January 16, 2007 | By Derek Slater

A DMCA Takedown Tale With a Twist

Time and again, we've seen the DMCA takedown process abused to censor legitimate speech. It's not everyday that one of these stories ends with a quote like this:

"I would like to make it clear that I regret filing DMCA claims in this case, because the real issue at hand wasn't at all about copyright."

Those are the words of Guntram Graef, the husband of Second Life businesswoman Anshe Chung. Several weeks ago, Graef sent a DMCA takedown notice to YouTube, which was hosting a video of other Second Life users harassing Chung in the virtual world. The video, no matter how offensive to Graef or Chung, clearly didn't violate any of their copyrights, yet YouTube promptly removed it from the system.

The DMCA takedown process invites this kind of abuse. You don't need a proven copyright infringement claim to fire off a cease-and-desist letter and have online speech immediately taken down. Most online speakers don't have the resources to defend themselves, especially when facing enormous monetary damages if sued when they counter-notice under the DMCA.

Fortunately, Graef realized his error and apologized, as detailed in an interview with CNET. Hopefully others will learn from his story and think twice before pulling the DMCA trigger without first getting solid legal advice on its appropriateness. Ultimately, stories like these demonstrate the need for better checks and balances in the DMCA takedown process. Without them, we can only expect the situation for online speech to get worse.

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