One of my regular duties here at Ektoplazm is responding to spurious DMCA takedown notices to ensure that the music distribute here will continue to be found through Google search results. Almost every week I receive at least one—and often several—notices to the effect that some URL allegedly infringes upon someone’s copyright. I let these notices build up and then file counter notices in batch, filling everything out by hand. Google takes my personal information and a sworn statement that the content at a given URL is not actually infringing on the claimant’s copyright and—if everything goes well—the link is then reinstated by Google at some point in the future. The most annoying part of this process is having to cut and paste the URLs in question, particularly if I’m served with a notice that knocks a whole bunch out of search results, which is not uncommon. Not so long ago eleven releases with the word “beyond” in the title were stripped from Google, to give but one example.
When things go poorly I am often at the mercy of the system, such as it is. There have been several occasions where my counter notice is returned for being incomplete, often with little in the way of elaboration. I am then stuck writing emails to some faceless drone to press my case, namely that the music provided to me is distributed legally and with the consent of the copyright owner. Most of the time this does the trick and the release in question can once again be found through Google. At other times the link is removed for good—unless I feel like securing the services of a lawyer, which I would rather not.
Now, you might be asking, just what is the DMCA anyhow? The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is an American copyright law that went into effect last century. Among many other provisions it allows for copyright owners to submit takedown requests to search engines in good faith—meaning that Google or whomever is complying is expected to assume that the request is valid. Naturally this has all manner of unintended consequences, particularly since automated takedown requests have become the norm. Takedown requests have long been cataloged on Lumen (formerly known as Chilling Effects) as part of an ongoing effort to make the process more transparent. This allows me to share details of a stellar example of the absolute absurdity of the DMCA takedown process in action.
Take a look at copyright claim #6 on this notice that effectively knocked The Colours of Ektoplazm off Google’s search results. This release is a 5-hour mix of 100% Creative Commons-licensed content, probably the only one of its kind, and nobody would have any good reason to cite it for copyright infringement. And what, pray tell, was this defiantly anti-copyright project supposedly infringing upon? Some bullshit mainstream release by the name of “The Mix”.
Obviously there was no human oversight involved in this imbroglio. The record label submitted a list of releases to a copyright “scanning and takedown” service and software did the rest. Evidently this company bases its claims on a simple text match, for there is absolutely nothing else about my release that matches that of the copyright claimant’s. This is particularly idiotic considering how common the word “mix” is used in the electronic music world. Imagine how many other perfectly legitimate URLs vanished from search results simply because the word “mix” appeared somewhere on the same page!
Not long after I originally wrote about this ordeal on Facebook I received an email apology from the CEO of the takedown service responsible for this nonsensical claim, so that’s something. This company is responsible for more than one million takedown notices in the Lumen database (to say nothing of the many others that never show up there). Maybe it is time to verify the claims of your customers and charge them accordingly before unleashing your bots all over the web? Until then web site owners like myself will be burdened with responding to completely ridiculous claims like the one outlined in this post.
Many people have asked me: can counter notices be automated as well? Can we fight bots with more bots? Maybe, but I didn’t see any easy way of doing so after investing some time into researching the idea. There’s no money in filing counter notices, after all. And at this point it will almost certainly take less time for me to file those stupid counter notices than it will to develop an automated solution to ongoing DMCA abuse.
The bottom line: Ektoplazm and other free and legal sources of music are at the mercy of an unfair system that is incredibly easy to game—and there isn’t a whole lot that can be done about the situation. If you’re American you can send a letter to the relevant government agency through the EFF’s takedownabuse.org. Apart from that, I haven’t got any better idea than continuing to file paperwork week after week for as long as I care about keeping Ektoplazm content on Google, which is forever—until this stupid law is changed.
Anyway, I figured it was about time to write a short post about this situation since I reference it on Facebook from time to time without going into as much detail. Thanks for reading and, as always, your donations are highly appreciated to keep Ektoplazm alive!