DMCA takedown abuse is nothing new. But it normally involves bogus takedown requests claiming copyright violations. TorrentFreak has uncovered a new form of abuse that involves the DMCA, but unlike normal copyright claims, doesn’t allow the target to contest the claims.
One of the most recent scams we’ve seen targets various popular game piracy sites, including gamestorrents.tv, fitgirl-repacks.site, freegogpcgames.com, crotorrents.com, nosteam.ro, pcgames-download.com and skidrowreloaded.com.
The notices in question are seemingly sent by prominent names in the gaming industry, such as Steam and Ubisoft. However, the sudden flurry of takedown requests appears to be initiated by scammers instead.
These scammers appear to be going after competitors. The entities behind this wave of bogus takedown notices are gaming Google’s search engine via DMCA notices. Much like shady characters trying to vanish unflattering news and blog posts from Google’s search results, these shady characters are trying to move their malicious sites higher in the rankings by targeting similar sites offering a similar selection of cracked software.
But rather than go with a straight copyright claim which could be contested and result in a reinstatement, the scammers are using another part of the DMCA — one that provides no adversarial process.
[T]he notices are not regular DMCA takedowns. Instead, they are notifications that the URLs circumvent technological protection measures such as DRM, which is separately covered in the DMCA.
“Google has been notified that the following URLs distribute copyright circumvention devices in violation of 17 U.S.C. § 1201,” Google informed the site owner.
“Please find attached the notice we received. There is no formal counter notification process available under US law for circumvention, so we have not reinstated these URLs. If you dispute that you are distributing circumvention devices, please reply with a further explanation.”
That’s the way the law works. Takedown notices claiming DRM circumvention (most pirated software involves some sort of circumvention) cannot be contested. Google is allowing replies in these cases, but what it’s doing isn’t mandated by law. Google, however, is obliged to comply with requests unless it feels the complaint isn’t legitimate. How strongly it feels sometimes depends on the manpower available… or the attention the issue is receiving elsewhere on the web.
The notices collected by TorrentFreak hardly seem legit, even with only a cursory review. They’re littered with typos and make unrealistic/absurd claims, like supposedly filing on behalf of Steam even though Steam doesn’t actually own or produce the game titles listed in the takedown notice.
As TorrentFreak notes, thousands of URLs have already been taken down, pushing malware-loaded sites higher in search listings. Internet users seeking free games now may find they’ve picked up bitcoin-mining hitchhikers after visiting these scammers’ sites.
The good news is Google is paying more attention to these takedown requests and has reinstated some URLs targeted by these malware purveyors. But the fact that this sort of search engine gaming is still effective is further proof the DMCA enables abuse by treating the accuser as inherently credible while limiting the options of those falsely accused.