Thursday, November 15, 2012

Google and the Post that Disappeared

by Nomad

Okay, so, yesterday I received this email from Google-owned  
Blogger has been notified, according to the terms of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), that certain content in your blog is alleged to infringe upon the copyrights of others. As a result, we have reset the post(s) to \"draft\" status. (If we did not do so, we would be subject to a claim of copyright infringement, regardless of its merits. The URL(s) of the allegedly infringing post(s) may be found at the end of this message.) This means your post - and any images, links or other content - is not gone. You may edit the post to remove the offending content and republish, at which point the post in question will be visible to your readers again.
A bit of background: the DMCA is a United States copyright law that provides guidelines for online service provider liability in case of copyright infringement. If you believe you have the rights to post the content at issue here, you can file a counter-claim. In order to file a counter-claim, please see
The notice that we received, with any personally identifying information removed, will be posted online by a service called Chilling Effects at We do this in accordance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). You can search for the DMCA notice associated with the removal of your content by going to the Chilling Effects search page at, and entering in the URL of the blog post that was removed.
The Chilling effects link (for viewing the original complaint) only shows a disabled search engine.  It is impossible to know therefore exactly what material in the blog post was considered "offending content." A photo? A quote? 
The email also contained this warning. 
If it is brought to our attention that you have republished the post without removing the content/link in question, then we will delete your post and count it as a violation on your account. Repeated violations to our Terms of Service may result in further remedial action taken against your Blogger account including deleting your blog and/or terminating your account. DMCA notices concerning content on your blog may also result in action taken against any associated AdSense accounts. If you have legal questions about this notification, you should retain your own legal counsel.
So here is what you have. A non-specific complaint by persons unknown. A complaint about a non-profit site conducting research in the public interest based on material found elsewhere on the net. Quotes linked to the original sites. The immediate removal of the post with no warning based solely on an allegation. Without knowing what exactly was the problem, it is pointless for me to attempt to try to find the source of the problem and afterward to re-post the material.  More importantly, if I had guessed wrong about what the problem was, who knows what the next email could say?

There was another link to a site that supposedly gave the accused a chance to challenge the decision. 
The DMCA is a United States copyright law that provides guidelines for online service provider safe harbor in case of copyright infringement. The administrator of an affected site or the provider of affected content may make a counter notification pursuant to sections 512(g)(2) and (3) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act or other applicable law. When we receive a counter notification, we may reinstate the material in question.
Or may not. 
To file a counter notification with us, you must provide the information specified in the web form below. Please note that you can be liable for damages (including costs and attorneys' fees) if you misrepresent the material or if the activity is not infringing the copyrights of others. Accordingly, if you are not sure whether certain material infringes the copyrights of others, we suggest that you first contact an attorney.
There is one other point to mention:
Please also be advised that, pursuant to sections 512(g)(2) and (3) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, by submitting a counter notification through our web form, your contact information will be forwarded to the original complainant. [ all emphasis mine]
Thus by filing a complaint, a blogger gives permission for his personal information to be distributed to the very person who has filed a complaint. This opens the door for the legal prosecution of any independent researcher. I was not given that privilege when the original accusation was made against my blog. I have no idea who made the complaint and no way of learning. Only when I chose I to defend myself against the claims do I lose my privacy. 
That, by anybody's definition, amounts to censorship.

Purposefully Vague?
It's very frustrating. Without information to the exact nature, it is impossible to know how the material is considered in violation.  Admittedly there are photos on the site which are not royalty-free. I would have probably been happy to remove them, despite the fact that Pinterest has made an lucrative business by allowing its members to use photos and art belonging to others.  Every discussion group that allows the posting of photos by links- that would include Disqus, incidentally, would presumably be in violation. 

Take a close look at the net and see how much material is second- or even third-hand. If the copyright laws were applied in the same way as has applied them in my case, much of the internet would be gutted. 

If the problem is a matter of removing a few photos or even paraphrasing a few quotes to shorten them, despite the fact my freedom of speech should be protected by the fair use provisions in the copyright laws, I would be quite willing to make changes. Had the party contacted me directly, I would have gladly made the changes without's intervention. Perhaps, my suspicious nature says, that's missing the point. The point was to remove the material altogether.

As far as my blog, I have no way of know whether or not that's the problem until chilling effect search engine (linked above) is enabled again allowing me to see the original complaint. That may never happen, of course.

This practice of silencing bloggers using alleged copyright violations is apparently becoming common. According to Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF):
A copyright cease-and-desist letter to your webhost or ISP may be all it takes to make your online speech disappear from the Internet — even when the legal claims are transparently bogus.

In particular, copyright claimants are increasingly misusing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to demand that material be immediately taken down without providing any proof of infringement. Service providers fearful of monetary damages and legal hassles often comply with these requests without double-checking them despite the cost to free speech and individual rights.

The DMCA also puts anonymous speech in jeopardy; by misusing its subpoena power, copyright holders can attempt to unmask an Internet user's identity based on a mere allegation of infringement without filing an actual lawsuit or providing the user any constitutional due process.

I am sure EFF will not be sending me a cease-and-desist order for quoting them. But then who knows? 

The incident is suspicious because of the nature of the post that was removed. That now-deleted post [] dealt with the News Corps second largest shareholder, Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal. The post described the prince's generous donations to a multi-national telethon given by the royal family which gave financial support to families of Palestinian suicide bombers. The post went on to make the case that New Corp was possibly conducting business with a person who could potentially be prosecuted under the Patriot Act. Finally the article ended with a note that any prosecution would be very unlikely since the original author of the Patriot Act is apparently on the board of directors of News Corporation, owners of Fox News.

Ironic isn't it? A news organization known for broadcasting all manner of false information and propaganda is protected by the first amendment, yet an independent researcher, one lone voice, can be silenced at the drop of a hat by persons unknown for reasons unknown. 

I decided to write to the so-called support team to state my case. I am not sure if anybody will actually even read my email. In the Internet age, it is always something of a shock when  you get a response. 
Frankly I don't expect to receive a reply and I certainly don't expect to see my post re-posted. There's no reason for them to care about anything I say.. well, except to make sure I don't say it in the first place.

And Twitter Too?
At its inception, Google, owner of the Blogger platform, proudly declared its motto to be "Don't be evil." Since the beginning of the year, Google executives have made that policy something of a bitter joke. 

Ok. That's a bit harsh. Making claims of giving people a voice around the world, to speak out without fear of reprisal and then reneging on that promise, that's not evil, is it?  
In January, reported that fast on the heels of similar decision by Twitter, Google quietly made some radical changes to Blogger.
Google wrote Jan. 9 it would begin redirecting Blogger traffic to country-specific URLs, meaning whatever country you’re in, you’ll get that country’s domain for Blogger-hosted blogs.

In turn, Internet Service Providers (ISP) and governments of blog-host countries will now be able to decide what bloggers can and cannot write.
Doing that, Google wrote, means content can be removed “on a per country basis.”
In a marvelous example of Orwellian doublespeak, Google informed its millions of naive bloggers:
“Migrating to localized domains will allow us to continue promoting free expression and responsible publishing while providing greater flexibility in complying with valid removal requests pursuant to local law.”
Free expression? Valid removal? Google clearly cannot even guarantee that removal requests are valid inside the US. The flexibility, Google writes about, belongs completely to the government to decide what they want their own citizens and the rest of the world to know more about. Do they seriously believe that local laws throughout the world care anything about free expression?
I suppose it all boils down to this question: What does Google mean by "free expression"?

About a week before Google's decision, Twitter announced that he had developed technology  that could censor tweets in the countries only where it was ordered removed, instead of on an internet-wide basis. This sparked an online outcry. 
In a separate article Wired quotes one official reaction to Twitter's decision:
The ACLU wasn’t as forgiving. ”The countries that engage in censorship are precisely the ones in which open and neutral social media platforms are most critical,” said Aden Fine, an ACLU staff attorney. “We hope Twitter will think carefully before acceding to any specific requests by those governments to censor content simply because they want to interfere with their citizens’ access to information and ideas.”
Coincidentally, only a month before that, in a completely unrelated move, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and his investment company, Kingdom Holdings concluded months of negotiations with Twitter with a $300 million investment that, according to the Riyadh, Saudi Arabia-based investment firm, represented a "strategic stake" in Twitter. 
Huffington Post adds with a presumed straight face: 
It wasn't clear how much of Twitter the prince will control.
Some might say (NOT ME!) that it didn't take too long for the other shoe to drop.

Here, There and Everywhere
The irony certainly doesn't stop there.  The 144-page document, False Freedom: Online Censorship in the Middle East and North Africa, published by Human Rights Watch in 2005 examined the problems of censorship in four countries: Egypt , Islamic Republic of Iran, Syrian Arab Republic, Tunisia

In each case, the governments used various means to counteract the the freedom of expression of independent voices such as bloggers. As the summary tells us:
Anyone with access to a computer, an Internet connection, and "blogging" tools can now publish to a potential audience of millions, free of charge, within minutes. Faced with this new technology, many regional governments have pursued contradictory policies. With varying degrees of enthusiasm, they have sought to facilitate the spread of information and communications technologies with economic benefits in mind. At the same time, they have sought to maintain their old monopolies over the flow of information.
Saudi Arabia was mentioned in the report:
Saudi Arabia hesitated for years before allowing public Internet access in the country in 1999. In March 2001, eighteen months after it extended service to the public, the Internet Services Unit (ISU), the state institution charged with coordinating Saudi Internet policy, boasted that it had blocked more than 200,000 Web sites since opening service to the public.

Relative to other countries in the region, Saudi Arabia is forthright about its policies on and methods of blocking Web sites, listing them on the ISU's Web site. Thousands of Web sites were consistently blocked in Saudi Arabia between 2001 and 2004. The vast majority of these featured pornographic material or material related to gambling or drugs, but some – such as specific pages from Amnesty International's Web site criticizing human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia – were political.

In October 2005, the ISU briefly blocked, a service owned by Google that allows users to maintain blogs free of charge. Saudi bloggers report that, a popular photograph-sharing Web site, remains blocked.
It is easy to think this this attitude is not confined to the Middle East. When the president speaks of Internet censorship, when Secretary of State Clinton speaks about the value of Internet freedoms, they are generally referring to other countries, China or Iran, for example. However, the threat to freedom of expression on the net is much closer to home.

In the US, for example, last year, Congress attempted to use copyright laws- advocated by lobbyists and attorneys of media corporations- to push through SOPA which would have been used in a variety of ways to selectively control information. 

Google has been in the forefront of the internet censorship. Before it claimed to be against the SOPA and PIPA bills, they had spent $400k in lobbying for:
  • S. 968 – Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011; S. 978 -
  • Commercial Felony Streaming Act; S. 2029 – Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act; H.R. 3261 -
  • Stop Online Piracy Act; Digital Millennium Copyright Act service provider safe harbors; Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Copyright infringements do exist but that problem in no way warrants the wholesale destruction of the long-cherished values like freedom of expression, the right to have access to knowledge and the reasonably free flow of information.

By the way, you might want to copy this post immediately. Who knows if some nameless faceless person somewhere will not like it?

1 comment:

  1. After searching through 500 complaints, I finally gave up trying to see what content was claimed to be in violation. I did see that much of the complaints came from British Record companies and oddly enough, porn studios. There appears to be no means of arbitration and Google simply removes the offending posts regardless of the validity of the claim.