During the past few weeks an estimated 30,000 Internet users received threatening letters from a lawfirm claiming that they needed to pay hard cash in compensation after illegally watching adult movies on the hugely popular streaming site
RedTube. But in a turnaround described as spectacular by a lawfirm involved in the dispute, a court has admitted that those individuals' personal details should never have been handed over.
Threatening letters from copyright trolls usually take pretty much the same format -- You've downloaded or shared our content using BitTorrent networks and for that we will take you to court. However, it doesn't have to be that way. For the
payment of a few hundred to a few thousand dollars or euros, we can make this all go away.
Earlier this month, however, there was a new twist to this awful business. Many thousands of individuals began receiving letters from German lawfirm U & C acting on behalf of a Swiss company called The Archive AG. Their claim was that letter
recipients had watched several adult titles on the hugely popular adult streaming site RedTube.
Just to put things into perspective, that's like watching a clip on YouTube and someone coming along with a demand that you pay them cash -- a very worrying development indeed.
Wilde Beuger Solmecke, a law firm that specializes in defending Internet users from the threats of copyright trolls, has been working hard on the case and estimates that around 30,000 people have received these demands.
All along the lawfirm has insisted that there is no legal basis for the threats and now, quite amazingly, the court that has been dealing with the case has admitted there may have been a major screw up.
After receiving at least 50 full complaints, the Cologne Regional Court has been reexamining the entire process and now, according to lawyer Christian Solmecke, the Court has made a spectacular turnaround.
Apparently, some of the judges who issued the information decisions now -- after knowing the complete situation -- have changed their mind (or for the first time formed a complete opinion) and decided that streaming is no longer illegal, Solmecke explains.
For those concerned, the application of this standard would have the advantage that they will not have to worry about the legality of a platform in the future. We have held this legal opinion for a long time.
The Cologne Regional Court's decision will be welcomed by all letter recipients but for the Court's next move we shall have to wait until at least January. The hope is that all 30,000 individuals won't have to pay a penny and that copyright troll
heads will roll. Definitely one to watch.
Many thousands of Internet users set to be targeted by an adult content copyright troll can today breathe a sigh of relief. Streaming video portal RedTube, the site where targets were said to have viewed unauthorized content, has obtained an
injunction to stop the lawfirm involved sending out any more threats. Company vice president Alex Taylor says such invasions of privacy for monetary gain can never be accepted.
Threats to initiate legal action on the basis of petty copyright infringement offenses are one of the scourges of the modern Internet. To date as many as a couple of million households worldwide have been targeted by this potentially lucrative
The latest scandal to hit Internet users involves users of streaming video site RedTube. Traditionally those simply viewing content on YouTube-like sites have been considered immune to rightsholder threats, but early December thousands of RedTube
users received letters demanding 250 euros to make lawsuits go away.
The controversial episode is turning into somewhat of a scandal, not least concerning the mystery of how the lawfirm involved, U & C acting on behalf of a Swiss company called The Archive AG, obtained users' IP address. RedTube insists it has
handed no information to third parties.
With U & C warning that its first wave of 10,000+ letters is just the beginning, RedTube has been fighting back and now has good news for its customers. The adult video site has obtained a temporary injunction against The Archive AG from the
Regional Court of Hamburg, meaning that no more letters demanding payment may be sent out.
Alex Taylor of RedTube said:
This decision is a victory not only for the users of Redtube, but for every person who visits streaming websites. It is a clear message that the use of personal information and invasions of privacy for purely financial interests will not be
Update: Not illegal unless higher courts find otherwise
The controversial RedTube case in Germany has provoked an interesting response from the Ministry of Justice. Although it says the question will
ultimately be answered by the European Court, the Ministry says that it believes the mere viewing of copyright infringing streams is not illegal under current law.
With the controversy storming on the question was posed to the German Government and the Ministry of Justice has just delivered its opinion. The Ministry concludes that the mere viewing of a copyrighted stream without permission is not in itself
an act of copyright infringement.
This opinion puts the Government completely at odds with the adult companies behind the thousands of cash settlement letters sent out last year. It also draws a line in the sand between streaming (legal) and regular downloads (illegal).
According to the Ministry of Justice's opinion the watching of illicit movies on a browser-based streaming site now appears to be permissible (temporary copy), whereas downloading a movie which is stored on a hard drive for later viewing
(reproduction) remains illegal.
However, the question of streaming legality is one yet to be decided in Germany's highest court, and according to the Government the definitive ruling will arrive from outside its borders.
Whether the use of streaming offerings constitutes a reproduction or violates the rights of authors and holders of related rights has not yet been clarified by the supreme court, the Ministry told Parliament, adding that the question will
ultimately be answered by the European Court of Justice .
In the meantime the announcement will be welcomed by thousands of RedTube users who should be further emboldened not to hand over their hard earned cash.
Offsite Article: Also in Germany: Broadband subscribers are not responsible for copyright infractions of others
A new package of regulation has been passed in Italy, cutting the costs and time needed to get sites blocked or copyright infringing work removed from
The new rules, which gives internet censor, AgCom, the power to block users' access to certain websites in the country, received the green light after a five-month long battle. The package of regulations will come into effect on 31 March next year
and has received a warm welcome from the entertainment industry while drawing intense criticism from a coalition of lawyers and activists threatening to challenge it in Italy's highest administrative court.
With the new provisions, if AgCom agrees an Italian-hosted site is infringing rights-holders' copyright, the watchdog can order its hosting provider to remove the digital works in question. Alternatively, it can also ask ISPs to block their
customers' access to the site, whether the site is hosted in Italy or not. Providers have three working days to comply with AgCom's decision. In total, from the filing of the complaint to AgCom's verdict, the whole process should last no more than
However, some lawyers and activists say that by speeding up the process, the new regulations pave the way for unfair verdicts. Guido Scorza, a lawyer and expert in online law said:
Copyright is a complicate matter and I don't see how AgCom, which doesn't have a dedicated copyright team, could explore all the nuances of certain cases with the necessary diligence in such a short time.
ISPs too are deeply concerned about the new law since they could risk a fine up to EUR250,000 if they don't comply with AgCom's rulings in time. Dino Bortolotto, president of ISP association Assoprovider, told ZDNet:
The regulation is weighted in favour of copyright holders and doesn't even mention the costs that ISPs will bear in order to comply with orders that are likely to become more frequent. We will devote many man-hours to operations carried out in
favour of people that don't need money. It is as if we are going to work for Elton John for free.
Disney has pulled access to purchased online videos during the holiday season The movie studio wants these films to be exclusive to its TV-channel. Showing again that not everything you buy is actually yours to keep.
Shortly after Hotfile signed a $80m settlement agreement with the MPAA, the file-hosting service completely shut down. The decision to deny access to millions of files without warning will come as a shock to cloud users
A French court case dating back to 2011 has concluded that three of the largest search engines in the world must ensure certain piracy websites are
removed entirely from their search results. Media industry trade groups appealed for the complete removal of 16 domains from Google, Bing and Yahoo. All of the domains were variations of video streaming websites Allostreaming, Fifostreaming and
The search engines in question have been ordered to implement all appropriate measures to prevent access... by any effective means, including by blocking domain names , according to a statement released by the High Court. Additionally,
specific ISPs, including Orange, Free, Bouygues Telecom, SFR, Numericable and Darty Telecom have been told to block the websites locally.
The industry groups also pushed for the ISPs and search engines to pay for all of the censorship and blocking methods that will now need to be implemented, however the court refused, stating: The cost of the measures ordered can not be charged
to the defendants who are required to implement them.
Google, Microsoft and Yahoo have been given two weeks to meet the court's demands.
In legal advice to the EU Court of Justice, Advocate General Pedro Cruz Villalon has announced that EU law allows for ISPs to be ordered
to block their customers from accessing known copyright infringing sites.
The opinion, which relates to a dispute between a pair of movie companies and an Austrian ISP over the now-defunct site Kino.to, is not legally binding. However, the advice of the Advocate General is usually followed in such cases.
The current dispute involves Austrian ISP UPC Telekabel Wien and movie companies Constantin Film Verleih and Wega Filmproduktionsgesellschaft. The film companies complained that the ISP was providing its subscribers with access to Kino.to which
enabled them to access their copyrighted material without permission.
Interim injunctions were granted in the movie companies' favor which required the ISP to block the site. However, the Austrian Supreme Court later issued a request to the Court of Justice to clarify whether a provider that provides Internet access
to those using an illegal website were to be regarded as an intermediary, in the same way that the host of an illegal site might.
In his opinion, Advocate General Pedro Cruz Villalon said that the ISP of a user accessing a website said to be infringing copyright should also be regarded as an intermediary whose services are used by a third party, such as the operator of an
infringing website. This means that the ISP of an infringing site user can be subjected to a blocking injunction, as long as it contain specifics on the technicalities.
The abuse of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's notice-and-takedown process to silence lawful speech is well-documented and all too common. Far less common, though, is a service provider that is willing to team up with its users to challenge
that abuse in court.
That's what WordPress.com's parent company, Automattic, Inc, did today and we couldn't be more pleased. Represented by Durie Tangri, LLP, Automattic has joined two lawsuits in federal court under Section 512(f) of the DMCA. Section 512(f) is the
provision that allows users to hold people accountable when they make false infringement accusations.
The suits respond to two particularly egregious examples of DMCA abuse. The first involved Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus. Their website, Retraction Watch , provides a window into the scientific process by documenting the retraction of scientific
papers due to everything from honest error to falsified data. A disgruntled researcher allegedly copied portions of the Retraction Watch site onto his own site, claiming the work as his own, and then issuing a DMCA takedown notice against
The second concerns Oliver Hotham , a student journalist living in the UK. An anti-gay-rights group called Straight Pride UK was incensed when Hotham had the nerve to publish of a press statement they themselves had sent him. So Straight Pride
sent a DMCA notice claiming copyright infringement and, per its policy, WordPress.com took the post down. Hotham was outraged and frustrated because he did not feel he could fight back. But now he's got some new allies. [See
detailed account of the case
Both of these cases highlight a fundamental problem with the DMCA: it creates a world where allegations of infringement are a fast track to censorship, usually with few real consequences for anyone but the user. By standing with its users in these
cases, Automattic is doing its part to help fix that problem. From the WordPress blog :
Until there are some teeth to the copyright laws, it's up to us - websites and users, together - to stand up to DMCA fraud and protect freedom of expression. Through these suits, we'd like to remind our users that we're doing all we can to combat
DMCA abuse on WordPress.com....and most importantly, remind copyright abusers to think twice before submitting fraudulent takedown notices. We'll be watching, and are ready to fight back.
As long-term veterans of the DMCA wars, we know these legal fights aren't always easy, and that many users fear to stand up and defend themselves against false, even harassing, infringement allegations. It's a big help when your service provider
stands with you. Well done, Retraction Watch, Oliver Hotham, and Automattic.
Gadget retailer KlearGear has confirmed reprehensible customer service by charging a customer $3,500 for posting
negative social media commentary. After themselves becoming the target of the righteous anger of the Internet, the company has locked down its Twitter account and closed its Facebook page.
The company screw up began when Jen Palmer of Salt Lake City whose husband ordered some junk for Christmas three years ago. The stuff never arrived, and Palmer could not raise a response from the company staff. Instead she contacted Paypal who
closed the order and refunded the payment. Palmer understandably wrote a scathing review on RipoffReport, a complaint site. Three years later the company contacted her husband and asked for $3,500, citing a disparagement clause in the current
small print that wasn't actually in the terms of service three years ago.
The new Non-Disparagement Clause now reads:
In an effort to ensure fair and honest public feedback, and to prevent the publishing of libelous content in any form, your acceptance of this sales contract prohibits you from taking any action that negatively impacts KlearGear.com, its
reputation, products, services, management or employees.
Should you violate this clause, as determined by KlearGear.com in its sole discretion, you will be provided a seventy-two (72) hour opportunity to retract the content in question. If the content remains, in whole or in part, you will immediately
be billed $3,500.00 USD for legal fees and court costs until such complete costs are determined in litigation. Should these charges remain unpaid for 30 calendar days from the billing date, your unpaid invoice will be forwarded to our third party
collection firm and will be reported to consumer credit reporting agencies until paid.
Several MEPs are urging the European Commission to rethink copyright policy. They seek a more flexible copyright system for citizens and businesses, including the decriminalization of file-sharing for personal use
Wild Games Studio has been accused of unlawfully using Youtube's copyright protection features to censor a highly critical review of its
recently released survival game, Day One: Garry's Incident .
The popular Youtube personality John Bain, better known under the handle TotalBiscuit, took to social media to blast the developer for submitting a copyright claim on a video review for which Bain had obtained a review code.
It's horrendously anti-consumer. It's unquestionably censorship, Bain says in a new video uploaded in response to the takedown notice.
Youtube's automated copyright protection feature has come under fire for facilitating abuses in the past. Most recently, Nintendo received criticism for appropriating the ad revenue of fan videos including Let's Plays.
Torrent search engine isoHunt has announced that it has settled its legal battle with the MPAA for $110 million. The site's owner has
decided to throw in the towel and shut down the site for now, but an application for an appeal at the U.S. Supreme Court is still pending.
The MPAA described the outcome of the case as a landmark victory that will preserve jobs and protect tens of thousands of businesses.
For more than seven years isoHunt and the MPAA have been battling it out in court. Both parties have submitted a request to conclude the case and isoHunt founder Gary Fung has agreed to pay a $110 million settlement and shut down the site.
At the time of writing isoHunt is still up and running but Fung told TorrentFreak that it will soon close its doors. It's a landmark decision -- the site has been one of the most visited torrent search engines for nearly a decade.
The Government of Russia has signaled it is about to take the broadest anti-piracy action seen anywhere on the planet. Russia's communications
minister says the country will order local Internet service providers to completely censor around 160 identified pirate sites.
Just over two months ago Russia made some of its strongest steps yet against online piracy by introducing a formal system for rightsholders to have unauthorized content, or links to content, taken offline.
The system, dubbed Russia's SOPA, forces sites to comply with copyright complaints in a swift manner or face their domains being added to a national blacklist. Being added to that register is a serious business, since all local ISPs are expected
to blacklist corresponding IP addresses so that local Internet users cannot gain access.
But according to comments coming out of the Government yesterday, Russia appears to be taking its anti-piracy initiative to the next level and beyond, fully living up to its SOPA billing. Ministry of Communications deputy head Alexei Volin
said that Russia now intends to compartmentalize sites that are dedicated to piracy. They will be treated completely differently from other sites. He said:
There are a conscientious and diligent owners of websites, to which some people upload illegal or dangerous content. When it comes to this sort of thing, we order blocks of URLs and individual pages.
However, there are some specialized and entirely pornographic sites that are entirely blocked by IP address. The same principle will be observed in respect of torrents and sites engaged in outright piracy. We will not block them for some
particular things, we'll close them entirely by IP address.