Interview with Dan Purcell Founder and CEO of Ceartas
21 Feb 2022
Gareth Fleming, Director of Technology at Brightwater sits down with Dan Purcell, Founder and CEO of Ceartas
How did you get started in technology?
GF: Introduction to Dan Purcell. As part of our Brightwater Technology’s Tech Month, I’m sitting down with some tech leaders from across industry to talk about their companies and anything interesting that’s happening in their space. Today’s a really exciting one. I’m sitting down with Dan Purcell. Dan is the founder and CEO of Ceartas, DMCA, the world’s leading anti-piracy and privacy protection for content creators and beyond platform. Dan, how are you?
DP: Great, Gareth, thanks very much for having me.
GF: Thanks for coming on, do you want to kick off, Dan, by telling us a little bit about yourself?
DP: I was born in Dublin, actually a Northsider of all things. I came all the way from Darndale believe it or not.
GF. You’ve lost that accent
DP: I certainly have. I’ve been raised in Letterkenny from the age of eight. In my early 20’s, 23-24, I moved to the States. I’ve always been very interested in technology. I wasn’t very good in school, wasn’t really, well, the way schools are structured, the format didn’t really fit my method of thinking. Which in my later years would lead to an adult diagnosis of ADHD, so there you go. So always interested in technology and how things worked so looking at ways of improving things. I’d look at things thinking “why is it this way when it could be this way?” So I guess, a very early kind of recognition of user experience and user interactive design.
So I guess my entry took me always into technology. I actually ran an i-phone repair business back in 2010, one of the first in the country to do so, made some money from it, sold it onto another computer guy and went to the States. I ended up working in Apple. Anyone working in Apple stores will know, they have this really cringey term for their technicians, they call them geniuses. It’s so second hand embarrassing. But I was a “genius” at their Apple store and then I went onto their business team where I really got to see the intersection of consumer and business. One thing about working in Apple, there are two elements to their business. There is “creating relationships” which is putting a product in someone’s hands and then there’s “repairing relationships” which is if the product isn’t working, can you repair it for me? I thought that was kind of fascinating. I had a good stint there. They moved me, I was in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania at the time and they moved me to California and from there, the rest is history. I went from Apple to Google to Facebook and Zendesk. I became a self taught engineer and I started the Google Home assistance team in California. I led a very very big team, it was quite successful and then the American thing kind of ran its course. I moved back to Dublin, back to Google, had a little stint at Facebook. Through some interesting and personal events, it led to the creation of my company which I can get to in a moment if you like.
What does Ceartas actually do?
GF: Great. You’ve got all those pillar brands under your belt, all that brilliant experience which has led you to Ceartas, your company. Dan, tell us a little bit about Ceartas.
DP: So Ceartas DMCA, people always wonder what is DMCA? There’s actually a DMCA company in Ireland that is actually in the construction trade, nothing got to do with construction. It’s Digital Millenium Copyright Act, effectively it’s a law that helps protect intellectual property in terms of copyright. Digital media, films, an image that you create. Fun fact, under the Berne Convention, you pretty much are the copyright holder for anything you create. For example, if you take a photograph of something on your phone, you’re actually the copyright holder. I believe it’s either 70 years after your death or something like that, that you’re the owner. Anyway, the Berne Convention protects everybody. The Digital Millenium Copyright Act was brought in around 1998, it’s a very old law that hasn’t really had any major updates. However it is the strongest law out there. A lot of people who have content stolen, whether you’re an up and coming musician or a photographer and your stuff gets ripped off online, people think “How do I get rid of this?”. They don’t really know the procedure. So the process is a DMCA takedown.
A lot of things need to happen there. Firstly, you need to know where your content has been stolen, you then have to find out who to contact. There are certain elements to a DMCA takedown, for example a good faith belief that your content has been stolen, you swear under penalty of perjury that you believe what you’re doing, that you’re the correct copyright holder, it’s a very serious legal document that people are scared of, they don’t know what to do. It can be quite a laborious manual process. So what we’ve done is we’ve built this incredible software technology that can pretty much scan the internet effectively over 100,000 websites, Google Search, Google images, Google videos, Bing, DuckDuckGo, Yankdex and a lot of places people haven’t even heard of. It will bring back all your content that has been stolen based on a search query. For example, say you were a photographer, and you had a certain stage name like Banksy, looking at his content and whatever copyright, we can pull that back. But what sets us apart from other companies is that we’re doing this automatically but we use post data processing. We can go through all these links that we’re scraping and automatically figure out that this is infringing, and this isn’t. In fact, not only is this not infringing but it’s also promotional content eg, this is an MTV article or a Daily Mail article or the official Instagram feed. We’re doing that all automatically at scale. All in all, we’ve got over 100 clients, multiple agencies across the world, top tier influencers, many pop names and we’re pulling down over 100,000 links a week. That equates to probably a million images and videos. It’s recovering revenue. 98% of our creators are female content creators so it’s bringing back their autonomy as well. So that’s pretty much it. We’re a copyright and brand protection company, anti-piracy and privacy protection company.
How does the software within Ceartas work? How does it protect paywall and subscription services?
GF: It’s an incredible piece of software which, it’s hard to understand that it didn’t really exist and there was no-one really out there doing what you’re doing right now before you came along.
DP: To an extent. There are other DMCA companies out there, they mainly deal with not very user friendly sides of it. The DMCA process, no-one really knows about it. All they know is that if you’re a company such as Warner Music, all they know is that we need all these stolen MP3s down. They don’t understand the process. When you don’t understand the process, you don’t understand the price, so a lot of these companies were able to turn around and say “we can remove this content for you, it’s $20,000 a month” which is just a crazy amount of money. There are other companies out there that take care of big brands and they charge per link. This is eye-watering, they charge $279 to pull down that one link. For example, one of our biggest clients this week, we pulled down 837 links for her for a flat monthly fee. This individual is making so much money that it would be equivalent to you going off and buying a can of Coke. It’s a fraction of a fraction of a fraction but we’re saving her money. Along with this, we’re delivering educational opportunities to customers where if you come across something yourself, here’s how to take it down, use our tools. They can do manual processing with us and unlike other companies, we’re in the middle of launching a dashboard. You’ll be able to log into our website, have a unique account and be able to see everything we’re doing in real time. You’ll be able to see what we’ve pulled down. First off, we’ve found all this infringement content, here is it being removed, where it’s being removed from and the actual monetary value of it. So, what does 10,000 links actually equate to? It equates to XX amount of € or $. So that’s what I’ve said to the partners, there’s not really any kind of content or sales team. It’s a quick on-boarding, you’re checked out, you can cancel any time, it’s a subscription service and that’s the way the world is now. The biggest revenue streams these days are subscription services so we’re a SAAS product. Software as a service to content creators, we’re not the only DMCA company in the world but we’re certainly the only company out there that are specifically targeted towards these millennial content creators.
GF: Which is big business nowadays. You look at the content creators 20-30-40 million followers.
DP: Incredible reach and mass revenue. As well as that, if you look at paywall systems, a paywall is effectively anything that is behind a subscription whether it’s one-off or recurring. Even like the Irish Times or the NY Times or whatever it might be, it’s access these articles for this amount a month. Netflix is a paywall, things like Only Fans, you’re subscribing to content that can only be accessed behind a paywall. So we’re protecting that kind of content. All the major players, a lot of people associate paywalls with micro transactions or whatever but all the biggest guys in the world, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, they’re all getting into subscription content. I believe Twitter just started and TikTok are rolling it out so a lot of your favourite content from your favourite content creators is now going to have a premium tier and you’re going to have to pay monthly to get this content. There are people out there that are like “well, I’ll pay for it and then I’ll either put it out there for free or I’ll resell it”. That straight away is a copyright infringement breach, that’s where we come in. We find it, we remove it.
GF: That’s where Ceartas comes in.
Is the software applicable to any digital asset?
GF: I imagine that if it (your product) is applicable to that type of industry (content creators), then it must be applicable to other industries as well, the music industry, publishing, anything that’s behind a paywall, is it?
DP: Anything that essentially is a digital asset and by digital asset, I mean that isn’t physically distributed, so music, movies, streaming, eBooks and we’re finding plagiarism. We have a lot of partners, we don’t only deal with adult content creators, eg we deal with video game artists. There’s a very famous video game artist who had her work converted without her consent into NFTs. NFTs (non-fungible tokens) are a big buzz word right now. (I have my own thoughts on NFTs). Effectively when you purchase an NFT, you do not own the copyright for that. However what people are doing, because there’s not a transfer of copyright, you might create an image, someone’s taken that image and they’re minting it as their own and selling it. Our software is very scalable and very adaptable to pretty much any asset so we very quickly pivoted to NFTs. Right now, we’ve worked with a lot of high-end creators to find their content while it was listed on the likes of OpenSea. As it was going to mint, we pulled it down. On the same side of it, people who were actually minting NFTs were having their stuff duplicated and resold were finding that too. So we’re in the NFTscape now, protecting those creators and again, musicians, tattoo artists etc. You don’t have to be a major brand, we’re accessible to everyone. We say brand protection is for everyone. If you’re an up and coming DJ, that’s your work, that’s your hard earned music, you’ve worked hard for it, that’s your creation, if someone is ripping you off, we’ll find it and get it removed for you. If there’s an opportunity to recover money or anything like that, we can help you out with that as well.
What was the original reason you created a company like Ceartas?
GF: It’s an amazing company that you’ve created. If you look at the growth that you’ve gone through, really, how long is Ceartas going for now?
DP: We came to life in November 2020. I was a full time engineer for Zendesk at the time. The reason why I got involved in the DMCA and the copyright landscape is that I had some personal images leaked online after I had moved back from America. These were personal images I hadn’t seen myself in four years. I had no idea they were going to be where they were. Someone else found them and brought them to my attention. I almost died. I was mortified. I was working for Google at the time. Such an invasion of privacy, so horrible, such a sense of dread, who else has these. Are they going to be sent to my employer, are my family going to see them? It was such a horrible experience. I did my own research and I managed to get the content pulled down. I had some friends, OnlyFans creators that had done some similar things and they were complaining to me. I offered to take a look and I got them pulled down. They talked to a friend and friends of friends about it. What I was doing was just doing favours for people and then it kind of exploded. People who have looked at the media will remember November 2020, the Discord server fiasco happened.
To cut a long story short, hundreds of thousands of images of OnlyFans creators and non-commercial creators pretty much full of revenge porn or IBSAs (image based sexual abuse). So we took that down. When I say “we”, it was pretty much “I” at the time, a lone ranger. I didn’t charge anyone but I kind of got in way over my head. People were messaging me, asking me to do things. Then probably I wasn’t equipped to do it all, there was a big learning curve, things that maybe, it’s hard to say. You didn’t want to turn people away but at the same time, this is at such a scope right now that I shouldn’t be doing this by myself and if I’m going to do it, then I need to make sure it’s done the right way with transparency and integrity. I decided to turn it into a company and a lot of these major creators came to us. We would never approach anybody and say “hey your stuff is here, we can remove it for a fee”. They come to us, we have never advertised, we haven’t spent a penny on advertising. It’s all been word of mouth. It started off with some Irish creators and then with word of mouth, our client list grew. Recently Katie Price joined OnlyFans, she’s a client, DemiRose, a lot of Hollywood guys, all the biggest adult creators in the space, some of the biggest video game artists and then a lot of big companies and agencies, just some really interesting people and it kind of snowballed from there. That’s pretty much how it came to be.
The company became a limited company six months ago (2021) and we’re now venture backed. We have a board of directors, we have employees. It’s going really well, we’re growing exponentially every month. It’s got to the point that we still can’t advertise because we wouldn’t be able to deal with the influx of customers. I know a lot of people are “poor you, what a terrible problem” but it is, because if we’re not equipped, we’ll just lose those customers. And they’ll never come back. So we want to reconsider our product an MVP right now, data and we’re going to officially launch in March (2022). We’ve got some brand ambassadors coming on, some huge names and we’re going to do it right, have a very scalable, quick on-boarding and we’ll be ready for everybody effectively and we’re building that out right now.
GF: It’s a brilliant story.
What growth do you anticipate for the company?
GF: And what does that growth look like in the next twelve months, from where you are now, to this time next year.
DP: We hope by this time next year to be taking care of anywhere of between 3 and 5,000 individual content creators. Right now, we’re dealing with about 10 brands agencies and we’re hoping to bring that up to between 50 and 60. Revenue growth will be pretty massive. We’re hoping to turn over, in the next year between 1.5 and 2million euros which will be quite profitable, considering our cost. We built this in quite a clever way where most of the technology itself is not really expensive to run which allows us to take our revenue and put that into hiring people. As great as technology is, you still need a human being to go through these things. We’re hiring copyright specialists, we’re going to be looking at getting on social media, really getting the company out there in really interesting ways. There’s lots of different verticals that we can get involved in. Our technology was built very intelligently to allow us to do that and build out our team rather than have our technology completely bleed us dry and have 2 employees and that’s where you fail.
GF: You’re probably doing crazy long days right now but you’re at that point where, with the right infrastructure in place, it can really explode. It’s already exploded but really explode.
DP: I knew from the time we only had 10 clients, I knew that I had to build this with the intention of 10,000 people. I knew we had to build it to scale so that’s what we did. I found some great engineers. My lead engineer, Johnny, a great guy, had the same point of view as I did. We had to build this to be very robust and be able to take a lot of users at once. We built that out to scale from day one. Some people were probably like “wishful thinking” but it’s starting to pay off now. Again, it lets us really invest in people which is what you want to do. We’re getting legal, our team right now, we’re getting copyright specialists. We’re one of the only companies out there that has an intellectual property and copyright lawyer on our team. We’ve got 2 law firms out there that take care of us, one in Dublin and one in LA. We’re really trying to get out there and think of every pain point that a client could possibly have, even before they come along.
What’s the origin of the name Ceartas?
GF: If you look at all the big Irish success stories in the tech space, they’ve all come from personal experience and that’s where Ceartas comes from. Actually, Ceartas, the name, do you want to tell everyone what that means, if they don’t already know.
DP: Really interesting, for some of our clients, anybody overseas, we almost have two names. So Ceartas is Irish for justice. When I first started doing this, I set up a little website to help anyone who wanted stuff removed. Ceartas for justice, and as it snowballed, I thought I was going to change the name but a lot of people just loved the name. In America, they call it Seertas, which is okay too. At the end of the day, it’s the same company. In terms of branding, there’s a couple of things. I always knew I wanted an Irish word that didn’t sound too Irish. I wanted sharp branding. Believe it or not, my favourite colour is pink, it’s always been pink. I always said to myself, if I ever ran my own business, it’s going to be pink. So our brand right now is pink. Everything has come together. Ceartas DMCA, it’s been a whirlwind right now.
Everything has come from personal experience. It’s very difficult to try and provide a solution to a problem that you know nothing about. I don’t claim to know everything about this. The women that I deal with, when I say women, the OnlyFans creators, the content creators, they’re dealing with this every day of the week. OnlyFans has been such a dirty word for a long time, it’s ridiculous. These content creators, men and women, they’re entrepreneurs. What they’re doing is, they are utilising a platform to generate revenue which is genius. We’re trying to help legitimise that market as well and also learn from them. We have conversations regularly. What are your pain points, what’s stopping you from making content, what’s stopping you from making more money? And people who are only considering making an OnlyFans account, why are you not doing it? What’s stopping you? What are you afraid of? And a lot of it was, “I don’t want X and Y to find out, I don’t want my face out there or my name out there”. So we’re trying to come up with solutions that will allow these content platforms to be safe for everybody while being safe online as well by utilising our services. There are a lot of things that we’re looking at.
GF: As well as other industries to move into, there are other products that you will eventually build onto the SAAS platform as well.
DP: Yes, it’s going to be applicable to any digital asset so for example, if you’re in the NFT space, or a photographer or a musician, a band, if you are a label that represents 20 or 30 artists, come to us, we can take care of you, the technology is there. It’s perfectly scalable, it doesn’t need to be adapted, it’s ready to go for anything. It just so happens that people in the adult industry, throughout technological history, have always been the earliest adaptors of technology. This goes back to VHS, DataMax, DVDs. The reason why we use DVDs or blu ray and all those other technologies was because of the adult entertainment industry. So they’ve always been early adaptors of technology. I find it fascinating that they have created this, these paywall platforms were created by the adult industry. I guess, we just want to be a company that doesn’t ignore that fact the fact that’s our client base. A lot of companies will want to shy away from it, we don’t, we embrace it.
GF: Absolutely, given the revenue you can generate from that space as well.
What are the biggest challenges facing the DMCA industry right now?
GF: What do you think, Dan, this is the last question. What do you think are the biggest challenges facing your industry right now?
DP: That’s a really good question. One of the biggest challenges that we face right now is that the DMCA law is quite old. There’s not really a universal copyright protection law. There’s not really a great one here. We use article 17 of GDPR for a trigger takedown. I think one of the biggest issues facing us and our clients is that there are some websites out there that are able to become non-compliant by parking their servers in Tonga, the Cayman Islands, the country of Georgia, Russia, they’re outside the boundaries of laws. What needs to happen is we need a way of taking these websites down or at least have a punitive system. These websites should never be on Google to begin with, they should just be wiped. They should be unorganically attainable so we’re facing those issues. We’re facing a lot of issues with some social media companies who are not taking accountability. I’ll actually call one of these platforms out, these platforms are great. Telegram are a great company, a lot of people with privacy concerns don’t use WhatsApp, they use Telegram. Telegram is split into groups of channels. Their headquarters are in London, a lot of ties to Russia, I believe their founder is from Russia. They do not respond! If you have a group on Telegram who are sharing revenge porn or image based sexual abuse images or copyright material, they will not intercept or they will not remove them because they believe in privacy. That’s kind of a weird one. Discord, they’re the same guys that we took down in 2020, they are dragging their feet when we send them DMCA notices. We’re dealing with a server right now that has about 8,000 links to images or videos for a client. They want us to go through this server and pretty much right click and copy each individual link rather than saying, “here’s the server that’s breaking the law, here’s an example of some of the links, please take it down”. A lot of these companies are dragging their feet. Places like Twitter or Reddit are absolutely excellent, I have to commend them. Their copyright teams are excellent, you send them a copyright notice, it’s gone. Our biggest issues right now are the social media companies. They need to step their games up, be more accountable and the problem is that this is such an unknown issue and unknown problem so where do we start? Do we talk to a TD and try and get a conversation going? It’s pretty hard so that’s a problem right now.
GF: It could be platforms like this but I think a lot of that will stem from governments actually having the balls to do that as well.
DP: Absolutely, we understand the right to freedom of speech. Your right to freedom of speech does not allow you to poach any image online without consent. Wider conversations should happen with ISPs. These websites should completely be blocked. There should be more accountability at least. It’s a conversation I’m not going to be able to solve on my own but if there’s anybody out there who’s listening to this and who are involved in any of those industries, whether it’s Internet Service Providers, anything in that kind of landscape or you’re listening to this and you know someone who knows someone who works in these kind of companies, please tell them to get in touch with us, we’d love to work with them and see what we can do.
GF: I think that’s a good note to end on, Dan, really interesting to talk to you today. Can’t wait to see what the company does, how you do, you deserve every ounce of success that you get.
DP: Thank you very much.
GF: Thanks for taking the time out of your busy day to talk to us, I know you’re up the walls. Thanks Dan.