A Playlist Is Copyright Infringement, According to the MPA

Is a playlist that allows you to play a publicly available, free, no-registration-required stream on the video app of your choice infringement? The law and common sense say no. The Motion Picture Association (MPA) says yes. They are very wrong.

Here are the basic facts: Pluto TV is a free streaming service that allows you to watch content without registering for an account. Its model is based on making money via ads and the now-ubiquitous collection of user data. While Pluto TV has its own app, it does not encrypt its streams and each show and movie on the service has a findable M3U link. Those links allow other apps to play the streams but, importantly, there is no downloading going on. The links direct to local files and web sources.

As a result, someone was able to make a playlist of Pluto TV links. That playlist allowed users to watch Pluto TV links—with the ads intact—on apps other than Pluto TV’s. The same way you can play a DVD on any player or watch a channel on any TV. All this playlist did was gather publicly available information in one place in a specific order.

The playlists created were then made available in a GitHub repo, which is where the MPA directed their DMCA takedown request. Because the links as compiled were… infringement…somehow.

It isn’t. The information was publicly available from Pluto TV, which has a legal right to broadcast it. Watching the streams via the links on other apps didn’t even remove the ads, so it seems that the theory here is basically that the loss of tracking data is infringement. So privacy is piracy? Even if that isn’t the argument, that’s certainly the effect of this belief.

Using the DMCA in this matter isn’t about infringement. It’s about control. Major rightsholders don’t want you in control of how you consume their media. They want it themselves, so they can nickel and dime every step of the process. Even their “free” content.

February 14, 2023