The Mystery Of Columbia Pictures DMCAing Its Own Leaked Promotional Posters For Its 'Holmes And Watson' Movie

from the stop-advertising-my-product! dept

It’s no secret that the DMCA process is often abused. Typically, this abuse takes the form of one entity issuing a takedown notice not over true copyright concerns, but rather to either silence speech it doesn’t like or to harm a competitor. It’s a very real problem. But sometimes the misuse of the DMCA takedown process takes a turn towards the bizarre.

That appears to be the case with Columbia Pictures suddenly issuing takedown notices for a promotional poster for the upcoming Will Ferrell movie, Holmes and Watson.

The poster, featuring Will Ferrell and John Reilly as Holmes and Watson, shows both men signaling their initials. On top of that is a large red title that reads “Holmies,” as shown in this Reddit post. Following a series of news articles, the poster was shared on Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter. This isn’t something out of the ordinary, as the same happens with other prominent movies. What’s unusual, however, is that the posters have begun to ‘disappear.’

Several news sites that reported on and linked to the poster have removed the image and Slashfilm even took the entire article down. Around the same time, several copies shared on Twitter disappeared too.

Twitter removed images of the poster as well following a DMCA notice. It’s hard to get a handle on who released the poster in the first place, given that many of the news stories about it have disappeared and the rest don’t reference its source. The general din seems to be that it leaked earlier than intended, with some suggesting that the poster hadn’t been officially approved for release at all. It struck most people as quite strange that the promotional poster, pictured below, was being taken down by the distributor of the film, essentially trying to pull back free advertising it was getting for its movie.

So why was Columbia pictures DMCAing its own advertising for its own movie? Well, some internet sleuths think it all has to do with that “Holmies” at the top of the poster.

There are of course many possible explanations. The most likely option we’ve seen thus far refers to the “Holmies” title that’s on the original poster. Apparently, that term is also used for ‘groupies‘ of the Aurora shooter James Holmes.

“Err, ‘Holmies’ also means ‘fans of the kid who shot up that DARK KNIGHT theater’ so they might be freaking out and try to scrub the poster from existence,” Twitter user Standing Leaf writes.

That explanation makes more sense than any other out there, including the idea that Columbia Pictures would want to nuke its own advertising material that had begun to go viral. The company isn’t talking, which is unhelpful. But if that is the explanation, it should be clear that this sort of thing is not what the DMCA process is for and there can be consequences for innocent internet users that are suddenly having DMCA strikes against them, including on social media.

Whatever the explanation, Columbia Pictures owes the public some transparency on this at the very least.

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Companies: columbia pictures

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Comments on “The Mystery Of Columbia Pictures DMCAing Its Own Leaked Promotional Posters For Its 'Holmes And Watson' Movie”

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Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Not quite. Sherlock Holmes has been in the public domain in the UK and Canada since 1980.

Most of the books have been in the public domain in the US for decades, too, but the Doyle Estate made a habit of demanding a licensing fee to publish original Holmes stories, on the spurious legal argument that Holmes won’t enter into the public domain until all of Doyle’s Holmes stories do. (There are nine Sherlock Holmes stories that are still under copyright in the US.)

In 2013, two Holmes scholars sued the Doyle estate; the courts ruled on behalf of the plaintiffs that not only is most of the Holmes canon in the PD, but any new Holmes stories are legal so long as they don’t contain elements from those last nine stories that are still under copyright.

Techdirt covered the story pretty well under the sherlock holmes tag. The IFP article Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Public Domain is a good resource too.

So it’s not really accurate to say that "the books are finally entering the public domain". The books have been in the public domain in most countries for decades, and likewise most of the books have been in the public domain in the US for decades. It’s just that it’s only in the past five years that US courts have definitively established that people are allowed to create new Holmes stories without paying the Doyle Estate.

And, not for nothin’, the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes movies, the BBC Sherlock series, and Elementary all started before that court decision. So while this particular movie might be a result of that judgement, there were already several highly-visible Holmes adaptations before then.

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I don’t know for sure but I assume they all did, at least prior to the legal ruling that they didn’t have to. While those studios have deeper pockets than the Doyle Estate, they probably felt it was cheaper and easier to pay the licensing fee than pursue a legal fight.

(The BBC wouldn’t have had to pay in the UK, but they probably paid for US distribution.)

It’s a similar story with the Edgar Rice Burroughs Estate. Disney paid for the rights to Tarzan and John Carter (the ERB Estate owns the trademarks on those names, as well as various others related to them, but the books themselves are PD). Dynamite Comics did some Tarzan/John Carter series (under the generic titles Lord of the Jungle and Warlord of Mars); ERB Inc sued, but the parties settled out of court; Dynamite would have won but decided it was easier just to settle and pay for the license going forward.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Inevitably our trolls will suggest this is just an anomaly, and how concerns about this is not an abuse of the DMCA. I note that given these appeared to be official adverts, designed for wide distribution, it is facially apparent that distribution of general adverts would have an implied license, if fair use did not apply (newsworthiness and commentary, ect). It is why some restricted promotional materials are labeled “Not for general release”, to eliminate the implied license. As well, this appeared to be an official release, having started with news outlets.

That all comes together to establish lawful distribution. Given suggestions that this is being pulled due to concerns over associations with the Aurora shooter, that does not establish a valid copyright reason to take them down. Since a DMCA notice is about infringement, not ‘this is embarrassing and I would like it taken down’, this makes the use of the DMCA possible abuse.

None of this states a desire for outright elimination of the DMCA. Techdirt has generally called for copyright reform, including the DMCA, and relevant to this situation is the desire to reform takedowns to reflect legal norms, generally falling into two categories – notice & notice and real penalties for misuse.

If you want to try to claim a more extreme position on behalf of Techdirt, please cite your sources.

That One Guy (profile) says:

I just do not get people sometimes

There are of course many possible explanations. The most likely option we’ve seen thus far refers to the “Holmies” title that’s on the original poster. Apparently, that term is also used for ‘groupies‘ of the Aurora shooter James Holmes.

You know something’s seriously off when ‘company DMCA’s their own promotional material‘ is only the second dumbest thing in a story.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: James Holmes groupies

_Rampage killers have enough groupies to develop a nickname?_

Pre-internet there was a TV show called “Greatest American Hero” where the humble teacher gained super powers.
For an entire season, “Mr Hinckley” was called “Mr. Hanley” because of possible connections to a shooter. Then he returned as “Mr. H” because having the same name as a shooter was too much for the network.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I just do not get people sometimes

Not sure what’s worse, the idea that shooters have fans? (that really should tell us something about our society).

Or the fact it was given such a horrible fandom name? (holmies sounds and looks way too close to homies: a slang term that basically amounts to calling someone their buddy).

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: I just do not get people sometimes

The former is easily worse.

Stupid names are a dime a dozen, even ones that might sound similar to words already in use(I actually originally read the title as ‘homies’, as I had a friend that used the word), but people being fans of a scumbag that shot up a crowd? That’s goes well beyond ‘stupid’ and into ‘what the hell is wrong with you people?!’ territory.

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