Thursday, June 16, 2005

DMCA Copyright Censorship Mess-Up

In what looks like another attempt by a religous group to use copyright to shut down online criticism, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society (WTBTS) apparently pressured an US ISP to take down the Canadian website of a critical former Jehova's Witness. The site called contains various quotes from works published by WTBTS in an attempt to illustrate some of the failed phrophecies that organisation has made over the years. From's press release:
For example, one of the most recent additions to the collection is Watch Tower's 1932 claim that the "theory of gravity" is thoroughly in error and that electrical forces, instead, hold the planets in orbit and hold everything down on the earth's surface -- a remarkably ludicrous claim, even when compared to the limited scientific knowledge of the 1930s. Also included were quotations demonizing the Internet, the Media, the United Nations, and other non-Witness entities as ‘tools of the Devil.’
The WTBTS invoked Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) provisions against the site back in January, which led to some adjustions by and a legal correspondence, available in the site's News & Update section. Still, the site was taken offline by the ISP in May, apparently due to some administative mix-up: "Your e-mail leads me to suspect that the original [January-RL] notice was stored in the fax machine's memory and mistaken for new, since something similar has happened once before," says the web host's attorney.

What's striking to me about this story is that the ISP apparently did not take the time to check the validity of the notice or inform (in advance) that the website would be taken down. It saw DMCA on an outdated fax, feared possible vicarious liability and steered for the DMCA's safe harbour provisions instead of putting up a fight for its customer. A choice that can hardly be blamed, since possible litigation and liability costs outweigh the displeasement of one customer. It's the DMCA's notice & take down system that brings a privatized shoot first - check later situation, in which you have to pay up for an ISP that's not so trigger happy.

This case has some relation to the copyright censorship that was used by the Church of Scientology. This sci-fi sect has been particularly aggressive trying to prevent the spread of their copyrighted works and connected criticism. In The Netherlands Scientology's practices have been part of a long legal battle, in which its attempts to get the so-called Fishman Affidavit removed from Dutch writer's Karin Spaink site have failed. This summer the Dutch Supreme Court will likely put Scientology's legal claims next to where their reli-fiction belongs: in the trash can.


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