Topple Track Apologizes After Attempting to DMCA the EFF

Anti-Piracy outfit Topple Track has been put on the defence after issuing a DMCA notice to take down a web page from the EFF.

Copyright enforcement as a way to censor criticism has long been a problem online. Exacerbating the issue is automated DMCA notices filed to delist pages on Google. Whether filed correctly or incorrectly typically means little to so-called “anti-piracy” outfits who use bots to automatically scan the Internet and take down content.

When a producer has a DMCA notice filed against him, what often happens is that that producer has no resources to really fight it. Sometimes, they wind up shutting down without anyone knowing their story. A lucky few small time producers are able to make enough noise that some media outlets take notice. In those cases, sometimes the DMCA notice is withdrawn out of embarrassment. Regardless, it is a difficult thing to really fight against no matter how right you really are when you do not have the proper resources at your fingertips.

In this particular case, this is no small time producer with no proper resources at their fingertips.

A DMCA notice was filed to take down a link on the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). The link in question lead to information regarding an old copyright court case. Additionally, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that the “anti-piracy” organization had any right to take it down in the first place. So, what wound up happening was that Topple Track was effectively taking a baseball bat and hitting every random tree branch in the forest and wound up hitting a bee hive.

In response, the EFFs in-house legal team publicly posted about the case and named and shamed Topple Track (as well as parent company Symphonic Distribution) for their actions in this case. As word got around, Symphonic Distribution retreated, stating that there was a bug in their search algorithms that didn’t white-list certain domains. As a result, they issued retraction notices to Google.

The EFF pointed out that more often then not, automated systems have been notorious for false DMCA notices and pointed to this as yet another example of DMCA notices going wrong. They even went so far as to point out that this is not a one-off incident for Topple Track:

Topple Track’s recent DMCA takedown notices target so much speech it is difficult to do justice to the scope of expression it has sought to delist. A sample of recent improper notices can be found here, here, here, and here. Each notice asks Google to delist a collection of URLs. Among others, these notices improperly target:

– EFF’s case page about EMI v MP3Tunes
– The authorized music store on the official homepage of both Beyonce and Bruno Mars
– A fundraising page on the Minneapolis Foundation’s website
– The Graceland page at Paul Simon’s official website
– A blog post by Professor Eric Goldman about the EMI v MP3Tunes case
– A Citizen Lab report about UC Browser
– A New Yorker article about nationalism and patriotic songs

In response to all of this, Google confirmed to the EFF that Topple Track was removed from their Trusted Copyright Removal Program:

Google has confirmed that it has removed Topple Track from its Trusted Copyright Removal Program membership due to a pattern of problematic notices.

So, even though Topple Track tried to dig themselves out of the hole they found themselves in, the damage was already done.

If anything at all, this represents one of the latest blows to the credibility of automated DMCA takedowns. It also raises valid questions about whether or not there are repercussions for filing false DMCA notices and whether or not more needs to be done to stop false notices. Finally, it highlights yet again how copyright takedown notices can, in fact, unfairly restrict free speech online. After all, this is a very clear cut example of how DMCA notices can go seriously wrong in the first place.

Sadly, this likely won’t be the last DMCA-gone-wrong story we’ll hear. We’ll continue to hear about these until something is done to fix the problem. Unfortunately, there is no indication that this will happen any time soon.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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