Chilling Effects reposts infringing links removed from Google. Why no consequences?
Earlier this week I sent Chilling Effects a DMCA takedown notice*, requesting that the site remove links that lead directly to a pirated stream of our film, And Then Came Lola. How did the pirate link make its way to Chilling Effects? Well, it’s not a new tale. In fact, I’ve repeatedly written about the fact that pirate links reported (and removed) by Google search are routinely reposted on Chilling Effects. Google even goes so far as to provide a direct link to the notice (and the infringing links) so as not to inconvenience its users.
In the short video clip below I document just how quickly–and easily–it was to navigate from Google to Chilling Effects to the illegal, embedded stream of our film. It took me a mere 10 seconds to complete the journey from Google-to Chilling Effects-to the illegal stream of our film.
I sent the original DMCA notice to Google on April 23, 2015 and two weeks later, the pirate links were reborn via a posted copy of DMCA notice sent to Google, courtesy of Chilling Effects. How Chilling Effects can get away with this behavior is beyond me, but I imagine the legal staff at the Berkman Center at Harvard, my alma mater, are careful to operate within the confines—if not the intent–of the DMCA’s “safe harbor” provision.
It’s worth noting that in order to be protected by safe harbor, site operators must comply with the following requirements (via Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press):
These safe harbor provisions could provide valuable protection to you as a web site operator. In order to take advantage of them, however, you must comply with three administrative requirements:
- You must designate an agent, usually yourself though it may be someone else who agrees to do so, to receive notices of claimed copyright infringement. Your agent must provide up-to-date contact information so that copyright owners who believe their work is being infringed on your site can send complaints or take-down notices to him or her. To designate an agent, a procedural requirement for protection under the DMCA safe harbor provisions, you must file an interim designation with the U.S. Copyright Office and submit a $105 filing fee.
- You must publish on your site your policy for addressing repeated infringing activity, specifically a statement that you terminate users or account holders who are repeat infringers. If you have no subscribers or account holders, your policy may state, “If we become aware that one of our users is a repeat copyright infringer, it is our policy to take reasonable steps within our power to terminate that user.” Including the policy statement in the web site’s terms of service or privacy agreements makes logical sense, though it may be published elsewhere on the site.
- You must properly comply with a notice of claimed infringement when received, including
- the expeditious removal of the material that is claimed to be infringing;
- notification to the user or subscriber that the material has been removed;
- notification to the copyright holder if proper counter-notice is provided by the user or subscriber; and
- restoration of the removed material if proper counter-notice is provided, and the copyright holder does not file suit within 10 days.
Why doesn’t Chilling Effects make it easy to find email address to send takedown notices to?
Prior to sending my DMCA notice to the good people at Chilling Effects, I attempted to search the site for an email address to send the notice to. When I couldn’t find one even after searching Google using the terms–chilling effects “DMCA agent”— I resorted to sending my notice to the only email listed on the site’s about page, email@example.com.*
Update 5-8-15: Today, after receiving no response to my original notice, I forwarded a copy to the Berkman Center For Internet & Society. Shortly thereafter I received an email with a link to Chilling Effects legal policies page (https://www.chillingeffects.org/pages/legal). Of course, that was not the end of my journey. In order to get the actual email for CE’s acting DMCA agent I had to click another link (http://www.harvard.edu/reporting-copyright-infringements) and visit yet another website–this one a copyright infringement page hosted by Harvard University at Harvard.edu. Note that the Harvard page includes this verbiage:
In accordance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”), Pub. L. 105-304, Harvard has designated an agent to receive notification of alleged copyright infringement occurring in the harvard.edu domain. If you believe that your copyrighted work is being infringed, notify our designated agent specified below.
Hmmm, so I guess, technically, ChillingEffects.org is actually a Harvard.edu domain? Color me confused. Not exactly an efficient– nor transparent–way for Chilling Effects to inform people about its own DMCA takedown process.
Chilling Effects obfuscation of its own DMCA agent information is ironic given its mission is to make the takedown process transparent. Why, when it comes to its own site, do they hinder user’s ability to lawfully protect their copyrighted work from online pirates?
Chilling Effects is an independent 3rd party research project studying cease and desist letters concerning online content. We collect and analyze complaints about online activity, especially requests to remove content from online. Our goals are to educate the public, to facilitate research about the different kinds of complaints and requests for removal–both legitimate and questionable–that are being sent to Internet publishers and service providers, and to provide as much transparency as possible about the “ecology” of such notices, in terms of who is sending them and why, and to what effect.
Perhaps those who work at Chilling Effects (and the lawyers who advise them) believe that the database’s work falls outside that of the “service providers” as defined by the DMCA.
Until someone with deep pockets can take them to task, Chilling Effects is apparently quite willing to create its own ecology, above the law, where pirate links are reborn and disseminated. The Chilling Effects database may be used for legitimate research, but in its current form, it also gives users one of the most efficient piracy search engines around.
*Update: Today, Friday, May 8th I forwarded my DMCA notice to firstname.lastname@example.org which apparently serves as the DMCA agent for Chilling Effects.