The DMCA Should Not Be An All Purpose Tool For Taking Down Content; And It's Espeically Bad For Harassment

from the so-dumb dept

Remember not too long ago when some internet dude was saying that the best way to deal with harassment on the internet was to basically create a DMCA for harassment, where people could issue takedowns? And remember how we pointed out that this would make things worse, because just as the DMCA is regularly abused to silence people, this new tool would actually be used as a tool to harass more people and silence their speech? Here’s just a little example of why a DMCA-like approach is a really, really, really bad idea as a way to deal with harassment or abuse online. Business Insider has a story about an unfortunate setup where a woman who is clearly being harassed was told by Twitter that she should file a DMCA notice, since some of the harassment involved using some of her photos. Following the sending of the DMCA notice, Twitter forwarded her notice to the folks harassing her, making them somewhat gleeful since it included her full contact info.

The Business Insider story doesn’t reveal who the person is, and we’re not going to do so either, because having looked at the details it’s not going to do anyone any good. Suffice it to say that the story is legit. It involves a “controversial” topic (that shouldn’t be controversial, if you’re even remotely informed) and I don’t want the comments on this story to devolve into an argument about said controversial topic. Either way, this is a clear story where some people on “one side” of this issue decided they were going to harass and intimidate someone on the other side. And this wasn’t just garden variety “disagreement on the internet” that someone claims is harassing. This was a dedicated plan to intimidate the person. And they were clearly happy about getting her info and planned to do more with it:

Elsewhere the same people discussed literally using the general controversy over the DMCA to create further harassment of the individual.

The person complained to Twitter about the harassment and it appears that someone from Twitter told her that since the people harassing her were using photos, she should make a DMCA complaint. This was mistake number one. The DMCA should never be used for things that aren’t really about copyright issues. It’s not designed for that kind of thing and Twitter deserves to be chided for one of its employees suggesting that. However, in looking at the commentary around all of this, a lot of people are angry that DMCA notices involve passing on the full notices. I saw someone complain that companies should never forward on DMCA notices because it only will be used for abuse. That’s a really bad idea.

There are good policy reasons for why we should want companies to forward DMCA notices on to the person who gets their work taken down. For one, given all the bogus takedown notices we talk about, things would be a lot worse if the people who were accused of infringement never were able to find out the details of who sent the notice. That’s part of the point of the DMCA, to create at least some channel of communication between the copyright holder and those accused of infringing. Obviously, in a harassment situation, things are totally different and it’s why the DMCA notice-and-takedown is exactly the wrong tool for this sort of thing, and any attempt to expand it in that direction is a really, really bad idea.

Furthermore, we should want DMCA notices passed on, including to places like Lumen Database, because that’s how we actually get some information about how the DMCA notice and takedown process is working — or not working. Worrying about censoring information in notices or not passing them along is not a good move. It just highlights why the DMCA process is a bad idea in contexts like harassment.

Now, the Business Insider article does make a good point that other companies, like Automattic and Github, are much clearer to people who are submitting DMCA notices that their details will be passed on to those who they’re accusing of infringement — and point out that you can have an agent file on your behalf. That’s also something that Twitter should do. But people complaining that Twitter should not forward on DMCA notices are confusing two separate issues. Twitter absolutely should forward on DMCA notices. That’s important. What they shouldn’t do is tell people to file DMCA notices over harassment issues.

Filed Under: , , , , ,
Companies: twitter

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “The DMCA Should Not Be An All Purpose Tool For Taking Down Content; And It's Espeically Bad For Harassment”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Nate (profile) says:

Seven or eight years ago a friend of mine (a British academic) took my advice and used the DMCA to get her spouse’s info removed from a neo-nazi website based in the US (the spouse is middle eastern).

The info had been scraped from a personal site, so I thought it was a pretty good idea at the time. I think she even went on to write a paper about it.

I don’t think ti would have worked as well now. Clearly the environment has changed.

I.T. Guy says:

Re: Let me guess...

Thank you. I knew there was more to this than some poor damsel in dis dress getting harassed. She goes around poking the bear (read gamers) and then is surprised she gets hate. Not to mention that the majority of hate she is getting is most likely from the under 18 crowd. Notice on her Feminist Frequency blog how she puts the “hate” comments but never posts what they were a response to. There should be an aptitude test for getting on the internet. Click a link, have profanity thrown at you and if your response is anything other than meh, click the next link, you are disallowed from the internet for 90 days.

I cant tell you how may times I have had my life threatened on YT. I even had someone make me a video threat. It was cute really. But ya know… IT’S THE INTERNET.

Tynkir (profile) says:

Re: Re: Let me guess...

You can’t pretend to know who is harassing her. Your entire statement is made up from 0 experience as a female gamer.

If you really care to know, it’s like this:
I’ve had death threats over winning dozens of times, rape threats, boot up the butt threat, 3 in-person threats from friends who literally cannot handle losing to a female. I no longer make any joke/teasing comments if I haven’t figured out what level their ability to play nice with women is at.

I have the same right to tease, but don’t. Why? After the first human a foot taller and 100 lbs larger than me got in my face yelling at me for shooting them, I realized some men are FAR TOO SENSITIVE to tease. And far too chauvinistic. I’m not saying all men are like this but, just because you don’t harass women in video games doesn’t mean no men do it.

Try being a female before commenting on what it’s like gaming as a female.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Let me guess...

I have been vocal and active on the internet from before the internet was open to the public. And while I certainly have received very, very angry comments from time to time, I have never (or rarely enough that I’ve forgotten) received any death threats that seemed serious.

However, it’s a fact that certain groups of people, such as female gamers, experience this sort of thing regularly. To claim that this is in some way normal or acceptable and that it’s somehow the fault or responsibility of the abused group is itself an example of the problem.

I.T. Guy says:

Jesus C it’s like talking to my wife here:
“The Business Insider story doesn’t reveal who the person is, and we’re not going to do so either, because having looked at the details it’s not going to do anyone any good. Suffice it to say that the story is legit. It involves a “controversial” topic (that shouldn’t be controversial, if you’re even remotely informed) and I don’t want the comments on this story to devolve into an argument about said controversial topic.”
[Goes and gets beer(s), doesn’t really care.]

In addition:
“This woman, who is in the tech industry, has been publicly involved in certain political activities.”
If she was a tech, she should have known. Prolly a DBA or developer.
“publicly involved in certain political activities”
So…. the “Doxing” wasn’t really a challenge as she is in the public arena anyway.

Lemme guess… she works with Trump. Lemme guess again… the harassers are Bernie babies.

Recap: She’s a “Tech.” But didnt have the brains to call local police but instead went running to Twitter. And what did she think was going to happen? Their accounts were going to get shut down? What would that have done? They would have just made another one.

Without actually knowing any of the details because someone won’t tell us, sounds to me like she’s not the brightest tech in the box.

This is the idiot generation. A wealth of information available to them, but some guy from Twitter tells her to file a DMCA… she sees all the info requested and does not even do a Google search to see exactly what is involved and what will happen. I bet she deposited a check from a Nigerian Prince too.

“and I don’t want the comments on this story to devolve into an argument about said controversial topic.”
Mike… meet internet, internet, Mike. 😉

All of the buttholes are here now says:

Re: Re: ????

Wow, this woman’s whole gaggle of trolls showed up here to leave nasty comments and try to blame her for their slimenut behavior.

History of bad behavior. Here is a story about the exact same guy stealing yet another woman’s photos and posting them to twitter:

Anonymous Coward says:

The day DMCA takedown requests can be sent anonymously is the day someone writes a bot to hammer YouTube and every other user-generated content host with bogus copyright claims. The companies which most aggressively take down videos on YouTube will be hit the hardest. VEVO, Universal, NBC, … it’ll be glorious. Of course, YouTube may still try to filter out the bogus claims, but that job will be made much harder if they can’t tell who the legitimate claimants are. Muhahaha.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

  1. Companies can already hire third-parties to do file DMCA claims on their behalf, and courts already accept bot-filed DMCA claims as valid so there pretty much already exists a way to anonymously file DMCA claims.

    2. Unlike claims made against ‘minor’ accounts I can guarantee that any claims against a large company actually receives human scrutiny, so the only people that would really get screwed over by something like that are the same people that already get screwed over, the smaller accounts and individuals, the larger ones wouldn’t even notice.

Anonymous Coward says:

Just so y’all know: The woman who is the subject of this post is not Anita Sarkeesian. And she has nothing to do with gaming, or game development, or gamergate. I mean, you can comment about all that stuff if you want, it’s a free country, I just thought you should know that that was not the actual topic of this post.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Just so y’all know: The woman who is the subject of this post is not Anita Sarkeesian. And she has nothing to do with gaming, or game development, or gamergate. I mean, you can comment about all that stuff if you want, it’s a free country, I just thought you should know that that was not the actual topic of this post.

This is correct. It has nothing do with gaming at all. And I’m disappointed that people are so focused on trying to figure out who it is, rather than focusing on the story.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:


I can understand that you want people to focus on the tech/legal side of this situation. However I come to techdirt to be informed. I want to read the articles here because they list reference material and have details that allow me to see for myself the issue instead of just accepting what the writer says and/feels is important. Yes I can go do my own google search and find out the information. I come here because it is faster and usually closer to neutral (at least logical and we’ll reasoned) in the stories than other media.

That being said I think you do a huge disservice to your readers when you obfuscate information like you did in this post. Readers that care will find out the info anyway and those that don’t care won’t bother commenting. The immature ones will be handled by the community. So grow some section 230 balls for any legal issues and let us readers police ourselves.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

You’re missing the point. Who this person is, what the picture is, or what the harassment is about doesn’t matter. The point of the article is to point out a misuse of the DMCA and to show a clear example why extending the notice and takedown system to harassment is idiotic.

The only reason there’s even that much detail in the article is to show that this is a real thing happening, not a hypothetical situation that people could just shrug off.

Niall (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

How can “Twitter (or other company) employees should not recommend using the DMCA for (anti-)harrassment purposes, especially without warning the complainer their personal details will be forwarded” be biased?

I don’t care if it’s gamergate, bernie babes vs trumpettes, or someone slagging Cincinatti parents. That really isn’t relevant to the carefully put main point of the story.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

what if this time the “harassment” was not actually harassment or there was a valid point to alter the DMCA that the author didn’t like. A more thorough analysis of the situation might help the reader discover something that the author missed.

In this case I was able to find out for myself that the backstory and details were not relevant to further develop the story or modify the DMCA. However the backstory could be used to propose law changes or at least personal protection strategies that the author has no interest in pursuing because it goes beyond the realm of DMCAs.

Also should we as readers just have complete trust that Mike and his team wrote about the whole issue or didn’t write the story in an unbiased way? No, we trust but verify and part of the verification is having all the details or at least provided enough information to go get the details for ourselves.

In this story there was no bias that I could detect but I could only verify that after looking deeper into the backstory. I think TechDirt prides itself on being honest in their writing. But after earning that trust someone or something could still be introduced that might cause readers to be misled in the future.

bob says:

Re: Re: Streisand Effect even affects Techdirt author Mike Masnick

for some backstory about the TechDirt post and how it came to be that the DMCA notice was issued.

Mike was trying to keep the person from becoming the focus of the comments section but all it did was cause people to talk about gamergate, etc…, instead of talking about the merit of issuing the DMCA request in the first place.

Regardless of if you think the person who sent the DMCA notice is a victim or not, the backstory is helpful for examining all the evidence about what people may or may not consider harassment. Which in turn can cause people to make better decisions about how 1st amendment issues should be dealt with on the Internet.

Also it could have pointed to some other related articles dealing with SB277 and how technology may or may not effect the outcome of legislation, see

LondonJ (profile) says:

The DMCA filing was not valid.

I’ve read the story, and there is also quite a backstory.
This was an invalid DMCA filing, period. It appears the complainant simply did not like the tweets being sent about her. Sometimes that’s just called Twitter-not harassment. The pic complained about appears to have come from a FB account, so not stolen. And the use appears to have been covered by fair use. That’s all.
In any event, Twitter clearly advises DMCA filer that personal info may be sent to party accused of infringement. Complainant should have been aware of what she was signings when she filed complaint.
On the other hand, I wonder where complainant got the screenshot of the messages she alleges were sent between the infringers? Very suspicious. IMO.

ParisO says:

Re: The DMCA filing was not valid.

Did we read the same backstory? They stalked her for over a year, tweeting videos they made of her from behind a block, then using pictures of her baby and her that they somehow got and then tweeted at other creeps and into hashtags to try and get other people to harass her.

DMCA may have been a stupid call but Twitter really screwed the pooch on this harassment situation. And TD got the story right.

LondonJ (profile) says:

Re: Re: The DMCA filing was not valid.

Don’t put pics on public sites if you don’t want them seen. The point is, this was abuse of DMCA. The complainant should be sanctioned for filing a false DMCA complaint & blaming Twitter for her inability to read what she was signing/research DMCA procedures. She just wasted everyone’s time.
If ya can’t take the heat, don’t get involved in trying to remove other peoples freedoms. Or don’t cry victim when there’s backlash.

Anonymous Lawyer says:

Re: Re: Re: The DMCA filing was not valid.

“Don’t get involved in trying to remove other people’s freedoms.”

OIC. My spidey sense says ur one of the anti-vaccers harassing this woman trying to make your side sound better in the comments here. I bet ur the one with “law” in her handle saying completely wrong garbage about how she asked for it by having photos at all and getting Fair Use all wrong. Even the bottom 1% of a law school class calls themselves lawyer.

Ur trying to smear her in comments and missing the point of the article. She DMCA’d because you sleazeballs harassed her for over a year and tweeted her private photos and other things about her behind a block. And one quick search of your feeds shows that’s true. Real freedom-fighters – free to spread diseases to chillens. Go back to your anti-vaccine blogs.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 The DMCA filing was not valid.

It’s a distraction. I’d like to add that your (plural) freedom ends where mine begins. Rule of thumb: if you don’t want it done to you, don’t do it to others. I’m sick and tired of seeing abuse of women trivialised. It DOES matter. If abusers get what they want, the internet will become a very hostile place for women to be themselves. Result: they’ll either be driven off altogether or forced to use male-sounding usernames so they can take part in online life. Is that what you (plural) want?

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 The DMCA filing was not valid.

“forced to use male-sounding usernames”

About 2/3 of the women I personally know who are active on the internet have been using male names for years. Originally, it was to get rid of the incessant sexual propositions — but now it’s more to avoid more hostile forms of harassment. The problem is very, very real.

This has also been a problem for a very long time — even longer than some people on the net have been alive.

Anonymous Coward says:


The Internet is evolving. Like all societies of humans, the Internet branches and seeks new levels. Alternative models will continue to arise and be tested in the crucible of live culture. If the Freenet’s Web of Trust idea ever gets traction in the open Internet, the death of e-presence of the casual evildoer is virtually guaranteed. The motivations to introducing the WOT more widely include situations such as this, i.e., destroying all ilks of liars about copyright, etc.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re:

There’s a world of difference between disagreeing with someone’s opinion, as I am doing here, and going out of your way to intimidate them into silence. If someone annoys me enough on Twitter I either mute or block them, then forget about them. No one is obliged to agree with me, however stupid or wrong I believe they are. I’ve finished making my point so I’m moving on.

Wahhmbo says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I found the story. They used her photo to harass her and have done it before. She says she owns the copyright and she only reported the one photo she owned, as the guy targeting her admits in his own message to his buddy. He “posted many photos” he admits. Stop anonymous victim blaming, you’re just here trying to win support in the comments section.

Publishing photos of someone and their child to intimidate them is scum low, Wahhhh. If you really are the Trump cooter doing it you or his buddy you need your head examined.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...