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?)
(7/n) As a result of this massive amount of wrong #DMCA notices, @Google Blogger removed the blog for the breach of TOS (Terms of Service) immediately. We contacted the service (@linkbusters), & they acknowledged their mistake, and promised to send a retraction notice to @Google.
— Fantasy Book Critic (@FantasyBookCrit) January 19, 2022
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.