Automattic, the company behind the popular WordPress blogging platform, has seen a rapid increase in DMCA takedown notices in recent years.
Most requests are legitimate, aimed at disabling access to copyright-infringing material. However, there are also many overbroad and abusive takedown notices which take up a lot of the company’s time and resources.
Last November, WordPress decided to take a stand against these fraudulent practices. The company teamed up with student journalist Oliver Hotham who had one of his articles censored by a false takedown notice.
Hotham wrote an article about “Straight Pride UK” which included a comment he received from the organization’s press officer Nick Steiner. The latter didn’t like the article Hotham wrote, and after publication Steiner sent WordPress a takedown notice claiming it was infringing on his copyrights.
Through a lawsuit filed in a California federal court, WordPress and Hotham now hope to be compensated for the damage this abuse caused them.
“The information in the press release that Hotham published on his blog did not infringe any copyright because Hotham had permission to publish it. It was a press release, which by its very nature conveys the intent to ‘release’ information to the ‘press’,” WordPress’ attorney explains to the court.
The company says that as an online service provider it faces overwhelming and crippling copyright liability if it fails to take down content. People such as Steiner abuse this weakness to censor critics or competitors, and they have to be stopped.
“Steiner’s fraudulent takedown notice forced WordPress to take down Hotham’s post under threat of losing the protection of the DMCA safe harbor,” WordPress argues.
“Steiner did not do this to protect any legitimate intellectual property interest, but in an attempt to censor Hotham’s lawful expression critical of Straight Pride UK. He forced WordPress to delete perfectly lawful content from its website.As a result, WordPress has suffered damage to its reputation,” the company adds.
Since Steiner failed to respond in court WordPress and Hotham have requested a default judgment. In a recent filing they demand a total of $10,000 in damages as well as $14,520 in attorneys’ fees.
During a House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on the DMCA takedown system earlier this year, Automattic General Counsel Paul Sieminski also stressed the importance of this issue to lawmakers,
“The system works so long as copyright owners use this power in good faith. But too often they don’t, and there should be clear legal consequences for those who choose to abuse the system,” Sieminski said.
In a few weeks we’ll know if the court agrees.