Warner Bros. Admits to Sending Bogus Takedown Requests to HotFile
I understand that everyone is protective of material to which they hold the copyright. I understand that it’s important that they have control over it, but some recent shenanigans involving Warner Bros. have shown, yet again, the fissures in a system that errs on the side of taking things down at a moment’s notice. It seems that Warner Bros. has fessed up to filing all kinds of takedown requests at HotFile regarding material they had no kind of actual copyright claim to, including some open source software.
If you’ve been following this thread at all, you know that this is a common occurrence, particularly on YouTube. False copyright notices have been directed at the Nyan Cat guy, an up-and-coming hip hop artist named Skepta, and even Justin Bieber. Who knows which were actually malicious in nature, but they all show how dangerous it is to have a slap-happy removal policy, which is exactly what happened with this HotFile thing.
In order to avoid problems, HotFile gave Warner access to the inside of some of their systems in order that Warner could police the place for anything that might be infringing on their copyrights. Of course, what Warner proceeded to do was use an extremely broad (mistake number 1), automated (mistake number 2) filter that took down content based on keywords (mistake number 3) without requiring any sort of verification by a creature with an organic brain (mistake 4). After HotFile filed suit, Warner admitted to being stupid about it.
That’s not all though, they also admitted to something a bit more nefarious. It seems that at least one of their employees purposefully took down some open source software designed to increase download speeds. Why? Because it could potentially be used to speed up downloads that were infringing on Warner’s copyrights. Apparently two
copywrongs make a copyright.
So, just like YouTube’s overzealous protect-YouTube-from-liability system of dealing with DMCA notices, HotFile’s willingness to cooperate with copyright holders has similarly backfired, just in YouTube’s case they operate in fear of frenzied copyright holders, while in HotFile’s case, those frenzied copyright holders got their hands right in there. The really big problem with this, the really egregious thing, has to do with that whole piracy-is-stealing fallacy. Copyright holders claim that a copy pirated is a copy lost, which is simply not true. The fact they don’t understand that is bad enough. What’s worse is that by removing content that they don’t have a right to, they are actually robbing legitimate copyright holders of views or downloads — or whatever — because when the content is down, anyone who should be able to get to it literally can’t. In order to protect themselves from perceived theft, crazy copyright holders are commiting actual theft.
The problem is, none of the parties involved are actually going to figure this out until something really high-stakes and bad happens to two groups, both of whom are nice and monied. Try this on for size: Company A files an overly broad takedown to prevent to piracy of a film. As a result, Company B’s pay-per-view event gets hitched up by a nervous service provider. Company A, who stood to lose basically nothing from a few pirated copies has just cost Company B a very real boatload of cash. Litigation ensues. Who knows if it will ever happen, but if it does, remember that I called it. Who am I kidding, I’d never let anyone forget.
At the moment, HotFile is currently filing suit on the grounds of “fraud and abuse,” but there’s no telling how this might actually play out. While it’s pretty clear that Warner Bros. was crossing the line a bit, in order for anything worthwhile to really come of this, it has to be proven that HotFile itself was being harrassed and abused. Pessimist that I am, I can see several outcomes where that doesn’t happen.
Until this all shakes out, just expect things to keep getting worse, because they will, so long as copyright holders keep freaking out and so long as content providers keep being afraid of copyright holders that are freaking out. And why would either of those things ever change? Sigh.