Bartholomew’s Blog Taken Down by Absurd Copyright Claim

Richard Bartholomew, a longtime friend of Dispatches and a guy I respect a lot, has his blog taken down by his blog hosting service because of an absolutely ridiculous DMCA claim from Charlie Flowers, a British activist he had criticized. He tells the story at an alternative site:

Yesterday, my main site http://barthsnotes.com/ was taken down for about 12 hours. It is now back up, but with one entry missing, for 27 September 2012. This is due to a vexatious DMCA copyright infringement notice, made in bad faith by a man who wishes to suppress free discussion of his publicly-stated political views. The complaint concerned 16 words quoted from a Facebook discussion forum. Here’s the background.

A couple of weeks ago, I noted a typical piece of abuse by supposed “activist” Charlie Flowers. The context was the cancellation by Conway Hall in London of a planned debate between Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (“Tommy Robinson”) of the English Defence League and Abdullah Al Andalusi of the Muslim Debate Initiative. Searchlight magazine was among those critical of the decision to hold the debate, and the venue cancelled the booking to avoid protests. Flowers and Al Andalusi subsequently discussed the matter on Facebook…

He quoted 16 words from the guy’s post on Facebook to criticize what he had said. And all of this was in England, where both of them live. But Bartholomew’s blog is hosted on an American server and the company that owns that server took down his entire blog when Flowers complained. There is no question whatsoever that this is covered under fair use, but the company doesn’t seem to care. And he’s right to say that this is dangerous:

If we take seriously Flowers’ claim that no-one should be allowed to quote (or even to report indirectly) what he has written, then there isn’t much hope for the future of any kind of discussion or reportage on the internet. Apparently, the only course of action that my webhost will accept is a “counter notice” from me, which has to contain my address and which will then be passed on to Flowers. If Flowers does not respond to that within two weeks, then the disputed content can be restored.

This is significantly different from posting a picture taken by someone else, something I’m vigilant about policing here when we get complaints about it (and I’ve made clear to all the bloggers that they must make sure they have permission before using any image). A photographic image is a separate work that can be copyrighted and if you use it, you’re using the entire copyrighted item; that is not true of quoting a portion of what someone says in a speech or article. If that was the case, blogs would virtually cease to exist because we would not be allowed to quote anything anyone else says in any forum.

22 comments on this post.
  1. DaveL:

    If that was the case, blogs would virtually cease to exist because we would not be allowed to quote anything anyone else says in any forum.

    Blogs? How about “journalism?”

  2. planetenpaultje:

    I’m assuming Bartholomew is considering moving shop?

  3. Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant):

    Journalism is such a 20th century concept. These days it’s press releases, opinion columns, and being “fair and balanced”.

  4. baal:

    The DMCA is an awful piece of legislation. Were it about chicken coups, foxes would be the authors. I don’t think of the DMCA as copyright law even though it touches on created works – the more important part of the DMCA is all the other crap that is in there like this take down provision (which can be used to harass real people but is ineffective vs any real bad-guy(tm) (who will use a false front)).

  5. theschwa:

    “But Bartholomew’s blog is hosted on an American server and the company that owns that server…”
    What is the company? So we can avoid it. Or even have a (completely anti-Christian) boycott of it.

  6. F:

    The DMCA is an awful piece of legislation.

    Implementation, even worse.

  7. tubi:

    Were it about chicken coups…

    Those feisty chickens, always wanting to wrest control from the farmers.

  8. Ichthyic:

    The DMCA is an awful piece of legislation.

    one of the worst, EVER, and most people have no clue how it damages their rights, and will continue to do so far into the future.

    there should be mass protests in favor of repealing it.

  9. wscott:

    Taking “digital” out of the equation for a minute: print authors (books, magazines) quote other print authors all the time. As long as the quote is sourced, this is not only permitted by expected. Why would any sane person think things should be different online?

  10. tajparis:

    @theschwa

    According to this article his site is hosted by Dreamhost.

  11. abb3w:

    If the original remarks were on Facebook, it would seem the Facebook Terms would provide further limits to any complaint. Specifically, “When you publish content or information using the Public setting, it means that you are allowing everyone, including people off of Facebook, to access and use that information, and to associate it with you (i.e., your name and profile picture).”

    So: even beyond the basic criticism/commentary Fair Use, there was a license granted.

  12. janeymack:

    Followed the link above to try to read the whole story, and got a 404! Coincidence? Or somebody really doesn’t want this story to get out…?

  13. freetheworldof:

    The ‘Tells a story’ link above no longer works.
    You can read the story here:
    http://boingboing.net/2012/10/10/uk-website-taken-down-by-spuri.html

  14. dingojack:

    On the plus side – at least Ellis Washington won’t be in trouble.
    :) Dingo
    ——
    PS: Another case of ‘WAAAH!’ syndrome?
    Symptoms may include: whining, pouting, flouncing, posturing, foot-stamping, claims of bigotry and persecution, sometimes followed by spurious legal actions (most often occurs after being directly quoted saying something in public that is particularly ass-holey).

  15. left0ver1under:

    For those who don’t remember or never heard of it, it’s also worth reading about attempts to censor the blog of Spocko.

    http://www.sfgate.com/politics/joegarofoli/article/Trying-to-censor-blogger-Owner-of-conservative-2624578.php

    http://www.glcq.com/sprocko.htm

    Spocko used radio clips that met the bounds of “fair use” law but was censored by corporations (including Disney) and advertisers of the radio show in question…a rightwingnut radio show where the “host” advocated violence against protesters and certain politicians, among other statements.

    Like Bartholomew, it was an attempt to silence honest reporting by frivolous application of copyright laws. It costs nothing to make the accusation, and guilt is assumed until the accused refutes it, the opposite of “innocent until proven guilty”.

  16. Armored Scrum Object:

    There is no question whatsoever that this is covered under fair use, but the company doesn’t seem to care.

    From what I understand, they’re not really allowed to care about the validity of the copyright infringement claim, only the validity of the notice itself. However, many service providers seemingly don’t even bother with that part and will bend over backwards to act on anything that bears a passing resemblance to an actual DMCA takedown notice.

    @baal #4:

    I don’t think of the DMCA as copyright law even though it touches on created works

    I’ve come to a similar conclusion. DMCA isn’t so much a copyright law in the traditional sense as it is the creation of new rights attached to the ownership of a copyright (and done so vaguely that copyright owners can now basically write their own “copyright law” in code).

  17. Richard Bartholomew:

    Thanks for the coverage. I’m looking into changing host to somewhere in Europe – the UK is no good due to our awful libel laws!

  18. Draken:

    Maybe if you could find a Chinese provider?

    Now that would be sweet irony.

  19. Draken:

    By the way, Richard, don’t these libel laws extend to all countries on earth? As long as you’re in the UK, you could be arrested at any time, is my understanding.

  20. Richard Bartholomew:

    Sued, but probably not arrested.

    Having a non-UK webhost wouldn’t protect me from legal action, but it would mean that my webhost is less likely to cave in if threatened.

  21. Bartholomew’s Blog Faces Pressure:

    [...] he follows. He tells the story from an alternate site – now down – and was picked up by Ed Brayton, TorrentFreak and BoingBoing:Yesterday, my main site http://barthsnotes.com/ was taken down for [...]

  22. Bartholomew’s Blog Faces Pressure « Living Without Faith Living Without Faith:

    [...] he follows. He tells the story from an alternate site – now down – and was picked up by Ed Brayton, TorrentFreak and BoingBoing: Yesterday, my main site http://barthsnotes.com/ was taken down for [...]

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