Hotfile sues Warner Bros., claims wrongful takedowns

One-click file host has sued Warner Bros. (s TWX) this week, claiming that the movie studio has been abusing an automated takedown tool to delete thousands of files that it doesn’t have the copyrights to. (Hat tip to TorrentFreak) The lawsuit is an answer to Hollywood taking Hotfile to court over copyright infringement claims earlier this year, and it could undermine some of the arguments used by rights holders against Hotfile.

Hotfile’s court filing details that the company was approached by Warner in 2009 with a request for a more expedited takedown procedure. Hotfile complied by launching a so called “Special Rightsholders Account” (SRA) that made it possible for Warner to directly delete files from Hotfile’s servers and prevent any future uploads of these files. Similar direct takedown functionality is offered by companies like Rapidshare and other file hosts.

Hotfile’s filing states that Warner made extensive use of the functionality, taking down thousands of works per day. However, the studio apparently didn’t always check whether the files it was about to delete were in fact copies of its works. From the filing:

“The URLs corresponding to the some of these files deleted by Warner contained names/titles indicating that thousands of software games, freeware software and videos with pornographic content had been wrongfully deleted by [Warner].”

The cause for these wrongful deletions seems to be rather trivial: Apparently, Warner simply used a keyword-based web crawler to find links to files hosted on Hotfile without checking for the actual content. Again, from the filing:

“Illustrative is the otherwise forgettable Warner movie made several years ago called The Box. Warner records list 3,481 files as deletions from made via its SRA that it claims were copies of The Box. However, Warner’s own records strongly suggest that many if not a majority of those deleted files were not actually copies of — indeed had nothing to do with — the movie The Box. Rather, most are just Hotfile links that had the two common words ‘The Box’ somewhere in the file name. For example, dozens of files whose name suggests that the content was an audio book entitled Cancer: Out Of The Box, by Ty M. Bollinger—an alternative cancer treatment book were deleted.”

The countersuit may look like payback, but it also brings up a few interesting questions. Hollywood argued in its own lawsuit against Hotfile that DMCA takedown notices aren’t enough to combat piracy on Hotfile. However, the false positives generated by Warner’s own anti-piracy team seem to suggest that only a proper takedown procedure with checks and balances can prevent that works third parties find their works blocked or taken down without their consent.

Check out the entire filing below:

Hotfile Counterclaim

Image courtesy of Flickr user hickory hardscrabble.