To deal with the ongoing threat of online piracy, major Hollywood studios have entire divisions dedicated to tracking down copyright infringers. Exactly what goes on behind the scenes is a mystery, but if the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has its way, part of this veil will soon be lifted.
Last month the digital rights group asked a Florida federal court to unseal the filings Warner submitted in its now-settled DMCA abuse case against Hotfile.
EFF argued that the public has the right to know what mistakes Warner made. Knowing how Warner Bros’ anti-piracy system works will be instrumental in discussing the effectiveness of the DMCA takedown procedure and similar measures.
This week Warner opposed the EFF’s request. The movie studio fears that by exposing the sealed documents pirates will obtain an unfair advantage. According to David Kaplan, Warner’s Senior Vice President of Anti-Piracy operations, the information “would give pirates multiple routes for evading detection and copyright enforcement.”
“Persons familiar with Warner’s methods and strategies for identifying unauthorized Warner content online could infringe without fear of detection if they knew how the detection worked,” Kaplan informed the court.
The above is intriguing, as it suggests that there are ways to bypass Warner’s anti-piracy systems. While this may be as simple as using anonymizer tools, the studio clearly doesn’t want the public to know. The opposition filings themselves are heavily redacted, but Warner warns the court that exposing their secrets could allow more “criminals” to avoid justice.
The movie studio asks the court to keep the documents under seal, and accuses EFF of having a secret agenda. Warner believes that the digital rights group is not so much interested in serving the public good, and suggests that the EFF mostly wants to use the information to their own advantage.
“Although EFF claims that this unsealing would serve the ‘public interest,’ EFF’s motion is a thinly-veiled effort to gain access to Warner’s confidential information for EFF’s own tactical advantage in private litigation that EFF regularly brings against copyright owners to challenge their use of takedown systems,” Warner writes.
In EFF’s case, the public interest may of course be aligned with the interests of the group itself. However, the Hollywood studios believe that EFF is mainly interested in scandalizing.
“Plaintiffs’ concern that EFF’s true intentions are to exploit the sealed information in order to ‘promote scandal’ regarding Warner and other copyright owners is fully justified, and tips the balance even further toward continued sealing of the designated information,” Warner informs the court.
According to Warner, the EFF’s reasoning doesn’t trump their right to protect their anti-piracy secrets. This is not to avoid “embarrassment” as EFF suggests, but to prevent pirates from outsmarting them. If the sealed documents were exposed, this could severely damage Warner’s operation, they claim.
“As Plaintiffs have explained, this detailed information could be used by infringers to evade Warner’s copyright enforcement efforts. That such disclosure would cause significant harm to Warner’s copyright enforcement efforts is beyond serious dispute,” Warner stresses.
It’s now up to the court to decide whose interests weigh stronger. If Judge Kathleen Williams decides to unseal the documents, it will be interesting to see what Warner is so afraid of.