Copyright, The First Wave of Internet Censorship

Publication Type: 
Other Writing
Publication Date: 
January 18, 2018

When someone wants to remove speech from the Internet, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s (DMCA) notice and takedown process can provide the quickest path. This has made copyright law a tempting tool for unscrupulous censors. As content companies push for even more control over what gets posted online, it’s important to remember that any tool used to police copyright will quickly be abused, then adapted, to censor speech more widely.

We’ve seen abusive DMCA takedown notices from a would-be Senate candidatesmall businesses, and Ecuador’s President. We’ve also seen robots-run-amok and sending takedowns and monetization demands for public domain material and white noise. One disturbing trend involves businesses targeting bad reviews. The business, or a shadowy reputation management company acting on its behalf, copies the bad review and “publishes” it elsewhere on the Internet. The business then sends a DMCA takedown notice alleging infringement of the copied, and falsely backdated, review.

Other DMCA takedowns have targeted speech for its political or otherwise offensive content. Although we did not agree with the video’s message, EFF criticized a takedown directed at a video that briefly featured FCC chairman Ajit Pai doing the Harlem Shake. We had similar concerns about a game company that used the DMCA to take down a game stream after a certain YouTube “personality” uttered a racial slur. It is not copyright’s job to police speech.

Read the full post at EFF