Automattic at RightsCon 2017

Automattic’s mission is to democratize publishing, part of which involves fighting for digital rights online. As a result, we are proud to sponsor RightsCon 2017 — a conference starting today, centred around “how to keep the internet open, free, and secure.”

RC2017-official-logoSeveral members of our legal and policy teams are happily in Brussels to join the
summit.

On Thursday at 4 pm, we will host a session on the day-to-day realities of dealing with takedown demands from all over the world. If you are interested in the practical perspective of a service provider fighting for bloggers’ rights, we hope you will come and ask us tough questions.

Later, on Thursday at 6:15 pm, we invite all conference attendees to continue the conversation over drinks and snacks at a cocktail reception on-site immediately following the programming.

If you are not at the conference in person, you can follow along on social media with #rightscon and hopefully many sharp blog posts to come.

Trouble in Turkey

Earlier this week, nearly all of the more than 77 million websites hosted by WordPress.com were inaccessible to the people of Turkey, due to broad and arbitrary censorship by the Turkish government. We began to hear reports of service outages during the evening of Monday, July 27, Istanbul time. The blocks were apparently removed by midday Wednesday, July 29.

Photo by Erdem Civelek of a 2011 protest for Internet freedom in Turkey. (CC BY 2.0)Citing Turkey’s 2007 Internet Law 5651, authorities sought to take down dozens of sites across the Internet they deemed objectionable. The list included five sites hosted on WordPress.com about Kurdish politics. Those sites were:

Turkey’s Information and Communication Technologies Authority provided WordPress.com with very minimal notice of their action against these sites. Within hours, before we had the chance to review their complaints much less respond, the government moved to block access. But because their order specified not just individual URLs but IP addresses as well, not only were the five targeted WordPress.com sites blocked, but so were the sites of countless nonpolitical bloggers, businesses, reporters, artists, and scientists who use WordPress.com.

A significant portion of the Internet went dark for the 75 million people of Turkey.

Once we learned of the outage, we worked to contact the authorities in Turkey, and had to adjust some of our IP addresses to make WordPress.com sites accessible. Eventually the Turkish government/ISPs chose to block only the specific sites, rather than everything on WordPress.com. Sites hosted on our platform are once again available in Turkey, except for the five listed above (though they remain accessible to visitors from outside of Turkey). We encourage Turkish readers interested in seeing what your government doesn’t want you to see to consider our suggestions for bypassing Internet restrictions. 

In a similar case last week, Turkey also blocked access to Twitter in order to censor images of a deadly bombing and calls for protest.

We share our users’ frustration with this service outage, and we’re continuing to fight against internet censorship in Turkey.

In the near term, this means challenging the government order that led to our blocking — both on the principle that blocking an entire IP range is overly broad and never the right answer, as well as objecting to the inclusion of one of the sites on the government’s blacklist. PKKONLİNE was in fact railing against the PKK and violence, not supporting terrorist activities, as the statue cited in the government’s decision requires. Apparently these kinds of mistakes can be made when you hastily pull together a lengthy blacklist, based on largely superficial information. You can read a rough English translation of our appeal to the Turkish court here (pdf).

This week’s events show once again that whenever a government decides to censor the Internet, everybody loses — not just a regime’s targets but a whole nation — and it only serves to strengthen our resolve to resist censorship wherever we may find it.

Photo by Erdem Civelek of a 2011 protest for Internet freedom in Turkey. (CC BY 2.0

We Proudly Have Your Back: EFF Awards WordPress.com 5 Stars For Protecting User Speech

The Electronic Frontier Foundation yesterday released a new version of their Who Has Your Back? report, focused on protecting user speech from “copyright & trademark bullies.”

yeeaaahhhWe’re proud that WordPress.com was awarded all five possible stars in the report — one of only two services to earn that honor.

“When a private citizen or corporation wants to silence speech on a major online platform, the quickest method is often a copyright or trademark complaint,” the EFF correctly noted. This isn’t what the law intended, but it’s a practice that we see all too frequently.

We strongly support the rights of all creators to reasonably protect their works — WordPress.com users create millions of original (and copyrighted!) posts every day, after all — but we are irked when IP holders stretch their legal rights to the point of abuse. The law is meant to also preserve free expression and fair use. So we strive to defend those liberties and build tough safeguards against censorship. Otherwise WordPress.com, and the Internet at large, cannot remain a free, open, and vibrant platform for all.

A major theme of the EFF report is transparency — how well do internet companies explain their policies to the world and especially to their users? This is crucial because copyright, trademark law, and the enforcement and takedown processes remain an obscure and misunderstood facet of the Internet. We’re continually working to improve on this front and are optimistic about similar efforts underway at many companies across the industry.

The EFF warmed our fair-use-loving little hearts by specifically citing Automattic’s lawsuits in response to abusive takedown requests, policy to have humans carefully review all trademark complaints, and recently expanded transparency report. They also gave shout-outs to great work done by our peers, such as Etsy’s fantastic explanatory writing and Twitter’s two solid years of standard-setting transparency reports, from which we’ve certainly drawn inspiration.

Have a look at the full report. It’s an interesting read, top to bottom. There’s even a PDF version for all you lawyers stuck in the last century.

The animated GIF used above I believe to be fair use of a scene from the Fox Broadcasting Network series Bob’s Burgers. If Fox disagrees, well, they know how to reach us