Annabelle Narey hired a London construction firm called BuildTeam to do some work, which she found very unsatisfactory (she blames them for a potentially lethal roof collapse in a bedroom); so she did what many of us do when we're unhappy with a business: she wrote an online complaint, and it was joined by other people who said that they had hired BuildTeam and been unhappy with the work.
She posted her complaint to Mumsnet, the hugely popular, woman-centric site. BuildTeam claimed that Narey's message contained 11 different libels, which she disputes. After a long wrangle (Narey says BuildTeam sent staffers to her home to wave printouts of the complaint at her and request that she remove it), Mumsnet and Narey declined to take the complaint down.
But it's disappeared anyway: in April (three years after Narey's post), a mysterious content-farm posted a copy of Narey's post, then filed a complaint with Google saying that Narey's post infringed its copyright. Google delisted the entire thread, making it invisible to potential BuildTeam customers.
The duplicate post on the content-farm was signed by "Douglas Bush" of South Bend, Indiana, but the site is registered to Muhammed Ashraf of Faisalabad, Pakistan.
Mumsnet, anxious not to lose their Google rank, deleted Narey's post. BuildTeam says that they are just as mystified as anyone about this mysterious American-Pakistani website that had such a tactically useful complaint about its services to Londoners, which just happened to solve a reputation problem that BuildTeam had struggled with for three years.
This kind of copyfraud is about to get a lot worse: The EU is poised to mandate copyright filters for all online media. Under this scheme, the Muhammed Ashrafs of the world could ensure that certain blocks of text never showed up on any website or service, by pre-emptively registering the copyright in them.
Which is bad enough when it's copyfraud being committed by sleazy offshore reputation-launderers, but the political uses are much scarier: how many times has an election turned on a critical piece of media being released to the public a few days before the polls, and going viral? Under the EU's Article 13 proposal, politicians could avoid this fatal embarrassment by wielding the EU's omnipotent cyberweapon to pre-emptively censor any potential disclosure.
MEPs will go to a key vote on Article 13 on July 5. Save Your Internet has everything you need to contact them and tell them to protect our public discourse from criminals, fraudsters, political opportunists and trolls.
Quite why Douglas Bush or Muhammed Ashraf would be reviewing a builder based in Clapham is not explained in “his” post. BuildTeam says it has no idea why Narey’s review was reposted, but that it had nothing to do with it. “At no material times have we any knowledge of why this false DCMA take down was filed, nor have we contracted any reputation management firms, or any individual or a group to take such action on our behalf. Finally, and in conjunction to the above, we have never spoken with a ‘Douglas Bush,’ or a ‘Muhammed Ashraf.’”
Whoever sent the takedown request, Mumsnet was forced to make a choice: either leave the post up, and accept being delisted; fight the delisting and open themselves up to the same legal threats made against Google; or delete the post themselves, and ask the post to be relisted on the search engine.
“Although we understood the user’s argument that something odd had happened, we weren’t in a position to explain what - our hope was that by zapping one post we might ensure that the thread remained listed.”
Mumsnet deleted the post, and asked Google to reinstate the thread, but a month later, they received final word from the search firm: “‘Google has decided not to take action based on our policies concerning content removal and reinstatement’ which (it turned out) meant that they had delisted the entire thread”.
Revealed: How copyright law is being misused to remove material from the internet [Alex Hern/The Guardian]