HBO's Latest DMCA Abuse: Issues Takedown To Google Over Popular VLC Media Player

from the take-it-all-down! dept

I was at a copyright conference recently, where a Congressional representative, who couldn't attend in person, had sent a recorded video message, which was played over the event's screens via a computer using the popular open source media player VLC. One of the copyright lawyers in attendance pointed out -- only half-jokingly -- that since VLC actually gets around some forms of DRM, some could define it as an anti-circumvention device, and thus illegal under the DMCA anti-circumvention provisions. Of course, it seems crazy that anyone would actually make such a claim -- but we live in crazy times.

I doubt that's what HBO intended when, as Torrentfreak discovered, it sent a DMCA takedown notice to Google with a bunch of links for supposedly infringing content, including various HBO shows. However, mixed in with everything else was a link to a copy of VLC. The notice claims that VLC is actually a copy of Game of Thrones, suggesting that this is yet another case where an overeager copyright holder isn't being very careful with the power given to it via the DMCA's notice-and-takedown procedures.
Given that this is the same HBO that recently sent a takedown notice over its own site, it seems pretty clear that HBO has hired incredibly sloppy "agents" to run its counterproductive DMCA takedown efforts. Unfortunately, that's just the nature of the game these days. Since there is no real or effective punishment for issuing bogus DMCA notices, copyright holders have no problem simply wiping out such things "by accident." If it happens to take down a legal copy of some media playing software they probably don't like very much in the first place, well, what's the big deal?

Filed Under: copyright, dmca takedown, vlc
Companies: hbo


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  1. icon
    Karl (profile), 16 Jul 2013 @ 8:21am

    Re: Re:

    I can't speak for Mike, but I certainly support some of those things.

    Actually, here's an example: eBook DRM.

    I like to have all of my eBooks in one program's library. (Because I know your plan is to be a lawyer who specializes in unnecessary copyright litigation, I won't reveal the name of this particular program.)

    But that poses a problem. I have bought several eBooks from multiple vendors: Amazon (which works only with Kindle), or Barnes & Noble (which works only with NOOK Study). Each has their own format with their own DRM, and you can't open one book in the other vendor's program. Much less a program from a third party.

    And never mind the mess trying to get them to play on my Android device. Amazon has a program for this, but B&N doesn't - in fact, their books won't even work with their own NOOK devices.

    The whole thing is a mess. In order to get around this, I use plug-ins to my third-party program (written by users) to strip the DRM and save the books in a non-proprietary format (either ePub or DRM-free PDF). Now, I have no problem including those books in my third-party program, nor do I have any issue with reading them on my Android device.

    Note that I am doing this for eBooks that I bought, not that I pirated. It's almost certain that my use would be fair use under copyright law.

    Under the letter of the law, the third-party eBook library program could be violating the DMCA anti-circumvention laws, and the people who own and distribute the program could face criminal charges and jail time.

    That seems, not only monumentally unfair, but actually detrimental to everyone involved - including Amazon and B&N. It certainly goes against the primary purpose of copyright law: to benefit the public, and promote the widespread distribution of content.

    Frankly, because DMCA anti-circumvention laws are primarily used in situations like this, I think it would be better if Congress scrapped those laws altogether. The detriment to the public far, far outweighs whatever benefits the public gets from those laws being there in the first place.

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