How copyright law is being misused to eliminate content from the internet

Writing a bad evaluation online has constantly run a small risk of opening yourself up to a disparagement claim. But few would expect to be informed that they needed to erase their review or face a claim over another part of the law: copyright violation.
c1That’s what happened to Annabelle Narey after she published a negative evaluation of a building firm on Mumsnet.

Narey, who is the head of program at an international children s charity, had turned to London-based BuildTeam for a side return extension, but virtually 6 months later, the relationship had actually turned acrimonious. The develop, which was just supposed to take 10 14 weeks, was still incomplete, she wrote. On Christmas day a ceiling fell down in an upstairs bed room, she says, apparently due to a problem with the plumbing.

BuildTeam contests her account. In a letter sent out to Mumsnet, which the website handed down to Narey, the contractors complained that the remarks were defamatory. They say it is untrue that the ceiling dropped due to a problem with plumbing, and mentioned a total of 11 statements they asserted were defamatory.

c2Mumsnet, following UK law on libel allegations, passed the letter on to Narey and provided her the opportunity to delete the post or get in touch with BuildTeam to sort out the matter.

BuildTeam have actually been in touch constantly with us at Mumsnet since mid-March, asking for the thread to be gotten rid of, a spokeswoman said. We’re eager to defend our posters flexibility of speech and to ask plaintiffs to follow due procedure, so previously we had referred them to Section 5 of the 2013 Defamation Act.

By this point, the thread on Mumsnet had grown to consist of other posters claiming to have actually had bad experiences with the building firm. A few of them decided to eliminate the posts in response to the legal risks from BuildTeam, but Narey wished to keep hers up.

BuildTeam states that at no point has Build Team Holborn Ltd stated that they are to pursue a character assassination claim against any person. Queries were made to the pertinent webhosting regarding their position for such posts being made, hence resulting in the relevant documentation being lodged with the abovementioned hosts. At present Build Team Holborn Ltd are currently examining the scenario and/or their choices in respect of booking their rights must any action be required in the future.

Narey says that after she learnt through Mumsnet about the disparagement claims, BuildTeam contacted us personally to request for the post to be eliminated. Personnel even concerned our house holding printouts of it. They never acknowledged the contents or made any apology, but distanced themselves from the context of the evaluation, asking just for it to be taken down, she said.

In April, the choice was made for her, in a really peculiar way. Mumsnet got a warning from Google: a takedown request had actually been made under the American Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), alleging that copyrighted content was posted without a license on the thread.

Businessman Holding a Copyright Symbol
Businessman Holding a Copyright Symbol

As soon as the DMCA takedown request had been submitted, Google de-listed the entire thread. All 126 posts are now not visible when a user searches Google for BuildTeam or any other terms. The search company informed Mumsnet it might make a counterclaim, if it was certain no violation had actually taken place, but since the website couldn’t confirm that its users weren’t really publishing copyrighted content, it would have opened it up to additional legal pressure.

At some point after Narey posted her comments on Mumsnet, someone had copied the whole text of one of her posts and pasted it, verbatim, to a spammy blog titled Home Improvement Tips and Tricks. The post, headlined Buildteam interior designers was backdated to September 14 2015; three months prior to Narey had actually composed it, and was signed by a Douglas Bush of South Bend, Indiana.

Quite why Douglas Bush or Muhammed Ashraf would be examining a home builder based in Clapham is not described in his post. BuildTeam states it has no concept why Narey’s review was reposted, however that it had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Whoever sent out the takedown request, Mumsnet was required making a choice: either leave the post up, and accept being delisted; fight the delisting and open themselves as much as the very same legal threats made against Google; or erase the post themselves, and ask the post to be relisted on the search engine.


Although we comprehended the user s argument that something odd had actually happened, we weren’t in a position to explain what – our hope was that by zapping one post we might ensure that the thread stayed noted.

Mumsnet deleted the post, and asked Google to renew the thread, however a month later, they got last word from the search firm: Google has actually chosen not to do something about it based upon our policies concerning content removal and reinstatement which (it turned out) meant that they had delisted the whole thread.

Censorship by copyright

The motivation of Ashraf can just be rated, however censorship using the DMCA is common online. The act enables web hosts a specific quantity of immunity from insurance claims of copyright infringement through exactly what is known as the safe harbour guidelines: in essence, a host isn’t responsible for hosting infringing product supplied they didn’t find out about it when it went up, and took it down as soon as they were told about it.

In practice, however, this implies that web hosts (and the term is broadly translated, indicating sites like YouTube, Twitter and Google count) are compelled to develop a hair-trigger over insurance claims of copyright infringement, presuming regret and asking the accused to prove their innocence.

As such, a very simple way to eliminate something from the internet is to implicate its developer of infringing copyright. Worse, the prospective disadvantage of such a false claim is minimal: the implicated would have to very first file a counterclaim, proving they own the copyright; then submit a private lawsuit, and prove material damage; then track down the offending party to actually recuperate any cash given by the court.

That doesn’t happen all that frequently.

In current years, big web business have actually begun funding claims themselves, to fill the space in the law and tilt the scales a bit further in favor of material developers wrongly implicated.


In 2013, the reporter published an interview with Straight Pride UK, a homophobic group that expressed assistance for anti-gay cops in Russia. Apparently humiliated by their own statements, Straight Pride UK then submitted a takedown demand with Hotham’s blog site host,, asserting that they owned the copyright to the answers they gave Hotham, and they had actually not planned the text to be released.

Automattic, the moms and Dad Company of, called the takedown request censorship using the DMCA, and pledged to fight it. Ultimately, Hotham and Automattic were victorious; with a Californian judge giving over $20,000 in damages; however it was a hollow victory: Sidorove and Straight Pride UK had actually vanished off the face of the earth, leaving little chance of the money being paid out.

In November, YouTube revealed a similar plan, to provide legal support to a handful of videos that we believe represent clear fair usages which have actually been subject to DMCA takedowns.

We’re doing this because we identify that creators can be frightened by the DMCA’s counter alert procedure, and the capacity for litigation that includes it, Fred von Lohmann, Google’s copyright legal director, composed.

The company can’t offer legal assistance for every video on YouTube, nor even every video with an apparent case. And when it comes to takedown requests for Google Search, the numbers are staggering: the company got 88m copyright takedowns in the last month. We do this for millions of URL’s every year.

Google is aware of cases like Narey’s, and is taking a look at how to improve fraud detection, however there s a limitation to what it can do in basic. The scale is too big for it to take the sort of personal approach that Automattic did with Hotham’s case, and ultimately the law doesn’t allow for it to counter against deceitful insurance claims without some involvement of the accused which, technically, was Mumsnet, not Narey. And while Mumsnet was offered the chance to file a counterclaim, the online forum couldn’t, because it too couldn’t be specific the claim in fact was deceitful.


For Narey, it’s a bit late. For the law governing the internet to allow choices concerning my stability to be taken without any investigation at all appears stunning, she states. I have no aspiration other than to bring our experience to spotlight.

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