Having developed a highly automated system that attempts to deal with huge and increasing instances of piracy, YouTube has shown it can handle copyright complaints on an unprecedented scale.
Whether the next stages of development will tackle widespread abuse of the takedown system remains to be seen but the High Court of Justice, via the Business and Property Court in Birmingham, UK, hopes to reduce the volume, if only by a little.
Two Can Play The Takedown Game
Those with both the time and the patience to read the judgment handed down last week in Moviebox Megastores International Ltd & Ors v Rahi & Ors will likely emerge from the other side with a) a headache and b) relief that relatively few copyright takedown abuse cases ever get near a courtroom.
The judgment references a trial related to three sets of proceedings that were consolidated by court order in 2021.
The Court’s timeline of the dispute dates back to February 2017 when singer and claimed songwriter Mohammad Rahi emailed Kamraan Ahmed, a director of music publisher Moviebox Megastores International Limited. Rahi warned that if his music albums weren’t removed from Moviebox’s YouTube channel and from iTunes, legal action would follow.
When Ahmed refused to remove the albums, Rahi responded by setting up his own YouTube channel, populated with music he claimed to own. A month after that, in April 2017, Rahi filed copyright claims at iTunes for four of his albums published by Moviebox, and six published on iTunes by the second claimant in the case, Oriental Star Agencies Ltd. All complaints were rejected.
In May 2017, Moviebox used YouTube’s Content ID system to take all revenue generated by Rahi in respect of four albums he’d uploaded to his newly-created YouTube channel. Two years later in October 2019, Rahi began filing applications at the Intellectual Property Office in Pakistan seeking copyright certificates for a number of songs, and a book in which several songs were written.
Game On: Laying the Foundations
The background to the dispute is an extraordinary maze of claims, counterclaims, and bitterness spread out over several years, during which documents were forensically examined and fingerprints subjected to professional scrutiny.
The Court’s judgment, dated March 8, 2023, is concise yet still manages to weigh in at almost 54,000 words; our focus here will be on the YouTube takedown campaign and the subsequent fallout.
Rahi’s albums were legally obtained by one company and then transferred to another; both companies operated under Moviebox branding. It was alleged that two of Rahi’s co-defendants, Mr Qureshi and Ms Manzoor (both singers), entered into a scheme to transfer rights to hundreds of songs, including some already published on the Moviebox YouTube channel, for which Qureshi later filed copyright claims.
The two Moviebox companies (Moviebox hereinafter) and the other claimant, Oriental Star Agencies, alleged that Qureshi and Manzoor’s actions were designed to fuel Rahi’s malicious YouTube takedown campaign. Since neither defendant responded in court, both had default judgments entered against them.
That led the Court to conclude that Qureshi and Manzoor did indeed conspire or act together in a common design to unlawfully cause loss to Moviebox. The Court needed to determine whether Rahi was part of that conspiracy.
Dishonest Evidence, Falsified Documents, Copyright Strikes
The judgment describes Moviebox director Mr Ahmed as an honest witness. The Court found that Rahi was not. As per the judgment, the singer relied on falsified evidence, lied to YouTube, falsely claimed to have written lyrics he did not, and lied about his connections to the rights reassignment matter, among other things.
In February 2020, Oriental Star Agencies Ltd (the second claimant alongside the two Moviebox companies) uploaded 41 of Rahi’s solo albums to iTunes. Rahi filed copyright complaints at iTunes but all were rejected. Two months later, Rahi filed objections with YouTube over the earlier Content ID claims against albums on his channel, and the revenue still being paid to Moviebox as a result.
In response, Moviebox filed copyright complaints against Rahi’s channel to take the four albums down. For this, Rahi received copyright strikes. Rahi responded by filing DMCA counternotices and in June/July 2020, followed up with copyright claims against YouTube channels operated by Moviebox and Oriental Star.
Using a copyright certificate obtained earlier in Pakistan, in July 2020 Rahi started proceedings against Moviebox and Oriental Star at the Intellectual Property Tribunal in Lahore, claiming copyright ownership over songs published in a book.
In September 2020, with copyright strikes accumulating, YouTube’s repeat infringer policy kicked in and Moviebox had its channel suspended. According to the judgment, Rahi celebrated the suspension on his Facebook page the very next day.
“In a video posted on Mr Rahi’s Facebook channel in which he, and his lawyer, Mr Zahoor appear, Mr Rahi says ‘…and those companies and that Mafia should keep this matter in their mind, who I have confronted, I am giving this message to them that you have established your companies to make money….. I talked to Sister Shazia Manzoor and she also told me that brother these people have done injustice to me..,” the Court’s account reads.
Meanwhile, Moviebox filed a claim against Rahi and obtained a “without notice injunction” requiring Mr Rahi to retract his strikes issued to YouTube. Less than two weeks later, Rahi agreed to comply.
Not Done Just Yet
Just three weeks after Rahi’s undertaking, Qureshi started filing takedown notices against Moviebox’s YouTube account and, in common with Rahi, began legal proceedings in Pakistan. Qureshi used the previously-mentioned reassignment of rights in hundreds of songs to a) support his YouTube claims and b) an application for an injunction against Moviebox and Oriental Star to prevent them from infringing his rights.
In November, Moviebox received another blow, this time from YouTube. Moviebox had sent DMCA counternotices to YouTube but since Qureshi had filed for an injunction against Moviebox in Pakistan, YouTube said it would disregard Moviebox’s counternotices.
Meanwhile, YouTube was threatening to disable Oriental Star’s YouTube channel. To counter that, Oriental Star obtained an injunction compelling Rahi to retract the complaints he sent to YouTube.
In December 2020, the two companies under Moviebox branding issued proceedings against Rahi, Manzoor, and Qureshi, obtaining an injunction against the latter pair. Three months later default judgments were issued against both, damages pending. The rights reassignment agreement was canceled.
Rahi’s Actions Caused Loss to the Claimant
The judgment published last week states that Rahi caused loss to Moviebox “as a result at least of: (a) its main YouTube channel being de-activated by YouTube from 9 September 2020; and (b) YouTube preventing the First claimant from uploading new content to its other YouTube channels.”
Rahi also caused loss to Oriental Star; YouTube required the removal of 12 videos from its channel and prevented the company from uploading new content. Rahi caused loss to both claimants via Qureshi and Manzoor’s rights assignment scheme, the judgment adds.
Handing down permanent injunctions against Rahi in respect of three claims, the presiding judge elaborated as follows:
In simple terms, the reason why I consider this appropriate is that Mr Rahi has displayed a willingness, acting in his own name and through others to pursue a relentless and fraudulent campaign aimed at damaging the economic interests of [Moviebox and Oriental Star], either as an end in itself or as a means of forcing the Claimants to stop exploiting songs sung by Mr Rahi for their own commercial benefit, in order to leave Mr Rahi free to do so.
The Claimants are entitled, in my judgment, to the protection of a suitably worded injunction which may serve the dual purpose of: (a) dissuading Mr Rahi from issuing any strikes himself against the Claimants’ YouTube channels or encouraging others to do so (and dissuading others from doing so at Mr Rahi’s encouragement); and (b) enabling the Claimants to demonstrate to YouTube that there is in place an extant injunction that prohibits Mr Rahi from engaging in issuing strikes against the Claimants YouTube channels or encouraging others to do so.
The High Court of Justice/Business and Property Court judgment is available here but somewhat unsurprisingly, this dispute seems destined to run and run.
In January 2023, Rahi filed a copyright infringement complaint against Moviebox and several UK-based record labels. He alleges that the defendants falsely claimed ownership of his music and had no right to upload his songs to YouTube.