This past Monday the Wall Street Journal published a thought-provoking piece ”As Pirates Run Rampant, TV Studios Dial Up Pursuit.” Written by Christopher Stewart, the article explored how the television industry, studios, and film distributors are protecting their businesses from the ravages of online piracy. Kathy Wolfe, founder of Wolfe Video, the largest distributor of independent LGBT films in the world, spoke about the challenge of staying in business amid a sea of piracy. She told the Wall Street Journal that she estimates online piracy cost her small company more than 3 million dollars in 2012. In order to prevent that figure from growing, Wolfe spends over $30,000 annually (half the company’s profits) to scan the web for infringing content and send takedown notices. When I spoke with her today, she told me that her company could easily be forced out of business were anti-piracy efforts not in place.
In the meantime, according to Wolfe, they are working hard to develop a robust online streaming business. She says that 38% of their income now comes from online streaming and she expects that percentage to grow “radically” every year. ”Now with our Wolfe on Demand [website], we have a formula that is accessible and affordable,” says Wolfe. She adds that by establishing their own online portal, and not depending on exclusively on other sites (iTunes, Amazon, Hulu, etc), Wolfe can direct a bigger percentage of profits back to the filmmakers.
Despite Wolfe’s success in growing online sales, mitigating piracy has become a fundamental part of protecting their business. ”If it weren’t for our anti-piracy efforts, we certainly wouldn’t be functioning at the level we’re functioning at now,” she says.
After all, it’s still difficult to compete with free and the indie filmmakers who partner with Wolfe (including myself) are fortunate that the company bears the brunt of worldwide anti-piracy efforts. But whether it falls to a small independent film distributor such as Wolfe, or an individual filmmaker, the job of removing pirated content from the web is an onerous (and expensive) one.
Where does one begin? Well, in the example I’m about to outline, these are the 12 Steps a filmmaker would follow in order to remove ONE illegal movie from the web:
Step One: Find the film using Google search.
Step Two: Navigate to the YouTube (Google) channel featuring dozens of pirated movies.
Step Three: From there, click the movie you want and go to the description linking to a Blogger (Google) pirate site.
Step Four: Before you leave YouTube (Google), send a DMCA notice either via Content ID system or email.
Step Five: Navigate to the Blogger (Google) website, click the link.
Step Six: Click past pop-up ads to find the embedded film.
Step Seven: Fill out and send a DMCA notice to Blogger (Google) via online web form.
Step Eight: Click the VK icon on the embedded film to navigate to the host site for the infringing file.
Step Nine: Create an account with VK to find that actual URL of the infringing file
(amid more than 100 other uploads by the same pirate).
Step Ten: Fill out and send a DMCA Notice to VK via the online web form (no email address provided).
Step Eleven: Send a DMCA takedown to Google search to have the original link removed from search (YouTube link) in case Vk.com doesn’t respond.
Step Twelve: Get depressed when you have to begin all over a couple of days later when the Blogger pirate makes a new YouTube channel.
Let’s begin our journey with Google search–unquestionably the world’s most popular path to find links to pirated films. In the example below, I searched for the indie French film “Tomboy.” Thanks to Google, I ended up on a YouTube movie channel with links to more than 100 popular indie films. The films aren’t actually uploaded to YouTube. Instead, a it’s dummy file with the movie poster that includes a link to an external website in its description.
I’ve written before about the fact that YouTube is routinely used by pirates as an efficient means attracting traffic to their pirate websites and the example outlined here is no exception. In this case, the YouTube channel links to an external site also hosted by Google’s on its very own Blogger platform: http://cinegay9.blogspot.com.
If you are an indie filmmaker whose film pirated on this site, how can you remove the link? Well your first step would be to send a DMCA takedown notice to YouTube asking that the link to the pirate site be removed using their online form…
You have to fill in each line but, even when you click and send, your takedown request won’t touch the linked-to pirate’s page even though it’s also a Google entity, in this case a Blogspot.com offering an actual embedded stream of your (pirated) film.
If you click the link below the movie description on YouTube you’ll eventually end up at the pirated blog but, before you can glimpse the page, you’ll have to endure, and click past, a pop-up advertisement featuring ads from a panoply of well-known companies including: Dodge, Network Solutions, Reebok, XBox 360, Norton Software, Comcast and Hootsuite.
After you close the pop-up window, you’ll come to the pirate’s website.
Click the thumbnail for the movie, and after you click through another pop-up advertisement featuring ads from Progressive Insurance, Stanford Hospital, Home Depot, U.S. Forest Service, and Toyota….
you’ll eventually arrive at an actual embedded stream of the full movie:
Ok, so if you’re the indie filmmaker who made this film, what do you do next? Well, before yo leave the Blogger site you can notify Google (again) by sending a DMCA takedown notice to Blogger.
However, even if the Blogger page disappears, the online stream doesn’t. So what’s the next step? Well, at first glance the video is clearly hosted on a Russian site, vk.com (a site like Facebook). However, if you click the VK logo, you don’t end up at actual film, but rather a page full of uploaded (pirated) movies on this pirate’s Vk.com account (seen below).
Click on the film and nothing happens so uncovering the actual stream file and URL seems hopeless. But, if you’re really persistent, there is a way. To do so you must create an account at VK.com (and give up your cell phone number). It’s a major pain involving a text message with a confirmation code, etc.
Once you have an account and log in, you’ll finally be able to navigate to the infringing file and find the actual URL you’ll need to report in your takedown notice.
There’s no guarantee that any of these pages or links will be removed so in order to be totally thorough, you may want to file a DMCA notice to have Google remove the original search result that led you to your pirated film in the first place.
Of course, after all this work, you think you’re finished right? After all, you check back with YouTube and the pirate who started this whole process account has been terminated for “multiple third-party claims of copyright infringement.”
Victory right? Well, not so fast…revisit Google search and you’ll discover that Cinegay9blogspot’s channel has been reincarnated with the user name reotereds. Guess it’s time to start the DMCA takedown process all over again…
Tell me again why artists, photographers, filmmakers and musicians should have to go to these lengths to protect their work from thieves? Wouldn’t our time be better spent creating our art, rather than having to police it so that we can earn a living and afford to spend time to create something new?