Hollywood’s Anti-Piracy Secrets Must Be Revealed, Court Rules

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All records that are part of the now-closed case between Hotfile and the MPAA will be unsealed in the interests of the public. In a decision that will be a disappointment to the industry group, U.S. District Court Judge Kathleen Williams declined a request from the MPAA who wanted to keep sensitive court filings sealed indefinitely claiming they may benefit pirates.

lockMore than a year has passed since the MPAA defeated Hotfile, but the case has still been stirring in the background.

Hoping to find out more about Hollywood’s anti-piracy policies the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) previously asked the court to make several sealed documents available to the public.

These documents are part of the counterclaim Hotfile filed, where it accused Warner of repeatedly abusing the DMCA takedown process. In particular, the EFF wants the public to know how Hollywood’s anti-piracy policies and tools work.

District Court Judge Kathleen Williams sided with the EFF and ruled that it’s in the public interest to unseal the information. The MPAA, however, argued that this may hurt some of its members.

Information regarding Columbia Pictures’ anti-piracy policies, in particular, would still be beneficial to pirates for decades to come, the Hollywood group argued.

“Defendants have cited two specific pieces of information regarding Columbia’s enforcement policies that, if revealed to the public, could compromise Columbia’s ability to protect its copyrighted works,” the MPAA’s lawyers wrote.

In addition, anti-piracy vendor Vobile feared that having its pricing information revealed could severely hurt the company.

Judge Williams has now reviewed these and other arguments but ruled that sealing records indefinitely is not an option. In this case, the public interest in the records outweighs the concerns of the MPAA.

“In reaching this conclusion, the Court has weighed the parties’ interests in maintaining the confidentiality of the sealed entries, including Plaintiffs’ assertions that disclosure of the sealed information would undermine the effectiveness of their antipiracy systems and copyright enforcement abilities, as well as third-party Voible’s argument that disclosure of the sealed data would unfairly put it at economic risk, against the presumption in favor of public access to court records,” Williams writes (pdf).

As a result of this decision all sealed documents will be made public ten years after the case was filed, which is on February 8, 2021.

Previously, Warner Bros. already released some of the confidential documents. Among other things the unsealed records showed that Warner Bros. uses “sophisticated robots” to track down infringing content.

How damaging the other documents are to Hollywood’s anti-piracy efforts will become clear in five years. However, it’s unlikely to top the Sony-leak of last December, through which many sensitive anti-piracy strategies were already unveiled.

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