Earlier today, I posted my article about how Starz was issuing obviously bogus takedowns concerning tweets about a news story on TorrentFreak concering how a social media agency, The Social Element, had issued bogus DMCA takedown notices to Twitter, about another story on TorrentFreak about some TV shows leaking online.
Last night I had reached out to Twitter, The Social Element, and Starz, but had not received a real response by the time the story went out (Starz had emailed back suggesting that I did not give them enough time to respond, but had somehow managed to issue a weird apology statement to others). Eventually, more than half an hour after my story went out, Starz emailed me the following statement:
STARZ takes piracy and copyright infringement very seriously and must take steps, when necessary, to protect our content and creative IP as it is the core of our business. As such, we engage a third-party vendor to seek out and remove social media posts that provide access to illegally acquired content. The techniques and technologies employed in these efforts are not always perfect, and it appears that in this case, some posts were inadvertently caught up in the sweep that may fall outside the DMCA guidelines. That was never our intention and we apologize to those who were incorrectly targeted. We are in the process of reviewing all of the impacted posts as well as the scope and procedure for the previous takedowns and are working with our vendors to reinstate any such content that was inappropriately targeted for removal.
This statement appears to differ, slightly, from the one they gave to Variety, where they sort of tried to imply that mysterious hackers were responsible, saying that the company had 'recently incurred a security breach" which somehow (why?!?) "prompted the company to hire a third party for copyright enforcement." I don't see how a security breach would necessitate such a hiring. Nor do I see what that has to do with sending bogus takedowns, many of which appeared to come directly from Starz, and not from any third party. At the very least, Starz didn't use the "security breach" claim in the statement it sent me.
However, that does not make the statement any more believable. By my count, using Lumen Database (which might not be complete), The Social Element sent 42 DMCA takedowns to Twitter over this topic between April 8th and April 11th. Then Starz itself took over on Saturday the 13th and sent another 31 notices on Saturday and Sunday, for a total of 73 such notices. Both of the notices are notable for the lack of any information other than the links to the tweets, which would at least suggest that they may have been sent by the same individual or firm, who then changed who it claimed to actually be sending the takedowns.
I asked Starz if it could say if The Social Element was the third-party vendor in question, and Starz informed me that it "cannot confirm which vendor" was involved. The Social Element itself has not responded to multiple emails (and a phone call).
Meanwhile, the other aspects of Starz's statement are similarly unbelievable. We agree with Starz that the "techniques and technologies" employed by companies who file DMCA takedowns are not always perfect (though, it's nice for a Hollywood company to finally acknowledge as much), but the idea that it was not Starz's intention to target people reporting on news and that the tweets were "incorrectly targeted" is literally unbelievable given the notices that Twitter users received. Multiple ones stated that the takedown demand forwarded to them by Twitter noted that the takedown was specifically because the tweet "leads to article containing unreleased show imagery." In other words, they knew exactly what they were doing.
The other problematic part of the statement from Starz is the claim that some of those "caught up in the sweep... may fall outside the DMCA guidelines." No, it's not the "DMCA guidelines" that are the problem. It's the actual law. Copyright law does not allow you to censor news articles you don't like, or tweets about those news articles, and yet that's exactly what Starz has done.
I responded to Starz by pointing out these problems with the statement and suggesting, politely, that the statement would come off as entirely unbelievable, and that the company might want to consider putting out a more believable statement. The company declined to do so, simply reiterating:
"... we are reviewing and addressing all of the processes and procedures by which we are identifying and acting on social posts and activity that may have triggered these notices being sent, as there were clearly individuals and posts being targeted that should not have been per the guidelines."
Again, it's not "guidelines" that are the issue here, but copyright law itself.
Either way, thanks to Starz for, once again, demonstrating why demanding more aggressive copyright and enforcement almost always leads to out and out censorship.
Filed Under: censorship, copyright, dmca, takedowns, tweetsCompanies: starz, the social element, twitter