25 July 2014

I fought the law...and won (sort of)

This TechDirt t-shirt seems appropriate.
As you may remember, last month I received an email notification from Blogger (Google) that they had received a DMCA takedown notice for one of my blog posts. Because the blog post was about Gregory Evans, I speculated that he might have been involved in the takedown. Although to be clear, it was Google who received the actual takedown notice, and all I got was a notification about the notice, so at the time I was never actually aware of 1) who sent it; and 2) what content of the blog post was supposed to have been infringing.

You can read the original blog post here (I have since republished it). The entire blog post was authored by me with the exception of two small screenshots from the MIS Training Institute's homepage which reflected substantive changes to their speaker lineup and the comparison screenshots reflected that change. The rest of the blog post was the copy of an email that I wrote to the MIS Training Institute and links to other posts.

Blogger told me that they would post the takedown notice on Chilling Effects. That never happened. Nonetheless, without any evidence of how my blog post might have been infringing, I filled a counter-notice essentially arguing fair use of whatever content I had used.

Yesterday, I received notice that Google had completed processing my counter notification and had reinstated the content in question. What content was that? Of course, they didn't tell me. My best guess is this: in the original blog post, I included the text of an email that I wrote to the MIS Training Institute. In that email, I linked to a CBS Atlanta expose of Evans that was posted on YouTube. That video had subsequently been taken down (you can see if you follow the link here). Linking to infringing content could be considered a DMCA violation. On the other hand, if the infringing content has already been taken down, then I'm not really linking to infringing content anymore, because the content doesn't exist. Again, I have no evidence that this is why my blog post has been restored, but it's my only reasonable guess at this point.

The DMCA process is broken. It is largely automated which means that you can't really expect to ever speak to a human being to help sort out your problem. If your blog is hosted (as mine is), the hoster receives the takedown notice, and you may never see it (as I never did). You might guess that Google receives hundreds or thousands of takedown notices every day. Mine wasn't worth anyone's individual attention. Chilling Effects may be a good idea in theory, but in practice the site is difficult to use. My attempts to contact the site's administrators to help in finding my notice (if perhaps it was posted and I couldn't find it) went unanswered.

In the end, my content is back. Again, I'm not quite sure what content was at question, which is sort of a big deal when you think about it. How can you fight back if you don't even know what you're fighting for (or against)? I may have been lucky. But others might give up more easily.

The DMCA process is broken. If we want content creators to thrive, it's a problem we're going to have to confront.
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