Warner Bros. DMCA Fraud and Abuse Case Goes to Jury

The dispute between file-hosting service Hotfile and Warner Bros, where the latter is accused of taking down content they don’t hold the copyrights to, is going to jury trial this fall. The movie studio had requested summary judgment in their favor but the court decided that a jury must hear the issue. "There is sufficient evidence on the record to suggest that Warner intentionally targeted files it knew it had no right to remove," the judge notes.

warnerLast month the MPAA announced a major victory in its case against file-hosting service Hotfile.

A redacted copy of the verdict was released this week confirming that the movie studios won summary judgment on the issues of DMCA defense and vicarious liability. The remaining issues will be fought out in a trial later this year.

What the MPAA didn’t mention, however, is that the issue of Warner Bros’ alleged abuse of Hotfile’s anti-piracy tool will also go to jury.

Hotfile sued the movie studio two years ago for abusing the DMCA takedown process on numerous occasions.

The file-hoster alleged that after giving Warner access to its systems, the studio wrongfully took down hundreds of files including games demos and Open Source software without holding the copyrights to them. The takedowns continued even after the movie studio was repeatedly notified about the false claims.

In a response, Warner Bros. admitted the accusations. However, the movie studio argued that they are not to blame because the mistakes were made by a computer, not a person. As a result, the false takedown request were not “deliberate lies.”

Warner Bros. asked the court for summary judgment in its favor, but Florida District Court Judge Kathleen Williams has decided to let the issue be heard before a jury.

“There is sufficient evidence on the record to suggest that Warner intentionally targeted files it knew it had no right to remove. This precludes summary judgment in [Warner Bros’] favor,” the judge writes.

Judge Williams notes that Warner Bros. does not dispute the erroneous takedowns. The movie studio claimed that these mistakes were unavoidable but also admitted that it did not check whether the “infringing” titles actually pointed to their content. In addition, there are several other factors the jury will have to make a decision on.

“Warner readily admits that mistakes do occur, and Hotfile has identified characteristics that may be responsible for engendering those mistakes. For example, Warner’s staff did not download or review any Hotfile content before marking it for removal,” Williams writes.

Warner Bros. has targeted copyrighted works from other copyright holders, Electronic Arts for example. The movie studio also removed the software JDownloader, which was offered legally, no less than eight times for reasons that are redacted in the verdict.

“Specifically, Hotfile has provided the example of JDownloader, which Warner did not manage [redacted]. It has also shown Warner’s interest in an application of its takedown rights beyond works that it owns. And Warner has not otherwise argued that it had the right to remove those files, only that its mistakes should be excused,” Judge Williams writes.

The above is enough evidence for Hotfile to argue their case before a jury, in what promises to be a unique case on the appropriateness of automated DMCA takedown filters.

“The Court finds this motive and other evidence sufficient to sustain an inference that Warner violated Section 512(c), such that these issues should be presented to the jury.”

The case will now move to trial which is scheduled to start in November. Aside from the copyright infringement claims against Hotfile, the DMCA abuse case is expected to set an important precedent.

To be continued.

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