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A fight over domain names killed one of internet's biggest pirate sites

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The age of video piracy, in some ways, is over. It's not just that streaming video has become relatively cheap and simple, with even long-time holdouts like HBO expanding into online-only options. It's not just that ISPs finally settled on a fairly standard "six strikes" warning system for pirates. It's that the anonymous piracy ecosystem itself is sometimes more fragile than it seems. According to TorrentFreak, this is exactly what killed one of the internet's most prominent pirate sites, EZTV.

EZTV was (and still is, technically) a methodically organized television piracy service, collecting and distributing BitTorrent trackers for just about any moderately popular TV show. Like most other torrent sites, it's had several false alarms, but it's run almost consistently since its founding in 2005. But last month, it reportedly ran into trouble with Italian domain registrars and abandoned its long-standing .it suffix, moving to the Switzerland-based domain EZTV.ch. A change of address is nothing new for a piracy site; the veritably indestructible Pirate Bay has hopped between several over the course of its life. In this case, though, it was the first in a chain of deeply unfortunate events.

"They basically want us to do all the work and they make money from it."

According to TorrentFreak, a group of scammers bought out the original EZTV.it domain when it was recycled, posing as the real site but using it to host its own ads. They reportedly offered to cut a deal with the site's original owner NovaKing, who refused. "They basically want us to do all the work and they make money from it," he told TorrentFreak at the time. Actually, they weren't content with that either: using a company registered under the same name as EZTV, the group systematically worked through its other homes on the internet, eventually taking over everything from NovaKing's email to the new site. They've continued to serve torrents, but the site is no longer trustworthy.

None of these tactics were new. The whole saga is reminiscent of developer Naoki Hiroshima's story about losing his prized one-letter Twitter account to hackers. But here, there's the added question of uncertainty behind any pirate domain. Being both illegal and widely accessible, these sites exist under the constant threat of legal takedowns, but a name can live on long after a service does, especially given the often idealistic bent behind them. Unlicensed streaming service Grooveshark went under and re-emerged under new ownership, possibly as an attempt to promote another site. Demonoid, a large semi-private torrent site, spent years in a weird limbo of rumors and spinoff services after being shut down, eventually re-emerging last year.

In this case, though, NovaKing has reportedly walked away, effectively ending the site's decade-long run. The Pirate Bay and other sites that linked to EZTV have suspended its accounts and added warnings to any remaining torrents. Arguably, though, it died in a different world than the one it was founded in — a place where piracy, if nothing else, helped spur companies into building better alternatives.