LeakID And The DMCA Takedown Notice Farce

from the 'baby'-+-'bathwater'---'competence' dept

The DMCA notice and takedown system was considered to be a significant concession on the part of the content industries when it debuted. Over the intervening years, it has become a very powerful weapon, one that is brandished carelessly by many copyright holders. In order to protect their safe harbors, hosting companies have lapsed into a state of kneejerk overreaction, shutting down sites and pulling legitimate content with little to no warning, leaving those on the receiving end of these actions to clean up the mess.

Most sites don't have the luxury of investigating takedown notices to determine the veracity of the claims. It's easier (and safer) to kill everything off than to sort out what's infringing and what isn't. The content industries are perfectly fine with killing off legitimate content and operate without fear of reprisal.

But as the number of DMCA notices increases, content providers are frequently placing this weapon in the hands of underqualified third parties who either don't know or don't care what's infringing and what isn't. We've seen several examples of other people's content being claimed by these companies.

The third party DMCA patrolbot featured today first made its name known by claiming malware uploaded by a computer security researcher as its own, resulting in a shutdown of the researcher's Mediafire account. LeakID, the "company" (and we'll explore those scare quotes in a moment) behind the takedown practices what many other sketchy content enforcers do -- bulk keyword searches. This results in false positives that get swept up with all the actual infringement, such as in the case linked above. LeakID also ordered a Microsoft Office patch (freely available at Microsoft's website) be removed from this user's account.

That was the big news. But that's not the end of it. During LeakID's sudden burst of activity, all sorts of content was falsely claimed and removed by the overeager autobot.
I was reading a story called “What Not To Expect When You’re Not Expecting It” by thehoyden. I emailed thehoyden in advance and obtained permission to make and distribute the recording. Trust me, she is not the origin of this claim.

On June 4th, the file was deleted again, without notification, this time at Sendspace.

The action heats up in September. The famous malware takedown was reported on September 6th. But there's more.

A company called LeakID is claiming to have copyright on The Dunshelm Players' recordings... Specifically, and very bizarrely, this DMCA has been placed on the Commentary Tracks recorded by Jake Collins, Rosey Collins, Andy Marshall, Ross Thompson, Ricky Temple and myself.

How LeakID have managed to conclude that the Commentaries have anything to do with themselves is quite beyond comprehension, as the Commentaries are in fact the material on the website that is furthest from breaching copyright; to the best of my knowledge, we have never breached copyright with any of our work, but the Commentaries don't even include sound effects or music in the mix, they're just recordings of a few KM fans talking about a TV show.
I did finally manage to get hold of Mr Lemaire on the phone. I began by asking (in French) if he was an agent or representative of Bohemia Interactive or Dean Hall. He said "Non." Although I had introduced myself, I didn't explain why I was contacting him, so perhaps he thought I was a prospective client. I then asked why he had filed an incorrect DMCA claim against the files I had hosted on Mediafire. He ummed for a second or two and then hung up. When I called back later on, his mobile phone was turned off. I haven't been able to contact him since.

There's more out there. LeakID does most of its work for Microsoft. The only other companies listed are Citel Video, Midi Libre and a vague entity called Metropolitan. Metropolitan alone is responsible for 118,807 URLs being removed, all in a little over a month. Citel Video takedowns tend to be targeted to specific TV shows and movies, like Naruto and One Piece. Midi Libre is a French newspaper and LeakID has only sent two takedown requests in that name. Unfortunately, neither of the requests are posted online.

In fact, a majority of LeakID's takedowns have not been posted at Chilling Effects. The few that have are very specific takedowns for Microsoft and Citel Video. (Even the specfic takedowns have some anomalies. Here's a takedown for Microsoft that lists an album by Skinny Puppy and a copy of Minecraft as items to be removed. Interestingly, both are hosted at Mediafire.) There are some strange ones where LeakID lists itself as the copyright holder, which clearly isn't true. The carpet bombing requests that takedown anything and everything have not been posted at Chilling Effects. Instead, only the account holders being hit with a takedown get to see these scattergun notices.

However, one of these super-vague takedowns has been posted online. It's only a partial list of URLs, but the list of links covers all sorts of territory. It begins by stating that Hervé Lemaire is "representing" Metropolitan and is "authorized to act on behalf of an owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed." It lists "The Expendables" and "Trespass" but the URLs listed include links to files with names like "Expendables Trailer," "Great Teacher Onizuka Remake," "English Football 2011-2012 Downloads," "Max Payne Mobile," "American Reunion Unrated," "OS X Mountain Lion," "Desperate Housewives Season 14," "Daily Show Featuring Herman Cain," "Grey's Anatomy Sea. 3," "SQL Server 2008 Update," etc. The list literally goes on and on.

So, what's going on here? Is Lemaire taking submissions and compiling them all under the "Metropolitan" name? It does look like LeakID's site does have something akin to a "link dropoff" spot, according to this post written about the company. Another possibility is that LeakID is being retained by multiple copyright holders. If so, he's doing a lousy job vetting his search results. All sorts of legitimate content is being taken down. The last possibility is that Lemaire is freelancing in order to drum up business. If the last is true, then LeakID's takedown requests are not valid. He's representing no one and does not have the authority to request a takedown, no matter how blatantly infringing the content. It seems rather unlikely that he's representing a variety of movie studios, software companies and Apple itself. The more you look at the last couple of months of takedowns (and the resulting collateral damage), the more it looks like LeakID is going "vigilante," and issuing takedowns for anything infringing it can find.

Let's meet LeakID. 

"Managing You Content." There's a confidence builder. Let's see what's inside.

"LeakID is the first digital agency and was founded by experts from the world of radio, television and internet." 
The whole site is filled with approximate English and, no kidding, an mp3 that autoplays upon arrival, just like a Geocities page from a decade ago. (To stop it, press the button next to the "Privacy Policy" link at the bottom of the page.) Speaking of Privacy Policy, let's take a look at that.
"Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet adipiscing elit.

Pellentesque sed dolor. Aliquam congue fermentum nisl..."
Yep. Placeholder text. This "company" has no privacy policy. Apparently, it was too much trouble to copy and paste one from any number of websites using barely modified boilerplate. But let's not worry about that. How about LeakSearch, the signature anti-piracy tool?
"Leaksearch has been developed in php This tool is connected 24 hours a day to more than 30 sources that are updated every day.

Several days, even several days can go by before your product makes its way onto 'public' networks. With Leaksearch, you can make the most of this precious timelag to implement counter-measures and adapt your anti-pirating strategy."
And so on. Then there's Hervé Lemaire himself. His bio on the LeakID website paints him as someone with years of experience in the music business, including seven years in EMI's digital department. So does his entry at Wikipedia France, which resembles a copy-paste resumé dump job more than it resembles an actual Wikipedia article. (Speaking of resumés, here's a more thorough version, which helpfully points out that his position at EMI was "Head of Digital and Antipiracy.")

LeakID's official Twitter account is a mystery as well. Every tweet is a link to a Torrentfreak post, leading one to believe that Lemaire either possesses a twisted sense of irony or that the account has been hacked. If it's the latter, there's been no attempt to reclaim it or get it shut down.

Are companies like Microsoft willing to entrust their DMCA process to a company/person whose website is littered with butchered English and autoplays bog electronica upon entry? Even if English is not your native language, as is probably the case with Hervé Lemaire, if that's the language you've chosen to communicate with, you should probably get it right. One would think that companies would be more selective when handing out their legal legwork.

And what about the numerous other companies LeakID is issuing takedowns for? If these companies listed have hired LeakID to handle their DMCA requests, it shows an appalling lack of respect for internet users across the board. Piracy, to them, must be too important to ignore, but not important enough to handle competently. If everything is above board and LeakID has been retained to handle these takedowns, the companies represented must be satisfied with quantity over quality. Collateral damage is not only acceptable, it's considered the "price" of doing business. However, this price is paid by users who have legitimate content removed and accounts shut down.

The same companies that criticize file lockers for operating offshore to dodge US laws are outsourcing their anti-piracy efforts to offshore companies, which have little fear of being held responsible for perjuring themselves with bogus DMCA notices. It's nearly impossible to hold anyone responsible for a bogus takedown and handing off the DMCA duties to a French company makes it that much harder. The likelihood of anyone pursuing legal recourse is virtually zero. This leaves companies like LeakID, Degban and others to serve up bogus takedowns crafted by automated processes. Those on the receiving end will just have to get used to having accounts closed and files deleted for the foreseeable future.

Reader Comments

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  1. icon
    PaulT (profile), 2 Nov 2012 @ 9:05am

    Re: Oh, I get it: content owners must stay in US and play fair...

    "You pirates"

    "Now bring on the ad hom!"

    Sorry dude, you beat us to it.

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