Retraction Watch, WordPress parent company file suit to fight false copyright claims, censorship

automattcRetraction Watch readers may recall that earlier this year, ten of our posts disappeared for two weeks after someone at an alleged news service in India falsely claimed that we had violated their copyright. The situation was the opposite of those claims; in fact our copyright had been violated, and the posts, all about Anil Potti, were restored.

Ars Technica, which covered the case at the time, explained how this sort of thing happens in an earlier story:

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.

So we are pleased to join Automattic, the parent company of our blog’s host WordPress, in a lawsuit against the person who filed the fraudulent DMCA takedown notice. You can read our entire complaint here.

In a separate suit, Automattic is also joining Oliver Hotham, a student journalist in the UK who found himself in a similar situation. As the company notes in a blog post:

These cases are both infuriating and increasingly common. While there are no legal consequences (like fines) under the DMCA for copyright abusers, there is a provision that allows victims of censorship (and their web hosts) to bring legal action against those who submit fraudulent DMCA notices. So today, we’ve joined with Oliver, Ivan and Adam to take a small strike back at DMCA abuse. We’ve filed two lawsuits for damages under Section 512(f) of the DMCA, which allows for suits against those who “knowingly materially misrepresent” a case of copyright infringement.

Until there are some teeth to the copyright laws, it’s up to us – websites and users, together – to stand up to DMCA fraud and protect freedom of expression. If nothing else, we’d like to remind our users that we’re doing all we can to combat DMCA abuse on….and most importantly, remind copyright abusers to think twice before submitting fraudulent takedown notices. We’ll be watching, and are ready to fight back.

We’ll also be actively involved, on behalf of our users, in trying to change the law – both through court cases and in Congress – to make sure that everyone has the right to share their voice on the Internet without threat of censorship.

We will, too, and we hope Retraction Watch readers will add their voices to efforts to combat these abuses.

15 thoughts on “Retraction Watch, WordPress parent company file suit to fight false copyright claims, censorship”

  1. Most scientists have a weak (or non-existent) background in copyright and law, even in developed countries in the US, the EU, Japan or Australia. Simply because their mission in life lies in the laboratory, or the field and they simply don’t have time (or interest) to think about these issues. What this story shows to the layman scientist is that our science is subject to a tug-of-war between powers at levels way above us. Our data is yanked from left to right by publishers, or even just yanked from the literature altogether (in the case of a retraction). One day accepted, the next retracted. Our funds are drained, either for chemical companies, OA publishing fees, or because of budgetary cuts. Therefore, there is consolation in knowing that blogs like RW allow for us to voice our opinions (compliments and complaints) and that all can voice theirs, too. Moderation, not censorship, has elevated RW to the level of “respect”, and fair and balanced commentary will fuel its growth. However, let us not be naive. This can only take place when a powerful group stands behind the whole process. In this case, WordPress has a strong financial and legal clout to defend freedom of expression, but what happens if that fades away? What happens if RW disappears one day, or WordPress becomes another dotcom sensation that is outperformed by another company? The fact that there are suits being filed against and by RW and/or WordPress shows that there is great vulnerability in the system, and laws. It indicates that weakness exists and that attacks can and are taking place. Thus, the important question is, who is documenting all of the content of this blog? This blog alone constitutes an important historical process and should be arvived, for future generations to know about the struggle in science publishing now taking place. If RW or WordPress were for some unfortunate reason to cease to exist, either because the blog owners got fed up, retired, moved on with something else, or because WordPress could no longer support the system financially, would all this effort be in vain? Would publishers continue to retract if the pressure created by this blog did not exist? Would scientists reform or fear if sites like this failed to exist? We should be concerned because every retraction that is advertised publically potentially creates one or more new enemies by those who fear honesty, openness, transparency, and most importantly, justice. For every Anil Potti that is removed from the system, another 10 or 100 (depending on the population growth curve of specific countries) Anil Potti’s are born into it. Thus, RW needs vocal and moral support by the academic community because it is a balancing factor in a clearly skewed world of science and science publishing. In fact, we need another 10 RW-like sites to up the ante. Incidentally, any updates on whatever happened to Anil Potti? The last RW blog post on him was in February 2013. Has he established a new career in another research institute?

  2. It’s hard to imagine this being successful. Unless the defendant has US assets you can attach, it seems like he or she can just ignore the suit and suffer no consequences. Still, good for you for making the effort.

    1. I, sadly, find it hard to believe that the person named on the take down notice and in the court document is even a real person… also… I can’t imagine actually serving them…

        1. Well it might be interesting if you did find out who was behind it. IIRC Dr Potti when contacted he thought it was either a well-wisher or someone with an agenda to keep him in the spotlight.

          Since I doubt Dr Potti would know the difference between read.csv(“arraydata.csv”, header = TRUE) and read.csv(“arraydata.csv”, header=FALSE) if it bit him on the backside, both options seem plausible.

          A well-wisher might feel indignant that Dr Potti was being so hurtfully singled out for a mistake that in its genesis he had little to do with, however poorly he and Professor Nevin handled the situation subsequently.
          Someone who wished to keep him in the spotlight, might be concerned that the errors identified were endemic to work coming out of Duke for a number of years and over a series of publications.

          Fortunately, the ORI has published a very detailed investigation dealing with this matter….oh wait, they haven’t. Still, I expect it is on its way
          Anyway, if RW and WordPress want to spend their coin in such an investigation, good luck to them.

        2. It at least serves as a warning to others who may seek to use the DMCA against WordPress that the company will file a suit.

          Also, it gives them grounds to call for a revision of the law to (at least) restrict DMCA notices to those with a presence in the US.

          Note that I did not say “…those who abuse the DMCA…” The scandalous fact is the the law is intended to work this way.

  3. It is good to hear that WordPress will now fight these spurious takedowns. It is already established that scientific commentary on the scientific journals’ own sites is essentially worthless since they will not support any meaningful criticism of the papers they publish. The unused commentary options that they proudly display don’t amount to a hill o’ beans.

    Perhaps the journals’ shrink-wrapped terms and conditions blurb should now start to warn authors that publication in the given journal means that they cannot take legal action against the journal given an accusation of fraud? It should be expected that they defend themselves solely on scientific grounds (if they can).

    We also all know that the DMCA is a nasty and biased weapon to use against scientific discourse. (We also all know that the issue is not only a US problem and other countries such as the UK have equally nasty and disgraceful laws in place regarding scientific discourse.)

    Gonna take a while, so in the meantime: Go RW! Go WP! Go Automattttic!

  4. Any action to combat internet censorship is worthwhile. The freedom of the internet is a thorn in the side of those who would control the free flow of information in ALL fields of endeavor. I wish you good success with your efforts to combat censorship.

    1. There is only one form of censorship that is worse than corporate censorship: censorship by peers who are afraid of being caught. We should not wait for someone else to take charge of the problem of fighting censorship. If each of us takes on the fight against lack of ethics, then the system will be overwhlemed with challenges to the censorship system. There are many tools to ensure the freedom of speech.

  5. How can one get help to retract a fraudulent paper that the editor is unwilling to retract despite numerous requests for the paper to be retracted for fraudulent data manipulation?

    1. Don’t meddle further with the journal, but go to the offenders’ university. Start pretty high up if you are certain of the data manipulation, i.e., e-mail both the dean of the faculty and the head of the university itself (but first check if they perhaps have an office specifically designed to handle scientific integrity). Also, if the journal is a member of COPE, send COPE an official complaint.

    2. I would just ignore journal editors and go for Pubpeer. It is clear that publishers will defend the interests of authors (what to say of university department deans), and that COPE really has no teeth.

      Scientists are the one that should judge papers, so just spread to the scientific community. We should start ignoring editors.

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