Hall of Shame: Something Stinks in Abbotsford

For our latest Hall of Shame entry, we turn our gaze towards the City of Abbotsford in Canada. For reference, here’s their logo. Commit it to memory, as you’ll want to remember what it looks like for later:

city of abbotsford.jpg

City officials took issue with a 2013 post written by a homeless blogger that criticized them for reportedly “deliberately spread[ing] chicken manure on a homeless person’s camp” in an effort to deter people from congregating in the area. To demonstrate just how… dirty a move the blogger thought this was, he illustrated his post with a doctored image of the city’s logo, which had been modified to include a large … well, see for yourself:

City of Abbotsford Parody Logo

The accompanying text reads:

“Oh crap! Abbotsford already needs to update their new city logo.”

That seems to make the blogger’s feelings quite clear. Unhappy, however, with this depiction of their logo, a marketing firm purporting to act on behalf of the Abbotsford city council sent us a DMCA takedown notification earlier this January, claiming copyright over the image.

DMCA-Abbotsford.png

It is unclear why the city council decided to go down this particular route in an attempt to have the image removed, or why it took them almost four years to do so. What is clear, however, is that this stinks. Pardon the pun. It was glaringly obvious that the addition of the hilariously large feces was for the purposes of parody, and tied directly to the criticisms laid out in the post. As a result, it seems hard to believe that the city council took fair use considerations into account before firing off their ill-advised notice, and trying to wipe up this mess.

We rejected the complaint, and passed it on to the blogger for his perusal. In response, he updated the logo, just in case there was any doubt that the image was being used for the purposes of commentary or criticism:

City of Abbotsford Parody Logo

Much clearer now.

City of Abbotsford, welcome to the Hall of Shame.

Note: Our use of the Abbotsford city logo in this post is also for the purposes of commentary or criticism, and therefore falls under fair use protections. If anybody on the council happens to be reading, please don’t send us another DMCA takedown. 🙂

Reforming the DMCA

We at Automattic are firm believers in legitimate copyright protection. We are also vigilant about shielding our users from abuse, particularly in cases in which the abuse aims to censor legitimate criticism or ignores fair use of copyrighted materials. As an online service provider, balancing these diverse interests and rights is important to us and requires careful review and diligence. Section 512 of the DMCA was enacted to provide online service providers like Automattic with guidance on handling these issues; however, in the almost 30 years since the law was passed, the Internet landscape has evolved significantly, leaving deficiencies in the safeguards of Section 512.

To help remedy these deficiencies, the US Copyright Office started an initiative last year to study and propose reforms to the DMCA. We were grateful to have an opportunity to submit our feedback and to highlight the issues we commonly experience with the current system—namely, abusive DMCA notices, a deficient counter-notice process, and the impact of copyright bots on fair use. As a follow up, the Copyright Office recently solicited empirical data and analyses to help shed light on the effectiveness and impact of the current Section 512 safe harbors – and Automattic was happy to share the data we’ve gathered on the subject in recent years.

Some key findings that we highlighted:

  • With three years of data relating to the copyright infringement notices we receive, it was particularly striking to see how consistent the figures are year after year on subjects such as counter notices, fair use, and procedural mistakes that we reject.
  • 10% of the notices of claimed infringement we receive are directed at clear fair uses or uncopyrightable content, or contain clear misrepresentations regarding copyright ownership. If our experience is representative of other online service providers in the industry, the overall volume of abuse is significant.
  • The number of counter-notices we receive is remarkably low, which we believe is not the result of a correspondingly low number of false or mistaken assertions of infringement, but instead results from the concern that sending a counter notification is likely to result in costly litigation, even if that litigation would ultimately turn out to hold that no infringement had occurred.
  • More than a third of the notices we receive simply do not contain the required information—they either include incorrect information, leave out pertinent information, or fail to provide a clear description of the unauthorized material.
  • Automattic has spent a significant amount on legal fees in bringing lawsuits against blatant violators of the DMCA, but has been unable to recover these costs or collect on judgments in our favor because the remedies available under the law are often illusory even in cases of clear abuse.

Our data shows a continuing issue with the current DMCA system, which allows abuse to go unfettered due to a lack of real statutory consequences. Internet users need a more effective remedy than the counter-notice to adequately safeguard their legitimate content. Stricter form-of-notice requirements, opportunity for targets to respond before content is removed, and statutory damages for abusive notices are some possible solutions that would provide increased protection for Internet users.

We are hopeful that our feedback and data will help guide reforms toward creating a more equitable environment for Internet users. We look forward to seeing how the law evolves and will continue to work hard to make the DMCA process as fair and balanced as possible.  

For more information about the data we collect, you can view our transparency reports related to section 512 here.

You can read our full comments here: Section 512 Comments

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.

Transparency Report Update: July–December 2016. Consistency is Key.

Today we launch our seventh bi-annual transparency report, covering the period between July 1 and December 31, 2016.

As usual, we detail the number of takedown demands and requests for information received from governments, as well as the intellectual property (IP) takedown notices we have received.

Having published these reports for a number of years now, something that is particularly striking is just how consistent the intellectual property figures are from one period to the next. To demonstrate this point, here are the percentages for the number of DMCA takedown requests we have rejected for each period, on the basis of being incomplete or abusive. The graphs include the total overall number of requests to provide some more context:

Looking just at the percentage of abusive notices received per reporting period, we see an even tighter range:

We believe that these numbers demonstrate a persistent and ongoing issue with the current copyright takedown system, which allows abuse to go unchecked due to a lack of real statutory consequences. Ten percent of notices on a single platform may not appear like much of a concern, but if our experience is representative of other similar hosts in the industry, the overall volume of abuse would amount to a huge number.

The same consistency seen in the IP numbers is not reflected in the percentage of government takedown demands that result in some or all content being removed as a result. Rather, these figures show a marked increase. This is partly due to a steadily climbing number of demands from countries such as Turkey and Russia, and also to a shift in our approach to handling these.

We encourage you to spend time looking through the data that we have collected, and dig in for yourselves. We’d also call on all hosts — big or small — to publish their own figures, and add their voice to the conversation.

The full transparency report is available here.

Automattic is an ORG Sponsor

This week we were proud to be unveiled as an official corporate sponsor of the Open Rights Group (‘ORG’), the very same week that the controversial Investigatory Powers Bill is being debated in the British Parliament.

Open Rights Group
ORG has been fighting tirelessly for digital rights in the UK since 2005. Despite their relatively small size, they have achieved some significant victories. They have campaigned against damaging legislation such as ACTA (which was rejected by the European Parliament in 2012); been instrumental in the implementation of the HTTP Error 451 status code to highlight sites that are rendered inaccessible for legal reasons; challenged mass surveillance in court; helped secure a ‘right to parody’ in the UK; and particularly close to our heart… fought for the rights of bloggers when they’ve been threatened with frivolous copyright takedown demands.

The work that ORG do is vital to protecting many of the online values Automattic shares, and we’re happy to support their mission.

Find out more about the Open Rights Group on their site.

Automattic and WordPress.com Stand with Apple to Support Digital Security

At Automattic, we’re very mindful of the trust our users place in us to keep their information private and secure, and we work hard to build systems, software, and legal policies to safeguard that information. We’re also very mindful of threats to user trust and security, and we believe that the recent federal court order, issued against Apple in the San Bernardino case, poses just such a threat.

The order requires Apple to write code to deliberately weaken standard security measures on an iPhone, in furtherance of the federal criminal investigation. Though the investigation is very important, the court’s order could pose a great threat to the security of all digitally stored information, and undermine the trust that users have placed in companies, like Automattic or Apple, to keep their sensitive personal information and data safe.

Apple has challenged the order, and today, Automattic has joined many leading Internet and technology companies in filing an amicus brief in support of Apple’s legal challenge.

Weaker Security Hurts Everyone

Like Apple, we respect the rule of law, and honor the valid government orders we receive to furnish data in connection with criminal investigations. But deliberately weakening information security, as Apple has been asked to do here, is a step too far that makes everyone less safe.

Undermining security measures – even in situations where there appear to be good intentions – will inevitably have unintended consequences for regular people. As Apple said in a letter to its customers, intentionally weakening security at the government’s request “would hurt only the well-meaning and law-abiding citizens who rely on companies like Apple to protect their data.” The fact is that if a security flaw exists, there is no way to ensure that only trusted governments, investigating a crime, can exploit that vulnerability. Improving security for everyone means aggressively finding and closing holes, not creating new ones.

Dangerous Legal Precedent

This case is not simply about access to one iPhone. It’s a decision that will serve as a (possibly global) precedent for what software, and the companies that build it, can and can’t do to protect user information. These protections exist to thwart anyone that seeks unauthorized access to user information (like hackers), and they need to be as strong and sophisticated as possible. If the San Bernadino order stands, the precedent it sets – that companies can be forced to weaken their own security – will be a dangerous one. Future orders could apply to not just smartphones and other hardware, but also to Internet services like those provided by Automattic.

Standing With Apple

Automattic takes great pride in building software that is not only free and open, but also secure. We stand with Apple in both condemning terrorism and defending the privacy and security of our users. If Automattic was faced with a government order like the one issued in San Bernadino, we, like Apple, would do everything within the law to challenge it. That’s why we’re joining with a sizable group of leading tech companies today to support Apple in this case.

You can read our full legal brief below.

 

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!