Warner Bros DMCAs its Own Site and Everyone Misses The Point

TorrentFreak, which apparently spends valuable time combing through the Lumen database of DMCA notices, caught an error recently.

Vobile, a company that enforces copyright online for copyright owners, sent to Google on behalf of Warner Brothers a notice to take down links to infringing content under the rules of the DMCA. Vobile mistakenly included links to warnerbrothers.com, Amazon, Sky, and IMDB, sites that presumably have permission to sell Warner Brothers movies or other legitimate reasons to post content.

Vobile uses automated methods to find and report infringement. This is proprietary so I’m just going to assume little Oompa Loompas comb the internet, find the infringement, and sing rhyming tunes as they fill out DMCA notices.

Google apparently caught the error and did not remove links to the legitimate sites. I like to think Google and Warner Brothers had a good laugh over a beer or two. And that would have been the end of it except TorrentFreak used the incident to argue that DMCA notices are all too often inaccurate. (TorrentFreak also reported that Google was still “investigating” the Warner Brothers link. I wonder how they knew that. Update: Please see note below.) A few blogs picked up the story and now it’s a thing.

So, like a good reporter, I went and reviewed the DMCA notice that Vobile sent for Warner Brothers. You can view it for yourself here.

The first thing to notice is that those Oompa Loompas found a lot of links to infringing content. In this one notice to Google alone, there are 363 links to content regarding 5 movies.

Since TorrentFreak raised the issue of inaccurate reports, I decided to investigate the links themselves. I took the first batch of links that were reported to Google, 36 links to infringement of the 2006 movie “300.” (THIS IS SPARTA!) I visited each site to see what I would find, an experiment I don’t recommend for the faint of heart.

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  • Of 36 sites, all but five linked directly to sites that were actively purporting to make available the movie “300,” immediately, for free. Usually by both download or streaming.
  • Several sites had the movie available to stream immediately with no further action required.
  • At least 18 sites purported to have the movie available, but when you clicked to watch it, required you to download software. I have no way of knowing what this software was of if it was malware intended to damage my computer.
  • Three sites looked like sites where you could in the past download or stream “300,” but either the link was broken or the file was unavailable. I could not tell if this was because the content had been removed as a result of a DMCA request, for some other reason, or just a glitch.
  • One site looked like it was possible it could be licensed content. It was hard to tell without being privy to licensing agreements. Also without speaking Portuguese. But it was the only reported link in which there was any possibility at all in the universe that the content was licensed.
  • Two sites were so aggressive about forcing me to download a file they locked up my computer unless I clicked ok and I had to perform a hard reboot to (hopefully) avoid it.
  • At least one site seemed to start an auto download of files to my computer.
  • All the sites had ads, including one for gogiberry juice which I found odd in the context of “300.”
  • At least five had ads for pornography or pornographic games.

After soaking my computer and my eyeballs in bleach, I did the math. Merely checking these sites for possible infringement took me an hour and fifteen minutes (including time to reboot my computer multiple times but not including all the virus screens I’ll have to perform). That was without the time it would take to copy the link to a DMCA notice to Google asking them to remove the link. And that’s just to remove the links from Google searches. If I wanted to remove the links from other search engines or send DMCA notices to the sites themselves and their hosting ISPs, that is easily double the time. Probably triple. Maybe more.

For 36 links. Out of 363 on the takedown notice. For five movies. That day.

Of the 36 reported links I checked, 97% linked to current or previously infringing content or sites that purport to provide infringing content. 50% attempted to install software on my computer that, for all I know, may be malware.

The point here is not that automated reporting sometimes, but rarely, returns errors. (And, as an aside, if errors such as this were common and if TorrentFreak constantly monitors Lumen for them as they apparently do, we’d hear about it all the time.)

Finally, I did a search on Google to watch “300” online for free. As will shock no one, least of all the oompa loompas, there were scores and scores of results that I would bet my peanut butter sandwich lead to infringing content.

There are two takeaways from this exercise.

First, a human being, even a department of human beings, cannot physically find all the infringing content even for an old movie that everyone has already seen, send takedown notices for that content, and monitor to see if it has been taken down or reposted. The man-hours in doing this, well, manually, are astronomical. For a company like Warner Brothers it’s bad enough. For an individual indie filmmaker, prohibitive and overwhelming. Automation is absolutely essential if there is any hope of protecting copyright at all.

Secondly, even automated systems barely make a dent in the infringing content that is out there. Google still returns links to infringing content. Of course mistakes will happen when the infringement is so pervasive.

After an hour finding infringement, you start to feel like King Leonidas facing Xerxes’s army. Tonight, we dine in (DMCA) hell.

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UPDATE 9/13/2016 6:00 EST – I heard from TorrentFreak’s Ernesto van der Saar, who seems like a professional and reasonable guy. He pointed me to Google’s Transparency Report, which clearly states the Warner Brothers link removal request is still pending. I did not know how to check that and I appreciate Ernesto taking valuable time to point it out to me. Also, clearly that is where TorrentFreak got the information I was questioning. Thank you, Ernesto!

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