Real Punishments Needed for DMCA Takedown Abuse

Note: The opinions expressed within are mine, and mine alone – not necessarily endorsed by Automattic or

Last week Automattic released an update to our transparency report, detailing the number of takedown and information requests that were received between January and the end of June this year – as well as the number that had been acted upon, or rejected. There has been some good coverage of what’s included in the report by TorrentFreak, ARSTechnica, and TechDirt.

One area that’s particularly interesting is that relating to the DMCA notification and takedown process, regarding instances of alleged copyright infringement. The full figures are available on the page itself, but here are the highlights: Transparency Report

If you’re like me, it can be difficult to pull out something meaningful from a table of figures, at least at first glance. The important thing to note here is that 43% of the total notices received were rejected – either for being incomplete, or abusive. This figure rises to 67% if you remove sites that were ultimately suspended for a terms of service violation from the ‘Percentage of notices where some or all content was removed’ column.

Incomplete notices can be anything from the complainant not including a signature; failing to specify the content that they are claiming copyright over; or not including the required statements ‘under penalty of perjury’. Abusive notices include those that target material which is not copyrightable (such as trademarks or allegedly defamatory content); where the complainant misrepresents their copyright; or attempts to prevent fair use of the material – protected by US copyright law.

Many complainants simply want to get content removed from the web, irrespective of which route they have to take to get it. As a result, a variety of different tactics are deployed, particularly when a third party agent is engaged to carry out the task. For example, the wording of takedown demands may be fudged in order to give them the appearance of a valid DMCA takedown notification, whilst failing to substantively fulfil the statutory requirements. In other cases, claims regarding alleged copyright infringement are mingled together with threats concerning trademark infringement or defamation – obfuscating the invalidity of the DMCA takedown itself in the process. Web Sheriff in particular have been known to adopt this practice, with ‘kitchen sink’ takedown demands listing what seems like every law passed in the last 20 years incase one of them might apply in any given scenario. The Pirate Bay have infamously mocked Web Sheriff in the past for some of their tactics:

Pirate Bay Web Sheriff Mockery

It can be a difficult process to manually review and untangle exactly what a complaint relates to, and whether or not it is a valid DMCA takedown. Clarification e-mails often go ignore, something that is particularly true in cases where the notifications are being generated by bots. Replying to point out that a notification is incomplete, or that the material is actually hosted elsewhere in many cases is met by nothing except a deaf ear, and a duplicate takedown demand the following day.

Whilst the DMCA’s safe harbor provisions are designed to provide protection for third party intermediaries as well as the rights of copyright holders, the phenomenon of automated takedown demands has resulted in a massively lopsided burden on those service providers who take their responsibilities seriously, and do not just acquiesce to every single takedown notification automatically.

Complainants are able to submit grossly inaccurate DMCA takedowns on a massive scale, routinely through the use of automated systems that indiscriminately target particular keywords across the web – all without any real fear of legal consequence. The sheer volume notices generated means that the vast majority of service providers simply remove content immediately and automatically, without scrutinising them for their formal completeness or legal validity. The few that do choose to go through them manually in order to protect their users (like, end up facing a huge burden.

Without stronger statutory consequences for those who abuse the DMCA’s notification and takedown system, the battle for freedom of expression online will be increasingly difficult. The majority of service providers will inevitably default to censorship in the first instance, as the number of notifications (and therefore the resources required to push back effectively) increases.

Transparency Report Update

Clicky Steve:

Great to see the hard work we put into the transparency report go live today. Some interesting figures. Hi Web Sheriff.

Originally posted on Transparency Report:

We’re pleased to release the latest update to our transparency report, covering the period of January 1 – June 30, 2015.

We try to make each new transparency report more…transparent, by adding new and more detailed information about the legal demands we receive, our responses to them, and the internal policies that guide our actions.

In this report, we’ve added a few new pieces:

  • We’ve identified our top DMCA complainants. From here on out, we’ll include a chart showing the organizations that submitted the greatest number of DMCA notices in a reporting period. Not surprisingly, the list is dominated by third party take down services, many of whom use automated bots to identify copyrighted content and generate takedown notices. We’ve written in the past about the many potential pitfalls of this practice. In the future, we may report statistics on the success rate of notices submitted by each…

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We are all Greek.

Scotland Stands with Greece

There was a powerful image on the news last night. A woman that looked to be at least 80 years old was seen in the middle of rioting in Athens, pulling a Greek flag away from a young man who was trying to set it on fire – his face covered with a gas mask.

The symbolism is poignant, as it so often is in Greece.

Only a week ago the Greek people were celebrating a victory, as they voted to reject stringent austerity requirements being imposed by the dark and powerful forces in Europe. For so long they have had their domestic policies dictated from Berlin via Brussels, and I can only imagine what it must have felt like to be in Syntagma Square when the results came, to feel like some sort of sovereignty was restored to the people at last.

Last night, the Greek Parliament were forced by those same European forces to implement emergency legislation to adopt even stricter measures than the people rejected in the referendum. Syriza did all that they could by calling the bluff of their creditors with the vote. In the end, they played the best hand they could and lost. There was nowhere else to go: accept the terms or leave the Eurozone.

Images from the centre of Athens on the 17th of November 2014. In memory of the Polytechnic uprising in 1973

The last few months of 2014 saw trouble on an almost daily basis in Athens. Annual protests that had seen dwindling turn-outs for years suddenly swelled with those taking to the streets to demand an end to the weak leadership of their Government in the face of increasing demands from the Troika.

The one last bit of hope that those involved seemed to be clinging to was the December election, and the potential for the anti-austerity party Syriza, who marched alongside them, to change the way the game was being played. No more taking things lying down. Seemingly against all odds, they got into power. For the first time in years, the riot police were called off, and the protests turned to demonstrations of support for the new government.

There was hope, but it didn’t last for long.

The scenes of last year will be nothing compared to what happens now that even Tsipras, with all of his abilities has been forced to concede defeat. The truth is that no matter how hard or how well he fought, he just didn’t have anywhere near enough bargaining power to win. Without an incredibly damaging exit from the Eurozone, Greece will be forced to do whatever those holding the purse strings demand. 

I fear for what will happen now.

There are plenty who say that the Greeks got themselves into this mess, through early retirement ages and high rates of tax evasion. They shouldn’t just be able to shirk their responsibilities, or ‘have their cake and eat it’.

Corruption has been rife in Greece for decades. Nepotism is the norm. However, in many senses it isn’t hard to see why. The British and Americans helped open the doors for a military dictatorship in the country to avoid Communist influence, and Greece shoulders a hugely disproportionate burden in the number of refugees that it receives as the first port of call into the EU. Historically, ideologically, and geographically, they are caught in the middle, with no support from what are meant to be their allies.

Whatever the history is, the present reality is that the rate of child poverty is above 40%. The rate of youth unemployment 50%. Those who do have jobs have been forced to take huge pay cuts, or even to work for free from months to years simply because there’s no other option. The infamous pensions that have been so criticised have been reduced to almost nothing, with it impossible for those who have previously retired to find new jobs. Greeks work longer hours, and own more of their own businesses than a large number of other countries around the world. The generalisations about them being lazy or greedy simply do not play out.

The idea that somehow the Greek people are themselves solely to blame for this crisis, and that they deserve what has happened is an appalling and reprehensible one. People should not be forced to suffer terribly and indefinitely because of the corrupt actions of their previous Governments – those of whom still live comfortably with the proceeds of past malfeasance.

Even if the fault of what has happened really does lie with the average Greek (which it does not) then there must be a way open for the country to get out of the situation they are in. People must be able to build themselves out of poverty, and sometimes that requires acts of compassion and humanity – not cold blooded market capitalism. This is not happening however, and despite even the IMF declaring that repayment of the debt is impossible without some form of relief, the demands just become greater, all the while earning billions in profit for the ECB.

History repeats itself, albeit in different ways. When African nations struggled to pay back impossible debts built up by corrupt dictators, we marched in the street to ‘make poverty history’. When Germany was faced with rebuilding a broken nation after defeat in the Second World War, creditors (including Greece) wrote off a significant portion of their debt so they could do so. Now, the Greeks are facing an impossible task, and nobody seems to care.

Είμαστε όλοι Έλληνες.

This is the road to…

Clicky Steve:

Greece are in trouble.

Originally posted on politurgy:

Once upon a time a man set out on the road to economic prosperity. It was a road paved with the promises of global consumer capitalism and a common and open market.
But along the road he was set upon by some thieves, they beat him, and stripped him, and left him for dead.
(Maybe he was stupid to go down that road, it is a road well known for its pitfalls and dangers, but he had been told that it was the only road in town, as to who the thieves and robbers were – they have remained free to act with impunity in the shadows of the road).
Some time later an IMF came down the same road, saw the man, and crossed over on to the other side.
A little later a ECB came down the road, saw the man, and crossed over to the other side.

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A parp in a bin and clapping chagrin

You can lie, you can smear, you can abuse public office for party gain, you can cause a diplomatic incident, you can pauchle your expenses, you can cover up the activities of well connected paedophiles, you can cheat, you can start an illegal war that causes the deaths of hundreds of thousands. Just don’t clap, because that’s beyond the pale.

Spot the difference

Apparently non British, Irish, or Commonwealth citizens will not be allowed to vote in the upcoming EU referendum in the UK.

I haven’t read into the actual law on this, just the media coverage, so caveat emptor, but:

More than 1million foreigners living in Britain will be banned from voting in the EU referendum, the Conservatives have announced, in a significant boost to Eurosceptic campaigners.

It comes after Eurosceptic MPs confronted ministers over the issue amid concerns that pro-Europeans could effectively rig the result by giving EU citizens the decisive vote.


The language we use is important.

Isn’t it interesting that here we see people living in the UK described as ‘foreigners’ – setting up an instant division – whilst the Scottish Government during the independence referendum process spoke not of ‘foreigners’, but of ‘the Scottish people’, irrespective of where they were from originally?

Isn’t it interesting that the result of the independence referendum was based precisely on the votes of the people who lived there, and not some ethnic idea of what Scottishness is supposed to be? Isn’t it interesting that this wasn’t seen as ‘rigging the result’, but as an integral part of it?

I don’t believe in ethnic politics. I believe in civic politics. Great Britain is a fundamentally racist construct that needs to be dissolved. The sooner the better.

Proportional representation won’t save the Union

In the days following the results of the 2015 General Election, there have been calls from all sides of the political spectrum for electoral reform. Quite rightly, those on the left are both furious at the lack of representation they’ve been afforded at Westminster, and also terrified at the prospect of a future where nobody but the Conservatives will be able to achieve a majority in Parliament. Those on the right aren’t much happier, with analysis showing that UKIP would have had a massive gain in seats under a proportional system, rising from the 1 that they currently hold to upwards of 80.

Proportional Representation - General Election 2015
How the BBC visualised the difference

Of course, this sort of disproportionate result has always been present in previous elections. It’s just that up until recently it has largely been masked by the domination of the two major parties. Cracks in the system began to show with the rise in popularity of the Lib Dems, and are now fully exposed both by the UKIP surge, and the simultaneous demise of Labour in Scotland.

One of the stated benefits of the First Past the Post System is to produce strong majorities in Parliament, bringing with them political and economic stability. Seemingly against all the odds, FTPT has managed to again achieve that, at least in terms of the numbers involved anyway. Whilst the Tories will be able to hold what’s called the ‘confidence of Parliament’, that doesn’t mean that they hold the confidence of an increasingly fractured United Kingdom. This election has demonstrated a strong need for electoral reform, with some sort of proportional system required to give legitimacy to future governments, but it will not solve the constitutional problems being faced, particularly in relation to Scotland.

If the UK truly was a single entity, without borders, then PR would provide a solid foundation for people to feel like they are genuinely and fairly represented, irrespective of where they lived. However, that is not the case. No matter how  unpopular it may be to some, we are – to use Cameron’s words – ‘a family of nations’, with distinct and separate identities. Even ardent Scottish Unionists recognise this; a truism that is not just some product of contemporary nationalism, but evident culturally and structurally. People in Scotland support proportional representation, but also want a stronger voice for their nation within the family dynamic. We may just be 5 million people out of 64, but we are also 1 of 4 nations. It is this contradiction that is posing such an issue for the future of the UK. Even with electoral reform, this identity crisis will remain; the Scottish question unanswered.

Scottish Independence British State

Another danger lurking underneath the surface of the calls for electoral reform is that the debate may indeed only serve to highlight the differences between Scotland and England, and ultimately expedite the breakup of the Union. In many corners, the questions about PR are posited in terms of reducing the influence of the Scottish, with the thinly veiled question at the heart of things really asking: Why do the Scots have so many MPs with such a small percentage of the population? This isn’t correct, of course – as we would have the same number of MPs whatever parties held them, but it’s easy for the issues to become conflated given the (disproportionate) success of the SNP, and the antiScottish rhetoric that has emerged. To my pro-Union friends seeking a fairer electoral system: beware this trap. Proportional representation won’t save the UK, and if the debate isn’t approached carefully, it could do more damage to the relationship than it will good.

Header ‘Scottish and British flags’ image by ‘The Laird of Oldham‘ – used under Creative Commons License. ‘Poland-Ball’ style image by ‘Universalis‘ – used under Creative Commons License