Should Websites Charge A Fee To Process Copyright Takedowns?

Every day copyright holders send out countless notices which order BitTorrent indexes, cyberlockers, forums, blogs and search engines to remove links to allegedly infringing content. The process is time consuming for everyone involved. So, since time is money, shouldn't those being burdened by the actions of third parties be compensated for their work? One anti-piracy company says charging for takedowns amounts to extortion.

The publication last week of Google’s Transparency Report gave us a clearer idea of the pressures the search engine is under from copyright holders. The report revealed that in a single month Google was asked to take down an astonishing 1.2m links to allegedly infringing material.

As a US company Google must comply with the requests in order to maintain its DMCA Safe Harbor protection. The reports stops short of revealing the associated financial costs but considering the scale of the operation it’s safe to say that they’re significant. So who should pay?

This interesting issue has been raised not by Google, but anti-piracy company Takedown Piracy whose recent dispute with a torrent site spilled over into the public domain a few hours ago.

Piracy site uses extortion with copyright holders” says the blog headline penned by Takedown Piracy owner Nate Glass.

“Recently, we sent a fully DMCA compliant notice to a large torrent site. While our notice was accurate and fully DMCA compliant, we did forget one thing. The lump of money the piracy site demanded,” Glass writes.

TorrentFreak recognized the torrent site in questions as H33T.com. It’s worth noting that H33T is outside US jurisdiction so is not required to comply with the terms of the DMCA. They will take down links but they have a set of terms and conditions.

The fee is $50 USD charged per takedown item in each request regardless of number of requests to cover reasonable administration expenses accounted to work we undertake on our network at your behest. If the list of items for takedown ever exceeds 500 total items in a single request then we will negotiate a bulk rate payment schedule

Glass is not amused by the business proposal.

“So not only does this site profit by selling ads using other people’s hard work, but in the event you want your property removed from their website, it’s going to cost you $50 for EACH instance of copyright infringement,” he continued.

Admittedly it is fairly out of the ordinary for a torrent site to attach a fee to a copyright takedown, but the admin of H33T told TorrentFreak that it’s simply a question of being practical.

“Nothing in this world is for free and where the network service provider, in this case h33t, is a third party to the rights holder’s complaint against the uploader, then it is only proper that costs are properly allocated to the party who is incurring the costs,” he explained.

Thanks to the DMCA, US service providers have had no choice but to carry these costs themselves, but what about sites not subject to US law?

H33T says it is “established practice” for rights holders and network service providers to negotiate the burden of costs. While there are indeed prominent examples of this around the world, what they all have in common is disputes over who will pay for what.

The fledgling “3 strikes”-style regime introduced in New Zealand recently was plagued with argument over money and in the end it was decided that the ISPs – the “network service providers” referenced by H33T – should be paid $25 NZD by rightsholders when they send a warning to a customer.

The UK’s now-delayed Digital Economy Act is also the center of a costs argument between ISPs and rightsholders, and negotiations in Australia aren’t going well either.

“The rightsholders want all the benefits of remedial action, but want the ISPs to foot the bill. ISPs don’t want to pay to protect the rights of third parties,” iiNet chief regulatory officer Steve Dalby said recently.

And of course this is where it all gets quite interesting. Takedown Piracy are a piracy takedown service – they get paid by rightholders to have links to infringing content taken down. Takedown Piracy’s entire business model exists on the removal of links, a service that H33T is demanding a fee for – just like Takedown Piracy does.

“How hypocritical can Takedown Piracy be?” questions H33T.

“Their business model is to charge the rights holder a fee to make takedowns happen. But when the third party, in this case h33t, responsibly engages with them to expedite the takedown they refuse to apply the funds the rights holders have given them for the purpose. It’s outrageous and clearly a major wrong against their clients.”

Aldor Nini from anti-piracy company Acromax GmbH says that in some instances sites should be able to charge for takedowns, but with conditions.

“Sites may charge if their business is not based on copyright infringements and they are not already earning money from the illegitimate usage of infringing material,” Nini told TorrentFreak.

Interestingly, H33T informs us that the site responds to all takedown requests using the emails it is supplied with, but in the 6 months since the $50 takedown policy was put in place, only in two instances has he received a response.

But is $50 per takedown good value for money? It is if the one-download-equals-one-lost-sale mantra is applied, say H33T.

“What we see here is that the MAFIAA claim that a download equals a lost sale is absolute bull crap. If it were true, using MAFIAA math, $50 for a takedown is an extremely cheap and effective price to pay for 10s of thousands of lost sales.

“The MAFIAA narrative is deceit, lies and more lies.”

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