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  1. A wave of DMCA/cease-and-desist notices sent on behalf of anime company Funimation has caused several piracy-focused apps and services to run for cover. Due to threats of law enforcement referrals for non-compliance, three apps have already shut down while others are taking evasive action to avoid the same fate. While anime is still insanely popular in its home country of Japan, over recent years the popular animation format has enjoyed huge growth in the West, to some extent due to piracy. With studios initially unable or reluctant to distribute their works through official channels, piracy platforms of all kinds sought to fulfill demand and as a result, gained a significant foothold in the market. However, with a wide range of companies such as Crunchyroll/Funimation, Disney and even Netflix now investing significant sums in anime, anti-piracy action is the obvious outcome. Anti-Piracy Campaign Targets Pirate Apps Starting early this week, reports began to surface of a new anti-piracy campaign being carried out on behalf of Funimation, which last month completed the acquisition of Crunchyroll from AT&T for a cool $1.175 billion. Seeking to protect its investment and existing business, Funimation is using the services of brand protection company Corsearch, which began writing to the operators of anime piracy apps and services warning that they needed to shut down. Taiyaki – Shut Down or Face Law Enforcement One of the first notices appears to have targeted piracy app ‘Taiyaki’. As the image below shows, its operator was asked to comply with a takedown notice or face a criminal referral to law enforcement. We haven’t been able to secure a copy of the takedown notice itself but the operator of the platform confirms that in response to the notification, the project has been shelved. “This app is now closed. Unfortunately it was hit by a DMCA by the monarchy company known as Funimation,” he writes. AnimeGlare – Cease-and-Desist In an announcement to its users this week, anime app AnimeGlare announced that it too had been targeted by Funimation and had shut down. “Y’all must be wondering why AnimeGlare is not working and why you are not being able to communicate with us, well I don’t know how to tell you this bad news but AnimeGlare recently got a ‘Cease & Desist’ letter from ‘Funimation Global Group, LLC’, meaning we are being forced to shut down all operations immediately,” operator ‘BlackKnit’ revealed. “It was a wonderful journey and I really enjoyed working on AnimeGlare and talking to y’all lovely people, but all good things must come to an end and sadly it’s our time to say Goodbye. As of September 06, 2021, AnimeGlare will no longer be functional, and our website will no longer be distributing any app files. AnimeGlare has officially been shutdown.” At the time of writing, the official AnimeGlare domain is redirecting to show tracking service SIMKL. Shiro Receives DMCA Notice, Stops Development Anime app ‘Shiro’ also reported receiving a DMCA takedown this week. Its developer didn’t share the notice itself but it seems likely it followed a similar format to those received by Taiyaki and AnimeGlare. It was sent by Corsearch on behalf of Funimation and contained a threat to refer the matter to law enforcement in Sweden in the event of non-compliance. “I just received a DMCA takedown notice from funimation and I’ll therefore cease all development on the Shiro app, but the site will likely stay,” the Shiro developer informs his users. At the time of writing, however, the project’s Github page is down (archive copy here), and the developer also has some advice for others yet to receive contact from Funimation and its agents. “All other developer should probably private their shit asap as this company [Corsearch] is hired specifically for DMCA notices,” he adds. It’s advice that some appear to be taking. Project Kamyroll and Yukino ‘Go Private’ In response to the takedowns of the other projects, the developer of Project Kamyroll announced that development would cease for the foreseeable future. “Due to many requests as well as the funimation chase that is happening right now, I have been forced to make Project Kamyroll (the Application) private. Currently this is not really a problem as I don’t have time to develop the app, so there won’t be any changes for a very long time,” he explained. “This weekend, I will publish download links for the current version on a server other than github in order to always offer the app to others. I therefore encourage you to talk about the application since it is no longer visible on my github.” A similar position can be found at Yukino, which also made a home on Github with its Android, Windows, MacOS, and Linux application. That project has now been removed (archive copy here) with the developer admitting that in the current climate, getting into legal trouble is something to be avoided. TorrentFreak requested comment from Corsearch but at the time of writing we are yet to receive a response. Funimation DMCA Notices Shut Down Pirate Anime Apps, Force Others to Consider Future
  2. A mysterious group called the 'Video Industry Association of America' is trying to wipe the homepages of dozens of reputable sites from Google search. The targets, which stand accused of violating the DMCA's anti-circumvention policy, include Verizon, Pinterest, and Engadget. Google says that it's aware of these fraudulent notices but, thus far, they are not without damage. Over the past few years, copyright holders have asked Google to remove billions of links to allegedly pirated content. Most of these DMCA notices point to infringing material but occasionally mistakes are made, which can do serious harm. Even worse, the DMCA is also abused by scammers for personal gain. Over the past weeks, we have seen a new wave of suspicious takedown requests. These notices are not standard DMCA notices but point out links that supposedly bypass DRM restrictions, which violates the DMCA’s anti-circumvention policy. Google handles these ‘Section 1201’ notices outside of the regular takedown system, which means that they’re not listed in the public transparency report. However, they are sent to Lumen’s takedown archive, where we spotted dozens of these dubious takedowns. “Video Industry Association of America” Two weeks ago we saw several notices that listed the “United States Copyright Office” as the sender, supposedly acting on behalf of the “Video Industry Association of America.” At the time, the Copyright Office confirmed that these were sent by an imposter. In recent days we have seen several similar notices and this time the Video Industry Association of America is listed as both the sender and the copyright holder. However, plenty of questions remain. First of all, we’re not aware of any legitimate organization that calls itself the “Video Industry Association of America.” But even if we were to believe that, the takedown request itself is rather confusing, as this example shows. The ‘American’ organization starts one request off in Russian and finds it hard to construct proper English sentences. In another notice, it complains of sites and apps that circumvent the copyright protection of streaming services, while classifying these as “software cracks.” Things get even more problematic when we look at the URLs that are reported. While these include tools such as DVDFab and YouTube-rippers, which some rightsholders see as problematic, various legitimate sites are targeted as well. Targets Include Verizon, The Verge, and Quora For example, this notice includes the homepages of Internet providers such as Spectrum, Xfinity, and Verizon, as well as the news sites Wired, The Verge, USA Today, and Techradar. In some cases, the notices list articles that explain how people can download content from streaming services such as Netflix. However, those mostly point to legal options, such as this Wired article about Netflix’s offline viewing feature. This is just the tip of the iceberg. We have also seen Engadget, CNBC, CNET, and many other news sites targeted. Even Quora, PureVPN, and Pinterest can’t escape the wrath of the Video Industry Association of America. Legitimate Sites Removed from Google The good news is that Google took no action in response to most of these takedown requests. However, not all sites were that lucky. The smaller news outlets Fossbytes.com, Techloot and Robots.net had their homepages wiped from Google’s search results. TorrentFreak spoke to Fossbytes’ co-founder Adarsh Verma, who said that these claims damage the publication’s reputation and lead to a reduction in traffic. In addition to Fossbytes’ homepage, an article explaining how people can legally download videos from Netflix has been removed from Google’s search results as well. Google is Aware of the Problem Fossbytes reported the issue to Google, which informed the site that there is no official counter-notification process for these anti-circumvention takedowns. As such, the URLs remain deindexed for now. “There is no formal counter notification process available under US law for circumvention, so we have not reinstated these URLs,” Google replied, requesting a detailed explanation from the site. The response above comes from an email Fossbytes shared with TorrentFreak. This reveals some interesting details that are not available in the Lumen database, including the name, email address, and geolocation of the ‘Video Industry Association of America’ representative. As can be seen above, the sender is actually located in Russia and identifies itself as “Wolf Fang,” which isn’t a typical name, not even in Russia. The email address, which we won’t publish, comes from Gmail and references another animal’s fangs. Google is Aware of the Problem Speaking with TorrentFreak, a Google spokesperson says that the company is aware of the fraudulent activity and is taking action. “We are aware of these fraudulent notices. We have a number of mechanisms in place to detect abuse, and are always making improvements to our approach. Our transparency efforts are designed to help third parties, including journalists, identify these types of issues, and when they come to light, we reinstate URLs as appropriate,” Google says. Based on Google’s response, it seems likely that Fossbytes, Robots.net, and other wrongfully flagged sites, can expect their links to reappear in Google’s search results eventually. For now, it remains a mystery who’s behind these notices. It wouldn’t surprise us if the “Video Industry Association of America’ is actually a direct competitor of the stream-ripping and DRM circumvention tools that are reported. This is a strategy we have seen several times in the past. A competitor targets URLs from competing apps and sites, so their own site will end up higher in Google’s search results. In this case, however, the person in question is drawing quite a bit of attention, by adding hundreds of perfectly legitimate URLs to the takedown requests. ‘Fraudulent’ DMCA Circumvention Takedowns Target Prominent Websites
  3. Developer on Twitch Creates Neat Tool to Prevent DMCA Notices Twitch users who play copyrighted music in the background leave themselves open to DMCA notices that can result in a ban. Other than expensive licensing there has been no obvious solution to this problem but thanks to developer Peter Frydenlund Madsen, Twitch streamers can now play copyrighted music to their fans, without risking infringement complaints. Last summer, chaos urupted on Twitch when users were suddenly bombarded with copyright infringement notices for content uploaded during 2017 and 2019. That initial batch was the work of the RIAA and in October 2020 the problems were back again when the music industry group fired off a second wave of complaints. In May, Twitch sent out an email noting that it had received another batch of DMCA takedown notices from music publishers, noting that the majority targeted streamers listening to background music while playing video games. But what if it was possible to stream copyrighted background music to users on Twitch, without receiving DMCA notices. And ensuring artists also get paid? Achieving the Impossible, Simply Unless users (or indeed Twitch) obtain licenses to stream mainstream music to the public, DMCA notices are always going to be a problem. However, with some lateral thinking, developer Peter Frydenlund Madsen, known on Twitch as Pequeno0, has come up with an elegant solution that will be useful to millions of users. Pequeno0’s solution is SpotifySynchronizer, a Twitch extension that synchronizes the streamer’s Spotify with the viewer’s Spotify, so that stream viewers can listen to the same music as the streamer, at exactly the same time. The beauty here is that no copyrighted tracks are distributed or recorded with or even without permission. The user simply connects to the streamer’s Spotify using the extension, executes a ‘force sync’ if necessary, and then listens to exactly the same music as the streamer, at exactly the same time, on their own machine. And because the music is being played on Spotify, the artists get paid. SpotifySynchronizer, GTA V RP and Twitch “I’ve watched a lot of GTA V RP on Twitch, and they used to play a lot of music, which fit the RP,” Pequeno0 informs TorrentFreak. “When the DMCA strikes hit, they were hit hard. So it was actually with them in mind that I started the project. So I talked to a friend of mine, and we came up with this idea of synchronizing music in a way that would still pay the artists.” Pequeno0 says he uses Spotify himself and since it’s a widely used service and accessible to millions – not to mention having a public API that is easy to use – the decision to integrate the platform was obvious. It was not without technical issues, however. Twitch and Spotify – Please Play Nicely “Getting to understand the Twitch API together with the Spotify API was problematic to start with. For example, it’s not possible to embed an iFrame in the Twitch extension. But usually logging in with Spotify happens in an iframe with OAuth,” Pequeno0 says. “I had to make a popup, and figure out how to send back the results of this popup to the extension to get the token to use for Spotify. This might be changed in the future to a better system to support more platforms.” Furthermore, Pequeno0 says that Spotify doesn’t provide any notification service when a song is changed. This means he has to ask Spotify which song is currently playing if the streamer changes tracks mid-song. “I could have made a check every few seconds, but the Spotify API also has rate limitation, so I decided against it. To overcome these issues, I had to make the ‘Force Sync’ button. It basically asks Spotify what the streamer is currently playing, and updates it with the server.” The developer says he doesn’t know how much time he’s spent on the project but does spend some money on a server to store a minimal amount of data. This is to make sure that viewers who log in when a track is already being played can discover the name of that track without having to communicate with the streamer’s part of the extension. The Future: Maybe More Music Services While Pequeno0 has been working on SpotifySynchronizer for some months now as a side project, he’s not ruling out more development. This will largely depend on how many people use the extension but he does have some early plans. “If the extension gets very popular, it could be extended to use even more services, and maybe even lookup songs on different music services, so the viewer/streamer could use different services but listen to the same songs,” Pequeno0 explains. In the meantime, the developer is providing instructions for those interested in testing SpotifySynchronizer on both the streaming and receiving ends. He promises there will be no DMCA notices for either. 1. The streamer installs the Extension and adds the panel to the channel. 2. Streamer starts Spotify, then starts the Live-Config panel found in the Creator Dashboard -> Stream Manager -> SpotifySynchronizer, then logs in with Spotify through the popup. The streamer then keeps this Live-Config panel open, as this is what does the synchronization. 3. If the streamer changes music mid-song, the “Force Sync” button has to be pressed to update it for the viewers. 4. Viewer opens Spotify and starts any song. This is a requirement, as the Spotify API can’t start playing if it doesn’t know which device is playing music. 5. Viewer logs in with SpotifySynchronizer below the stream on the streamer’s channel. If the viewer’s Spotify does not change to the song being played by the Streamer, the ‘Force Sync’ button can be used on the viewer’s side to get the currently playing song. Developer on Twitch Creates Neat Tool to Prevent DMCA Notices
  4. Microsoft is issuing DMCA complaints to take down leaked "Windows 11 ISO" links Earlier this week, a Windows 11 ISO for build 21996.1 leaked to the web, letting users try out the yet-to-be-announced offering from Microsoft. The build that seems to have been compiled late in May provides a first look at what the Redmond giant is teasing to be the “next generation of Windows”. As the leaked build does not paint the complete picture of the OS update owing to it being a pre-release version – one that hasn’t even been released to Insiders –, Microsoft seems to want to restrict users from downloading it, which is why it is issuing DMCA complaints to Google (spotted by Fossbytes) in some regions asking the search giant to take down results containing articles from publications with links to the ISO files. Interestingly, in the linked Microsoft Japan complaint, the firm does confirm the Windows 11 name as it is requesting for the removal of “Windows 11” ISOs, claiming that those are leaked copies of “the unreleased Windows 11” OS. The company is slated to hold a dedicated event to show off Windows 11 on June 24, and it probably (and understandably) wants users and enthusiasts to reserve their judgement about the upcoming update till it is officially unveiled. Components such as the Microsoft Store, which is said to be receiving a major refresh, are yet to be shown off or talked about. Additionally, the leaked version lacks other improvements that will likely be served through the way of Feature Experience Packs that can be delivered without the need for an OS update, something that is currently being targeted only to internal employees. There is also a lot that is unknown, such as whether there will be a separate update to Windows 10 this fall (version 21H2) and what the update and support lifecycles look like for Windows 11. What seems to be increasingly certain is the ‘Windows 11’ branding, which is present in the About Windows (winver) pop-up, setup process, and even in the DMCA notices. Microsoft is issuing DMCA complaints to take down leaked "Windows 11 ISO" links
  5. Anti-Piracy Outfits Target Anti-Piracy Company With Questionable DMCA Takedowns The CoPeerRight Agency is a French anti-piracy company that's been around for nearly two decades. Aside from targeting pirated content on P2P networks and video hosting services, the company shares promotional trailers for clients as well. Ironically, many of these authorized videos are taken offline by fellow anti-piracy groups. To stop this abuse, the CoPeerRight Agency calls for more manual verification. As a veteran in the anti-piracy business, the CoPeerRight Agency has witnessed many online piracy threats come and go. When the company first started, LimeWire was the largest threat. This was later replaced by torrent sites, and today, pirate streaming and IPTV services are flourishing. All these years, CoPeerRight has offered its clients a variety of anti-piracy tools. The company sends standard takedown notices to sites and platforms, but it also uploads trailers to steer people away from pirated content. These promotional trailers can be seeded on torrent sites to sow confusion. However, the anti-piracy outfit also publishes trailers on legitimate streaming platforms such as Vimeo and YouTube. This helps to raise the profile of local film releases and can generate additional revenue. The videos are all published with authorization from local distributors or rightsholders, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any issues. RIAA Targets Movie Trailer Just a few days ago we noticed that the RIAA sent a takedown notice that targeted one of these ‘authorized’ movie trailers. Specifically, the Italian trailer for “The Dressmaker” movie. This RIAA represents music companies, so that alone makes it an odd takedown notice. In addition, CoPeerRight informed us that they have the right to distribute this video internationally. As such, the company believes that it should have never been removed from Vimeo. “We were surprised to receive a strike for a trailer that we posted for marketing purposes with authorization of the rightsholder,” a CoPeerRight spokesperson informed us, adding that “this happens from time to time.” With movie trailers, there are often dozens of rightsholders involved. This includes distributors around the world and the accompanying music may complicate matters even further. “The Dressmaker” trailer included music from Universal Music, which is indeed an RIAA member. However, according to CoPeerRight, all the rights were properly cleared. The company swiftly sent a DMCA counternotice to Vimeo hoping to get it restored. While one would expect that this matter would be resolved fairly quickly, the RIAA wasn’t eager to restore it immediately. The music group instead referred CoPeerRight to a representative from Universal Music, who never replied, and the trailer remained offline. Earlier this week, it was finally restored. Under the DMCA, Vimeo is required to do so within 10 working days, unless the claiming party files a lawsuit. That didn’t happen. In fact, CoPeerRight heard nothing from Universal Music or the RIAA. Not an Isolated Incident At first, we assumed that this must be an isolated incident or a mere oversight. However, CoPeerRight says that, while RIAA mistakes are rare, takedowns from other anti-piracy groups are actually pretty common. “Our clients’ promotional content is regularly deleted by anti-piracy companies. The main issue is a lack of manual verification,” the company explains. To back up these claims, CoPeerRight shared a long list of videos that were flagged over the past several years. This put the company at risk of losing profitable promotion Vimeo and YouTube channels, some of which have over 100,000 subscribers. And that’s not all. The problem is even worse on torrent sites, where CoPeerRight also releases trailers. This is a tactic to steer people away from pirate releases but it’s also a magnet for takedown notices from rightsholders, which assume that it’s pirated content. Takedowns Target Legal Torrents Over the years, other anti-piracy groups have removed numerous promotional torrents from Google’s search results. “We stopped counting the notices from anti-piracy companies that remove Google search results. However, these takedown notices undermine our promotional campaigns on torrent trackers,” CoPeerRight informs us. Mixed Responses The French anti-piracy outfit regularly reaches out to colleagues to discuss these issues. This doesn’t always help but on occasion, it can bear fruit. For example, some anti-piracy companies are relatively quick to retract inaccurate takedowns. In one email we’ve seen, one even offered to add the affected channel to a whitelist. An email conversation with another anti-piracy company, which we shall leave unnamed, was less friendly. When CoPeerRight described that company’s notices as “fraudulent” it quickly escalated into a legal threat. All in all, it is no surprise that mistakes happen. And when the volume is massive they will be more noticeable. Still, we didn’t expect that anti-piracy companies would regularly target each other’s content. CoPeerRight stresses that RIAA’s takedown notice is quite rare. However, there are other anti-piracy vendors who are known to make the same mistakes over and over again. Ideally, the anti-piracy company would like platforms such as Vimeo and YouTube to publish DMCA counternotices in the Lumen Database, similar to what they do with regular DMCA notices. That would make the process much more transparent. “We take pride in carrying out legitimate copyright protection on the video platforms, but other vendors, under the guise of anti-piracy, have questionable practices. But I am sure you are already aware of that,” CoPeerRight concludes. Anti-Piracy Outfits Target Anti-Piracy Company With Questionable DMCA Takedowns
  6. DMCA Notice Targets TorrentFreak, Netflix, and Reddit’s Wikipedia Pages Adult entertainment company The Score Group has asked Google to remove dozens of Wikipedia entries from its search results. Some of these pages document the history of popular pirate sites. However, the DMCA notice also targets Wikipedia's own Wikipedia entry, as well as those of TorrentFreak, Netflix, Reddit, The Gutenberg Project, and many others. Over the past several years, copyright holders have asked Google to remove billions of links to allegedly pirated content. Most of these DMCA notices are pretty accurate. However, we keep stumbling on glaring errors, which are often hard to explain. The Score Group Misses Today we have another example. Late last month, adult entertainment distributor The Score Group sent Google a takedown notice identifying more than 300 copyright infringing URLs. A quick glance at the request indeed shows that the notice includes several problematic links. However, it also lists more than two dozen Wikipedia pages. This includes the Wikipedia entries of well-known pirate brands such as YIFY, BTDigg, and KickassTorrents. These Wikipedia pages don’t list or link to any infringing material. They clearly shouldn’t be removed but, in a way, it’s understandable since these URLs were probably caught up in an automated keyword filter. Unfortunately, however, it doesn’t stop there. For reasons unknown, the list of ‘copyright infringing’ Wikipedia entries also includes TorrentFreak and other news sites such as The Verge and The Financial Times. The same is true for the movie review sites IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes. Targeting Wikipedia’s Wikipedia Entry… And it goes on. The Wikipedia entries for Domino’s Pizza and Project Gutenberg were also marked, and just when we thought we’d seen it all, we spotted the Wikipedia entry for Wikipedia itself. It remains a mystery how these links ended up in the takedown notice. None of these sites or their Wikipedia entries have a clear connection to the adult entertainment company and they are perfectly legal. Good and Bad News The good news is that Google spotted all of these errors. This means that the links haven’t been removed from its search results. The same is true for the IMDb pages for “Iron Man 2,” “Elmo’s World: Reach for the Sky,” and “Ernest Scared Stupid” which The Score Group tried to take offline with a separate DMCA notice. The company even went after the American Bar Association, which should be able to confirm that this isn’t how the DMCA law is supposed to work. It is worth keeping an eye on these types of mistakes. While Google is great at spotting overbroad takedown notices, it occasionally misses some as well, which results in perfectly legal URLs being removed. DMCA Notice Targets TorrentFreak, Netflix, and Reddit’s Wikipedia Pages
  7. WordPress Rejected 83% of all DMCA Takedown Notices Last Year WordPress parent company Automattic reports that the number of DMCA takedown notices it received increased by more than 50% last year. What stands out most, however, is the fact that 83% of all notices were rejected, often as a result of inaccurate automated takedown processes. Automattic, the company behind the popular blogging platform WordPress.com, receives thousands of takedown requests from copyright holders. Compared to other online services such as Google and Reddit, the numbers are relatively low. That said, there are some figures that clearly stand out. 50% Increase This week Automattic published its latest transparency report, revealing that it had processed 18,594 DMCA takedown notices during 2020. That is more than a 50% increase compared to last year. Unlike other services, the company doesn’t report how many URLs are targeted. A single notice can include dozens or hundreds of links, which means that the number of targeted WordPress pages is much higher. 83% Rejected That said, there is one figure that immediately caught our eye – the rejection rate. Last year, Automattic rejected 83% of all DMCA notices in their entirety. This rejection rate clearly stands out, when compared to other online services. For example, last year Reddit rejected 27% of all takedown requests, for Google this number is roughly 10%, while Bing rejects less than 0.5% of all requests. Commenting on the data, Stephen Blythe, Community Guardian at Automattic, informs TorrentFreak that they have seen a significant bump in rejections last year. This is mainly due to an increase in automated takedown notices. “Many of these are duplicates, target content which has already been removed, content which we do not host, or content which the notices haven’t accurately identified,” Blythe says. Manual Reviews of Automated Notices Unlike the name of the company suggests, Automattic doesn’t process these requests automatically. In fact, all DMCA notices are reviewed by humans, who spot plenty of errors. This leads to a relatively high rejection rate. “Our team manually scrutinizes takedown reports and rejects any which we identify as failing to meet the requirements of the DMCA – rather than simply processing takedowns automatically. By its nature, that will result in a higher rate of rejection,” Blythe confirms. Automattic is trying to get a number of prolific takedown senders to change their practices to reduce these kinds of notices. They have booked some success on this front. For example, the Spanish anti-piracy company ‘3ants’ adjusted its takedown process, which benefited both parties. Not All Senders are Open to Change However, other companies are not as open to change and continue to send automated takedown notices in bulk. “Unfortunately not every complainant is as cooperative as 3ants. For years we’ve been speaking out against abuses of the DMCA such as the use of automated systems which flood platforms with takedown notices regardless of context,” Automattic previously noted. “These methods are often prone to error and make it difficult for platforms to prioritize valid notices submitted by individual rights holders.” In 2021 Automattic is expected to reach the 100,000 takedown notice milestone. Since the company began counting complaints in 2014, it has processed 93,430 DMCA takedown requests, of which 70% were rejected. WordPress Rejected 83% of all DMCA Takedown Notices Last Year
  8. Github Restores Reverse-Engineered GTA Code Following DMCA Counter Notice GitHub has restored a fork of the fan-made “Re3” project that published reverse-engineered code of the popular GTA 3 and Vice City games. The action follows a counter-notice sent by a third-party developer in response to Take-Two Interactive's takedown. Github followed the DMCA procedure and isn't publicly taking sides. In February, a group of developers released a project that had many passionate GTA fans excited. After years of work, they published “Re3” and “reVC,” two fully reverse-engineered releases of the GTA III and Vice City games, which were originally released two decades ago. The reverse-engineered code opens the door to many tweaks and modifications that make the old games much more playable on modern computers. Importantly, however, an official copy of the games was still required for the code to work properly since game assets are not included. Take-Two Takes Down Reverse-Engineered GTA Code GTA fans welcomed the releases with open arms but the same can’t be said for Take-Two Interactive. A few days after “Re3” and “reVC” were posted on GitHub, the game publisher took them offline, claiming copyright infringement. “The content in the links below consists of copyrighted materials owned by Take-Two. The use of our copyrighted content in these links are unauthorized and it should be removed immediately,” Take-Two Interactive wrote. When the news first broke, project leader “aap” said that the team was considering possible options to restore the code. That is not without risk. Under US law, reverse-engineering can be seen as fair use, but this area is a bit of a minefield that could open the door to an expensive legal battle. The DMCA takedown notice didn’t just target the official GitHub repository. There were more than 200 forks that were pulled offline too. One of these forks was created by a New Zealand-based developer named Theo, who, unlike the main developers, decided to take a stand. Fork Owner Sends Counter-Notice Last month, Theo submitted a counter-notice, arguing that his fork was taken down without a proper reason. “This should not have happened,” he informed GitHub. Speaking with TorrentFreak, the developer says that the reverse-engineered code is not completely identical to Take-Two’s original. Since it’s not copied verbatim, he believes that the game publisher can’t claim it as theirs. “It would appear that the code in the re3 repo is reverse engineered, not a straight decompilation. I believe Take-Two’s claim to be wholly incorrect if this is the case, since the code may be functionally identical, but not exactly identical, they hold no claim to the code. “I do not agree with how Take-Two handles events like this,” Theo adds, referencing an earlier debacle when Take-Two targeted the OpenIV modding tool. “Taking down code that does not belong to them is abhorrent.” Github Restores Forked Repository While this may seem like a David vs. Goliath battle, the developer’s counter-notice was successful. After two weeks, GitHub restored the fork, which is now accessible to the public again. This doesn’t mean that GitHub has taken sides. The DMCA rules simply dictate that disputed content has to be restored between 10 and 14 business days, unless the rightsholder takes legal action. Theo tells us that he hasn’t heard from Take-Two in response to his takedown notice. While he’s aware of the legal risk that he faces, the developer doesn’t expect the game publisher to pursue this any further. This would mean that the reverse-engineered code remains online. Github Restores Reverse-Engineered GTA Code Following DMCA Counter Notice
  9. YouTube Won’t Let “Bogus DMCA” Plaintiff Pirate Monitor Off The Hook Last month, Pirate Monitor withdrew from a class action copyright lawsuit against YouTube after the video platform discovered the entity had uploaded its own content in order to allege infringement. However, YouTube insists there is unfinished business and is demanding that Pirate Monitor and its film director operator stop their shenanigans and hand over evidence. Last year, Grammy award-winning musician Maria Schneider teamed up with an unknown entity called Pirate Monitor to file a class action lawsuit against YouTube. Both alleged mass infringement of their copyright works and serious deficiencies in YouTube’s copyright enforcement measures. As reported earlier this week, YouTube is insisting that Schneider positively identify actual infringements on the platform so it can mount a defense. However, the musician’s lawyers say that to identify the full scale of infringement on the platform, Schneider would need access to YouTube’s Content ID system – something YouTube refuses to grant, a matter that lies at the core of Schneider’s complaint. The Shadowy Pirate Monitor From the very first day the class action lawsuit was filed, questions were raised – not about Schneider herself – but the decision to team up with an entity known only as Pirate Monitor. In-depth searches online revealed nothing to explain who or what lay behind this ‘company’ but as the lawsuit progressed, information came to light that suggested something was amiss. And in September 2020, via a counterclaim, YouTube dropped the bombshell. According to YouTube’s research, the only ‘piracy’ being suffered by Pirate Monitor on the video platform was entirely of its own making. YouTube said that while Pirate Monitor’s lawsuit claimed that YouTube users were infringing its copyrights by uploading and sharing its content, Pirate Monitor and its proxies had uploaded their own movie clips to YouTube and then filed takedown notices to have that content removed. “Through agents using pseudonyms to hide their identities, Pirate Monitor uploaded some two thousand videos to YouTube, each time representing that the content did not infringe anyone’s copyright. Shortly thereafter, Pirate Monitor invoked the notice-and-takedown provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to demand that YouTube remove the same videos its agents had just uploaded,” YouTube explained. With seemingly devastating evidence in hand, YouTube went further still in February this year, naming Hungarian film director and California resident Gábor Csupó (who previously worked on The Simpsons, Rugrats, Duckman, Stressed Eric, and Aaahh!!! Real Monsters) as the person presiding over Pirate Monitor. Or, as YouTube described it, an “inadequately capitalized shell corporation” that “disregards corporate formalities”. With Csupó having been identified and then held personally liable by YouTube for the DMCA “fraud” being committed against the Google-owned platform, Pirate Monitor decided to voluntarily dismiss its case against YouTube last month, leaving Schneider to go it alone. Perhaps unfortunately for Csupó, YouTube is nowhere near finished and doesn’t intend to let this lie. Court Should Address Pirate Monitor’s Discovery Obligations In a motion to compel filed this week, YouTube informed the court that the parties had met by telephone five times and conferred through a dozen letters between November 2020 and February 2021 regarding Pirate Monitor’s objections and responses to YouTube’s counterclaim discovery requests. To date, however, Pirate Monitor has not produced a single document. “Pirate Monitor filed this copyright infringement case together with Maria Schneider on behalf of a putative class in July 2020. After admitting that it did not actually own at least one of the three copyrights that it had asserted in the case, and after YouTube showed that Pirate Monitor had engineered a wide-ranging fraud, Pirate Monitor dismissed its affirmative case with prejudice on March 8, 2021,” YouTube’s motion reads. “YouTube, however, still has counterclaims against Pirate Monitor and its sole stockholder, Gábor Csupó. YouTube charges them with the mass transmission of bogus DMCA takedown notices as part of a scheme to obtain access to YouTube’s proprietary copyright management tools.” YouTube says it is seeking in excess of $20,000 in investigative and remediation expenses, mandatory costs and attorney’s fees, punitive damages, and an injunction to prevent further abuse by Pirate Monitor. However, in order to compile those claims, it needs Pirate Monitor to comply with its discovery demands. They require Pirate Monitor to provide information on Csupó and his alter egos including Pirate Monitor LLC, a supposed corporate entity that YouTube says simply does not exist. Homing in On Pirate Monitor’s Agents and Upload Authority In earlier filings, YouTube alleged that Csupó had hired foreign nationals in Pakistan to upload content to YouTube (content that was later taken down using the DMCA), thereby masking his own involvement in the scheme. YouTube wants Pirate Monitor and Csupó to provide documents that reveal their employees and agents, and the communications that were carried out between them. Thus far, nothing has been handed over. YouTube also demands access to documents relating to Pirate Monitor’s authority to upload videos to YouTube, since this is key to determining whether Pirate Monitor’s videos infringed copyright. According to YouTube, Pirate Monitor can’t make up its mind, stating at various points that they did and then did not infringe copyright. Pirate Monitor’s Discovery Shenanigans YouTube notes that despite filing the original lawsuit, Pirate Monitor is yet to produce a single document in support of it. After YouTube notified the entity that it intended to file this motion, Pirate Monitor said that some sort of production would begin this week but according to YouTube, even that is subject to “all manner of impenetrable caveats and limitations.” For example, Pirate Monitor says it is only obliged to hand over documents that were created while Csupó was acting as its agent but that covers the period post-January 2020 and the conduct underlying YouTube’s counterclaims took place before that. Even then, Pirate Monitor says that it will only hand over information that pre-dates Csupó’s interest in the entity provided it exists “in the documents we collected.” Further muddying the waters is the claim from Pirate Monitor that while there may be documents to hand over in period before Csupó’s custody, the entity doesn’t know of any other “potential custodians” beyond Csupó and one other agent that worked for the ‘company’ in a limited capacity, “Because of statements like these, even after six months and a dozen calls and letters, YouTube has no idea what Pirate Monitor will be producing, assuming its production ever commences,” YouTube informs the court. Pirate Monitor: Discovery Would Incur Disproportionate Costs In an effort to stave off the discovery demands, Pirate Monitor reportedly informed YouTube that the costs would be disproportionate, between $100,000 and $500,000 based on the collection of evidence from ten ‘custodians’. YouTube says that this cannot be the case, since Pirate Monitor itself has stated that it only has one, possibly two custodians. After YouTube pointed this out, Pirate Monitor put forth a revised amount of $55,900 but did not address the clear discrepancies in its accounts. “YouTube has no idea where or how Pirate Monitor keeps its documents, but a targeted and reasonable collection of the categories of documents YouTube seeks should not cost close to what Pirate Monitor imagines,” the company writes. It’s perhaps worth highlighting at this juncture that as part of the same lawsuit, Maria Schneider is currently demanding that YouTube identifies every single YouTube user that has had an infringement notice filed against their accounts since 2015. Reiterating its calls to receive substantial punitive damages for Pirate Monitor’s fraud and litigation conduct, YouTube is asking the court to compel the entity to hand over the documents requested within ten calendar days. YouTube’s discovery letter brief can be found here (pdf) YouTube Won’t Let “Bogus DMCA” Plaintiff Pirate Monitor Off The Hook
  10. Reckless DMCA Takedown Purges Legitimate Websites from Google Search The homepages of several legitimate organizations, including Live Nation Asia and Living Map, have been removed from Google search results. This is the result of an extremely reckless DMCA takedown notice that also targeted NASA, the BBC, and the UK Government. Over the past few years, copyright holders have asked Google to remove billions of links to allegedly pirated content. Most of these DMCA notices are pretty accurate but occasionally mistakes are made as well, which can do serious harm. This week our eye was drawn to a request that RightsHero filed on behalf of the company Vuclip Middle East, which offers on-demand entertainment to emerging markets. The DMCA notice identifies more than 7,000 URLs that allegedly infringe the copyrights of several movies, including the United Arab Emirates series عود حي, which translates to “Live Oud.” Error After Error When we took a closer look, we soon noticed that the takedown notice is nothing short of a trainwreck that involves some high-profile names. For example, NASA’s live streaming and multimedia pages are targeted. The same is true for Al Jazeera’s live streaming site, as well as the BBC’s page that allows people to stream Radio One. None of these pages are infringing. In fact, the only thing that ties them to the “Live Oud” series is the word ‘live’, which comes back in other reported URLs as well. In fact, the takedown notice is filled with these ‘live’ errors. It lists a page from the UK Government which gives advice on living in Austria, a page where Apple provides information on Live Photos, and the ‘Live’ entry in the Cambridge dictionary. We can go on for a while but the point is clear. This DMCA notice should have never been sent. The good news is that Google caught all the errors we pointed out above. This means that these were not removed from search results. Homepages Removed Unfortunately, not all targeted sites were that lucky. We spotted several legitimate websites that had their homepages removed from Google simply because they somehow reference the word “live” or “living.” This includes the homepage of Live Nation Asia, the Living Architecture website, as well as the homepage of the UK technology company Living Map. All have been purged from Google, which shows the following message at the bottom of the search results. “In response to a complaint that we received under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, we have removed 12 result(s) from this page.” Needless to say, these are all obvious errors that should have been avoided if there was some human oversight. It also shows how risky relying on ‘automated filters’ and ‘takedown bots’ can be. Reckless DMCA Takedown Purges Legitimate Websites from Google Search
  11. Cloudflare Doubts DMCA Takedown Company’s Fake Employee and Special Bots Cloudflare has faced quite a few copyright challenges in courts already, but a case filed by two wedding dress manufacturers is taking an unforeseen turn. At a Pennsylvania federal court, the CDN provider filed a motion to demand evidence from the companies' DMCA takedown partner, to find out more about a fake employee profile and its speedy takedown bots. Popular CDN and DDoS protection service Cloudflare has come under a lot of pressure from copyright holders in recent years. The company offers its services to millions of sites, some of which offer access to copyright-infringing material. Cloudflare prefers to remain a neutral service provider and doesn’t terminate clients based on DMCA notices. Instead, it forwards these to its customers, only taking action when it receives a court order. Repeat Infringer Lawsuit This stance is not appreciated by all rightsholders and in 2018 the service was taken to court over the issue. The case wasn’t filed by major entertainment companies, but by two manufacturers and wholesalers of wedding dresses. Not a typical “piracy” lawsuit, but it’s a copyright case that could have broad implications. In a complaint filed at a federal court in California, Mon Cheri Bridals and Maggie Sottero Designs argued that even after multiple warnings, Cloudflare fails to terminate sites operated by counterfeit vendors. This makes Cloudflare liable for the associated copyright infringements, they said. Cloudflare disagreed and both sides are now conducting discovery to collect evidence for an eventual trial. Among other things, the wedding dress manufacturers were asked to hand over detailed sales records. In addition, the CDN provider is also interested in the companies’ DMCA takedown partner XMLShop LLC. Cloudflare Wants DMCA Takedown Evidence Over the past few months, Cloudflare has tried to get further information on how XMLShop, which is also known as Counterfeit Technology, collects evidence for its takedown notices. These takedowns play a central role in the lawsuit and XMLShop and its employees could provide crucial information. Thus far, however, Cloudflare hasn’t been able to get what it wants. To resolve this issue, Cloudflare submitted a motion asking the court to compel the DMCA takedown company to comply with its requests for information. According to their filing, the company may be holding back important evidence. “Plaintiffs and XMLShop, who use the same counsel, appear to be using XMLShop’s status strategically as a ‘non-party’ to conceal relevant documents from Cloudflare. The Court should reject their gamesmanship,” Cloudflare informed the court. After serving two subpoenas, the takedown company only produced one document, Cloudflare notes. Meanwhile, the publicly available information on the company is highly confusing or even misleading. Who Works at XMLShop? For example, Cloudflare would like to question XMLShop’s employees, but the company hasn’t handed over an employee directory or payroll log that would reveal who works at the company. “XMLShop has not been forthright about its operations, leaving Cloudflare in the dark as to who else may be a witness with relevant knowledge,” Cloudflare writes. According to XMLShop’s attorney, the company only has one employee named Suren Ter-Saakov, but this claim is contradicted by its own website and Linkedin. “XMLShop’s own public statements contradict its counsel’s statement. Its website boasts ‘a big team of professionals working in three offices, located in Ukraine, the United States, and Dominican Republic. “And a LinkedIn profile for an individual named Blair Hearnsberger represents that she or he is the CEO at Counterfeit Technology,” Cloudflare adds. Fake Profile According to the takedown company’s attorney, this profile is fake and Blair Hearnsberger does not actually exist, but Cloudflare is not convinced. Therefore, it hopes that the court will compel XMLShop to verify who works at the company and in what roles. In addition to finding information on possible employees, Cloudflare also requests further information on the software that Counterfeit Technology used to find infringing content. Special Takedown Bots? The wedding dress manufacturers claimed that their takedown partner “scours the internet with special bots designed to locate and identify the unauthorized use” but it’s unclear how this technology works. Cloudflare would like to assess the software to see how accurate it is, especially since the company states that it spends only 10 seconds sending notifications of claimed infringement to all traffic sources. “Its use — and the reliability — of that technology is at least relevant to the predicate allegations of direct infringement it asserts. It is also relevant to Cloudflare’s contention that it never received any notifications of claimed infringement from Counterfeit Technology that were valid,” Cloudflare writes. The CDN provider asked the court to compel XMLShop to produce the subpoenaed documents. In addition, XMLShop should be held in contempt for failing to obey the subpoena and ordered to pay the legal costs Cloudflare incurred to submit the motion. This week, XMLShop responded to the request stating that it has already produced everything it could. It views the remaining requests as incredibly broad, since these ask for “sensitive” trade secret information. It is now up to the court to make a final decision. — A copy of Cloudflare’s memorandum in support of its motion to compel XLMshop to comply with the subpoena is available here (pdf).. XMLShop’s response can be found here (pdf). Cloudflare Doubts DMCA Takedown Company’s Fake Employee and Special Bots
  12. Sending Bogus DMCA Notices Ensures That The Internet Never Forgets In 2019, a video of a man headbutting a restaurant worker in the face went viral. Months later the incident reentered the public consciousness when a wave of DMCA notices targeted sites that reported on the news. It's now close to two years after the initial incident and some people still aren't getting the message. Sending bogus DMCA notices to erase the past is not an effective solution. There’s a very good chance that thousands of readers will already be familiar with the antics of one Mr. Joel Singer and his nemesis, Steve Heflin. Thousands will have forgotten. Thousands more will be hearing about this debacle for the first time. The short story is easy to tell. In 2019, Steve Heflin was on business in Fort Lauderdale to interview a prospective employee with a view to hiring him as a new salesman for his Internet infrastructure company. During a visit to a local bar, Steve observed “two guys in suits” sitting at the bar, one of whom was Joel Singer. Violence Meets The DMCA According to Steve, Singer was drunk, and when the valet refused to return Mr. Singer’s keys, advising him to get an Uber instead, an altercation broke out. In short, Mr. Singer headbutted a restaurant worker in the face, Heflin took the assailant to the ground, and the whole thing was filmed by a third-party and ended up on YouTube. So why would we be interested in this event? Well, someone later decided that this negative publicity needed to be erased from the Internet, from every nook and cranny, using copyright law. As previously reported, DMCA notices were liberally filed in an effort to remove every video, news article, report, and search result that referenced the event. Of course, this campaign was totally counterproductive. After most people had consigned the event to their mental history books, here it was back in the news again, prompting yet more people to repost the video, start more social media threads about Mr. Singer, and relive the Internet drama all over again. And again…and again. As per usual, the whole thing fizzled out but some people cannot let things rest. Here We Go Again… We didn’t mention it at the time because the story was effectively done and Mr. Singer and his adventures were yesterday’s news. However, in July 2020, a number of sites – Reddit and TorrentFreak included – were targeted in another wave of DMCA notices and other copyright complaints (examples here) These sought the removal of our article and various Reddit threads from Google but whoever sent them didn’t want to be identified, since they were sent under the name “.TEC.LAW.“, an entity that doesn’t appear to exist. Since Google appeared to be rejecting most of the notices, we let things slide and got on with more important things. Sadly, someone had other ideas. Yet More DMCA Notices Filed in December 2020 As can be seen from this page on the Lumen Database, an entity identifying itself as “TECH LAW” began sending another wave of notices targeted hundreds upon hundreds of URLs that allegedly referenced the infamous attack back in the summer of 2019. According to many of the takedown requests, the reason for deletion is as follows (no errors corrected): The photographs of the video of Joel Micheal Singer in restaurant URL below or “JoelMichaelSinger” is infringed by the text excerpted on the site, beginning with the text Joel Michael Singer assaults two innocent people at a store .” “Who is Joel Michael Singer? To be clear, we have not checked every single URL for infringement. However, what we can confirm is that many of these URLs contain a photograph of Mr. Singer that someone, somewhere, holds the copyright to. The argument over whether other sites can or cannot repost that image in various contexts is a battle they can have with the copyright holder. However, many of the links also lead to the video of the attack and it is yet to be established who owns the rights to that recording. Steve Heflin says that Mr. Singer could not have filmed it himself, since he had his face pressed into the floor. It is possible, of course, that Mr. Singer has since obtained exclusive rights to it. Maybe we’ll never know. That being said, some things are much more clean-cut. TorrentFreak is NOT Infringing Your Copyrights This week, the Lumen Database published a new DMCA notice filed by a mysterious entity called TEKKLAWWZ.Z on behalf of the previously mentioned TECH LAW. It targets more than 70 URLs that allegedly contain a copyrighted image of Mr. Singer. “Digital image. Property of TEKKLAWW not authorized for reuse or pecuniary gain. Headshot not authorized to be used by any third party,” the notice begins. Again, some of the pages do indeed carry the image of Mr. Singer, potentially in breach of copyright. However, many do not, such as these negative ‘reviews‘ on BirdEye.com or this page on Urban Dictionary. Image credit: Urban Dictionary But of course, the takedown attempt we were most disappointed to learn of targeted the article published by TorrentFreak last summer. We have been targeted before so perhaps at this point, it’s best to put our cards on the table for absolute clarity. Our article does not carry the ‘headshot’ of Mr. Singer and never did. The video of the altercation appears as a link to YouTube, which is required to support the text of the article. And, to be very specific, our original reporting did not even mention Mr. Singer by name. So, in the likely event the notice senders still haven’t managed to connect the dots, perhaps we should spell it out: There is no copyright infringement here and there never has been. This is what is known as an abuse of the DMCA and if there is something we are interested in reporting here at TF, it’s abuses of the DMCA. We sincerely hope we don’t have to do a follow-up, the Streisand Effect has had more than enough fuel on this topic. Sending Bogus DMCA Notices Ensures That The Internet Never Forgets
  13. The Dissident: Uploaded to Torrent Sites For Exposure, Delisted Via DMCA The incredible story behind the alleged state-sponsored killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is told by director Bryan Fogel in his new movie 'The Dissident'. Unusually, people connected to the documentary are reportedly uploading copies to torrent sites, to give it exposure in the Arab world. At the same time, however, an anti-piracy campaign is making copies harder to find. In 2018, the brutal killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi shocked the world. Born in Saudi Arabia, Khashoggi became an advocate for human rights and free speech within his home country, something that caused a breakdown in his relationship with the ruling family. In an ominous sign of things to come, that included Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the heir-designate to the kingdom’s throne. After walking into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain papers for his upcoming marriage, a team of Saudi operatives first strangled and then dismembered the journalist while his fiancée waited for him outside. Turkish officials later released an audio recording of Khashoggi’s killing, claiming that the murder had been carried out on the orders of Mohammed bin Salman. The Dissident The horrific story caught the attention of director Bryan Fogel, who in response began working on his tell-all documentary ‘The Dissident’. It received critical appraise at the 2020 Sundance Festival but finding a distributor for the film would prove less than straightforward. Netflix, which had previously released Fogel’s hit documentary “Icarus”, showed little interest. The same was true for Amazon and Apple who, in Fogel’s view, found his documentary too explosive. The Dissident finally found a distributor in Briarcliff Entertainment, which gave the documentary a limited release late 2020 and more broadly via VOD platforms in January 2021. However, according to director Bryan Fogel, some people connected to the documentary have been attempting distribution via more controversial platforms too. Distribution Via BitTorrent Sites In a January interview with Variety, Fogel spoke of the difficulties he faced getting the movie seen on a broad scale. He had hoped to secure a distribution deal with a major platform, to create global awareness of this extraordinary event and the politics surrounding it. But with the major players stepping aside, that wasn’t to be the case. “[W]hat I wanted was for this film to be streaming into 200 million households around the world. I wanted people to have easy access to it. Instead we pieced together global distribution here and there,” he said. “The decision [by the major streaming platforms] not to acquire ‘The Dissident’ had nothing to do with its critical reviews, had nothing to do with a global audience’s appetite to watch a docu-thriller, but had everything to do with business interests and politics and, who knows, perhaps pressure from the Saudi government.” But while these distribution deals have played their part in raising awareness, something else has been playing out behind the scenes. In an interview with GQ published Wednesday, Fogel revealed that Omar Abdulaziz, an exiled Saudi Arabian dissident video blogger and former friend of Khashoggi, who also featured in The Dissident, has been involved in unconventional distribution in the Arab world. “Omar’s told me that [the movie] really had an impact, and that they’ve put it up on all the BitTorrent sites or whatever. There are platforms in the Arab world for the people who really need to see this film. And that he’s had thousands if not tens of thousands of responses. That’s really good,” Fogel revealed. This strategy appears to have worked. Statistics gathered by TorrentFreak show that the movie is shared relatively often from Saudi Arabia. On several days, it was the second country in terms of popularity, just behind the United States. BitTorrent: Distribution Without Borders Even before BitTorrent’s mainstream rise to fame, the protocol was generating excitement among those who believed that access to information should be universal. Not only was BitTorrent proven to be extremely good at shifting large files, but it also placed the publication and distribution of content into the hands of ordinary people, no official middlemen required. Of course, this caused huge disruption but even now, coming up to two decades later, the copyright industries and indeed government entities only have limited ability to stop the dissemination of information – whatever that may be – on a global scale. This makes BitTorrent an ideal choice for spreading the message contained in The Dissident, especially in countries like Saudi Arabia, where a licensing deal would be all but impossible. That being said, there now appears to be a huge conflict of ideals. Should The Dissident flow freely across borders for the greater good at zero cost to consumers? Or should Briarcliff Entertainment be financially rewarded for taking a substantial risk on the movie when Netflix, Apple and Amazon decided it was too controversial? Global Awareness Versus DMCA Takedown Campaign After learning of the BitTorrent distribution efforts of Omar and his associates, TorrentFreak’s interest was piqued. While torrent sites are ideal for spreading an important documentary into regions where it could be banned, censored, or simply unavailable, torrent sites themselves are already targets for silencing under the DMCA. Indeed, it appears that Briarcliff Entertainment and Omar and his associates are heading in different directions. Since the start of 2021, the distributor has been sending large volumes of DMCA takedown notices in order to have links to pirated copies of The Dissident removed from Google’s indexes. (Samples here: 1,2,3,4,5) Not all of the notices sent by Briarcliff target The Dissident (many target links to the Liam Neeson film The Marksman) but there can be no question that countless URLs linking to Fogel’s movie are being delisted from Google’s search results. If copyright holders are to be believed, Google is a prime place for people to find ‘pirated’ content and, in this case, The Dissident. In Saudia Arabia, for example, this is of particular significance. According to Alexa, Google.com is the kingdom’s most visited site, making it a key platform to find links to torrent sites offering the film for download. The delisting campaign is making this much more difficult, running counter to Omar’s work. A Clash of Ideals? Given these apparently conflicting interests, between preventing piracy and trying to distribute the message of The Dissident to the largest audience, particularly people in more restricted territories, TorrentFreak contacted Briarcliff Entertainment for comment. We also contacted MUSO, one of the anti-piracy companies carrying out the Google delisting campaign. At the time of writing neither has responded. The lack of response is perhaps understandable – this is an extremely emotive situation. On the one hand, Briarcliff has every right to take action to protect its rights and in the company’s opinion, probably its profits too. On the other, people like Omar and Fogel will no doubt feel a duty to do whatever they can to inform the world and protect people like Khashoggi from a similar fate. That will require intense pressure, not to mention change. Of course, none of that comes without cost implications – in more ways than one. The Dissident: Uploaded to Torrent Sites For Exposure, Delisted Via DMCA
  14. RIAA Takedown Notices Target Spotify, Deezer, and Apple Music The RIAA is known to use DMCA notices to remove pirated content from the Internet. These takedown requests are generally aimed at pirate sites and stream-rippers, but in recent weeks the organization went after legitimate streaming services as well. Apparently, Spotify, Deezer, Amazon, Tidal and Apple Music host 'copyright infringing' content too. Despite the increased availability of legal options, millions of people still stream, rip, or download MP3s from unofficial sources. These sites are a thorn in the side of the RIAA, which combats this in part by sending DMCA notices. Since some sites are not responsive to these takedown requests, the music industry group also involves third-party services such as Google. In recent years, the RIAA has reported nearly 100 million ‘pirate’ links to the popular search engine, with no end in sight. RIAA Finds Infirnging Music on Legitimate Streaming Services The majority of these reported URLs relate to torrent sites such as The Pirate Bay or file-hosting platforms like Dbree. However, this week we spotted a new trend. In addition to classic pirate sites, the RIAA is reporting links on legal streaming services as well. This month alone, we have spotted multiple takedown notices on Lumen with URLs from Spotify, Deezer, Apple Music, Amazon and Tidal. According to the RIAA’s notices, these services all host infringing content. While we initially assumed that the RIAA’s takedown filters were going haywire, there is more going on here. For example, a few days ago the RIAA sent a takedown request to Google asking it to remove 50 Spotify URLs. According to the notice, these URLs infringe the copyright of Boza’s track ‘Hecha Pa’ Mi.’ Remixes, Karaoke, and Copies? When we look at the URLs, these indeed all link to ‘Hecha Pa’ Mi’ tracks. Some are remixes or karaoke versions and others could have simply been copied. Interestingly, many of these are published by ‘verified‘ artists, including some with more than a million monthly listeners. We don’t know whether these tracks are licensed, but the RIAA clearly doesn’t think so. This is not the only problem as the RIAA has identified many other problematic Spotify links over the past month too. Some of the links point to podcasts, which have since been removed. However, there are plenty of other ‘infringing’ tracks as well. Deezer, Amazon, Tidal and Apple Music This issue isn’t limited to Spotify either. When we took a closer look at the RIAA’s recent takedown notices sent to Google, hundreds of links to legitimate streaming services popped up. There are notices linking to ‘infringing’ music on Deezer for example. And the same applies to Tidal, Apple Music, Amazon. The list goes on and on. We asked the RIAA to explain what the precise problem is with these URLs, but the organization did not respond to our request for comment. That leaves us no other option than to speculate. Since the reported links don’t identify the official artists and tracks, we assume that there is indeed a copyright issue. Interestingly, however, Google has decided not to take any action, keeping these URLs in its search engine. Why Ask Google to Take Action? Google likely believes that these music streaming platforms are better equipped to determine whether the content is infringing. That would make sense indeed and it’s strange that Google is being involved. After all, the RIAA’s members, which includes the major labels, should have pretty decent contacts at these streaming services. In fact, the labels are part owners of some of the streaming services. So why not reach out to these streaming platforms directly? Or perhaps the RIAA did both? When we tried to load the “infringing” URLs on the streaming services, most now point to removed content. Others still show the problematic tracks but can no longer be played. Whatever the RIAA’s motivation, it’s safe to say that copyright issues are not limited to pirate sites or platforms such as Google and Twitter. the RIAA is known to criticize the latter, but it looks like there are internal music industry challenges as well. RIAA Takedown Notices Target Spotify, Deezer, and Apple Music
  15. GitHub Wants to Get Rid Of the DMCA’s Anti-Circumvention FUD GitHub is urging the US Copyright Office to expand the DMCA anti-circumvention exemptions to eliminate FUD. The developer platform backs a proposal from Professor Halderman which opts to broaden exemptions for security researchers. GitHub is not the only party that backs elements of this proposal, the US Department of Justice does too. US copyright law places broad restrictions on what people are allowed do with copyrighted content. The U.S. Copyright Office regularly reviews these exemptions to Section 1201 of the DMCA, which generally prevents the public from ‘tinkering’ with DRM-protected software and devices. These provisions are renewed every three years after the Office hears input from stakeholders and the general public. This process also allows interested parties to suggest new exemptions. Exemptions For Good Faith Security Research In recent years we have covered exemptions for game archivists but there are many more on the table. This includes the ability for experts to bypass copyright restrictions to conduct good-faith security research. This exemption already exists but many people believe that it’s rather limited in its current form, which reads as follows: Computer programs, where the circumvention is undertaken on a lawfully acquired device or machine on which the computer program operates, or is undertaken on a computer, computer system, or computer network on which the computer program operates with the authorization of the owner or operator of such computer, computer system, or computer network, solely for the purpose of good-faith security research and does not violate any applicable law, including without limitation the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986. This text used to be more restrictive and was adjusted three years ago, following a proposal from Computer Science & Engineering Professor Alex Halderman. This year, Halderman submitted a new proposal, trying to expand this exemption further and reduce the risk for security researchers. Among other things, the professor would like the word “solely” removed from the text, as well as the requirement that a device has to be “lawfully acquired” and that circumvention does “not violate any applicable law.” GitHub Backs Halderman Proposal This proposal is currently being considered and this week various parties offered their support in letters submitted to the US Copyright Office. This includes developer platform GitHub which, following the RIAA/youtube-dl debacle, said it would get more involved in this process. According to GitHub, developers are often facing fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) with regard to legal issues. This may lead them not to start a project that could have benefited society as a whole. Source of FUD “Section 1201 is a source of FUD as applied to good faith security research. It can be asserted even when a court has decided that there is no copyright infringement of the underlying work,” GitHub writes. “It’s a reason why a developer can’t be confident that there won’t be repercussions for engaging in legitimate, non-infringing security research and related development activities. It’s a reason why they might decide to do a different project, with less impact, that doesn’t help make us all safer to the same extent.” GitHub urges the US Copyright Office to focus the exemptions on eliminating FUD. Removing the requirement that all actions are “solely” for the purpose of good-faith security research is crucial. GitHub argues that as long as an activity is consistent with conducting good-faith security research, it should not matter if all steps are “solely” focused on security. “The Halderman et al. proposal draws clearer lines out of fuzzy lines in the current exemption, giving more certainty to researchers, academics, and enterprises conducting security research. It should be taken seriously,” Github adds. Department of Justice Support The Halderman proposal is widely supported by developers and researchers, but there’s also backing from less expected parties, such as the US Department of Justice. In a comment to the Copyright Office, the Department of Justice’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section agrees that it’s a good idea to drop the requirement that circumvention does “not violate any applicable law”. The DoJ argued against this three years ago, but it now agrees that this language is troublesome. “[W]e are now persuaded that replacing the existing requirement that research not violate ‘any applicable law’ with alternative explanatory language would provide equally sufficient notice of the need to comply with applicable law. “This change would also reduce the chance that potentially valuable research projects may be discouraged by fears by fears that inadvertent or minor violations of an unrelated law could result in substantial liability under the DMCA,” the DoJ writes. Not a Free Pass to Violate Laws The DoJ still believes that researchers who intentionally violate the law should be held accountable. However, the current language is too broad and subjects researchers to all sorts of liabilities. “It thus may discourage valuable research projects that would otherwise be undertaken if researchers could be more certain the exemption would apply,” the DoJ writes. These are strong words coming from the Department of Justice which will likely weigh strongly. However, the DoJ doesn’t support the Halderman proposal in full. For example, the DoJ doesn’t agree that the word “solely” should be removed from the exemption, nor does it see the need to strip the condition that a device has to be “lawfully acquired.” — GitHub’s comments to the Copyright Office can be found here (pdf) and the comments from the Department of Justice’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS) are available here (pdf) GitHub Wants to Get Rid Of the DMCA’s Anti-Circumvention FUD
  16. Google has reached a new milestone. Over the past several years, copyright holders have asked the search engine to remove URLs from three million unique domains. These include blatant pirate sites such as YTS.mx and Fmovies.to, but also several unusual and innocent targets including Netflix, the BBC, and even the official White House website. Over the past few years, copyright holders have asked Google to remove billions of links to allegedly pirated content. At one point, the search engine processed close to three million links per day. A dazzling number to say the least. In recent years this number has slowly declined. This is in part due to Google’s active policy to make pirate sites less visible in its search results. After years of complaining, these efforts were well received by copyright holders. Three Million Reported Domains Despite the slowdown in absolute numbers, Google continues to process plenty of takedown notices. This week, the search engine reached a new milestone. Since it started counting, it has now received takedown notices for three million unique domains. This ‘achievement’ prompted us to take a close look at what this number is made up of. Where are all these alleged pirate sites coming from? Who are the main offenders, and which domains shouldn’t be in this list? We start with the most targeted domain name, which is 4shared.com. The file-hosting service was once one of the largest websites on the Internet. While its popularity has diminished in recent years, its track record remains clearly visible in Google’s transparency report. Since 2011, more than 5,400 copyright holders have flagged 68,348,390 ‘infringing’ 4shared.com links to Google. The vast majority of these, 91 percent, were indeed removed from search results. This makes 4shared the absolute takedown king. The site is followed at a distance by mp3toys.xyz, rapidgator.net, chomikuj.pl, uploaded.net, which were flagged between 27 million and 52 million times. Those are still ‘respectable’ numbers of course. 0.001% of the Domains Recieve 10% of the Notices While looking through the list of targeted domains it becomes apparent that it’s top-heavy. The 30 domains that were called out the most have nearly 500 million flagged URLs. This means that 0.001% of all targeted domains received more than 10% of all notices. At the same time, we can say that the majority of the reported domains are only flagged incidentally. These may be smaller pirate sites or sites exploited by scammers to post incidental spam links. However, it’s also very common for legitimate sites to be targeted, often by mistake. IMDb and Discogs Two of the most frequently targeted legitimate sites are IMDb and Discogs. Both sites have an elaborate information database of entertainment content, either video or audio. This appears to be quite confusing to some copyright holders. Over the past years, Google was asked to remove 5,077 IMDB links and 8,198 URLs from Discogs. All of these requests were rightfully denied. Copyright Holders Target Themselves Intriguingly, copyright holders have also flagged their own websites as piracy portals. HBO famously sent a takedown notice for HBO.com, which was targeted 28 times in total. Pretty much all major copyright holders have had their sites targeted, including Disney.com, Netflix.com, Warnerbros.com, and many others. The most bizarre mistakes we’ve seen actually don’t involve a domain but an IP-address. Over the past years, several companies reported, which points to localhost, meaning that the reporter is flagging its own network. News Publishers News sites are frequently labeled as copyright infringers as well. We can look up any random news site and there’s a good chance that it’s been reported. This includes the BBC, which was wrongfully flagged by Warner Bros. The BBC, for its part, mistakenly accused TorrentFreak of being a pirate site as well. These takedowns are relatively rare but, over time, the numbers add up. The Daily Mail, for example, had 1,991 URLs flagged, The New York Times 803 URLs, The Guardian 785 URLs, and CNN had 727 URLs reported as ‘infringing’. Millions of Mistakes Government organizations are not immune to takedown requests either. If we zoom in on the US we see that the sites of the FBI, the Justice Department, and the Senate have all been targeted. Even the White House isn’t safe, as it was called out more than a dozen times. Although many mistakes come from rightsholders, we should mention that the takedown system is regularly abused by imposters as well. These tend to report many URLs from legitimate domains too. All in all, it is safe to say that, on the surface, the milestone of three million flagged domains only shows part of the picture. On the one hand, it consists of a small group of notorious pirate sites. However, there are many more sites that don’t really deserve to be reported. Source: TorrentFreak
  17. Several organizations have asked the Copyright Office to renew the exemption to the DMCA's DRM circumvention restrictions. This allows abandoned online games to be preserved for future generations. In addition, the Software Preservation Network and the Library Copyright Alliance ask for an expansion, to allow these games to be made available more broadly. There are a lot of things people are not allowed to do under US copyright law, but perhaps just as importantly there are exemptions too. The U.S. Copyright Office regularly reviews these exemptions to Section 1201 of the DMCA, which prevents the public from ‘tinkering’ with DRM-protected content and devices. These provisions are renewed every three years after the Office hears various arguments from stakeholders and the general public. This also allows interested parties to suggest new exemptions. During the last update in 2018, there was a small but significant win for nostalgic gamers. To preserve ‘abandoned’ games for future generations, the Copyright Office expanded the game preservation exemptions to games that require an online component. This was a crucial addition, as most games nowadays have an online aspect. With the new exemption, preservation institutions that legally possess a copy of a video game’s server code and the game’s local code were allowed to break DRM and other technological restrictions to make these playable. This type of “tinkering” is now seen as fair use by the Government, which rejected critique from the major game companies who feared that libraries and museums might exploit this right for commercial purposes, which would hurt their sales. A few weeks ago the Copyright Office started its latest review of the DMCA exemptions which will be updated next year. Since then, several submissions from archivists, digital rights, and consumer organizations have come in. Several of these ask the Office to renew the current exemptions for abandoned online games. The Software Preservation Network (SPN) and the Library Copyright Alliance (LCA) note that this new exemption ensures that classic games will be preserved. This allows nostalgic gamers and younger generations to play older games that are no longer officially supported. This has already led to some success stories. “For instance, Georgia Tech Library’s Computing Lab, retroTECH, has a significant collection of recovered video game consoles, many of which are made accessible for research and teaching uses by the §1201 exemption. Dozens of Gameboy Advance, console and PC games can now be preserved, with lower risks of copyright infringement claims or legal action,” SPN and LCS write. The call to renew the exemption is supported by the nonprofit group Consumer Reports, which notes that the exemption “has proven very beneficial to consumers in removing this obstacle to preserving the functionality of video games they enjoy.” In addition to renewing the current rules, SPN and LCS have also requested an expansion. At the moment, they are allowed to break DRM, if needed, but these games can only be made available inside the premises of ‘eligible’ institutions such as libraries and museums. In a new submission, both groups ask the Copyright Office to drop this restriction. “SPN and the LCA request expansion of the video game preservation exemption […] to eliminate the requirement that the program not be distributed or made available outside of the physical premises of an eligible institution,” they write. As always, the current DMCA review will take a few months to be completed. While the request will certainly be considered, it’s possible that games companies will object to the new suggestion, as they have done repeatedly in the past. Much of the credit for getting the Copyright Office to adopt the present exemption goes to San Francisco’s Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment (The MADE), which filed its petition three years ago. The Museum, which is loved by many gaming fans, recently had to close its doors and put its collection into storage. However, like many abandoned games, it’s not gone forever. The MADE is currently raising money to respawn elsewhere. Source: TorrentFreak
  18. Anti-piracy groups have a long memory, it appears. They don't easily forget about their former adversaries, even those that shut down many years ago. A variety of rightsholders and reporters still flag sites such as Openload, KickassTorrents, isoHunt, Hotfile, and even Rapidshare. Perhaps they're being sentimental but it's high time to move along. Many ‘pirate’ sites – we use that term very loosely here – have come and gone over the years. Older readers may recall that Suprnova was once the leading torrent site, a brief reign that came to an end in 2004. The same can be said for other torrent juggernauts, such as Mininova, isoHunt and KickassTorrents. In the file-hosting arena, the same process unfolded. Rapidshare was once the site to beat, a spot that was later taken over by Megaupload. Today, both sites and many others no longer exist. While these names may occasionally cross the minds of melancholic file-sharers, the masses have moved on. However, when we browsed through Lumen’s database of Google takedown notices this week, some old giants were brought back to life. Apparently, several anti-piracy organizations still believe the dead sites to be a threat. Below is an overview of some random findings. We will start with Openload, which disappeared just a few months ago, and work our way back from there. Openload Openload should still be a familiar name to most. The file-hosting service was shut down by the anti-piracy group ACE last October. The site handed over its domain names to the group and reportedly paid “significant damages”. Today, all former Openload URLs point to a page on the ACE website where people can find out how to watch content legally. However, that doesn’t stop the DMCA notices from coming in. In recent months, tens of thousands of Openload.co URLs were reported to Google by reporting companies. These are sent on behalf of a variety of copyright holders, including ACE members Amazon and Disney. We totally understand that it may take reporting companies some time to adapt to the new reality, but you’d expect that it would have sunk in by now. However, things can get worse, much worse. KickassTorrents Let’s take a leap back to 2016 when KickassTorrents was shut down by the US Government. This came as a surprise to millions of users. However, it appears that some anti-piracy groups still can’t believe that it’s gone. Today, more than four years later, several reporters continue to flag KAT.ph links. The majority of the recent notices are sent by MUSO, who have flagged hundreds of KAT.ph links this year alone. When we checked the Kat.ph domain it was throwing up all sorts of security warnings, but there were no torrents in sight. Rapidshare We can go even further back though. Half a decade ago, Rapidshare closed its doors. At that time the site’s traffic had already plunged as the result of various voluntary anti-piracy measures. After five years one would think that anti-piracy outfits have all moved on, but that’s certainly not the case. Reporting companies including Marketly, Digimarc, Link-Busters, and WebSheriff, continue to report Rapidshare links. isoHunt and Hotfile 2013 was a big year for the Motion Picture Association (MPA) as it booked legal victories against torrent site isoHunt and the filehoster Hotfile. In the years that followed both domains remained online, linking to the MPA website. We are pretty sure that the MPA wouldn’t host any infringing content. However, the takedown notices for both domains continue to trickle in 2020. Some are even sent on behalf of MPA member Disney. Megaupload The further we go back in time, the number of takedown notices is generally lower. But Megaupload.com was still being flagged last December, after nearly eight years of downtime. This suggests that some reporting organizations may want to dust off their databases. 2012 is also where our quest stops, but not without leaving you with a head-scratcher. If we look at Megaupload, we see that Google received requests to take down 14,505 URLs. That number is not very impressive, but the fact that more than half of these URLs were reported AFTER the site was taken down certainly is. All in all, it’s safe to say that reporting agencies are sending tens of thousands of pointless notices, if not more. We don’t know if they all charge based on volume, but regardless, it’s a waste of resources. Source: TorrentFreak
  19. New movie titles 'leak' online pretty much every day, but some get more attention than others. Tenet is one of those titles that made worlwide headlines, including numerous articles about the film being leaked. This prompted a flurry of takedown requests from copyright holders, which accidentally targeted some of those news reports. When a major blockbuster title leaks online, it sets a series of intruiging processes in motion. It was no different this week when low-quality CAM versions of Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi thriller ‘Tenet’ surfaced. Immediately after this happened thousands of seasoned pirates flocked to their favorite download portals, grabbing a copy. At the same time, anti-piracy outfits sprang into action to issue a continuous stream of takedown requests. The leak was also a heads up to scammers and other dubious actors. While fake Tenet copies were already circulating, a real leak tends to increase the demand. And indeed, over the past days, we’ve seen scammy links being posted on many legitimate sites including Medium.com, Opensource.com, Shopify.com and Schooltube.com. There were also news outlets who jumped on the story, including the undersigned. In the days after the leak came out, hundreds of sites referenced it. While some reports are better than others, the news articles are certainly not infringing anyone’s copyrights. Nonetheless, we noticed this week that several takedown requests targeted real leaked copies, scammy links, and also news reports. One notice sent by the Estonian branch of ACME Film stands out as it combines all three. The screenshot below starts with a link to a Pirate Bay proxy, followed by a list of scammy postings on legitimate sites such as Sourceforge and Openlibrary. At the very bottom, there are two links to ‘news’ reports. In total, there are five URLs of news reports in that takedown notice alone. That notice doesn’t come alone, there’s another one that flags a news report as infringing as well. We are pretty sure that these were all reported ‘accidentally’ but still, a quick glance by an actual person could have easily prevented it. We fully understand that writing this article is not without risk at all. After all, writing about news reports that were targeted because they covered the Tenet leak, may trigger takedown requests as well. However, we’re willing to take a chance. Also, Google is known to be quite good at spotting these errors. When we checked, most takedown requests for the news articles were being ignored, which means that they are still in the search results. Source: TorrentFreak
  20. Cloudflare doesn't remove anything in response to DMCA takedown notices unless it stores the content permanently. However, the company will hand over personal details of customers to copyright holders who obtain a DMCA subpoena. Over the past 12 months, Cloudflare was ordered to share information regarding more than 400 accounts. Popular CDN and DDoS protection service Cloudflare has come under a lot of pressure from copyright holders in recent years. The company offers its services to millions of sites. This includes multinationals, governments, but also some of the world’s leading pirate sites. Many rightsholders are not happy with the latter. They repeatedly accuse Cloudflare of facilitating copyright infringement by continuing to provide access to these platforms. At the same time, they call out the CDN service for masking the true hosting locations of these ‘bad actors’. Cloudflare sees things differently. The company positions itself as a neutral service provider that doesn’t ‘host’ any infringing content. They just pass on information that is cached on its services temporarily. This means that if copyright holders report Pirate Bay URLs to Cloudflare, the company takes no action other than forwarding the DMCA takedown notices to its customer. By doing so, Cloudflare is convinced that it operates in accordance with the law. Identifying ‘Infringing’ Customers Not all rightsholders agree with this approach and some have filed lawsuits to hold Cloudflare liable. Others have gone to court to obtain DMCA subpoenas, which require the CDN provider to hand over all personal details it has on allegedly infringing customers. We regularly report on these requests, which target torrent sites, streaming sites, and many other pirate portals. In its latest transparency report, Cloudflare reveals how many times it was asked to comply and what information was shared in response. Over the past 12 months, Cloudflare received 58 DMCA subpoenas and the company answered all but one. Together, these affected more than 1,000 domains and close to 500 Cloudflare customers. Previously it wasn’t clear what type of records the company could hand over, but the transparency report provides more information on that as well. What Information is Shared? To comply with the subpoenas, Cloudflare can share the IP-addresses that were used to login to the site as well as the login times. In addition, it can hand over so-called ‘basic subscriber info.’ “This basic subscriber data would include the information our customers provide at the time they sign up for our service, like name; email address; physical address; phone number; the means or source of payment of service,” Cloudflare writes. Whether copyright holders can do anything with this information remains a question. Many larger pirate sites are quite skilled at hiding the tracks that lead to their true operators. For smaller sites that may be different. Website Blocking The transparency report also touches on website blocking, which is another high-profile topic. While Cloudflare is very cautious with blocking, it may in some cases comply with law enforcement requests and foreign court orders. “If we determine that the order is valid and requires Cloudflare action, we may limit blocking of access to the content to those areas where it violates local law, a practice known as ‘geo-blocking’. We will attempt to clarify and narrow overbroad requests when possible,” Cloudflare writes. Cloudflare says it’s cautious because of “the significant potential impact on freedom of expression.” How many domains are blocked is not mentioned, but it does occasionally take action. For example, earlier this year the pirate site DDL-Music.to was blocked in Germany following a court order. Finally, we have to note that Cloudflare also offers hosting services to some clients. If that’s the case, it will remove content when appropriate. That happened three times over the past year, affecting one or two domain names. — Cloudflare’s latest transparency report is available here. Source: TorrentFreak
  21. Yet another President Trump tweet has been removed following a complaint. This one, however, is now part of a copyright lawsuit filed by British singer-songwriter Eddy Grant over the unlicensed use of his 1982 song 'Electric Avenue'. According to the complaint, which demands up to $150,000 in damages, the video containing the track remained live on Twitter, despite demands it was taken down. For the overwhelming majority of Twitter users, receiving even a very small number of copyright complaints against their account can mean its loss, with Twitter invoking its repeat infringer policy to avoid liability under the DMCA. For US President Donald Trump, however, special treatment is available on the platform. While contentious tweets do get removed, Trump’s account remains intact, despite a steady stream of rightsholders filing DMCA notices. Yesterday, however, one of his allegedly-infringing tweets resulted in more robust action. Allegedly-Infringing Tweet Was Posted in August With the 2020 United States presidential election campaign in full swing, Trump is taking every opportunity to paint Democratic opponent Joe Biden in an unfavorable light. These political attacks often take place via Twitter and last month Trump kept up the pressure, posting an animated video of a speedy train carrying his campaign logo ahead of Joe Biden on a railroad handcar, struggling to keep up. While that kind of imagery is nothing new in US politics and seems to have been custom-created, the background music in the video – the 1982 hit ‘Electric Avenue’ by British singer-songwriter Eddy Grant – was a previously-existing work. In fact, according to a lawsuit filed by the artist in a New York court yesterday, the use of the track was an act of blatant copyright infringement. Copyright Infringement Lawsuit Filed in New York The complaint, filed in the Southern District of New York, has Edmond Grant, two companies named Greenheart Music Limited (one based in the UK, the other Antigua, both owned by Grant) suing both Donald Trump and his campaign, Donald J. Trump For President Inc. The complaint states that after Trump tweeted the video on August 12, the next day Grant and Greenheart Music sent a letter to the defendants demanding the removal of the video and insisting that they refrain from using Electric Avenue moving forward. The lawsuit further alleges that at the time of its filing on September 1, the video was still available on Twitter. This is curious since according to information published by the Lumen Database, on August 13 Twitter received a DMCA takedown notice from Sony/ATV Music Publishing demanding the removal of the tweet. It has now been actioned with the offending tweet being removed, but Lumen only received a copy from Twitter today, perhaps suggesting something unusual with its processing. “Plaintiffs’ Recording, which embodies the Composition, can be heard on the Infringing Video starting at the 15 second mark and continues for the duration of the video. The Infringing Video therefore makes unauthorized use of the Composition and the Recording and infringes upon Plaintiffs’ copyrights in both,” the complaint reads. “Defendants’ conduct is unlawful; it is proscribed as such by the United States Copyright Act. Neither the President nor the Company is above the law,” it adds. A Very Popular Video, Complaint Alleges According to estimates presented by the plaintiffs, the video has been viewed more than 13.7 million times, “liked” more than 350,000 times, and re-tweeted 139,000 times. This, despite Trump and his campaign being put on notice via an August 13 letter sent by Grant’s attorney to cease-and-desist their infringing conduct. “Defendants have failed and/or refused to comply with Plaintiffs’ demands set forth in the August 13, 2020 letter, have continued to infringe Plaintiffs’ copyrights in the Composition and the Recording, and, upon information and belief, will continue to infringe Plaintiffs’ copyrights in the Composition and the Recording unless enjoined by this Court,” the complaint adds. Permanent Injunction and Damages Describing the actions of Trump and his campaign as “willful and intentional”, the lawsuit demands a permanent injunction to prevent further infringement plus a damages amount to be determined at trial. That could range from a minimum of $750 per infringement but could stretch to $150,000 per infringement in statutory damages, plus costs and attorneys’ fees, the complaint warns. Interestingly, the cease-and-desist sent by Grant’s legal team on August 13 offered to settle the matter quickly, in order to avoid the relatively expensive option of a lawsuit. Whether that option remains on the table is unclear but from its text, it appears that Grant was personally upset, not just by the alleged infringement of Electric Avenue, but also by the context in which it was used. Perhaps More Than ‘Just Another’ Copyright Lawsuit Electric Avenue was written by Grant in response to the now-historic riots that took place in Brixton, London, during 1981. They were widely attributed to racism, poverty, and tensions between black youths and the mainly white police force of the time. The cease-and-desist sent by Grant’s team in August suggests that the use of Electric Avenue in the Trump campaign video “indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of the very meaning of the underlying work” and notes that just by being affiliated with Trump’s campaign, Grant’s reputation is being damaged. As a result, a large response could follow. “If you know my client’s reputation then you know that this Infringing Use in connection with the name ‘Trump’ in a political context is a serious transgression and could subject you to upwards of $100,000,000 in monetary damages,” the letter warned. The full complaint and August cease-and-desist letter are available here and here (pdf) Source: TorrentFreak
  22. The words Nintendo and pornography can only ever be seen together when the former is trying to distance itself from the latter. That's the case today after Nintendo's lawyers filed a DMCA takedown notice against a game called Peach's Untold Tale. It depicts the princess and many other Nintendo characters having fun in many ways that are completely unacceptable to the gaming giant. https://torrentfreak.com/images/peaches2.jpg (NSWF image) Over the past several years it has become increasingly apparent that Nintendo isn’t prepared to tolerate instances where its copyright or trademark rights may have been breached by third parties. Many of Nintendo’s responses are fairly straightforward, targeting platforms that offer Nintendo games without permission or those that provide tools, software and workarounds that undermine protection mechanisms designed to prevent copying. Some, however, don’t fall neatly into any of these categories. Peach’s Untold Tale Early 2012, South America-based developer Ivan Aedler posted to the Legend of Krystal forums revealing a new project titled Peach’s Untold Tales (PUT). It’s billed as a freeware adult parody game that documents the ‘adventures’ of the Shigeru Miyamoto character Princess Peach, who was first seen in Super Mario Bros. way back in 1985. The title can be best explained as being ‘hentai’ in style which, according to a dictionary definition, is a subgenre of the Japanese genres of manga and anime characterized by overtly sexualized characters and sexually explicit images and plots. Without stepping into XXX territory, it’s perhaps best to quote from an interview Aedler gave in 2019 in which he revealed the premise. “It’s a game where players take on the role of Princess Peach. Bowser is invading, the citizens of Mushroom Kingdom are under Kamek’s spell to be super aroused, and Mario is missing. What’s a princess to do? Stomp some enemies, or start putting out, to save her kingdom,” he told Doujins. After Eight Years, Nintendo Has Seen Enough Finding a relevant screenshot to display without needing some element of censorship to accommodate younger readers proved pretty fruitless, so those interested in viewing some of PUT’s gameplay can do so on Xvideos.com, where just one video of the game in action has more than two million views (NSFW). Needless to say, the acts witnessed are not something one would normally associate with Nintendo products or characters. It will come as no surprise then after either waiting eight years or perhaps just discovering the game for the first time, Nintendo has ordered its legal team into action. PUT made Microsoft-owned Github its development home but in a DMCA notice served on the platform late last week, the gaming giant explained that PUT infringes the copyrights of its Super Mario video game franchise. Listing a range of copyright registrations covering Peach, Toad, Mario is Missing, Super Mario Maker, Super Mario Bors., Super Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. Brawl, to name just a few, the company demanded the takedown of the entire project including its Github.io webpage and Github.com download pages. Aren’t Parodies Covered By Fair Use? Anyone familiar with the adult industry will be only too aware that porn parodies are widespread and are carefully crafted so as to take full advantage of the relevant exception in copyright law. In this case, however, Nintendo doesn’t feel that exception is available. In its takedown notice filed with Github, Nintendo said it had considered all fair use exceptions but after a review, ultimately found that it “does not believe [PUT] qualifies as a fair use of Nintendo’s copyright-protected work.” According to intellectual property attorney Maxine Lynn, who in 2018 published a piece on XBIZ covering the legality of porn parodies, the evaluation of whether use is fair is made on a case-by-case basis, balancing the rights of authors and the free speech rights of the public. A close example to the case in hand appears to lie in the 1978 case of Walt Disney Productions v. Air Pirates. After the latter produced a comic book featuring 17 Disney characters including Mickey Mouse involved in sex and drugs, Disney sued and the court found that the use was not fair. “The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court found that the amount of the portion copied exceeded permissible levels, noting that, ‘[w]hen persons are parodying a copyrighted work, the constraints of the existing precedent do not permit them to take as much of a component part as they need to make the ‘best parody.’ Instead, their desire to make the ‘best parody’ is balanced against the rights of the copyright owner in his original expressions,” Lynn wrote, citing the decision. The important position that remains unchanged today is that such fair use cases can be both complex and expensive to defend. With that in mind, it seems unlikely that developer Ivan Aedler will contest the DMCA takedown filed by Nintendo, since that puts the company in the position of having to file a lawsuit against him to prevent Peach’s Untold Tale from being reinstated on Github. At the time of writing, Aedler had not responded to TorrentFreak’s request for comment. Source: TorrentFreak
  23. An individual who filed false copyright complaints with platforms including Facebook, Amazon, and Instagram in order to damage a rival's business has been heavily punished by a court. In a default judgment handed down this week, the defendant was ordered to pay almost $370k for abusing the DMCA. Every day millions of DMCA takedown notices are sent to major online platforms including Google, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. The aim is to remove content that infringes third-party copyrights and the majority succeed in that goal. However, some people see the takedown provisions of the DMCA either as a tool for censorship or one to be abused in order to seize an advantage over a competitor or rival. There are remedies available under the law that allow senders of malicious DMCA takedown notices to be financially punished but such conclusions are extremely rare. This week, however, a court ordered one abusive notice sender to pay what appears to be the most significant amount on record. Defendant Sent Abusive DMCA Takedown Notices In December 2019, The California Beach Co., LLC, (CBC) filed a complaint in a California court alleging that Han Xian Du, an individual living in China, had filed multiple multiple DMCA complaints with various online platforms complaining that CBC’s content infringed copyright. CBC is the exclusive distributor of a kids’ playpen and sells its product through various outlets and via the Internet. Han Xian Du, on the other hand, used a distributor to sell “knockoff” variants of the playpen in the United States. According to the complaint, the defendant sent multiple DMCA takedown notices to Facebook and Instagram, demanding that CBC content should be taken down. Online platforms have a tendency to quickly remove allegedly infringing content and in this case it was no different. Instagram responded by removing CBC’s posts while Facebook disabled CBC’s account in its entirety. Neither of the platforms responded to appeals to have the content reinstated. On Christmas Day, 2019, things escalated when CBC’s product page on Amazon was also removed following a fraudulent DMCA takedown notice, bringing the company’s sales on the platform to a swift halt. Complaint Sought Injunction and Damages As per the complaint, in order to file copyright takedown notices with each of the online platforms, the defendant had to sign a declaration that the content to be removed violated his copyrights. Knowing that these declarations were fraudulent, the defendant made deliberate misrepresentations under the DMCA. “Any person who knowingly materially misrepresents under this section that material or activity is infringing shall be liable for any damages, including costs and attorneys’ fees, incurred by the alleged infringer, by any copyright owner or copyright owner’s authorized licensee,” the relevant section reads. According to CBC, the company believed it could lose $100,000 every week its accounts were down and was already incurring “crippling loss of consumer goodwill”. Demanding a permanent injunction to prevent the ongoing violations of the DMCA’s takedown provisions, the company also sought an extensive damages award. Court Issues Injunction and Grants Damages For Abuse of the DMCA On January 8, 2020, the court handed down a temporary restraining order to prevent the violations, noting that Du was “temporarily not permitted to file any further takedown notices with Facebook, Instagram, or any other service provider’s website as to CBC’s online content or product line.” On January 24, 2020, the injunction was made permanent but despite repeated attempts to contact him, Du failed to plead his case before the court. The case was therefore dealt with in his absence and predictably went in favor of CBC. “By virtue of his decision not to defend and to default in this matter, Defendant has admitted liability on Plaintiffs’ claims,” the order handed down this week by Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers reads. “[T]he Court finds that based on the Declarations and evidence in the record that CBC has suffered damages resulting from the conduct of Defendant in the amount of $369,849.12, which includes $316,991.00 in lost profits damages, $51,474.00 in reasonable attorneys’ fees, and $1,384.12 in recoverable costs.” A Rare Decision Awarding Damages Under 17 U.S.C. § 512 Whether CBC will see any of this award remains to be seen but the outcome in favor of the plaintiff is important. To our knowledge, this is the highest damages award ever handed down in a case based on abusive DMCA takedown notices and is extremely rare. In March 2015, Automattic, the company behind the popular WordPress blogging platform, won a similar case against a man who abused the DMCA to censor an article published by student journalist Oliver Hotham. Hotham wrote an article about “Straight Pride UK” which included a comment he received from the organization’s press officer Nick Steiner. However, Steiner didn’t like the article so sent WordPress a takedown notice claiming that it infringed his copyrights. Automattic stood by the journalist and went to court, demanding a damages award for Steiner’s abuse of the DMCA. The blogging platform and Hotham emerged the winners, with an award of roughly $25,000 in damages and attorneys fees, again via default judgment. Dating back to 2004, another case saw Diebold, a manufacturer of electronic voting machines, wrongfully allege that two students had infringed the company’s copyrights. The EFF and the Center for Internet and Society Cyberlaw Clinic at Stanford Law School stepped in to fight dozens of abusive copyright claims, eventually emerging with an agreed settlement of $125,000 in damages and fees. The complaint and default judgment in the CBC case can be found here and here (pdf) Source: TorrentFreak
  24. The creator of popular TV show Cheaters is now engaged in legal action to prevent the series from being viewed on YouTube illegally. Targeting more than two dozen channels that uploaded episodes, lawyers for Bobby Goldstein Productions wants YouTube to hand over their identities and an account of the profits generated. With millions of users uploading huge quantities of content every day, YouTube is the largest video platform on the planet. Of course, not all of this content is licensed for upload and as a result, YouTube regularly finds itself at the center of copyright holder disputes. Usually, complaints are handled with a Content ID match or a straightforward takedown process but some content creators prefer to take things a little further. Creator of TV Show Cheaters Takes Legal Action Controversial reality TV show Cheaters deploys its own ‘Cheaters Detective Agency’ to carry out investigations on behalf of individuals who suspect their partners are committing adultery and similar infidelities. Created by writer Bobby Goldstein, Cheaters launched in 2000 and has reached season 19, airing on various legal TV outlets around the world. However, there are many hundreds of Cheaters episodes available on YouTube too, uploaded by users in breach of copyright. Collectively these videos have been viewed millions of times and for Bobby Goldstein Productions (BGP), the owner and rightsholder of more than 227 Cheaters episodes, enough is enough. In an application for a DMCA subpoena filed against YouTube in a Texas court, BGP attorney Jeffrey R. Bragalone is now seeking to obtain the identities of more than two dozen YouTube account holders who uploaded Cheaters episodes to the video platform, so that the company may enforce its rights. DMCA Takedown Notice The application begins by reminding YouTube of its legal position, noting that since it displayed and reproduced infringing episodes, it may be liable to hand over all of the profits it generated from them. Alternatively, under 17 U.S.C. § 504(c), YouTube may be liable for statutory damages of up to $150,000 per infringing work. BGP’s attorney then issues a formal demand to YouTube, demanding that it immediately cease-and-desists from hosting and displaying the episodes in question, noting that failure to comply will be considered as evidence of willful intent in the event of a lawsuit. At the time of writing and after testing a sample of the URLs listed by the company, the allegedly infringing videos (including the small selection in the image above) appear to remain live on YouTube but given the official nature of the complaint, that position is likely to change in the coming days. Nevertheless, a simple takedown won’t be enough to fulfill the requirements of the subpoena. Disclose User Identities and Preserve Evidence In the first instance, BGP is seeking to find out the identities behind the YouTube user accounts that uploaded the infringing videos. There are more than two dozen in total, some of which are dedicated to the show, some that offer various TV shows and movies, and others that appear to have uploaded episodes in a less organized fashion. Regardless of type, BGP is demanding that YouTube provides documentation to show “all registration information, account information, billing information, payment information, or other identifying information associated with the YouTube accounts” including their “name(s), address(es), telephone number(s), email address(es), and account number(s) associated with each account, and the Internet Protocol addresses (including time stamps) used to create each account, access each account, or upload the material” for each of the supplied URLs. In addition to user information, BGP is also seeking information that could be helpful should it file lawsuits against the listed YouTube users and potentially the platform itself in the unlikely event content isn’t taken down. The requested evidence includes the total page views and/or downloads of the infringing URLs/videos, plus an account of total revenues and gross profits relating to the display of the offending material, including all advertising and/or affiliate revenue. “This information must be provided with accompanying documentation, including financial and other business records, supporting the responses given to these questions,” the DMCA subpoena application reads. In addition, BGP is demanding that YouTube preserves all communications relating to the videos, including emails, voicemails and instant messaging, any and all related documents, network access and server activity logs, plus any other relevant information. “Should you fail or refuse to take down the Subject Videos, our client will have no choice but to file a complaint against your company seeking immediate injunctive relief, as well as compensatory, statutory, and punitive damages, attorney’s fees, and costs,” BGP concludes. After being filed earlier this week, the case was reviewed by Judge Rodney Gilstrap. In his order, he noted that BGP had complied with all of the components required to obtain a subpoena. So, in an order issued Wednesday, the Judge ordered YouTube to comply by supplying the information sought. The related documents can be found here (1,2,3. Judge’s order here) Source: TorrentFreak
  25. Anti-piracy coalition ACE has obtained a subpoena to compel the Tonic domain registry to hand over all information it has on the owner of S.to. With hundreds of thousands of registered users, S.to is the largest German-language pirate TV streaming community. These requests are a core part of the anti-piracy toolbox, a source informs us. With hundreds of thousands of registered users and millions of regular visitors, the pirate TV-streaming community S.to is a force to be reckoned with. The site targets a German-language audience and currently lists more than 750,000 streaming links to well over 5,000 TV-series. This public display of piracy is a thorn in the side of major copyright holders. This includes the anti-piracy coalition ACE, which counts Netflix, Amazon, and several Hollywood studios among its members. ACE wants Domain Registry to Identify S.to operator In recent weeks, ACE has obtained several subpoenas to compel Cloudflare to hand over all information it has on dozens of pirate sites. This effort continued recently, but this time it’s directed at Tonic, the official registry of the .to domain name, with S.to as the single target. Through the subpoena, the anti-piracy coalition asks Tonic to disclose information including names, physical addresses, IP addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses, payment information, account updates, and account history associated with the domain registrant. While .to is the top-level domain of the island kingdom of Tonga, the Tonic registry operates through Tonic Domains Corp., which clearly has a U.S. presence with a California address. As such, it will generally fall under the jurisdiction of US courts. As is usually the case with DMCA subpoenas, this request was approved by a court clerk without oversight from a judge. That will require the registry to hand over the requested information. How valuable that will be, has yet to be seen. Part of the Anti-Piracy Toolbox An anti-piracy source familiar with the matter informs TorrentFreak that some information obtained through these subpoenas is fake or unusable. However, it can result in actionable intelligence as well, and even false information can have its value. Generally speaking, our source says that DMCA subpoenas are just another part of a larger anti-piracy toolbox, one that ACE now uses to its full potential. In the long term, copyright holders are hoping subpoenas will become even more effective. This can be achieved by making sure that information kept by online services is more accurate. This is a topic that’s high on the anti-piracy agenda at the moment. KYBC Push Last month, a coalition of more than 50 groups sent a letter sent to the European Commission asking it to consider broader “Know Your Business Customer” (KYBC) requirements as part of the Digital Services Act. The groups wrote that they would like third-party intermediaries, including hosting providers and domain registrars, to carry out more checks to properly confirm the identities of customers. At the moment, this information is often missing. This means that, even if ACE’s current subpoena efforts prove to be fruitless, they can still use that failure as ammunition to show that stricter regulations are needed. In other words, it’s pretty much a win-win situation. — A copy of the declaration from MPA/ACE in support of their subpoena request is available here (pdf) Source: TorrentFreak
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