Techdirt takedown shows how easy it is to use copyright to muzzle opponents

Competitors launch 67% of takedown requests, as SOPA supporters try for even more power to abuse

Tech news/opinion blog Techdirt put up an interestingly ironic post yesterday morning: While using Google to search for other Techdirt stories site editor Mike Masnick realized one of the most popular in a long list of articles opposing overly restrictive copyright controls in the SOPA and PIPA bills had been removed from Google's search index following a bogus charge that it violated someone else's copyright.

The Nov. 22 post is still up on Techdirt's site, of course. It's easily findable if you type in enough of the words in its title.

If you search for it by date at Techdirt, using the Site:Techdirt.com query modifier to isolate the search to just Techdirt.com, the post doesn't appear.

The post titled "The Definitive Post On Why SOPA And Protect IP Are Bad, Bad Ideas" should be on this page, between the titles "MPAA Helped Police Seize 'Pirated' DVDs That Were Actually Fully…" and Misleading Metaphors That Drive The War on Sharing…." It isn't, though Google's search page ran this notice that two entries had been removed.

Search on the full title and the post appears along with posts and comments about it, on both Techdirt and other sites.

A Jan. 18 follow-up with a very similar title appears with no problem.

The piece was removed from Google's index, Masnick wrote, because of this written request made in the name of a pron-site owner called Paper Street Cash, LLC.

Misfired complaint

The complaint said the Techdirt page and 554 others violated the copyright of content that appeared on Paper Street's HD teen-pron site TeamSkeet (NSFW).

While there is plenty of dirt (and plenty of violations) on TeamSkeet, none of it is tech dirt and almost none is texty enough to allow that particular Techdirt page to infringe on its copyrights.

Paper Street's corporate site is the only one of the PaperStreet sites with enough text to overlap in any way with Techdirt. While each site heavily uses conjunctions, articles and other elements of English grammar, there isn't enough similarity otherwise to suggest one site even knows about the other, let alone copies from it.

Individuals or small companies can tell Google someone has stolen their content using this complaint page/questionnaire.

Companies with lots of sites or lots of content likely to be pirated (pron sites are near the top of both those lists) can hire outside companies such as GuardLex, TakedownPiracy, WhoIsHostingThis and DMCA Services Ltd. to keep constant watch and issue takedown notices en masse to Google and other search engines as well as to the alleged violators.

The Techdirt takedown request was submitted by a company called Armovore, one of a growing number of companies who promise clients they can minimize online piracy by monitoring the web and issuing takedown notices whenever they find a client's content being improperly reused elsewhere.

Anonymous accusation?

Armovore has apparently not responded to anyone's requests for comment about the notice. Its web site and Twitter feed are both blank, the name of the person who registered Armovore.com as a domain is hidden on its whois page; its mailing address is listed as a post office box in Nassau, Bahamas.

(Armovore's site registrar is Internet.bs.net, which has a red text notice at the top of its home page that reads "We do NOT support SOPA." It's not clear if people at PaperStreet or Armovore know that.)

That's not terribly unusual for a pron company, but Armovore is not a pron company. It's a theoretically legitimate copyright-protection service. A company in that business should only be worried enough about its own infamy to try to avoid being found if it were up to something less legitimate than the straightforward issuance of copyright-violation notices.

In addition to the obviously bogus allegation that Techdirt violated any of the teen action at TeamSkeet was another alleging this TorrentFreak article about the Department of Homeland Security accidentally knocking 84,000 sites offline by targeting a free DNS provider in a probe of content piracy and child pron.

The site DHS was really after was just one of the sites using the DNS service, which had nothing directly to do with the crime.

At Techdirt, Masnick sees both entries as covert attempts at censorship using a technique that might escape the notice of even the content owners. If Masnick hadn't been searching for something else and noticed the missing search entry he might never have realized the article was missing from Google's index.

Google doesn't notify sites of allegations they'd violated anyone's copyright before deleting the site from its index, partly because there are too many such requests, partly to avoid being put in the position of judging copyright, which no sane company wants to do.

Given the lack of notice to the victim or any requirement that a search or other third-party site investigate DMCA takedown notices before complying, it's not surprising there would be a lot of mistakes.

Most takedown orders are malicious or mistakes

Even pro-DMCA (though anti-SOPA), copyright owner-defending Plagiarism Today admits there can't help but be errors among the mass of takedown notices.

"With so many people misunderstanding copyright law and so many companies overwhelmed by the amount of notices they are filing, some of the notices are bound to be south of brilliant," wrote the blog's editor Jonathan Bailey, a "legally minded Webmaster/Writer frustrated with the plague of plagiarism online and doing something about it."

Bailey is right that a lot of the misfired DMCA takedown notices are mistakes; most seem not to be mistakes, however.

According to one analysis, 57 percent of DMCA takedown notices are generated by businesses taking shots at their competitors.

Errors and corporate vendettas are two of the big problems with DMCA – one of the reasons many copyright experts and analysts have been urging Congress to come up with another update the DMCA rules and prescriptions for enforcement, which were passed in 1998 and updated once in 2000.

It's too much of a coincidence to believe two anti-SOPA articles were hit with DMCA takedown requests on Jan. 20, the day SOPA was killed in the House.

If DMCA hits this hard, how much damage would a bigger club do?

It's even more unbelievable when the two victims were among the loudest opponents of SOPA and PIPA – both of them darlings of the music, movie and software publishing businesses, which often claim to be at the mercy of content pirates even when exercising undeserved, illegal control over them.

With no paper trail or admission from Armovore or PaperStreet it's hard to say for sure this particular incident is malicious.

It would be even harder to argue that it is likely to have been an innocent mistake.

Which was the problem with SOPA, PIPA and copyright-protecting alternatives to both of them that still live in Congress: All the copyright protection legislation – written by associations protecting copyright owners or with their interests in mind – provide plenty of ammunition to those wanting to shoot down what they consider to be violations of their rights.

But they provide little or nothing to protect the rights of the sites being punished for violations that may or may not exist.

In Techdirt's case the punishment was for an infringement that couldn't possibly exist. In the case of the 84,000 sites taken down during an anti-child-pron enforcement swing, the only fault was unknowingly using the same free DNS provider as a child-pron site and being raided by feds who didn't know the difference between DNS providers and their clients.

The bogus justification behind H.R. 1981 – SOPA-author Lamar Smith's other copyright-protection bill – goes even further even in the text of the bill, not just in mistaken enforcement of it.

H.R. 1981 treats the 98 percent of people on the Internet who have nothing to do with child pron as criminals whose Constitutional rights can be limited without the judge, jury, due process and assumption of innocence granted to the actual sex offenders.

If DMCA – which has been an actual law tested by actual court cases, applied in inappropriate ways by actual villains against actual victims for almost 14 years – can still turn up such obvious abuses as the one cited by Techdirt, how bad would SOPA or PIPA have been?

And how much damage could still be done by "copyright owners" using even more potent federal laws as a stick to beat competitors, critics and web sites that happen to disagree with their interpretation of their right to throw their own weight around?

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