Commentary

WordPress Takes Aim At Bogus Takedown Notices

Earlier this year, student journalist Oliver Hotham posted an item to his WordPress blog about an anti-gay group called Straight Pride, U.K.

Before writing the article, Hotham, who lives in London, sent the group written questions. Hotham says that he received answers in the form of a document titled “press statement,” which came from someone who identified himself as Nick Steiner and said he was a press officer. Hotham incorporated those answers into his piece and posted it to his WordPress blog.

Straight Pride evidently didn't think much of the article. Hotham says that after it went live, Steiner contacted him and demanded that he remove the post. When he didn't, Steiner allegedly sent a takedown notice to WordPress, arguing that the post infringed copyright by including excerpts from Steiner's “press statement.”

WordPress then removed the post. The company informed Hotham that he could contest the copyright infringement allegation, but he decided that  doing so was more trouble than it was worth -- especially if it meant he'd have to appear to court. “I’m a student. I don’t have the money, time, or patience to go through with potentially having to go to court over this. All in all, I just could not be bothered to challenge the decision,” he wrote on his blog.

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That move might have ended the matter, but Straight Pride still wasn't content. The group contacted Hotham again, this time demanding that he remove all references to the organization from his blog.

Upon receiving that message -- “the final straw,” in his words -- he decided to write about the organization's censorship efforts. “I find it absurd that this silly little group can simply demand that remove all my references to them because it makes them look bad. What are they afraid of? Their views make them look stupid enough,” he wrote in a post dated August 11.

Today, Hotham and WordPress sued Steiner for filing a takedown notice in bad faith.

“The takedown notice stated that 'User http://oliverhotham.wordpress.com did not have my permission to reproduce this content, on Wordpress.com or twitter account or tweets, no mention of material being published was made in communications,'” WordPress and Hotham allege in the complaint. “In fact, Hotham had informed defendant that he was a journalist, and ... defendant drafted and sent the Press Statement with the intent that it be reported upon by Hotham, going so far as to title it, 'Press Statement.'”

That case is one of two similar lawsuits WordPress filed today. The second also deals with a takedown notice that the blogging platform also says is bogus.

These lawsuits signal that WordPress is fed up with copyright holders making phony copyright claims in order to censor posts they don't like. As a practical matter, however, even if they prevail in court, WordPress and the bloggers might not receive much money, given that it probably will be hard for them to show that removing the material injured them economically. Still, WordPress's move puts other people on notice that making bogus claims of copyright infringement could land them on the wrong side of a lawsuit.

3 comments about "WordPress Takes Aim At Bogus Takedown Notices".
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  1. Tim Bukher from Handal & Morofsky, LLC, November 21, 2013 at 11:10 p.m.

    The DMCA at 512(f) actually provides attorneys' fees as a penalty for making material misrepresentations. So while Wordpress and the bloggers might not receive much money, the phony claimants will be significantly punished by having to spend money on Wordpress's attorneys.

  2. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, November 22, 2013 at 6:23 a.m.

    Congratulations to Hotham and WordPress. I've been threatened with libel over blog posts myself, including one about the smell of seaweed in northern France, which I think is not a significant health and safety issue. The main problem is that you have to get legal advice even if the threat seems absurd, and that is expensive.

  3. Theresa M. Moore from Antellus, November 22, 2013 at 2:09 p.m.

    I am planning to close my WordPress account soon, as I find blogging to be a waste of my time and energy. I would advise any others not wanting this kind of treatment to close their accounts. That will hit WP in the pocket book better than a lawsuit.

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