Earlier this year, we wrote about some of the issues with automated copyright infringement reporting systems after Fox included a YouTube user’s personal gameplay footage in an episode of Family Guy, and then later flagged the same gameplay footage as infringement. Well, the problem has reared its ugly head again, and in an even stranger way.
Warner Bros., through a rights management company called Vobile, recently filed a DMCA complaint with Google over pirate sites turning up in movie search results. With the rise of torrent sites—websites that facilitate illegal distribution and downloads of digital content—and the difficulty in stopping them, it’s understandable that Warner Bros. feels the need to be vigilant. The problem is, however, that some of the reported links weren’t unauthorized at all. They were actually official Warner Bros. links. As reported by Torrent Freak, the DMCA complaint, sent in mid-August, contained a list of popular films that the company owns the rights to, like 300, The Dark Knight, The Matrix, and Inception, and the links to allegedly illegal sites where they could be downloaded, but “www.warnerbros.com/dark-knight,” and “www.warnerbros.com/matrix” were both included. Yes, Vobile accidentally reported its own client’s links.
What draws even more concern is the presence of other legitimate sites like ComingSoon.net, IMDB, and Amazon on the list, being accused of copyright infringement. ComingSoon.net and IMDB offer news, ratings and reviews about films to people who are interested in them, and links to authorized retailers. Amazon is an authorized retailer of Warner Bros. movies. Google has a careful review process that catches these kinds of mistakes in DMCA takedown notices, but you can see the danger in a company reporting the links of sites that may offer more objective information about its films, even inadvertently, as seems to be the case here.
In an effort to be transparent about what it removes from search results, Google maintains a database of varying reports it receives, including DMCA filings. Vobile has submitted at least 14 million removal requests on behalf of its clients to Google over the last four years, with more than half coming in the last twelve months; it has made close to 2 million requests on behalf of Warner Bros.
Clearly, Vobile provides a service for companies like Warner Bros. that they just don’t want to do or cant do on their own, and piracy is a huge problem. Still, if automated systems are the easiest ways to handle copyright violations online, the onus is still on Vobile to make sure it is making proper requests, even if the responsibility is ultimately on Google to verify accuracies; it would show a good faith effort in only wanting to target actual infringers. Vobile could create a list of non-violating sites—at least for Warner Bros.’ own links—to automatically exclude.
Keep reading our blog for more information on copyright infringement online.