TV Network Starz Criticized After Forcing Twitter To Remove Links To ‘Pirated Shows’

American Gods season two premiere in Los Angeles, 2019
Vivien Killilea / Getty Images

The TV channel Starz has been hit with criticism after it forced Twitter to remove tweets which featured links to pirated content, The Guardian reports.

The network – which hosts such shows as American Gods and The 100 – issued instructions to the social networking site to delete any links to sites where users could find pirated shows after the privacy news site TorrentFreak reported leaked U.S. TV shows. Shows which were being pirated include the network-hosted American Gods, among others.

According to the source, the pirated copies of the shows were identifiable by their on-screen watermarks which state that the copy is “for screening purposes only.” While TorrentFreak did not post any links to copyrighted material, it did tweet a link to the news story which prompted Starz to issue a takedown request.

Starz sent Twitter a legal demand, claiming that TorrentFreak infringed on the company’s copyright by linking to a site which showed images “of unreleased episodes.” TorrentFreak has disputed the claim, saying that the article the tweet linked to only showed one frame from the show.

“Our article only includes a single identifiable frame from a leaked American Gods episode, to show the screener watermarks, which are central to the story. That’s just 0.001% of the episode in question, without audio, which is generally seen as fair use, especially in a news context.”

Additionally, free speech campaigners have also complained about the network’s takedown of tweets. The U.S. internet rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has shown support for TorrentFreak, stating in a recent tweet that the news article was “a far cry…from an infringement.” Media journalist Mathew Ingram – who writes for the Columbia Journalism Review – said that the DMCA removal of the tweet should “disturb” people.

The EFF tweet has since been removed at the request of Starz. However, EFF has since posted a new tweet which criticizes the network’s actions against them.

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In accordance with the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), copyright holders have the right to issue takedown requests to companies who have breached copyright law by hosting content that belongs to the holder. However, companies and individuals who feel the request is wrong can file a counterclaim.

American Gods writers Bryan Fuller and Michael Green at a panel discussion, 2016
  Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images

Takedown requests have been the subject of controversy in the past. Earlier this month, a tweet by President Trump was removed at the request of Warner Bros. after it was discovered that it contained copyright music from The Dark Knight Rises, which it had used without permission.

Starz and Twitter have yet to issues statements about the TorrentFreak issue.