Friday, March 9, 2012

Federal Crimes

This is so exciting! I’ve been accused of violating Federal law, and I feel like an international fugitive. Jason Bourne, here I come!

Have you ever heard of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act? I had, but I assumed that it was related to copying movies and downloading music and such.

Last Thursday, I received an email with the following subject line: “Blogger blog takedown notification”. With that odd wording, I initially thought it was a phishing attempt, but I ventured to open it anyway. Blogger wouldn’t really take down my blog, would they? Turns out it was sort of, but not quite, what it said: a notification from Blogger that they had taken down one of my posts. The email stated that they’d been notified that “certain content in your blog is alleged to infringe upon the copyrights of others,” and indicated the specific post in question.

The email offered a website where I could go to find the actual complaint, but as of today, more than a week after the email, this particular complaint still has not shown up on the site. Fortunately, the post in question – December 9, 2011 – only contained one photo, so it was easy to figure out where the complaint came from. I’d posted a picture of a German bread, with a prominent link to the source. You can go here to see the post if you are interested. I don’t think anyone much cares what I said 3 months ago, but for the sake of continuity I deleted the image and republished the post.

I went back to the source to look for use restrictions, and realized that the site is in German. Aha! I would not have gone to all the effort of trying to read the whole thing just for a simple photo. My mistake. After translating and paging through the volumes of legal language, I now understand that this particular site does not allow ANY use of their images under ANY circumstances EVER. “Not even for a fee,” it says!

So, I think this means I not only violated a US law, but possibly some German or EU law as well. This gets better and better! The CIA is probably vying with Interpol to get my phones tapped, right now.

But going back to the email from Blogger (really Google): why did they take the liberty of reverting my post to Draft status, rather than waiting for me to respond to the notification? Because the DMCA allows online service providers to attain “safe harbor” from litigation by blocking access to or removing the material in question. I can understand Google’s position – if the copyright owner were to sue for infringement, would they be more likely to sue me, a penniless individual, or Google with its deep pockets?

DMCA is one of those laws that seems great at first glance. On the positive side, if I posted original art or writing on my blog, and someone copied it and used it without crediting me, I would very much like to file a complaint against them and make them stop. The artists and designers whose blogs I read frequently mention that others have stolen their work or made unauthorized use of it, and I support them in trying to prevent that. In the future, I will not simply assume that images are just sitting there waiting for me to use as I wish, Instead, I'll review the terms of use on each site.

On the negative side of DMCA, however, there are no police, judge, or jury over this process of complaint and takedown. Anyone can file an infringement claim against any individual or company, and force them to either remove the content or go through miles of red tape to file a counter-claim. This creates the potential for people to file nuisance claims, and it’s likely that this is already happening. This could have a significant negative impact on individuals and small businesses.

My explanation here is short and oversimplified, but what are your thoughts on having Google or other service providers removing content from people’s blogs? Have you received any violation notices, and if so, how did you respond?



  1. No personal experience of this but I'm quite new to Blogger.
    I've read about the different issue of Google censorship - taking down gay blogs.

  2. I've never heard of a post being taken down before! I have heard of an author being contacted directly by an image owner requesting that a photo be properly credited and linked, or removed. I wonder why the company didn't do that, instead of contacting Google.

    It does raise concerns that these complaints could be made as a way of harassing a blog author; the trolls are always looking for a way to mess with their targets. Not a happy thought!

    1. In complete agreement with this concern.

  3. Oh no, I somehow missed that. Sounds like a serious infringement on people's rights. This business of instantaneous international communication via the internet is becoming more and more complex.

  4. Huh. I'd always assumed that being asked to remove a photo was the worst that could happen. Good to know!

    I've mostly switched to original photos because it's easier. I used to use "Creative Commons," but I could never figure out what they were telling me about the policy for a particular photo. (It was usually that it was OK to use with an attribution, but often there was no name linked to the photo so I didn't know how to attribute it!) I do love my old public domain photos, though. I occasionally lift a celebrity photo because, as the kids say, "everybody else is doing it." But I've become more uneasy about this as time has gone on.

  5. @snipa: My question would be was it:
    censorship because the authors happened to be gay,
    censorship because of the theme, or
    censorship because the content violated terms of service?

    @Anne: I've usually seen at least a user id in creative commons, but in the worst case you could probably link back to the download page for attribution.

  6. I have not had this problem (and it do use images with credit to the owner prominently displayed or if I do not know who hold's the copyright, a message to let me know if I need to remove the image. After 8 years of blogging, I am very surprised that I have not gotten myself in trouble.

    Well, my mail and blog are being blocked by wordpress and sometimes by blogger (and my blog is on blogger). I can no longer comment on any blog that is connected with wordpress (.com or .org) and can find no one to contact. I did find a lot of complaints by others with the same problem, however.

    Blogging, copyrights and the Internet White Glove Mafia are just weird.