Internet Brands Targets Techdirt Post For Removal Because Of 'Infringing' Comment Left By A Reader

from the not-how-that's-supposed-to-work dept

The DMCA takedown notice allows rights holders to perform targeted removals of infringing… I can't even finish that sentence with a straight face. IN THEORY, it can. In reality, it often resembles targeting mosquitoes with a shotgun. Collateral damage is assumed.

Case in point: Internet Brands recently issued two takedown requests to protect some of its cruelty-free, farmed content originating at LawFirms.com. It's this phrase -- taken verbatim from LawFirms' "Penalties for Tax Evasion" -- that has triggered the takedown notices from Internet Brands.

Tax evasion refers to attempts by individuals, corporations or trusts to avoid paying the total amount of taxes owed through illegal means, known as tax evasion fraud.
The first takedown targets several URLs, some of them merely content scrapers. Other URLs listed (like this one) target posts with comments containing parts of IB's post -- even comments providing a link back to the original article being quoted.

The second (at least according to Google's non-numeric sorting) is a repeat of the first, except for the addition of a Techdirt post. At first glance, the targeting of this article by Tim Geigner -- "Dear Famous People: Stop Attempting Online Reputation Scrubbing; I Don't Want To Write Streisand Stories Anymore" -- would appear to be exactly the sort of behavior Dark Helmet was decrying. But it isn't.

The phrase triggering the Internet Brands takedown can be found in a very late arrival to the comment thread, more than one-and-a-half years after the original post went live. It opens up with this:
This is a very interesting. I read the whole article at New York Magazine. So someone is accused of tax evasion and then charges are dropped and then tries to clean up his reputation.... nothing wrong with that.
Then, for no apparent reason, the commenter drops in the LawFirms.com paragraph highlighted above.


Now, here's the problem. If blogs and other sites are reposting others' content without permission, that's one thing. But targeting whole posts for delisting just because a commenter copy-pasted some content is abusive. It could very possibly take out someone else's created content -- covered under their copyright. Using a DMCA notice in this fashion can allow unscrupulous rights holders to bypass Section 230 protections -- effectively holding site owners "responsible" for comments and other third-party posts by removing the site's original content from Google's listings.

From the looks of it, Internet Brands did nothing more than perform a google search for this phrase and issue takedown notices for every direct quote that originated from somewhere other than its sites. It didn't bother vetting the search results for third-party postings, fair use or anything else that might have made its takedown request more targeted. Internet Brands doesn't issue many takedowns, so it's not as though its IP enforcement squad had its hands full. In fact, there's every reason to believe actual humans are involved in this process, rather than just algorithms -- all the more reason to handle this more carefully. Here's a little bit of snark it inserted into a 2014 DMCA takedown notice.
The interview and photos are published on our website and permission hasn't been granted for anyone else to republish them. Not only is the content stolen it out ranks our website in a Google search for the keyword "th taylor". So much for Google being able to identify the source of original content!
If a company has the time to leave personal notes for Google (which doesn't have the time to read them), then it has time to ensure its requests aren't targeting the creative works of others just to protect its own. The DMCA notice is not some sort of IP-measuring contest with Google holding the ruler. If Internet Brands thinks it is -- or just hasn't bothered to vet its takedown requests before sending -- it's usually going to be the one coming up short. If Google doesn't ignore the request, those on the receiving end of a bogus takedown will make a lot of noise. Either way, it''s accomplished nothing.


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  • icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), 16 Mar 2015 @ 10:43am

    Oh fun

    Not only is the content stolen it out ranks our website in a Google search for the keyword "th taylor"

    th taylor, bitches!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 16 Mar 2015 @ 10:45am

    I am not well, I was actually hoping they went after one of my comments.

    Once again we have a shiny example of why there needs to be penalties for misusing the DMCA system.

    On the upside the snarky note should confirm for Google that they are nothing buy a farm gaming SEO for position and should accordingly be ranked lower. :D

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Mar 2015 @ 10:45am

    I've seen this kind of behavior at other places on the web, copy and pasting of content into comment sections. I don't know what the purposes of it is though.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 16 Mar 2015 @ 11:52am

      Re:

      If I had to guess, it's probably a form of trolling, 'DMCA baiting', where people who know how indiscriminate 'content protection' companies can be when throwing out DMCA claims intentionally try and cause a bit of hassle for random sites by forcing them to deal with the matter and either have something de-listed, or fight it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JP Jones (profile), 16 Mar 2015 @ 12:39pm

      Re:

      My guess is that someone wanted to define tax evasion for their point, so they searched for "tax evasion" and copied and pasted from somewhere that had a decent definition. They're writing an internet comment, not a thesis; plagiarism isn't exactly the first thing they're worried about, let alone "content infringement."

      Either way the takedown is asinine. It's one thing to copy an entire article, or even the article's main points. To worry about your definition (not even a great definition) of a common term is ridiculous. Even if fair use didn't apply (I'm pretty sure it does, but the legality can be funky) that only shows an issue with the law, not the "infringement."

      There really needs to be a way to punish companies for bogus DMCA takedowns. The argument that "there's too much stuff out there, so we can't verify everything!" is a cop-out. That's like the police whining that there's too many cars so they can't catch every speeder. Boo hoo, nobody cares. But when your automated systems punish those who haven't broken the law, there needs to be consequences, or all you're doing is encouraging abuse.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        JP Jones (profile), 16 Mar 2015 @ 12:40pm

        Re: Re:

        The argument that "there's too much stuff out there, so we can't verify everything!" is a cop-out.

        Arg, pun not intended. Sorry.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 16 Mar 2015 @ 1:03pm

        Re: Re:

        The argument that "there's too much stuff out there, so we can't verify everything!" is a cop-out. That's like the police whining that there's too many cars so they can't catch every speeder.

        Accurate, but you didn't go far enough.

        Applying the logic used to defend bogus DMCA claims, that of 'there's too much stuff to check whether or not something is actually infringing before claiming it is' in other situations would be like cops complaining that there's too many speeders out there, and using that to justify sending random drivers tickets, whether they are guilty or not, or even drive at all.

        And if innocent people ended up facing fines and dings against their driving record? Why, just take it to court, if you're really innocent I'm sure that'll clear it up. Never mind that that takes money and time that some people may not have, and is punishing them for something they haven't done, nope, there are too many people speeding to check, a little collateral damage is a small price to pay.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          JP Jones (profile), 16 Mar 2015 @ 7:50pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Fair enough, I was thinking about the automated cameras that ticket parked cars when I wrote that section. Pretty much the same general idea; using automated systems to charge people with a crime regardless of accuracy and little to no repercussion if wrong.

          At least for speeding and running lights there's actually a potential risk to public safety. DMCA takedowns only theoretically give an economic benefit to a copyright holder...and even that theory is extremely weak, if not provably false. But hey, even the slight chance that someone will make a bit of money is apparently worth the sacrifice of our freedom of speech, right?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2015 @ 5:34am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Automated speeding tickets for parked cars is quite feasable.

            You just have to "convince" the camera that it is stationary and drive above the stated speed limit with the camera aimed at the street side parking area.

            If nobody checks the footage it could be a moneymaker.
            A car was speeding and footage of a car was taken.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 16 Mar 2015 @ 10:45am

    The phrase triggering the Internet Brands takedown can be found in a very late arrival to the comment thread, more than one-and-a-half years after the original post went live.

    So if we post that line into old posts we can simultaneously make the company spend more paper and man-power AND troll Tim/Mike with a bunch of spam dmca.

    Tax evasion refers to attempts by individuals, corporations or trusts to avoid paying the total amount of taxes owed through illegal means, known as tax evasion fraud.

    *starts browsing older articles*

    Ahem. Thankfully we have no trolls in Techdirt so it's all clear.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Blackfiredragon13 (profile), 16 Mar 2015 @ 12:18pm

      Re:

      Right no trolls. *Deliberately avoids glancing in the direction of anti-td, out of the blue and the couple of ACs who make chicken noises every post and think all TD writers pirate content on a massive level.*

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 16 Mar 2015 @ 2:36pm

        Re: Re:

        I haven't seen Ootb post ever since he/she threatened to never post again.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          ltlw0lf (profile), 16 Mar 2015 @ 3:36pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          I haven't seen Ootb post ever since he/she threatened to never post again.

          Which time? If I remember correctly, that threat was made many times. I believe what happened is that we stopped talking to them/about them, and they went poof.

          Of course, now that we mentioned their name again, they might appear.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            football, 16 Mar 2015 @ 6:12pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            I suspect that real reason "out of the blue" and "average joe" don't post is simply because there aren't even chickens here any more, just chicken shit. The site is so far down, isn't even worth trolling.

            When's the last time Masnick wrote anything original? Hasn't even shown up this week excepting saying he's "exhausted" by this most recent "Copia" crap where some trust fund kids pretend they're "innovating"! -- Masnick's record on gauging "innovation" as proven by court cases from Napster to Aereo is near zero, he couldn't be more wrong. Case after case show it's illegal to get money from content that someone else made, and that copying is stealing.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Michael, 16 Mar 2015 @ 10:47am

    Tax evasion refers to attempts by individuals, corporations or trusts to avoid paying the total amount of taxes owed through illegal means, known as tax evasion fraud.

    Wow. It's a good thing that we have protection from people reproducing such a creative piece of...work.

    How can a definition be deemed creative enough to qualify for copyright protection?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Mar 2015 @ 11:04am

      Response to: Michael on Mar 16th, 2015 @ 10:47am

      My thought exactly. This is not an especially creative description being a factual definition. Even if truly copyright able, The bar for fair use should be pretty low

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 16 Mar 2015 @ 11:09am

        Re: Response to: Michael on Mar 16th, 2015 @ 10:47am

        It makes me wonder what phrase the IRS uses for a definition.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Michael, 16 Mar 2015 @ 11:20am

          Re: Re: Response to: Michael on Mar 16th, 2015 @ 10:47am

          They like to use something as vague and broad as possible so they are able to apply it to anyone they don't really like.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 16 Mar 2015 @ 12:52pm

          Re: Re: Response to: Michael on Mar 16th, 2015 @ 10:47am

          They use a definition like: "it's whatever we decide it is if we want to charge you with it".

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 16 Mar 2015 @ 11:17am

        Re: Response to: Michael on Mar 16th, 2015 @ 10:47am

        The incentive to communicate such a definition isn't to make money off the creative nature of defining tax evasion. The incentive is to get people to pay their taxes and to hopefully get people to use their tax services. Since the commenters use doesn't deter from any of those things and, if anything, encourages people to seek legal tax services, the copy protection here doesn't do anything to promote the progress and serve its intended purpose. So this should not be a copy protection issue.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 16 Mar 2015 @ 11:14am

      Re:

      "How can a definition be deemed creative enough to qualify for copyright protection?"

      It's pretty easy, actually. Most definitions include at least the modicum of creativity needed -- writing good definitions is a difficult task that requires creativity.

      That particular definition is awful, though, from a grammatical standpoint. One would think that they wouldn't mind distancing themselves from it:

      Tax evasion refers to attempts by individuals, corporations or trusts to avoid paying the total amount of taxes owed through illegal means, known as tax evasion fraud.


      (Emphasis mine)

      In the naive reading, this could mean "taxes owed as a result of illegal activity" rather than the intended meaning of "illegal means to avoid paying taxes owed."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 16 Mar 2015 @ 1:06pm

        Re: Re:

        We are for sure getting close to a de minimus here. 168 signs and 27 low-lix words is a bit to the low side of creativity. The chance of a random independent repeat should count against those kinds of claims.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          MrTroy (profile), 17 Mar 2015 @ 1:20am

          Re: Re: Re:

          I'm not sure that's a great measure of creativity. See also http://www.textetc.com/modernist/minimalists.html, or haiku.

          Does de minimus apply to fine art too? Mondrian, et al.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2015 @ 8:04am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            De minimis should not be confused with minimalism. De minimis applies to trivial details about a case not the number of elements in a work. Furthermore, the number of elements in a work do not necessarily correspond to the level of creativity in a work as it often takes more creativity to work effectively within such constraints. In short, less is more.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              John Fenderson (profile), 18 Mar 2015 @ 9:34am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              "it often takes more creativity to work effectively within such constraints"

              An artist friend of mine has a great statement about this: "Art is creativity constrained."

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 16 Mar 2015 @ 10:25pm

        Re: Re:

        "Most definitions include at least the modicum of creativity needed -- writing good definitions is a difficult task that requires creativity."

        Like when you're making up your own.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    RadioactiveSmurf (profile), 16 Mar 2015 @ 10:50am

    How do we know someone from Internet Brands didn't post that comment in order to try and delist the entire thread? I wouldn't be surprised at all if that's what was happening.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      A Non-Mouse, 16 Mar 2015 @ 1:15pm

      Re:

      My thoughts exactly. Someone needs to go check the logs to see where "Sam" posted from.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 16 Mar 2015 @ 1:33pm

        Re: Re:

        No, no, no. That might violate the privacy of "Sam". What in my opinion needs to be done is to get every traffic generated by every computer and also every employe of Internet Brands. That information should imho then be checked by the website "Sam" posted on ro check if a match exists.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Mar 2015 @ 11:05am

    Urban legend ?

    I have heard that if you say Tax evasion refers to attempts by individuals, corporations or trusts to avoid paying the total amount of taxes owed through illegal means, known as tax evasion fraud. out loud, 3 times in a row, a copyright lawyer will jump out of the nearest toilet and throw DMCA notices covered in human feces at you.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Michael, 16 Mar 2015 @ 11:24am

      Re: Urban legend ?

      TechDirt,

      Please remove this comment as it has clearly made use of the trademarked movie name "Urban legend" and then goes on to describe a plot that is protected under copyright.

      - the MPAA

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Oblate (profile), 16 Mar 2015 @ 1:03pm

      Re: Urban legend ?

      &nbsp ...DMCA notices covered in human feces...


      What a terrible thing to do to feces.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    wereisjessicahyde (profile), 16 Mar 2015 @ 11:17am

    "targeting mosquitoes with a shotgun" Technically, shooting mosquitoes with a shotgun would likely be ineffective for the same reason mosquitoes don't fall out of the sky when it rains. Sorry, pedants corner head on. :D

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Michael, 16 Mar 2015 @ 11:26am

      Re:

      Dick Cheney could make it happen if he were friends with a mosquito.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 16 Mar 2015 @ 1:02pm

        Re: Re:

        Dick Cheney has friends? If you have to pay someone for sex, they aren't really your lover. They are a whore and you are their customer. In the same vein, I'm not sure cronies count as friends so I ask again. Dick Cheney has friends? Where? Maybe in the 7th level of Hell. Do those count?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      M. Alan Thomas II (profile), 16 Mar 2015 @ 1:53pm

      Re:

      Mosquitoes don't fall out of the sky when it rains because they can swim through raindrops.

      No, seriously, there's some amazing slow-motion footage of it.

      I suspect that mosquitoes can't swim through birdshot.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        wereisjessicahyde (profile), 16 Mar 2015 @ 2:25pm

        Re: Re:

        No, they can't swim through raindrops mate. The reason is thatthey are so small and light, the air moving in front of the raindrops moves them out of the way before they get hit.

        Shotgun shot does the same thing.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 16 Mar 2015 @ 4:40pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Actually neither of you seem to be correct.

          Mosquitoes have hydrophobic bodies to an extent, keeping water from 'sticking' as much as it might otherwise, and 'shunting' the water off to the side in the case of glancing blows, reducing the force they experience, and keeping them from getting soaked, and weighed down by the water..

          If they take a full on blow from a raindrop, while it knocks them down a good amount, they are able to recover relatively quick, and thanks to their low mass, the force transferred is fairly light, lessening the impact.

          https://youtu.be/XWyoy44oV3Q

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      WysiWyg (profile), 17 Mar 2015 @ 2:30am

      Re:

      So it does nothing about the problem and risks causing massive collateral damage to bystanders. Sounds like a pretty accurate description of the DMCA to me.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Muahahaha, 16 Mar 2015 @ 11:27am

    Off to post that definition onto the pages of people I don't like!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 16 Mar 2015 @ 11:32am

    A company that "protects" IP uses the most generic term possible, "Internet Brands", as its name.

    Do they also send takedown notices to those who use the term "internet brands" to refer to Google, Facebook, Pinterest, Techdirt, etc.?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    jackn, 16 Mar 2015 @ 11:39am

    Yay, let's all trash Internet Brands.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Mar 2015 @ 12:15pm

    Copying is not stealing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Mar 2015 @ 12:27pm

    Stupid or intentional

    Just another abuse that will be used to take down a site......find the nearest contraversy, dont really care about it, post it on the target website in the hopes of shutting it down......and generally cause friction in the public sphere by populating it with questionable characters who might not even exist......propogating the need for authority

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Mar 2015 @ 12:46pm

    The company doesn't know how search engine rankings or Section 230 works.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Mar 2015 @ 2:10pm

    Many comments

    So many to read. So, we can't post this?

    This is a very interesting. I read the whole article at New York Magazine. So someone is accused of tax evasion and then charges are dropped and then tries to clean up his reputation.... nothing wrong with that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    David (profile), 16 Mar 2015 @ 5:34pm

    Are they commenting?

    A comment on a post from a year+ ago makes me wonder if they don't have someone at their site doing the cut and paste job.

    Then they target the post, proving their very effective system so they can bill somebody somewhere for their genius.

    Never assume malice when stupidity will suffice. Although avarice has been known to sneak in there on the web more often than not.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Padpaw (profile), 16 Mar 2015 @ 7:37pm

    sites like this are a hotbed for dissent. if it cannot be brought down legally I think we can all agree those who do not like places like this have no problems trying to bring things down they do not like illegally

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2015 @ 5:41pm

    Mistake in the article

    Tim, you made a mistake in the first paragraph of this article.
    Collateral damage is assumed.

    What you meant is:
    Collateral damage is assured.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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