HBO Asks Google to Take Down “Infringing” VLC Media Player

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It's no secret that copyright holders are trying to take down as much pirated content as they can, but their targeting of open source software is something new. In an attempt to remove pirated copies of Game of Thrones from the Internet, HBO sent a DMCA takedown to Google, listing a copy of the popular media player VLC as a copyright infringement. An honest mistake, perhaps, but a worrying one.

vlc pirateDay in and day out copyright holders send hundreds of thousands of DMCA takedown notices to Google, hoping to make pirated movies and music harder to find.

During the past month alone copyright holders asked Google to remove 14,855,269 URLs from its search results. Unfortunately, not all of these requests are legitimate.

In some cases the notices are flagged as false because the content has already been removed from the original site. But the automated systems used by copyright holders also include perfectly legitimate content. While Google keeps a close eye on this type of “abuse” the search engine can’t spot them all.

One good example of such a mistake is contained in a recent demand by HBO. The network is faced with a high demand for pirated copies of Game of Thrones and over the past months they asked Google to remove tens of thousands of links to the popular TV-show.

Usually these notices ask Google to get rid of links to pirate sites, but for some reason the cable network also wants Google to remove a link to the highly popular open source video player VLC.

Pirate VLC?


The URL in question belongs to the torrent site TorrentPortal but as can be seen here, it doesn’t link to any infringing content.

The same DMCA notice also lists various other links that don’t appear to link to HBO content, including a lot of porn related material, Ben Harper’s album Give Till It’s Gone, Naruto, free Java applets and Prince of Persia 5.

Over the past months HBO and many other copyright holders have built up a dubious track record when it comes to DMCA takedown notices. In addition to many “bogus” claims the company also tried to have its own website removed from Google.

The above mistakes may be relatively harmless to the site owners, but they show once again how much can go wrong with these automated DMCA notices. This is particularly troublesome since Google is down-ranking sites based on the number of DMCA notices it receives for them.

Whether these mistakes can be rooted out is doubtful as there is very little incentive for copyright holders to improve their accuracy. Google, however, is determined to prevent abuse and mistakes.

“We still do our best to catch errors or abuse so we don’t mistakenly disable access to non-infringing material. Google continues to put substantial resources into improving and streamlining this process, including into identifying erroneous and abusive takedowns, and deterring abuse,” Google told us previously.

For now, however, these erroneous takedowns will continue.


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