Big Content studios have been using malware to seek out content and delete it.
Their use came to light when one of the copyright bots accidentally shut down a legal live broadcast of one of science fiction's most prestigious award ceremonies.
According to i09, the annual Hugo Awards event at Worldcon, which thousands of people tuned into via video streaming service Ustream, found the stream switched off just as Neil Gaiman was giving an acceptance speech for his Doctor Who script, "The Doctor's Wife".
The speech was replaced by the words "Worldcon banned due to copyright infringement".
It could not have been in a worse place for the use of copyright bots to be revealed. After all, big content's use of anti-piracy malware bots was revealed in the middle of a bunch of writers who happen to make a living writing tales of heroes battling against high tech corporates who barely acknowledge the law. Such a crowd is hardly going let something like this lie.
It was bestselling science fiction author Tobias Buckell who broke the news on his twitter feed.
Big Content's censorship bot appeared to get in a tizzy over the fact that the award ceremony showed clips from the BBC show. It is fairly clear that whatever Big Content is using, it is not programmed to recognise fair use.
Ironically, the clips had been provided by the studios and the Hugo Awards had explicit permission to broadcast them.
But the digital restriction management robots on Ustream had not been programmed with these basic contours of copyright law.
Then, to make matters worse, the robots started to get even more arsey. They completely shut down the live broadcast of the Hugo Awards.
Ustream's CEO Brad Hunstable has made a public apology about the incident.
He said that the company would never use Vobile, a third-party service that does automated infringement takedowns, until it promised that it could tame its bots.
He said that they were using the bots to support a large volume of broadcasters using the free platform. Users of Ustream's paid, ad-free Pro Broadcasting service are automatically white listed to avoid situations like this and receive hands-on client support, he said.
Hunstable did not say why the broadcaster had given so much power to the bots in the first place. The fact that the company could not restore the feed quickly suggests that the bots had a lot more power over the broadcast than he wanted to admit.