EFF Fights For Redditor Targeted By Religious Organization For Forum Posts About Its Data Collection Policies

from the shut-up,-they-dmca'ed dept

There goes the DMCA, being wielded as a tool of censorship again. The EFF is currently battling for a Redditor's anonymity -- something threatened by a bogus DMCA takedown and a subpoena seeking to unmask this supposed infringer.

It's about much more than simply disappearing content from the internet one party didn't want exposed. It's about targeting an individual to deter them from ever posting content like this again. Behind the subpoena is a powerful religious entity -- one that's seeking to shut down criticism of its means and methods.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is representing an anonymous Reddit commenter who is facing an abusive copyright claim from the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, a group that publishes doctrines for Jehovah’s Witnesses. Today, EFF filed a motion to quash the attempt by Watchtower to unmask the online commenter.

The commenter referred to as “John Doe” in the filing is a lifelong member of the Jehovah’s Witness community. Using the handle “darkspilver,” Doe has chosen to share comments and concerns via one of Reddit’s online discussion groups. Darkspilver’s posts included a copy of an advertisement asking for donations that appeared on the back of a Watchtower magazine, as well as a chart Doe edited and reformatted to show the kinds of data that the Jehovah’s Witness organization collects and processes. Earlier this year, Watchtower subpoenaed Reddit for information on “darkspilver” as part of a potential copyright lawsuit.

There is no legitimate reason for the Watchtower's actions. The point of these efforts is to chill free speech about a large religious organization that engages in questionable behavior. Anonymity is essential to these discussions. Without this protection, Watchtower could track down users whose comments it didn't like and engage in targeted harassment until the comments stopped.

The EFF is asking the court to quash the subpoena and stand up for the right to engage in anonymous speech. As the EFF's motion [PDF] points out, members of the church stand to lose a lot more than the ability to comment on their church's actions if exposed. Their social and familial lives could be completely disrupted.

The ability to speak pseudonymously is crucial to Doe’s ability to comment freely about matters that can be deeply divisive and contentious among both current and former members of the Jehovah’s Witness community. Doe’s lifelong experience with that community makes Doe afraid to question or doubt religious doctrine or administration in public. Doe believes that dissenting points of view are strongly discouraged in the Jehovah’s Witness community, and that those who express them are likely to be labeled “apostates,” and excommunicated, or “disfellowshipped” from the community. For Doe and others, who grow up and live their lives within the Jehovah’s Witness community, alienation from their religious community means alienation from central social relationships with friends and family.

As the EFF points out, the content targeted by the bogus takedown can only be considered "infringing" if everything else contained in copyright law is thrown out. One targeted posting was a scan of the back of a Watchtower magazine containing instructions on how to donate to the organization. The other contained information about the organization's compliance with European data collection regulations. These were posted for informational purposes, allowing members of the subreddit to express their opinions about the organization's data collections and policies. Even if Watchtower has legal ownership of both of these pieces of content, copyright law wasn't violated by the user's posting.

If Watchtower is able to establish ownership for both items, its infringement claims would still fail because both posting are lawful fair uses. The doctrine of fair use “allows the public to use copyrighted works ‘for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching ... and scholarship.’”

[...]

The first posting, the Ad, was originally intended to raise money for the organization. Doe, by contrast, posted it on Reddit in order to spark further commentary regarding the organization’s solicitation strategy – which it did. Moreover, there is no evidence that Doe had any conceivable commercial purpose. The Chart, appears to have been originally created to summarize the Jehovah’s Witness organization’s storage and handling of personal data in connection with obligations of a new European data privacy rule. Doe’s reformatted version, by contrast, was intended to give subreddit members truthful information about the type of data the Jehovah’s Witness organization stores, and how it handles that information, to assuage potentially misguided concerns, and thus help encourage the preservation of information that might be useful in the future to reveal or punish past abuse.

The court has an obligation to protect free speech -- even the anonymous speech of a person who may reside outside of the United States. Commentary on issues of public interest is an essential element of free speech. The internal workings of a religious organization with 20 million members worldwide is definitely of interest to the public -- especially members of an online forum dedicated to discussion of this organization. Hopefully, this attempt to intimidate a forum member into silence by abusing copyright law will be decisively rejected by the court.

Filed Under: copyright, dmca, eff, free speech, watchtower
Companies: reddit


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2019 @ 9:40am

    Well just remember if your apartment building collapses on you, other tenants were afraid of being blacklisted if they complained.

    Brave new world in which we live.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2019 @ 3:59pm

      The watchtower organisation actually referenced

      something with SPECIFICITY? Normally it's vague "...War and Piece, ...." references.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2019 @ 9:46am

    Unfortunately, the doctrine of the DMCA says that anyone counter-notifying has to identify themselves and where they will accept service of a lawsuit. They could have just removed the posting and reposted it without the allegedly infringing material.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2019 @ 9:55am

      Re:

      That rule conflicts with the (implicit) First Amendment protections for anonymity that courts including SCOTUS have repeatedly upheld. So yes, they could have given in to the bully, but there's a legitimate case for the courts here.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2019 @ 10:32am

        Re: Re:

        They should then sue to make the DMCA counter-notice provision unconstitutional for that reason.

        The Court might say they gave up their right to anonymity by allegedly infringing. Tough call.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2019 @ 10:52am

          Re: Re: Re:

          The Court might say they gave up their right to anonymity by allegedly infringing. Tough call.

          "Allegedly infringing" is not a thing they did, it's a thing someone else said about them. To unmask a person simply because someone said they infringed would make a mockery of the idea that anonymous speech is a right. If the court is to allow any unmasking, it should require a better reason than that. And you're right that the EFF really should attack the DMCA provision itself.

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

        • identicon
          Bruce C., 3 Apr 2019 @ 11:52am

          Re: Re: Re:

          The Watchtower folks probably have a better chance invoking 3rd party doctrine rather than DMCA alone. Is the speech really "anonymous" if Reddit knows who they are (or at least their IP address)?

          On the other hand, the courts have yet to resolve the tensions between the constitution/amendments and the 3rd party doctrine in multiple areas of law, so there's a case here to be tried even if they do invoke 3rd party doctrine.

          There isn't really a conflict between the DMCA counter claim process and the desire for anonymity. You just have to hire a lawyer. The key element of the counterclaim is "where they will accept service of a lawsuit".

          Meanwhile, this fight has already moved beyond the DMCA claim/counterclaim, it's about a subpoena in advance of a full-blown copyright lawsuit, which is the next step after the counter-claim.

          Speaking of counter-claims, is there a SLAPP counter-claim filed on this?

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2019 @ 3:35pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          It's unclear from the post and the embedded motion whether Reddit complied with the DMCA notice and took down the content. If they haven't, there's no need for a counter-notice. If they have, a counter-notice is only needed if Doe wants Reddit to reverse the takedown.

          This suit may not go very far though, even if the subpoena was granted - Reddit might only be able to provide an email address as "identification," and the language of 512(h) seems to indicate that the subpoena must go to the same place as the takedown notice - for example, they can't send a takedown to Reddit and also subpoena Google for the name of the gmail user.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2019 @ 10:08am

      Re:

      They could have just removed the posting and reposted it without the allegedly infringing material.

      And subsequently no one would have known what they were talking about since they were referencing that material. The material is central and necessary to the discussion.

      This is not, in any way, copyright infringement; it is commentary, review, and criticism.

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

    • icon
      Matthew Cline (profile), 3 Apr 2019 @ 10:09am

      Re:

      They could have just removed the posting and reposted it without the allegedly infringing material.

      I might be misunderstanding things, but I don't that'd work. The user in question hasn't filed a counter notice, since their identity is still being sought. Since they haven't filed a counter notice, the material they originally posted is still down (assuming that Reddit complies with the DMCA), yet despite the material still being down the plaintiff is still seeking their identity. Thus the user taking the material down isn't going to stop the lawsuit.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2019 @ 10:32am

        Re: Re:

        The DMCA doesn't stop a lawsuit, but rather immunizes the intermediary.

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

        • icon
          Matthew Cline (profile), 3 Apr 2019 @ 10:47am

          Re: Re: Re:

          I... Yes? You said:

          They could have just removed the posting and reposted it without the allegedly infringing material.

          Just taking down the original post won't prevent the lawsuit, since the post is already down. The plaintiff is suing for (alleged) copyright infringement that already happened; taking down the post won't make it unhappen.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2019 @ 10:16am

      Re:

      They could have just removed the posting and reposted it without the allegedly infringing material.

      That option does not apply in this case, as the takedown notice and subpoena to unmask the poster arrived in the same envelope.

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 3 Apr 2019 @ 10:31am

    Something something fails to take into account Lentz fails to govern themselves accordingly.

    If only we had a Federal SLAAP law one could avail themselves of & the court could punish those who misuse the law to exact revenge for imagined slights that shouldn't be in a court & they will have to pay everyones costs & get a ding against the lawyer who signed this bullshit.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2019 @ 10:33am

      Re:

      SLAPP laws chill speech as much as censorship, and its a bonanza for attorneys that encourages litigation. It's far from ideal.

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

      • icon
        Thad (profile), 3 Apr 2019 @ 10:38am

        Re: Re:

        SLAPP laws chill speech as much as censorship

        Huh? Did you mean SLAPP lawsuits?

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2019 @ 10:50am

          Re: Re: Re:

          or was it that TAC wrote "SLAAP" instead of "anti-SLAPP"? (And you and i obviously know what they meant.)

          This could be interesting.

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

          • icon
            That Anonymous Coward (profile), 3 Apr 2019 @ 10:03pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            OMG the typos they are coming from inside my mind....
            While my brain did skip the anti portion, the description included shoudl have made it clear to even the most dense... er nevermind.

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

      • icon
        Matthew Cline (profile), 3 Apr 2019 @ 10:49am

        Re: Re:

        SLAPP laws ... [are] a bonanza for attorneys that encourages litigation

        How do they encourage litigation?

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2019 @ 10:59am

        Re: Re:

        They actually do the exact opposite of that.

        Wait, is this Upside Down Day?

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

      • icon
        Stephen T. Stone (profile), 3 Apr 2019 @ 11:02am

        SLAPP laws chill speech

        Not as much as SLAPP lawsuits chill speech — who would speak openly if they knew they could be sued for saying something that someone else merely disliked? — which is the exact reason why SLAPP laws exist.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2019 @ 11:37am

        Re: Re:

        You worried about your extracurricular “activities” coming to light Jhon boy?

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

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 3 Apr 2019 @ 11:52am

        Re: Re:

        In the same way that laws against extortion 'chill speech' by preventing people/organizations from pulling the 'nice business you got there...' con(well, so long as they do it without hiding behind copyright), sure. Beyond that? Not even close.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2019 @ 1:14pm

    Religion

    What ever happened to Turn The Other Cheek?
    Why are these, and others, being so juvenile about some reddit comments. If your panties get twisted by the comment section, perhaps you should take a break.

    The correct response would be more speech, not less. Why do they not defend themselves with comments of their own?

    " One targeted posting was a scan of the back of a Watchtower magazine containing instructions on how to donate to the organization. The other contained information about the organization's compliance with European data collection regulations."

    • idk ... looks like fair use

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

    • identicon
      David, 3 Apr 2019 @ 1:51pm

      Re: Religion

      What ever happened to Turn The Other Cheek?

      It got amended with "and Let'er Rip!" As a licensed grammar nazi, I want to register my offense at the apparent unmotivated use of a female pronoun here but as a neutral observer, this is what I have put down on the report card.

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

      • identicon
        Rog S., 6 Apr 2019 @ 7:00pm

        Re: Re: Religion

        Wheew!

        For a monent, I thought you were objecting to the allusion to women farting!

        As we all know, in gendered Jewish-christian societies, WOMEN NEVER PASS GAS!

        Its pre-ordained.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 3 Apr 2019 @ 1:34pm

    Doe believes that dissenting points of view are strongly discouraged in the Jehovah’s Witness community, and that those who express them are likely to be labeled “apostates,” and excommunicated, or “disfellowshipped” from the community.

    From what little I know of the religion from listening to interviews/discussions with ex-members this is if anything a gross understatement, so I'd say those concerns are more than warranted, making anonymity absolutely vital for anyone who was still in the group who wanted to criticize it. Hopefully the judge realizes this as well and acts accordingly.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2019 @ 8:56pm

    Copyright law, getting abused? Where do all these anomalies keep coming from?

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

  • icon
    techflaws (profile), 3 Apr 2019 @ 9:52pm

    I've lost a friend to this cult years ago, still baffles me how he could believe in this bs. That said, there's something you need to know about JW:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDRl0990lrc

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

  • identicon
    Jess Pratt, 4 Apr 2019 @ 2:30am

    Jehovah's Witnesses

    Rape cover-ups by Jehovah's Witnesses as exposed on NBC Dateline: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbKXj8R4_X8&t=4s

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2019 @ 5:37am

    plain and simple

    Jehovah's [false] Witness is a cult. If you don't take the time to read the Holy Bible for yourself, by yourself, and ask God to help you understand it, then you'll fall for any and every false doctrine.

    Anyone who claims to have an answer for EVERYTHING is either in a cult, or leading a cult.

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

  • identicon
    Rog S., 5 Apr 2019 @ 10:37am

    "It's about targeting an individual ...”

    Quoting Tim Cushing:

    “It's about targeting an individual ...”

    Mr. Cushing might soon win the Gary Webb Award for Excellence in Journalism, which carries with it a $1000 stipend, and features a gold plated pug trough, with the bottom chewed out, and two (fake).22 caliber bullets dangling above it.

    https://researchorganizedgangstalking.wordpress.com/2018/07/31/art-buchwald-covers-the-orlov-pro phecy-conspiracy-looking-back-looking-forward/

    Targeting individuals, and the highly organized stalking of their lives online, and offline is very real, whether it is the FBI manufacturing a "terrorist,” the ADL and AIPAC harrassing a victim, one of many Israelified police forces and their mobs of community policing NGOs, or some whacky religionists, targeting a whistle blower.

    But organized gang stalking is like, a real thing.

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


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