Twitter Doesn't Want You Sharing This Link About TV Piracy

American Gods, one of the TV shows that was leaked online and has become the subject of a DMCA dispute on Twitter
Photo: Starz

Twitter is home to some of the vilest neo-Nazis, racists, and homophobes on the planet. But don’t even think about discussing the one topic that’s apparently taboo on the platform: Piracy of TV shows.

Twitter deleted numerous tweets over the weekend that linked to news stories about some TV episodes that had leaked online. And then Twitter even deleted follow-up tweets about the deletions.

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TorrentFreak, a news site that regularly reports on piracy and copyright issues, first published a story on April 8 about the fact that episodes of several TV shows like American Gods, The 100, Bless This Mess, and Knightfall had leaked online before they were supposed to air. The episodes are watermarked screeners that are typically given to TV reviewers. TorrentFreak has called the leak “one of the largest breaches ever.”

It appears that the tweets have been deleted in response to a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice filed by the TV network Starz, according to email notifications sent to journalist Mathew Ingram and reviewed by Gizmodo. Starz airs American Gods but doesn’t own all of the shows that have leaked online.

Notably, the original TorrentFreak news story didn’t link out to pirate sites that are hosting the shows. But that hasn’t stopped Twitter from deleting multiple tweets from people who linked to the TorrentFreak story. Even a tweet from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) was deleted.

Screenshot: Starz/TorrentFreak
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The original news story did use screenshots like the one above to illustrate that the movies were screeners, complete with the watermark of someone named “Jessica Silvester.” The message, “For Screening Purposes Only,” is also visible in the shot, along with a watermark for the gambling site 1XBET. It’s not uncommon for gambling sites to team up with content pirates to get more visibility for their name.

To make matters even more complicated, Twitter has deleted tweets that link to a TorrentFreak follow-up story from April 11 in a process that Ingram has called “Kafka-esque.” Ingram’s tweet about the follow-up story was deleted over the weekend.

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“I think it’s an egregious over-reaching interpretation of the DMCA and I’m disappointed that Twitter agreed to take my tweet down — and a similar tweet by the EFF — when they are clearly not infringing,” journalist Mathew Ingram told Gizmodo via Twitter DM. “And I think it’s extremely disturbing that Twitter is taking down tweets that have links to news articles in them.”

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Twitter confirmed receipt of an email from Gizmodo yesterday but did not answer any questions about the deleted tweets. If you try to find the offending tweets online, they’re listed as “withheld.”

Screenshot: Twitter
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A spokesperson for EFF confirmed to Gizmodo that one of its tweets was taken down due to a copyright claim from Starz.

“The takedown notice says ‘link to bootleg’ but there is no link to an
infringing copy either in the tweet or in the TorrentFreak article it
links to,” EFF’s Mitch Stoltz told Gizmodo by email. “There’s only a single screenshot from a leaked episode of ‘American Gods,’ which was used to illustrate the reporting about a leak of upcoming episodes.”

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“Obviously, it’s not copyright infringement to report a story about someone else engaging in copyright infringement,” Stoltz continued. “And it’s not copyright infringement to comment on a story about a bogus
takedown. Starz is misusing DMCA takedowns here, and suppressing
truthful reporting. Unfortunately, the law makes this kind of abuse far
too easy.”

Yes, copyright holders have a right to issue DMCA notices when their content is being used inappropriately. But, again, TorrentFreak was merely reporting on the existence of the piracy, not linking out to it. If this stands, it’s a dangerous precedent for copyright law on the internet.

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Gizmodo will update this article if we hear back from Twitter.

[TorrentFreak]

Update, 11:05am: Updated with comment from EFF.

Update, 2:03pm: Starz just gave a statement to IndieWire apologizing for filing DMCA takedowns that the network says may have “inadvertently” targeted the wrong content:

The techniques and technologies employed in these efforts are not always perfect, and as such it appears that in this case, some posts were inadvertently caught up in the sweep that may fall outside the DMCA guidelines. 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.

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The tweets in question are still unavailable and it’s not clear when they’ll be reinstated. Notably, Twitter still hasn’t answered Gizmodo’s questions that were sent mid-day on Sunday.

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About the author

Matt Novak

Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog