Web Sheriff Accuses Us Of Breaking Basically Every Possible Law For Pointing Out That It's Abusing DMCA Takedowns

from the but-i-didn't-shoot-the-deputy dept

Remember Web Sheriff? That’s the wacky firm that claims it will send DMCA takedowns on your behalf or protect your online reputation by taking down stuff you don’t like. The company is somewhat infamous for being a joke and not doing its job particularly well. A couple of weeks ago we wrote about the company abusing the DMCA to try to get Google to delist stories relating to that “celebrity threesome” media injunction in the UK that has been making news for a few months. We highlighted just how ridiculous this was on many accounts, including using a copyright takedown notice on an issue that wasn’t about copyright at all. And they even tried to take down the company’s own Zendesk request to remove content from Reddit.

Well, suffice it to say that Web Sheriff was none too pleased with our article. Just a day after it went up, we received an email from “JP” at Web Sheriff (though it was “signed” by “John E. Henehan”) telling us that we had basically violated all the laws with that post (shouting caps in the original):

UK CONTEMPT OF COURT ACT (CONTEMPT OF COURT NOTICE)
CALIFORNIA CONSTITUTION ARTICLE 1 §1 (INVASION OF PRIVACY NOTICE)
EUROPEAN CONVENTION ON HUMAN RIGHTS ARTICLE 8 (INVASION OF PRIVACY NOTICE)
FEDERAL DATA PROTECTION REGULATIONS (CRIMINAL DISCLOSURE NOTICE)
EU DATA PROTECTION DIRECTIVE (CRIMINAL DISCLOSURE NOTICE)
UK DATA PROTECTION ACT (CRIMINAL DISCLOSURE NOTICE)
FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS DECENCY ACT (MALICIOUS COMMUNICATIONS NOTICE)
CALIFORNIA PENAL CODE §646.9 & §653.2 (MALICIOUS COMMUNICATIONS NOTICE)
CALIFORNIA CIVIL CODE § 1708.7 (MALICIOUS COMMUNICATIONS NOTICE)
UK COMMUNICATIONS ACT (MALICIOUS COMMUNICATIONS NOTICE)
UK PREVENTION OF HARASSMENT ACT (MALICIOUS COMMUNICATIONS NOTICE)
UK COMPUTER MISUSE ACT (MALICIOUS COMMUNICATIONS NOTICE)
DIGITAL MILLENNIUM COPYRIGHT ACT (COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT NOTICE)
EUROPEAN UNION COPYRIGHT DIRECTIVE (COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT NOTICE)
FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION E-COMMERCE REGULATIONS (CONSUMER PROTECTION NOTICE)
EUROPEAN UNION E-COMMERCE DIRECTIVE (CONSUMER PROTECTION NOTICE)
INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION ON CYBERCRIME (PROCEEDS OF CRIME & MONEY LAUNDERING NOTICE)

? and ?

NOTICE OF BREACH OF ISP’S / HOST’S PUBLISHED TERMS OF SERVICE
NOTICE OF BREACH OF WEB-SITE’S PUBLISHED TERMS OF SERVICE

Yeah, so, none of that is true. The email pretends to be a DMCA notice (among other things), but is not a valid notice in that it fails to actually name what copyright was infringed upon. Here’s what it says is the “infringing materials” where you’ll note despite quite a lot of SHOUTING TEXT, no actual materials are named.

5. Infringing / Violating Materials : A. ILLEGALLY PUBLISHED PRIVATE INFORMATION / DATA / IMAGES WHICH ARE THE SUBJECT OF AN INTERLOCUTORY INJUNCTION & ALLIED REPORTING RESTRICTIONS UPHELD BY THE SUPREME COURT OF THE HIGH COURTS OF JUSTICE, LONDON, ENGLAND (AND THE PUBLICATION OF WHICH CONTRAVENES & VIOLATES THE TERMS OF THE SAID INJUNCTION & REPORTING RESTRICTIONS), B. ILLEGALLY PUBLISHED PRIVATE INFORMATION / DATA / IMAGES THAT VIOLATE INTERNATIONAL & DOMESTIC DATA PROTECTION LEGISLATION & TREATIES, C. ILLEGALLY PUBLISHED PRIVATE INFORMATION / DATA / IMAGES THAT INFRINGE THE HUMAN RIGHTS / RIGHT-TO-PRIVACY OF THE SUBJECTS OF THE RELEVANT INFORMATION / DATA / IMAGES, D. ILLEGALLY PUBLISHED PRIVATE INFORMATION / DATA / IMAGES THAT INFRINGE THE RIGHT-OF-PUBLICITY OF THE PERTINENT SUBJECTS OF THE RELEVANT INFORMATION / DATA / IMAGES, E. ILLEGALLY PUBLISHED PRIVATE INFORMATION / DATA / IMAGES THAT INFRINGE THE PERSONAL GOODWILL & REPUTATION OF THE SUBJECTS OF THE RELEVANT INFORMATION / DATA / IMAGES, F. ILLEGALLY PUBLISHED PRIVATE INFORMATION / DATA / IMAGES THAT INFRINGE THE BUSINESS GOODWILL & REPUTATION OF THE SUBJECTS OF THE RELEVANT INFORMATION / DATA / IMAGES, G. ILLEGALLY PUBLISHED PRIVATE INFORMATION / DATA / IMAGES THAT VIOLATE INTERNATIONAL & DOMESTIC CONSUMER PROTECTION LEGISLATION & TREATIES, H. ILLEGALLY PUBLISHED PRIVATE INFORMATION / DATA / IMAGES THAT VIOLATE INTERNATIONAL & DOMESTIC HARASSMENT, MALICIOUS COMMUNICATIONS & CYBER-STALKING LEGISLATION & TREATIES, I. ILLEGALLY PUBLISHED PRIVATE INFORMATION / DATA / IMAGES THAT VIOLATE INTERNATIONAL & DOMESTIC PROCEEDS OF CRIME & MONEY LAUNDERING LEGISLATION & TREATIES, J. ILLEGALLY PUBLISHED & PIRATED COPYRIGHT CONTENT / IMAGES THAT INFRINGE THE COMPLAINANT’S COPYRIGHT, K. ILLEGALLY PUBLISHED PRIVATE INFORMATION / DATA / IMAGES THE PUBLICATION OF WHICH BREACHES THE ISP’S / HOST’S PUBLISHED TERMS OF SERVICE & ACCEPTABLE USE POLICY, L. ILLEGALLY PUBLISHED PRIVATE INFORMATION / DATA / IMAGES THE PUBLICATION OF WHICH BREACHES THE INFRINGING / VIOLATING WEB SITE’S PUBLISHED TERMS OF SERVICE & ACCEPTABLE USE POLICY (AS APPLICABLE ? PLEASE SEE URL LIST BELOW).

The email then goes on to try to explain how we broke all these laws and basically refuses to provide any details at all. I won’t go through them all (you can see the full email published below), but just for fun, here’s how we’ve been violating human rights:

HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS (VIOLATION OF INTERNATIONAL & DOMESTIC HUMAN RIGHTS LEGISLATION AND TREATIES THROUGH FAILURE TO ABIDE BY RIGHT-TO-PRIVACY PURSUANT TO, INTER ALIA, ARTICLE 8 OF THE EUROPEAN CONVENTION ON HUMAN RIGHTS & ARTICLE 1 §1 OF THE CALIFORNIA CONSTITUTION AND WAY OF THE ILLEGAL PUBLICATION, DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION & EXPLOITATION OF PRIVATE INFORMATION WHICH IS THE SUBJECT OF A COURT INJUNCTION AND IN CIRCUMSTANCES WHERE THE SUBJECTS OF SUCH INFORMATION / DATA / IMAGES HAD A REASONABLE EXPECTATION OF AND LEGAL ENTITLEMENT TO PRIVACY)

Or, my personal favorite — money laundering:

PROCEEDS OF CRIME & MONEY LAUNDERING VIOLATIONS (VIOLATIONS OF INTERNATIONAL & DOMESTIC PROCEEDS OF CRIME & MONEY LAUNDERING LEGISLATION & TREATIES THROUGH THE HANDLING AND / OR LAUNDERING OF THE PROCEEDS OF CRIMINAL ACTIVITY)

Yes, that’s right. Pointing out (accurately!) that Web Sheriff is trying to abuse the DMCA to take down material that is not subject to a copyright claim is — in the demented views of Web Sheriff — “money laundering.”

There’s also “harassment, malicious communications and cyber-stalking” where they can’t even bother to name a statute:

HARASSMENT, MALICIOUS COMMUNICATIONS & CYBER-STALKING VIOLATIONS (VIOLATION OF INTERNATIONAL & DOMESTIC HARASSMENT, MALICIOUS COMMUNICATIONS & CYBER-STALKING LEGISLATION & TREATIES THROUGH THE POSTING OF MALICIOUS COMMUNICATIONS AND OTHERWISE THROUGH THE PUBLICATION OF MATERIALS WITH THE INTENTION TO WILFULLY & MALICIOUSLY HARASS)

For added fun, twice in the email, the company notes that the email itself is covered by copyright, and then includes this bit of pure bullshit at the end:

This communication may not be disclosed or otherwise communicated to anyone other than the addressee(s), nor may it be copied or reproduced in any way without the written authorization of Web Sheriff®.

Yeah, that’s not how this works, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see them send another email claiming otherwise.

For what it’s worth, the very next day, we received another email from Web Sheriff that was basically identical, but demanding that we remove six comments on our earlier story about the UK injunction.

I do wonder if this kind of bullshit works for other people, in intimidating them to remove stuff from the internet because of the spaghetti/wall aspect of it all. But, rest assured, we’re not concerned because Web Sheriff is full of shit here. We violated none of those laws, and the fact that the company is so focused on trying to censor an article that highlights its own bogus conduct should tell you a lot about what a complete joke this company is.

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Comments on “Web Sheriff Accuses Us Of Breaking Basically Every Possible Law For Pointing Out That It's Abusing DMCA Takedowns”

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67 Comments
Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Which six?

“For what it’s worth, the very next day, we received another email from Web Sheriff that was basically identical, but demanding that we remove six comments on our earlier story about the UK injunction. “

While it is likely that one of the take down candidates is the comment that surreptitiously identified one of the celebs in question (oops, did I just re-out the supposed ‘secret’? (record the capitalized letters to break the code)), but which are the other five?

Anonymous Coward says:

Funny how that works, being in another country and expecting everyone on the globe to obey the laws and rules of the country Web Sheriff hosts from. You’d almost think they purposely chose the host country as the country of choice for the best possible laws to aid it in it’s aims.

Still doesn’t explain how it expects someone to obey laws outside their jurisdiction. I notice that for good measure they attempt to mix it up by adding US federal claims to the majority of Europe and UK claims; you know, just in case.

On the whole this whole thing has always felt scammy to me. If anything, it would be Web Sheriff that would be the one dealing with money laundering. After all you can bet they aren’t accepting thanks as payment. It illustrates exactly why there needs to be some sort of punishment for false claims.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Still doesn’t explain how it expects someone to obey laws outside their jurisdiction. I notice that for good measure they attempt to mix it up by adding US federal claims to the majority of Europe and UK claims; you know, just in case.

Going to court to defend yourself, or even just hiring a lawyer to do it for you is stressful, it’s expensive, it’s a huge eater of time. By throwing out every law they could think of it’s pretty clear they hope to intimidate the target(TD/Mike in this case) into folding, hoping that the deluge of ‘scary text’ will be enough to get TD to overlook the fact that there’s actually nothing backing up the threats.

From what I’ve heard before TD deals with threats like this(well, maybe not quite this over the top) on a fairly regular basis, so big words and mention of lots of laws isn’t going to be effective, but a one-man ‘team’ running a smaller site that gets something like this? Such a threat letter is likely to be very effective indeed because even if the target knows they’d win if it went legal it’s still much easier to just cave in, saving a lot of time and money in the process, time and money they might not have to defend themselves otherwise.

Remember, you don’t actually have to be right to screw someone over in court, you just have to be willing to spend more than them, and a threat costs nothing but the time it takes to write it up, with no penalty if it doesn’t work, so there’s no reason not to try the empty threats route.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

It’s strange. In the Spanish Civil Code we got this:

Art. 7.2. La ley no ampara el abuso del derecho o el ejercicio antisocial del mismo. Todo acto u omisión que por la intención de su autor, por su objeto o por las circunstancias en que se realice sobrepase manifiestamente los límites normales del ejercicio de un derecho, con daño para tercero, dará lugar a la correspondiente indemnización y a la adopción de las medidas judiciales o administrativas que impidan la persistencia en el abuso.

Rough translation (not literal):

The law doesn’t cover people abusing their right, nor condones anti-social behavior regarding it. Any act, or omission, either because it’s his intention, his purpose or because of the circumstances that exceeds the normal limits of the right, and is harmful to others, shall be stopped by judiciary or administrative means and shall warrant a compensation to the affected part.

As said, is a rough translation. But more or less it means that if you abuse your rights in some way, such as this case, it’s punishable by law.

I guess that the US law doesn’t have something like that (if it did, wrong DMCA notices would be punishable).

Still, it’s one of those things that you aren’t even aware about.

This guy is abusing his right to take down content, and even citing acts that aren’t simply true (like cyber-stalking).

Shit, you should be the one suing him.

Still, it surprises that he just hasn’t thrown you the whole civil and penal codes from multiple countries.

David says:

Re: Re: Re:

Typical British hypocrisy to ostracize salmon in suspicious circumstances and their caretakers while those putting them into suspicious circumstances in the first place and then absconding are free to spoil other vertebrates. If this doesn’t make every cold-blooded gentlefish boil with indigestion I don’t know what will.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I had to look up your salmon handling reference.

As near as I can tell, they’d already had laws on the books about taking salmon out of season. That 1986 law appears to make “salmon laundering” illegal too.

I might have added “loan salmoning”, but really, you were only borrowing a fin, not the whole salmon.

Fred the Fourth says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“Salmon Laundering” is a real thing, in California at least. Many moons ago I know a person who held a commercial fishing license but never sold his fish. The rules changed to require proof of sales as a condition of renewal. Fish sold by a commercial operation were required to have their fins nocked. This prevented a certain person who had no salmon on hand at the critical bureaucratic moment from simply buying a fish on one pier and selling it (to obtain the needed official sale receipt) on another pier. Not that he didn’t TRY, mind you…

David says:

I think you are mistaken:

This communication may not be disclosed or otherwise communicated to anyone other than the addressee(s), nor may it be copied or reproduced in any way without the written authorization of Web Sheriff®.

Yeah, that’s not how this works, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see them send another email claiming otherwise.

Uh, a legal document may be free for disclosure (unless privileged). But we are talking about an obvious fantasy genre parody of one here. As such, it clearly is the outcome of considerable creativity and rather than its form being mandated by necessity of the legal framework, it is an expression of pure creativity unconstrained by facts or laws.

So I don’t see how you are free to republish this piece of fiction even if you have been sent a personal complimentary copy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I think you are mistaken:

“Section 107 of the Copyright Act provides the statutory framework for determining whether something is a fair use and identifies certain types of uses—such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching….
http://www.copyright.gov/fair-use/more-info.html

Seems that the use here falls into fair-use territory.

Anonymous Coward says:

Stupid email. That being said, I would classify this as the equivalent to receiving an email telling me that the sender would like to send me 130 million dollars, so could I send them my banking information.

Much easier to just hit delete, unless of course you didn’t have anything else to write about at the moment.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Duh, that’s the perfect response to emails like this.

Instead of publishing them, Mike should just respond with an email apology and ask them to name a figure and send their bank account information. Then he can withdraw the named figure from their accounts. It would almost be legal. It would certainly be just.

Wilhelm Arcturus (user link) says:

There can be only one...

Having wandered over to Google to look at some of the reporting organization, I now want to know who would win in a fight between “Web Sheriff” and “DMCA Force.”

I am also curious about the organization listed as “Money Cult Network,” which seems to have indulged in a little too much truth in naming with that one.

Anonymous Coward says:

Their M.O. seems to be to cite every law they can think of that might possibly get something removed from a website, then say “Something on this site may violate one or more of these laws. TAKE DOWN ALL THE THINGS!”

Yeah they’re mostly a joke.

In the case of DMCA Force, as mentioned by another commenter, I’ve always imagined them walking into the office in slow motion while something explodes behind them and a non-infringing variation of the Power Rangers theme song is playing. “Go Go DMCA Force! You site-disabling DMCA Fo-orce!”

Anon E. Mous (profile) says:

Well this ought to do wonders for trying to enlist future clients. Rather than admit their error they decided to double down and throw in a bunch of shit to make it look scary.

All that is missing from the is the red floppy hair, the over sized shoes and the red nose to put on their representative that will no doubt be delivering a subpoena any minute now.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m a reader from Australia, so by posting the aforementioned articles, you’ve also violated the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cwth). Or the Cybercrime Legislation Amendment Act 2012 (Cwth). Or the Privacy Amendment Act 2000 (Cwth). Or maybe something else. Look, I don’t know alright? Like WebSheriff, I’m not a lawyer. But add it to your list please. I would like to see Australia represented.

Alan C (profile) says:

Re: Jurisdiction

As a reader up here in Scotland, I’d like to point out that the injunction at the root of all this is an injunction from an English court and only applies in England and Wales not in the rest of the United Kingdom (Scotland, Northern Ireland etc.)

Think of it as going to a court in Virginia for a warrant and trying to use it in Oklahoma or New York. But I see you’ve been there, done that:-)

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Its a pity that the people who hire these jackasses won’t bother to look at what this ‘professional’ company sends out representing their interests.

You’d think a business would want to be represented professionally and not by a petulant 17 yr old screaming at the world demanding it change because they think it should.

They are actively wasting money and causing more harm to their brand using companies that operate in this fashion. Because while we are mocking this ill-conceived letter, its drawing even more attention to that thing you paid them to try and hide.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

That’s the thing though, so long as the ones hiring them have plausible deniability(‘We didn’t send out the notices, they did, so take any complaints to them’) it’s not surprising at all that people would hire companies like this. When there’s no penalty for sending one bogus claim or a thousand, when there’s no penalty for making clearly bogus legal threats, but there are upsides such as a good chance that the target will fold and do what you want, then actions like this make perfect sense.

They’re incredibly sleazy and thuggish, but they are effective, and that’s all that matters to the people hiring them.

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

If you need to ask...

I do wonder if this kind of bullshit works for other people, in intimidating them to remove stuff from the internet because of the spaghetti/wall aspect of it all.

At $1000/hour or thereabouts for legal representation? Damn straight it intimidates people into removing stuff from the web. It’s going to cost you around three grand just for your lawyer to have a good laugh after he reads that email.

Anonymous Coward says:

Considering that TD reviews legal issues on the Internet as a profession,

the appropriate response is to reply back and inform Web Sherriff that you will be charging them for your reviewing services, for any additional bogus correspondence they send. Certainly being in the DMCA business, they understand that people expect to get paid for their content.

Then bill them for services rendered every time they send you this shit. Then turn them out to credit collections, and then sue them.

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