Something weird is going on with Starz over the past few days. Either it really, really doesn't want you to know that a bunch of unreleased episodes of well known TV shows were recently leaked online. Or it really, really, really wants you to know all about it. Which one of those two things is true may depend on just how familiar whoever is manning the Starz copyright-takedown desk is with the concept of the Streisand Effect.
You see, a week ago, TorrentFreak published the article linked above. This is a pretty typical TorrentFreak kind of article, noting that some high profile shows or movies have leaked, perhaps providing screenshots, but not providing any links or really telling anyone how to get the shows. It is just reporting that the leaks exist. Two of the shows leaked were from Starz. As TorrentFreak wrote:
There are also two full and unreleased seasons of Starz’ “The Spanish Princess” and Hulu’s “Ramy” among the leaked files. Both series have yet to premiere and were leaked from screener sources.
Then, last Thursday, TorrentFreak published a new article, noting that Starz had, in fact, filed a copyright claim with Twitter for TorrentFreak's tweet to its original story. The takedown was sent by an operation called The Social Element, which holds itself out to be a "social media agency" who can "simplify complex social media for global brands." It also describes itself as:
A global team of geeky pioneers, using our social media super powers to help our clients connect with their audience in the most powerful way.
I was at an event late last week, and only saw the latter story of the takedown message late Friday evening after returning to my hotel. I set it aside, thinking maybe I'd write up something this week. And then, over the weekend, things got weirder. Reporter Mathew Ingram told me, oddly, that his tweet about TorrentFreak's article about Stars/The Social Element pulling down TorrentFreak's tweet... also received a DMCA takedown and was removed:
This is Kafka-esque: I posted yesterday about Twitter removing a tweet from TorrrentFreak because it contained a link to an article about pirated copies of Starz shows appearing online (with no links to said content). Twitter has now removed my tweet linking to that story pic.twitter.com/pKF4VCRSit
— Mathew Ingram (@mathewi) April 14, 2019
He was not the only one. Copyright law professor Annemarie Bridy, who is regularly featured on these pages received one as well:
So, it looks like @STARZ sent a DMCA takedown notice for my tweet linking to the @torrentfreak story documenting the original takedown. This would be a great story for @techdirt. cc: @mathewi pic.twitter.com/GHhMe51EdZ
— Annemarie Bridy (@AnnemarieBridy) April 14, 2019
Also, the twitter account for SJD, who runs Fight Copyright Trolls:
— FCT (@fightcopytrolls) April 14, 2019
And others as well:
Yep. Considering I’m not alone in this, this will get worse for Starz.
Got the dreaded notice too. cc: @mmasnick @mathewi https://t.co/eMkV4pjnNX pic.twitter.com/krTlqMDc3V
— Joe Ortiz (@LeoJTravis10) April 14, 2019
And, to take it one step further, into the "asking for real trouble" category, EFF itself has announced that it had a tweet taken down for linking to the TorrentFreak article. EFF's staff attorney Kit Walsh was quoted in the original, saying "Starz has no right to silence TorrentFreak’s news article or block links to it." Then EFF tweeted a link to the article with text similar to Walsh's quote... and that tweet got taken down due to a Starz copyright claim. That's playing with fire.
A quick search of the Lumen Database shows dozens of DMCA notices sent to Twitter, many within the last week or so. I can't see most of those tweets because Twitter has taken them down. Except somewhere after a few days, it appears that Starz took the ball itself, and boy did it run with it. It just started issuing takedown after takedown on basically any tweet about this. If, initially, this was a story about a clueless social media agency gone rogue, Starz's actions over the weekend suggested otherwise.
Let's just review how messed up this and how far removed any of this is from actual copyright infringement.
TorrentFreak, a popular news source, published an article merely noting the fact that some Starz TV shows had leaked online. This bizarre "social media agency" called The Social Element decides, on behalf of Starz, that this is no good at all, and sends a DMCA notice to Twitter for TorrentFreak's tweet about the article. Already, this is ridiculous. The article was not infringing anything, nor linking to anything infringing (it doesn't even tell anyone how to get the infringing works). The tweet is even less infringing.
But then, Starz doesn't just decide to double down on what The Social Element did, it goes full on censorship crazy, sending takedowns on every tweet about TorrentFreak's new article about the bogus takedown of the tweet to the new article. This is so far removed from any kind of copyright infringement that it is beyond frivolous.
It's also a very clear violation of 512(f) of the DMCA, which would matter if 512(f) had any legal teeth at all.
Equally concerning is the question of why Twitter is agreeing to take down these tweets based on obviously bogus DMCA claims. I know that many sites do automatically take down any content on the receiving end of a DMCA notice, but most larger companies at least do a cursory review to make sure they're not obviously bogus. I'd be surprised if that's not the case with Twitter, but for whatever reason, all those tweets are being taken down -- even the one from EFF, which you might think would at least make someone at Twitter take a second look.
Of course, as you might imagine, the more Starz doubles down on this destructive and abusive campaign, the more people are hearing about how its TV shows have been leaked online. Perhaps it's some sort of sophisticated viral marketing play... or, more likely, some people who have never heard of the Streisand Effect, but are getting a very big lesson in it today.
Last night I reached out to Twitter, Starz and The Social Element with a whole bunch of questions, and may update this piece if any of them get back to me with answers.
Filed Under: 512(f), abuse, copyright, dmca, dmca 512(f), free speech, journalism, reporting, takedownsCompanies: starz, the social element, torrentfreak, twitter