Spate Of Content Takedowns Follow Less-Than-Legitimate Complaints

Earlier this year, an Albany, N.Y.-based spa named Complexions saw its Facebook page shuttered because another spa, also named Complexions, grumbled about infringement of its intellectual property to the social networking service.

Even though the spa that complained was based in California, and hadn't been around as long as the one in New York, Facebook nonetheless acted on the allegation. The spa in Albany responded by suing Facebook, in an effort to get its page restored.

It's turning out that such incidents might be far more common than had been previously known.

Ars Technica reports today that its Facebook page was taken down as the result of a copyright infringement complaint. "Prior to the account lockout, we had received no notices of infringement or warnings," Ars reports. "Truly, we awoke to find that Facebook had summoned a judge, jury, and executioner and carried out its swift brand of McJustice all without bothering to let us know that there was even a problem."



When Ars began investigating, the site discovered it wasn't unique; several other groups with Facebook presences also have reported that their pages were removed by the social networking service in response to false complaints of infringement.

The problem also isn't limited to Facebook. Earlier this week, social media researcher Danah Boyd reported that her Tumblr account,, was moved to a different URL because a company claimed to own the rights to the name Zephoria. Boyd says she has signed messages with the name zephoria since 1998. "Zephyr was the name of the instant messaging service at Brown and the name of the dog that I lived with in 1997, two things that I loved dearly. And talking about euphoria was a personal joke between me and a friend," she explains.

Boyd's account was restored by the end of the day yesterday. Ars Technica's account also will almost certainly be restored by the end of the day today. Complexion's lawsuit remains pending as of this afternoon.

Some of the takedowns can be explained by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which encourages Web sites to remove content as soon as copyright infringement complaints arise. That's because the law's safe harbor provisions state that Web sites are immune from liability for users' copyright infringement liability, but only if they remove copyrighted material at the request of the owner. (Those safe harbors, however, don't apply to trademark complaints -- which would include complaints about names like "Zephoria" -- and don't in themselves explain why sites would be in a rush to remove material in response to allegations of trademark infringement.)

Even so, nothing in the law prevents Facebook or other companies from exercising judgment about the legitimacy of complaints sooner rather than later. Hopefully Facebook, Tumblr and other sites will do more to get both sides of the story in the future.

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