MPAA’s Court Ordered Piracy Filter Censors Many Legitimate Files

Following a US court decision BitTorrent search engine isoHunt was ordered to implement a site-wide keyword filter provided by the MPAA. At the time, isoHunt's founder voiced concerns that this would lead to overfiltering, and it appears that he is right. Aside from Hollywood blockbusters, the broad filter also censors thousands of Creative Commons and public domain files. Needless to say, not all content creators are happy at being inadvertently censored.

mpaa-logoAlmost three years ago the U.S. District Court of California ordered BitTorrent search engine isoHunt to start filtering its search results.

The Court ordered the filtering of the search engine based on a list of thousands of keywords provided by the MPAA. Failure to comply would have meant a shutdown of the site in the United States. Earlier this year, the verdict was upheld by the appeals court which means that the filter remains in place today.

As a result isoHunt is filtering its systems for thousands of movie titles and blocking U.S. visitors’ access to torrents that contain keywords such as “The Heat,” “This Is The End” and “The Kingdom.” While this prevents visitors from accessing torrents linking to blockbuster movies, there’s also a vast amount of collateral damage.

This week artist Elliot Wallace found out that the music he shares with a Creative Commons license is blocked for U.S. visitors. Those who try to download his two track album “The Spirit Truth” will see the following error message.

“Torrent has been censored, as required by US court.”

Needless to say, Wallace doesn’t want his music to be blocked. However, one of his tracks is titled “In the Kingdom of the Undead” which contains “The Kingdom,” a combination of words which the MPAA deems infringing.


Blocked in the U.S.

censored-isohunt

As an artist Wallace is not against anti-piracy measures per se, but he does feel that the MPAA filter is in part hurting his ability to share his music.

“As an independent musician, I rely on word of mouth to spread my music. I understand that the title filter is an important step in preventing piracy, but such tools should be used with great care. Censoring an independent musician’s work and damaging
his publicity without recourse clearly shows the law being applied carelessly and over-broadly,” Wallace tells TorrentFreak.

While no filtering system is perfect, the MPAA filter isoHunt has been forced to implement is literally blocking thousands of unrelated torrents, many of which are in the public domain.

For example, legitimate torrents blocked by “The Kingdom” phrase include an album with Reggaeton music, a selection of sermons preached at the North Main Church of Christ and a live concert from Uncle Earl. All these files are also hosted on the Internet Archive and can be shared freely.

For “The Kingdom” alone we found hundreds of Creative Commons or public domain files that are being caught by MPAA’s filter, and the same is true for other banned phrases.

The phrase “The Heat” censors the G4 podcast, the Hip Hop Heads Podcast, Parametric Studies of an Automotive Air Conditioning System and a UConn student’s opinion on gun control. “This is The End” also blocks a wide variety of free to share content including the GeekFurious podcast, the Real BS podcast and the Cell Shock podcast.

The above is just the tip of the iceberg, but it certainly shows that isoHunt’s implementation of the MPAA’s court-ordered filter results in quite a bit of over-filtering.

Interestingly, the MPAA argues the opposite and has told the court that isoHunt is deliberately manipulating the filter to render it ineffective. The movie studios therefore want isoHunt to turn over the filter’s source code and have asked the court to punish the torrent site for contempt.

“The record to date supports the inference that Defendants have deliberately engineered the filter to ensure that it is ineffective in preventing access to Plaintiffs’ copyrighted works,” MPAA wrote in July.

As with most filtering systems, it is hard for the public to evaluate its performance when the list itself is secret. Perhaps it’s an idea to open up both the filtering source code as well as the list of banned keywords so the public can help spot abuse?

This is not the first time that an artist has complained that the MPAA has mistakenly censored his work, and if the current system remains in place it won’t be the last either.

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