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.