I read on TorrentFreak today that HBO issued a take-down notice to Google asking them to remove links to numerous torrent files for their hugely successful TV series, Game of Thrones. But amongst the links listed was a link to VLC media player. From the screenshot on TorrentFreak it seems the link to a version of the popular open source video player ended up on the list of URLs erroneously, but commentary like Luke Hopewell's post on Gizmodo espousing this as a possible new anti-piracy strategy are really concerning.
Of course there are lots of users who play back infringing copies of television and movie content through VideoLAN's media player, but VLC plays back legitimate and illegitimate content. Simply downloading a copy of the media player does not evidence copyright infringement or intention to infringe copyright.But the a DMCA take-down notice process outlined in §551(c)(3) of Chapter 5 of title 17, United States Code includes request to remove links to “material that is claimed to be infringing or to be the subject of infringing activity.” I am concern that overzealous copyright owners might be eager to include links to software that have the ability to play back infringing media files in the hope that a court will deem them to be “the subject of infringing activity.”
Legitimate use of the DMCA take-down process is fine but abuse and mistakes happen all the time. This has real impact on websites since Google down-ranks sites based on the total DMCA notices it receives. And as TorrentFreak notes, “… there is very little incentive for copyright holders to improve their accuracy.” While Google is committed to preventing abuse and mistakes, things slip through.
Send links to known infringing content if you have to, but it is worrying if content companies start asking search engines to remove links to media players. There is plenty of abuse of the DMCA take-down process. I don't want to see technology that can be used to play back legitimate and illegitimate copyright content targeted by take-down claims.