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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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Podcast: What happens with digital rights management in the real world?

Here's a reading (MP3) of a recent Guardian column, What happens with digital rights management in the real world where I attempt to explain the technological realpolitik of DRM, which has nothing much to do with copyright, and everything to do with Internet security.

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Why DRM'ed coffee-pods may be just the awful stupidity we need


I've been thinking about the news that Keurig has added "DRM" to its pod coffee-makers since the story first started doing the rounds a couple of days ago. I've come to the conclusion that while the errand is a foolish one, and the company deserves nothing but contempt for such an anti-competitive move, that there might be a silver lining to this cloud. As I've written recently, there's not a lot of case-law on Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the law that prohibits "circumventing...effective means of access control" to copyrighted works. In the past, we've seen printer companies and garage door opener manufacturers claim that the software in their devices was a "copyrighted work" and that anyone who made a spare part for their products was thus violating 1201. But that was 10 years ago, and it's been a while since there was someone stupid and greedy enough to try that defense.

I think Keurig might just be that stupid, greedy company.

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Tell Congress to legalize unlocking your phone


Sherwin from Public Knowledge writes, "The Copyright Office and the Library of Congress think that copyright law and the DMCA make it illegal to unlock your phone and take it to a new carrier. This is plainly ridiculous: a year ago, 114,000 Americans wrote the White House to tell them that, and the White House agreed. So did the FCC. And, eventually, so did the phone companies, who say they'll work to unlock most consumers' phones for them. But the law has stayed the same. It's still illegal for you, even if you've paid off your entire contract, to take it upon yourself to unlock your own phone."

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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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Why DRM is the root of all evil

In my latest Guardian column, What happens with digital rights management in the real world?, I explain why the most important fact about DRM is how it relates to security and disclosure, and not how it relates to fair use and copyright. Most importantly, I propose a shortcut through DRM reform, through a carefully designed legal test-case.

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WordPress joins its users in court to fight bogus, censoring copyright claims

WordPress has gone to bat for its users in court, joining in two lawsuits over fraudulent DMCA claims that used copyright claims as a means of censoring critics. Back in August, a British anti-gay group called Straight Pride UK used a copyright claim to censor the publication of an on-the-record interview with one of the group's spokesmen. And in February, disgraced cancer researcher Anil Potti used copyright claims to censor Retraction Watch, a science watchdog that had reported on the journals that retracted Potti's papers.

Wordpress was the host for both of these sites, and at the time, it cooperated with the takedowns (the law does not require WordPress to honor takedowns that it deems to be bogus, but if it does not honor a takedown, it can be named as a party to any eventual lawsuit over the alleged infringement). But when the users went to court to fight for their right to publish, WordPress got their backs -- bravo!

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WordPress honours fraudulent copyright complaint from UK "straight rights" group, cooperates in censorship

A British anti-gay group called "Straight Pride UK" sent a press-release to a British blogger, expressing their admiration for Vladimir Putin's anti-gay laws, and the measures taken in African countries to criminalise gay people (Robert Mugabe has threatened to decapitate gay people). Afterwards, they changed their mind about the interview and sent a fraudulent DMCA takedown notice to WordPress.com, the blogger's host. WordPress -- who should have seen that there was no possible copyright violation in the interview -- caved and cooperated in censoring the post.

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Rotolight sends fraudulent takedown notice to censor unfavorable review


Den Lennie posted a video to Vimeo that compared the Rotolight Anova to a competing product, the Kino Flo Celeb, and found the Rotolight product inferior. Rotolight responded by filing a perjurious, fraudulent DMCA takedown notice with Vimeo (who, to its shame, honored it), claiming that the review violated Rotolight's trademark. This is pure copyfraud: first, because the DMCA is only available as a remedy for copyright infringement (not trademark infringement) and second, because product reviews are not trademark infringements, full stop.

Using a Copyright Infringement claim to shut down the opposition (Thanks, Dave!)

TV station that aired racist joke-names for Asiana crash pilots now misusing copyright to censor evidence of its stupidity


KTVU, the San Francisco TV station that displayed a bunch of jokey, racist pilot names on a newscast about the Asiana crash at SFO, is now misusing copyright law to censor clips that record its mistake for posterity. They say that "everyone has seen the clips" and that it was an "accidental mistake" (as opposed to all those deliberate mistakes), and that this somehow justifies multiple acts of copyfraud against services around the Internet and their users. As always, Mike Masnick Techdirt brings the scathing critique:

First things first. If you're not taking it down for copyright reasons, then why the hell are you using the DMCA takedown system? Noah H. Webster, it's got "COPYRIGHT" right in the frickin' name! Wouldn't a polite note to the YouTube account holders stating the above accomplish the same thing (i.e., a minimal level of compliance)?

As for the arguing it should be removed because "most people have seen it," I don't even know where to go with that. Continuing to show the video isn't "offensive." Only the original act is. Pretending this has something to do with making amends for an earlier error is just kind of sad, especially when the station manager tries to drag viewers into his Shame Circle with "thoughtless repetition of the video by others."

TV Station Issues DMCA Takedowns On Videos Of Its Fake Asian Pilot Names Debacle

New law will fix the DMCA, make jailbreaking, unlocking and interoperability legal - your help needed!

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) have introduced a landmark technology bill called The Unlocking Technology Act of 2013 [PDF] that reforms the way our devices our regulated. It fixes a glaring hole in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), changing the rules so that you are allowed to remove restrictions and locks from your devices provided that you don't violate other laws (as it stands, removing a lock, even to do something legal, like installing unapproved software on your iPhone or change carriers, is banned by the DMCA). The bill clarifies that security researchers don't violate the law by publishing information about flaws in the devices we trust and depend upon, and makes it legal to break "lock-out codes" that stop mechanics from fixing cars.

This is a watershed moment in 21st century technology law, and it's desperately needed. Every day that goes by sees us more dependent on devices that are increasingly designed to be as opaque as possible -- devices made by companies whose business-model treats customers as adversaries who undermine profits when they turn to third parties for software, repairs and services. It is only the presence of the terrible rules in the DMCA that makes this business attractive -- without these rules, technology locks would be quickly broken in the marketplace and competition -- as well as transparency -- would thrive. If you want to be sure that the devices that fill your rooms, your pockets -- and increasingly, your body -- are well-behaved and trustworthy, please support this bill.

FixTheDMCA.org and a broad coalition of groups are calling on Americans to write to their representatives in support of this bill. Until now, almost all technology activism has been reactive, fighting against bad rules. We finally have the chance to make some good rules, to establish a positive agenda for freedom, trustworthiness and transparency in the devices that form the nervous system of the 21st century.


"The Unlocking Technology Act of 2013" has 3 parts:

- It amends Section 1201 to make it clear that it is completely legal to "circumvent" if there is no copyright infringement.

- It legalizes tools and services that enable circumvention as long as they are intended for non-infringing uses.

- It changes Copyright Law to specify that unlocking cell phones is not copyright infringement.


You can read the full text of the bill here.

Finally, there's a bill in Congress that legalizes cell phone unlocking and fixes the DMCA.

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

Groups across America call on Congress to fix DMCA

Boing Boing is a co-signatory to an open letter (PDF) to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, calling on them to fix the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's ban on jailbreaking and unlocking your devices. This laudable effort was spearheaded by Public Knowledge:

"It is important for Congress to remember that people are waiting on them to solve this problem once and for all. We've seen that Congress wants to ensure that consumers can unlock their phones, but consumers, entrepreneurs, academics, and public interest organizations all agree that we need lasting solutions to make sure that people can use their wireless devices without fearing copyright laws.

"A minor change to the law is all it would take to end this controversy for good. Beyond that, though, this situation shows there are deeper problems with the anticircumvention provisions of the DMCA, and the time is ripe for hearings investigating the harms that come from this law."

Public Knowledge Asks Congress for a Permanent Fix to Cell Phone Unlocking

Policy Laundering: how the US Trade Rep is trading away America's right to unlock its devices

Some of America's worst copyright laws were passed through a profoundly undemocratic process called "policy laundering." This is what happens when an administration can't get Congress to pass a bad copyright law, so the US Trade Representative instead signs the US up to international treaties requiring America to pass the unpopular law. The 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act is one of the policy-laundered laws that has done enormous harm to the country.

Now the USTR is busy again, signing America up to treaties that undermine attempts by Congress to make phone unlocking and jailbreaking legal. America's official representative is going to other countries and telling them, "If you want to do business with America, you must ban jailbreaking and phone unlocking, and in return, we promise to keep those activities on the banned list, too."

In other words, America's trade reps are cramming a massively unpopular, harmful policy down the throats of its trading partners, while simultaneously locking America into the same policy, undermining Congress at the same time.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation wants you to take action on this. Maira Sutton and Parker Higgins have written a good article explaining policy laundering in depth.

U.S. wireless carriers claim that unlocking your phone to change carriers is illegal under Section 1201 of the DMCA, which prohibits the removal of digital rights management (DRM) technology. Section 1201 of the DMCA also set up a triennial rulemaking procedure, whereby the public can ask for exceptions to the rule that you cannot remove DRM from your devices. Phone unlocking was not approved in the last round of DMCA rulemaking, raising the specter of lawsuits against phone owners.

In light of public outrage over this, several members of Congress have introduced legislation to legalize phone unlocking. Already, opponents are saying that an effective narrow fix—a permanent phone-unlocking exemption from Section 1201—may violate the Korea-US trade agreement. Regardless of whether such a claim is true, such chatter can be enough to slow down the pace of change, and make any political reformers of the DMCA more cautious than they might otherwise be.

Big Content interest groups like the Motion Picture Association of America, Recording Industry Association of America, and International Federation of the Phonographic Industry—just to name a few—continue to have a strong influence on US trade negotiators. They are lobbying hard for our government to promote international policies to strengthen their control over how and when the public can interact and experience their creative products.

How the US Trade Rep Ratchets Up Worldwide Copyright Laws That Could Keep Your Devices Locked Forever

GoPro sends fraudulent DMCA notice to site that ran a negative review of its products


GoPro, manufacturers of small digital video cameras, sent a Digital Millennium Copyright Notice to a site called DigitalRev, which had compared GoPro's latest camera to Sony's rival Action Video Camera, and concluded that the Sony camera was much better. When GoPro was called on its censorship, the company said,

The letter that was posted next to the review on DigitalRev was not sent in response to the review. Obviously, we welcome editorial reviews of our products. This letter was sent because DigitalRev is not an authorized reseller of GoPro products and they were using images and had incorrect branding and representation of our product in their online commerce store. As part of our program – we ask merchants who are selling our product to use authorized images. That is why DigitalRev was contacted. But – our letter did not clearly communicate this and that is something we will correct.

However, the DMCA cannot be used to remove alleged trademark violations. As the name implies, the DMCA concerns itself with copyright, not trademark (that's why it's the DMCA and not the DMTA), and it is nothing less than fraud to send a DMCA notice over an alleged trademark violation. In other words, GoPro violated the law, and then offered a lame-ass, weak-ola excuse for it. You don't need a trademark holder's permission to use its marks in a review, nor do you need to be an authorized reseller to review products.

As GoPro surely knows.

As a reminder, apparently Sony's Action Video Camera kicks the GoPro camera's ass.

GoPro Uses DMCA to Take Down Article Comparing Its Camera with Rival (Thanks, Paul!)