Online Copyright Claims Reach Outrageous Levels

September 12, 2016

broken copyright symbolThe volume of copyright claims associated with online content has reportedly grown to outrageous levels.  The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) established the notice and takedown process, an open notification system through which copyright owners could assert their rights.  Today, the volume of such claims is now so substantial that many of the claims are not valid.  Reports regarding recent DMCA notices issued on behalf of Warner Brothers illustrate the extent to which the notice and takedown process seems to be subject to abuse.

Reportedly, a rights management company working on behalf of Warner Brothers recently issued DMCA takedown notices for popular and legitimate materials associated with Warner Brothers motion pictures.  The notices were directed to Google.  They apparently included requests to remove links to the official websites associated with Warner Brothers motion pictures including “Batman: The Dark Knight” and “The Matrix.”

In addition to targeting Google links to the official movie websites, the DMCA notices were also apparently directed against legitimate streaming services through which the motion pictures in question could be accessed.  The targeted streaming services reportedly included Amazon, Sky, and IMDb.

Matsuura Blakeley BannerThe takedown notices associated with these motion pictures seem to have been issued in error.  The materials targeted by the notices appear to have been legitimately authorized by Warner Brothers.  In effect, it seems that the takedown requests sent to Google on behalf of Warner Brothers actually undermine Warner Brothers by making it more difficult for consumers to access Warner Brothers content from authorized sources.

Reportedly, the twelve month period ending in August 2016, Google received requests for removal of approximately 558 million web pages.  This substantial volume of DMCA requests apparently represents an increase of approximately sixty percent over the previous twelve month period.  There is little doubt that the DMCA notice and takedown process is now used at a level which virtually ensures that a substantial portion of the takedown requests are unjustified and inappropriate.

The DMCA notice and takedown process does not include an effective mechanism to reduce the number of incorrect and unjustified claims.  The process seems to be overwhelmingly biased in favor of copyright claimants.  It presents a notable barrier to parties who access online content.

All parties who receive and process content takedown notices should exercise discretion as they process those requests.  The DMCA contemplates that a reasonable level of review will be conducted by the recipients of the notices prior to removal of the content in question.  Such review is essential to ensure that the legitimate rights of content users are protected.  Additionally, Congress should consider the possibility of introducing into the DMCA some form of penalty applicable to parties who abuse the notice and takedown process by submitting unmerited and unreasonable claims.