How Anti-Piracy Activists Can Be Used to Destroy Negative Reviews

Anyone who posts their comments (let alone official reviews) of books, music, or movies online should be very, very concerned about the state of anti-piracy legislation.  To get to that, we have to first mention this:

Anti-Piracy Outfits Think Megaupload, Demonoid & BTjunkie Are Still Alive

TorrentFreak’s take is about how anti-piracy folks want Google to do their work, but that’s not the part that caught my attention.

But while seemingly everyone knows that Megaupload no longer exists, the likes of IFPI, BPI, Sony, Warner, Universal, EMI, The Publisher’s Association, Microsoft, and adult company Vivid (to name a few) are absolutely oblivious. To this very day these companies are sending takedown demands to Google ordering the company to remove links to content on that hasn’t existed, at the least, for almost nine months.

So let’s run through, shall we?

Mitt Romney gots hit by a DMCA notice which stalled a political ad.  Even if everyone agrees it’s fair use (which it arguably was), it serves as a chilling effect.  (More on chilling effects at the Chilling Effects Clearinghouse.)

A company uses DMCA notices to get a competitor’s web pages delisted with Google.

The UStream of the Hugo Awards was auto-banned by a copyright enforcement bot.  Even though the clips in question (which were shown in their entirety) were authorized by the copyright holder.  Yeah, sure UStream is going to tweak things, but any scheme like this is going to produce false positives.

The article above, showing that anti-piracy folks are continuing to register complaints about content that is no longer there.

And then there’s the US version of the “strikes” rules, where a complaint directly to your ISP about “allegedly infringing content” will trigger various consequences.  Oh yeah – and you’re guilty until proven innocent:

If you’re getting copyright alerts but haven’t been downloading illegally, an independent board will review your claim–for a $35 filing fee (the fee is refunded if you’re in the right).

The fact that entertainment companies are continuing to send takedown notices to sites that haven’t existed for months demonstrates that they don’t care about false positives.  Why should they?  A false accusation of piracy – something that has actually happened to me, thanks – has no consequences for them.  None at all.

So what’s this have to do with  review sites?  Let me walk you through it (because honestly, I’m surprised it’s not happened yet):

It’s not hard to find stories of (prominent, successful) authors behaving badly when it comes to reviews of their books.  Whether by paying for good reviews, using “sockpuppets” to post them, or flying off the handle responding to bad reviews,   One of these knuckleheads sees a review of their work they disagree with.

They file a (baseless) notice directly with your ISP.

Sure, it’s fair use.  We all know it’s fair use – but that doesn’t prevent the filing.  That doesn’t prevent your ISP from (probably) requiring you to prove your innocence.  The system is designed to put the burden of proof on the accused.  (And there’s still lots of whining that it’s too hard from the anti-piracy crowd, believe me.)

And then they do it again.  And again.  They screw up your listing with search engines by filing takedown notices for content that no longer exists on your site.  And so on.

Don’t think it could happen?  Please.  While I’ve yet to hear of an author or publisher actively using this tactic … it’s just a matter of time until those loopholes are exploited.  For example, it only took two years for the problems with automated takedowns (noted here on Chilling Effects in 2010) to hit a prominent target like the Hugos.

Clock’s ticking.