Monday, 27 February 2012

Censorship Smensorship: DMCA Abuse Is Rife

Did you know that tech blog Techdirt had an article about the SOPA/PIPA proposed legislation removed from the Google search results by way of a DMCA takedown notice? Neither did blog owner Michael Masnick. The same thing happened to TorrentFreak's article on's seizure. Isn't that an abuse of a system set up to protect copyright holders from infringement? That's what the problem is with the current system: it can and does get abused, and more often than you'd think.

DMCA Takedown Notice: how it works

Amit Agarwal of Digital Inspiration says,

If you discover your content published illegally on another website without permission or attribution, the first step is to send a polite email to the owner of the website.

If the website owner fails to respond to your email requesting removal of plagiarized content, it may be time for you to send a formal DMCA letter to his web hosting company and also to his advertising partner(s) (like Google Adsense) that are helping him monetize content which is actually owned by you.

While web hosting firms and online advertising companies will immediately comply to your requests, they will also ask you to send them DMCA notices in a proper format with all the necessary details and proof.

So that's what you should do. In theory, plagiarized and infringed people issue takedown notices to the offending parties and the disputed content is removed from the search engines, then, hopefully, from the website in question.

How they are abused

Believe it or not there are some horrible practices and dirty tricks that ensue as rival companies perjure themselves in a petty effort to unseat their "enemies." Tech blog Techdirt had a key anti-SOPA post removed from the search engine results on the say-so of a perve-merchant's agent, Armovore, who also got a post about the takedown of by Torrentfreak pulled down. Although this is obviously illegal, it's incredibly prevalent. This disturbing message board on Google shows the extent of the problem on YouTube, where the GoDigital Media Group have been filing false DMCA claims so they can rob money from legitimate users by monetizing their accounts and taking the cash for themselves. As I said, it's illegal to do this and there are consequences for perjury. Here's the wording of a typical DMCA takedown notice

Trusted User submission.

Participants in the Trusted Copyright Removal Program have previously agreed to these

I have a good faith belief that use of thecopyrighted materials described in all notifications submitted through the Program as allegedly infringing is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.

The information in all notifications submitted through the Program will be accurate, and I swear, under penalty of perjury, that with respect to those notifications, I am the copyright owner or am authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.

How they get away with it

So you want to get away with perjury and dirty tricks? Do a shoddy job. First of all, you've got to be careful who you target with the notice. Armovore went behind Techdirt's back by going straight to Google with the notice. Michael Masnick knew nothing about it till he searched his own website to find an old article. Given the sheer volume of these, it's hard to check each one personally so Google usually take it as read that the plaintiff is being honest about it. The consequences are unfortunate because the guilty until proven innocent ethos favours the alleged copyright holder, not the accused. At least Armovore apologised, but I'm concerned that this was triggered by an automated keyword search. Commenters identified the words as "innocent," "high, and "torrent," and Armovore have promised to use people to check for possible infringements in future. Meanwhile, they've been diligently working away to restore wrongly-removed URLS to the search engine results, presumably using their dodgy spider. One commenter has provided useful information about how to keep an eye out for wrongful notices by using Google Webmaster tools.

What they say about it

Like all copyright maximalists and their glove puppets, Armovore acts like a kicked puppy when confronted with their misdeeds.


First of all, Jeff from Armovore apologized and explained that he was using a spider to search on certain keywords and Techdirt came up because it often mentions torrents and innocent people. Then he said that the URL had never been disabled, which is a bit disingenuous when you consider that disabling the URL wasn't at issue; the bogus takedown notice that removed it from Google's search results was. You've got to love it when they change the subject and cry victim when they're guilty as sin. In another comment, he announced that he is human, and humans make mistakes. Yeah, the mistake of not checking before firing off a DMCA takedown notice, then sending it only to Google and not to Techdirt. I call censorship.


Then John weighed in claiming that his service is free and in beta, there are bugs in the system, and that his company has issued numerous takedown requests. Uh, excuse me? He's firing off real takedown notices using an automated system that he's testing — under penalty of perjury? What the heck is going on there? Go on, visit his website: the home page is blank and instructs you to email That's it, that's all they've got. Amateurs! How can they do business with a website like that? Are they even authorized to act for the perve-merchants they're issuing all the DMCA notices for?

John continues by stating that from now on he's not going to use SEO keywords but is "targeting known pirating locations," which probably means The Pirate Bay. Oh, goodie.

What now?

I'll be keeping an eye out to see what happens next. Michael Masnick is considering his legal options amid calls from his commenters to sue. Meanwhile, some commenters are pointing out that the wording of the DMCA notice demands that you own the copyright, and unless Armovore are a front for the perve-merchants whose copyright they're allegedly defending, that's even more perjury. Makes me wonder what Google considers "a trusted source," given that Armovore are apparently asking them to put the removed URLs back into their search results — presumably before anyone else finds out about them and their dodgy practices.

I'll give them this; at least they came in to apologise, but it's not enough. They're hard to get hold of and are therefore unaccountable. Would it actually be possible to take them to court? I've never heard of anybody being extradited for perjury.

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