Completely Ignoring the DMCA an Option for Torrent Sites?

Opinion

Removing content when asked to by copyright holders enables file-sharing sites to comply with the DMCA and its European equivalents. However, with many large platforms now of interest to the police, is there any point in them complying with copyright law? Or does compliance ensure that sites live to fight another day?

Any site offering a facility for users to upload content has to be aware that some of that material is likely to infringe on someone’s copyrights. For sites aiming to please the United States of America, that means having a registered DMCA agent, at the very least.

For sites further afield, Russia for example, the DMCA is of little concern, but that doesn’t absolve them from copyright responsibilities. This week and after years of friction, the Russian state finally ordered the blocking of RuTracker, the country’s most popular torrent site.

The decision prompted an interesting response from the site. Instead of honoring takedown notices from copyright holders, RuTracker downgraded all of the special accounts it had given to anti-piracy outfits, effectively revoking their ability to take any content down. The message was essentially this: We cooperated and you still blocked us – *&$% you!

Of course, this attitude to copyright law is nothing new. The Pirate Bay has refused to take anything down on copyright grounds from day one and yet it remains up today. However, The Pirate Bay is a giant site with huge resources at its disposal, meaning that keeping the site going in spite of the law is a completely achievable task.

While it’s common knowledge that TPB’s attitude has placed it on law enforcement radars, the same goes for dozens of other less aggressive sites too. All major torrent and streaming sites have been warned by the UK’s Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit that they consider their operations to be criminal, and the High Court has been happy to order local ISPs to block them all.

So given that the police would arrest the operators of most sites given the right resources, what is actually the point of taking down any content at all? Why aren’t sites simply giving copyright holders the middle finger as RuTracker did this week?

Getting site admins to talk on this topic isn’t easy, but this week and on condition of anonymity, TF spoke with the operators of several sites who agreed to share their thoughts on DMCA-style compliance. It appears that while sites have a precarious position, keeping on the right side of civil law is an important part of staying online.

“We had an email from [PIPCU] but we also had letters from other anti-piracy agencies for years now. We’re too far in to close and if we did our record [with the copyright holders / authorities] won’t be cleaned anyway,” one site operator informs TF.

“Our main problem is to stay hosted so we obey [takedown notices] to keep our host out of trouble. We do that we stay online. That’s all he asks. It works for us but every few months we have to move. Hosts get tired of complaints.”

Another site operator told us that while takedown notices still come in, dealing with them is a futile exercise that does nothing to take pressure off the site.

“There’s no point in taking down anything anymore,” he says.

“They now go after your server provider, domain registrar, domain reseller, domain NIC, mail hosting, DNS hosting and SSL provider, toilet paper supplier and even cocaine supplier. They go after whoever you can think of, even if you are compliant.”

But while there may be no point in expecting that dealing with DMCA notices will make life easier, one admin confirms that taking steps like those taken by RuTracker this week will eventually lead to problems.

“RuTracker will eventually run into issues with their server providers because A) They will be pushed hard from ‘someone’, B) The upstreams of their server providers will be pushed hard,” he explains.

“They will be pushed hard because they stated ‘fuck you’ to all MPAA/RIAA/etc.”

Generally, it seems that complying with the DMCA and its European equivalents is all about staying online. While some hosts appear to be less sensitive to the issue, most do not want to be dealing with endless complaints about copyright content not being taken down. After all, human patience has limits, whether the complaints received are justified or not.

The big question then is just how compliant sites are choosing to be. It’s common knowledge that sites like KickassTorrents and Torrentz comply with DMCA notices as a matter of course, the gaps in their search results and reports that torrents have been removed are a testament to that. Others (and it’s hard to say how many) now find it as important to be seen to be compliant to please their hosts.

Overall, it seems unlikely that many sites will publicly extend a middle finger to the DMCA, even though they know that complying with it does little to stop attacks on their infrastructure. It does keep them friendly with their hosts though, and while hosts may not like the hassle, they remain tolerant as long the balance between profit and time spent stays in the black.

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