Transparency Report Update: January – June 2017

The time has come for the bi-annual update to our transparency report, covering January 1 to June 30, 2017. As usual, we’ve shared updated data about national security requests, government requests for user information, government demands for removal of content, as well as notices of copyright and trademark infringement. We’ve included some of the most interesting highlights below.

Intellectual Property

We received the highest number of DMCA takedown notifications in a single six-month reporting period. From the 5,006 we received between July-December 2016 to 9,273 this period, we saw an 85% increase.

The bulk of this increase comes down to just two complainants, both of which submitted over 2,000 reports each, accounting for 47% of the 9,273 total takedowns received. To truly appreciate the top two complainants’ volume, you should note that the third highest complainant submitted 371 reports.

We often received multiple copies of the same DMCA notice (sometimes days apart!), and often these duplicate notices target material that had already been removed or was hosted elsewhere. This highlights the problem with automated takedown systems that have no element of human review. We’ve written about the issues involved with DMCA takedown bots before, and the figures in this report suggest that the problem isn’t going away. The high volume of thoughtless takedown places a big burden on the small team we have, who are charged with carefully reviewing and processing our notices, to ensure the rights of copyright holders and our users are protected.

Due to the high volume of bot generated deficient takedown notices, we removed content in response to only 22% of the DMCA notices we received in this period, compared with our average of approximately 60% across the past six reporting periods.

Meanwhile, we can count on one hand the number of counter notices we received from our site owners, and it’s the fewest we’ve seen in a reporting period to date: 5. As we’ve mentioned, the counter notice process is intimidating and can lead to a user being sued in federal court, which means spending a tremendous amount in legal fees defending their case, even if the court determines the user’s material isn’t infringing.

Government Demands

We receive a steadily increasing number of takedown demands from governments around the world, with a 61% increase this reporting period compared to last’s.

Takedown demands from certain countries are particularly concerning. While Russia is sending us the greatest volume, we’re seeing especially problematic demands from the Turkish government, which actively censors content that criticizes the Turkish government, officials, and/or army. In hopes of defending the rights of our users to speak about their government, we have filed objections to 13 of the most egregious court orders. Unfortunately we have not seen much success. Eleven of our appeals have been rejected, and two are pending. Additionally, we do what we can to partner with our affected users in filing our objections — Turkish citizens who are blogging about their government. However this is very fraught territory, especially when filing an objection would be made in a user’s name. One of our users said it best: to appeal, and reveal their identity, would be “suicide.”

Further, after consulting with additional experts on Turkish law, we’ve learned that not only are the users who bring the case at risk, even the lawyers and judges in cases involving national security (for example, content that criticized military involvement and suggested military misconduct) can be charged for assisting terrorist organizations.

We will continue to fight for freedom of expression and our users in Turkey, which includes being as transparent as we can about the situation, the demands we receive, and our response to them.

National Security

We recently shared some information about the process we followed to lift the nondisclosure restrictions associated with five NSLs received in previous years and provide copies of our correspondence with the government. We hope this information will be useful to other companies who may wish to take advantage of the legal options that are currently available to challenge NSL nondisclosure orders.

We’ve also developed a form reciprocal notice request. If your company has received an NSL in the past and you would like the government to review the letter’s nondisclosure requirement, this form may be useful to you.

As always, please take a look through the data, and let us know if you have any questions or other types of data that you’d like to see in future reports!

Transparency Report Update and a Closer Look at Turkey

Our latest transparency report is hot off the press, complete with data and details about the intellectual property infringement notices, government takedown demands, and government requests for information we received between July 1 and December 31, 2015.

You can view our updated report here.

Taking a closer look at the numbers, you may notice that we’ve seen quite an increase in government takedown demands since we launched our transparency report, with 156% more demands in 2015 (346) than in 2014 (135). The majority of these demands are from two countries in particular: Russia and Turkey.

Russia is no surprise as we’ve been dealing with their demands for years (you can read more about our process for handling their demands here), but Turkey came out of the woodwork for the first time with 4 demands in 2014, jumping up dramatically with 113 in 2015.

Generally we receive Turkish court orders in two scenarios. In the first, the Telecommunication and Communication Presidency can ban content in the interest of protecting “national security and public order,” preventing crime, and protecting general health… which are open to their interpretation. In the other, when someone’s rights are violated (privacy rights or defamation, for example), Turkish law allows the complaining party to request content removal by obtaining a court order.

As with most censorship laws, the real world consequences reveal the chilling of a significant amount of legitimate, political speech. For example, we’ve received takedown orders covering:

  • A site that criticizes the President of Turkey and his government’s activities relating to a terrorist organization. The President’s recent and past speeches were shared in a way to show that he contradicts himself as the time passes. If that weren’t sufficiently worrisome, Article 299 of Turkish Criminal Code, which governs defaming the President of Turkey, states that anyone who insults the president shall be sentenced from one to four years.
  • A news site’s report on a child sex sting, covering the details of a Turkish man who arranged to meet an underaged girl. A photo from a court hearing and a mug shot of the complaining party, were included in the removal demand.
  • A site that criticized a terrorist organization. We believe this site was wrongfully included with the others that did support the terrorist organization, but that didn’t stop a Turkish court from issuing a takedown demand against it. It’s eerily similar to when copyright takedown bots run amok.

Under our legal guidelines, we require a U.S. court order before proceeding with the removal of content from WordPress.com. To this point, we have refused to take action in response to the takedown demands from Turkey. After we receive notice of an order, Turkish ISPs, who are bound to obey the court orders, move to block the sites named in an order, making it unavailable to all visitors from Turkey without any further explanation.

Overall, compared to the tens of millions of sites that we host, we continue to receive a relatively small number of demands from governments and other national authorities.

For more details, dive into the specific report pages. As always, please drop us a line if you have any suggestions for future reports!

ICANN Considers Relaxing Domain Registration Privacy; Automattic Objects

We’ve said it time and time again: user privacy is important to us. We’re vigilant about protecting it on WordPress.com, and we’re always on the lookout, ready to weigh in on policy proposals that might curtail the privacy that we and our users value so highly.

Today, our focus turns to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the organization responsible for coordinating the internet’s naming system, such as domain names. ICANN is currently considering a proposal that would prohibit many domain owners from using privacy and proxy registration services.

What exactly does this mean? If you’ve ever registered a domain (and millions of you on WordPress.com have), you may have noticed an option to make your personal information, such as your name, address, and phone number, private. This is great for those who want to publish anonymously or those who simply value more privacy. However, ICANN is considering precluding anyone who uses a domain for “commercial” purposes from private registration. “Commercial” use has not yet been defined in this context, but it could affect more domain owners than you think; it’s not uncommon for a website to run ads or include affiliate links to cover costs. Needless to say, we strongly oppose this proposal.

Who wants this change? Large copyright holders (like movie studios), for starters. Proponents of this proposal argue that website owners should be held accountable and that they need means to identify those that are abusive. However, there’s already a means to do this — it involves due legal process and justifying that the information they’re seeking is relevant or necessary to a lawsuit or investigation.

If the proposal were adopted, all of the privacy protections we provide our users on WordPress.com, as well as those that currently exist under the law, would largely be for naught, easily circumvented by a quick WHOIS search. We work hard to design and implement our rigorous privacy protections because we’ve seen firsthand how requests for user information can be used as a means to silence or retaliate against anonymous speakers. Every day we see our users depending on the privacy and anonymity afforded to them to engage in thoughtful, compelling speech and journalism.

We believe this proposal would significantly harm communication, commerce, and most especially, anonymous speech online, so we ask ICANN to reject the current proposal to limit privacy-protecting domain registration services.

You can read our full filing in opposition to the proposed rule here.

Transparency Report Update

We’re pleased to release our second, biannual transparency report and even more excited to announce a few new additions to the report.

In addition to updates to the data we provided on user information requests and government takedown demands in our inaugural report, our latest report includes:

  • Data about the intellectual property related complaints we received and how we responded.
  • Summary pages for each type of request we received, with notes on trends we’re seeing in the numbers.
  • A Resources page so you have easy access to our relevant policies, WordPress.com support documents, and third party information.
  • A Hall of Shame where we showcase some of the threats to freedom of speech and expression that we see and resist every day.

Our new intellectual property report includes data on both copyright and trademark complaints against our users. Copyright complaints are the most common. We carefully review the copyright takedown notices sent our way, and we’re proud to say that in the first half of 2014, we rejected 10% of copyright notices as abusive. “Abusive” notices are formally complete (including all of the information required by the DMCA), but are directed at fair use of content, material that isn’t copyrightable, or content the complaining party misrepresents ownership of a copyright. Some of these are highlighted in our Hall of Shame. In addition, we rejected 26% of the notice we received because they were incomplete.

We receive and respond to fewer claims of trademark infringement on WordPress.com. In this six month reporting period, we received 122 reports and removed content in response to only 15%.

Looking at trends in our data for government information requests and takedown demands: we saw increased volume across the board. We saw a 194% increase in government takedown demands and a 108% increase in government information requests. For the 2014 reporting period, we complied with 5% of the total takedown demands we received, and 16% of the information requests.

Russia again submitted the most takedown demands (35) of any country. Meanwhile, the United States continues to hold the lead in the number of information requests (17), most of which came in the form of a subpoena.

Information Requests

Information Requests Chart

Takedown Demands

Takedown_Requests_Chart

We received no National Security Requests during the first half of 2014, and remain unsatisfied with the level of detail that we’re allowed to report for our previous reporting period.

For a closer look at the data, check out each report in detail by navigating the menu at the top of the page.

Sorry Ms. Jackson…

Janet Jackson is a fine recording artist, but seems to have employed some overly aggressive lawyers, bent on removing or controlling all references to her name on WordPress.com. Here are a couple of examples of the improper takedown demands we’ve received:

  • Trademark infringement: The mention of Janet Jackson in a post about dinner conversation topic “What would your WWE Smackdown name be?”

“Picture Sacha Baron Cohen in, what else? his movie The Dictator. Elaborate General’s outfit, hat, etc. He walks in flanked by half a dozen sexy female soldiers inspired by the Janet Jackson Rhythm Nation video.”

(Here’s what our user thinks.)

  • Copyright infringement: An image of Ms. Jackson used in a Tim Howard meme:

janet-jackson-tim-howard

We rejected both of these complaints on the grounds of obvious fair use. Though we rejected their demands, we wanted to make sure they got at least a little promotion for their client, so we tried to use as many Janet Jackson song titles as possible (hopefully this doesn’t draw another takedown demand from them…) in our response:

“It seems like you believe the use of the trademark “Janet Jackson” is reserved all for you, but we were hoping you’d be open to some feedback because your attempt to control every use of the mark is pretty nasty. If you read up on nominative use, you’ll discover that it doesn’t really matter that “Janet Jackson” is used on this site. If you believe there are any other alleged infringements, would you mind submitting a notice again via our trademark form?

http://automattic.com/trademark-policy/

So excited to work with you going forward.”

 

Kern’s Kitchen’s Mean-Spirited Censorship Pie

Kern’s Kitchen, the company exclusively behind “the one and only Derby-Pie® chocolate nut pie,” asserted its trademark against 32 bloggers on WordPress.com who had the nerve to title their recipes “Derby Pie.” Between the link to trademark information displayed prominently on their site and the many lawsuits they’ve filed, it’s clear that they take this pie business seriously. They’ve rightfully earned their place in the Hall of Shame as The Most Litigious Dessert in America.

We pushed back as much as possible to keep the posts up, and reached out to each of our bloggers about the issue and suggested alternate recipe names, such as “Kentucky Derby Chocolate Pie” or “Mean-Spirited Censorship Pie.” Our friends at EFF joined in on the fun too and made this entertaining video about the case.

 

Bikram: (Not So) Hot Yoga

Over the years, founder of Bikram Yoga, Bikram Choudhury, has been under considerable public scrutiny for alleged sexual harassment. In what we believe was an attempt to censor critical speech, several different individuals (supposedly) submitted five DMCA notices against a single blog post that touched on these accusations. After we rejected the first four DMCA notices because we had good reason to believe that they were not the rightful authors of the content,  the fifth was submitted by a lawyer claiming to represent Bikram Choudhury. In his notice, he alleged that Mr. Choudhury’s name and photo were used in violation of his copyrights and the law. We rejected the final notice because his name is not copyrightable and we believed that the photo fell under fair use.