On March 17, 2019, TorrentFreak published an article about Reddit’s /r/piracy discussion forum.
It was actually prepared six days earlier, a point of importance that will become clear later on.
We noted how some in the thriving community of around 350,000 subscribers were concerned that it could be shut down for talking about piracy. In general, we highlighted what should be apparent – discussing piracy is a whole different animal than actually engaging in it.
Perhaps even more importantly, we reported on statements issued earlier this month by a key moderator of /r/piracy. The person in question, ‘dysgraphical’, reported that the section effectively has a zero-tolerance stance against infringement.
Not only do posters of any offending links to allegedly infringing content face an immediate suspension, but also anyone who even asks for them. This, quite clearly, goes way beyond the requirements of the DMCA.
Furthermore, /r/piracy – just like any other service provider – lists rules (effectively Terms of Service) that expressly forbid any kind of copyright infringement. Any posts breaking these rules are deleted, either with automated tools or manual intervention.
It’s a classic situation of technology and humans policing a platform as the law requires, but exceeding its requirements. Indeed, anyone looking for actual links to pirated content will find /r/piracy one of the least useful resources on the Internet, thanks to the work of the mods and the 99.9% of users who respect the rules.
Yesterday, however, not long after our piece was published, the moderators of /r/piracy made it known that they had just received a formal notice from Reddit Legal, dated March 14, regarding copyright infringement. While that pre-dated our article’s publication date, the complaint was sent after it was drafted.
“This is an official warning from Reddit that we are receiving too many copyright infringement notices about material posted to your community. We will be required to ban this community if you can’t adequately address the problem,” the notice reads.
“Over the past months we’ve had to remove material from the community in response to copyright notices 74 times. That’s an unusually high number taking into account the community’s size.”
This communication from Reddit Legal came as a complete surprise. The moderators of /r/piracy have never had any contact with the admins on this topic previously, as dysgraphical explains.
“Reddit Legal states that they have acted 74 times on these copyright notices through removals, but it is the first time we have been officially contacted regarding any infringement where it be through modmail or PMs.”
This claim deserves some analysis. Firstly, “past months” is pretty vague (Reddit Legal hasn’t responded to a request for more information) so given that the claim is 74, let’s make the assumption that it’s three months, or 90 days.
That’s less than one infringement notice per day. If it’s six months, it’s just three every week. The Pirate Bay this certainly isn’t.
The sub-Reddit has 350,000 subscribers but anyone on Reddit (getting close to a quarter of a billion unique monthly users) can post on /r/piracy. Less than one infringement notice per day doesn’t seem like a lot (Google just processed its four-billionth) but even that needs to be viewed while considering something of even more importance.
FACT: These are not notices of actual infringement being received by Reddit, but claimed notices of infringement.
We know from our own experience that Google has received many copyright infringement complaints against TorrentFreak.com (see here) but every single one is false. Indeed, one of the companies who filed these notices actually apologized to us recently for their errors. But then, of course, it’s too late, and the damage has been done.
“Considering our stringent rules against distributing pirated content through this platform, it is unclear what constitutes copyright infringement to Reddit or whether the simple mention of a release name falls under their broad interpretation,” dysgraphical notes.
This is an extremely good point.
Earlier this year we reported on several sites that report on the mere availability of pirate releases yet are systematically reported to Google for infringement, despite committing no infringement. Reddit’s /r/piracy sub allows release names (as is its right) to be published for discussion, so are these being flagged by over-enthusiastic copyright bots?
We truth is, we don’t know and neither do /r/piracy’s moderators, because Reddit doesn’t make the notices available to them. All the legal team would reveal is that the latest claim came from Warner Bros, which is hardly the basis for a meaningful investigation.
“We replied immediately requesting a list of offending material that was removed and have not received a reply yet,” dysgraphical explains.
While Reddit does publish a token “transparency report“, unlike other ‘rivals for eyeballs’ such as Google, Twitter, etc, it does not publish received notices. As such, there is no real transparency as to what is going on here.
That only adds fuel to a particular theory – that Reddit is actively trying to get rid of sub-Reddits that are unpalatable to its sponsors or those that are out of line with its corporate aims.
“It has become abundantly clear in the past months and years that Reddit has never been the bastion of freedom that many people see it as,” dysgraphical writes.
“Reddit’s passivity in enforcing its own rules is continuously tested whenever one of its subreddits are thrusted into the limelight by the media. As we wait for more information from Reddit Legal, there is one certainty that comes from all of this, r/Piracy will be banned.”
While there’s hope that this doomsday scenario can be avoided, it’s almost impossible to play by the rules when the state of play isn’t transparent. Reddit itself executed 26,234 content removals in 2018 due to copyright but no one is suggesting that Reddit’s host should ban Reddit.
Why? Because when it’s informed of the existence of allegedly infringing content Reddit removes it, as the law dictates. Reddit’s /r/piracy goes beyond those requirements.
It removes any infringing content not only pro-actively in advance of receiving any complaints but also removes it faster than Reddit itself. We’re not talking a couple of hours here, we’re talking minutes or even seconds.
The mods on /r/piracy will clearly be having some discussions about how to save their community in the face of this out-of-the-blue warning but in the short-term, it’s clear they’ll be held to a higher standard than almost any other sub-Reddit around – even the dozens of image-based sub-Reddits that breach photographers’ copyrights every minute of every day.
That will probably have to mean immediate bans (not just suspensions) of rule breakers while making this fact known in the sidebar, and doing what they’ve always done really effectively – take out the trash. Unfortunately, there’s clearly a feeling that no matter what gets done, it won’t make any difference.
Meanwhile, Reddit should consider giving the moderators the information they have requested. That will go some way to restoring trust that this isn’t a witchhunt but is a genuine complaint in need of attention and/or rectification.