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Copyright takedowns misused to censor negative reviews

Posted by Sam Frances on Tuesday, May 24th, 2016 at 16:27

A recent article in the Guardian highlights the dangerous potential for abuse of the current copyright takedown system.

The story concerns Annabelle Narey, who posted a negative review on Mumsnet of a building company working on an extension to her house. After a failed attempt to get the review taken down on grounds of defamation, the company tried a different tactic: a copyright takedown request under the American Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

As soon as the DMCA takedown request had been filed, Google de-listed the entire thread. All 126 posts are now not discoverable when a user searches Google for BuildTeam – or any other terms. The search company told Mumsnet it could make a counterclaim, if it was certain no infringement had taken place, but since the site couldn’t verify that its users weren’t actually posting copyrighted material, it would have opened it up to further legal pressure.

In fact, no copyright infringement had occurred at all. Instead, something weirder had happened. At some point after Narey posted her comments on Mumsnet, someone had copied the entire text of one of her posts and pasted it, verbatim, to a spammy blog titled “Home Improvement Tips and Tricks”. The post, headlined “Buildteam interior designers” was backdated to September 14 2015, three months before Narey had written it…

— Alex Hern, The Guardian

The case highlights one of the flaws of current copyright takedown systems – the lack of effective penalties for misuse. Intermediaries such as Google risk liability if they fail to take down content which turns out to be infringing. However, purported rightsholders can post takedowns which are poorly researched, bogus or abusive, and face little risk of financial penalty. Access to takedown regimes is generally conceived of as a right rather than a privilege, and posters of manifestly abusive takedowns are therefore free to continue to benefit from the system.

As such, a very easy way to remove something from the internet is to accuse its creator of infringing copyright. Worse, the potential downside of such a false claim is minimal: the accused would have to first file a counterclaim, proving they own the copyright; then file a private lawsuit, and prove material damage; and then track down the offending party to actually recover any monies granted by the court.

That doesn’t happen all that often.

— Alex Hern, The Guardian

For more information, see: How copyright law is being misused to remove material from the internet – The Guardian

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