Facebook Groups has a piracy problem — and the company says there’s nothing it can do about it.
The social network is awash with numerous groups devoted to freely sharing pirated Hollywood movies with hundreds of thousands of users, Business Insider has found.
With names like “Full HD English Movie” and “Free full movies 2018,” these Facebook groups make no attempt to hide what they are or to conceal catalogs brimming with the latest blockbusters like “Ant Man and the Wasp” and “A Quiet Place.” Business Insider found them by simply searching for “free movies” on Facebook.
These groups, some of which are years old, have been left untouched by Facebook’s army of human content moderators and by the automated software that’s supposed to detect copyright-infringing content, raising questions about the effectiveness of Facebook’s content police systems.
Reached for comment, a Facebook spokesperson said it isn’t its responsibility to take down this content unless reached out to by the rights-holders themselves, even if the videos seem clearly stolen — because otherwise Facebook can’t be completely sure that it is being illegally shared.
The strange result is a sort of “safe zone” for pirated videos on the 2-billion member social network which has long insisted that it is a neutral distribution platform and not a media company. That position may be increasingly difficult to argue as Facebook moves ahead with efforts to develop its own video offerings however.
And just as Facebook was pressured to clamp down on misleading and false news articles shared on its network, the pirated video groups could provide another test of the limits of Facebook’s power.
The piracy groups often have hundreds of thousands of members
Sometimes the movies are hosted directly on Facebook’s servers, while other times the groups link to illicit versions on other websites.
“Full HD English Movie,” for example, has more than 134,000 members, and hosted pirated copies on Facebook of movies including “The Greatest Showman,” “Transformers: The last Knight,” and “A Quiet Place.” It has been around since at least 2016.
“Free full movies 2018,” also from 2016 or earlier, has 171,000 members and its films included “50 Shades Freed” and “Every Day.” It also linked to a version of ‘Transformers: The Last Knight” hosted elsewhere on Facebook that had more than 360,000 views, and a copy of a “Pirates of the Caribbean” film with 51,000.
Some have dubious legal disclaimers trying to absolve the group admins of any responsibilities, like the 7,000-strong “Latest Movie Download,” which warns would-be members: “All of the free movies found on this group are hosted on third-party servers … Any legal issues regarding the latest movie download group should be taken up with the actual file hosts themselves, as we’re not affiliated with them.”
From “(W.O.S) It’s Free why you Complaining ‘Main Movie Group'” (76,000 members) to Watch Free Full Movies HD” (41,000 members) and “Share link watch full HD movie online 2018” (7,000 members), there are numerous more groups just like these.
Facebook has a history of moderation headaches
Facebook has been repeatedly criticised over how it moderates the content that appears on its network, from its censorship of Pulitzer Prize-winning photography to the spread of fake news and misinformation.
On multiple occassions, it has taken public pressure from media reports before Facebook (and other social networks) took action over objectionable content. After journalists called out the spread of hoaxes on social media following the Parkland shooting, BuzzFeed’s Charlie Warzel asked: “All of this raises a mind-bendingly simple question that YouTube, Google, Twitter, and Facebook have not yet answered: How is it that the average untrained human can do something that multibillion-dollar technology companies that pride themselves on innovation cannot?”
The illicit spread of copyrighted video has been a particular headache for Facebook. Back when the social network began pushing hard into video, content creators widely complained about “freebooting”— people stealing their viral videos and uploading them to their own pages for publicity.
The company has since introduced Rights Manager software intended to detect unauthorized video uploads, and in July 2017 it acquired Source3, a company that builds software that sniffs out unauthorised video uploads. However, this software seems to have failed to detect the plethora of examples of clear piracy floating around in Facebook Groups.
Facebook also doesn’t allow users to report copyright infringement unless they own the rights to the material being shared illicitly — meaning there’s no way for ordinary users to alert the company to groups or pages that share pirated material.
The company argues it’s not its job to police this stuff
Facebook’s response to this problem is that because it can’t know for sure that these videos are pirated, it will leave them up — no matter how implausible the alternative.
It seems absurd to think that Marvel would be okay with Facebook users uploading blurry, cam-recorded copies of “Ant Man and the Wasp,” a film currently only available in cinemas. But because it’s not definitely proven that that’s not the case, Facebook is washing its hands of the matter.
“Facebook is not in a position to determine what content a rights holder believes infringes their rights. If a rights holder identifies content on Facebook they believe violates their IP rights, they can report it to us at any time using our online reporting channels,” a Facebook spokesperson said.
“We have a global team that processes these reports across time zones, and we will disable accounts that repeatedly violate IP rights. In addition to manual reporting processes, we have devoted significant resources to copyright tools such as Rights Manager that help rights holders manage their IP on the platform.”
Business Insider also provided Facebook with a list of groups clearly dedicated to sharing pirated movies. It took no action against them.
Facebook doesn’t have a legal responsibility to act — but that doesn’t satisfy rights holders
Under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), Facebook isn’t liable for copyrighted material being shared on its platform, so long as it takes swift action when contact by the rights holders.
But the ease of access to pirated movies on Facebook raises the question of whether Facebook has a civic responsibility to do more, and rights holders and advocacy groups have criticized the company over its inaction on pirate Groups.
“All platforms — including Facebook — have a responsibility to take proactive steps to ensure that they are not facilitating the theft of content, which harms creatives and consumers alike,” Ruth Vitale, CEO of non-profit creative industry group CreativeFuture told Business Insider in a statement.
“All rights holders are prepared to work collaboratively with FB to help them build and improve their tools for protecting copyright. And remember Mark Zuckerberg’s statement at the House and Senate hearings (paraphrased here): ‘Facebook needs to be responsible for the content on its platform.’ We ask that he honor that statement,” Vitale said.