Totally Bogus DMCA Takedowns From Giant Publishers Completely Nuke Book Review Blog Off The Internet

from the but-piracy-is-the-problem? dept

Just as we’re in the midst of a Greenhouse series all about SOPA, copyright industry lobbyists, and former copyright industry lawyers now running the Copyright Office are conspiring to make copyright law worse and to favor Hollywood and give the big giant legacy copyright companies more control and power over the internet.

And, yet, we pay almost no attention to how they massively abuse the power they already have under copyright law to silence people. The latest example is the book review blog, Fantasy Book Critic. I’d link to it, but as I’m writing this all you now see is a message that says “Sorry, the blog at fantasybookcritic.blogspot.com has been removed.”

Why? Because two of the largest publishing companies in the world, Penguin Random House and HarperCollins, hired a ridiculously incompetent service provider called “Link-Busters” which specializes in bullshit automated DMCA takedowns for the publishing industry. Link-Busters’ website looks like basically all of these sketchy, unreliable services, promising to “protect IP” and (even more ridiculously) “turn piracy into profits.”

The company also claims on its website that “you can be assured your work will be protected to the fullest extent,” and also: “According to multiple independent metrics, Link-Busters quarantines and/or eliminates more pirated content than other anti-piracy services.” Of course, it’s easy to get more things taken down if you don’t give a shit as to whether or not it’s actually infringing. And apparently, that is Link-Busters’ secret sauce: sending bogus DMCA takedowns for things like book review websites.

On Monday, Link-Busters, on behalf of Penguin Random House and HarperCollins sent over 50 bullshit takedown notices to Google, claiming that various reviews on Fantasy Book Critic were actually infringing copies of the books they were reviewing. Each notice listed many, many blog posts on the site. This is just a small sample of four such notices.

The actual notices do contain some links to websites that appear to have pirated copies of some books available, but also lots of links to Fantasy Book Critic’s reviews. The whole thing just seems incredibly sloppy by Link-Busters. Some of the “allegedly infringing” books in some of these notices didn’t even include links to allegedly infringing pages.

And then some show the only allegedly “infringing” links being… Fantasy Book Critic’s reviews:

That link, which again, does not exist any more, can be seen on the Internet Archive where you see that not only is it clearly a review, and not piracy, but it directly links visitors to places where they can buy the book. Turning piracy into profits, huh? By taking down review sites pushing people to places where they can buy the book?

Of course, the real problem here is that there are no consequences whatsoever for Link-Busters or Penguin Random House or HarperCollins. While the DMCA has Section 512(f), which is supposed to punish false notifiers, in practice it is a dead letter. This means, Link-Busters can spam Google with wild abandon with blatantly false DMCA notices and face zero consequences. But, more importantly, publishing giants like Penguin Random House and HarperCollins (which are currently suing libraries for offering lendable ebooks), can get away with this abuse of the law over and over again.

Fantasy Book Critic was reduced to begging on Twitter for Google to look more closely at Link-Busters bogus notifications and to restore their blog. They even contacted Link-Busters which admitted that they fucked up (though, perhaps they should have checked before sending these bogus notices?)

Either way, among the many, many reasons why we opposed SOPA was the recognition that this kind of thing happens all the time, and the “remedies” under SOPA were that entire websites would get blocked at the DNS level under mere accusations of copyright infringement. In this case, it’s slightly different because Google (under a different part of the DMCA) is required to shut down “repeat infringer” accounts, and so here it took down the entire blog that was hosted on Google’s blogspot. The punishment under SOPA would have been even more draconian — blocking all access to the blog at the DNS level entirely.

So, as Penguin Random House and HarperCollins and their lobbying arm — lead by the former director of the Copyright Office, Maria Pallante — are currently trying to convince Congress to make copyright law even more in their favor and to shut down digital libraries, perhaps we should be looking at moving copyright in the other direction, so that these “mistakes” can’t happen any more. Perhaps copyright law shouldn’t allow the shutting down of a website based on totally bogus accusations from an automated spammer hired by the largest publishers in the world, where no one cares about what they might actually be taking down?

The problem is not piracy. The problem is copyright law enabling actual censorship — using the power of the law to silence speech.

Filed Under: , , , , , , ,
Companies: google, harpercollins, link-busters, penguin random house

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Comments on “Totally Bogus DMCA Takedowns From Giant Publishers Completely Nuke Book Review Blog Off The Internet”

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49 Comments

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re:

So Link-Busters is part of the government?

That probable otherwording aside: Link-Busters is using the power of the government⁠—specifically, the government-backed legal power of the DMCA⁠—to suppress speech. It need not be part of the government to use that power.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Maybe Twitter used some other section of federal law to shut down the then-sitting president’s account?

"A private entity using federal law to shut down speech they don’t like is bad! Bad! BAD! Unless it’s someone I don’t like, then it’s great!"

We truly now live in a clown world.

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Maybe Twitter used some other section of federal law to shut down the then-sitting president’s account?

They didn’t use and didn’t need to use any law(federal or otherwise) to boot his ass out the door, it’s their platform and he was there at their discretion, all they needed to do was decide that he wasn’t welcome anymore and out he went.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

the more interesting spin is you trying to blame 230 for your fat orange fuckboy getting booted from Twitter

like I said, the First Amendment gives Twitter the right to choose who gets to associate with Twitter

230 only protects that right

so, are you gonna argue that the law shpuld make Twitter host Trump’s speech in spite of 1A?

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

Okay now you’re just flailing around for a way to salvage your position and it’s getting sad. Trespassing laws have nothing to do with revoking someone’s digital account and banning them from a platform(for that you need look to those pesky first amendment and property rights), and last I checked that wasn’t the explanation given for why he was booted out the door, so even it those laws were applicable for digital platforms they weren’t used here.

Accept that you botched your original argument and let it die already because you’re not saving it on the merits when it doesn’t have any and trying is just making your look worse and worse.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

When it comes to content posted by other people, there is no difference between your website and twitter. There is a difference between you deciding to remove some posting with law protecting that decision, and being told to remove something with legal penalties if you fails to do so. The two situations are not equivalent, and neither is section 230 and the DMCA.

That you are trying to equate the two speaks to your ulterior motives in trying to ensure that you can force your way into any conversation and force people to agree with you..

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 There is a difference.

Section 230 allows a website to choose whether to moderate or whether not to moderate. The DMCA forces Google to respond to allegations of repeat infringement. In the first case the government gets no say in what the website does. In the second case the government forces a website to act fast and in doing so makes mistakes more likely. It’s quite clear that first case isn’t censorship and the second case is.

Okay, now I shall deactivate my filter.
At least one person at Penguin Random House or HarperCollins gets sadistic pleasure out of inflicting overbroad takedowns on non-infringers.

Bruce C. says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

If you believe that the defamation lawsuits against OAN are SLAPP suits, you’re definitely in the minority here. Also DirecTV isn’t the subject of any of the defamation suits and they still elected to stop carrying OAN, purely based on business considerations unrelated to government coercion.

ECA (profile) says:

isnt there a way?

To make this backfire to the gov?
Any source of documents that May/Could have a repeated statement? CR or Not CR, placing a false flag on it because they repeated a comment, sentence other from some place else, someone else?
How about using a number sequence for each line of text.
A starting comment repeated, "Its for the Children" would be a good one. It has to be a line in SOME book from the past. how about "Protection of", I would think thats in many book and articles.

Anonymous Coward says:

wait til the new rules for filtering content come into force in the eu, filter all content, if you are not sure if its infringing block it,or get sued for hosting 30 seconds of audio or video content,or maybe the photo used in a meme.small websites wont have the resources to filter 1000s of pieces of content, video,music,gifs ,it will be a disaster for free speech

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GHB (profile) says:

IMDB was also a target...

https://torrentfreak.com/anti-piracy-companies-continually-report-imdb-as-a-pirate-site-181230/

And also random news sites along with the EFF itself when topple track went haywire.

This is as hard as the scunthorpe problem, false positives and bad people bypassing the system (substitution, obfuscating/encrypting the data, etc).

SOPA turns automated DMCA senders into a nuclear missile launchers, and any “City” it has criminals will be nuked.

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morganwick (profile) says:

perhaps we should be looking at moving copyright in the other direction, so that these "mistakes" can’t happen any more. Perhaps copyright law shouldn’t allow the shutting down of a website based on totally bogus accusations from an automated spammer hired by the largest publishers in the world, where no one cares about what they might actually be taking down?

Silly rabbit, that would help the little people and make things marginally less convenient for big companies, so it’ll never happen in the United States.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

While somewhat true, it’s worth noting that one of the biggest abusers of such things relating to movie titles is Voltage Pictures, hardly one of the big boys in general terms, while as noted above IMDB (owned by Amazon) is a target.

The rules have been written with a handful of major corporations in mind, but abuse of them is an equal opportunity industry.

That One Guy (profile) says:

And strike three, say goodbye to your copyright

Funny how ‘copyright infringement is wrong because it takes something that doesn’t belong to you’ only works in one direction, and that direction just so happens to align with the interests of powerful and rich companies…

So long as there is no penalty for bogus copyright claims this will continue to happen because there’s no reason for it not to. Introduce a penalty that’s actually real and enforced and you’d see bogus claims all but disappear overnight since suddenly making them would actually have a cost beyond ‘have bot scraps as many links as possible and stuff them into a DMCA form’.

Just off the top of my head…

First strike, financial penalty with the money given to the victim and blocked from issuing a copyright claim for the work in question for a set amount of time.

Second strike, much heftier financial penalty and the ‘suspension’ duration is likewise significantly larger.

Third strike, copyright is revoked and placed into the public domain.

Issuing a copyright claim during the suspension period immediately moves the penalty up twice, so if it was your first violation but you just couldn’t help yourself before the timer ran out congrats, it just got bumped up to the third strike and you lost that copyright. Lastly the suspension period is tied to both time and the fine, if the timer runs on but you haven’t paid the financial penalty you’re still blocked from issuing copyright claims for that work until you do, so it’s not possible to simply wait out the clock.

If you have someone issue copyright claims on your behalf their actions are treated as yours, so you’d better make sure that they do a good job otherwise you’re going to start losing copyrights super fast. If someone issues a claim to a copyright they don’t own and don’t have the rights to there’s no suspension period(due to there being no copyright to link it to) but the financial penalty is immediately ramped up to a second violation level and doubled, so be very careful what you claim is yours.

Set up a system like this and not only would the ‘let the bots handle it’ industry collapse overnight(oh noes, what a loss), but DMCA claims would shrink to comparatively almost nothing and those that were sending DMCA claims would be much more careful in doing so, since there would now be a very real penalty for violations on both sides of the law rather than just the one.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: And strike three, say goodbye to your copyright

Your proposal sounds pretty good to me, but there will be a ton of bickering about "what if the lawsuit isn’t in bad faith, though?" and "the artist will starve during that suspension period" as if an artist shouldn’t be expected to make the vast majority of if not all of their art-related income by selling art and licensing privileges instead of suing people for doing something which costs the artist no actual money (or costs negative money) in most cases.

John85851 (profile) says:

Turn piracy into profit

Hasn’t this site shown over and over, and with plenty of studies, how to turn piracy into profit?

  1. People pirate songs and movies for various reasons.
  2. A large majority of them are impressed with the quality and BUY, whether that’s a CD or a movie theater ticket.

We can debate whether piracy is wrong, but blindly sending out takedown notices to review sites will not turn anyone into customers.
In fact, I’d bet news of this issue will spread further than any negative book review, assuming that review site even had any bad reviews.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Turn piracy into profit

We can debate whether piracy is wrong, but blindly sending out takedown notices to review sites will not turn anyone into customers.

Given my first response to the article was ‘Well, there’s two publishers to avoid’ and as the comment below notes I’m not the only one it certainly does the reverse of that quite nicely.

JustMe (profile) says:

Won't do business with Penguin Random House and HarperCollins

I read A LOT. I read between 12 and 14 books during my week off at Christmas, and probably 7 or 8 since then. I buy or rent (Kindle Unlimited) all of my books. This inane and insane behavior from two large publishers makes my job easier; if I see their imprint on a book I’ll just skip it. Hopefully more of my money will now go directly to the writers and illustrators.

Well done Penguin Random House and HarperCollins – you just lost a long time customer.

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Wyrm (profile) says:

We contacted the service (@linkbusters), & they acknowledged their mistake, and promised to send a retraction notice to @Google.

"… sometime between now and the heat-death of the universe."

Link-buster is sloppy and unreliable if not outright fraudulent. Does anyone expect them to actually send a retraction notice since they are at no risk of legal trouble?

The least this needs is a regular follow-up to apply pressure on them but I’m not sure even that would bother them.

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