As Reddit fights to protect the identities of users who simply participated in piracy-related discussions, two new cases filed last Friday may also prove controversial.
On February 17, 2023, Marvel’s Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania officially kicked off ‘Phase 5’ of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Distributed by Disney to lukewarm reviews, the movie took $105 million at the box office in its first week and then plummeted 70% to $32 million in week two.
Thanks to a leak posted online around a month before the movie’s theatrical debut, some fans already had an idea of how the movie would play out. Marvel’s pursuit of the leakers is likely to have a storyline all of its own.
MVL Film Finance LLC Targets Google
When MVL Film Finance LLC (MVL) was incorporated in 2004/5, its purpose was to finance Marvel Studios’ production of 10 “live-action or animated films” based on up to 10 of Marvel’s comic book characters. Several related business entities, including Marvel Studios and parent company Marvel Entertainment, are owned by The Walt Disney Company.
Last Friday at the United States District for the Northern District of California, Marvel Studios’ submitted a declaration in support of a DMCA subpoena application targeting Google. Matthew Slatoff, Marvel’s Vice President, Global Security & Content Protection, informed the Court that his responsibilities include monitoring and addressing infringement of MVL Film Finance’s rights.
According to Slatoff’s declaration, on January 21, a Disney anti-piracy analyst submitted a copyright infringement notice to Google after discovering that Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania content had been uploaded to systems operated by Google, without MVL’s authorization. The takedown notice, submitted via Google’s webform, contained a prompt from Google and a response from the rightsholder.
Identify and describe the copyrighted work: Unreleased leaked script of the new Disney movie Ant-man and the Wasp: Quantumania.
Marvel supplied a docs.google.com/document/ URL as the location for the allegedly infringing content. The content no longer exists at that location.
On January 23, Disney’s analyst received confirmation that while the takedown notice had been received by Google, the company wasn’t able to take any content down. Sometime during the previous couple of days the file had already been removed, leaving Google with nothing to do.
That didn’t mean the document couldn’t be retrieved from elsewhere, however.
The Document Detailed in the DMCA Subpoenas
The document in question reveals a few interesting details. It’s 63 pages long, and in an introduction written by an unidentified person, the ‘script’ text is attributed to screenwriter Jeff Loveness and described as “translated dialogue.”
The script was edited and/or displayed in a Portuguese web interface, but since both Portugal and Brazil are mentioned in the source, neither can be ruled in or out. Other evidence points to the likelihood that the text was intended for use in subtitles. A date reference is also interesting.
The Reddit thread mentioned in the document is still online. It provides a number of spoilers but doesn’t carry any text from the leak.
The ‘leaked’ document Marvel is interested in mentions the Reddit thread above as being two months old at the time the document was written or edited. Both DMCA subpoena applications seek information relating to Google and Reddit users and their alleged activities between January 15 to February 15, 2023.
The timeframe seems relevant; around January 20 it was reported that the entire plot of the movie had been leaked online.
While that ties in with the newer Reddit thread, the older Reddit thread suggests a much earlier plot leak, around October 2022. Substantial plot leaks date back even further than that but nothing on the scale of an entire script.
MVL Wants Reddit to Unmask Leakers
When information about the script/subtitle file was posted on Reddit mid-January, leak-loving Marvel fans were both excited and impressed. “Yeah this is some next level leak” and “This legit might be the biggest leak in this subs history” set the tone, but the fun didn’t last.
A moderator of the subreddit commented that since the information was receiving copyright notices, any “future sharing of the material will result in a ban.”
The thread is still live today and there’s no doubt that Marvel is aware of it.
The DMCA subpoena application specifically mentions the thread alongside an email from Reddit’s legal team, which had previously agreed to take the infringing content down.
In common with the takedown notice sent to Google, the allegedly infringing content may have been deleted before Reddit could remove it. There’s no mention of a copyright complaint, instead the post notes, “Sorry, this post was deleted by the person who originally posted it.”
At this point concern shifts to the rest of the thread, which talks about the document hosted by Google and how the mod team “took the google doc down” to ensure that existing links to the file would no longer lead to it.
On one hand that’s a positive response to a copyright complaint. On the other, it links the document to the Reddit thread. The original post listed in the DMCA subpoena did an even better job of that.
As a result, Marvel now wants Reddit to hand over “All Identifying Information for the user ‘u/MSSmods’,” which throws another unpredictable element into the mix.
/u/MSSMods was created in March 2021 and declared as a shared account, meaning that at least one, or some, or perhaps all of the subreddit’s moderators have used it at some point.
That’s not ideal when one person posted the controversial thread but the information requested includes “any information provided when an Infringing User established their Reddit account, including the name(s), address(es), telephone number(s), email address(es); (b) any IP address(es) used by such user; and (c) account number(s).”
From there, the DMCA subpoena application attempts to throw a generalized dragnet, not just over the moderation team, but the entire subreddit and its users.
– All Identifying Information for any other user(s) responsible for posting, editing, and/or maintaining the content previously available on the Reddit Site, including, without limitation, any moderator of the MarvelStudioSpoilers subreddit involved in uploading content on or about January 20, 2023 to the Reddit Site comprising and/or related to the dialogue of then-unreleased motion picture “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania”
– All Identifying Information for any user involved, between January 15, 2023 and February 15, 2023, in posting and/or editing the Infringing Content. (edited for clarity)
Another issue here is that no infringing content was ever posted to the Reddit thread, meaning that nobody was in a position to edit the content either. The allegedly infringing content was hosted on Google, the thread simply provided a link.
Even under the circumstances (Reddit considered the original DMCA takedown notice and found a prima facie case for removal), the idea that Reddit must conduct an investigation to determine the involvement of anyone potentially involved may provoke opposition.
In the meantime, Reddit finds itself in the middle of another controversy and, as one Reddit user commented at the time of the leak, the subreddit’s moderators aren’t in the best spot either.
“Somewhere out there, Feige [President of Marvel Studios] is loading his gun and sharpening his knives,” the user wrote.
“I pity the fool who leaked this.”
The DMCA subpoena applications can be found here (G1/G2, R1/R2)