Pixels is a new Adam Sandler “movie” that you almost certainly should not see. (Sample review snippet: “Pixels, it is clear even from afar, is the sort of vanity project that represents everything that is wrong with Hollywood.”)

The Digitial Millenium Copyright Act is a 1998 law passed by the US Congress and signed into law by Bill Clinton ostensibly to protect the owners of copyrights from the unlawful pirating of their copyrighted works on the internet. (Sample review snippet: “Google notes that more than half (57%) of the takedown notices it has received under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act 1998, were sent by business targeting competitors and over one third (37%) of notices were not valid copyright claims.”)

Where do these unlikely dancing partners meet? Earlier this month, Columbia Pictures, the studio responsible for unleashing Pixels onto a wholly unprepared world, began peppering the video-sharing website Vimeo with a barrage of so-called “DMCA takedown notices” warning the site of criminal infringements of the copyright it holds on the movie Pixels. What videos was Columbia Pictures targeting? Actual pirated uploads of the film, or even clips featuring the “must-see scenes” (Adam Sandler farting) from the film? No, instead, Columbia Pictures unleashed the equivalent of spraying a submachine gun into a crowd to catch a pickpocket. They demanded that Vimeo take down dozens of videos that merely had the word “pixels” in their name. Read the hyperlinked article to see what wound up being removed in the wake of Columbia’s onslaught: art projects dating from 2006, unrelated experimental videos, even the short film that inspired the movie.

The DMCA is an incredible boon to copyright holders – under its terms, a takedown notice is in effect presumptively valid, and websites served with one are legally obligated to remove the targeted videos until they can show that there is not a violation of copyright present. If this sounds contrary to the ideals of American justice to you, you’re right – it places the burden of disproving an allegation on the accused party, not exactly what American courts typically embrace in their pursuit of justice.

The aptly named website Chilling Effects has catalogued the millions of takedown notices sent to popular video sharing sites, and has analyzed the legal claims therein. Sometimes, of course, the DMCA does exactly what it was intended to do. A copyright holder should not have to see their work stolen and uploaded to the web for free, depriving them of profit for their very real and legitimate efforts. The problem is the DMCA’s incredibly broad nature, and how it allows competitors, critics, and sometime even simple trolls to wreak havoc and pull down videos for no other reason than that they want to.

The results of the DMCA’s broadness can be comical. Vimeo, exercising understandable hyper-caution and not wanting to spend the money to have attorneys analyze every DMCA notice it received, took down nearly everything with the word “pixels” in the title. Among the casualties: the actual legitimate trailers for the ridiculous Adam Sandler movie Pixels. Irony.

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