||This article may contain an excessive amount of intricate detail that may only interest a specific audience. (October 2012)|
The Web Sheriff logo, which reads 'Protecting Your Rights on the Internet'
|Industry||Intellectual property rights|
|Headquarters||London, United Kingdom|
|Key people||John Giacobbi|
|Services||Copyright enforcement, digital rights management, website building, hosting and management, video editing|
|Owner(s)||Web Sheriff Corporation|
Web Sheriff is an anti-piracy company based in the United Kingdom that provides intellectual property, copyright and privacy rights protection services for clients that include record labels, musical artists, film studios, news media organizations, and celebrities. The company monitors various websites that host links to downloads of music and film. Web Sheriff has been in operation since 2000, with two offices in the UK.
The company was founded by intellectual property lawyer John Giacobbi, who acts as its managing director. Web Sheriff sends legal take-down notice to BitTorrent and other file sharing sites, and also engages with blogs and fansites, negotiating for copyrighted music to be removed, offering fans free official promotional tracks and clips from the artist as replacement for the leaked material. According to the Los Angeles Times, Web Sheriff is a "leading advocate of the soft sell" in the anti-piracy industry.
As an internet copyright protection firm, Web Sheriff performs a wide range of online rights security and anti-piracy services. These include protection from copyright infringement, libel, cyber-bullying, identity theft privacy issues of social media, stock market share price protection, policing trading sites and recovery of fraudulently registered domain names. It also furnishes online security for concert tours. In addition to online rights protection, the company designs, builds and maintains websites and YouTube channels and provides editing and filming for them. It manufactures watermarked CDs and DVDs and provides security for new album release for clients by sending individually watermarked digital streams of audio and video to journalists.
Sites that are monitored for clients include fan blogs and websites that host links to unauthorized downloads of copyrighted music and film, MP3 blogs, BitTorrent trackers, P2P sites, YouTube, eBay, Twitter, and movie and TV film-sharing sites.
The most predominate work it performs is copyright protection services for record labels, music artists and film companies when releasing new material. Major corporate record labels, independent record labels and American film production companies use the company's services. The company reports that most of its clients are located in the US.
Web Sheriff uses proprietary software and web-crawler programs to search the Internet, using human auditing to determine the type of site that is posting its clients' copyrighted material. It relies heavily on phone calls and relationship building and when locating unauthorized links it targets the persons running the sites. The supposed offending party is sent a take-down notice before further action is taken. Some Torrent sites and file sharing sites such as Mediafire and Rapidshare provide access to the anti-piracy company to remove infringing content itself.
The Los Angeles Times described the company's approach as representing "a sharp turn in the recording industry's life-and-death struggle with piracy, one driven largely by performers and their managers rather than the record companies." When it contracts to protect new music releases, the company encourages the artists it represents to give fans several tracks ahead of the release. The company then prepares for the "virtually inevitable" pre-release leak, and when it does occur, fans on blogs are approached with a polite request for copyrighted material to be removed, while providing the fans with the free official tracks and clips from the artist and record label.
Web Sheriff was founded in 2000 by former music attorney and industry consultant John Giacobbi, who acts as president, managing director, and is referred to in the press as the "Web Sheriff". Prior to forming Web Sheriff, Giacobbi had been an independent consultant to record labels and artists including Village People. Giacobbi has said that the formation of the company evolved from his desire to help Village People retain their rights on the internet, as copyright infringements and the selling of bootleg CDs by "fake bands, fake sites or fake names" had become a major problem for the band at that time.
In 2005, the company was directly responsible for the removal of the Ken Bigley execution footage videos posted on a terrorist website after Bigley's beheading. Web Sheriff related that it was approached by The Mail on Sunday after authorities had refused to intervene citing a lack of power. The video was hosted on a website entitled "headlessamericans.com" and the ISP initially refused to take it down by saying it was protected by "freedom of speech", but complied finally after 48 hours of argument. In the same year, in work done for The Mail on Sunday, the company spokesman, writing in that newspaper, disclosed that Web Sheriff also closed down the extreme pornographic strangulation sites at the center of the notorious Jane Longhurst murder case.
Web Sheriff first came to international notoriety when it was hired by Prince in September 2007 to "disappear entirely from the internet." The star's spokesman related that "Prince believes strongly that as an artist the music rights must remain with the artist and thus copyrights should be protected across the board." "Very few artists have ever taken this kind of action over their rights." Web Sheriff announced it would launch lawsuits against YouTube, eBay and The Pirate Bay on behalf of Prince if they refused compliance in removing links to his unauthorized photos, videos, and music. Peter Sunde, co-founder of The Pirate Bay, dismissed the threats, stating that American law was not applicable in Sweden. YouTube complied by removing over 2,000 videos from their site and eBay removed more than 300 auctions. In November 2007, three fans sites were given notice to remove all images of the singer, his lyrics and "anything linked to Prince's likeness". Some of the Prince fans fought back, formed their own organization called "Prince Fans United" and hired an attorney. Multiple unauthorized overseas online sites selling merchandise featuring Prince were shut down.
Village People used Web Sheriff's services in 2007 to send 500 "take down" notices to YouTube relating to a video with footage of Hitler and other prominent Nazis dancing and singing to their song, "Y.M.C.A.". Web Sheriff's comment about the video was: "It's highly inappropriate. Consider that the song's composers were both Jewish." In February 2008, the company announced that Village People was suing The Pirate Bay for millions of dollars for enabling illegal downloads of "Y.M.C.A.".
Nick Bracegirdle with Chicane hired Web Sheriff in 2007 to prevent leaks from his album, Somersault, after self-financing it by selling his Ferrari and mortgaging his home. This followed Chicane's 2003 album, Easy to Assemble being so widely pirated by a Russian counterfeiter alone, selling thousands of copies with a sleeve from a previous album with the title digitally removed, that it was never officially released.
In 2007, when Bloc Party's album A Weekend in the City leaked three months previous to release, their record label, V2 Records, hired the anti-piracy company to stop the leakage as the album was intended to make the band popular on an international basis. Web Sheriff at first appealed to fan sites to not post links to the album out of respect for the band. Whenever this approach did not work, widespread uploaders were tracked down and sent letters that referred to possible prosecution. Said to face a possible one million illegal MP3 files downloaded, according to V2, the leakage was reduced to an insignificant amount.
When Qtrax introduced their new file sharing site in January 2008, Web Sheriff notified the site on behalf of Prince, Van Morrison and The Black Crowes that regardless of whether the music companies supported the service, individual artists would have to give their approval.
In 2008, Van Morrison hired the company to contact fan sites and demand that photos, lyrics and other copyrighted material be removed from fan sites. His manager stated that posting the photos were an invasion of Morrison's privacy. Through the wishes of the artist, all related videos on YouTube and elsewhere were removed promptly from the Internet. The two most popular fan sites closed down soon after they were notified.
Bryan Adams used Web Sheriff's services to remove thousands of low quality bootleg video clips from YouTube and replace them with official videos on his own channel. The company has stated that the new channel was a success and had 187 million views one and one-half years later.
When "Brother Sport", the first song from Animal Collective's album Merriweather Post Pavilion leaked in November 2008, Web Sheriff posted to Grizzly Bear's blog that they were the "global-leak-source of the track" and asked for an apology to be posted on the blog for a week to Domino Records, Animal Collective and Web Sheriff. Grizzly Bear band member Ed Droste complied and apologized stating "The Web Sheriff is just doing his job, and we're all aware of the damage internet file sharing is doing to album sales." The album leaked a month early and while Web Sheriff said it was "virtually impossible to completely put an album back in the box after a leak", the company was able to remove 90% or 10,000 of the links.
Bob Dylan used the company's services pro bono to protect his charity Christmas album, Christmas in the Heart following its leak in October 2009. Web Sheriff also removed unauthorized videos of Dylan from YouTube, replacing them with official ones on Dylan's channel.
When Lady Gaga's, Born This Way leaked a week before its 2011 release, fans were offered official material such as tracks and videos in return for not posting copies of it on sites. Web Sheriff reported that when a mailbox was set up for reporting leaks, tens of thousands of fans responded and sent in links to copies due to the fans' loyalty and bond to the artist.
In July 2011, Web Sheriff announced that it was taking legal action against a Russian website that has copied the Web Sheriff trademark and also purports to offer the same services as the British anti-piracy company. American and Russian litigators were retained for the "intercontinental legal attack" against the Russian site.
In February 2012, Twitter released a disclosure of two years of DMCA take-down notices, with an article in The Huffington Post noting Web Sheriff's work for Magnolia Pictures was responsible for a third of the 4,000 messages Twitter received to remove links to unauthorized posting of movies and songs. Web Sheriff's "aggressive activity" at Twitter for Magnolia Pictures was also the feature of an article in The Hollywood Reporter.
In March 2012, Noel Edmonds revealed to the Daily Mail how after being informed of a page on Facebook entitled 'Somebody please kill Noel Edmonds' and being unable to convince Facebook to take it off, he hired Web Sheriff to trace the source. Through contact with Facebook headquarters, the firm was able to connect it to a Ph.D. university student and Edmonds resolved the matter in a face to face meeting with the student instead of reporting it to the police.
Music fans and bloggers often initially respond angrily when first approached by Web Sheriff on its clients' official and unofficial forums. According to the Evening Standard, "Music blogging sites are littered with comments with the Sheriff's contact details at the top, thanking bloggers for obeying the rules." Fans sometimes interpret this as Web Sheriff saying, "I've got my eye on you." The anti-piracy company reports that eventually most of the fans tend to respect the wishes of their favored artists by cooperating. As related by The Guardian, The Prodigy fans on the brainkiller forum engaged with Web Sheriff on a thread that lasted through 18 pages. Some of the fans who had been hostile at the beginning, then asked what they could do to help the band.
Andrew Daniels with Men's Health, in an introduction to an interview with him, referred to John Giacobbi, 'alias, the Web Sheriff' as "the most hated man on the internet" and "the scorn of bloggers, pirates, and regular Joes all over the world".
Gary Fung, the founder of IsoHunt a BitTorrent site, has spoken of Web Sheriff as "the white hat of antipiracy companies" while further noting that "Web Sheriff, in my book, are the good guys. What they do is send takedown notices for copyright owners, which is perfectly legitimate."
Joe Reinartz with Pollstar wrote that "To some, like artists and record labels, John Giacobbi and his Web Sheriff company are godsends. To others, like those who upload new album releases to YouTube, Giacobbi and Web Sheriff are probably not on their Christmas list."
Web Sheriff's method of using a "velvet glove approach" to appeal to fans has been said by Randy Lewis with the Los Angeles Times to have notable successes, including Lady Gaga's Born This Way and Adele's 21. This journalist also notes that despite these examples of success of the "diplomatic strategy", the company's gentle approach still has skeptics, with some critics calling it naive: Brad Buckles, an executive in anti-piracy with RIAA, was quoted as saying: "It's certainly well-intended and may work in some cases. The problem is in many, many cases, you're dealing with people who have no respect whatsoever for the intellectual property of record labels or the artists themselves." A Billboard journalist concludes that to appeal to sites that post links to pirated music and engaging with fans and redirecting them to authorized content by the artist is a "strategy with a future, if implemented properly."
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- Kaufmann, Andy (August 2011). "Exec Profile: John Giacobbi". musicconnection.com. p. 22. Retrieved 27 December 2011. "Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was a terrorist warlord, had a website with execution footage of some of their hostages. One of the U.K. newspapers was upset by this and the authorities said, well, there's nothing we can do, we're powerless. The paper came to us and asked if we'd help. The video was bounced through a couple ISP's in Japan. It was harder to locate because of the Japanese encryption, but the midsection for the ISP was American. They were hosting this website, headlessamericans.com. We notified the ISP and informed them that what they were hosting was an incitement to racial hatred, religious hatred and violence. What their customer was doing was illegal and a breach of their own terms and conditions. The ISP initially refused to take it down, saying the website was protected by freedom of speech. We said the White House would be very interested in their version of freedom of speech. After 48 hours of arguing, they relented."
- Giacobbi, John (11 September 2005). "How we can clean up the internet". The Mail on Sunday. "I closed down two particularly heinous sites over the course of the past year as part of The Mail on Sunday's campaign to highlight the problems we all face with an unregulated internet. In the first case, we managed to shut down the horrific asphyxiation site at the centre of the Jane Longhurst murder trial and in the second we closed a site dedicated to showing the beheading of Western hostages in Iraq."
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- Web Sheriff official website
- AMERICANA; John McEuen interviews John Giacobbi - Europe's Web Sheriff Syndicatednews.net - 20 March 2011