Earlier this year, a coalition of entertainment companies including Warner Bros sued the cyberlocker service Hotfile for copyright infringement. Warner and the other Hollywood studios alleged that the company enabled users to upload and share pirated material.
Two months ago Hotfile fired back with a claim that Warner Bros. violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act by requesting the removal of files that it didn't actually own. Hotfile had created a tool that Warner Bros. could use to automatically remove content. But, Hotfile alleged, Warner used this tool to wrongly take down material. For instance, Hotfile arranged to remove a software title owned by a publisher that had attempted to distribute it as freeware.
Warner Bros. -- which put out the movie “The Box” -- also demanded that Hofile remove material with the words “the box” in the title, even though the content was unrelated to the film. Examples include the audio book "Cancer: Out Of The Box," By Ty M. Bollinger, as well as the BBC show "The Box that Saved Britain."
Last week, Warner responded to the accusation by making the remarkable admission that it didn't thoroughly vet claims before asking Hotfile to remove material. “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,” the company says in its court papers.
That statement is now becoming Exhibit A in digital rights groups' argument for why the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act is a bad idea. The Stop Online Piracy Act, introduced in the House late last month, would allow content owners to seek court orders preventing online ad networks and credit card companies from doing business with “rogue” sites -- defined as sites dedicated to infringing activity.
Opponents are asking whether it makes sense to give entertainment companies that kind of power, when a large company like Warner wasn't particularly careful about ferreting out infringement.
“If Warner’s recklessness under the current legal framework shows us anything, it’s that Congress’ proposition to give these kinds of companies even greater power is about as sensible as parents giving to their teenager the keys to the brand new family car after he just got a DUI crashing the old one,” Public Knowledge says in a blog post by Dana Smith. “Warner has shown that they cannot be trusted even with the power given to them by the DMCA when they 'cannot practically download and view the contents of each file' before they remove it.”