile devices, media streaming devices such as Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, and Roku, and through apps on the Xbox and PlayStation gaming platforms. However, the condition of using Pluto TV is that it must only be consumed by approved programs.
Watch for free, pay in other ways
The official Pluto TV apps offer video content and electronic program guides (EPGs) to users who, by the way, don’t even need to sign up. These apps play a major role in the advertising mechanisms that generate revenue for Pluto TV and support the free-to-view model.
Looking from a different angle, some users do not like to be restricted to official applications and prefer to use their own software. Users may also prefer fewer ads or find the amount of user data collected by official apps to be a privacy risk.
Pluto TV uses systems that monitor and User behavior tracking (GitHub repo here), so when viewers completely get rid of the official apps, it undermines Pluto TV’s business model, and this has an impact on revenue. In a strongly worded copyright complaint sent this week, rights holders say that will not be tolerated.
M3U and Pluto TV playlists
Playlists that use the .m3u format have been around for years. Often used to instruct a media player to play a set of locally stored songs in a specific order, .m3u playlist files can also point to locations on the Internet where media streams can be found. While these playlists can be used to access pirated IPTV services, some of them are configured to access Pluto TV streams from their official sources.
Downloading a Pluto TV .m3u playlist takes a second and can be used on anything from VLC Media Player to systems like TVHeadEndwhich allows broadcasting to sites in the network, without the need for official applications.
While this provides new opportunities for users, providing .m3u playlists is not without risks. The GitHub repo described below used to offer Pluto TV playlists for download before suddenly experiencing issues last week.
These issues were caused by a DMCA notice that the Motion Picture Association sent to GitHub. The complaint is dated February 14th but was not officially made public until this week.
gross copyright infringement
The language used in the complaint makes clear that the MPA considers the playlists to be threatening and illegal under copyright law.
“We are writing to notify you, and ask for your assistance in remediing, widespread infringement of copyright in motion pictures and television shows that is occurring thanks to the playback of the playlist file, PlutoTV_mr.m3u, which is hosted and available for download from your GitHub Inc. repository at [former repo location]The notice reads (minor edits for clarity).
“Specifically, at the URL, the repository hosts and offers to download the playlist, which in turn is being used to engage in widespread infringement of copyrighted motion pictures and TV shows.”
MPA refers to an attachment (not published on GitHub) that provides a “representative list of violations” that occur via the playlist, along with screenshots to show MPA member studios content “streamed without permission through the playlist”.
GitHub responded by removing the playlist and the linked repo no longer exists. While this solves the immediate problem, the playlists and playlists of many similar platforms will not disappear overnight.
Due to their nature, Pluto TV and similar playlist are not viewed in the same light as pirated IPTV service playlists, so having a look at the MPA’s claims may be helpful.
Suppliers and users are copyright infringers
The MPA complaint essentially accuses the entire litany of copyright infringement offenses, including GitHub.
By offering this playlist for download, your repository of playlists is letting MPA Member Studios’ copyright infringement flagrantly infringement and countless other copyright infringement. In fact, playlist copyright infringement is so pervasive that infringement is the predominant use and purpose ,” says the notice to GitHub.
Most importantly, GitHub acted appropriately, so it has safe harbor protection. The same does not apply to the people involved in creating the playlist and then offering it for download. The MPA cites several major copyright lawsuits where defendants were ultimately found liable for infringement, but Columbia Pictures vs. Fung seems to provide the clearest picture.
Contribute to copyright infringement
Columbia Pictures sued Gary Fung, the former owner of torrent index isoHunt, for operating a website that facilitated access to copyrighted content. Fung was found liable for joint copyright infringement on the basis that he solicited third parties (isoHunt users) to download infringing copies of the studios’ copyrighted work. Fong later settled with the MPA.
Pluto TV License Terms (Section 5.2) prevents Users from accessing the Service in ways not expressly authorized by the Platform.
Use of an unauthorized playlist violates these Terms, and for any user who claims not to have accepted or even read these Terms of Service may find themselves without any viewing license whatsoever. In any case, solicitation claims (playlist suppliers/distributors) depend on the actions of the primary infringers (users/viewers).
By citing MPA member studios’ content as being infringed, the issues with Pluto TV itself become less relevant, at least for the purposes of the DMCA takedown notice. However, we may not have heard of another “playlist hack” as featured here.
The MPA’s DMCA notice to Github can be found here