Just how easy is it to silence your critics on the Internet by using the DMCA? Apparently, very easy indeed. Yesterday, a writer who reports on religion and current affairs had his entire website taken offline after he allegedly breached the copyright of the operator of a Facebook page. His crime? Reproducing a 16-word Facebook posting made by his copyright adversary that accused an anti-racist, anti-fascist organization of being worse than pedophiles.
It is not uncommon for individuals and groups opposed to tougher copyright laws to voice concerns that their implementation has implications for freedom of speech. Equally, it is not uncommon for pro-copyright groups to claim that tougher laws are not targeted at taking away people’s voices, but to stop online infringement.
But unfortunately there is no shortage of people happy to abuse their abilities under legislation such as the DMCA in order to silence others. Last night appeared a prime example of just how easy that can be.
UK-based Richard Bartholomew maintains Barthsnotes.com, a site described by the Center for Strategic and International Studies as “one of the most informative sites we’ve seen for talking about religion and international affairs.”
As part of his work Bartholomew publishes critical articles on religious extremists and opposing hate groups, reporting that by its nature is unpopular with its targets. One of the people Bartholomew has written about is self-described activist Charlie Flowers, who runs a Facebook page called Cheerleaders Against Everything.
“Charlie Flowers presents himself as being an activist against Islamic extremism. He runs a Facebook group which purports to support moderate Muslim groups, where he often makes crudely abusive comments about people he dislikes,” Bartholomew told TorrentFreak.
Currently, Flowers is sounding off against Searchlight Magazine, an anti-racist and anti-fascist publication that has been running for almost 50 years. The exact problems he has with Searchlight aren’t really our focus here on TorrentFreak, but they are for Richard Bartholomew, who covered the issues in a recent blog post.
Unfortunately we can’t link you to the blog post because Richard has been forced to take it down. In fact, as of last evening Richard’s entire site had been taken offline by his host, Dreamhost in the United States, all thanks to a ridiculous copyright takedown claim from Charlie Flowers.
As part of his Facebook rantings, Flowers called Searchlight “scum”, adding: “SWP/Searchlight are dog-vomit. Lower than paedophiles. In fact they should be treated as such.”
Flowers then warned that all “non-members” of his Facebook page were forbidden from taking screenshots or reproducing members’ posts without permission.
Needless to say, Richard ignored the threats and reported on what had been said. The next thing he knew his website had been taken completely offline after Flowers wrote to Dreamhost and complained that Richard had infringed his copyright on the 16-word quote detailed above.
“We have received a formal DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) notice regarding allegedly infringing content hosted on your site,” Dreamhost told Richard.
“The party making the complaint (Charles Flowers, [redacted], London, [redacted], England – [redacted] claims under penalty of perjury to be or represent the copyright owner of this content. Pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 512(c), we have removed access to the content in question.”
Dreamhost made Richard promise to remove the content before the site could be reinstated, and gave him the opportunity to issue a counter-claim. However, that claim must include a home address, but judging from Flowers’ character (he admits publishing a book in which he deliberately and wrongly portrayed his detractors “as dirty pedophile child molesters”) who would want to furnish him with that?
As a result the page remains down and inaccessible (unless you go to Google’s cache copy).
“The notion that someone should be able forbid any quotation of their words is manifestly absurd, and if applied generally would make any kind of journalism impossible,” Richard concludes.
But of course, and as Mr Flowers will quickly learn, using the DMCA to stifle free speech and journalism is not an effective long-term strategy and will serve not only to generate more interest in the material he’s trying to censor, but interest in advocates of free discussion such as Richard Bartholomew.