Fox sends fraudulent takedown notices for my novel Homeland

My Creative Commons licensed 2013 novel Homeland, the sequel to my 2008 novel Little Brother, spent four weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and got great reviews around the country. But Fox apparently hasn't heard of it -- or doesn't care. They've been sending takedown notices to Google (and possibly other sites), demanding that links to legally shared copies of the book be removed.

These notices, sent under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, require that the person who signs them swears, on pain of perjury, that they have a good faith basis to assert that they represent the rightsholder to the work in question. So Fox has been swearing solemn, legally binding oaths to the effect that it is the rightsholder to a file called, for example, "Cory Doctorow Homeland novel."

It's clear that Fox is mistaking these files for episodes of the TV show "Homeland." What's not clear is why or how anyone sending a censorship request could be so sloppy, careless and indifferent to the rights of others that they could get it so utterly wrong. I have made inquiries about the possible legal avenues for addressing this with Fox, but I'm not optimistic. The DMCA makes it easy to carelessly censor the Internet, and makes it hard to get redress for this kind of perjurious, depraved indifference.

Fox Censors Cory Doctorow’s “Homeland” Novel From Google


    1. Also, the “pain of perjury” bit seems to open the door to criminal charges, although it’s anybody’s guess what court would have jurisdiction.

  1. Is Fox going after the DHS as well?  If they think they own all rights to the word “Homeland” then the US government would be the logical target…

    1. If you posted a link to a torrent titled “My Thoughts on the Department of Homeland Security” to a popular sharing site then yes, I’d imagine they would

  2. Here’s the problem:
    There are too many files being uploaded to the internet by masses of humans to effectively police copyright on all of them. You’d need an army of humans just as massive as the set of uploaders to make even a semi-serious attempt at it. The entertainment industry’s solution is bots, who are terrible at judging whether something is infringing in the first place, let alone whether it’s fair or legitimately legal use. (See Viacom censoring its own YouTube videos) – It’s time that we codified in law what is self-evident to most technologists. Actual human beings with eyes and minds need to be behind each DMCA request, and there needs to be an appeals process. The law as it currently stands is ridiculous, it doesn’t work. Anyone with eyes and a mind can see that.

    1. Yes, but intent doesn’t change the harm it causes.  The cartels cause harm by careless practices (using bots), then they can pay dearly for it when those bots get it wrong.  God knows they make people who “infringe” on their “work” pay outrageous amounts, even in cases where the people they sued weren’t directly responsible.  

      It is ridiculous. I can’t help but think that there must be a way to make that knife cut both ways.

      1. I should have put this in my post, but YES. Getting it completely wrong, like with Cory’s books, needs to be punishable. On a related topic we really need an investigation into abuses of the legal/justice system. There are a million ways nowadays to make a person’s life hell for no goddamned reason. It needs to stop.

    2. Actual humans aren’t good enough, unless their incentives are aligned properly as well.

      At present, Fox (presumably) receives some tiny; but positive, unit of value when they DMCA an actual ‘Homeland’ pirate copy, and absolutely no consequences whatsoever if they inflict collateral damage.

      Give an actual human that incentive set, and they’ll do exactly what the bots do, only more slowly.

      Only if there were some penalty for false takedowns would the human have the slightest incentive to err on the side of caution(and, I suspect, given the pretty impressive false-positive rates of contemporary spam filters, the bots would get a whole lot less dumber if their mistakes actually cost their operators money…)

      1. At present, Fox (presumably) receives some tiny; but positive, unit of value when they DMCA an actual ‘Homeland’ pirate copy

        There isn’t really any particular evidence that they do – they don’t get any money for it; at most they get the hoster to take the data down.  There is no particular reason to believe that the downloaders think “I know – I’ll sign up for Fox on my cable, tune in at the regularly scheduled time, and I won’t go to the bathroom during the ad breaks,” when they could as easily go “Huh, that torrent doesn’t work, I’ll try this one instead.”

        1. The existence of any real-world benefit is, indeed, arguable; but the fact that they are paying for DMCA deathbots suggests that they desire takedowns, and view them as a thing of value.

          That may make them delusional enough to qualify for a spot on the ‘news’ branch of the Fox media empire; but even delusional gratification is a type of customer satisfaction…

    3.  I think I disagree. We currently have a system (multiple systems really) in place (in the US and UK at least) that monitors almost every radio station in the US (UK) and tracks literally every song they play. It is able to identify a song with about 3-5 seconds of audio and handles the songs in multiple languages.

      I do not see why a system like that could not also be used to improve the false take down notice rate for internet piracy, especially since we are mostly talking about files with audio tracks.

      I am not saying I love the idea, but they are certainly capable of improving the situation, they just do not want to spend the money.

      It is time to make it cost more to get things wrong that it costs to get things correct.

      1. Just because the system correctly identifies a clip does not mean that the clip should be taken down … there still needs to be something to identify situations of fair use.

  3. It is almost impossible to do anything over bogus take down claims because the courts have made 512(f) of the copyright code meaningless. Some have required “subjective bad faith” meaning the party sending the DMCA take down knew it was bogus from the beginning. That is almost impossible to prove, and even if you do prove it you can recover only attorneys fees pretty much.

  4. This is a perfect time to rethink your views of copyrights and instead become more protective of your work. You really should be sending your own take-down notices of sites that might be infringing. Any sites that broadcast Homeland type stuff would be the place to start.

    1.  Indeed.  Cory should talk to his friends at the EFF, but would now be a good time to create a case demanding that Fox take down their infringing ‘Homeland’ series?  I’m fairly sure that Cory’s book predates the show, and they do cover broadly similar topics (at least as far as I can glean from the endless commercials about the show).

  5. Perjury doesn’t carry much weight in the USA? Judges over here in the UK tend to throw the book at you for that (it’s our favourite way of getting politicians in the nick).

    1. In part it depends on whether you’re a corporation.

      Also, whether you can afford to litigate against a corporation in an extended legal fight.

    2. Perverting the course of justice. By which you can end up in prison for fibbing about a traffic violation while someone else gets a caution for their hundredth B&E.

    1. They have done this before but it is really hard to prove that someone did not just make an honest mistake. The law requires that you prove they knew the take down was fraudulent at the time they sent it for them to be liable. It is a subjective test, unless there is a smoking gun email saying lets screw this Doctorow guy, it is impossible. And even if you do that the law will award minimal damages of attorneys fees which is minimal in a case like this because a lawyer files one thing and talks to the client for a bit and that’s it. see my post above for more.

      1.  Is willful ignorance not a thing in the US? Like when a sexual assault defendant says, “I had no idea she didn’t consent bc I made sure not to ask her.”
        I’m asking seriously.

        1.  Willful ignorance is a thing in copyright law for things like secondary liability. Think what happened to Grokster. They were liable for others infringement when they promoted the acts on there website. Willful ignorance or blindness implies that you knew something was fishy or should have known and looked the other way.

          This one discrete act does not amount to that. It would take repeated violations over and extended period to prove that. And even if you did your only remedies are limited by the courts to very little money. So it would be a slap on the rist.

          The only true solution is to rewrite the law and give it some teeth with some statutory minimum damages.

        2. There’s due diligence, but it doesn’t seem to be enforced for some industries.

  6. Couldn’t you send a DMCA notice to fox saying they cant broadcast or distibute their tv show?

  7. From a quick play with Google, I found this :
    Which has about 9000 odd hits for “homeland” in it. Several appear to be bot finds rather than human discovered results eg :
    375. 221929-R-A-Salvatore-Homeland-32.html 
    376. 2504788-Jetfighter-V-Homeland-Protector-PC-BlackIce.html 
    377. 3078211-www-Torrenting-com-Homeland-2010-DVDRiP-XviD-Ouzo.html 
    378. 3159786-Nicke-Borg-Homeland-Chapter-1.html 
    379. 3161427-Nicke-Borg-Homeland-Chapter-2.html

    With the first episode of the TV series in 2011, Homeland-2010 is clearly not relevant.
    Not saying those files aren’t illegal, but I doubt that they’re anything to do with Fox.

    What’s worrying about this whole thing isn’t that Cory’s book is being blocked but as spejic suggests, anything referencing “Homeland” on a filesharing site is going to get blocked. Or anything matching “Game of Thrones” or “Revolution” or whatever other TV programs are on. Sooner or later there won’t be any filesharing legal or otherwise as the DMCA bots rapidly use all the words in the English language. “Friends”, “big bang”, etc…

  8. What’s not clear is why or how anyone sending a censorship request could be so sloppy, careless and indifferent to the rights of others that they could get it so utterly wrong. 

    It sure looks clear to me, Cory. 

    For Fox, there’s no downside to their using this tactic.

    1. Cory had hinted that he had the Homeland title pretty much wrapped up when little brother came out for the sequel to that novel.    And little brother came out in 2007.   So… Hmm..   I don’t think Cory had planned this.  Though taken advantage of it?  Sure. :D

  9. Yeah, when the industry basically writes the law like they did with the DMCA, it really shouldn’t be a surprise that it is built in such a way that it’s grossly one sided in favor of the industry.  Certainly it wouldn’t make sense for lawmakers to take the public interest in mind, because the public interest doesn’t pay for re-elections. 

    The more I see the damage done by entrenched corporate interests in our political system, the more convinced I am that we should adopt a very strict form of campaign finance reform.  Something like:  All campaigns are financed entirely by public funds, and the funds should be based on the number of voters that could potentially vote for said candidate.  The only donation allowed will be unpaid volunteer time.  Campaigns would be free to hire people if they need it, but those funds would come from the public campaign fund.  

      their main goal is to take money out of politics including the financing method you mentioned (more or less) as well as reversing the ruling that says that corporations can give unlimited money to politicians

  10. Intern 1: ”Was Cory Doctorow the name of a Homeland episode?”
    Intern 2: “Doctor Ow? No, that sounds like some pirate name.”
    Intern 1: “That’s what I thought.”

  11. @Cory, you don’t actually expect Fox representatives to be able to read, let alone know that there is this strange thing called literature…

  12. Can you file a complaint against the lawyer who signed the letter to whatever bar they’re admitted to? This seems like legal malpractice.

  13.  More hysterical, self-promoting anti-copyright hype from Cory Doctorow. It’s kind of funny (and ironic) that this guy, who rails against anyone trying to use the remaining shreds of copyright law to prevent others from taking away the author’s right to control the exploitation of their work, can become so outraged when his own work is treated in a way of which he doesn’t approve. Clearly this was a sloppy mistake on the part of Fox, but no sloppier than Doctorow’s thinking as he muddles together the notions of copyright and censorship in a self-serving and paranoid way that would be more suited to his own distopian anti-copyright propaganda fiction than to a discussion in the real world.

  14. When I worked for a megacorp there was only one thing that stopped our psychotic behavior in it’s tracks: Liquidated Damages.

    It probably costs a few hundred dollars of lawyer and/or defendant time, at minimum, for someone to carefully respond to a false DMCA notice, so I think a $500 penalty per violation would be about right.

    You don’t want the amount too high because that would only motivate the cartels to use more legal blackmail and subterfuge to mount false defenses when confronted with their mistakes.

    Your action item, dear reader, is to encourage your legislators to make this a reality.

    1.  Yeah, I can see how you would want to read a blog that didn’t have anything related to the work of one of its editors.  Where on the internet will you find a blog that doesn’t mention Homeland?  An impossible task.

      You have a hard row to hoe, my friend.  Endless drudgery of a completely voluntary kind, it is a deep misery for you. 

  15. Clearly the thing to do is to fight bots with bots. Write a script that creates a whole bunch of files with the offending string in the title and shares them. Would that work? Or at least slow them down while more sensible plans are put into effect?

  16. Well I guess it depends on the jurisdiction but can you take a private prosecution for perjury?

    Then again it seems to me that the implication here is that they’re saying that you’re one of those horrible illegal file sharers, if only you lived in England, you could trake out a libel suit …..

  17. I have made inquiries about the possible legal avenues for addressing this with Fox, but I’m not optimistic. The DMCA makes it easy to carelessly censor the Internet, and makes it hard to get redress for this kind of perjurious, depraved indifference.

    I hope you do it anyway and take it to the supreme court.

  18. Barring rewriting the laws, the only solution I can see is publishing a bunch of essays whose titles match tv shows, movies, and song titles and then sending a massive amount of take down notices for those those tv shows, films, and song tiles that match the essays. Unless the law fucks over the media corporations they aren’t going to allow them to change and will do everything possible to prevent changes. I would never do that, personally, but I sure would find it hilarious if others did it.

  19. I’m terribly sorry, Cory. I well and truly am. I admire what you have accomplished, I like and enjoy (most) of what you write.

    But now you have to put your money where your mouth is.

    Don’t just talk the talk; walk the walk. You now have a golden opportunity. You have legal standing, cause and a situation which is damn near perfect. It will cost time, money, probably legal and financial threats. But you now have “them” where they do not want to be and can actually be the cause of a legal precedent. The EFF, the whole internet could back you on this.

    It might even go horribly wrong.

    It is SO easy for me to say this, I realise that. All I can say is I have a meager hundred euro’s to back you. Fuck it; a hundred every month, straight out of my paycheck (which I would like reimbursed when you win and recoup your court costs :P).

    But: go get the fuckers.

    If not you, then who?

    1. Hard to say this without sounding like a dick, but read the other comments. The EFF is currently fighting a similar case with better evidence and the courts are not doing much to help the problem. Even if they won, which he can’t, basically all you might be able to get is attorneys fees for the trouble of filing the case and that is it. And to win you have to prove some impossible stuff.

      I appreciate your passion and this is a real problem, especially in political speech, but the courts are reading the law narrowly here.

  20. It is a stretch, I suppose, but when I exercise their copyrights to share them, I am liable for a statutory amount.  Are they not exercising YOUR copyrights?  Could you not sue them for 100,000 dollars for every time they exercised your rights without your permission?  It has been a while since I read which rights you gave up in the beginning of your books, but it was always my understanding that I could share them freely, not take them down.

    Essentially Fox is exercising your copyrights without your permission for commercial purposes.  There are very serious statutory penalties for that exact act.  Please go get rich off them, Mr. Doctorow!

    1.  There are no statutory damages here. He would have to prove he was actually harmed in this situation in a dollar amount. And since this is a CC licensed book that was being freely distributed in this instance then there was no significant money damages.

      If some was was actually violating his copy “right”s then he could sue them for up to $150K per infringement under US law, but the right to freely distribute your works without interference is not a copy “right” under US law. His only remedy under copyright is to sue for wrongful take down (512(f)), or something obscure under tort law.

      1. Incorrect.  Statutory damages are a substitute for a proven dollar amount of harm.  
        “Statutory damages are a damage award in civil law, in which the amount awarded is stipulated within the statute rather than being calculated based on the degree of harm to the plaintiff. Lawmakers will provide for statutory damages for acts in which it is difficult to determine a precise value of the loss suffered by the victim. This could be because calculation of a value is impractical, such as in intellectual property cases where the volume of the infringement cannot be ascertained. ”
        His copy “right” is to create licenses between himself and his customers.  His copy “right” is to take down infringing licenses through the DMCA.  Fox is freely exercising his rights under US law (both by canceling the licensed agreements he has entered into, and through the takedown notices only Cory Doctorow or his assigned representatives may issue).As far as I am aware, there has not been a case where somebody sought the statutory damages for this type of infringement.  If successful, the DMCA would stop being abused by large corporations the day after the appeals stopped.

  21. Correy:

    Perhaps a personal, signed physical letters to Mr. Murdoch and the board members of News Corporation would be of best use here (e-mail can be so easily ignored). Right now Mr. Murdoch and his board are dealing with several pressing issues that’s giving them grief (spinoff of the publication business, trying to keep Fox/Sky relevant, the ongoing phone-hacking scandal that could blow back into the US and cause an FPCA indictment).
    Perhaps a polite tone asking him; How this could have happened on his watch, and what steps is he ordering his executives to take to prevent this kind of  rank stupidity won’t ever happen again.

    And of course, cc: your barrister/attorney and/or publicly post/tweet it. (but don’t disclose they’re of that profession.)

  22. Only ‘persons’, I mean corporations, have any real copyright rights. Better get used to it X(

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