×

Policing the Pirates: 30% of Takedown Requests Are Questionable (Study)

Some things can’t be blamed on human error. Computers make mistakes, too.

Roughly 30% of requests to takedown copyrights material are of questionable validity, according to a new study by the University of California, Berkeley, and Columbia University, and one in 25 of these requests targeted material that wasn’t related to the works they allegedly ripped off.

To crunch the numbers, researchers looked at a random sample from more than 100 million notices sent by media companies and the agencies they tap to keep the movies, music and porn they produce from getting uploaded, shared or streamed illegally. Because these companies depend on automated, “bot”-based systems to police the Internet, it’s leading to problems. The algorithms they deploy aren’t too hot at discerning between content theft and parody or determining what differentiates piracy from fair use. There are laws in place, after all, that allow news organizations and others to send up or comment on copyrighted materials.

“You have computers making decisions,” said Jennifer Urban, a professor of law at Berkeley and one of the study’s co-authors. “It’s hard to put the fair use doctrine in a computer chip.”

These software errors add up — nearly a third of online takedown requests had flaws and would have benefited from human review, the study found. The music industry was responsible for the greatest percentage of takedown notices (41%), followed by adult entertainment (28.1%), movies and television (17%), software companies (7.5%), and game businesses (5.4%).

Part of the problem may be that the system of checks and balances put in place by lawmakers may be fraying. These takedown requests trace their origins back more than a decade to a 1998 law, called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA), that was passed in order to resolve copyright infringement disputes during the Wild West days of the Internet. But for online companies like Google, the number of these requests has ballooned from thousands a year to tens of millions a week amid an increased reliance on automated systems of enforcement.

The challenges posed by piracy are real. A 2013 Columbia University report found that nearly half of U.S. citizens pirate movies and television, and also discovered that with younger consumers, age 18 to 29, that number climbs to nearly 70%. And having a movie leak online can be financially disastrous. A 2014 report by Carnegie Mellon found that revenues for films that were pirated before they debuted dropped nearly 20%.

The problem is that the system being used to protect copyrighted material may be getting abused. Although there are flaws with the bot systems used by entertainment conglomerates, the Berkeley and Columbia study also cites problems with the less technologically advanced notices sent by individuals and small businesses. The report looked at takedown notices related to Google Image Search, which tended to be submitted not by robots, but human beings. Seven out of 10 of these requests were of questionable validity, and they disproportionately targeted blogs and personal websites, potentially infringing on freedom of expression.

“There are a lot of issues about a lack of sophistication regarding copyright law and when it is appropriate to ask for things to be taken down. Some people are misusing the takedown process because it’s super-cheap,” Urban notes.

More TV

  • Kumail Nanjiani

    Kumail Nanjiani on Not Wanting 'Little America' to Focus on the Political System

    Apple TV Plus’s anthology drama “Little America” may not be about politics, but by telling tales of immigrants in a polarizing time, many people feel there is a political undercurrent to its themes. “It is amazing that we are living in a time where kindness, empathy, humanity and shared experience feels like a political statement,” [...]

  • Apple TV Plus Renews 'Mythic Quest:

    Apple TV Plus Renews 'Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet' Ahead of Series Premiere

    Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day and Megan Ganz’s “Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet” has been renewed for a second season ahead of its series debut, Apple TV Plus announced Sunday. The half-hour comedy follows a team of developers as they navigate the challenges of running a popular video game. It was inspired by McElhenney’s visit to Ubisoft’s [...]

  • Apple TV Plus Home Before Dark

    Apple TV Plus Mystery 'Home Before Dark' Renewed for Season 2 Ahead of Series Premiere

    “Home Before Dark,” Apple TV Plus’ mystery series inspired by the real-life reporting of 9-year-old investigative journalist Hilde Lysiak, has nabbed an early Season 2 renewal ahead of its series premiere on April 3. Directed and executive produced by Jon M. Chu and created by showrunners and exec producers Dana Fox and Dara Resnik, the [...]

  • 911 Lone Star rob Lowe

    '9-1-1: Lone Star': TV Review

    In some ways, Rob Lowe is a fit for the Ryan Murphy universe. Something about his actorly vanity — so much a part of his star persona that it tends to impact every project he works on — feels lurid and unseemly in exactly the bad-taste way as does much of Murphy’s work. A plotline, [...]

  • Asa Butterfield in Netflix's Sex Education

    Netflix & Sky Strike Multi-Year Deal To Keep Streamer On Service

    Comcast-owned pay-TV operator Sky and Netflix have hammered out a new multi-year deal to keep content from the streaming giant on the service.  Under the new deal, customers of Sky’s set-top box service Sky Q will have the option to opt in for Netflix’s basic plan, which is priced locally at £5.99 ($7.99) per month. [...]

  • Paradigm Agency Cuts 30 Staff Positions,

    Paradigm Agency Cuts 30 Staff Positions, Mostly in Music

    Paradigm has made a significant cut to its staff, laying off about 30 agents and support staff or 4% of its employees, Variety has confirmed. Sources said most of the layoffs were in the music area at the agency and took place Friday.. Paradigm, which had about 700 employees prior to the layoffs, had no [...]

  • Edward Burns'Alex Cross' film premiere, Los

    Edward Burns Dramedy, Blumhouse TV Docuseries in Development at Epix

    Epix is eyeing some potential new additions on both the scripted and unscripted front. Network president Michael Wright unveiled Epix’s development slate, which includes two scripted projects and three prospective docuseries, at its Television Critics’ Association winter press tour day. One of the two scripted series hails from Edward Burns who is best known for [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content