Those Terrible Takedowns Aren't Mistakes, They're Intentional Fakes

from the surprise-surprise dept

Usually, when we see stupid and dangerous DMCA errors like Warner Bros. taking down its own website and Paramount taking down legitimate Linux torrents, it’s the studios we call out first for their wanton abuse of the system. But of course that’s only part of the story — there is a system of broken incentives both inside and outside the studios that has created an entire “anti-piracy” ecosystem. It started with the third parties that many studios and other rightsholders hire: self-styled copyright enforcement experts who charge a fee to piss an endless stream of DMCA notices into the wind of piracy. Some studios, like NBCUniversal (who we’ll be talking about in a moment) choose instead to build this function into their internal structure with anti-piracy divisions staffed by the same kind of folks. Thanks to the willingness of copyright holders to pay out for this pointless service, it’s grown into a whole industry — and it’s an industry for which the never-ending, whac-a-mole nature of the takedown game is a plus, since it means the job will never be done. While there’s plenty of blame to go around among media companies and lawmakers, it’s these takedown “experts” who are the most directly responsible for the epidemic of botched and fraudulent takedown notices.

And it’s easy to see why: they need to pad the numbers. If we accept that the whole exercise is pointless (it is) and there’s no actual end goal (there isn’t) then what makes one anti-piracy outfit better than another? Why, sheer volume of pointlessness, of course! The executive who hired the firm that takes down two-million links can brag about his competence compared to the executive who only got one-million for the same price, and the executive who designed the internal division that hit three-million for even less is a damn hero — even though they’re all just futilely pecking away at “infinity”. And so, since there’s no real penalty for abusing the DMCA, these groups have zero incentive to fret about only sending fair and accurate takedowns. But that’s not all — they also have every incentive to actively pad their numbers with takedowns they know are bullshit, and as TorrentFreak discovered last month and recently demonstrated again in pretty undeniable terms, that’s exactly what they’re doing:

… this may look like a proper notice. However, upon closer inspection it?s clear that the URL structure of the links is different from the format Torrentz2 uses. The notice in question lists this URL:

On Torrentz2, however, the search ?2012 dvdrip battleship mp4? generates the following URL, which is clearly different.

The link NBC Universal reports has never existed and simply returns a blank page. TorrentFreak reached out to the operator of the site who confirmed that they have never used this URL format.

This ?mistake? can be explained though. The URL structure NBCUniversal uses comes from the original Torrentz site, meaning that NBC simply did a search and replaced the old domain with a new one, without checking if the URLs exist.

In other words, they fabricated these links.

And this isn’t some isolated incident. TorrentFreak found plenty of new notices targeting URLs where the whole site had been taken down last year, and the URL didn’t even exist when it was up. It’s clear what’s happening: they’re just subbing out various known torrent domains into big lists of URLs that maybe, once, sorta, in a similar format on a different site, actually pointed to infringing material — and then billing their masters per URL targeted, regardless of whether it turned out to actually exist or not. Counting up all the fraudulent notices is next to impossible, but TF estimates there were tens if not hundreds of thousands of such URLs included in notices in the past few months alone.

Now, these takedowns of fake URLs might not seem as worrying or embarrassing as the notices that target legal material or a copyright holder’s own website, but they are further evidence of just how stupid the whole system is, and how badly it needs to be fixed. In a world where takedown notices are automatically generated by the millions without concern for whether or not the URLs are even valid, can we ever expect them to stop targeting legitimate speech and legal distribution? No. The DMCA needs teeth when it comes to punishing abusers, but giving it those teeth means dismantling this entire automated, slapdash anti-piracy industry — and don’t expect them to go without a fight.

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Comments on “Those Terrible Takedowns Aren't Mistakes, They're Intentional Fakes”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

If the only people who were getting screwed were the companies who hired frauds like this, then I would just sit back and laugh, as it would be a well deserved bit of punishment for their indifference so long as ‘something is done’.

However the problem is that the recipients of these notices have to spend time and money on their own, neither of which they can recoup, wading through ‘mistaken’ if not outright fraudulent claims. By padding the numbers with bogus claims these companies are intentionally making the (unpaid) ‘jobs’ of those on the receiving end more difficult, and they couldn’t care less I’m sure.

Stories like this highlight yet another instance where the law is seriously broken and unbalanced, though in this case at least the short-term fix would be simple enough, even if it’s one that would cause screaming loud enough to be heard on the International Space Station.

Any claim must also include payment so that those who review the claims aren’t doing so entirely on their time and their dime. It doesn’t have to be a lot, say twenty-five to fifty cents per claim, just enough to cover the costs of a quick review, but it would be required before any claim was reviewed. If the payment isn’t included then the claim is considered to be bogus and can be tossed without any repercussions.

If copyright infringement is really this huge drain, costing untold amounts then a quarter of a buck per claim should be seen as a steal. Conversely if someone isn’t willing to spend a freakin’ quarter then it’s pretty obvious it’s not nearly as big a deal as they make it out to be, and can be ignored.

Anonymous Coward says:

[T]hey are further evidence of just how stupid the whole system is, and how badly it needs to be fixed.

I love how your solutions are only about stopping abusive takedown notices, and they’re not about stemming the piracy problem which you admit the DMCA does nothing to solve.

Techdirt at its finest! #GoPirates #YouGuysSuck

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Probably because this particular article is focused on fraudulent DMCA notices. If you want articles talking about how to decrease copyright infringement that’s been covered in numerous other articles, with the short version being ‘make it so people want to give you money, and give them easy ways to do so’.

Really, was that the best ‘Look over there!’ you could come up with?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The end justifies the means – amirite???

It’s people that believe this sort of crap that are responsible for the ridiculous situations we find everyday.

If the cure is worse than the disease, what will you do?
Oh .. wait, I’m being told that many of you out there do not understand that the so called cure will kill you – oopps.
Why do they not tell you this?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The best thing is, it’s news like this that cast even more doubt on the “millions” of “legitimate” notices you like to brag about so much. Not looking so legitimate anymore, are they?

You chose to direct your hired goons to fabricate the data you used to demand for preferential treatment, and now more people are smelling the stink they left behind. You made your own bed of shit. Now lie in it!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Techdirt is in the business of stopping piracy like the MPAA is in the business of stopping piracy.

If you’re going to invent URLs that lead to absolutely nowhere then claim it’s antipiracy nobody is going to take you seriously. This is apparently the best that OP troll has to offer and as such he feels pressured to defend it with tooth and nail.

Although I suppose that would make Techdirt in the business of stopping piracy. In which case I’d say Techdirt does the far more effective job, because Techdirt espouses not submitting bogus shit. When you submit bogus shit and call it enforcement it’s an excellent way to make sure nobody else will take whatever “effort” you make seriously.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Piracy is an act of robbery or criminal violence by ship- or boat-borne attackers upon another ship or a coastal area, typically with the goal of stealing cargo and other valuable items or properties. Those who engage in acts of piracy are called pirates. The earliest documented instances of piracy were in the 14th century BC, when the Sea Peoples, a group of ocean raiders, attacked the ships of the Aegean and Mediterranean civilizations.

Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

It's all results driven...

The cartels look at the metrics.
We sent 200 million notices and those bastards at Google only took down 2 million.
This plays well in Congress & in their PR pushes that Google is the devil (despite not hosting any of the urls).

The solution, as I have said often, is a small fee for each bad link submitted. The cartels will bitch and complain, but the only way to improve the takedowns is to make them have a cost for being wrong.

Other companies spend a huge amount of their income vetting these bad takedowns because the law punishes them for not jumping high enough or quick enough.

There is an entire industry driven by submitting notices, who get paid for quantity not quality. They have no reason to improve because one is sure they get bonuses based on how many they shovel out.

Its time the cartels start paying their fair share, as they demand every other industry do for them. If Google delisted everything submitted and got blackholed you know they would be suing Google for a few billion… and Google can just show all of the notices sent on behalf of HBO flagging their own site.

It might only cost the cartels pennies per notice sent, so I think it is fair that they have to pay $25 for each and every bad link submitted. It won’t cover all of the costs inflicted on 3rd parties, but it would almost instantly improve the quality. If they aren’t paid up, then their new notices can be put on hold until the account is up to date. The cartels talk about everyone elses responsibilities, yet never seem to want to be responsible for their own failures. Good enough for Google, good enough for you.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: It's all results driven...

If your house is robbed or your car stolen, should you have to pay $500 to report the crime? If someone hacks your email account, should it cost you $100 to get the ISP to look into the problem and return the account to you?

Of course not. That would be absurd.

That’s pretty much the argument the MAFIAA would use against a proposal to make them pay people to comply with the law. IMO, a more reasonable (and likely to succeed) approach would be to post a bond that the takedown notice is proper — forfeited to the people the notice is sent to if it is not proper.

Anyone sending takedown notices is given the benefit of the doubt until counter-notices on their notices reach a certain threshold, then their notices start triggering manual reviews. Any counter-notice should result in a review of that specific alleged violation. If it is provably in error, the bond is forfeited.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: It's all results driven...

And if you file a fake police report about your car being stolen to cover up you got drunk and wrapped it around a tree?

No, there is no benefit of the doubt left, they burned all of that
– by suing over content they themselves uploaded
– by demanding and getting power in excess of the law & abusing it
– by using falsely inflated numbers to claim we need more law
– by demanding everyone else bear the costs to protect their monopolies

I’m not saying they pay for each url in every notice, I’m suggesting that every bogus url included dings them.
Considering that a “single” takedown can include 10K urls, how much bond is worth it?
Where will the counter notices come from for bogus URLs attributed to sites that the cartels would use the information to send DOJ on yet another witchhunt pretending US law applies in every country?
Why shouldn’t they have to pay for inflicting costs on an innocent 3rd party who does the right thing and verifies the urls that they swear under penalty of perjury point to content they represent and they are lying?

Google doesn’t host these files, yet they have to carry the water because the cartels say so.

Daydream says:

Re: Re: It's all results driven...

I don’t know, poor struggling artists who might actually be harmed by their work being plagiarized (a much more serious concern than just copying, I think), might not be able to afford putting up a large bond.

Here’s an idea; a quick google search says the current minimum wage in America is 7.25 USD per hour; that’s 0.2 of a cent every second.
If we assume that it takes 5 seconds to check a provided link and ensure that it exists and is infringing, we can charge just one cent per link to be taken down, accurately reflecting the time cost involved in checking and taking down (or keeping) a given ‘pirate’ address.
Presumably this would be paired with a debit micro-transactions program of some sort so that people don’t have to pull out a credit/debit card or Paypal account or whatever every single time.

Think about it, what happens if a copyright agency sends literal millions of links to be taken down?

TKnarr (profile) says:

Re: It's all results driven...

I wouldn’t make it a small fee, I’d make it a significant fee for completely bogus links (enough to cover legal review, so at least 1-2 hours at standard lawyer’s rates). Plus I’d change the rules to require the notice to include the amount of damages claimed for the allegedly-infringing content. If the link happens to refer to real content whose owner isn’t the entity represented in the notice, the sender of the notice owes a penalty equal to the claimed damages on top of the bogus-notice fee payable to the site. The sender can only avoid the penalty by showing that they have a sworn declaration from the entity they represent saying the content really does belong to that entity, in which case the entity owes that penalty to the site plus an equal penalty to the actual owner of the material for misuse of copyright (falsely claiming ownership for the purpose of interfering with the real owner’s distribution of their copyrighted material).

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: It's all results driven...

Damages are much to murky an area to deal with where the cartels who claim Harry Potter made no money.

I think the $25 is a modest enough number that is easy to get accepted. Hell anything under $100 would pass public scrutiny if Google published how much it costs them to check a url. Its meant to be a punishment, but not an insanely punitive punishment like $150K in damages for DLing content.

They need to learn that using shitty services will cost them, and that in turn will improve the services.

People like to say I hate copyright & want it abolished… but they are wrong. Copyright is something we need, just not in its current form. Small reforms like having to pay for sending crap notices would/should make an impression that they no longer get carte blanche for their demands.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: It's all results driven...

Copyright is something we need, just not in its current form.

Wrong, copyright is what the middlemen want, so that they can control markets and make a living from the works of the few creators that they choose to publish. The reason that the keep on attacking Internet services is because they allow lots of creators to make a living, or at least support their creativity on a part time basis, but not earn enough to support the parasitism that is the traditional publishers have become.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 It's all results driven...

If we rolled back every single mickey mouse extension, copyright would be vastly better than what we have today.

If we unified all the copyright laws to be aligned and remove the oh but these things aren’t covered by real copyright but this insane crap we got passed by the state in 1940.

If the public domain was allowed to have content actually move into it as was intended, and new works could be inspired by older works.

If copyright was simplified, small indie artists wouldn’t need a giant middleman to manage all of the stupid for them. The middlemen made it complicated & abusive. If we reform that and make it painfully simple, we will see some of the middlemen adapt or die off… because they are no longer required.

Sometimes an indie might need a middleman for something big, but it shouldn’t be at the cost of the copyrights & losing their image to a corporation that needs 120 years to try and extract income from it.

Stephen Hutcheson says:

“Piracy” (that is, copyright infringement) isn’t a “problem” any more than “libraries” are a “problem”. Both of them are merely societal adjustments to inefficient or inequitable commercial patterns.

Both allow people to share the costs of accessing information, when that cost is unacceptably (and/or unconscionably) high (or, of course, when the value of the information is small.)

There is no need to “solve” libraries: simply learn to “use” them to increase the efficiency of mechanisms for distributing information.

Nor is there any need to “solve” copyright infringement; it disappears on its own as soon as efficient, socially-acceptable means of distribution are developed.

The problem that is crying desperately for solution is, of course, the “music business” which exploits performers in order to gouge potential listeners, for unconscionably-high overhead. (Who on earth thinks $.75 to the performer is a conscionable percentage of the $21.99 retail price of a CD? If youtube turned over percentages like that, you’d hear the robber barons of Sony and Disney shrieking like a boy bands in a concrete mixer.)

Now who has a way of solving that problem?

Slaughtering the whole lot in some slow and painful way serves the demand for justice, but causes unacceptable damage to the souls of the persons who have to execute the task (not to mention, tends to harm innocent bystanders.) A better way is needed.

Quiet Lurcker says:

Expanding on the idea

Let’s not make it 25 cents, or even 25 dollars. Let’s make it a big number, like say 25 hundred dollars per link, with the money sent sent to an escrow account held by a third party.

If the link turns out to be truly infringing content, the company gets the money back, less an appropriate percentage to cover investigation and servicing costs.

If the link seems to be truly infringing, the money stays in the escrow account and is investigated further.

If the link turns out not to be infringing content, then the money automatically goes to to the party who posted the link, full stop.

If the link is infringing, or the notice is contested, the money goes to the party who wins the appeal (argument? fight? contest? trial? Pick what term you will).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Expanding on the idea

The number that matter to an artist is the number of fans who support their endevours, which is often a small percentage of people that have heard,read or watched their work. Having their works available in many places on the Internet where people look for entertainment benefits them even if that results in thousands of downloads for every fan that joins in supporting them.

Quiet Lurcker says:

Re: Re: Expanding on the idea

The original $2500 was aimed almost exclusively at businesses – rights holders and agents alike – the idea being that they’ll be very, very leery of sinking that kind of money into the project unless they’re dead serious.

As for the starving artist crowed, my initial thought echoes Marie Anoinette’s alleged attitude vis-a-vis the revolutionaries of her day – let them eat cake. On reflection, I dare say we could likely come up with some kind of sliding fee scale which is dependent on income. Admittedly, there’s likely a very slippery slope leading to all kinds of shenanigans similar in nature to how our current tax code is written – but I digress.

Anonymous Coward says:

I think one of the potential issues with false takedowns, even if you fix the penalty structure, is that independent companies can spring up that are funded by incumbents (ie: via ‘donations’). Those independent companies can then issue false takedowns and if they are penalized the fact that they are independent entities with no assets can shield the underlying companies behind it.

Entities that wish to issue takedowns should be required to place a bond ahead of time to cover the costs of any false takedown notices.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

If you hired the firm that sent it, yes.

If it was a random asshat sending a notice, then random asshat gets burned. If they don’t pay up, then any notices they generate can be legally ignored.

Nothing is perfect, and it will need fine tuning…
But to do nothing because something might happen, makes us as bad as the cartels who trot out every imagined horror as reasons to not do things.
Remember they said the VCR would wipe them out… we should have been so lucky.

Something as simple as requiring a letter from the content owner saying we hired firm X to handle our notices would shut down the imagined someone will pick random content and send a fake notice to try and screw the owner.

Stephen Hutcheson says:

>If your house is robbed or your car stolen, should you have to pay $500 to report the crime?

If you’ve been making millions of false reports to the police, you should be allowed to continue making false reports with impunity?

Perhaps the solution lies with the copyright office. Anyone can register a copyright _and_ a takedown-notice agent. Too many false claims (where the boundary of “too many” is less than 100, probably less than 10) and the copyright is forfeited.

Anyone who’s not the official agent for that copyright gets jailed for mail fraud instead–on the first instance, jailed for racketeering on the third one. I can’t see any problem with capital punishment here, clears the pool of the most selfish genes.

Wendy Cockcroft (profile) says:

Re: Re:

That seems entirely reasonable. Full disclosure: I’ve become so cynical I’ve actually advocated for abolishing copyright. If this idea was enacted I’d change my mind about it.

The thing is, if we do abolish copyright we’ll have to come up with a new way of protecting artists’ and creators’ financial interest in their works so they and their so-called advocates don’t whinge until it gets reinstated.

Anonymous Coward says:

Rasing the bar

I’m moving my sites out of US jurisdiction due to repeated take downs that are invalid. They are hobby sites, they don’t have any copyrighted things on them that I am not the copyright holder of. Just the legal fees for those that come back for a second bite at the apple after I point this out is more than I pay for my car a year. That’s if I even bother, I may just shut them down completely.

These invalid and bogus DMCA take down notices have a real cost and a real effect on others. It’s past time judges start imposing fines for the ones that are impossibly invalid.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Rasing the bar

And this is why the game is rigged.

They might not even bother to send you the notice, and send it to Google to delist your site… which did nothing wrong other than match some crappy algorithm.

If the notice isn’t sent to you, how do you try to appeal something you don’t know about?

Google isn’t the proper recipient for DMCA notices but its just been shoved upon us that they are.


The density of lies on the internet

Which the dramatic increase in paid shills in everything from primaries to comcast the truism of don’t trust anything you read on the internet is becoming factually true, it’s become to difficult to determine truth from fiction if lawmakers want to BanHammer anything from the tubes it should be this, taking money to lie on the tubes should be punishable by perma ban from all internet activity for life

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I wrote this 2 years ago when SJD did a deep dive into the history of Rightscorp’s principles. It has so many applications in todays world, where people think every problem has a solution… if they just pay enough.

Ah the snakeoil saviors, reinventing themselves time & time again.
They do nothing to cure the “aliment” but manage to line their pockets hocking their patent medicines from the back of a wagon. By the time they roll into the next town, the name on the side of the wagon is repainted so they can avoid the bad reputation.
Desperate people pay them for the salvation, and ignore the damage the medicine does making the condition worse. The only winners are the con men in the wagon, rolling onto the next town with their modern marvel in a bottle.

You keep buying the medicine and not get any better, perhaps it is time to talk to that stranger in the black hat they keep warning you about. He might not tell you pretty things you want to hear, he might tell you the truth and save you from killing yourself slowly with snakeoil.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Pissing into the wind of anti piracy

I don’t mind the anti piracy ecosystem pissing endless DMCAs into the wind of anti piracy,

You should mind because it will be either costing the sites that you value money to check them, and//or taking down content that you find useful because they have to automate the handling to deal with the automatically generated flood of DMCA notices.
The DMCA notice system has enabled a cost inequality in the favor of the traditional labels and studios, in that they spend little money yo pile costs or loss of audience onto their competition and any service that is of use to that competition.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Re: Pissing into the wind of anti piracy

I understand the evils of the DMCA.

You notice that I said I don’t mind them pissing INTO the wind. That is, issuing DMCAs against their own sites.

However, it is true, that even DMCAing their own sites still means that we are stuck with the DMCA. I would far rather that the DMCA not exist.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: So these legal firms

You think they are law firms? That costs to much money.
They got maybe 4 guys tweaking code to send out automated letters after it matches the string .t in a url.

The law says they only need to believe, not prove.

The legal system hasn’t shown it is interested in punishing, and the odds are that even if they got smacked they wouldn’t provide the costs back to the person who sues them.

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