When outsourcing goes bad

Image: Stockfresh

6 September 2016

Niall Kitson portraitAnd now for something completely different from the Internet: Warner Brothers is on the verge of suing itself for copyright infringement. According to a report from the BBC, the studio has been engaged in a Web-wide crackdown on pirated content, targeting links to anything related to its intellectual property from around the Web.

It was an aggressive strategy aimed at removing illegal torrents, but somehow the studio’s own website, IMDB, Amazon and Sky have also been hit with DMCA takedown notices. The list of offenders even included official websites for Warner titles such as The Matrix.

If the case sounds familiar well you’d be right. It’s not unusual for companies to sue themselves and the tech sector seems particularly prone. In 2002 Sony ended up on both ends of a lawsuit when the Recording Industry Association of America (of which Sony was a member) took on digital music start-up (which Sony was a part owner) over content licensing in personalised radio stations. The case was thrown out of court in 2009, by which time the service was wholly owned by Yahoo.

To take another example, broadcasting giant Viacom’s relationship with YouTube has been fractious and, occasionally, hilarious. The broadcasting giant repeatedly slammed YouTube for allowing the uploading of copyrighted material since its inception in 2005 but while the company sued for the right to remove its content, it was also uploading content to the platform. When the takedown notices started flowing it covered the entire website, meaning users who uploaded materially without consent were hit, but the indiscriminate nature of the cleanup job saw Viacom targeted its own official channels, too. Good job, guys.

What makes Warners’ predicament so embarrassing is that the studio brought in a third party to make sure its intellectual property would be protected. It looks like the firm, Vobile, simply scanned the Web for anything related to Warners’ output and issued takedown notices, without allowing for the fact that its client quite likes the Internet and would appreciate the ability to make money from it. What should have been a protective measure turned into a scorched Earth strategy.

According to Google, Vobile submitted 13 million links for removal. Fortunately common sense prevailed and you can still rent The Dark Knight from a reputable online store or look up trivia on the cast and crew after Google  created a whitelist of approved websites.

Money well spent, Warner Brothers.

The battle against piracy continues.

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