Anonymity Unveiled: Legal Consequences of Unauthorized Movie Leaks

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In recent years, Marvel Studios, a subsidiary of Disney, has grappled with substantial challenges arising from the unauthorized disclosure of confidential information by anonymous social media accounts. These leaks, though occasionally accurate, have elicited strong responses from Marvel executives due to their potential to spoil plot details and flagrant violations of copyright. Such actions not only trespass upon Disney’s intellectual property rights but also pose a significant risk to the financial success of upcoming films. Consequently, the legal case against these infringers is robust and well-supported.

To counter these infringements, Matthew Slattof, Marvel’s Vice President of Global Security and Content Protection, has initiated legal proceedings by filing Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) subpoenas with major social media platforms, including Reddit and Instagram. As early as January this year, Marvel pursued a DMCA subpoena against Google to uncover the individuals responsible for uploading excerpts of the Ant-Man script onto Google servers. Despite the film’s premiere, the leaked details surfaced nearly a month prior, providing fans with early insights into the storyline. Ant-Man a character in the film held particular significance for Marvel as it marked the introduction to an imperative change in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, interweaving multiple narrative threads across various films.

According to court filings, Marvel issued a copyright infringement takedown notice to Google, which was swiftly followed by the removal of the content from Google servers. However, the damage was done, the leaked material had already been disseminated elsewhere. Similarly, Marvel pursued subpoenas against Reddit, citing a thread that predated the Google leak by approximately two months and contained numerous spoilers related to Ant-Man.

Another notable incident involved the Instagram account @CanWeGetSomeToast, boasting a following of 15,000, which regularly disseminates unauthorized footage from Marvel’s superhero projects. Following the account’s unauthorized posting of set photos from the upcoming “Captain America: Brave New World,” Marvel promptly issued a DMCA subpoena to Instagram to unveil the identity of the individual behind @CanWeGetSomeToast.

What Does The Law Say About Movie Leaks?

The protection of intellectual property is enshrined in both international and national legal frameworks. Article 27, paragraph 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) stipulates that “everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.” This provision underscores the international legal framework designed to protect creators from copyright infringement.

Under the Indian legal framework, the Copyright Act of 1957 governs the protection of intellectual property rights in cinematograph films. Copyright infringement can manifest through the unauthorized duplication or viewing of a work. The economic dimension of the loss incurred by the creator or copyright owner is primarily due to the diminished opportunity to capitalize on the economic benefits of the creation. Furthermore, infringement extends to moral rights, encompassing the rights of attribution and integrity. Violations of these rights include the omission of the creator’s name or unauthorized mutilation of the work.

The dissemination of movie spoilers via social media constitutes an unlawful act within the four corners of the Act and infringes upon the economic and moral rights of the copyright holder. Section 14 delineates the exclusive rights of the copyright holder regarding, inter alia, the production, publication, communication and distribution of their intellectual property.

Additionally, moral rights are governed by Sections 57 and 38B. Section 38B of the Act explicitly recognizes moral rights, Section 38B of the Act, 57 of the Act, and Article 6b is of the Berne Convention provide the legal framework for expressing moral rights. Moral rights safeguard personal and reputational interests, granting authors the ability to protect the integrity of their works and the use of their names. In jurisdictions that recognize moral rights, authors have the means to address any distortion, misrepresentation, or interference with their works that could harm their reputation. Moral rights are often referred to as “inalienable” since they cannot be transferred, waived or relinquished. Further, Section 38B delineates that “the performer” has the right to be identified for his work, whether or not he waives his rights. The performer, even after giving up their rights over the work, has the right to be recognized for their work. They also have the right to object, in case any alteration is made in the work performed by them.

Legal Remedies When Identity Of The Infringer Is Unknown

In situations where the identity of an infringer is unknown, legal avenues such as DMCA subpoenas serve as potent tools to compel platforms like Instagram and Reddit to disclose the identity of anonymous infringers. These subpoenas have become instrumental for content owners, such as Marvel, particularly crucial in an era where digital anonymity often emboldens infringers. Once identified, aggrieved parties can pursue both criminal and civil remedies. Section 63 of the Act outlines criminal penalties for copyright infringement, including imprisonment, fines, or both, for those found guilty of knowingly infringing or facilitating infringement of copyrighted works. Alongside criminal proceedings, aggrieved parties can seek civil remedies such as monetary damages and injunctions against infringers.

Furthermore, under Order 30 Rule 1, supported by Order 39 Rules 1 and 2 of the Code of Civil Procedure, individuals anticipating copyright infringement or suspecting unauthorized use of their work for economic gain can seek a John Doe order from the court. In India, a John Doe order, known as an “Ashok Kumar order,” acts as a preemptive legal measure. It allows plaintiffs to obtain injunctions against unnamed defendants likely to commit acts of infringement, thereby safeguarding their rights even when the identity of the infringer remains undisclosed.

Conclusion

The proliferation of unauthorized movie leaks presents substantial legal challenges and implications, particularly for entities like Marvel Studios. The unauthorized dissemination of confidential information online not only imperils the financial viability of upcoming films but also undermines the integrity of intellectual property rights. Marvel’s strategic deployment of legal mechanisms, notably DMCA subpoenas to uncover the identities of anonymous infringers, underscores the need to adapt legal strategies to counteract digital anonymity.

As technological landscapes evolve, legal frameworks must evolve in tandem to effectively address these infringements and uphold the rights of intellectual property holders in the digital age. This case underscores several crucial points. Firstly, DMCA subpoenas are increasingly vital for content owners like Marvel seeking to identify anonymous internet users. Secondly, diligent policing of internet forums is essential for managing intellectual property and preventing unauthorized disclosures.

Authors: Raisha Bansal, Malabika Boruah & Smera Singh

Lawyers.

Interns and Paralegals.

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