Big business gets security researcher booted off MediaFire for violating copyrights, something she denies doing

In today’s day and age, online piracy is done in one of two ways, torrents or file lockers. Either content is illegally shared via torrents or it is stored in an online file locker (aka cloud storage service) and downloaded. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is an American law that protects file locker websites, among other websites, from prosecution if they respond to DMCA takedown notices. In other words, any website can be issued a DMCA takedown notice by a copyright holder in regards to content on that website and the website must comply, otherwise risk the wrath of the legal system. Of course it is nearly impossible to manually find all pirated content stored in file lockers so big business has restored to automated methods.

LeakID, a “digital agency founded by experts from the world of radio, television and Internet” based in Paris, France, provides tools that help copyright holders find and remove infringing content on the Internet. One such LeakID product is “Leaksearch”, which LeakID describes as an “ownership tool that will alert you within seconds if your content… is being pirated”. Although I haven’t used the tool myself, I presume Leaksearch is a tool that automatically finds what it feels is pirated content and automatically issues DMCA takedown requests.

Renowned security researcher Mila Parkour felt the wrath of LeakID, Leaksearch, and big business this past Thursday when she was booted off MediaFire because three of her files — a Microsoft Office patch and two ZIP files containing malicious PDFs (all three relate to security research she conducted in the past) —  were flagged as “copyrighted material”. Aside from being told that her account held copyrighted material, Parkour was not given any details as to exactly what she did wrong and when Parkour tried to contact MediaFire as to why her account was suspended, she was told to refer to LeakID for all inquiries. When Parkour contacted LeakID, they did not answer nor have they gotten back to her (yet).

Talking to Naked Security, Parkour says she does not believe her files violated any copyrights, especially since the files were related to security research and not file sharing. Parkour also vented her frustration at the lack of information she was given as to her offense:

LeakID seems to have a business model to scout the web for all they find and then offer it for sale to copyright owners… there is no explanation of WHY and HOW they decided it was copyrighted.

For what it is worth, Parkour has now regained access to her files although it isn’t entirely clear if this access is temporary or permanent. Still, the issue of why her files were flagged in the first place is something to think about.

First off, let’s be clear: MediaFire is not to blame here. Unless MediaFire wants to become the next MegaUpload, MediaFire must respond to DMCA requests. Secondly, I have no problem with big business using automated tools to protect their intellectual property; in fact, I expect them to do so. The problem is these tools are now being coded to be overly aggressive.

When the Internet was coming of age, businesses fell behind in protecting their intellectual property; they couldn’t keep up with new technologies and pirating activities. Now, however, tools like LinkResearch have become overly strict in what content they look to takedown. While a logical person may have looked at Parkour’s files and decide not to issue a DMCA, LinkResearch, despite how useful it may be, does not have the inherent judgement of a human; it responds to 1s and 0s, if-then statements. The people who create these tools have programmed them to be too aggressive (no doubt due to demand from big business), to the point that they are counterproductive. How many hours were wasted of Parkour’s time to try to regain access to her files just because LinkResearch didn’t have the judgement to decide Parkour was not participating in pirating activities?

I’m not sure where the fine line is when it comes to automated anti-piracy tools but, in my opinion, the pendulum has swung too far. It needs to be re-calibrated or risk DMCA, a valuable tool, becoming a joke.

[via Sophos]

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9 comments

  1. Shava Nerad

    I’m a professional writer, so y’all spotted me. I taught a workshop on ghost writing at Grub Street’s (Boston’s premiere writing collective) “Muse and the Marketplace” business and writing conference, last May, in that I tend to get hired to write in other folks’ “voices” — the non-fiction writer equivalent of the session musician, perhaps?

    Not to spam, but in case anyone is interested in the ghost writing biz — I get a lot of questions about it: http://usefularts.us/2010/02/06/ghost-write-blogs-ethics-shava-nerad/ There’s a lot of thought that ghosting isn’t quite above-board, but it’s totally so, and quite fun. I’ve simulated, by my son’s count, nine Ph.D’s so far.

    You can read a good deal of my own personal musings under this name on Google Plus.

    But before taking on the more relaxed lifestyle of a writer, I was executive director of the Tor Project, so this particular area is of special interest. Tor was tor.eff.org when I came on board, so those familiar with EFF will understand that I could hardly be unfamiliar with the issues involved.

    However, the thing y’all did not spot is that I’m female, and have been for 53 years now. ;)

  2. sl0j0n

    Hey, Ashraf!
    You might want to ask “Shava Nerad”
    if he’d be interested in maybe writing an occasional column/blog/whatever he wants, for dot tech.
    Just a suggestion.

    Have a GREAT day, neighbors!

  3. barney

    “…or risk DMCA, a valuable tool, becoming a joke.”

    DMCA has already become a joke. MPAA, RIAA, and miscellaneous patent trolls have denuded it of any real meaning. It is simply a tool to have pulled down any Website or content that you don’t like. And all you have to do is issue a DMCA notice – no justification required.

  4. Shava Nerad

    Hollywood == big media and big business and internet convergence

    It’s not “just Hollywood.”

    It *is* the DMCA. C’mon Ashraf, who do you think is driving the take-downs?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_Millennium_Copyright_Act#Viacom_Inc._v._YouTube.2C_Google_Inc.

    As an example. Viacom is Hollywood.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_v._Reimerdes

    Unversal is Hollywood.

    All of these companies are media companies. Many, like Sony, are blended with online and music licensing and gaming and all types of convergence media companies.

    For licensing purposes, to say something is just Hollywood is like saying something is like just an instance of a particular boolean variable. Well no, you can use bits for anything. It’s *all* ones and zeros. It’s no longer film or music or games or whatever as far as these laws and structures go.

    It’s all entertainment media, and the methods by which it is used, licensed, controlled, monetized, advertised, the audience is manipulated, the fans mobilized — these are converging and transforming and convulsing en masse.

    The law lags behind culture, always — it’s supposed to. And the culture misunderstands the role of law in both suppressing and supporting art and institutions, mostly because most people don’t extend the effort to educate themselves about the law, whether due to laziness or capacity or opportunity to learn (although in the Internet age, opportunity is a lame excuse). It’s an awkward ecology.

    Right now there’s no clear end in sight — rather like watching snakes mating. ;)

    The more radical free culture people are adamant in their ideology, which would spell the end of large ensemble, large budget arts efforts, imo. The old studio culture is adamant about their traditional enforcement of unenforceable revenue streams, which just leads to more and more people deciding that the law is an ass. Somewhere there has got to be a middle way but it hasn’t clearly emerged.

    Personally, I rather like permission based and more guideline conscious mashup culture myself, rather than the people who remember the “information wants to be free” phrase without remembering that it was originally immediately preceded by “information wants to be expensive.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_wants_to_be_free

    This actually puts me a bit closer to Lessig in his quieter moments than to the EFF, but I’d rather support EFF as an activist because they are preventing the worst excesses of the entertainment industry, who are only after their own interests, and doing nothing to protect the wider culture’s or the artists’.

    After thirty years online, one gets a bit of perspective on these things. I say, curmudgeonly, “GET ON MY LAWN!” But please, appreciate that it took a long time to get the grass this lush, and think of this moment as one with a past and a future.

    Eventually the Internet is going to look no more different in kind than the transformations telegraph and phone did (and believe me, the phone turned society upside down too, from the 1920s or so onward — we just have very few folks who really remember that change any more).

    The people who say that Facebook is bad because it’s implicated in 25% or so of divorces would never collect the same stats for whether the phone was implicated in divorces — but it’s a communications medium by which you might hook up and communicate with an old flame. Eventually these things will sound as stupid as “video games can’t be an art form” (Ebert).

    But by the time that those things sound stupid, they’ll be trivia questions and forgotten notions of no importance, just as the idea that the word “Hello” was invented so people would have something to say when they picked up a phone receiver is trivia today.

    We will sort all of these battles out, but we need to all work terrifically hard on them now so they can look silly and of no account to our children, having turned out in a sensible way for the sake of the right freedoms and cultural creativities to be exercised by their generation, and so artists can still make a living somehow. And sadly, our children will never thank us, because of course, these things will never have had any other sensible outcome.

    Support https://www.eff.org ! :)

  5. RobCr

    This could be how Skynet starts ?

    I don’t mind the automated detection, but I cannot condone the automated take down.

    Rob
    PS Should –
    “big business has restored to automated methods”
    be
    “big business has resorted to automated methods”