Censorship flood: takedown notices to Google increased by 711,887% in four years


The State of the Discordant Union: An Empirical Analysis of DMCA Takedown Notices , a paper publishing in Virginia Journal of Law and Technology by Stanford/NUS's Daniel Seng, documents the vast, terrifying increase in the use of DMCA takedown notices, which are self-signed legal notices that allow anyone to demand that material be censored from the Internet, with virtually no penalty for abuse or out-and-out fraud. The increase is driven by a small number of rightsholders who have automated the process of sending out censorship demands, industrializing the practice. The three biggest players are RIAA, Froytal and Microsoft, who sent more than 5 million notices each in 2012, and at least doubled their takedowns again in 2013. In the four years between 2008 and 2012, the use of takedown notices against Google grew by an eye-popping 711,887 percent.

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Turkey orders block of Twitter's IP addresses

Just a few days after Turkey's scandal-rocked government banned Twitter by tweaking national DNS settings, the state has doubled down by ordering ISPs to block Twitter's IP addresses, in response to the widespread dissemination of alternative DNS servers, especially Google's 8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4 (these numbers were even graffitied on walls).

Following the ban, Turkey's Twitter usage grew by 138 percent. Now that Twitter's IP range is blocked, more Turkish Internet users are making use of Tor and VPNs, and they continue to use SMS for access to the service.

It's interesting that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has singled out Twitter for his attacks ("Twitter, schmitter! We will wipe out Twitter. I don’t care what the international community says.") Why not Facebook or Google Plus? I'm not certain, but my hypothesis is that Facebook and Google's "real names" policy -- which make you liable to disconnection from the service if you're caught using an alias -- make them less useful for political dissidents operating in an environment in which they fear reprisals.

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Turkey blocks Twitter in run-up to election

Juha sez, "Looks like Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan was serious about blocking Twitter (and possibly other social networks) in Turkey in the run-up to the election. Twitter users in Turkey are able to bypass the block though through SMS, and the whole thing could backfire badly on the government there. That Streisand Effect again."

Erdogan is the thug who ordered the vicious crackdown on the Gezi protests, whose government was subsequently rocked by a high-level, multi-billion-dollar money-laundering and corruption scandal that has played out largely in social media. He told reporters: "We will wipe out all of these [social networks]."

Paging Mr Canute, your tide is coming in.

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Sky censoring Ukrainian site, says it has "a white list of international media websites which are currently blocked"

Taras sez:

I noticed last week that access to the Ukrainian media website tsn.ua was impossible from the UK but there was no issue with me connecting to it via a US VPN connection. I asked Sky (my ISP) why that was the case. This was the response I received:

Sky Help Centre 16:00 (29 minutes ago)

to me

Dear Mr Ciuriak

Thank you for contacting Sky Help Centre.
Thank you for your enquiry, unfortunately there has been a white list of international media websites which are currently blocked and this site is affected by this. This means we are unable to assist in getting you access to this website.

I've left a message for Sky PR to find out what this is about.

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British spies lied about getting super-censorship powers over Youtube

Turns out that the claims made by British spies about Youtube granting them the power to censor Youtube videos that they didn't like (but weren't illegal) were bullshit.

The "super-flagger" status they got from Google just means that their complaints get quicker scrutiny, but are (theoretically, anyway) judged by the same criteria as all other complaints about videos that violate Youtube's community standards.

But as Techdirt's Mike Masnick points out, the fact that senior UK government ministers believe that Youtube should remove anything "that may not be illegal, but certainly is unsavoury" is a pretty disturbing insight into the mindset of our censorious masters.

Youtube bids happy 25th to the Web by granting British spies mass-censorship power

The service will allow British security officials to censor videos "at scale" -- but not illegal videos, just material that "certainly is unsavoury and may not be the sort of material that people would want to see or receive." The new "super flaggers" will target jihadi radicalisation videos and, basically, anything they don't like. But what could go wrong? Thanks, Google!

Update: Turns out the British spies who made these claims were lying.

Public Prosecutor of Rome unilaterally orders ISPs to censor 46 sites


The Public Prosecutor of Rome has unilaterally ordered Italy's ISPs to censor 46 sites, and it appears the ISPs are complying, even though no complaint had been lodged against the sites, nor had any judge issued any order related to them. This doesn't bode well for the governance style of the new Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, a young politician who is trying to set himself apart from the autocratic Berlusconi regime, which used tight media control as part of its corrupt governance strategy.

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Vine bans sexual content

Twitter's 6-second video-sharing platform, Vine, has banned sexual content. Depictions of "provocative" nudity, sex acts, clothed but "aroused" genitals, and "sexually graphic" artwork or animation is "not a good fit for our community," the company writes. [The Verge]

US Embassy and Godaddy conspire to censor dissenting Mexican political site


Godaddy has censored a prominent Mexican political site that was critical of the government and a proposed law to suppress public protests. Godaddy says that it suspended 1dmx.org after a request from a "Special Agent Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Embassy, Mexico City." A lawyer for the site believes that the someone in the Mexican government asked the US embassy to arrange for the censorship, and is suing the Mexican government to discover the identity of the official who made the request.

Leaving aside the Mexican government corruption implied by this action, Americans should be outraged about the participation of the US Embassy in the suppression of political dissent. And, as always, Godaddy customers should be on notice that Godaddy is pretty much the worst domain registrar/hosting company in the world, with a long history of meekly knuckling under to absurd, legally dubious censorship claims from random law-enforcement and government agencies, and never, ever going to bat for its customers (I prefer Hover, one of Godaddy's major competitors).

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David Cameron's porn-filter advisor arrested for possession of images of sexual abuse of children


Patrick Rock, a Thatcherite who served as special advisor to UK Prime Minister David Cameron and played an influential role in the Prime Minister's national Internet censorship plan, has been arrested for possession of images depicting the sexual abuse of children. The National Crime Agency is conducting forensic analysis of the computer networks at the Prime Minister's office/residence, Number 10 Downing Street.

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South Carolina legislature confiscates budget of college for assigning Alison Bechdel's "Fun Home" as a reading

The South Carolina House of Representatives has withdrawn $52,000 from the College of Charleston for including Alison Bechdel's brilliant, celebrated memoir Fun Home in its summer reading program. Bechdel, creator of the Dykes to Watch Out For strip, published the memoir in 2006. In graphic novel form, it tells Bechdel's story of growing up closeted in a family riven by a father who can't admit that he is gay and an embittered mother who doesn't allow herself to notice her husband's affairs.

Representative Garry Smith said that the book "didn't merit scholarly consideration" because it "graphically shows lesbian acts." He led the campaign to withdraw the funds. $52,000 is the cost of the entire summer reading program.

Bechdel expressed gratitude to the college for assigning her book, and added, "It's sad and absurd that the College of Charleston is facing a funding cut for teaching my book – a book which is after all about the toll that this sort of small-mindedness takes on people's lives."

To its credit, the college is refusing to allow its reading choices to be affected. College president P. George Benson said, "Any legislative attempt to tie institutional funding to what books are taught, or who teaches them, threatens the credibility and reputation of all South Carolina public universities."

The College of Charleston isn't the only institution whose funding has been cut for assigning readings that don't meet with Rep Smith's approval; another $18,000 was confiscated from the University of South Carolina Upstate's budget for including a book with LGBT themes in its curriculum.

I would certainly contribute to a fundraiser to make up the colleges' shortfall, especially if they'd guarantee that the funds would go to a program whose readings consisted entirely of things that Representative Gary Price didn't like.


Update: In the comments, Tim​stellmach writes, "Money has been put where my mouth is. For reference, the name of the program in question is "The College Reads!", and the college's donation page is at https://giving.cofc.edu/donate.

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Whatsapp abused the DMCA to censor related projects from Github

Prior to Whatsapp's $19B acquisition by Facebook, the company sent a large number of spurious takedowns against projects on Github. In a DMCA notice served by Whatsapp's General Counsel to Github, a number of projects are targeted for removal on the basis that they are "content that infringes on WhatsApp Inc.'s copyrights and trademarks."

This is grossly improper. DMCA takedown notices never apply to alleged trademark violations (it's called the "Digital Millennium Copyright Act" and not the "Digital Millennium Trademark Act"). Using DMCA notices to pursue trademark infringements isn't protecting your interests -- it's using barratry-like tactics to scare and bully third parties into participating in illegitimate censorship.

The letter goes on to demand takedown of these Github projects on the basis that they constitute "unauthorized use of WhatsApp APIs, software, and/or services" -- again, this is not a copyright issue, and it is improper to ask Github to police the code its hosts on this basis. It is certainly not the sort of activity that the DMCA's takedown procedure exists to police.

So what about copyright infringement? In the related Hacker News thread, a number of the projects' authors weigh in on the censorship, making persuasive cases that they software did not infringe on any of Whatsapp's copyrights -- rather, these were tools that made use of the Whatsapp API, were proof-of-concept security tools for Whatsapp, or, in one case, merely contained the string "whatsapp" in its sourcecode.

There may well have been some legitimately infringing material on Github, but it's clear that Whatsapp's General Counsel did not actually limit her or his request to this material. Instead, the company deliberately overreached the bounds of the DMCA, with total indifference to the rights of other copyright holders -- the creators of the software they improperly had removed.

Unfortunately, there are no real penalties for this sort of abuse. Which is a shame, because Whatsapp has $19B in the bank that a smart lawyer who wanted to represent the aggrieved parties could certainly take a chunk out of.

(via Hacker News)

Detailed analysis of Syria's network censorship with logs from Blue Coat's surveillance boxes


In Censorship in the Wild: Analyzing Web Filtering in Syria [PDF], researchers from INRIA, NICTA and University College London parse through 600GB worth of leaked logfiles from seven Blue Coat SG-9000 proxies used by the Syrian government to censor and surveil its national Internet connections. They find that the Assad regime's censorship is more subtle and targeted than that of China and Iran, with heavy censorship of instant messaging, but lighter blocking of social media. They also report on Syrians' use of proxies, Tor, and Bittorrent to evade national censorship. It's the first comprehensive public look at the network censorship practiced in Syria.

Censorship in the Wild: Analyzing Web Filtering in Syria [PDF] (Thanks, Gary!)

AIDS deniers use bogus copyright claims to censor critical Youtube videos

Myles Power, a debunker who goes after junk science and conspiracy theorists, has gone after AIDS denialists and a terrible, falsehood-ridden, dangerous documentary called "House of Numbers," which holds that HIV/AIDS isn't an actual viral illness, but rather a conspiracy to sell anti-viral medication. The AIDS denial movement encourages people who are HIV-positive to go off the medication that keeps them alive.

The producers of "House of Numbers" have used a series of bogus copyright takedown notices to get Youtube to remove Powers's videos, in which he uses clips from the documentary as part of his criticism, showing how they mislead viewers and misrepresent the facts and the evidence. It's pure censorship: using the law to force the removal of your opponents' views.

Google and Youtube have some blame to shoulder here. They should not be honoring these takedown notices, as they are not valid on their face. However, the buck doesn't stop there. The DMCA's takedown procedures have no real penalty for abuse, so it is the perfect tool for would-be censors. What's more, the entertainment companies -- who are great fans of free speech when defending their right to sell products without censorship, but are quite unwilling the share the First Amendment they love so dearly with the rest of us -- are pushing to make censorship even easier, arguing that nothing should be posted on Youtube (or, presumably, any other online forum) unless it has been vetted by a copyright lawyer.

Update: Google has reinstated the video, and published this statement: "When a copyright holder notifies us of a video that infringes their copyright, we remove it promptly in accordance with the law. We reinstate content in cases where there is clear fair use and we are confident that the material is not infringing, removing any associated copyright strikes.”

However, the "accordance with the law" business isn't the whole story. The law says that if Google is sent a takedown notice and they don't remove it, they could be sued along with the person who posted it. But it's up to Google to determine whether it believes the complaint holds water, and whether to assume the risk of disregarding it. IOW: Google could have left the video up, but at some risk of being named in a nuisance suit by some genuinely evil people. It decided that this risk was more costly than the likely temporary removal of the video.

They're probably right inasmuch as they will generally be let off the hook for this. However, to the extent that we -- the people who generate Google's income -- give them a good kicking when they make decisions like this, we will raise the cost of acting on obviously spurious copyright complaints. The higher that cost rises, the less censorship we'll see on Youtube.

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Indian readers sue Penguin for copyright to book that is to be pulped due to religious fundamentalists' campaign

Robert Sharp writes, "A group of readers have launched a legal challenge to Penguin, saying: 'You're not using your copyright responsibly - please turn it over to us'! They're angry that Penguin is no longer defending a legal dispute against fundamentalists and will pulp remaining copies of the book 'The Hindus'."

The readers are represented by Lawrence Liang and the Bangalore-based Alternative Law Forum.

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