from the YET-ANOTHER-ANOMALY dept
Here we go again: intellectual property laws being abused to silence critics. In this case -- which resembles the tactics exposed by Pissed Consumer recently -- bogus copyright claims contained in bogus DMCA notices are being used to remove negative reviews from websites.
In this case, it's a British firm -- one that first tried to abuse that country's oft-abused defamation laws.
[Annabelle] Narey, who is the head of programme at an international children’s charity, had turned to London-based BuildTeam for a side return extension, but almost six months later, the relationship had turned acrimonious. The build, which was only supposed to take 10–14 weeks, was still unfinished, she wrote. “On Christmas day a ceiling fell down in an upstairs bedroom,” she says, apparently due to an issue with the plumbing. “Mercifully no one was hurt. [That] there seem to be so many glowing reports out there it is frankly curious. Proceed at your own risk,” the review concluded.
BuildTeam disputes her account. In a letter sent to Mumsnet, which the site passed on to Narey, the builders complained that the comments were defamatory. They say it is “untrue” that the ceiling fell down due to an issue with plumbing, and cited a total of 11 statements they claimed were defamatory.
Mumsnet refused to remove the post, so BuildTeam decided to start harassing Narey at her home, showing up with printouts of the negative review and asking for it to be taken down. BuildTeam's reps refused to discuss Narey's accusations or verify for themselves the damage allegedly caused by their work. They were only interested in the removal of the review.
More unsatisfied customers joined Narey's thread at Mumsnet. So, BuildTeam decided to nuke the entire thread from orbit by abusing the DMCA process and IP laws meant to protect artistic endeavors, not shoddy construction work.
As soon as the DMCA takedown request had been filed, Google de-listed the entire thread. All 126 posts are now not discoverable when a user searches Google for BuildTeam – or any other terms. The search company told Mumsnet it could make a counterclaim, if it was certain no infringement had taken place, but since the site couldn’t verify that its users weren’t actually posting copyrighted material, it would have opened it up to further legal pressure.
But there was no copyright infringement. The DMCA notice links back to a bogus site created solely for the purpose of posting the review BuildTeam wanted removed, backdating it so it appeared to predate Narey's complaint, and use that post as the basis of a bogus takedown request.
The website crafted for the purpose of crafting bogus takedown requests follows the same M.O. we've seen elsewhere: random bits of content are scraped to create the appearance of a legitimate website. After that, the reviews companies/individuals want to see vanished are mixed in and DMCA notices issued.
Someone calling themselves "Douglas Bush" now claims Narey's negative review of BuildTeam was written by him, according to his overwrought DMCA takedown request.
I'm upset at finding out my article was copied without my permission starting at "Do not be taken in by the slick facade this company presents to the public", word for word, till the very end. My name was also removed from the post, and now it looks like it's not mine. I flagged the post and mentioned that it was stolen, but they did not remove it (about a month passed). At least I want it to be removed from Google. Thank you
As the Guardian's Alex Hern points out, there is no "Douglas Bush."
The post, headlined “Buildteam interior designers” was backdated to September 14 2015, three months before Narey had written it, and was signed by a “Douglas Bush” of South Bend, Indiana. The website was registered to someone quite different, though: Muhammed Ashraf, from Faisalabad, Pakistan.
BuildTeam denies having anything to do with Ashraf, Bush, the bogus website, or its bogus DMCA takedown notice -- a statement that deserves no more credibility than "Douglas Bush" himself. This sort of thing does not happen in a vacuum. It may be that BuildTeam has created plausible deniability by placing a series of intermediaries between it and this bogus DMCA takedown, but it's no coincidence that a review it wanted removed badly enough it sent reps to Narey's house has now been destroyed by a scraper site doing double duty as a half-assed reputation management service.