Popular File-Sharing Service Refuses to ‘Filter’ Content as it Fears Overblocking

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Czech file-sharing and hosting platform Ulož.to refuses to deploy a 'dumb' upload filter. The company reiterates this stance after rival platforms Hellshare and Hellspy signed piracy filtering agreements with local rightsholders. According to Uloz, these measures will likely result in overblocking, something that should be avoided according to EU law.

ulozTo the global audience, Ulož.to may not be a household name, but in the Czech Republic, it is massive.

The file-sharing and hosting service is listed among the most-visited websites in the country, while its mobile apps are frequently used as well.

Like many other file storage platforms, Ulož can be used to share a wide variety of files but according to copyright holders, many people abuse the platform to share pirated music, movies, and TV shows.

This criticism isn’t new. Over the years, Ulož has been reported to the US Trade Representative as a notorious pirate site several times. In addition, the platform was taken to court by the Czech anti-piracy outfit Dilia, which demanded the implementation of an upload filter.

Ulož lost this upload filter battle at the Supreme Court this year, but that certainly didn’t end the controversy. The service still resists the use of broad keyword-based upload checks.

Uloz Competitors Start Filtering

This topic has become relevant again this month after Hellspy and Hellshare, two other Czech file-sharing platforms, signed a deal with rightsholders to filter uploads and search results. The agreement is the result of lengthy discussions with the Association of Commercial Television (AKTV) over how and what should be filtered.

The end result appears to be a fairly rudimentary filtering mechanism where the file-sharing services use filenames, duration, and types of files to flag potentially infringing content. This is more basic than the hash-matching technologies major tech companies such as Google and Facebook use.

Hellshare’s parent company I&Q Group said that the first filtering results are positive. According to CEO Jan Hřebabecký, the measures are easy and effective. And as an added bonus, the filters also ensure that the service fulfills its obligations under the EU’s updated Copyright Directive.

Whether these filtering measures are necessary or sufficient is open for debate. Some rightsholders may believe that it doesn’t go far enough while others may see the basic filters as a threat to the free flow of information. Fellow file-sharing service Uloz.to finds itself in the latter camp.

Overblocking Fears

The site responded critically to the Hellshare and Hellspy deals. According to Uloz, the proposed blocking mechanisms are not “smart” at all. On the contrary, basic keyword filters will likely lead to overblocking.

“This is not a smart filtering of content, as it appears in some media, but a simple blocking of keywords, which significantly limits the rights of users,” Uloz notes.

“If someone wants to use the word street in a file name, for example, they are now out of luck on these platforms. By applying this principle, there will soon be no words left, and commercial entities will gradually parcel out the formerly free Internet.”

Jan Karabina, CEO of Uloz’s parent company says that they will continue to push back on broad blocking requests, both in- and outside of court.

Legal and Constitutional Questions

Uloz booked a victory in an earlier filtering case but, as previously noted, the file-sharing platform lost an important legal battle against local anti-piracy group Dilia this summer.

Uloz is unhappy with the ruling and is challenging the censorship part at the Constitutional Court. According to Uloz, the current verdict restricts people’s freedom of expression, which violates the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights.

“We are also under pressure to introduce overblocking. However, we consider such a step unconstitutional and in violation of users’ rights. In this context, we have already filed a constitutional complaint, which specifically concerns overblocking,” Karabina says.

In addition, Uloz doesn’t agree that it is obligated to implement basic upload checks under the EU Copyright Directive either. While Article 13 does indeed hint at upload filters, the legislation also stresses that overblocking should be avoided.

By implementing rudimentary upload checks, which Hellspy and Hellshare appear to use, Uloz’s CEO believes that overblocking is impossible to avoid and would actually violate EU law.

“In accordance with Article 17, we consider overblocking unacceptable, as well as yielding to the pressure of commercial entities at the expense of the rights of ordinary users,” Karabina soncludes.

App Troubles

The above clearly shows that Uloz puts the rights of its users first. This position isn’t welcomed by rightsholders, which will undoubtedly keep up the pressure.

Defeating the file-sharing service will be easier said than done, however. Earlier this year Uloz had its official app removed from the Google Play but it was reinstated a few weeks later after a successful appeal.

The app was reportedly removed by anti-piracy outfit Weemazz and will likely end up in court.

“We are taking legal action against the company Weemazz s.r.o. because such deliberate abuse of the platforms’ processes cannot be tolerated,” Uloz said in an earlier statement.


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