False Copyright Accusations – December 2009

Eating ribs, a vlogger, and a class lecture are among a few that start our brand new monthly series on false accusations.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

Imagine a world where false accusations are a new weapon to anyone, against anyone. There’s no need for evidence, just a trio of simple accusations of copyright infringement. Those accusations would then, in turn, disconnect alleged infringers from the internet. The copyright industry has long hoped this would become a reality and with the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, this hope by major copyright businesses could become a reality.

We here at ZeroPaid were curious to know just how common false accusations really are and sent out a call for people’s stories who were part of a false accusation for copyright infringement. You, the readers, certainly already delivered. Here are the false accusations we received from you as well as a few we found already hanging around the web.

Accusation #1


Our first alleged false accusation comes from an anonymous submitter who simply passed along a YouTube clip of the story.

In a nutshell, according to the video, the alleged false accusation came about when users who disagreed with this vlogger set up a website called “IslamWay” well after the vlog was started. After setting up the website, the users then sent a DMCA notice to YouTube to pull down any videos about IslamWay claiming copyright infringement.

This does not constitute legal advice, nor is this an expert legal opinion, but as far as we know, at least in Canada, when an idea is transfixed onto a medium, the creator automatically gains a copyright on that given work. One can’t simply have an idea and claim copyright as it has to be transfixed. Registering the work is another story, but if one can prove something was created prior to someone else producing an identical work, it would be difficult for the person who created that second work to go after the first person who created that work especially if that idea also isn’t registered.

Are there legal questions to be made? Maybe. Does it matter? Not in a three strikes system.

Accusation #2


This is a well known case clear back in 2003. Many articles surfaced describing the tale.

Apparently, a teacher posted lectures on an FTP site. The problem was that the last name of that teacher was “Usher” and he posted his lecture as “Usher.mp3”. The file, along with another file with a similar story, caused the automated system the RIAA had to combat piracy shoot a DMCA notice against Penn State’s department for astronomy and astrophysics. Administrators were puzzled and later communicated with the RIAA. The RIAA, pink in the face, were forced to apologize for the false accusation and withdrew its case saying that it was just some temporary employee.

Was an error made? Yes according to both sides. Does it matter under a three strikes regime? Not really.

Accusation #3

A Ribbed Viacom

Remember the Viacom case of 2007? That case where they sent thousands of DMCA notices to YouTube? Then Viacom discovered that some of those videos were not really there’s? yup, that’s the one! What a shame someone’s rib dinner wound up being caught in the mix.

The story goes that while talks between Viacom and Google over filtering technology were going on, Viacom sent a DMCA notice to YouTube demanding the removal of over 100,000 video’s. The video takedown was brought to you by various keyword searches. As a result, someone’s video of eating a rib dinner was caught up in what many consider the Viacom YouTube dragnet. It’s unclear what became of the story, but it was pretty obvious a mistake was made somewhere along the line.

Was a mistake made? Probably. Does it matter in a three strikes regime? Nope.

Accusation #4

I Downloaded What?

Another anonymous user sent us the following e-mail:

Yup, got a warning notice from our provider saying I had downloaded a certain movie. I don’t download movies. Just the same I scanned every computer in the house for the file I supposedly had–nada. We have a secure network, and I doubt it would be hacked since both our immediate neighbors have left theirs open. So I replied with a somewhat nasty letter saying they better not keep any sort of record saying I did this….never heard back.

This sort of thing has been known to happen for anyone who watched any popular file-sharing forum for a few years. It seems that sooner or later, a user receives a copyright complaint. Puzzled, the owner scans the computers in the household and finds nothing.

From this point, some users realize they have an open wifi and it was highly probably that someone hijacked the WiFi point – a particularly common problem in densely populated cities. These days, Wifi security is much more commonly practised though since awareness has been boosted, in part, by problems in the past. Still, one cannot ignore one of two possibilities: 1) Wardriving has also become more sophisticated or 2) Someone managed to hijack an IP address (at which point, there’s probably little a user can do to avoid receiving a legal complaint if they are innocent).

Was the user innocent? More than likely. Is it good standard practise to secure a personal WiFi hotspot? Absolutely. Is there reasonable doubt should a case like this go to court? Definitely. Does it matter in a three strikes regime? Definitely not.

It should be noted that, if you’d like to submit a false copyright infringement accusation story, it doesn’t have to have happened immediately, that day or even that year. It could be several years old at this point and we’ll be happy to take them. It also doesn’t matter to us if the case is ongoing or settled through counter-notice DMCA claims. We do not provide legal advice nor do we have any professional legal opinions on the matters. You can also submit the stories anonymously and have all members in the case anonymous as well. We are just after stories about false accusations. If you’d like to submit a story, and similar stories to the ones mentioned above are more than welcome, to us about a false copyright infringement accusation, feel free to send me, Drew Wilson or Jared Moya an e-mail (At this time, stories submitted to Jared will probably be forwarded to me):

Drew Wilson – [email protected]
Jared Moya – [email protected]

Total accusations: 4
Total people it could disconnect: 1

Stories don’t have to be file-sharing related in particular just as long as the accusation is related to use of the internet in some way. You can simply put “False Accusation” in the header of your e-mail with your story as this will help us sort out e-mails a little easier.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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