THE SEYCHELLES—The issue has to do with a torrent site, h33t.com, which appears to be located in the Seychelles, outside the jurisdiction of the United States and, more to the point, the reach of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Sunday, Takedown Piracy founder Nate Glass took h33t to task on his blog for demanding $50 per takedown to remove content from the site pursuant to receipt of a DMCA takedown notice, and that's when all hell broke loose.
According to h33t's takedown policy statement, the fee is being charged per request to "cover reasonable administration expenses."
But Glass sees the effort as nothing short of extortion. "So not only does this site profit by selling ads using other people’s hard work, but in the event you want your property removed from their website, it’s going to cost you $50 for EACH instance of copyright infringement," he wrote. "The process of removing URLs is something many piracy sites simply automate. Now I know the piracy apologists out there (and you know who you are) like to tout the myth that piracy sites are just some non-profit freedom fighters fighting against the evil corporations, but how can you guys defend this? Something tells me we won’t see TechDirt, ArsTechnica or TorrentFreak doing an article about this, since it conflicts with the narrative they like to push."
He was mistaken on that last point. TorrentFreak wrote about the post, calling the fee by h33t a "business proposal," and citing other global examples of the struggle to figure out who should carry the financial burden of complying with rightsholders' requests, which as we can see from the numbers contained in the Google Transparency Report, can run into the millions.
"H33T says it is 'established practice' for rights holders and network service providers to negotiate the burden of costs. While there are indeed prominent examples of this around the world, what they all have in common is disputes over who will pay for what," wrote enigmax for TorrentFreak. "The fledgling '3 strikes'-style regime introduced in New Zealand recently was plagued with argument over money and in the end it was decided that the ISPs—the 'network service providers' referenced by H33T—should be paid $25 NZD by rightsholders when they send a warning to a customer."
The article also mentions the U.K.’s delayed Digital Economy Act, which is also at "the center of a costs argument between ISPs and rightsholders, and negotiations in Australia aren’t going well either," and quotes Steve Dalby, the chief regulatory officer for iiNet, an Australian ISP, as saying, “The rightsholders want all the benefits of remedial action, but want the ISPs to foot the bill. ISPs don’t want to pay to protect the rights of third parties."
Not a terribly sympathetic attitude toward the presumably aggrieved party, to be sure, but perhaps the most astounding quote in the Torrent Freak article comes from h33t itself, whose admin responded to the tumult by explaining the realities of life.
“Nothing in this world is for free and where the network service provider, in this case h33t, is a third party to the rights holder’s complaint against the uploader, then it is only proper that costs are properly allocated to the party who is incurring the costs,” he said. (Italics added)
But the admin was not finished expressing outrage at Takedown Piracy's "hypocrisy."
“Their business model is to charge the rights holder a fee to make takedowns happen," s/he said. "But when the third party, in this case h33t, responsibly engages with them to expedite the takedown they refuse to apply the funds the rights holders have given them for the purpose. It’s outrageous and clearly a major wrong against their clients.”
AVN contacted Glass and asked him to explain why charging for his services is different from a torrent site charging a rightholder $50 to comply with a DMCA notice. He generously replied with the following explanation.
"When I heard the H33T representative said charging for my services was hypocritical, my first response was a sort of righteous laughter," said Glass. "Their site assists and aids copyright infringement. Whether they put up the material themselves, or simply are a distribution point, does not matter. What they are doing is illegal, and they want to be paid to operate within the law. This is akin to a burglar caught red-handed by a police officer, stating he will leave the crime scene if the detention system pays him enough. Does anyone question the police officer's government salary for stopping the theft? His job is protection. Takedown Piracy is employed to protect our client's digital content. For a pirate site to demand payment to remove what has already been deemed unlawful is extortion and manipulation of commerce, plain and simple.
"Of course, piracy sites and the copyright abolitionists want to demonize services like mine because they want to remove anyone who would oppose their mission to trample the intellectual property rights of others," he added. "They want producers and artists to have to do everything in-house, or do nothing at all, instead of being able to enlist specialists to help them. If that happens, then the freeloader society wins and the rest of society loses since artists can't possibly keep up with the rampant infringement of their property while still producing new works. The irony is h33t is calling me a hypocrite for being compensated for my work, something they clearly oppose for artists and everyone else, but have no problem demanding they be compensated for copyright infringement."
This is, to be sure, a very difficult facet of the global copyright issue. One of the worst results of the DMCA request blitz is that service providers who receive a large number of them—including more legit players like Flickr and Google—have no choice but to automate the takedown process. Combined with the increased automation of the takedown request process, the result has been fewer eyeballs making sure what's being taken down should be taken down.
The whole point of the DMCA is to create a framework of fairness for ISPs as well as copyright holders, such that neither is overly burdened or victimized. But the reality is that everyone is being burdened immensely ... except for one player.
As it currently stands, the only individual noticeably absent from the conversation over ultimate financial responsibility for the removal of infringed content is the illegal uploader whose efforts singlehandedly instigate the takedown process. Maybe the burden should start with them.
Maybe, in addition to lecturing Takedown Piracy, the torrent admin could also admonish uploaders with the same message—"Nothing in this world is for free."