Digimarc Files DMCA to Take Down the Entire WordPress.com Domain

So-called anti-piracy company Digimarc is once again under fire for filing faulty DMCA notices. Recently, they tried to take down WordPress.com.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a notorious American copyright law. It has been blamed for holding back innovation and curtailing free speech. Because of this law, censorship by copyright has run rampant across the Internet for years now.

Part of the problem is the fact that it is relatively easy to file these notices. Assuming they operate in the United States, companies have to follow through on these notices or risk having their safe harbour provisions revoked. So, already, corporate rights holders have a huge amount of power in these situations.

In addition to this, knowingly or unknowingly filing false notices has no known consequences. In all the years we’ve covered copyright, we have yet to hear about anyone having any kind of repercussions for filing false notices. It’s unclear if it is even a law that you can’t file such a false legal document because if it is, it is simply not enforced.

Because of these two issues alone, censorship by copyright is a huge problem. There are countless instances where rights holders or companies file DMCA notices against perfectly legal URLs. Sometimes it’s to suppress certain forms of free speech (typically critical comments).

This recent notice that we became aware of is just the latest in a continuing saga of faulty notices. Digimarc has filed a DMCA takedown notice against the entire WordPress.com domain. You can read the notice on the Lumen Database (formerly Chilling Effects).

Under claim number 3, the company alleges that their works “AVID Tutorial Guide with AVID Tutorial Workbook, AVID Tutorial Activity Guide on CD and, AVID Tutorial Video DVD” has been infringed. The second infringing URL it lists is simply https://wordpress.com/.

For those who don’t know, WordPress is blogging and news reporting technology. Many websites use WordPress (full disclosure: including this one) to build their websites as a Content Management Solution (CMS). You can publish articles, attach pictures, and even build the look of your website from the ground up. There are two ways you can use the WordPress infrastructure. The first way is to download and install WordPress on your own server. The other way is to use WordPress as a host and build your own blog on there.

So, the question is, what does this have to do with AVID? As far as we are concerned, absolutely nothing. Yet, that is exactly what is being accused. That an open source project is somehow infringing on a completely different product.

In this situation, it is up to the company to determine whether or not it is an infringing URL. In this case, that would be Google. Digimarc is basically demanding that WordPress get delisted from Google search results. The choice is to comply and delist the site (which can easily cost the site a whole lot of traffic), or to not comply and risk further legal action from Digimarc and/or Digimarc’s clients. The good news in all of this is that Google is not a company that doesn’t have the resources to take on a legal fight. So, it is possible (in this case, very likely) that they can say that they feel this DCMA notice is filed in error.

WordPress, in the mean time, doesn’t necessarily have a whole lot of power. What they can do is file a counter-notice after their URL is delisted to say, “hey, we don’t know what the complainant is talking about. We are not an infringing URL” and demand that their domain get re-instated. That, of course, can only really happen after the URL is taken down. In that case, there is already damage being done to the site from loss of traffic. Unfortunately, though, the options for WordPress is really quite limited at the start.

Regardless of the outcome in such a mess, Digimarc is free to continue to mass produce notices against domains regardless of accuracy because there really isn’t anything stopping people like them. Nothing is going to happen to them if they file a DMCA notice that could be false or wrong (as is clearly the case here).

As of this writing, you can still get to WordPress.com through Google.

As Techdirt points out, WordPress.com isn’t the only URL being asked to get taken down.

They noticed that a Slideshare Deck was also listed that they say doesn’t appear to be infringing. In addition, the notice also demands that the entire docuri.com domain also be delisted. The notice also demanded a couple of Techdirt articles be delisted in the process.

We also couldn’t help but notice claims 1, 2, and 4 are left blank. For those who aren’t familiar with the database, if a link is found to be infringing and is ultimately taken down, it is also typically mentioned in what is being posted. As a result of this, it looks like they left some of the claims blank for what they say is being infringed. Of the 5 claims being filed, the only other allegedly infringing URL is one that leads to lynda.com. That site is known for being just a website that offers tutorials made in-house.

Unless there is something here we missed, we aren’t aware of a single infringing URL in this entire notice.

The sad part about all of this is that this sort of thing is common. Because it is so common, it doesn’t get a whole lot of media attention because you really could create an entire website devoted to questionable notices. Additionally, it’s not just Digimarc filing such notices either. There’s a whole industry devoted to filing notices. Whether or not the claims are accurate, well, who really knows? It’s not as though accuracy is really a requirement to file these notices in the first place.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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