Chilling Effects DMCA Archive Censors Itself

Opinion

The much-praised Chilling Effects DMCA archive has taken an unprecedented step by censoring its own website. Facing criticism from copyright holders, the organization decided to wipe its presence from all popular search engines. A telling example of how pressure from rightsholders causes a chilling effect on free speech.

chillingOn an average day Google now processes more than a million takedown requests from copyright holders, and that’s for its search engine alone.

Thanks to Google’s transparency report the public is able to see where these notices come from and what content they’re targeting. In addition, Google partners with Chilling Effects to post redacted copies of all notices online.

The Chilling Effects DMCA clearing house is one of the few tools that helps to keep copyright holders accountable. Founded by Harvard’s Berkman Center, it offers an invaluable database for researchers and the public in general.

At TF we use the website on a weekly basis to spot inaccurate takedown notices and other wrongdoings. Since the native search engine doesn’t always return the best results, we mostly use Google to spot newsworthy notices on the site.

This week, however, we were no longer able to do so. The Chilling Effects team decided to remove its entire domain from all search engines, including its homepage and other informational and educational resources.

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Ironically enough, complaints from copyright holders are at the base of this unprecedented display of self-censorship. Since Chilling Effects has partnered with Google to publish all takedown notices Google receives, its pages contain hundreds of millions of non-linked URLs to infringing material. Copyright holders are not happy with these pages. Previously, Copyright Alliance CEO Sandra Aistars described the activities of the Chilling Effects projects as “repugnant.”

As a result of the increased criticisms Chilling Effects has now decided to hide its content from search engines, making it harder to find.

“After much internal discussion the Chilling Effects project recently made the decision to remove the site’s notice pages from search engines,” Berkman Center project coordinator Adam Holland informs TF.

“Our recent relaunch of the site has brought it a lot more attention, and as a result, we’re currently thinking through ways to better balance making this information available for valuable study, research, and journalism, while still addressing the concerns of people whose information appears in the database.”

The self censorship may sound strange coming from an organization that was founded to offer more transparency, but the Chilling Effects team believes that it strikes the right balance, for now.

“As a project, we’ve always worked to strike that balance, for example by removing personally identifying information. Removing notice pages from search engine results is the latest step in that balancing process,” Holland tells us.

“It may or may not prove to be permanent, but for now it’s the step that makes the most sense as we continue to think things through,” he adds.

While we respect the decision it’s a real shame for researchers that the notices and other informational material are now hidden from search engines. The notices themselves remain online, but with just the site’s own search it’s harder to find cases of abuse.

The copyright holders on the other hand will be happy. But they probably don’t care much about the chilling effect it has.

Photo: CC

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