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Dropbox nukes bloke's file share in DMCA brouhaha – then admits it made a 'HASH OF IT'

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A Dropbox user sparked outrage after he revealed he was blocked from sharing a file he'd deposited in the online storage locker – because it was the target of a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) anti-piracy takedown notice.

The trouble started when designer Darrell Whitelaw found he couldn't share a file in a personal folder in his paid-for Dropbox account. The message said that allowing another user to access the material had been disabled, thanks to a DMCA complaint, although he personally could still get at the data.

Whitelaw's tweet was shared more than 3,000 times and it seems many users of the service hadn't read their terms and conditions, which does give Dropbox the right to block content that's shared without the copyright holder's permission. Whitelaw himself said as much in a later tweet, but that didn't stop enough people kicking up a stink and so Dropbox has issued a clarification.

"There have been some questions around how we handle copyright notices. We sometimes receive DMCA notices to remove links on copyright grounds. When we receive these, we process them according to the law and disable the identified link," the company told El Reg in a statement.

"We have an automated system that then prevents other users from sharing the identical material using another Dropbox link. This is done by comparing file hashes. We don't look at the files in your private folders and are committed to keeping your stuff safe."

So it appears a DMCA notice was issued against a particular file somewhere in the Dropbox system, and the website's code generated a hash of that object – a signature representing that file, if you will – and halted the sharing of all other files in its cloud matching the hash.

Despite the outrage, there's not a lot customers can do about the situation, even if there was a legal case to answer. Under a change to its T&Cs last week users must go through an arbitration process before calling the lawyers, unless they opt out of the arrangement by April 24 at the latest.

Nevertheless the San Francisco-based company is looking to calm tempters ahead of a possible IPO. A recent infusion of venture capitalist cash values the firm at $10bn – provided it keeps its customers using the service. ®

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