Feeds

How to gag your enemies using the DMCA

Games people play

Security for virtualized datacentres

The Register received our first DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) take-down notice in September.

We had in good faith published a photograph supplied to us by the subject of an otherwise uncontroversial article. A few days later, one very annoyed photographer emailed us claiming copyright for the picture and demanded its removal, or a fee.

We asked the article's author to check his claims. We established that the angry emailer was indeed the copyright owner and duly removed the photograph.

But we were not quick enough for him. In the meantime, he had fired off a DMCA take-down notice to our webhost in the US. The company in turn sent us a letter telling us to remove the photograph - which we had already deleted - and set us a deadline to confirm in writing that we had done so.

Otherwise it would "suspend network access to the server hosting the website". The deadline was 2AM GMT, not a time when our techies in Edinburgh are usually at work. A suspension would have affected all our servers - including those hosted in the UK, as well as the US.

So our entire site could have been closed for business, all because of one photograph - which admittedly was not ours to republish. This did not strike us an entirely proportionate response, and it brought home to us how easy it is to use the DMCA to ambush websites housed in the US or hosted overseas by companies headquartered in the US. We are considering our options for ensuring that we do not face such a situation again.

The DMCA is supposed to protect copyright owners, but as our example shows, it can be an enormous hammer to crack a very small nut. Its safe harbor provisions mean that US webhosts and ISPs feel they have to remove entire sites from the web, to protect themselves from punishment. Take down first, ask questions later, is the order of the day. This gives copyright holders enormous scope to browbeat ISPs into acting as censors-by-proxy. Mischief-makers and bamboozlers can join the fun too.

Pissed off with an article published online? Does it have a picture in it? Claim copyright and file a DMCA takedown notice. This is not a theoretical line of attack.

10 Zen Monkeys

In September, Jeff Diehl of the website 10 Zen Monkeys wrote an article criticizing Michael Crook, the publisher of craigslist-perverts.org, for outing the respondents to fake ads he had run, claiming to be a young woman seeking casual sex. Diehl's piece included an image of Crook being interviewed by Fox News. Crook issued a DMCA take-down notice to 10 Zen Monkeys's ISP, claiming copyright of the Fox News picture. Diehl writes on his website:

"I was personally given an ultimatum to remove the material cited in the notice (a TV screen capture of Crook's appearance on Fox News Channel), or have my account canceled. Needless to say, Crook did not own the rights to the image, and even if he did, there's a little thing called 'fair use' in the context of critical commentary."

Diehl removed the picture, upped sticks and moved to another ISP - more expensive, but one who could "understand and respect free speech at least to the point of asking me for details before threatening to pull the plug on my site". He then returned the Fox News picture to the article.

Again, Crook sent a DMCA take-down notice, but Diehl's new ISP, San Francisco-based Laughing Squid, was made of sterner stuff. On its advice, Diehl sought the help of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). He struck lucky: for the digital rights lobby group has decided to go to war for him.

This week, the EFF filed civil suit against Crook for his bogus DMCA claim.

"The internet is home to passionate debate on countless important issues. It is too bad that some people find the robust exercise of free speech so frightening that they use intimidation to try to silence it," said EFF Staff Attorney Corynne McSherry.

Quite. The Register is not an entirely uncritical fan of the EFF. But in this case, it has identified an important cause to fight, and one that it should win easily enough.

Will this give America's spineless ISPs some more backbone? We can but hope. ®

Related links

10 Zen Monkeys on the DMCA lawsuit
EFF press release

Reducing the cost and complexity of web vulnerability management

More from The Register

next story
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
JINGS! Microsoft Bing called Scots indyref RIGHT!
Redmond sporran metrics get one in the ten ring
Driving with an Apple Watch could land you with a £100 FINE
Bad news for tech-addicted fanbois behind the wheel
Murdoch to Europe: Inflict MORE PAIN on Google, please
'Platform for piracy' must be punished, or it'll kill us in FIVE YEARS
Phones 4u website DIES as wounded mobe retailer struggles to stay above water
Founder blames 'ruthless network partners' for implosion
Found inside ISIS terror chap's laptop: CELINE DION tunes
REPORT: Stash of terrorist material found in Syria Dell box
Sony says year's losses will be FOUR TIMES DEEPER than thought
Losses of more than $2 BILLION loom over troubled Japanese corp
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL
Discussing the vulnerabilities inherent in Wi-Fi networks, and how using TLS/SSL for your entire site will assure security.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.