In September the Florida-based file-hosting service Hotfile sued Warner Bros. for fraud and abuse.
The file-hoster alleged that after giving Warner access to its systems, the studio wrongfully took down files including games demos and Open Source software without holding the copyrights to them. The false takedowns continued even after the movie studio was repeatedly notified about the false claims.
“Not only has Warner (along with four other major motion picture studios) filed this unfounded and contrived litigation against Hotfile employing overly aggressive tactics, Warner has made repeated, reckless and irresponsible misrepresentations to Hotfile falsely claiming to own copyrights in material from Hotfile.com,” the company wrote in its complaint.
Yesterday Warner Bros. responded to Hotfile’s allegations, admitting that it indeed removed materials for which they don’t hold the copyrights. In addition, the movie studio states that it removed many titles based merely on keywords and without verifying their actual content.
“Warner further admits that, given the volume and pace of new infringements on Hotfile, Warner could not practically download and view the contents of each file prior to requesting that it be taken down through use of the SRA tool,” Warner writes.
Most of the false takedowns appear to be the result of an overbroad filter. Warner used this tool to find links that it could then remove via the anti-piracy takedown tool (SRA) Hotfile had built for them.
“Warner admits that, as one component of its takedown process, Warner utilizes automated software to assist in locating files on the Internet believed to contain unauthorized Warner content,” the movie studio writes.
Hotfile pointed out that this automated process resulted in the removal of many files that do not belong to Warner. The movie studio admits this and confirms that while searching for ‘The Box (2009)’ many unrelated titles were removed.
“Warner admits that its records indicate that URLs containing the phrases ‘The Box That Changed Britain’ and ‘Cancer Step Outsider of the Box’ were requested for takedown through use of the SRA tool.”
But not all false takedowns were unintentional. Warner also says that one of their employees deleted Open Source software from Hotfile on purpose. Their rationale for this is that the software in question could speed up infringing downloads.
“Warner admits that a file requested to be removed by Warner was software that had been posted alongside infringing Warner content in order to facilitate the rapid downloading of the infringing Warner content, and that Warner was not the owner of the software itself,” they write.
This purposeful removal of third party Open Source software is a bold move, and it will be interesting to see how the court reviews these and the other false takedowns.
Warner, however, states that Hotfile’s claims should be dismissed. Among other things, the movie studio argues that the majority of the files that they wrongfully took down were in fact infringing and not authorized by the copyright owners to be distributed through or hosted on Hotfile.
While it is clear that Warner was not playing by the rules, the question of whether Hotfile is entitled to compensation for the DMCA “fraud and abuse” it claims Warner conducted is for the judge to decide.