Monday, November 20, 2017

When lawyers are in charge of removing scraped content

Something I wrote was illegally republished on a website. This happens quite frequently with the books I publish, but usually on low-grade torrents or foreign scrapers. I can't do much about those, except to notify Google with a DMCA request to delist the copied material in search results.

However, when the infringing website is a gigantic for-profit educational company, it's a different story. I don't bother with Google, I go straight to the people running the site and demand they take it down.

The content in question was an MIT academic case published as creative commons noncommercial (specifically, Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License). The educational company has a legal email address for these types of things, so I sent a standard DMCA notice, enclosing the link of the original company as well as the infringing link.

What followed was a bureaucratic mess. The corporate lawyer insisted that I fill out some form and sign it. I refused, explaining that I didn't have to enter into a contract with the company, all I had to do was file a DMCA notice, which I had already done. This is the law of the land, and they have to follow it.

The corporate lawyer came back with this:

We are happy to remove the link to your work from our site after receiving a valid DMCA notice.  Unfortunately, your notice below is not valid under Section 512 of the DMCA. 
The DMCA Section 512(c)(3)(A) requires that when reporting copyright infringement, the notice for it must contain the following elements:
  • A physical or electronic signature of a person authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.
  • Identification of the copyrighted work claimed to have been infringed, or, if multiple copyrighted works at a single online site are covered by a single notification, a representative list of such works at that site.
  • Identification of the material that is claimed to be infringing or to be the subject of infringing activity and that is to be removed or access to which is to be disabled, and information reasonably sufficient to permit the service provider to locate the material.
  • Information reasonably sufficient to permit the service provider to contact the complaining party, such as an address, telephone number, and, if available, an electronic mail address at which the complaining party may be contacted.
  • A statement that the complaining party has a good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.
  • A statement that the information in the notification is accurate, and under penalty of perjury, that the complaining party is authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.
[REDACTED'S] DMCA form provided to you at the link below is set up to address all six of the required elements set forth above. You may use that form, or you can provide this information in another format so long as it contains all of the required elements. Upon receiving a valid notice from you, we will promptly remove the link.
This was ridiculous. I had already made the required DMCA statement including the elements cited (link, oath, address, etc.). The only missing element was the identity of the person responsible. The scraped academic case did not say who had posted it, so as far as I was concerned, it was the company itself that decided to scrape the MIT website with the academic case against the terms of the license.

Then I thought: What if someone contacted me about suspected infringing content on a site that I run, such as the site used to sell how-to guides (sometimes mistaken for "Dummies" books)?

I wouldn't make an overpriced lawyer deal with the proboem. I'd have a production assistant take it down, or do it myself. It takes literally a few minutes to do this.

The educational company lawyer was either incompetent, trying to run up her hours, or just messing with me. I bypassed her, writing instead to the CEO of the company:

I've worked in media for a long time. If someone were to send me a complaint that illegally copied material had been posted on a site that I own or manage, and the victim contained verifiable links to the original copyrighted material and the illicitly copied version on my site, my first thing I would do would be to remove the material immediately. The second would be to issue a sincere apology to the victim. The third would be to determine what process or person was responsible, and to take steps to ensure that it never happens again.

[REDACTED] can't even get step #1 right.

Instead of having expensive attorneys in charge of this relatively straightforward and mundane process -- and still screwing it up -- how about getting some people (or more effective technologies) who can not only get things done, but can also do the right thing by victims and put policies and processes in place to ensure it's not a problem in the future?

By all means, bring in the big legal guns and the bureaucracy when it's warranted. But for basic stuff like this? You know you can do better.


The illegally scraped content was removed a week later.

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