The Nostalgia Critic has been quite active in fighting against DMCA takedown abuse for YouTube video creators, but takedown requests highlighted in a recent Torrentfreak post suggest that it’s a real problem for the medium of text as well—especially Wikipedia.
The article surveys takedown requests hosted in the Lumen Database from Digimarc, the anti-piracy agency who handles DMCA copyright-violation takedown requests for a number of major publishers, including the Big Five, Harry Potter e-publisher Pottermore and print publisher Scholastic, and Reed Elsevier. And an agent of the Harry Potter publishers attempting to take down J.K. Rowling’s own Wikipedia page, twice, followed by twenty other Wikipedia pages, is merely the beginning.
But what a beginning. Apparently Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is infringed by pages about IEC standards, ancient Egyptian literature, and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Who knew? A little more poking around shows they also tried to take down the TVTropes page for “Shrug of God” (which committed the crime of discussing Harry Potter) more than once.
On behalf of HarperCollins, Digimarc tried to take down pages on Beverly Hills, 90210, Al Franken, BitTorrent, and cities in California and Maryland, among others. For Simon & Schuster, it tried to take down pages for its own author Janice Galloway, speed limits in Romania, and “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom,” among others. For Random House, it tried to remove a Wikipedia page on and links to the books of its own author Gore Vidal. For Reed Elsevier, it tried to remove a Wikipedia page relating to Kim Dotcom’s file-hosting site. Here’s Google’s complete report relating to Wikipedia takedown requests, and here’s a report covering takedown requests for TVTropes, another descriptive wiki.
Some of the links from those takedown requests, such as the Pottermore request’s link to Spanish Harry Potter fanfic on Wattpad, or to a WordPress blog that seems to link to a lot of infringing content (including more Spanish Potter fanfic and a translation of Quidditch Through the Ages) hosted on Google Drive and elsewhere, may be more or less justified.
Likewise for the thousands of other URLs contained within those Google takedown request reports, to sites like torrentz.eu, 4shared.com, filestube.to, freetorrentz.org, and various other sites that are obviously or at least probably piracy havens. The sheer volume of infringing URLs is staggering.
But there doesn’t seem to be any sort of sanity check involved. These requests read like a completely random, unfiltered list of keyword search results that are rounded up and thrown at Google without any attempt at examination. The publishers are apparently all too busy publishing stuff to pay any extra attention where they don’t legally have to—not even to flag sites like Wikipedia or TVTropes that probably aren’t infringing to at least give them a second look to make sure first. (Yes, I know, it’s actually Digimarc who’s the one doing it directly, but the publishers certainly don’t seem interested enough in what they’re doing to try to rein them in.) So it falls to Google to examine these requests and turn many of them down.
And these copyright holders are the ones complaining that the current notice-and-takedown regime doesn’t go far enough, and they want “notice and stay-down” instead. Seriously?
We’ve already covered an appeals court declaring copyright holders must consider fair use before sending takedown notices, but it looks from here like they’re not really bothering to consider anything at all, because nobody’s holding their feet to the fire to make them. The DMCA needs reform, all right, but not in the way the publishers want.
Update: Made it clearer that Digimarc was issuing the takedowns on the publishers’ behalf, and clarified that Pottermore is, in fact, the e-publisher for Harry Potter.
Update: I was contacted via email by a publicist who relayed the following statement from Digimarc.
Digimarc Guardian continuously monitors the Web for copyright infringement on behalf of clients, including requesting the removal of millions of URLs from search engine results on an annual basis.
A recent software change resulted in the inadvertent inclusion in these requests of less than 100 individual Wikipedia URLs which were not related to actual infringement. After a thorough investigation, Digimarc Guardian has corrected this issue and taken steps to ensure that Wikipedia pages are not included in future requests.
In addition to Wikipedia pages, there were a very small number of non-infringing URLs from other sites inadvertently included. Digimarc has taken steps to ensure these pages are not included in future requests.
Neither Pottermore, HarperCollins, nor any other copyright holder directed these specific requests. Digimarc Guardian has a long history of protecting copyright owners from piracy and is continually evolving and enhancing its technology to better serve and protect customers worldwide.