Copyright holders and tech companies in the United States are currently engaged in discussions on how to move forward with the notice and takedown provisions of the DMCA. The moves are voluntary and aimed at eliminating the kind of backlash experienced during the SOPA uprising.
Both parties have good reason to progress. Copyright holders say the are tired of taking down content only to have it reappear quickly after. On the other hand, service providers and similar web companies burn through significant resources ensuring they respond to takedown demands in a way that maintains their protection from liability.
This fear of the law encourages service providers to err on the side of caution by taking content down quickly, and worrying about legitimacy later. Earlier this week TF spoke with a site operator with first hand experience of a major Internet company’s approach to what they believed to be a genuine copyright complaint.
As previously reported, BeBe is the operator of Wrestling-Network, a site that links to unauthorized WWE streams. While the legality of his main domain is up for lively debate, he maintains his Facebook page was squeaky clean when a WWE lawyer moved to have it taken down. What we didn’t report at the time is that this wasn’t the first time Wrestling-Network had lost a Facebook page.
“We’ve removed or disabled access to the following content that you posted on Facebook because we received a report from a third-party that the content infringes their copyright(s),” Facebook told BeBe in an email.
BeBe wrote back to try and resolve matters, offering to put things right should there have been a copyright-related oversight. But Facebook weren’t interested in being the middle-man in this dispute, instead directing BeBe to contact the person who filed the complaint against him.
“If you believe that we have made a mistake in removing this content, then please contact the complaining party directly.[..],” Facebook responded.
Once furnished with the complainant’s details BeBe recognized them as belonging to a person he’d been in an unrelated dispute with. Despite using a Yahoo email address (rather than @wwe.com), the fake copyright complainer had convinced Facebook to shut down a page in the name of a third-party.
Worse still, BeBe would now have to negotiate with his adversary in order to get his page back.
“If both parties agree to restore the reported content, please ask the complaining party to contact us via email with a copy of the agreement so that we can refer to the original issue,” Facebook explained. “We will not be able to restore this content to Facebook unless we receive explicit notice of consent from the complaining party.”
Fake copyright reports like this aren’t new. In 2011 there was a spate of false notices which saw well-known Facebook pages belonging to Ars Technica, Neowin and Redwood Pie all being taken down by fraudulent complaints.
Three years ago it was exceptionally easy to take down a page, but here we are several years later and the process is still open to abuse. So how easy is it to nuke a Facebook page? On condition of anonymity, a person who targeted another’s Facebook page out of revenge explained.
“Taking down the Facebook page was simple. It requires a well written and thought out mail, directly sent to Facebook, but it was a very straight forward process,” TF was told.
“I did not pretend to be [a rightsholder] however. I claimed to be a company that handles such legal aspects for big corporations without them being directly involved, in order to avoid public backlash but at the same time protect their interests. I provided enough copyrighted posts to prove that the page was a constant abuser and the page was taken down.”
According to PCWorld, during the Department of Commerce Internet Policy Task Force’s first public forum yesterday, Ben Sheffner, vice president of legal affairs for the MPAA, said that erroneous or abusive notices were a tiny part of the DMCA picture and should be afforded appropriate levels of attention.
Corynne McSherry, intellectual property director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, saw things quite differently.
Takedown abuse “regularly causes quite an uproar,” McSherry said. “Any multistakeholder dialog that was talking about the notice-and-takedown system and trying to improve it that didn’t include a discussion of takedown abuse would really have no legitimacy in the eyes of many, many Internet users.”
The problem might be small to the MPAA, but of course it’s not their Facebook page getting targeted. To smaller players the problem can be significantly more severe.