Premium cable channel Starz used the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to force Twitter to censor tweets about a leaked episode of its show American Gods. The tweets didn’t directly link to the leaked episode online, nor give information on how to pirate it, but Starz still managed to temporarily remove the tweets.
The source of Starz’s ire is a TorrentFreak article from April 8 describing the massive leak of unaired episodes of several television shows, including American Gods, which airs on Starz. According to TorrentFreak and the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF), Starz employed a third party to serve DMCA notices to Twitter to take down links shared about the leak.
TorrentFreak—a site dedicated to tracking and reporting on internet piracy—noticed the leak and reported on it. After it had published the article, TorrentFreak promoted it on Twitter. That’s when the trouble started. According to TorrentFreak, Starz employed The Social Element Agency—a social media management company—to issue DMCA takedowns of tweets sharing TorrentFreak’s article.
The TorrentFreak article didn’t post direct links to any of the leaked episodes it reported on, but it did provide a single screenshot of the leaked American Gods episode. This was enough—according to TorrentFreak—for Starz to get Twitter to remove the offending tweet. It didn’t stop with TorrentFreak. Starz also served DMCA notices to other people on Twitter who’d shared the link to TorrentFreaks article, including the EFF and journalist Matthew Ingram.
The EFF said it knows its rights and filed a counterclaim, directing Twitter to restore the tweet barring a copyright infringement lawsuit being filed by Starz. "DMCA claims can be intimidating, especially to people who don’t know the ins and outs of the process," an EFF representative told Motherboard in an email. "Fortunately, EFF is an organization that definitely knows its rights and how to exercise them. And we’ll keep calling out abusive takedowns and helping people defend their rights to speak on the Internet."
It also pointed out that the takedown notice it received wasn’t even complete. “In the field labeled ‘links to original work,’ Starz wrote ‘n/a,’’ the EFF said on its website. “To reiterate: in the field about where the original work being infringed on can be located, the answer is ‘not applicable.’ Under ‘Description of infringement,’ it says, ‘Link to bootleg.’ There’s no bootleg link in any of the articles or tweets.”
As news of the DMCA strikes picked up Steam, Starz backed down. “The techniques and technologies employed in these efforts are not always perfect, and it appears that in this case, some posts were inadvertently caught up in the sweep that may fall outside the DMCA guidelines,” a Starz representative told Motherboard in an email. “That was never our intention and we apologize to those who were incorrectly targeted. We are in the process of reviewing all of the impacted posts as well as the scope and procedure for the previous takedowns and are working with our vendors to reinstate any such content that was inappropriately targeted for removal.”