The abuse of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's notice-and-takedown process to silence lawful speech is well-documented and all too common. Far less common, though, is a service provider that is willing to team up with its users to challenge that abuse in court.
That’s what WordPress.com's parent company, Automattic, Inc, did today and we couldn’t be more pleased. Represented by Durie Tangri, LLP, Automattic has joined two lawsuits in federal court under Section 512(f) of the DMCA. Section 512(f) is the provision that allows users to hold people accountable when they make false infringement accusations.
The suits respond to two particularly egregious examples of DMCA abuse. The first involved Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus. Their website, Retraction Watch, provides a window into the scientific process by documenting the retraction of scientific papers due to everything from honest error to falsified data. A disgruntled researcher allegedly copied portions of the Retraction Watch site onto his own site, claiming the work as his own, and then issuing a DMCA takedown notice against Retraction Watch.
The second concerns Oliver Hotham, a student journalist living in the UK. An anti-gay-rights group called Straight Pride UK was incensed when Hotham had the nerve to publish of a press statement they themselves had sent him. So Straight Pride sent a DMCA notice claiming copyright infringement and, per its policy, WordPress.com took the post down. Hotham was outraged and frustrated because he did not feel he could fight back. But now he’s got some new allies.
Both of these cases highlight a fundamental problem with the DMCA: it creates a world where allegations of infringement are a fast track to censorship, usually with few real consequences for anyone but the user. By standing with its users in these cases, Automattic is doing its part to help fix that problem.
From the WordPress blog:
Until there are some teeth to the copyright laws, it’s up to us - websites and users, together - to stand up to DMCA fraud and protect freedom of expression. Through these suits, we’d like to remind our users that we’re doing all we can to combat DMCA abuse on WordPress.com….and most importantly, remind copyright abusers to think twice before submitting fraudulent takedown notices. We’ll be watching, and are ready to fight back.
As long-term veterans of the DMCA wars, we know these legal fights aren’t always easy, and that many users fear to stand up and defend themselves against false, even harassing, infringement allegations. It’s a big help when your service provider stands with you. Well done, Retraction Watch, Oliver Hotham, and Automattic.