Retraction Watch readers may recall that in November, we, along with Automattic, the company behind WordPress, filed a lawsuit against someone who filed a false copyright infringement claim about ten of our posts.
On a false pretense — copying and pasting the posts onto a website in India, then claiming that we had plagiarized that site — that person used a law known as the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) to force WordPress to remove our posts. Here’s why WordPress had to do that, as Ars Technica had put it a few years earlier:
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act serves many purposes, some of which are good, but certain parts of it are ripe for abuse. The infamous DMCA takedown notice is at the top of anyone’s list of most-abused parts of the act. These notices are meant to make it easy for content owners to have violations removed, and they do. But the notices also make it easy for anyone to try and silence criticism or stifle angles they simply don’t like, even if the party in question is working perfectly within the confines of fair use.
Yesterday, WordPress and Automattic took the fight against false DMCA claims to Washington. The company’s general counsel, Paul Sieminski, with who we worked on the suit, testified before a hearing of the House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet. That subcommittee also heard from representatives of Google and Elsevier. Excerpt of Sieminski’s testimony:
While there are statutory damages for copyright infringement (even if very minor) there are no similar damages, or clear penalties of any kind, for submitting a fraudulent DMCA notice. The lawsuits that we filed represent the only recourse for abuse of the DMCA takedown process. The lawsuits were expensive to bring, time consuming to prosecute, and promise very little in the way of compensation in return. We brought these lawsuits, alongside our users, to protect their important free speech rights and send the message that abuse of the DMCA process has consequences (at least on WordPress.com). Cases like these are extremely rare, and I’m confident in saying that the users would not have the time, resources or sophistication to bring the suits on their own.
The DMCA system gives copyright holders a powerful and easy-to-use weapon: the unilateral right to issue a takedown notice that a website operator (like Automattic) must honor or risk legal liability. The system works so long as copyright owners use this power in good faith. But too often they don’t,and there should be clear legal consequences for those who choose to abuse the system. I’d urge the Committee to add such penalties to the DMCA to deter and punish these types of abuses.