Since around 2009, Reddit’s /r/piracy subreddit has been a place for people dedicated to downloading media for free to trade information, methods, and in some cases direct links to copyrighted material. Since its inception, the subreddit has grown to more than 360,000 subscribers.
Now, 10 years of posting history is going up in smoke as the moderation team purges any posts older than six months in the face of an overwhelming number of claims from rights holders. The process is slow, and two weeks on since the purge started there are still posts from nine years ago.
According a post by /r/piracy mod “dysgraphical,” Reddit’s legal team reached out on March 14 to tell the subreddit’s mods to clean up their act or risk the subreddit being banned.
“This is our formal warning about repeat infringement in this community,” Reddit said, according to /r/piracy’s mods. “Over the past months we've had to remove material from the community in response to copyright notices 74 times. That's an unusually high number taking into account the community's size.”
Though /r/piracy is a place to discuss piracy generally, the mods strive to keep the community from actually breaking copyright law. One of the subreddit’s cardinal rules is not to link to copyrighted material. The /r/piracy mods claim they were never contacted by Reddit previously.
“Reddit Legal states that they have acted 74 times on these copyright notices through removals, but it is the first time we have been officially contacted regarding any infringement,” dysgraphical said in a post about the notice.
According to the /r/piracy mods, Reddit sent them a spreadsheet listing every copyright claim it has acted on so far in 2019—38 so far.
According to dysgraphical, who posted the spreadsheet to Reddit, some of the claims covered activities that fell short of actually posting links to copyrighted material, including asking if a streaming site was down and instructing others on how to install music software (without links to the software itself).
“Reddit does not bother to sort through their DMCA notices and complies immediately whether the content is infringing or not,” dysgraphical said. “Sharing a streaming site URL is considered copyright infringement, asking if a streaming site is down is considered copyright infringement, sharing guides on installing programs and not providing links is considered copyright infringement.”
Ethan Jacobs, an intellectual property lawyer with Holland Law LLP in San Francisco, said he’s not shocked by Reddit’s reported actions. Compliance is better than taking up a legal fight against a corporation like Warner Bros.
“I’m not surprised Reddit isn’t engaging in arguments about what is or is not really copyright infringement,” he said. Jacobs noted that DMCA notices give websites such as Reddit a way to avoid harsher legal measures. “DMCA acts as a liability safe harbor for websites that host user-uploaded materials. It isn’t intended to allow websites to stand up for users’ ability to post materials, and doing that could risk their safe harbor.”
Spokespeople for Reddit and the moderators of /r/piracy were not immediately available for comment, but we will update this post if we hear back.
The sheer volume of such copyright complaints would make it difficult for the /r/piracy moderators to fight them all, dysgraphical explained. For example, according to dysgraphical, 20 takedown complaints were filed on comments in a 2016 thread.
“Copyright holders can scour 2+ year-old threads and file infringement on every single comment,” he said. “This is especially significant because it means that there is no way for us to combat these frivolous infringements. Any copyright holder that wishes to file a notice can dig deep enough and find anything that's slipped in between the cracks and Reddit will gladly comply.”
According to moderator “dbzer0,” scrubbing /r/piracy’s ten year history of posts for anything possibly infringing wouldn’t be feasible. “As you might imagine, this is impossible for the volunteer mods, and probably impossible for Reddit staff themselves,” dbzer0 said in a post.
The mods felt there was only one viable option—a mass deletion of everything older than six months or lose the subreddit.The mods put it to a vote and the community overwhelmingly voted in favor of the mass deletion.
Now ten years of posts from the community will be gone from the subreddit. In late March, the mods launched a script to purge the subreddit’s old posts. At the time, the mods said it might take weeks for the code to finish doing its job.
Despite the dramatic move, there’s no guarantee that the subreddit will be out of rights holders’ crosshairs. And so a backup plan was put in place.
Before the purge began, the community archived the subreddit’s history and moved it to a GitHub, so the archive will live on, just not on Reddit. The subreddit also has a “fallback forum,” listed on the sidebar, that’s hosted on raddle.me, a Reddit-like site with explicitly anarchist politics.
“Mark my words when the new [ Game of Thrones] episodes get leaked here and the new Avengers movie gets released here, it’s over,” Redditor “Amaurotica” said.
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