Reddit Protects Identity of Illegal Song Uploader…

Who leaked it?  Reddit is now refusing to share information on a mysterious ‘Suicide Squad’ pirate.

Reddit has now forcefully refused to comply with an Atlantic Records subpoena, one focused around a new Twenty-One Pilots track.   That song, titled ‘Heathens,’ is part of the Suicide Squad soundtrack and was posted in a heavily-trafficked Reddit thread of June 15th.  Atlantic, part of the Warner Music Group, has been demanding the IP address of the user that posted the track to a folder.

Atlantic said the leak was blatantly illegal, and caused serious economic damage to the major label.  The track was quickly rush-released to Spotify and iTunes, complicating exclusives and lowering sales revenues.  But in its sharp response, Reddit questioned whether they were being subjected to silly ‘fishing expedition,’ while questioning the legal basis of ratting on their own poster.

Atlantic says this is an inside job, and is pursuing the leaker for damages. But Reddit’s attorneys are questioning that premise, especially since Atlantic has no idea who this person is.  Maybe it’s an executive inside the company, or maybe it’s a hacker in Montenegro: without any information, it’s hard to qualify the claim.

But even assuming that this was perpetrated by an insider, Reddit’s attorneys are also questioning whether a deliberate leak constitutes a breach of contract.  That’s a worthwhile question, because if there isn’t a violation to pursue, there should be a need to resolve the identity of the uploader.

Taking this further, Reddit has also asked that the identity of the leaker be limited to a username, not an IP address, especially since IP addresses are not exact and oftentimes implicate incorrect individuals based on factors like location or network.

Privacy Trumps Piracy?

The decision by Reddit shows a guarded concern over user privacy and the anonymity of its users.  Perhaps the polar opposite of Facebook, Reddit’s forums thrive of anonymity, a cornerstone that Reddit wants to protect at all costs.  That, of course pits Reddit’s interests squarely against those of Atlantic Records, a label hoping to root out the source of its leak — and prevent further abuse.

All of that is somewhat reminiscent of a pitched subpoena battle between Digital Music News and Escape Media, owner of the now-shuttered Grooveshark.  In that case, Grooveshark attorney John Rosenberg unsuccessfully fought to search DMN’s servers for identifying information tied to a whistleblowing commenter (or commenters).  That big difference was that the commenters on Digital Music News weren’t illegally uploading music, but rather disclosing information (true or false) about internal Grooveshark practices.

Grooveshark’s subpoena attempt, also arguably a ‘fishing expedition’ with questionable strategy and aims, was forcefully slapped down in a California Appeals Court.  Litigator Paul Alan Levy of Public Citizen led the fight for DMN in the name of protecting user privacy online; several months later, Grooveshark was shuttered forever following a separate defeat against Universal Music Group and other major recording labels.


Image: ‘Reddit Montage’ by Matt Crampton (CC by 2.0).