The Motion Picture Association (MPA) issued a DMCA notice on a GitHub repo containing a playlist that allows viewers to watch Pluto TV streams in their own apps, such as VLC, MPV, and Tvheadend. The movement was first noticed by TorrentFreak, and GitHub complied and removed the repo, which ultimately did nothing. If you have a smaller text file, you can still do exactly what MPA stops.
Pluto TV, for those who haven’t watched it, is a service owned by Paramount that allows users to legally stream movies and TV shows for free on multiple devices. They have a mobile app, apps for Xbox and PlayStation, smart TVs, and dongles. Users do not need to register to use it. Instead, Pluto’s business model is based on serving ads and tracking user behavior. It’s part of a new breed of streaming product called free ad-supported television, or FAST.
The GitHub repo in question contains M3U playlists to watch Pluto TV content through an app like VLC. The repo basically takes the links that are already available and gathers them in one place. It should be noted that M3U files are not torrent files; it’s just a simple playlist file that can direct local files and web sources. If you’re as old as sin, like me, you’ve probably used one before to create a playlist of MP3s on your iPod. This time, the M3U playlist allows users to watch Pluto in a simple video player instead of being tied to Pluto’s.
While this complaint makes sense if you don’t think about it, once you dig in, it’s a little confusing. First and foremost, ads are still served via the stream; This only happens through any third party client the user uses. The main difference here is the app used, and really, is that a bad thing?
Second and most ridiculously, Pluto itself does not encrypt any of its streams. It is publicly available through their API and does not include any kind of DRM. So that begs the question: how did this create a problem for GitHub user Mart1nho, a random person who posted an M3U playlist? How is watching a stream with ads, even in VLC instead of the Pluto app, piracy? Also, does pulling a GitHub repo really solve the issue at hand?
The answer is, well, no. Am I, in theory, able to find a way to pull the publicly available Pluto channel URLs and compile them into an XML file and another file called playlist.m3u? Maybe. Can I load the files into the video player of my choice and then stream Pluto’s content through VLC and mpv.net? Maybe. Is it a more enjoyable experience as a result? One more, maybe!
Honestly, I don’t see the issue here. I’d be more inclined to watch Pluto TV if I had a way to do it flexibly with my own video player. Watching Pluto TV does not require a login to start. And so we’re clear: I’m still being served ads on Pluto TV. Those cooked in the river. And I’m good at that!
“At the end of the day, it’s all about control,” said Katharine Trendacosta, associate director of policy and activism for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) about this removal. “The MPA doesn’t like information that is out there that you CAN view in an app that they have no relationship with. As long as the DRM is not BYPASSED (and even then, I would argue that the fact that you can’t even do that you have the right to use the material, not against the constitution) it is not illegal.
While nowhere near as important, it reminds me of a case of DMCA overreach, which is the YouTube-dl case. For those who haven’t followed the YouTube downloader software drama like I did, YouTube-dl used to be an important piece of software for downloading videos from YouTube that is used by tons of open-source software. I don’t just use YouTube-dl; I personally recommend a fork of this, YT-DLP, in a previous article.
GitHub received a takedown notice, complied, and people rightly complained because it was stupid. With the help of the EFF, it was finally overturned. And although I don’t see it happening in this case, it raises some questions about the increasing reach of copyright holders as it relates to publicly available streams. What exactly is the definition of piracy? And who will be the target if the copyright owners try to change their weight?
Also, and more importantly, what if this is a better way to watch TV?