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|Formation||19 October 2000|
|Purpose||Intellectual property rights|
|Headquarters||Pewsey, Wiltshire, UK|
|Services||Copyright enforcement, digital rights management, website building, hosting and management, video editing|
|Owner||Web Sheriff Limited|
|John Edouard Giacobbi|
|Robert Arthur Davage|
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 copy protection 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
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 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.
Web Sheriff have sent a letter to MusicBrainz asking them to remove the informations saying that the birth name of Taio Cruz is Adetayo Ayowale Onile-Ere. MusicBrainz refused to remove that information without a birth certificate. They received an image of a UK birth certificate, but found that it contained some suspicious data. His father's occupation was listed as "Lawyer" (a US term). The administrative region was given as "County of Westminster" instead of City of Westminster and so on. According to Web Sheriff the image came from the client.
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".
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.
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 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.
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 copyright enforcement 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 unauthorized 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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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