from the transparency-never dept
This week, however, we were no longer able to do so. The Chilling Effects team decided to remove its entire domain from all search engines, including its homepage and other informational and educational resources.
“After much internal discussion the Chilling Effects project recently made the decision to remove the site’s notice pages from search engines,” Berkman Center project coordinator Adam Holland informs TF.Meanwhile, Chilling Effects founder, Wendy Seltzer, seems to insist that this was an implementation mistake and that the team never meant to remove the whole domain:
“Our recent relaunch of the site has brought it a lot more attention, and as a result, we’re currently thinking through ways to better balance making this information available for valuable study, research, and journalism, while still addressing the concerns of people whose information appears in the database.”
“As a project, we’ve always worked to strike that balance, for example by removing personally identifying information. Removing notice pages from search engine results is the latest step in that balancing process,” Holland tells us.
“It may or may not prove to be permanent, but for now it’s the step that makes the most sense as we continue to think things through,” he adds.
Either way it seems like a massive blow for transparency, and in many ways is a "chilling effect" of its own. It's no secret that many legacy copyright system supporters absolutely hate Chilling Effects and the transparency it brings. Sandra Aistars, of the Copyright Alliance, referred to the site as "repugnant" in Congressional testimony just a few months ago. Yes, providing transparency on censorship is "repugnant." Says a lot about the Copyright Alliance, doesn't it?
Others have made similar statements in the past. A few years ago, a lawyer tried to block Google from forwarding DMCA takedown notices to Chilling Effects, arguing that passing along those notices makes Google "potentially liable for the infringement" in passing on the notices. Others have argued that the takedown notices themselves are subject to copyright and have tried to block them from appearing on Chilling Effects.
The concern, they claim, is twofold: First, the details in the takedown notice often demonstrate where infringing content actually is. That's especially true for notices to Google or Twitter (two of the bigger suppliers of notices to Chilling Effects) who are not hosting the content, but are merely linking to it (i.e. they are "information location tools.") In those cases, the links may get removed from the services in question, but remain on the internet itself. The second concern, as put forth by Aistars, is that people issuing DMCA takedown notices are sensitive little flowers, and publishing the fact that they're trying to take down content opens them up to harassment and abuse.
Neither of these arguments survives much scrutiny. The idea that anyone is trawling through Chilling Effects seeking unauthorized content is fairly unlikely. And, really, if people are, those aren't exactly the kind of people who are then going to turn around and start willfully forking over cash to the legacy entertainment industry for that same content. The Chilling Effects haters, no doubt, would argue that this is why it's important to remove Chilling Effects itself from Google, because people searching on Google might not find the originals, but would then find the takedown notices with links back to the originals. Except, that seems unlikely. First, as has been detailed many times, people looking for unauthorized copies of works tend not to use Google that much, since it's not very good for that purpose, and other tools tend to be much more effective. Second, the kinds of information in a takedown notice itself aren't likely to trigger a high result for someone looking for an unauthorized download. Terms like "free" and "download" are unlikely to be found on such documents.
The other argument -- that being exposed for sending takedowns leads to harassment -- also seems bogus. We've seen little indication that people get that upset about legitimate takedowns. It's the excessive, abusive and censorious takedowns that really seem to concern people. And those are the ones that need transparency the most.
Hopefully, the folks at Chilling Effects rethink this decision and stick by their own stated philosophy of working "to provide as much transparency as possible" about DMCA takedown notices. It would seem that blocking a key search tool from accessing the data goes directly against that principle.