Starz Really, Really Doesn't Want You To Know That TorrentFreak Wrote About Leaked Shows, Or That Anyone Tweeted About It

from the and-twitter-is-assisting dept

Something weird is going on with Starz over the past few days. Either it really, really doesn’t want you to know that a bunch of unreleased episodes of well known TV shows were recently leaked online. Or it really, really, really wants you to know all about it. Which one of those two things is true may depend on just how familiar whoever is manning the Starz copyright-takedown desk is with the concept of the Streisand Effect.

You see, a week ago, TorrentFreak published the article linked above. This is a pretty typical TorrentFreak kind of article, noting that some high profile shows or movies have leaked, perhaps providing screenshots, but not providing any links or really telling anyone how to get the shows. It is just reporting that the leaks exist. Two of the shows leaked were from Starz. As TorrentFreak wrote:

There are also two full and unreleased seasons of Starz? ?The Spanish Princess? and Hulu?s ?Ramy? among the leaked files. Both series have yet to premiere and were leaked from screener sources.

Then, last Thursday, TorrentFreak published a new article, noting that Starz had, in fact, filed a copyright claim with Twitter for TorrentFreak’s tweet to its original story. The takedown was sent by an operation called The Social Element, which holds itself out to be a “social media agency” who can “simplify complex social media for global brands.” It also describes itself as:

A global team of geeky pioneers, using our social media super powers to help our clients connect with their audience in the most powerful way.

I was at an event late last week, and only saw the latter story of the takedown message late Friday evening after returning to my hotel. I set it aside, thinking maybe I’d write up something this week. And then, over the weekend, things got weirder. Reporter Mathew Ingram told me, oddly, that his tweet about TorrentFreak’s article about Stars/The Social Element pulling down TorrentFreak’s tweet… also received a DMCA takedown and was removed:

He was not the only one. Copyright law professor Annemarie Bridy, who is regularly featured on these pages received one as well:

Also, the twitter account for SJD, who runs Fight Copyright Trolls:

And others as well:

And, to take it one step further, into the “asking for real trouble” category, EFF itself has announced that it had a tweet taken down for linking to the TorrentFreak article. EFF’s staff attorney Kit Walsh was quoted in the original, saying “Starz has no right to silence TorrentFreak?s news article or block links to it.” Then EFF tweeted a link to the article with text similar to Walsh’s quote… and that tweet got taken down due to a Starz copyright claim. That’s playing with fire.

A quick search of the Lumen Database shows dozens of DMCA notices sent to Twitter, many within the last week or so. I can’t see most of those tweets because Twitter has taken them down. Except somewhere after a few days, it appears that Starz took the ball itself, and boy did it run with it. It just started issuing takedown after takedown on basically any tweet about this. If, initially, this was a story about a clueless social media agency gone rogue, Starz’s actions over the weekend suggested otherwise.

Let’s just review how messed up this and how far removed any of this is from actual copyright infringement.

TorrentFreak, a popular news source, published an article merely noting the fact that some Starz TV shows had leaked online. This bizarre “social media agency” called The Social Element decides, on behalf of Starz, that this is no good at all, and sends a DMCA notice to Twitter for TorrentFreak’s tweet about the article. Already, this is ridiculous. The article was not infringing anything, nor linking to anything infringing (it doesn’t even tell anyone how to get the infringing works). The tweet is even less infringing.

But then, Starz doesn’t just decide to double down on what The Social Element did, it goes full on censorship crazy, sending takedowns on every tweet about TorrentFreak’s new article about the bogus takedown of the tweet to the new article. This is so far removed from any kind of copyright infringement that it is beyond frivolous.

It’s also a very clear violation of 512(f) of the DMCA, which would matter if 512(f) had any legal teeth at all.

Equally concerning is the question of why Twitter is agreeing to take down these tweets based on obviously bogus DMCA claims. I know that many sites do automatically take down any content on the receiving end of a DMCA notice, but most larger companies at least do a cursory review to make sure they’re not obviously bogus. I’d be surprised if that’s not the case with Twitter, but for whatever reason, all those tweets are being taken down — even the one from EFF, which you might think would at least make someone at Twitter take a second look.

Of course, as you might imagine, the more Starz doubles down on this destructive and abusive campaign, the more people are hearing about how its TV shows have been leaked online. Perhaps it’s some sort of sophisticated viral marketing play… or, more likely, some people who have never heard of the Streisand Effect, but are getting a very big lesson in it today.

Last night I reached out to Twitter, Starz and The Social Element with a whole bunch of questions, and may update this piece if any of them get back to me with answers.

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Companies: starz, the social element, torrentfreak, twitter

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Comments on “Starz Really, Really Doesn't Want You To Know That TorrentFreak Wrote About Leaked Shows, Or That Anyone Tweeted About It”

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64 Comments
Jeffrey Nonken (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

What censorship? The site hides comments flagged by the community, but those are readily shown with a single click. Witness the fact that I’ve just read your comment. Also, you don’t know what "censorship" means.

I’m sure this has been pointed out to you many times, which means that Hanlon’s Razor doesn’t apply: this is clearly both malice and stupidity.

K`Tetch (profile) says:

They've set themselves up for failure

I’m not sure who came up with this bright idea, but I’ve a feeling they had one too many drinks at a MPAA anti-piracy conference, and mis-remembered some stuff.

…like the Lenz case
…like 17 U.S. Code § 107 Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use
…like the statements they made are done under penalty of perjury
…like who the EFF are (Sidenote, Kit Walsh is an amazing person and top notch on these things, spoke at my conference series in 2015 on the DMCA)
…like, yes, the Streisand effect
…like how bad this works out for them in a PR sense
…like how the renewed interest in press freedoms over the past week, coupled with the new A11/13 (or whatever they renamed them) passed today, is going to make such actions seem REALLY REALLY bad and authoratarian, and
…just how it hasn’t really worked out that well for Thomas Goolnik either.

I think right now, some lawyer at Starz is quickly trying to redo his resume, and calling around his old law school friends hoping for an opening.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: They've set themselves up for failure

…like the statements they made are done under penalty of perjury

"A statement that the information in the notification is accurate, and under penalty of perjury, that the complaining party is authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed."

Note that the part about the information being accurate is not made under penalty of perjury. Only the copyright-owner-authorization is, and there’s no dispute that the copyright owner allowed this.

John85851 (profile) says:

Kill the messenger?

Maybe the whole point of these takedowns is to make sure no one knows that the leaked shows are leaked from screeners.
After all, hasn’t the industry told us that piracy comes from cam-corded version of movies? Now how will they explain piracy when their own screeners are doing it?

I fully suspect more takedown notices will go out when sites like TorrentFreak figure out who the screeners are.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Kill the messenger?

The article says

Facing a backlash over overzealous copyright enforcement, Starz issued an apology for inadvertently taking down tweets to articles about TV show piracy Monday.

How you you inadvertently issue a take down? That like saying that I inadvertently published a novel. Oops I really didn’t mean to go through all of that work.

What they really meant was, we didn’t think anyone would notice.

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Kill the messenger?

How you you inadvertently issue a take down?

It’s easy: issue takedowns automatically, through poorly-written software with a high false-positive rate.

The big publishers do it all the time, and part of the reason why is that the DMCA basically encourages it. If you intentionally issue a fraudulent takedown request, you’re liable; if you write shitty software that issues a fraudulent takedown request, you’re not.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Was that content really copyrighted?

The article says that the tweets, etc., being taken down don’t even link to the content much less contain anything that could be construed as a copyright violation. That doesn’t speak to whether the leaked content was really even copyrighted in the first place.

If it wasn’t then not only did they weaponize the DMCA to take down content that didn’t violate copyright but they also did so knowing that the leaked content wasn’t copyrighted at all. There is no scenario in which use of the DMCA should have been used or even can be used. Apart from breaking contracts with the studios even the editing houses didn’t violate copyright by leaking the content.

The DMCA sucks completely but only because it can be used in this way with no consequences for the abusers. If we can’t eliminate the DMCA then we need to give it some teeth for misuse as this is pretty bloody blatant.

Gary (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Was that content really copyrighted?

The leaked episodes were almost certainly copyrighted by the studio.

The article on the leak, tweets about the article, and then the tweets about the deleted tweets, were copyrighted – but were copyrighted by the people that made the tweets, not the studio. (Everything that is "affixed" has an automatic copyright.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Was that content really copyrighted?

Automatic but not enforceable. This message I’m typing right now is automatically copyrighted but I couldn’t win in court of someone copied and pasted it elsewhere without my permission (nevermind the ToS on TD that may or may not grant all rights to TD).

I’d like to know whether the studios that produced the leaked content got a US copyright on their content before the leaks occurred. If they did then the content was already made public. If they didn’t then it wasn’t possible for anything posted by a 3rd party to violate copyright. Either way, none of the posts taken down violated copyright at all but without a US copyright it wasn’t even possible for them to do so even if they published the videos in full.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Was that content really copyrighted?

Instead of "Really" Copyrighted, maybe the word you are looking for is "Registered" copyright.

Everything is copyrighted – most produced shows are going to be Registered.
Unregistered copyrighted works aren’t eligible for damages, but are still protected to a lesser extent.

I think TD gives the copyright away here? Not sure.

Anonymous Coward says:

Under fair use its legal to show a screen shot of a tv show for the purpose,s of reporting ,
eg show x was leaked .
will big companys never learn using the dmca on tweets or a single image
is futile, people will get annoyed ,
its called the streisland effect ,
More people will hear about the very subject you wanted to hide.
i,m not a legal expert , will torrent freak be allowed to show an image
from a tv show under article 13 in 2 years time
Since in theory you might need the permission of the ip holder
to quote a single sentence or a show an image .
i understand torrentfreak is based in America.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

I was chatting with some people on teh twitters who didn’t seem to understand how broken the system was.

If you get a notice & don’t jump immediately the penalties are laid out very clearly.
They thought you could counter-notice & get it put right back up… then someone looked at the actual law… and then they wondered how a 10 day window to restore material with no real penalties laid out was fair.

I told them if that made their heads hurt they shouldn’t think about the billion notices Google gets everyday… when the notices are supposed to be sent to those hosting the material and funny Google doesn’t host any of it… and they really shouldn’t think about how DMCA notices have been turned into thinly veiled extortion attempts that if you refuse to forward on they sue you…

Anonymous Coward says:

Oh look, Twitter is engaging in silencing news for a corporation

STILL don’t believe there’s censorship going on over on Twitter?

Gunna mock Torrentfreak and everyone else who calls this what it is (censorship) since only "the gubment can censor people"?

Remember those articles of you guys mocking people for decrying Twitter for censorship?

Just out of curiosity, do you guys prefer humble or crow for your pie while those of us who called out Twitter go "We told you so"?

Anonymous Coward says:

The effect of trolls:

More than half the comments on this article had nothing to do with the artcile itself, but were responses to a few juvenile troll comments… All that energy was wasted.

Remember: the trolls win every time you respond to them. So just don’t. Ignore them, flag them and they will disappear.

Next time respond to the article itself. It’s certainly worth it and it’s way more healthy. Both for your own peace of mind and for the community on this fine site.

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