Striking Back Against Censorship

The mission of WordPress.com is to democratize publishing. We’re inspired every day by the ways creators use our platform to bring their voices to the world. Unfortunately, we also see many cases of censorship aimed at WordPress.com authors and users.

One area where we’ve seen a number of problems is the censoring of criticism through abuse of copyright law. Two recent cases of abuse really caught our attention and made us think that we needed to take action to fight back on behalf of our users and everyone who believes in the internet’s promise for free expression.

Censorship by DMCA

A common form of censorship by copyright stems from improper use of legal creations called DMCA takedown notices. The DMCA stands for the “Digital Millennium Copyright Act,” which is a US federal law that created a system for protecting copyrights online. The DMCA system works pretty well, but has a few overlooked flaws that have made it too easy to abuse. Under the DMCA, companies, like Automattic, who publish user content cannot be held legally responsible for copyright infringement — so long as we follow a procedure to take down materials when we receive a notice from a copyright holder that something appearing on our platform allegedly infringes their copyrights. Every company that you use to share videos, pictures, and thoughts (from Google search to Facebook to Snapchat to WordPress.com) relies on the DMCA to balance free expression with copyright protection.

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.

We receive hundreds of DMCA notices and try our best to review, identify, and push back on those we see as abusive. Our users have the right to challenge a DMCA complaint too, but doing so requires them to identify themselves and fill out a legally required form saying that they submit to being sued for copyright infringement in a place that may be far away. If they don’t, their content is taken down and could stay down forever. This tradeoff doesn’t work for the many anonymous bloggers that we host on WordPress.com, who speak out on sensitive issues like corporate or government corruption.

Standing with Users to Take Action

Given the legal landscape, it’s no wonder that we’ve seen an increased number of improper notices. The following two notices inspired us to take action to help bring some needed balance to the situation.

First: Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus are experienced science journalists who operate Retraction Watch, a site that highlights and tracks situations where published scientific papers may not be everything they seem. One reader apparently disagreed with a critique published on Retraction Watch — so he copied portions of the Retraction Watch site, claimed the work as his own and issued a DMCA takedown notice against the original authors.

Second: Oliver Hotham is a student journalist living in the UK. Oliver publishes investigative articles on his WordPress.com blog. The subject of one of his articles apparently had second thoughts about a press statement he gave to Oliver — so he turned to copyright law to censor Oliver’s site. Oliver’s account of that incident is here.

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 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. Through these suits, we’d like to remind our users that we’re doing all we can to combat DMCA abuse on WordPress.com…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.

Read Retraction Watch’s thoughts on our lawsuit here.

Full text of complaint in the Oliver Hotham case here.  Full text of complaint in the Retraction Watch case here.


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Paul Sieminski

88 Comments

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  1. Britt

    Now I’m totally addicted to Retraction Watch.

  2. colleensprose

    Thank you WordPress.com — this is truly appreciated! Nice write-up, Paul, of a very complicated issue :)

  3. Jill from up the hill...

    Thank you, Thank you for this post. Protect Freedom of Expression Yes!!

  4. Mark Armstrong

    Freedom of expression cannot justify someone’s violation of a legitimate copyright.

    I appreciate your difficulty, but there’s always a chance that you (WP) will see “copyright abuse” in cases where you disagree with the views of those filing the complaint.

    • Paul Sieminski

      Big difference between legitimate copyright and outright fraud. Sadly, our current system makes abuse an easy, consequence-free proposition, and that’s what we’re trying to change by bringing these cases.

    • Rupert Eliot

      Does this post reference any legitimate copyright violation going on? No, it doesn’t. And why the scare quotes? Are you implying that the examples in the article are not actually copyright abuses, and just a disagreement of views? Otherwise I am unclear why you need to point out the mere hypothetical potential of WP inappropriately judging a copyright issue, when they clearly haven’t in this case. You say you appreciate the difficulty, but… I’m more wondering if you even read the post.

  5. Arham Bitola

    Reblogged this on ARHAM and commented:
    A sustainable urban environment incorporates human rights such as free speech into its foundations.

  6. jiml777

    Good work!

  7. boteotu

    Stuff like this makes me glad I’m a WordPress blogger. Stuff like this is good to know.

  8. markpeltonen

    Thank-you very much for taking action!

  9. josephyaschur

    Reblogged this on Joseph Yaschur.

  10. David Boles

    Outstanding! I applaud this decision to fight back against those who abuse the true intention of the DMCA — to protect rightful Copyright owners from infringement.

    This sort of “don’t abuse our bloggers with foolish takedown notices, or you’ll be sorry!” — is precisely why I prefer to pay to blog on WordPress.com instead of going it on my own in the wilds.

    Individual bloggers could not take this important, unifying, stand against bad actors, with the same force, effort and effect. Automattic can, and will, and has the guts to stand up for doing the right thing while still protecting original intent and the written word. Thank you!

    Oh, and don’t fret! WordPress.com is still a “DMCA safe harbor” for publishers!

    http://bolesblogs.com/2010/10/28/wordpress-com-is-a-dmca-safe-harbor-for-blog-publishers/

  11. Kraft

    Reblogged this on Automattically Kraft.

  12. Brett Myszkowski

    Refreshing to hear that WordPress is actively taking a stance against these fraudulent cases of censorship. I’ll second that exclamation of “Protect Freedom of Expression!”

  13. tenaciousbitch

    THANK YOU and bravo, those members of WordPress involved in this issue, for having our backs in regard to fraudulent claims of copyright infringement. I’ve never had this happen to me, but I can imagine how upset and helpless someone might feel if they don’t have the money or the time to defend themselves, much less – if they don’t want to reveal their identity. And thanks for posting this article, so that we’ll all be aware of those who abuse the system!

  14. Randall A. Golden

    In an online environment where social media sites couldn’t care less whether users live or die, this is an outstanding display of community support. Sincere kudos to Automattic for this; please never, ever change.

  15. Stu West

    Reblogged this on stuwest.org and commented:
    Defending our users and our shared principles has always been a big part of WordPress.com. I’m really proud of our General Counsel Paul and his team’s efforts, including in these two cases.

  16. andy1076

    Having been through a number of issues with my content being stolen and sold, by people claiming to be professionals, I can totally appreciate this post. Thank you wordpress!

  17. Gaurab

    That’s a great work you guys have done. Keep up the good work. :)

  18. Metal Odyssey

    Thank you WordPress for watching out for freedom of speech plus the free thinkers that use our platform legally. :)

  19. ScorpionGlow

    I’ve had my published, copyrighted work as well as trademarks stolen by others and have had to issue Cease & Desist warnings in the past. I keep a copyright notice on my blog in the About section. Thus far, no problems, but I’m glad to see WordPress is taking care of its own.

  20. isaenfermeriaavila

    Reblogged this on isaenfermeriaavila.

  21. Richard Hudak

    Way to go, WordPress. The DCMA should not be used to squash free speech or the conduct of open inquiry.

  22. Richard Hudak

    Reblogged this on The Cyber Tribe and commented:
    The DCMA should not be used to squash free speech or hamper open inquiry. Good on WordPress for being a platform that takes a stand against censorship. WordPress is technically a very sophisticated blogging platform, so I would not expect less of the folks at Automattic.

  23. soloneili

    I had a take down notice on utube and challenged it, knowing I’d sourced my material legitimately. I won and the notice was withdrawn. Good article.

  24. Paul Daniel

    Bravo! Thank you for what you do.

    Paul Daniel

  25. colonialist

    It is in everyone’s interests for these frivilous accusations of infringement to have painful consequences for the issuers. When such complaints are reduced to a minimum, the genuine ones can be dealt with far more confidently and expeditiously.

  26. Theferalcatsanctuary.org

    Thanks for standing up for abuse of the law. The person being abused has no chance of fighting back alone, unless he/she has very deep pockets. I wish more companies with “clout” would be wiling to do the same.

  27. IdealisticRebel

    Reblogged this on idealisticrebel and commented:
    A must read.

  28. barkimustapha272

    Reblogged this on barkimustaphablog.

  29. Paul Sieminski

    Reblogged this on The Old Fashioned and commented:

    Proud to be joining WordPress.com bloggers in fighting back against censorship today! But sad that cases of copyright abuse are so common. We’re doing our best at Automattic to try to change that…one case at a time.

  30. talesfromthelou

    Very good. I am glad you are taking that course of action. This is good.

  31. Clare Flourish

    What gets taken down? Is it just the allegedly offending post, or more of the blog?

  32. Lux Ferous

    Reblogged this on Whispers of Satan and commented:
    Copyright abusers do not realize there are bounds.

    Well, there are bounds. There are always bounds.

    Lux

  33. Lyagushka (Meirav)

    Reblogged this on Meirav's Blog and commented:
    Well done, WordPress, for fighting this abuse.

    And well done, Paul Sieminski, for explaining this complex issue in words that I could understand :)

  34. Ron Scubadiver

    Thank you WP staff for publishing this thoughtful and informative piece. Now can we tell those bloggers who think a quote from a copyrighted work combined with a photograph they purloined off the web somewhere does not add up to a new creative work?

  35. Teepee12

    Our copyright laws are a mess. Contradictory and almost impossible to enforce equitably. Nice of you to try to help and I wish you the best of luck. It’s a minefield out there. Don’t get your legs blown off.

    So. If the source is clearly referenced — the orinating phtographer, writer or artist credited — is it copyright infringement or research?

  36. GlindaTheGoodBitch

    I’m American but my best friend is from the U.K., so to steal a phrase from her, “Bloody brilliant. Carry on the good work, mates, while we do all we can here across the pond.” Nice job and thank you, WordPress!”

  37. bigsyrb

    Bravo! Without the dissenting voice we are all lost.

  38. Team Oyeniyi

    Well done Paul and the WP team! Also notice the UN paragraph in my sidebar, may be useful for some.

  39. My Hiking Adventures

    I like reading these blogs. I learn so much!! Thank you

  40. skulzstudios

    Right on WordPress. Thank you for standing up for us little people.

  41. Sebastian

    Good job!

  42. wishwantdream

    And I thought I was being hard hitting and intellectual with my post on perceived racial offense. If I was wearing a hat, I’d take it off for you

  43. pinkunderbelly

    Yet another reason to love WP!

  44. Suskeblogt

    That’s one reason I like wordpress so much.
    Keep up the good work !

  45. Sabina

    Thank you, WordPress, for taking an action to stand up for what is right. This is, precisely, one of those qualities that sets WordPress apart from others.

  46. mountaincoward

    Well done WordPress – nice to know that you help your users fight their corner when necessary :-)
    Carol.

  47. hollydawnhewlett

    Very Good…As a writer and poet I believe in everyone’s right to express themselves..even if I don’t agree. Thank You for standing up to this idiocy!! Holly

  48. Egill

    Reblogged this on Egill and commented:

    Mess with the bull – you get the horns!

  49. Ardy Perdana

    Nice.. :)

  50. Lonna Lisa Williams

    Great article. Thanks so much for taking a stand against censorship–for all of us! I lived in Turkey for 2.5 years and wrote about its repressive political system for “Digital Journal” (http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/362321). I left Turkey (which has more journalists in prison than any other country) just days before police showed up at my old apartment to arrest me for a photo I’d published. Censorship must NOT win on the Internet. If we can’t keep our images, we’ll write them into words.

  51. Stef

    Excellent summary of what can be a confusing bunch of legal jargon. And huge kudos to all at Automattic for 1) actually reviewing the DMCA claims that are submitted, and 2) for being willing to push back. I honestly didn’t think I could think more highly of all you folks behind WordPress – but today you proved me wrong.

  52. Ryan Boren

    Reblogged this on Ryan Boren and commented:
    This is why I do what I do and work where I work. Good corporate citizenship means protecting customers from government and its cronies while not becoming a crony yourself. Most of the DMCA is straight-up cronyism. Grubby cronyism all over what should be an untouchable right.

  53. linden thorp

    Thank you for your kindness in informing us of this. I myself am fighting for Valid Literature in the self-publishing domaine. I think we need to have some guidelines and standards, so that Indi writers and publishers can become entirely credible!

  54. judahakessler

    I wish you could see my standing ovation and hear my applause! I wish I could express my gratitude to my own satisfaction. You are… in a word… SUPERSTUPENDOUS!

  55. DyingNote

    More power to you! Respect!

  56. hansgrohe97

    Good to see WordPress taking a stand on censorship! No to censorship! Free information for all!

  57. alienheartbeat

    I have never regretted the money I pay to you guys each year – and I regret it even less now. This is not really an issue for me personally, but is an issue for me as a member of a globablised society. Yet another reason to stay with wordpress.com.

  58. Laura

    Thank you for standing up for WP bloggers’ rights.

  59. yaguarete79

    Excellent! Finally I can feel Internet is not irreversibly threatened by misuse of copyright laws, or DMCA abuse.
    Keep up the good job, and thank you!

  60. roadwax

    …and the 2013 “Expensive Lawyers Shall Not Own Free Speech” Award for conspicuous defence of Planet Blog goes to…Paul Sieminski…! (I think you’ve just formed us all into the WordPress 1st Div. Verbal Artillery Reservists. Nice one!)

  61. waterfowlfarm

    Thank you for standing up for the rule of law and common sense.

  62. Wendy S.

    Reblogged this on Wendomattic and commented:
    I’m proud to work for a company that stands up against censorship and supports the freedom of self-expression.

  63. surajsingh_livinglife

    Awesome!!

  64. katharinetrauger

    Wow. As long as there are people, there will be the wonderful and the wicked. While I am saddened to hear of such depths of depravity, I am cheered to hear of the protection we might find from WordPress, and I thank you, whole-heartedly, for this effort you have initiated. May it go well with you!

  65. TraceyC

    Thank you for taking an active role and working to strengthen copyright laws and protections. Until there is a challenge or as in this case, an act of deceit the loopholes and weaknesses of the laws aren’t discovered.

  66. Jeff Sinon

    Thanks WP, for standing up for us little guys. The reason I feel most of the frivolous take-down notices go unchallenged, and their use abused, is the simple fact that most of us can’t afford to fight the legal battle. And the people issuing these notices know this.

    So again, thank you WP!

  67. PiensoLuegoPiensoLuegoExisto (PLPLE)

    Hi and sorry for my lousy english (I´m from Argentina, spanish speaking)

    Back in the days when I needed to choose a blogging service, I was overwhelming with the cloud of factors, webs, specifications and more (I´m a freak of the details). But seeing that I should write as an anonymous (my blog target hard things, like the philosophy of society´s bases, laws that could be used to harm, and nowadays a lot of politics), needed to put some (very) extra points on platforms who permits the maximum freedom of speech.

    Gladly, WordPress.com has won in almost all the items against everyone else, but won by miles in the section of liberty of writing. And that was in some point of 2008, and I´ve no regrets with my choice (and never a problem so far, except the usual ones in internet). And news like this, put more “I didn´t miss” in the sauce ;-D

    Thanks for all, and keep not only the good work, but the defense of thousands of thousands of people that only wants to… write, and put another side of the coin in the table.

    Thanks again!
    PLPLE

  68. leokoo

    So proud of Automattic :) Keep it up!

  69. kelli2l

    So true about the lack of ‘privacy and/or freedoms’ on the web, I opened a WordPress web page to get off Facebook, with it’s constant un-neccessary and intrusive updates on their users personal information is unacceptable! And the ads and ads and more ads…. it’s all too much! Almost forgot their lack of support, and one after another I hear people complain that they were blocked by FB for no valid reason and with no actual proof of why… so that’s NO reason in my book. And as far as Twitter is concerned, it just doesn’t have a satisfying format for me, I use it for news info only.

  70. brewcityexpress

    Thats why I’m glad I came to WordPress to begin further my blogging in hopes of reaching the next level of broadcasting. My blogs got a lot of negative attention for having some vulgarity but, moderators never noticed the message I got across, nor did they understand that my work is mostly satire. Since joining WP last week, I’ve had nothing but highest admiration for them and I enjoy the creative freedom I’m given here. Be sure to check out my archive and feel free to critique.

  71. Chriss Duncan

    Proud & impressed with anyone that helps others. I hope the proper people get the due punishment.

  72. writewild

    Thanks WordPress! Unfortunately, this is just one symptom of a societal problem where people improperly use regulations intended for good for purposes of evil. It presents a strong argument for returning to a society of members moral enough to govern themselves.

  73. findmesomething

    Am I “allowed” to post on my blog an article that someone else wrote, without getting his/her permission first? Obviously the credit/byline would be there…???

  74. techamberblog

    Fantastic article.

  75. daveyboy100

    Great to see you taking action.

    Well done Automatic.

    David Hurst

    >

  76. Courtney

    I wish other companies would follow your lead instead of penalizing their users because that’s the easier thing to do. Thank you for standing up to those who are essentially bullies on the internet.

  77. ThePeopleIHaveSleptWith

    WELL DONE!

  78. aceejuice

    thank you ! its nice that someone is standing up for us!

  79. amunaor

    Good for you!

    As of late, Youtube too is inundated with censorship by copyright. If this continues, soon we won’t be able to use any combination of the alphabet for fear of stepping on someone’s copyright toes.

    Keep snapping at their heels, I say!

  80. Darkly Venus

    I’m an anti-cult activist and my blogs were hit with a slew of bogus DMCA notices a few months ago. I found WordPress’s process fair and simple to use, and WP also rejected a bogus trademark infringement claim on my behalf.

    Well done WordPress.

    Previously I’d used the Google Blogger platform, and had my first blog shut down in Australia and the UK without a court order. The complainants used bogus legal notices demanding Google release my identity and shut down my Google accounts. They told Google they intended to take defamation action against me, but over a year later they haven’t. They’ve merely tried the false DMCA and TM infringement claims and a few other dirty tricks, but my exposure is still on the net.

    Long live free speech.

  81. dreamerrambling

    With great power comes great responsibility. In the hands of the wicked, power becomes abuse and tyrannical. Good on you, WordPress. People should be free to express themselves. If we can’t on the internet, a place where information travels across the world in a flash, where can we?

  82. jaklumen

    Hey Paul, I really appreciate this news, and all that WordPress is doing on behalf of free speech. The SOPA/PIPA protest was very important to me. i think fair use and derivative work need to be better protected, especially when it’s someone independent and not making any money on it. I’ve faced such abuse personally, so I’m glad that WordPress is fighting for this.

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