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TikTok Using DMCA to Take Down Reverse-Engineered Source Code

After being launched in the Chinese market in 2016 as “Douyin”, social networking service TikTok has become one of the world’s recognizable app brands.

New estimates published this month suggest that TikTok could have as many as a billion monthly users, with around 100 million of those coming from the United States. It’s safe to say the product is already a phenomenon and wildly popular, especially among younger people, but not everyone is happy with its status.

Accusations of Privacy Breaches

Labeled a threat by the Trump administration due to its Chinese connections, TikTok has constantly found itself accused of siphoning off user data for use overseas. According to analysts, however, the software is no more intrusive than Facebook and Instagram. Which, of course, is a pretty low bar by most standards.

Nevertheless, many people simply do not trust TikTok, something which led to a coder known as ‘augustgl‘ reverse-engineering the company’s Android app and publishing the resulting source code on developer platform Github.

Published to Github

“This project is a bit different from my other projects. TikTok is a data collection engine disguised as a social media platform. It’s legitimate spyware, so I thought I would reverse engineer the Android application,” wrote ‘augustgl’ on his now-removed Github repo.

The source reportedly published includes that dedicated to location tracking, phone calls, screenshots, WiFi networks, and facial recognition. None of these features appear to have sat particularly well with ‘augustgl’, who signed off with the message, “China, I’ll see you when you send the hitmen to my house.”

While that did not happen, at least as far as we know, TikTok did become aware that reverse-engineered source was being made available online. Unsurprisingly, the social media company then used copyright law to have it taken down.

DMCA Takedowns

“I am legal counsel to TikTok Inc., owner of the copyright that is the subject matter of this notification, and am authorized to act on the owner’s behalf,” the notice begins.

“The original copyrighted work is source code for the TikTok Android app. Github user augustgl appears to claim to have reverse engineered the app. He posted the code to the following GitHub repository: https://github.com/augustgl/tiktok_source.”

At the same time, TikTok asked Github to help clean up all the repositories that had forked the code. In total, 19 other repositories operated by other coders were handed DMCA takedown notices, with Github complying by taking each one down.

TikTok Source DMCA

While TikTok may have believed it had cleaned up all instances of the reverse-engineered code, there was more work to be done. In a new notice filed this week, TikTok returned for a second sweep, targeting another five repositories that had forked the original, apparently after being notified by Github.

“The original copyrighted work is source code for the TikTok Android app. Github user [redacted, but almost certainly a reference to ‘augustgl’] appears to claim to have reverse engineered the app. We submitted a DMCA notification to GitHub previously, resulting in a takedown. GitHub subsequently notified us that the user still had forks posted,” the DMCA notice reads.

All of the offending repositories appear to have been removed following TikTok’s request but the big question is whether anything surprising or insightful came from the published code, particularly in respect of the privacy and security allegations that have followed the company around in recent times.

TorrentFreak contacted ‘augustgl’ to discover what he’d found, if anything, but at the time of publishing he was yet to respond.

From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more.

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YouTube-DL Fallout: Google Rejects RIAA MP3 Ripper Takedown Notices

The member companies of the RIAA are no strangers to sending DMCA takedown notices to have content removed from Google search. At the time of writing they have sent more than 94.4 million across more than 20,600 domains.

The vast majority of these are standard DMCA claims, targeting content or links to content that directly infringe the labels’ rights. However, in more recent times the labels added a new tool to their arsenal in the form of DMCA anti-circumvention notices.

These first started to appear in earnest during 2019 and then continued into 2020. The majority targeted sites operating in the so-called YouTube-ripping niche, specifically those that allow users to enter a YouTube URL and have a permanent MP3 file dumped to their local machines.

The RIAA soon discovered that if it formulated its notices in this way, while alleging that sites circumvent YouTube’s ‘rolling cipher’, Google would permanently remove the URLs. Importantly, there is no official counternotice system to contest such takedowns, something which resulted in a game of whac-a-mole as sites took countermeasures.

However, in October 2020 a special controversy was ignited and, out of nowhere, that appears to have changed the rules of the game.

Youtube-dl Controversy

Back in October the widely publicized attempt by the RIAA to have YouTube-ripping tool youtube-dl removed from Github caused outrage.

Github’s CEO quickly got involved and not long after, the tool was reinstated by the coding platform, with the company putting $1m into a defense fund supported by the EFF.

These important developments seemed like they had the potential to have a negative effect on pending RIAA legal action but it now appears that the RIAA’s Google delisting work is already being affected.

RIAA Resumes Targeting Google

Just weeks after Github reinstated youtube-dl, the RIAA began targeting Google again with similar demands. The first complaint asked Google to remove 16 URLs from its indexes belonging to YouTube-ripping site mp3-youtube.download. The complaint followed the established format of stating that the service breaches YouTube’s ‘rolling cipher‘, in breach of the labels’ rights.

“To our knowledge, the URLs indicated provide access to a service (and/or software) that circumvents YouTube’s rolling cipher, a technical protection measure, that protects our members’ works on YouTube from unauthorized copying/downloading,” the notice reads.

Days later, RIAA member companies EMI Music North America, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group (and their associated record labels), submitted another complaint containing exactly the same language, this time demanding the removal of 14 URLs belonging to YouTube-ripper NoTube.net.

These were subsequently followed by more takedown requests against x2convert.com and several other platforms – clickmp3.com, mp3-youtube.download, notube.net and x2convert.com (again), go-mp3.com, y2meta.com and ytmp3.cc.

Google Begins Rejecting RIAA DMCA Notices

With interesting timing, coming directly after the youtube-dl controversy, Google’s response was different this time around. The company rejected every single DMCA takedown notice marking each with a ‘No action taken flag’ (1,2,3,4) while declining to remove any of the URLs from its indexes.

Google DMCA Reject

Google provides no reason for the rejections but on past experience, it appears that the search giant no longer considers the RIAA’s complaints to be valid. This raises an important question.

MP3-Ripping Platforms Still Affected

While likely to be welcomed by the sites targeted in the most recent batch of anti-circumvention notices, huge volumes of URLs have already been removed following earlier complaints. Interestingly, however, some DMCA notices that previously resulted in the removal of homepages belonging to several major platforms are no longer appearing at the bottom of search results.

For example, the RIAA previously and successfully demanded the removal of youtubeconverter.io, yout.com, y2mate.com, flvto.biz and 2conv.com. At the time of writing, searches for those domains in Google show that removals against 2conv.com, flvto.biz and y2mate.com appear to have been removed but those against the remaining pair still stand.

Google will almost certainly consider future requests on a case-by-case basis but at this stage at least, it seems that the action against youtube-dl has quite possibly changed the game in a way that the RIAA would’ve preferred to avoid.

From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more.

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Nintendo Manually Targets Game & Watch Hacker’s YouTube Video Using Content ID

Using any amount of copyrighted content in a YouTube video can result in a claim by a copyright holder, even when fair use exceptions should be applicable.

This type of action is often taken through YouTube’s Content ID system after being detected by an algorithm. However, there is another option available to rightsholders that requires action from real-life people which, perhaps counter-intuitively, can mean claims are sometimes more controversial.

Nintendo Game & Watch Hacker ‘stacksmashing’

As previously reported by Gizmodo, last November and a day before its official release, Nintendo’s Game & Watch console was hacked by IT researcher ‘stacksmashing‘ in order to play new games.

Of course, this type of activity is always frowned upon by Nintendo. The Game & Watch released with Super Mario Bros. and the gaming giant would’ve preferred it to stay that way. But with Doom, Pokémon, The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros. 3 and even Contra playable on the new machine, there’s now more variety, whether Nintendo likes it or not.

Surprise: Nintendo Doesn’t Like It

Nintendo can put pressure on hackers in all kinds of ways but an action taken against at least one of stacksmashing’s videos on YouTube reveals the company isn’t averse to playing some games of its own. As revealed by the hacker on Twitter, Nintendo has filed an interesting copyright complaint against one of his videos.

As the above shows, Nintendo says that the video infringes its copyrights relating to Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros. However, the important information relates to what supposedly infringing content stacksmashing used in his video and in what context. According to the hacker, not much at all and not for very long either.

The Claim From Nintendo

“It’s a claim with time stamps – the beginning of the time stamp is a terminal window.. and then just the device being on and Mario running for a couple of seconds,” he explains.

From the explanation and assuming that the terminal window didn’t infringe any of Nintendo’s rights, that leaves the few seconds of gameplay footage as a potential Nintendo irritant. While that could conceivably get caught up in an automatic Content ID claim, that wasn’t the case here. Fairly unusually, an actual human being made a manual claim against stacksmashing’s video, within Content ID.

“This was actually a manual match, so someone at the big N put in the time to do this,” he notes on Twitter.

So how exactly do manual Content ID claims work?

The Parameters As Per YouTube

“A manual claim is sent to you when a copyright owner identifies that their content has been used without their permission. Copyright owners use the manual claiming tool to claim your video, which sends you a manual claim,” YouTube explains.

In a nutshell, Content ID’s algorithms didn’t flag the video as infringing but someone acting on Nintendo’s behalf watched the video and determined that it did. They then took time out to tell YouTube that Nintendo’s copyrights had been infringed so it should be taken down.

“The manual claiming tool is used by copyright owners who demonstrate advanced knowledge of our Content ID system. The tool gives copyright owners a way to manually claim videos not matched by the Content ID system. Manual claims must include accurate timestamps to show exactly where the claimed content is in your video,” YouTube adds.

While stacksmashing hasn’t revealed the exact timestamps, the progress bar on the screenshot shows that Nintendo claimed a very small part of the video. Furthermore, the requirement for an accurate set of stamps doesn’t appear to have been strictly adhered to, if indeed the only problem was a few seconds of Super Mario Bros. gameplay footage.

Taking that to its logical conclusion, another question raises its head: Why are there so many other videos on YouTube showing Game & Watch gameplay that haven’t received a copyright complaint?

Stacksmashing is Reportedly Editing, Filing Disputes

With Gizmodo reporting that stacksmashing has had two of his videos targeted in this way, the hacker is reportedly editing them in an effort to get them back on YouTube without further issues. On top, he’s also filing disputes against Nintendo’s claims of copyright infringement.

While having any kind of copyright claim against a video is an irritant, in this case a manual Content ID claim does not immediately mean copyright ‘strikes’ for stacksmashing. However, there is an option for a copyright holder to send an actual takedown notice (rather than a Content ID claim) and if this is deemed accurate, a damaging ‘strike’ can be applied to an account.

Since the hacker is reportedly prepared to trim out the contentious few seconds of video, his YouTube account will remain in good standing. On the other hand, if Nintendo is found to be “improperly claiming content that they don’t own the rights to” this could result in “penalties including legal liability and partnership termination,” as per YouTube.

This, of course, is highly unlikely.

From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more.

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Valorant & Destiny 2 Cheat Maker Sued For Copyright Violations

While the vast majority of videogames players are happy to enjoy games within the parameters set by their developers, there are millions who prefer to cheat their way to victory.

As a result, an industry has appeared ready to service people looking to gain an unfair advantage, offering cheating products often at a premium price. This disruption is frowned upon by developers and regular players alike, who argue that when the gaming experience becomes unfair, the fun associated with playing collapses.

In an effort to reduce the number of players cheating online, various videogame companies have filed lawsuits in the United States. Yesterday another one was added to the growing list when Riot Games and Bungie filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against GatorCheats for offering tools enabling cheating in Valorant, Destiny 2, and other titles.

“Malicious” Software Products “Destroy” plaintiffs’ Games

Filed in a California district court, the lawsuit targets Albuquerque, New Mexico resident Cameron Santos (the alleged operator of GatorCheats), plus an additional 10 ‘Doe’ defendants, some of whom (“Hal,” “Matt” and “Megan”) are alleged to provide customer support to cheat users.

“By this lawsuit, Plaintiffs seek to put a stop to the unlawful, for-profit sale and distribution of malicious software products designed to enable members of the public to gain unfair competitive advantages (i.e., to cheat) in the Games, and, thereby, to impair and destroy Plaintiffs’ Games, Plaintiffs’ overall business, and the experience of Plaintiffs’ player community,” the complaint reads.

According to Riot and Bungie, Santos owns several online ventures engaged in the development and sale of “malicious cheats” targeting the companies’ games. “Honeyhacks” and “Voidcheaters” get a mention but GatorCheats is the largest, selling a cheat known as “Gatorant” and several tools for Destiny 2.

“The Cheating Software enables players to manipulate Valorant and Destiny 2 to their personal advantage, such as by automatically aiming weapons, revealing the locations of opponents, and allowing the player to see a vast array of information that otherwise would be obscured,” the companies note.

Cheat Makers Undermine Business Models

This undermining of the gaming experience for ordinary players comes at an enormous reputational and financial cost according to the complaint. As gamers leave their respective arenas in the face of cheating opponents, Riot and Bungie are reportedly losing goodwill along with millions of dollars in revenue.

The key issue is that the popularity of both Valorant and Destiny 2 lies not only in their gaming experiences but also in the business models selected by the plaintiffs. Since both games are available to play for free, the companies rely on gamers staying online for as long as possible while buying virtual goods such as characters, weapons, skins and clothing. When the experience is diminished by cheaters, the whole plan begins to come apart at the seams.

“If players perceive that others are cheating or have an unfair advantage, they will grow frustrated with the Games and stop playing. That, in turn, could disrupt and/or destroy the Games’ player communities and severely harm Plaintiffs’ ability to generate revenue and to maintain, improve, and expand the Games,” the complaint reads.

Bungie Issued Cease-and-Desist Notice in 2020

In an effort to protect their game, in November 2020 legal counsel for Bungie served GatorCheats with a cease-and-desist notice. GatorCheats subsequently informed users that the Destiny 2 cheats would be removed from sale but Santos reportedly assured those who had purchased a lifetime license they would continue to receive customer support.

However, the plaintiffs aren’t convinced that GatorCheats will discontinue the Destiny 2 cheats, alleging that the cheat maker will probably sell the software to users in a more discreet manner, including via a private section of the GatorCheats site.

The uncertainty surrounding compliance with the cease-and-desist notice appears to have triggered the lawsuit, which majors on breaches of the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions plus violations of contract and unfair competition laws.

Trafficking in Circumvention Devices

The plaintiffs state that their games are protected by anti-cheat technologies designed to detect and thwart cheating tools. These technologies must be installed on users’ machines if they want to play the games. This means that if a cheat maker is to have a successful product, it must either conceal its existence from the developers’ anti-cheat technologies or disable them altogether. This is illegal under the DMCA, the plaintiffs claim.

“The Cheating Software is comprised of or contains technologies, products, services, devices, components, or parts thereof that primarily are designed or produced for the purpose of circumventing technological measures that effectively control access to the Games,” the complaint reads, noting that the cheats have no commercially significant purpose other than to circumvent technological measures.

“As a result of the foregoing, Defendants are offering to the public, providing, importing, or otherwise trafficking in technology that violates 17 U.S.C. § 1201(a)(2).”

As a result of these alleged infringements, the plaintiffs are demanding either the profits attributable to the sales of the cheats or the maximum statutory damages of $2,500 per violation of the DMCA. In respect of the former, the complaint estimates sales in the “tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars” for both sets of cheats. In the case of the latter, both cheats are said to have been downloaded “thousands of times” which easily supports a claim in the millions of dollars.

Interference With Contractual Relations, Unfair Competition

In addition to the claims under the DMCA, Riot and Bungie allege that though the provision of the cheats, GatorCheats intentionally encouraged its customers to breach the licensing contracts they had agreed with the companies when they installed the games. As a result, the cheat maker is guilty of “oppression, fraud, or malice” allowing the plaintiffs to recover exemplary and punitive damages.

In their final claim, Riot and Bungie state that GatorCheats engaged in unfair competition under California law, an act that again requires the cheat maker to pay compensation for damages caused to their businesses.

In the interim, the plaintiffs request injunctions to prevent GatorCheats from continuing to violate their rights, demanding that the cheat maker shuts down its software and removes it from the Internet. The gaming companies are also seeking access to financial records showing GatorCheats’ sales and how much money was made. That amount could be substantial.

According to the videogame companies, the Valorant cheat costs users $90 per month, $350 for three months, and $500 for lifetime access. The Destiny 2 cheats are slightly less pricey at $100 per month or $200 for a lifetime license.

The complaint can be found here (pdf)

From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more.

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Company Demands $10K to Retract Facebook Copyright Claim on 20-sec Chinchilla Clip

Over the years we have reported on numerous ‘speculative invoicing’ schemes where copyright holders demand money from alleged copyright infringers.

This includes hundreds of thousands of settlement offers that were sent to suspected pirates, but we have also seen similar threats against people who use copyrighted photos on their personal sites.

The issue with these schemes isn’t the fact that rightsholders are enforcing their copyrights. That’s something they are entitled to do. It’s often the aggressive and sometimes even extortion-like nature of the threats that’s problematic.

Yesterday, comedian “Ozzy Man Reviews” shared one of his recent experiences on this front. With millions of subscribers on YouTube, Facebook, and other social media, Ozzy Man has a dedicated following. But, it’s not just people interested in his entertaining videos keeping an eye on his work.

‘Pirated’ Chinchilla Clip

After posting a new compilation commenting on some ‘relaxing animals‘, the Aussie comedian received a notification from Facebook that the video had been removed after a copyright holder complained. As it turns out, the 20-second clip of a chilling chinchilla was the culprit here.

While there are fair use defenses for this type of video, the takedown request by itself is justified. However, there is more to the story.

The chinchilla clip was originally shot by Instagram user ompt_gram but the takedown request came from someone else. As it turns out, it is at least partly ‘owned’ by the Facebook page “Go Animals” and that page is operated by the digital video marketing outfit “Creative Stage”.

Because takedown requests on social media may eventually lead to heavy account penalties, Ozzy Man hoped to resolve the matter. The good news was that Creative Stage was also open to retract the claim, but at quite a steep price.

$10,000 to Retract Claim

“Your violation caused the company damages and in order to retract we demand to receive a monetary compensation of $10,000,” a representative from Creative Stage wrote back.

10k chinchilla facebook

Needless to say, this wasn’t how Ozzy Man expected the release of his first video of the year to go.

“I immediately responded to the attorney representing Creation Stage/Go Animals and outlined that the amount they were asking for is unjustified. It’s very similar to Speculative Invoicing,” Ozzy Man informs TorrentFreak.

Creator Not Involved

While the comedian admits that he didn’t clear the rights, he points out that the original creator of the clip didn’t have a say either. This is not uncommon as many viral videos are ‘exploited’ by licensing companies.

“The person who originally shot the video should get a say. I think it’s unclear to many people submitting videos to licensing companies or Facebook publishers online that the company is also asking to be a rights manager or an ‘attorney-in-fact’ for their content,” Ozzy Man tells us.

Account at Risk

The comedian shared his frustration on Facebook and stressed that this takedown put his entire account at risk. However, he had no intention of paying $10,000 for a 20-second chinchilla clip.

In theory, he could rely on a fair-use or fair-dealing defense, but copyright holders are usually not sensitive to that. This also applies to Creative Stage which showed little sympathy for the ‘trouble’ their takedown caused.

“I spoke to them in detail about the effect their DMCA takedown legal action had on me and it did not faze them. Takedowns trigger both YouTube and Facebook to penalize an account instantly by default. This includes restrictions on features, loss of monetization, and throttling of organic reach. It’s brutal,” Ozzy Man says.

The Web of Infringements

Stepping back, the above nicely illustrates the copyright complications many online creators and regular social media users face today, often without knowing. When all ‘infringements would be removed from social media and user-generated video platforms, very little remains.

Ozzy Man was in the wrong when he used the clip, but the same can be said for millions of others who post mashups, reviews, edits, or commentary online. Not to mention the millions of copyrighted photos that are published every day, without permission.

“It doesn’t get easier as you get bigger or more popular either, you simply end up with more sharks around ya,” Ozzy man notes.

Paying License Fees

The comedian is not an outright pirate though. He tries to balance the risk of using multiple source videos and also pays licensing fees for many clips.

“For instance, I do pay established licensing companies like Jukin Media and ViralHog. On average I’ll pay $100 USD for a clip. If I’m doing a compilation commentary and license 6 videos for 600 bucks USD, I know that my risk level goes down.

“And if these companies are genuinely sharing a cut of the financial pie with the original posters that shot the content then it’s nothing but a win for all of us.”

ozzy legend

Ozzy Man’s problem isn’t so much the payment part but if he does pay for something, a share of that should go to the original creator. Right now, there are too many third-parties exploiting others’ content.

Have Some Ethics

“If ya looking to start a video licensing company online in 2021 have some damn ethics, integrity and discretion in how you operate and assess ‘damages’ or ‘market harm’.

“I think the idea of ‘market harm’ over a chinchilla being groomed video is ludicrous. It’s farcical. Don’t go gung-ho in the Content ID systems on YouTube, Facebook, etc and expect zero criticism for doing so.”

It appears that after making the matter public, things moved in the right direction. An army of followers defended the comedian and after a few hours the video was restored. We have to wonder, however, if the same would have happened to someone with a smaller following.

Ozzy Man is happy with the outcome and confirms to us that he didn’t pay anything. While his risk assessment with the chinchilla clip was a bit off, this doesn’t mean that he will stop using unlicensed clips on occasion.

“I hate being restricted, so I’m always gonna take SOME risks in the pursuit of comedy gold,” he concludes.

Enjoy.

From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more.

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Nintendo Mass DMCA Takedown Removes Hundreds of Fangames from Game Jolt

As one of the most iconic gaming manufacturers in the world, Nintendo has been fighting piracy for decades.

The company has an in-house anti-piracy division that signals the latest threats to steer enforcement actions in the right direction.

In recent years it’s gone after sites and stores that offer pirated games and has assisted in the criminal prosecution against alleged members of the hacking group Team-Xecutuer. However, the smaller fish are not being ignored either.

Nintendo Targets Non-profit Fangames

A few days ago, Nintendo’s legal department sent DMCA notices to the game publishing community Game Jolt. The site, where hobbyists and indie developers share their creations for free, was notified that hundreds of fangames infringed Nintendo’s trademarks.

game jolt dmca notice from nintendo

The takedown spree, which was published publicly by Game Jolt co-founder and CEO Yaprak DeCarmine, notes that the games in question use copies of Nintendo’s intellectual property without permission. Game Jolt allegedly profits from this.

“These web pages display images of Nintendo’s video game characters in connection with unauthorized online games that copy the characters, music, and other features of Nintendo’s video games.

“The web site at gamejolt.com generates revenue from advertising banners displayed on the site and advertisements played while users wait for the games to load,” the takedown notices add.

379 Games

This certainly isn’t the first time that Nintendo has targeted fangames, but the scope of this recent effort is massive. In total, the two notices posted by Game Jolt target 379 game URLs, which were all taken down. Game over.

The developers of the games and many of their fans were taken by surprise. Players were suddenly greeted with a 404 error message like this one and developers received an alert notifying them that their game had been targeted.

game jolt remove

The mass removal is a hot topic in the Game Jolt community. Many people don’t understand why Nintendo would target some of its most dedicated fans. That includes the indie developers who spent weeks or months on their projects.

Game developer ‘Eeveeloverdoesgaming,’ who publishes several Nintendo-inspired games, wasn’t targeted but summarizes the general feeling towards Nintendo quite well.

No Sympathy for Nintendo

“They’ll get no sympathy from me, this isn’t the first time they’ve pulled a stunt like this. They’ve made it clear they hate their fans and repeat it time and time again never learning from it.”

The developer will continue to work on his “Five Nights At Team HQ series” but fears that it will be targeted eventually. That doesn’t stop the developer though, and he encourages others to simply flood the Internet with copies.

“Nintendo if you think taking down everyone’s games will help your image and get people to buy more of your games then you’re sorely mistaken! I’ll keep making and reuploading fan games even if you try to take them down, so DEAL WITH IT!

“All people who have copies of the fangames that were taken down take them and reupload them all over the internet so they stay up no matter what!”

Reuploaded

Although some developers prefer to lie low and stay out of Nintendo’s hairs for the foreseeable future, some have indeed brought their games back to life. For example, ‘Jeb Yoshi’, the developer of “Five Nights at Yoshi’s,” re-uploaded it with ads disabled.

“After looking into it, I believe the fact there was profit being earned from advertisements on the game page was the reason for the takedown of this game among countless others,” the dev writes.

jeb_yoshi

‘Jeb Yoshi’ refers to Nintendo’s mention of the advertising element in the DMCA takedown request, which is mentioned by other people as well. They are not sure whether that’s indeed the case though. “Let’s hope this goes well,” the dev wrote on Discord.

In pursuit of more clarity TorrentFreak reached out to Nintendo for a comment but, at the time of writing, we have yet to receive a response. We also reached out to Game Jolt to hear their thoughts on Nintendo’s DMCA requests but the company didn’t immediately reply.

We will update this article if more information becomes available.

From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more.

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Could Trump’s Twitter Account Be ‘DMCA-Banned’? Not Long To Find Out

Every year billions of citizens help to develop the Internet by adding their own content, whether that’s substantial works such as videos, music or articles, or smaller but nevertheless important comments or snippets of information.

Inevitably, however, some of these postings can infringe other people’s copyrights, resulting in rightsholders and anti-piracy companies issuing DMCA takedown notices to have them removed. The sting in the tail for many users, however, is that if they continually receive DMCA notices against their accounts on sites like YouTube, Twitch or Twitter, their accounts can be put in peril.

Repeat Infringer Policies Can Be Selective

Indeed, large numbers of users of these platforms alone have been permanently banned under so-called repeat infringer policies, where they are essentially told they’re no longer a responsible member of the community and must be banned. The reason, of course, is that the platforms themselves don’t want to be held liable should rightsholders decide to file what could be a massive copyright lawsuit.

Interestingly, however, the old adage of “there’s one rule for them and another for us” is alive and well, particularly on Twitter and especially in respect of President Trump, who – despite receiving a stream of copyright complaints against his account – has managed to avoid a ban from Twitter. But after receiving yet another DMCA complaint this week, an interesting question raises its head.

President Trump Receives Yet Another DMCA Complaint

It is not uncommon for Donald Trump’s tweets to be either hidden by Twitter (when the platform believes the tweet carries an untruth, for example) or completely removed due to a copyright complaint. It has happened on many occasions in the past, largely due to allegations of him or his staff posting music in breach of copyright. And on December 28, it happened yet again.

Trump Tweet Delete

The content in question was a campaign-style video that celebrated the claimed accomplishments of the Trump administration. However, like many similar videos posted to Twitter in the past by Trump, it contained copyrighted music. In this case the track Hoedown by the late composer Aaron Copland.

A few hours ago the DMCA notice in question was submitted by Twitter to the Lumen Database, which published the details in its archives. Three separate notices were filed targeting the same content but the one shown below carries the most detail.

trump-dmca-hoe-down

President Trump Receives Twitter’s ‘World Leader’ Treatment

Of course, had this been the umpteenth time that a regular user had received a DMCA complaint, their Twitter account would’ve been toast. Instead, however, it appears that Twitter has once again invoked its ‘world leader policy‘ which allows people like Trump to do things that would end in mere mortals being banned from the platform.

There are limits to what even ‘world leaders’ can do to avoid getting nuked from Twitter but thus far, Trump has managed to avoid the banhammer. The big question now is for how long.

President Trump: Soon To Be Plain Old Donald

At noon on January 20, 2021, the presidency of Donald Trump will come to an end. No one will ever be able to remove his historic status as the 45th President of the United States but he will no longer be a world leader. As a result, on the same day (and as long as the company sticks to its own policies) Twitter will have to start treating the former president as plain old Donald Trump.

This raises many questions, some of them of great significance.

Strictly in terms of DMCA notices, President Trump already has way more than it would take for an ordinary citizen to get themselves banned from Twitter. On January 20, when he becomes ‘ordinary’ again, will those ‘strikes’ be consigned to the history books with no further action? That not only seems the most likely outcome but perhaps the most sensible too.

Whatever one thinks of Trump’s presidency, records of his actions while in power are significant moments in time that simply do not warrant being erased from history. However, there are complications here too.

Personal and Presidential Account Combined

When Trump became president, he refused to give up his personal account, so @realdonaldtrump effectively became the presidential account. On January 20, however, that account will no longer be in the hands of a world leader, meaning that no more free passes should be available from Twitter.

This means that starting then, if Twitter levels the playing field as it should, three more strikes and Donald Trump’s account should be done, just like anyone else’s would be.

So Twitter is going to be left with a dilemma, should Donald Trump decide to continue posting stuff that results in DMCA notices. If the company keeps giving Trump the ability to sidestep copyright law, it could be held responsible for not terminating the account of a known repeat infringer. However, if it bans his account, all of the tweets from his presidency will disappear with it.

Clearly and for the sake of history, that can’t happen. However, the law is the law so if any copyright holders decide to get fired up, Twitter could find potentially itself in an interesting legal position. Of course, there’s always the chance that no more infringements or alleged infringements will occur, effectively solving the problem for them.

Only time will tell which way things go but at the very least, popcorn should be kept on standby in the new year. If only to see how many more notices will come in before the protective shield is taken away.

From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more. We have some good VPN deals here for the holidays.

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‘DMCA 2.0’ Draft Hints at Filters With Notice-and-Staydown Scheme

It is a busy week for copyright proposals in the United States, one that will resound far into the year ahead.

A few hours after the ‘CASE Act’ and the ‘Protecting Lawful Streaming Act’ were approved as part of the spending bill, a discussion draft for a new and improved version of the DMCA was revealed.

The draft (pdf) was published by Senator Thom Tillis, who started a thorough review of the copyright law last year. After hearing dozens of experts and stakeholders, the Senator released what he considers to be a more modern version of the 20-year old DMCA.

“The Digital Millennium Copyright Act was passed in 1998, and while it was revolutionary at the time, the law simply hasn’t kept pace with changes in technology. The DMCA is now antiquated and is past-due for modernization,” Senator Tillis said.

“This discussion draft is the result of a year-long series of hearings and months of feedback from creators, user groups, and technology companies.”

Titled the “Digital Copyright Act of 2021,” the proposal suggests various updates and changes that have ignited instant opposition from digital rights groups. We will provide a summary of some key proposals but there will be more to unpack in the future.

Notice and Staydown

The current DMCA requires online services to remove copyright-infringing links or files when they are alerted by copyright holders. This won’t change in the new proposal but simply taking down content is no longer sufficient.

When copyright holders inform services that ‘complete or near complete’ copies of their works are being shared online without permission, these platforms have to ensure that this content stays offline.

staydown

While the draft doesn’t mention filters specifically, the ‘staydown’ language indirectly requires online sites and services to monitor and filter uploaded content. This would be similar to Article 17 of the EU Copyright Directive.

Copyright holders have argued in favor of a staydown requirement for years. They argue that this is essential to end the piracy ‘whack-a-mole’ where they have to send hundreds of takedown requests for the same content.

Disconnecting Repeat Infringers?

The existing DMCA already requires ISPs to disconnect repeat infringers, but it’s not clear when this should happen, and if notifications from rightsholders are sufficient as evidence.

This ambiguity has led to a series of lawsuits where ISPs are accused of failing to adhere to the DMCA. The new Digital Copyright Act should bring an end to this uncertainty.

The discussion draft proposes to get rid of the “repeat infringer” and replace it with “persons that, on multiple occasions, were the subject of notifications (…) that were not successfully challenged.”

More importantly, it requires the Copyright Office, together with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, to develop a policy model that specifies what a frequent offender is and how these persons should be handled.

This suggestion is in line with the Copyright Office’s own assessment from earlier this year, which called on Congress to clarify when a user’s account should be terminated.

Small Claims, Copyright Abuse, and More

The discussion draft also proposes using a small claims tribunal for smaller copyright offenses. This pretty much means incorporating the CASE Act in the new law but that seems unnecessary now that the proposal has already been passed.

A more novel suggestion in the ‘DMCA 2.0’ is to keep a list of companies and copyright holders that repeatedly send false takedown notices. These ‘flagged’ abusers are placed on a list maintained by the Copyright Office.

abusers

When online services receive takedown notices from blacklisted senders they are not required to act. In other words, they can ignore these takedowns without losing their safe harbor.

Praise and Outrage

As mentioned earlier, the above is just an initial rundown of the proposal, which by itself is merely a discussion draft. And based on the early responses, there is plenty to discuss, or not.

“There’s nothing to discuss,” The Electronic Frontier Foundation notes in an early response adding that “the bill, if passed, would absolutely devastate the Internet.”

Re:Create is equally offended by the draft stating that the proposed Digital Copyright Act “would fundamentally end online creativity as we know it.”

Public Knowledge, meanwhile, notes that the draft text “would significantly curtail online speech, subjecting every upload to mandatory content filtering while effectively eliminating fair use on the internet.”

As is often the case with copyright law proposals, the responses are mixed. Rightsholders are pleased with most of the suggestions, which is reflected in an early response from 22 music groups.

“Through a thoughtful, deliberative process, Senator Tillis has developed an important proposal. By digging deep into the substance, engaging a broad universe of stakeholders and experts, and confronting the issues, Senator Tillis and his team have started an important discussion about how best to provide incentives for success,” they say.

From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more. We have some good VPN deals here for the holidays.

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YouTube Ordered to Unmask Cheaters TV Show Pirates & How Much Money Was Made

With millions of users uploading huge quantities of content every day, YouTube is the largest video platform on the planet.

Of course, not all of this content is licensed for upload and as a result, YouTube regularly finds itself at the center of copyright holder disputes. Usually, complaints are handled with a Content ID match or a straightforward takedown process but some content creators prefer to take things a little further.

Creator of TV Show Cheaters Takes Legal Action

Controversial reality TV show Cheaters deploys its own ‘Cheaters Detective Agency’ to carry out investigations on behalf of individuals who suspect their partners are committing adultery and similar infidelities. Created by writer Bobby Goldstein, Cheaters launched in 2000 and has reached season 19, airing on various legal TV outlets around the world.

However, there are many hundreds of Cheaters episodes available on YouTube too, uploaded by users in breach of copyright. Collectively these videos have been viewed millions of times and for Bobby Goldstein Productions (BGP), the owner and rightsholder of more than 227 Cheaters episodes, enough is enough.

Cheaters YouTube

In an application for a DMCA subpoena filed against YouTube in a Texas court, BGP attorney Jeffrey R. Bragalone is now seeking to obtain the identities of more than two dozen YouTube account holders who uploaded Cheaters episodes to the video platform, so that the company may enforce its rights.

DMCA Takedown Notice

The application begins by reminding YouTube of its legal position, noting that since it displayed and reproduced infringing episodes, it may be liable to hand over all of the profits it generated from them. Alternatively, under 17 U.S.C. § 504(c), YouTube may be liable for statutory damages of up to $150,000 per infringing work.

BGP’s attorney then issues a formal demand to YouTube, demanding that it immediately cease-and-desists from hosting and displaying the episodes in question, noting that failure to comply will be considered as evidence of willful intent in the event of a lawsuit.

Cheaters DMCA

At the time of writing and after testing a sample of the URLs listed by the company, the allegedly infringing videos (including the small selection in the image above) appear to remain live on YouTube but given the official nature of the complaint, that position is likely to change in the coming days. Nevertheless, a simple takedown won’t be enough to fulfill the requirements of the subpoena.

Disclose User Identities and Preserve Evidence

In the first instance, BGP is seeking to find out the identities behind the YouTube user accounts that uploaded the infringing videos. There are more than two dozen in total, some of which are dedicated to the show, some that offer various TV shows and movies, and others that appear to have uploaded episodes in a less organized fashion.

Regardless of type, BGP is demanding that YouTube provides documentation to show “all registration information, account information, billing information, payment information, or other identifying information associated with the YouTube accounts” including their “name(s), address(es), telephone number(s), email address(es), and account number(s) associated with each account, and the Internet Protocol addresses (including time stamps) used to create each account, access each account, or upload the material” for each of the supplied URLs.

In addition to user information, BGP is also seeking information that could be helpful should it file lawsuits against the listed YouTube users and potentially the platform itself in the unlikely event content isn’t taken down. The requested evidence includes the total page views and/or downloads of the infringing URLs/videos, plus an account of total revenues and gross profits relating to the display of the offending material, including all advertising and/or affiliate revenue.

“This information must be provided with accompanying documentation, including financial and other business records, supporting the responses given to these questions,” the DMCA subpoena application reads.

In addition, BGP is demanding that YouTube preserves all communications relating to the videos, including emails, voicemails and instant messaging, any and all related documents, network access and server activity logs, plus any other relevant information.

“Should you fail or refuse to take down the Subject Videos, our client will have no choice but to file a complaint against your company seeking immediate injunctive relief, as well as compensatory, statutory, and punitive damages, attorney’s fees, and costs,” BGP concludes.

After being filed earlier this week, the case was reviewed by Judge Rodney Gilstrap. In his order, he noted that BGP had complied with all of the components required to obtain a subpoena. So, in an order issued Wednesday, the Judge ordered YouTube to comply by supplying the information sought.

The related documents can be found here (1,2,3. Judge’s order here)

From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more.

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Udemy Uses DMCA To Delete Video Showing How to Access Courses Free & Legally

With more than 35 million students, 57,000 instructors, and 400 million courses available, Udemy is a huge player in the online learning space.

Accessing the company’s content obviously comes at a price too so when online learning group ShareLearn spotted an opportunity for students to access thousands of Udemy courses legally and for free, they decided to share the information with the world.

Tutorial Uploaded to YouTube To Help Students

ShareLearn’s four-minute video, which TorrentFreak was able to review on another platform, begins with a splash screen indicating that by using the techniques shown in the videos, thousands of courses can be accessed by students with the right credentials.

While it does display the Udemy logo, a disclaimer at the start of the video states that the tutorial is “not affiliated with Udemy”.

Udemy-Video-1

The purpose of the video was to spread the word that Udemy has a partnership with Gale to provide “more than 6,000 high-quality, on-demand video courses taught by world-class instructors across 75 categories for upskilling in the areas of business, technology, and design.”

As part of this arrangement, free courses are available under some library systems.

The System to Access Courses is Hosted By Gale

The video reveals that if students from certain cities in the United States visit gale.udemy.com, they are presented with a portal that operates in partnership with their libraries, universities, colleges and schools. With the library option selected, a list of participating libraries appears.

In the tutorial video, San Francisco library is used as an example. For authentication purposes, users are required to enter their library account credentials and from there they are passed to Udemy, which requires a Google or Microsoft account to proceed.

The people at ShareLearn showed a screenshot of this page to make their tutorial easier to understand, as we have done with the screenshot of the video below.

Udemy-Video-2

Udemy Files Copyright Complaint With YouTube

Given the obviously useful nature of the video, it’s perhaps reasonable to conclude that at least some students would’ve learned something from it. However, not too long after it was uploaded to YouTube, it was targeted by a Udemy copyright complaint which resulted in it being taken down.

“[Udemy] has claimed copyright infringement for use of their logo,” ShareLearn informs TorrentFreak.

Udemy YouTube

“We believe it is covered under fair use and they want to hold us from promoting this option to avoid people from using this library service paid by taxpayers. I have sent them a few emails, but they have given a standard reply that we violated their copyright,” ShareLearn add.

Udemy’s Legal Department Refuses to Reconsider

From correspondence reviewed by TF, ShareLearn told Udemy that they “appreciate what Udemy is doing for society” and were excited to see the Udemy/Gale/libraries partnership, noting that the project seemed like a good use of taxpayers’ money.

“In this video, we have used udemy logo as a reference to udemy, which is covered under fair use. We used screenshots from gale.udemy.com website to help library patterns sign up for your service via public library, which is covered under fair use [sic],” the correspondence reads.

ShareLearn then presented Udemy’s legal team with a list of questions requesting additional information on why the inclusion of screenshots bearing Udemy’s logo can’t be considered fair use. The group also asked where Udemy itself advertises the availability of the free service to students.

In its response, Udemy ignored the questions and reiterated its key objection.

“When material posted on other platforms infringes Udemy’s intellectual property rights, or on the rights of our instructors, we have an obligation to protect those works,” the company said.

“We have reviewed the takedown notice in question, and confirmed the infringement therein. If you have questions about intellectual property matters such as trademark, copyright, fair use, etc. you may wish to consult an attorney. Udemy cannot provide you with any legal advice on these matters.”

ShareLearn Files YouTube Counternotice

ShareLearn has filed a counternotice with YouTube in an effort to have the video restored but at the time of writing, that is still pending and the content remains down. What will happen next is unclear.

The takedown from YouTube was filed under copyright law, clearly referencing Udemy’s “copyrighted logo”. Whether any fair use defense is applicable in this case will be for lawyers to argue over but aside from the 20-second intro page (shown in the screenshot above, which includes a disclaimer), the only use of the Udemy logo thereafter is when screenshots/screen recordings of the Udemy/Gale website/system are displayed.

Given that the idea of the video was to promote Udemy products and services developed alongside Gale and libraries for the benefit of students, the copyright complaint and subsequent removal seem somewhat overzealous, if not counterproductive too.

From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more.