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EFF updates the Takedown Hall of Shame

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has published its latest "Takedown Hall of Shame" installment, listing three companies that used baseless and stupid legal threats to censor the Internet. The current crop includes Kern's Kitchen in Louisville, which claims a trademark on the common term "Derby Pie" and threatens bloggers who post their family recipes for the classic desert -- they also target WordPress.com for their threats (one victim changed the name of the recipe to "Mean Spirited Censorship Pie").

Another inductee is Time Warner Cable, who went after a critic who put up a site making fun of the company's terrible customer service, trying to get its YouTube, Twitter and other social media sites taken down.

Finally, there's Fox, which earned a place in the Hall of Shame by sending out fraudulent takedown notices over my bestselling novel Homeland, swearing on pain of perjury that it represented me (it doesn't).

Takedown Hall of Shame Inductions, May 2013

Suburban Express bus-line sends bullying, cowardly legal threat to Reddit, discovers Streisand Effect


A convicted cybersquatter named Dennis Toeppen now runs the Suburban Express bus service that is used to take students home from university in Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa to Chicago. Suburban Express attracts many online complaints from riders who object to the company's policy of fining riders $100 (charged automatically to their ticket-purchase credit-card) if they present the wrong ticket when they board, and other, similar policies -- and who allege that the company hunts down its online critics and bans them from riding.

But Toeppen and Suburban Express went too far when it threatened a volunteer Reddit moderator with a defamation suit for failing to police the company's critics on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign subreddit, where a banner read, "Don't ride Suburban Express! They're likely to sue you, have terrible reviews, and also this." The banner implied that an anonymous Reddit commenter who accused Suburban Express critics of of being "lonely virgins" was run by Toeppen or his representatives.

The ensuing negative publicity (and a stern note from Ken "Popehat" White) frightened the bullying, cowardly company into withdrawing its threat. But with any luck, the company's public conduct will warn its potential customers away and make the offers presented by its rivals more attractive. If I was running a competing bus service, I'd be buying ad space on the subreddit in question, running ads that say, "Ride with us, we don't fine you, we don't ban you for complaining, and we won't threaten to sue you if you aren't happy!"

The company has developed a bad reputation online, with reviewers on Yelp and commenters on reddit sharing stories of what they claim are the company’s cutthroat business practices. For example, the company's ticket policy includes a "ticket fraud" clause that hits riders who hand the wrong ticket to a driver with a $100 fine, charged to the credit card used to purchase their ticket. "In the event that ticket is used to obtain transportation on another day or at another time," the company's policy statement reads, "or to or from a Chicago area stop other than printed on your ticket, you will be charged full fare for the trip you actually rode PLUS $100 penalty. You will also be permanently banned." The company also has a history of suing passengers for violating its terms and conditions—it has filed 125 tort and contract damage lawsuits against passengers this year alone, according to a report from a student newspaper.

The terms of service don't include not speaking ill of the company online, but apparently they might as well. Some commenters have accused the company's owner, Dennis Toeppen, of hunting down negative reviewers and banning them from the company's buses.

The Internet cauldron of opinion boiled over for Suburban Express after an incident on March 31. University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign graduate student Jeremy Leval took to Facebook, describing a driver he saw make derogatory comments to an international student who was having difficulty understanding him—“If you don’t understand English, you don’t belong at the University of Illinois or any ‘American’ University," he reportedly told her.


Update: Aaand here it is: a rival company, Peoria Charter, is advertising to Suburban Express customers with a campaign that stresses that they don't sue their customers. They're offering $2 off if you book tickets on their coaches with the promo code "nolawsuits" -- thanks, Murph!

Express to Internet Hate: Bus company threatens redditor with lawsuit [Sean Gallagher/Ars Technica]

Med Express uses broken Ohio law to silence critics who say true things

Are you a lawyer in Ohio? If so, your pro-bono services are urgently needed to defeat a trollish, bullying legal action from Med Express, a company that sells refurb medical equipment on eBay. The company is suing one of its customers for providing accurate, negative feedback on eBay's comment system, trying to establish a precedent that saying true things on the Internet should be illegal if it harms your business. They're relying on the fact that Ohio has no anti-SLAPP laws -- laws designed to protect people against the use of litigation threats to extort silence from critics -- and have admitted that, while they have no case, they believe that they can use the expense of dragging their victims into an Ohio court to win anyway. Ken from Popehat has more:

This is the ugly truth of the legal system: litigants and lawyers can manipulate it to impose huge expense on defendants no matter what the merits of their complaint. Censors can abuse the system to make true speech so expensive and risky that citizens will be silenced. Regrettably, Ohio does not have an anti-SLAPP statute, so Med Express and James Amodio can behave in this matter with relative impunity. If Ms. Nicholls has to incur ruinous legal expenses to vindicate her rights, the bad guys win, whatever the ultimate outcome of the case.

Unless, that is, you will help Amy Nicholls stand up — not for $1.44, but for the freedom to speak the truth without being abused by a broken legal system.

If you are an attorney practicing in Medina County, Ohio, please consider offering pro bono assistance. Mr. Levy will be coordinating assistance, and I can tell you from personal experience that it is a privilege to work with him. Help give Med Express and James Amodio the legal curb-stomping they so richly deserve. Justice, karma, and the esteem of free speech supporters everywhere will be your reward.

If you aren't an attorney, you can help, too. Med Express should not be permitted to act in this manner without consequence. The natural and probable consequence is widespread publication of their conduct. Help by publicizing the case on Facebook, Twitter, on your blog, on forums, and on every other venue available to you. Ask yourself — would you want to do business with a company that abuses the legal system to extract revenge against customers who leave truthful negative feedback?

The Popehat Signal: Stand Against Rank Thuggery In Ohio

French spies demand removal of a Wikipedia entry, threaten random Wikipedia admin in France when they don't get their way


The French spy agency Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intérieur inexplicably flipped out about a longstanding Wikipedia entry on a military base (station hertzienne militaire de Pierre sur Haute) filled with public domain, widely known information. They tried to get the Wikimedia Foundation to delete it, but wouldn't explain what, exactly, they objected to in the entry. When the Wikimedia Foundation rebuffed them, they picked out a random volunteer Wikipedia admin living in France -- a person who had never had anything to do with the post in question -- and threatened him with jail unless he used his admin privileges to delete the post.

The Foundation is trying to support the their volunteer as best as they can. Meantime, the post about station hertzienne militaire de Pierre sur Haute's pageviews have shot from a couple per day to 9000+.

The Foundation takes allegations of national security threats seriously and investigated the matter accordingly. However, it was not readily apparent what specific information the DCRI could consider classified or otherwise high-risk. Without further information, we could not understand why the DCRI believes information in the article is classified. Almost all of the information in the article is cited to publicly-available sources. In fact, the article’s contents are largely consistent with a publicly available video in which Major Jeansac, the chief of the military station in question, gives a detailed interview and tour of the station to a reporter. This video is now cited in the article. Furthermore, the page was originally created on July 24, 2009 and has been continually available and edited since. We do not know why the DCRI believes that the article has suddenly become an urgent threat now.

We requested more information from the DCRI, such as which specific sentences or sections they believed to contain classified information. Unfortunately, the DCRI refused to provide any more specific detail and reaffirmed their demand that the entire article be deleted. Therefore, the Foundation was forced to refuse their request pending receipt of more information that we could use to fully evaluate their claim.

On 30 March 2013, we discovered that the DCRI, evidently dissatisfied with the Foundation’s response, contacted a volunteer with administrative rights (a “sysop”) who resides in France. This sysop is not responsible for the hosting of the content on Wikipedia, had no role in the creation of the article, and is not part of the Wikimedia Foundation. As we understand it, the sysop attempted to explain his limited role as a volunteer and directed them back to the Foundation’s legal department.

Legal and Community Advocacy/Statement on France

(Image: A general view of the military base of Pierre sur Haute, located in the Monts du Forez. It's a dependency of the Base Aerienne 942 of Lyon-Mont Verdun, GDL/CC BY-SA image by S. Rimbaud)

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!)

Copyright trolls facing legal sanctions for in-court fraud file defamation suits against identity theft victim and online critics

Prenda Law is the notorious, scandal-haunted copyright trolling lawfirm that represents various pornography producers, sending extortionate letters to people allegedly detected illegally downloading videos, demanding money to go away -- the alternative being to have your name linked with embarrassing pornography titles in a public record forever.

Prenda made headlines lately for claiming that it was working for a man called Alan Cooper, allegedly the CEO of offshore companies that had hired Prenda to send legal threats on their behalf. Only one problem: Cooper says he has nothing to do with the companies or Prenda. When they were caught in this bit of alleged in-court identity theft, Prenda's lawyers complained that their judge was being mean to them and tried to get him taken off their case. When this gambit failed, they tried several others -- everything, in fact, except for admitting what seems obvious on its face: they'd misrepresented the facts to the court and stolen Cooper's identity.

In my opinion, Prenda is a shitshow from stem to stern. From absurd claims like the existence of an adolescent male in a household is proof that illegal porn downloading must be taking place to weird legal theories about BitTorrent users being in conspiracy with one another despite never having met, communicated, and not being aware of one another, every one of Prenda's actions smacks of utter desperation.

But Prenda's desperation has reached new depths with its latest gambit: filing three defamation lawsuits each against people who called them out for their bad behavior, including Alan Cooper (the man whose identity was allegedly stolen in Prenda's court filings) and his lawyer; and, apparently online news sites like Fight Copyright Trolls (who've tirelessly chronicled Prenda's misdeeds), and message-board commenters who expressed shock at the bad behavior on exhibit in Prenda's deeds.

This desperate move comes mere days before a California hearing on sanctions for Prenda's counsel. Hilariously, in para 104, the lawyers for Prenda (who have given numerous grandstanding interviews to the national and global press) claim that they are not public figures. They also characterize countless instances of obvious opinion and hyperbole as libelous. And they are clearly fuzzy on the liability for libel on message boards, and the limitations thereof, as set out in the Communications Decency Act.

This feels to me like a last attempt to punish Prenda's victims for daring to refuse to be victimized, a final shot before the inevitable court sanctions, bankruptcy, and potential jail time. It's the kind of wickedness that makes it hard to believe in humanity's essential morality. My goodness, it will be delightful to roast marshmallows over Prenda's funeral pyre when that glorious day comes.

Copyright trolls Prenda Law, Paul Duffy, and John Steele commence three lawsuits v. Paul Godfread, Alan Cooper and our community (Thanks, That Anonymous Coward!)

Official City of Melbourne IP address used for biased edits to Wikipedia page for Occupy Melbourne prior to local election


Someone using the City of Melbourne's IP block has been introducing biased edits to the Wikipedia page for Occupy Melbourne, attempting to erase the record of council's resolve to remove Occupy, and trying to smear the Occupy protest by removing the adjective "peaceful" from the page. The edits were made anonymously, but Wikipedia publishes IP addresses for anonymous contributors, and the IP address in question, 203.26.235.14, is registered to the city.

Proof of attacks on Occupy Melbourne Wikipedia page, attempts to change history and evidence in on-going federal court cases. More importantly the edits were made during the last week of MCC’s 2012 elections. A quick tidy up of MCC’s image just before the election. Anyone who didn’t think Melbourne City Council (MCC) was (and still is) opposed to Occupy Melbourne either has their head in the sand, is plainly lying or delusional.

The smoking gun, proof Melbourne City Council is behind the IP address 203.26.235.14 editing Occupy Melbourne Wikipedia page. The timing of this edit is far from coincidental. 21st October, the one year anniversary of the brutal city square eviction and just days before the 2012 Melbourne city council elections, where Robert Doyle sought and gained re-election.

Melbourne City Council cyber war against Occupy Melbourne (Thanks, Occupy Melbourne!)

Indian diploma mill uses Internet censorship to shut down critics

@kanwarsation sez, "Using a muzzling Court Order under India's badly written IT Act against the Department of Telecom, the IIPM has blocked articles critical of them, including satire on humour sites, and commentary on news sites as well. Most shocking, they have blocked the link to an official order declaring that they are not a university, which was posted on the website of the University Grants Commission, a government body that looks at higher education. The Indian Institute of Planning & Management is an over-priced MBA school that basically allows in anyone who writes a big enough cheque. There has been continuing criticism of their methods and quality, and of their flamboyant Founder/Chairman Arindam Chaudhuri." Cory

Publisher launches $3,000,000 suit against academic librarian who criticized its books

An academic librarian at McMaster University wrote that "The Edwin Mellen Press was a poor publisher with a weak list of low-quality books, scarcely edited, cheaply produced, but at exorbitant prices," a point of view supported by survey data. The Edwin Mellen Press responded with a libel suit, naming both McMaster and the librarian, and seeking $3,000,000 in damages. McMaster has been publicly silent on the matter, but it deserves wider attention.

I've had my share of negative reviews, including some that I thought were materially unfair. Though I earn my living as a writer and a publisher, I can't imagine using the law to silence my critics. But Mellen has a history of suing and threatening people who criticize its products.

No one likes bad reviews; but Mellen’s approach is not to disprove the assessment, pledge to improve its quality, or reconsider its business-model. It is to slam McMaster University and its librarian with a three million dollar lawsuit in the Ontario Superior Court, alleging libel and claiming massive aggravated and exemplary damages. The matter is pending.

The lawsuit is threadbare. With respect to the parts of Mellen’s list with which I am familiar, the librarian’s statements noted above are all true and the quality judgments are correct. (And this survey suggests that would be a common assessment.) Moreover, on the facts in this situation, it is obviously fair comment, and public policy considerations strongly suggest that university librarians enjoy a qualified privilege with respect to their assessments of the quality of the books they consider buying for their universities. It would be a disaster for universities, students, researchers and the taxpayer if aggrieved publishers were permitted to silence discussions of the quality of their publications by threats of lawsuit.

Shocking attack on academic freedom at McMaster by Edwin Mellen Press? (Thanks, Jill!)

Website copies articles documenting scandal of disgraced cancer researcher, then uses DMCA to get the originals censored

Retraction Watch, a website that documents the retraction of scientific papers, has had a series of articles about disgraced cancer researcher Anil Potti abruptly censored by WordPress in response to a DMCA copyright complaint from a dodgy Indian website that appears to have copied all the articles to its own site, then complained to WordPress on the grounds that Retraction Watch had copied it:

One of the cases they followed was Anil Potti, a cancer researcher who, at the time, worked at Duke University. Potti first fell under scrutiny for embellishing his resume, but the investigation quickly expanded as broader questions were raised about his research. As the investigation continued, a number of Potti's papers ended up being retracted as accusations of falsified data were raised. Eventually, three clinical trials that were started based on Potti's data were stopped entirely. Although federal investigations of Potti's conduct are still in progress, he eventually resigned from Duke.

In all, Retraction Watch published 22 stories on the implosion of Potti's career. In fact, three of the top four Google results for his name all point to the Retraction Watch blog (the fourth is his Wikipedia entry). Despite the widespread attention to his misbehavior, Potti managed to get a position at the University of North Dakota (where he worked earlier in his career). Meanwhile, he hired a reputation management company, which dutifully went about creating websites with glowing things to say about the doctor.

This morning, however, 10 of the Retraction Watch posts vanished. An e-mail Oransky received explained why: an individual from "Utter [sic] Pradesh" named Narendra Chatwal claimed to be a senior editor at NewsBulet.In, "a famous news firm in India." Chatwal said the site only publishes work that is "individually researched by our reporters," yet duplicates of some of the site's material appeared on Retraction Watch. Therefore, to protect his copyright, he asked that the WordPress host pull the material. It complied.

The Ars Technica article skirts outright accusation, but makes a clear inference that a "reputation management company" committed fraud as part of a campaign to rehabilitate the reputation of Potti.

One important thing to note is that WordPress isn't obliged to respond to DMCA takedowns, but if it fails to do so, it could be jointly sued, along with its users, over the alleged infringement. In theory, though, WordPress could decide that these takedown requests don't pass the giggle test, reinstate the posts, and tell the company that sent in the notices to sue and be damned.

Site plagiarizes blog posts, then files DMCA takedown on originals [John Timmer/Ars Technica] (via Making Light)

Irish town councillor tries to get state-owned piece of art removed from public gallery


Niall de Buitlear sez,

A member of Athlone Town Council is trying to have a state-owned piece of art removed from a public art gallery. The artwork by Shane Cullen features transcripts of messages smuggled in and out of the Long Kesh Prison by members of the IRA in the late 70s and early 80s. The work is part of the collection of the Irish Museum of Modern Art and was made in the mid 90s.

Cllr Mark Cooney, of the main government party Fine Gael, tabled a motion calling for the removal of the work from the Luan Gallery, Athlone. Cllr Cooney, compared the work to a piece glorifying Hitler "extolling the merits of exterminating the Jewish population". Cllr Gabrielle McFadden also of Fine Gael supported Cllr Cooney saying that public galleries should not show politically contentious art.

Independent Cllr Sheila Buckley Byrne suggested the matter be referred to the board of Athlone Art and Heritage of which she and at least one other Councillor are members. The Councillors voted in favour of this proposal.

Attempt to Remove Artwork from Luan Gallery, Athlone (Thanks, Niall!)

UK Pirate Party drops its Pirate Bay proxy after legal bullying; international Pirate Parties take up the slack

The UK Pirate Party abandoned its fight against the BPI -- Britain's answer to the RIAA -- over its proxy for reaching The Pirate Bay, which is blocked by court order in the UK. The Party's executive had been personally threatened with legal action by the BPI and couldn't afford to risk home and family fighting this fight. But other Pirate Parties took up the slack: new, unblocked Pirate Bay proxies have been established by Pirate Party Luxembourg and Pirate Party Argentina:

“Due to pressure from lobbyists, politicians all over Europe are incited to expand the censorship infrastructure to prevent freedom of expression, the right to information and the free exchange of culture. With our proxy, we help to circumvent the Internet censorship of European countries,” Luxembourg Pirate Party President Sven Clement says.

The Argentinian Pirate Party is sending a similar message, and invites those who can’t access The Pirate Bay due to blockades to use their proxy.

“We wish the UK Pirate Party best of luck in their continued fight for free access to culture and knowledge. We have put up our own Pirate Bay proxy which is accessible from anywhere in the world, including the UK and other places where it has been censored.”

Pirate Bay Censorship Backfires as New Proxies Bloom [TorrentFreak]

See also: UK record industry spokesman wants you to know why his employers are going after Pirate Party execs personally

Safeway: "Stop photographing our horrible, copyrighted cakes"


CakeWrecks reports that a local Safeway bakery has banned all photography in its bakery department, in a desperate, misguided bid to prevent its horrific creations from appearing on CakeWrecks. Safeway employees are to tell potential photogs that its cakes are copyrighted, and may not be photographed.

Today's post requires a special intro, so here's Dara G. to explain:

"My local [CENSORED*] bakery has this new policy - not strictly enforced, but kinda enforced - NO PHOTOS in the bakery department. None, nada. Per an ex-employee there, upper management is afraid that one of that store's specific cakes will be posted on 'that bad cake site.' Per what they tell you in the store, their cakes are 'all copyright protected.'"

(*Store name omitted. Because I care.)

She goes on to say:

"Apparently this new 'no photos' thing came about after y'all had posted their 'Popcorn' cakes on the site."

Ways To Play It Safe

UK record industry demands expansion of the Great Firewall of Britain

The British Phonographic Institute -- UK equivalents to the RIAA -- are demanding an expansion to the existing Internet censorship regime in Britain, which already blocks access to The Pirate Bay on a national level. Now they want three more sites -- Fenopy, H33t and Kickass Torrents -- added to the blacklist.

The Pirate Bay may be blocked, but the Pirate Party UK proxy for it is one of the top 250 sites in the UK, and its popularity is climbing. I'd never heard of the three torrent sites named by the BPI before, but they sound interesting. For as long as I can remember, anything the BPI doesn't want me to see has turned out to be awesome.

The BPI got a court order to block the Pirate Bay. But they're looking to get ISPs to voluntarily censor these other sites. So far, the ISPs have told them that they'll only participate in the national censorwall if a court tells them to.

From the BBC:

Jim Killock, a campaigner with the Open Rights Group, argued that consumers' interests were not being properly represented.

"Web blocking is an extreme response," he told the BBC.

"If courts are being asked to block websites they need to be taking into consideration the rights of users and any legitimate usage of those sites.

"It isn't clear whether a conversation between a judge, ISPs and rights holders is going to sufficiently represent the needs of users."

More piracy sites faced with blocking as BPI contacts UK ISPs (via /.)

UK website taken down by spurious copyright complaint regarding UK ultra-right groups

Richard Bartholomew maintains a thoughtful, well-informed British site about religion and religious extremists, as well as hate groups. His site was taken down last night, apparently in response to a US DMCA copyright complaint from Charlie Flowers, who had allegedly posted remarks about a debate between the English Defence League (a UK rightwing extremist group) and the Muslim Debate Initiative, and concluded them with "a legal notice forbidding anyone from 'reproducing' what he had written." According to Bartholomew, Flowers used this as the basis for a DMCA complain to Bartholomew's ISP, objecting to a 16-word quotation." Bartholomew writes,

If we take seriously Flowers' claim that no-one should be allowed to quote (or even to report indirectly) what he has written, then there isn't much hope for the future of any kind of discussion or reportage on the internet. Apparently, the only course of action that my webhost will accept is a "counter notice” from me, which has to contain my address and which will then be passed on to Flowers. If Flowers does not respond to that within two weeks, then the disputed content can be restored. My host is interested only in "liability”, not in the merits or otherwise of the complaint. Further, the DMCA process is concerned only with establishing ownership; it does not appear to take account of fair usage or the public interest.

Of course, if Flowers really thought he had a case, he'd be suing me personally for copyright infringement in the UK – where we both live – rather than misusing an American law to go after my webhost. It's a typically desperate and unprincipled act by a thug, and it makes a mockery of his free speech pose in relation to the EDL/MDI debate. Al Andalusi ought to be embarrassed by him.

Blog Post Removed Following Vexatious Copyright Complaint in USA - Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion: Auxiliary Site (Thanks, Feorag!)