In a retaliatory move, three years ago file-hosting service Hotfile sued Warner Bros., accusing the movie studio of repeatedly abusing the DMCA takedown process.
Hotfile alleged that after giving Warner access to its systems, the studio removed hundreds of files that weren’t theirs, including games demos and Open Source software.
In a response, Warner Bros. admitted the accusations. However, the movie studio argued that they were not to blame because a computer made the mistakes, not a person. As a result, the false takedown requests were not “deliberate lies.”
Warner Bros. asked the court for summary judgment in its favor but Florida District Court Judge Kathleen Williams eventually decided to let the issue be heard before a jury, stating that there was sufficient evidence to suggest that Warner intentionally took down files it didn’t own.
With instances of automated abuse becoming more frequent in recent years the case promised to be crucial. But last November, a few weeks before the trial was due to begin, it was closed as part of a settlement between Hotfile and the MPAA.
The decision was a disappointment to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) who have now asked the court to unseal documents regarding Warner’s alleged abuse. According to the group, the public has the right to know what mistakes Warner made.
“Judge Williams’ decision was encouraging, but mysterious – we don’t get to see evidence of how Warner’s system works and which of its improper DMCA takedown notices gave rise to liability. So we know that Warner may have crossed a line, but not how or why,” EFF notes.
EFF’s interest in the matter is heightened because Congress and the Patent and Trademark Office have asked the public for input on the DMCA’s notice-and-takedown procedure. Details about Warner’s alleged abuse can help to shape these discussions, the group explains.
“Without seeing the facts that went into Judge WIlliams’s decision, it doesn’t help people design takedown systems that comply with the law, and it doesn’t help anyone make informed arguments about the DMCA when Congress takes it up,” EFF says.
According to EFF, public interest trumps Warner’s motivations to keep the court documents under seal. In fact, EFF believes that one of Warner’s main reasons not to disclose the details is to avoid embarrassment.
“There are indications that Warner simply seeks to avoid embarrassment that might follow from public disclosure of abusive practices that the Court’s summary judgment order strongly suggest were taking place. Avoiding embarrassment of a corporate litigant is not a legitimate reason for denying the public its right of access,” EFF tells Judge Williams.
The EFF is convinced that some copyright holders are abusing the DMCA to censor free speech. If this is the case with Warner, then lawmakers should know about it, so these violations can be stopped in the future.
“Lawmakers need to hear about how well the system is actually working, and whether it protects Internet users against having their speech curtailed by takedown-bots or overzealous and poorly trained reviewers.”
“Actual data about major DMCA users like Warner is vital,” EFF concludes.