Warner Bros. Issuing Takedowns For Its Own Site Is No Laughing Matter

from the notice-and-staydown? dept

Lots of people have been talking the past few days about TorrentFreak’s discovery of the fact that Warner Bros., via its hired DMCA agent Vobile, has been issuing DMCA takedowns on its own website. Specifically, in recent notices to Google from Vobile, on behalf of Warner Bros., the infringing domains include WB’s own official websites for movies like “Batman, the Dark Knight” and “The Matrix.”

It’s easy to look at this and laugh. And the story’s been getting lots of attention thanks to places like the BBC picking up on it as well. And thus, jokes like this one are an easy target:

And, yes, this is hardly the first time that companies have been caught targeting themselves. After all, Viacom famously sued YouTube over Viacom’s own promotional clips that it had uploaded to the site. And, the recording industry is famous for taking down the official videos of its artists.

But here’s why this isn’t really a laughing matter: many of the legacy industry players, including Warner Bros. and the MPAA who represent WB, have been pushing very heavily for a revamp of the DMCA that would include a “notice and staydown” provision — such that once a copyright holder representative sent a notice claiming a work was infringing, platforms would basically be required to block that content from ever appearing again. In response, many of us have pointed out just how bad companies like Warner Bros. are at issuing takedowns, and we’re told that such mistakes are rare. But they’re not rare. We see them all the time. And if notice and staydown were in place, it could create all sorts of problems.

Notice, too, that it wasn’t just WB’s own site that was the target of this bogus takedown. Just two slots above it are the official Amazon sales link for the movie. Elsewhere in the list were official IMDB pages as well. Yes, Google is actually better than most at going through these notices and rejecting ridiculous requests like this, but most other companies are not. If you send a notice, it’s treated as accurate, and down go those sites. Some may consider that fair game when it’s something as ridiculous as WB taking down its own sites, but it’s not so funny when it’s someone else’s work — like the time Fox sent DMCA notices taking down Cory Doctorow’s book, Homeland, just because it had the same title as a TV show.

Meanwhile, we keep hearing from companies like Warner Bros. about how Google is really to blame, and that it’s “obvious” when there’s infringing content that should be taken down. If it’s so “obvious” why can’t WB gets its act together and not take down its own sites? Perhaps it isn’t so obvious after all and perhaps we shouldn’t make copyright policy based on the bogus claims of companies so clueless that they’re issuing DMCA takedowns on their own websites or other official channels?

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Companies: vobile, warner bros.

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Comments on “Warner Bros. Issuing Takedowns For Its Own Site Is No Laughing Matter”

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66 Comments
Roger Strong (profile) says:

Vobile is active here in Canada, using our Notice on Notice system to scare seniors into sending them money.

A family friend that I do occasional tech support for received around 30 copyright notices one week via his ISP. They originated with Vobile on behalf of Viacom.

He’s a senior citizen in his late 80s living in a retirement home. He has just the one PC connected to his cable modem, and no Wi-Fi. There’s absolutely no possibility that he was downloading “The Shannara Chronicles” with BitTorrent in the middle of the night as the notice claims. He hadn’t heard of either.

They’re Prenda Law with less integrity and competence.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Probably a case of them screwing up and misidentifying the IP address and/or the ISP looking at the wrong logs rather than malicious intent.

30 notices in a week though? If that was for the same content, it’s another example of how screwed up things are. He wouldn’t have had time to respond, even if he wasn’t innocent. Since he is, it’s now his time and expense to exonerate himself while Vobile just use their broken scripts to fire off false accusations for pennies. There has to be a breaking point.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

The good news is that under the Notice on Notice system Vonage doesn’t know who he is. They can only send notices to the ISP, who is required to forward them to the customer. The ISP will only hand over the customer’s information to the trolls if they get a court order.

I’ve advised him not to contact Vobile (as demanded in the notice), but I’m sure there are many seniors who would have. (…revealing their identity and opening them up to direct legal threats.)

I emailed his ISP on his behalf, and they sent back a standardized form giving the distinct impression that they want nothing more to do with the matter.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re:

We could be laughing on these loons faces if it wasn’t for the fact that they can destroy lives if they are dead set to do so and they can and do harm our culture via their lobbying. And yet there are morons that treat these everyday mistakes as if they were anomalies or exceptions. If they are exceptions then why do they oppose so fiercely to a penalty system to bogus notices or even to a notice-notice system?

No really, this isn’t funny. They are dangerous in multiple ways.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: 'Indifference to collateral damage' AT BEST

If they are exceptions then why do they oppose so fiercely to a penalty system to bogus notices or even to a notice-notice system?

Any number of reasons, none they’d be willing to admit to though.

Because they know full-well that it not only happens, it happens on a regular basis, contrary to their ‘almost never’ claims.

Because the entire purpose is to shift all the costs to everyone else, and minimize the amount those making the claims have to send, both in time and money.

Because the law is meant to be completely one-sided, and penalties for bogus claims would undercut that, adding teeth to an otherwise toothless law and forcing those sending claims to check for accuracy before sending the claims.

Ultimately the fact that even suggesting penalties for bogus claims gets such vocal opposition makes it clear that the ones doing so are in support of the law only to the extent that it benefits them, and they don’t actually give a damn about the creators they claim to be ‘protecting’ with the law. If they actually cared about creators then they’d be all in favor of penalties for bogus takedowns, as those takedowns are likely to target creators, people who have to deal with a deliberately one-sided penalty structure if they want to restore their own content.

laughing t copyright troll stupity says:

Re: absolute lunacy o wb n ftards aka vobile

hey tried that bs on me laughably claiming i was sharing “the bachelor” which i beyond priceless since i cant stand that vomit inducing crap and you would have to pay me $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ a more $$$$$$$$$$$$$$ to even download it never-mind watch it ugh! Not enough $ to make me ever want to watch that crap….. more UGH!

Ninja (profile) says:

Notice, too, that it wasn’t just WB’s own site that was the target of this bogus takedown. Just two slots above it are the official Amazon sales link for the movie. Elsewhere in the list were official IMDB pages as well.

Honestly I kind of want to see a staydown system working. I’d LOVE to see they taking their own sites and revenue channels down from indexers for good. Maybe they’ll die a faster death and then we may have sane talks about promoting culture, arts and progress.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Problem is, if they can kill themselves this easily, it’s just as easy for them to do the same with their competitors’ content, as well as sites that allow them to find said content easily.

I’d like Google and others to abide by some of these requests just to make sure there’s a very public argument at how stupid they are, but nothing will happen without some actual punishment for false notices. This will continue to happen until there’s some reason for the notices sent out to be valid.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Notice, too, that it wasn’t just WB’s own site that was the target of this bogus takedown. Just two slots above it are the official Amazon sales link for the movie. Elsewhere in the list were official IMDB pages as well.

Hunh. Wouldn’t this mean that Copyright Infringement had an actual, if indirect, impact on sales for the first time?

AN69 (profile) says:

Re: @Ninja.

I like your idea.. but how about Google tells WB that there has been repeated claims about its sites violating US Copyright and until the matter is resolved, ALL searches that direct to any of WB’s sites (including subsidiaries and associated production companies) will be filtered and blocked until further notice.

“It is far easier for Google to just block owners of sites that make repeated false referencing claims until such time as the owner of all such false claims clean up their act, including compensation to Google for processing false claims and documentation as to how they will minimize false claims in the future.

Christenson says:

Re: Re: @Ninja.

I don’t think Google should be censoring links at all…

A good Wile E Coyote (Or Loony Tunes) move here (maybe from tweety bird) would be to make it clear when these links appear that WB itself had issued DMCA takedowns for them, and adduce a link to the takedown notice.

Here is one point where a little easy nerding for aggressive transparency could go a long way.

AN69 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: @Ninja.

Censorship is when the Government is restricting the view of material. Think Iran, North Korea, China. Anyone can go to any WB site as they wish. (Type in the URL and pesto.. Magic).

Authors are not obligated to list in a bibliography every book ever published on a topic they are discussing. They are free to make their own determination on whatever factors they deem relevant.

Website owners do NOT a constitutional right that others must direct them to their sites nor should Google be forced to display links that just cause them bogus problems.

Google is under no legal requirement to display any link; MPAA and RIAA think they should be able to hide sites they don’t like; why can’t Google hide links that just make useless and baseless claims against them.

I would rather make life difficult for those that want to use the Web for their own marketing purposes and want the Federal Government to punish others if/when they “property rights” are violated; yet use their legal power to make stupid work and bogus claims.

Good grief, if I was Jeff Bezos and I got a take down notice indirectly from WB regarding material they TOLD me to post, I would stop sales of all WB products immediately. I might refer customers to other sites, but I think WB needs Amazon more than Amazon needs WB.

Let Kevin Tsujihara (CEO of WB) start taking ownership and responsibility for his organization and any lost sales because of just incompetence or criminal styles of management styles.

Anonymous Coward says:

My preferred solution would be:

a search engine filter based on gross revenues. I’d like the search engine to be able to look up the SEC records of whoever is shilling the content, and allow me to drop pages based on a dollar bracket I provide as part of the http header.

Pretty much all the mainstream media outlets have some reprehensible behavior in their history. If I could filter them ALL, and only get small independent labels and artists, I would do it in a heartbeat.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: My preferred solution would be:

“Money isn’t the only thing that makes people act like assholes.”

I’m find with people who act like assholes. My problem is with committees that act like assholes. You can avoid an asshole. You can’t avoid a billion dollar enterprise bent on cultural and economic mayhem.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Committees [was My preferred solution would be:]

Money isn’t the only thing that makes people act like assholes.

My problem is with committees that act like assholes.

The United States House of Representatives Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet [PDF / downloadable member list] ought to be pressed for their reaction to this event.

And if your representative isn’t on that particular subcommittee list, then maybe you should still ask for a response.

November is not that far away.

Groaker (profile) says:

Actually such takedowns are a laughing matter. They are a test of the intellectual capacity of those who engage the firms who do the scanning. At this point one has to think that they have negligible ability to observe the consequences of their acts, and project the wreckage it will produce in the future.

I could live with take down and stay down IF the penalties for an invalid claim of infringement, with no defense in law, were the same as those for true infringement.

Christenson says:

Wile E Coyote and Roadrunner and Acme Supplies

Seems to me time for a short, animated parody, starring:
WB as Wile E. Coyote
Acme Supply as the US government/courts
Google as Roadrunner

The box from Acme reads “Profits”, and Wile E is trying hard to stop Roadrunner…but those DMCA notices just seem to keep blowing up in Wile E. Coyote’s face and destroying things.

Would someone like to draw this for Techdirt, maybe as an editorial cartoon?

Median Wilfred says:

Is this a symptom of duplicity?

A certain fraction of the “copying is theft” crowd must be serious about it – after all, any viewpoint is held by at least 5% of the populous.

But the movie studios and the big N record companies have to be aware at this point, that what they’re doing is misguided on some levels, logically wrong on other levels, and dangerous on yet other levels, right? That is, the MPAA and the RIAA are acting duplicitously, hoping that we’ll all buy into letting everyone else enforce their “intellectual property” rights, and them reaping the benefits, and that the fallout isn’t too grotesque.

They can’t be as stupid as they come off, can they?

Alternatively, they can’t be as evil as they come off, can they?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Is this a symptom of duplicity?

As long as the Internet, with all its free content exists, it is increasingly difficult for them to maintain the fiction that copyright and getting paid is the main driver of creativity. Sending lots of DMCA notices is their way of trying to destroying what they perceive as the outlets for content that they do not control, that is the search engines.
The must believe that they were in control before the Internet, and if they can destroy the existing service, that they can rebuild it into a system whereby they are the gatekeepers, and more importantly for them, the earners of the profits from content created by others.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

IPR Abuse Reports

It’s just as well we have the Lumen database to catalogue the DMCA reports being made so that the IPR abuses, when they come up, are reported.

I’ve been laughing about this because there’s nothing like being hoist by your own petard to show you the error of your ways. WB will no doubt just shrug and move on, but this story, laughing matter or not, has got people’s attention. Let’s keep the pressure on; as Mike pointed out, bots don’t discriminate between legitimate and illegitimate content, the result being that “Shoot ’em all and let God sort it out” attitude takes over.

I want to see the *AAs suffer the consequences of their own stupidity. It may well make them change their minds. Until then, the rest of us are going to suffer until real penalties for abuse are imposed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Moving on [was IPR Abuse Reports]

Warner Brothers has yet to comment.

Although a story from yesterday does get an emailed comment from Vobile.

Warner Brothers accuses its own websites of copyright violation in Google takedown request”, by Jason Silverstein, New York Daily News, Sep 5, 2006

 . . . Vobile CEO Yangbin Wang told the Daily News the company “never intended” to make it look like Warner Brothers was implicating itself. He blamed “a bug” in their search process . . .

“In total there are less than a handful of URLs out of millions of proven piracy URLs reported for taking down by error,” Wang said in an email. “None of the four URLs on legitimate sites were ever removed because it’s an obvious error.” . . .

Warner Brothers and Google did not immediately return messages from the Daily News.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Gotta love the classics

. . . Vobile CEO Yangbin Wang told the Daily News the company “never intended” to make it look like Warner Brothers was implicating itself. He blamed “a bug” in their search process . . .

Using bots to file that are so sloppy that the searches hit the very people hiring you, and not performing any human review before sending the notices is anything but a ‘bug’, that’s intentional.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Obvious Mistakes [was Moving on [was ...]]

… Wang said in an email. “None of the four URLs on legitimate sites were ever removed because it’s an obvious error.”

Looking back at the Techdirt stories tagged “notice and staydown” brings me immediately back to Mike’s story from last May, “A Dozen Bad Ideas That Were Raised At The Copyright Office’s DMCA Roundtables”:

5. Service providers shouldn’t be allowed to reject takedown notices: This one was pretty incredible (especially combined with the next one). The Copyright Office’s General Counsel seemed taken aback by the idea that service providers might choose, of their own volition, to reject DMCA takedown notices. She came back to this point multiple times on day one, suggesting that she was somehow uncomfortable with the idea that a service provider might choose to “adjudicate” whether or not a takedown notice was valid. . . .

Maybe someone should try for a reaction from the Copyright Office’s General Counsel —now? Today?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Moving on [was IPR Abuse Reports]

Exactly….

“None of the four URLs on legitimate sites were ever removed because it’s an obvious error.”

Yea, sure, those 4 URLs are OBVIOUSLY legit — the rest are OBVIOUSLY infringing, because everything is working PERFECTLY (just overlook the 4 that we NOW say are legit). Another 100% accurate takedown list.

Anonymous Coward says:

you’re right, it definitely isn’t a laughing matter! it shows exactly how the notice and take down is screwed up and even worse, how the whole copyright system is completely fucked up! the real problem is with the money grabbing fuckers in congress whpo are only interested in lining their own pockets rather than doing their duly elected job properly and to the benefit of all! until they actually stop taking ‘brown envelopes’ and start realising that all the problems are caused by them and what they do/don’t do and actually pull their thumbs out of their asses and do something about it, nothing will change for the better. it will, however get worse and despite the number of times it has been denied here, the one main aim is for the entertainment industries to have complete control over the best distribution method invented to date. when they can charge everyone for accessing the Internet, charge for every site visited and every download made of everything and absolutely no sites exist other than the ones who pay those industries to be there, then they will be more content and act less like the pricks they are, we hope!

Anonymous Coward says:

Jumping across the channel

Via #Warner hashtag, it looks like the news has now jumped across the English Channel…

Quand Warner Bros s’accuse lui-même de piratage”, par Pierre, Le Journal du Geek, le 6 septembre 2016

 . . . Mais quand ce studio demande à Google de déréférencer l’une de ses pages, c’est ce qu’on appelle communément un bon gros fail.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Jumping across the channel

“Quand Warner Bros s’accuse lui-même de piratage”, par Pierre, Le Journal du Geek, le 6 septembre 2016

Incidentally, while that article primarily credits an English language story at The Next Web, it also links to a French language article in Le Point, “Trop zélé, Warner demande à Google de supprimer son propre site !”, which is dated as originally published yesterday, “Publié le 05/09/2016 à 17:44”.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Until they have to pay for every screwed up link in the notices, they will not improve. The system is so unbalanced because the **AA’s claim it is so easy to spot… yet they screw the pooch regularly.
Imagine the outcry if Google just said f’ it, and blocked all of the WB things they demanded be blocked. They would be suing screaming how their business was being hurt, yet think nothing of burying a search engine, who hosts none of the allegedly infringing content, in millions of shitty takedowns and expect them to pay to sort it out for them.

Perhaps its time to give them what they want, when they target their own properties… remove them from the index. I would love to see a Judge hearing the case read where WB, through its agents, swore this was infringing content and needed to come down. Google shouldn’t have to carry the water and unless the law starts demanding they get paid for crap notices, its just easier to give them exactly what they demanded and let them explain how its someone elses fault they can’t spot infringing content vs authorized content.

Anonymous Coward says:

News penetration

Via #WarnerBros hashtag, within the past hour, a Seattle TV station has now picked up a syndicated story from yesterday…
Warner Bros. files copyright claim against itself” by Grant Suneson (Newsy), KIRO 7 News, Sep 5, 2016

The interesting point here is the editorial judgment by a local TV news team that this story has interest for their audience.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: News penetration

That story will be taken down by Warner soon enough.

This Google News search should show how widely that story’s been syndicated in the past 24 hours: 4 pages x 10 results/page + 7 results on a fifth page = 47 search results. Note that most of those appear to be local TV news stations.

Unfortunately, that query url is probably useless to archive all the results that you get with it right now.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: News penetration

This Google News search should show…

Incidentally, that search url definitely requires javascript on in order to see the results that I got with it. On the plus side, clearing browser state doesn’t seem to affect things—as long as javascript is on.

Perhaps more noteworthy, now I’m only seeing four valid results for the syndicated headline / story on the fifth page. Plus one final spurious result from “TheUSBport-16 hours ago”. That last one may have inadvertently made its way into the seven that I had counted earlier on the last page. (I was counting quickly.)

Anonymous Coward says:

This is easy...

WB will probably say: [laughing] It’s easy to tell that these two (WB and Amazon) URLs SHOULDN’T be blocked. And out of the other side of their mouth they’ll say: [laughing] It’s obvious that the others SHOULD be blocked since they are infringing.

But, if it was “so easy” why didn’t their checks and balance takedown system catch it? Why does it REQUIRE a third party to check their work?

David says:

Re: Re: Re: This is easy...

But it would have been as easy as including domain exclusions for fuck sake. There’s no excuse for lazy programming

“No excuse” is not interesting to corporations. More important is that there is no penalty for lazy programming. There is no reward for diligent programming either.

They are no charity. They are legally obligated to keep costs at minimum, and it is much more cost-effective to bribe the lawmakers than pay for conscionable programmers and conscionable procedures.

ECA (profile) says:

This is like..

Anyone see this as using a SHOT GUN to kill a mouse??

You would THINK that such companies would invest into creating a site/location, THAT THEY CONTROL, to distribute and sell recordings..
Insted, they would rather OVER charge for individual sales, by representatives.. WHICH adds to the price and cost of the goods..

This is like Hulu and the TV sites..TV sites figuring out ITS EXPENSIVE and hard to create a site to VIEW the movies, let someone ELSE do it, then Changing the contracts Over and over, and requiring More and more, as a 3rd party is TRYING to do a job..

If the CORPS would do their OWN work, prices would be ALLOT BETTER(I dream), then adding a 3rd, 4th party that needs to be paid..

UniKyrn (profile) says:

Give them what they asked for ...

Let’s see, who is their registrar?

Domain Name: warnerbros.com
Registry Domain ID: 2039311_DOMAIN_COM-VRSN
Registrar WHOIS Server: whois.markmonitor.com
Registrar URL: http://www.markmonitor.com

Ah, so Mark Monitor is guilty of providing technical support for an accused pirate site, they need to be taken down also.

The DNS records for both companies are now offline, right? 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:

Seems to me...

if WB or any of these other trolls nuke their own content with a takedown, Google should make a point of acquiescing to those in particular without complaint. Then when someone notices they blacklisted their own content, make the trolls go through the appeal process to get it reinstated. But then staff that particular appeal department (just for such cases) with real hardcase sticklers for outrageous procedures. “Paperwork must be submitted by hand, in triplicate, printed on fresh vellum, using a proprietary Google-owned font (license fee applies per document), notarized by a Google-sanctioned notary, personally signed by the company CEO and entire board of directors…”

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Spanish listings as well.

The best/funniest idea I’ve seen for incentive to pay attention regarding DMCA claims is a ‘strikes’ system, where if they go beyond a set limit they lose whatever copyright is involved in the claim.

Make a few bogus claims get a pass or a slap on the wrist, everyone makes mistakes. Make them regularly then clearly you need some incentive as to why accuracy is important when it comes to filing claims that can get someone else’s content removed.

(As an added bonus such a change would demolish overnight the practice of outsourcing DMCA claims, since the companies that handle that stuff currently tend to have terrible accuracy and would quickly public-domain a whole slew of things on behalf of their ‘clients’.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Political reaction

This morning, some people are still tweeting links to the BBC story. That news looks like it’s still rippling outwards in some circles.

Meanwhile, yesterday (Sep 7) Mike Masnick and Tim Cushing both retweeted a reaction to this article here at Techdirt, from Senator Ron Wyden.

Yup – “notice-and-staydown” is a critical threat. . . .

I didn’t bother to post a comment on those tweets and retweets when I first saw them, but now, changing my mind, I think that’s worth memorializing here.

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