Archive for Adam Steinbaugh

Ares Rights: Our Acts On Behalf of Ecuador Are Private

Ares Rights is a Spanish firm which claims to act on behalf of various officials of and entities connected to the government of Ecuador, invoking American copyright law to target critics of Ecuador (or of Ares Rights) and demanding the removal of criticism, claiming a copyright interest.  They’ve made dubious claims against, among othersBuzzfeed for posting documents linking Ecuador’s government to the purchase of electronic spying equipment and Chevron for criticizing a lawsuit involving environmental abuses in the region.  Most targets, however, have been dissidents within Ecuador without the resources to easily contest Ares’ claims.

When questioned about whether Ares Rights actually represents the clients they claim, the firm demurs, vaguely citing Spanish privacy laws.  One of their purported clients, Ecuador’s state-owned television outlet ECTV, has denied having hired Ares Rights.  When the Washington Free Beacon criticized President Correa on the subject, Correa blasted the outlet as being “corrupt,” but never denied whether Ares Rights had been hired by his government.  It’s unclear whether Ares Rights actually represents Ecuador or any of the myriad officials it has claimed to represent, or if it’s acting on its own.  The former would be outrageous and the latter laughable, but either scenario should raise concerns about how easily copyright law — and in particular the DMCA — can be abused for political censorship.

In September, Ares Rights directed three DMCA takedown notices to my web host, demanding removal of an entire post because it contained “private and not public data” — that is, an “address, email and telephone” — and “a document with copyright.”  The complaint also implied that the post infringed on a trademark.  The post in question, however, had redacted any contact information and the ‘copyright’ in question arose from a composite image created by a newspaper which contained the logo of Ares Rights.

Worse, Ares Rights intoned: my post “makes a word game.”  My response to Ares Rights was fun to write, and my host declined to submit to their demands.

Yesterday, Ares Rights 1 tried its luck again, complaining to Twitter that I had tweeted an image linking Ares Rights to (what appears to be) a DMCA notice to Facebook targeting a critic of Ecuador’s government — a notice purportedly sent on behalf of Ecuador’s state-owned television station ECTV.  The complaint cited a violation of Twitter’s “rules regarding posting information or images that the individual claims as private.”  Twitter suspended my account until I promised to comply with the rules, then deleted the tweet in question.  That tweet and the complaint I received from Twitter are below.

The ‘private’ information consisted of an email address belonging to Ares Rights: a professional address associated with a firm purporting to act on behalf of the government of Ecuador.  That email address is easily found on the  Chilling Effects database of DMCA notices.

Twitter is, of course, free to establish their own rules and enforce them as they please.  Their sandbox, their rules. 2  But Ares Rights’ invocation of ‘privacy’ is a fig leaf.  The firm is engaging in a pattern and practice of cynically invoking laws or policies, whether in copyright or privacy, to attempt to harass and intimidate critics of Ares Rights or Ecuador.  I’m not the only critic of Ares Rights to be targeted in this manner.  Twitter has repeatedly yielded to these demands, so Ares Rights will continue to abuse them.

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Notes:

  1. Ares Rights presumably sent the notice.  Twitter does not disclose the identity of the sender.  But what are the odds that someone else would be interested in a three-month-old tweet about Ares Rights?  And what are the odds that someone else is dedicated enough to do this to multiple critics of Ares Rights?  Given Ares’ record of invoking dubious policies to harass critics, I would be surprised if this were not Ares Rights.
  2. It’s also easy for me to complain.  I’m in the United States, where Ares Rights — or whoever they represent — can only reach me through frivolous threats and claims.  Journalists in Ecuador might face imprisonment were they to respond as sardonically as I have.

Roca Labs Faces Class Action Suit in Los Angeles

A brief update on the Roca Labs saga:

While the company has been conducting a scorched-earth litigation campaign against its critics, suing many on much-maligned grounds, it has been quietly facing a class action in California.  The case, filed in September in the Los Angeles Superior Court, alleges causes of action for unfair competition, violations of the Consumer Legal Remedies Act, false advertising, and negligent misrepresentation.

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The Unrealized Defamation Threats of Charles C. Johnson

Charles “Chuck” Johnson, pseudojournalist and (deserved) punching bag du jour, has gained increasing notoriety in the last several days thanks to his self-insertion into the Rolling Stone “Jackie” affair.  Johnson was previously known for falling for bad satire involving a New York Times reporter and Playgirl, screwing up Cory Booker’s residency in a piece about his residency, and publishing the addresses of New York Times reporters to show that publishing addresses is wrong and bad, and publishing the name and address of an Ebola victim.  He’s trot forth his familiar one-trick pony: a social media profile published (more or less) with reckless abandon and even less care for its relevance.  In this familiar refrain, Johnson is Reddit personified: equal parts stream-of-consciousness reporting, crowdsourced-rush-to-judgment, and noxious entitlement.Charles Carlisle Johnson

His latest foray has been widely ridiculed — and for good reason: even if you disbelieve the allegations of “Jackie” set forth in a trainwreck of an excuse for journalism, it’s off-setting to watch Johnson’s giddy dumpster-dive into Jackie’s social media, as he rises with “BREAKING” news of whichever post he found the previous hour, devoid of context and, often, relevance. 1

So, with irony lost on nobody but Chuck, Gawker’s Deadspin published its own findings from Johnson’s unsecured Facebook profile, wherein he instructed his “resentful” former classmates that they needed to stop contacting him in his newfound days of “notoriety and success.”  Johnson responded to an email from Deadspin offering that “the comments about me shitting on the floor were made up.”  This tale — that Johnson allegedly defecated on the floor of a dormitory in undergrad — is apparently an old joke tossed about by his detractors at Claremont-McKenna.  For what it’s worth, I doubt it’s true.

Deadspin, grasping the irony beyond Johnson’s reach, channeled Johnson’s finesse for speculating wildly from a misinterpretation and satirically asked whether the rather obvious joke was true:

I’d be inclined to believe the guy, or at least give him the benefit of the doubt. But he’s been caught lying many times before, and in the wake of Rolling Stone deputy editor Sean Woods tendering his resignation today, it’s more important than ever to fact check. And so I ask you, dearest readers: Did Chuck Johnson really shit on the floor in college? Please send context, stories, and photos to tips@deadspin.com.

Johnson exploded, demanding a retraction on pain of a lawsuit for defecation defamation of character, and speculating that he may crowdsource funding for his legal efforts (which he’s tried before.)

If the past is any indication — and if Johnson gets remotely competent legal advice — this will never, ever happen. Read more

Notes:

  1. Johnson’s great discovery was that “Jackie” had ‘pinned’ posts about being a rape survivor, which Johnson essentially identified as indicia that she’s a lying slut while pointing to Virginia’s criminal defamation statute.  Johnson pointed to one photo in particular, of “Jackie” holding a sign.  Of course, there was no indication that the posts were made before the alleged assault, and of course a survivor of rape might express herself in this way.  Oh, and it wasn’t her in the photo.  Oops.  So he updated the headline to read that she had “retweeted” the photo, which would be accurate if this were Twitter.  It’s Pinterest.

Roca Labs Sues Internet Comments, Which Are Like Houses

Roca Labs’ latest entry in its endeavor to silence criticism is… creative.

After asking a Florida court for an order deleting posts about the company on consumer ‘gripe’ site PissedConsumer.com (denied) and deploying improper DMCA notices in an attempt to convince Google to remove links to the site (also denied), Roca Labs has now sued eleven John Doe defendants (i.e., defendants whose true names are unknown) in a Florida state court.

The complaint starts off as a claim for defamation, but then gets weird.  Essentially, Roca Labs is asking the court to treat internet comments like real property, allow Roca to give notice of the case through publication, and declare the comments defamatory so that Roca can require search engines to remove access to the comments — if not the entire sites on which the comments appear.

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Roca Labs Sues Marc Randazza For Defamation

Roca Labs is the gift that keeps on giving.  This time, they’re giving their attorney-antagonist Marc Randazza a bunch of free advertising: they’ve sued him for defamation in a complaint seeped with howling about how he’s an aggressive attorney.  The complaint, which was filed as an exhibit in a related Florida case, is below.

Having sued consumer reviews website PissedConsumer.com for daring to post negative reviews about the company, jointly sued witnesses (in that matter) who had also criticized the company, filed suit against another critic, and threatened myriad other critics (including customers, multiple media outlets, and at least one company for hosting a critic’s website), Roca Labs has turned its attention to Randazza — the attorney who represents some of the critics.

Roca’s complaint (below) is specious.  It alleges two categories of defamatory statements: those made before pleadings were filed and statements actually made in pleadings.

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Google Settles Revenge Porn Copyright Case, Yahoo! and MyEx.com are Dismissed

I previously wrote about a copyright action filed in Texas against Yahoo!, Google, and involuntary (or “revenge”) porn site MyEx.com.  After some brief and unenlightening motion practice, the plaintiff dismissed Yahoo! and settled with Google after the latter agreed to remove the plaintiff’s photos from its search results.  It’s unclear whether Yahoo! settled the claim, and there is no indication that there was a monetary component to the settlement(s).

The case against Yahoo! and Google was, as Google argued, likely foreclosed by Perfect 10, Inc. v. Amazon.com, which found that Google’s use of thumbnails of nude models when returning search results was a fair use.  Perhaps a Texas court sympathetic to the facts of this case — where the plaintiff wasn’t a voluntary model — would have declined to follow the Ninth Circuit’s holding in Perfect 10, but that’s doubtful.  But as seen with Garcia, a sympathetic plaintiff can cause courts to do weird things.  The plaintiff had also alleged an invasion of privacy claim against the search engines, but that tort claim is pretty clearly avoided by virtue of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

The case against MyEx was voluntarily dismissed with prejudice, meaning the plaintiff can’t re-assert them later.  Previous filings by plaintiff’s counsel indicated that the site had not been served in the action, and never appeared.

I’m disappointed that the action didn’t continue against MyEx.com, which is by far the largest involuntary porn site in the world, and has likely posted the photos of more victims than any other site ever — perhaps all of them combined.  Perhaps worse, it appears to be the first revenge porn site to have become a profitable venture, and is backed by professionals with substantial experience in the adult industry.

MyEx is also likely susceptible to copyright claims, among other claims, for reasons I won’t elaborate on here.  Of course, there are tricky issues regarding the site’s potential liability, and it can be prohibitively expensive to pursue claims when the site’s operators are overseas and have gone to great lengths to camouflage their operations.  For example, the site claims to be operated by a company in the Netherlands.  That company does not exist.

Perhaps another plaintiff will step forward.

Roca Labs: Speak No Evil, Hear No Evil

Roca Labs is the kind of ‘weight loss’ company you might see in late-night infomercials, offering a ‘nutritional supplement’ that purports to keep a consumer feeling full so that they don’t feel the need to eat more.  To maximize prospective customers’ impressions that its products work as advertised, Roca Labs requires that those who purchase the product at a ‘discount’ agree not to tell anyone if it doesn’t work for them.

Inevitably, some of Roca Labs’ customers don’t have a positive experience.  Some take to websites like PissedConsumer.com — which Roca Labs has now sued — to recount their experience.  And, just as inevitably, Roca Labs issues ominous cease and desist notices demanding compliance with their speak-no-evil clause, under threat of lawsuits and attorneys’ fees.

That practice should concern — even alarm — consumers because it operates to silence criticism even where the criticism is completely true.  Consumers are, generally speaking, rational: they can evaluate whether or not a negative or positive review is predictive of what they’ll experience should they buy a product or service, particularly where the company itself can respond to and counter criticism.  While I’m in no position to weigh the merits of Roca Labs’ products, at least some of what Roca Labs has attempted to silence is likely true.

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No, I don’t run a revenge porn site

The operator of a revenge porn site website I’ve previously written about shut down his site, declared it to be under new ownership, and re-launched the website with a new name: mine.  The site is named and designed to give the impression that I operate the site.  I don’t.

It’s a clever, albeit unsettling, act of revenge by a revenge porn site owner.  It’s certainly more galling than the (usually) feeble threats of physical or legal harm, more annoying than the guy who sent me 250,000 emails, and more facepalm-inducing than the plethora of ridiculous accusations and ‘profiles’ that have popped up, among other desperate reactions.  Ultimately, however, it will prove to be ineffective: the site will continue to be difficult to find, victims who have contacted me have quickly seen through the true owner’s motivations, and I’m not in the slightest deterred from writing about this issue.

The individual I’ve previously identified as being involved in — if not himself running — the site has previously denied his involvement.  You can weigh for yourself whether his initial denial was credible and whether a “new” owner would be motivated to launch a site in my name.

I’m not naming the site’s address, and you shouldn’t try to find it.  If the involuntary aspect of it were not enough to dissuade patronization of the site, then — as I’ve previously written — the fact that a number of victims had written to the site’s owner complaining that they were underage in the photos should.  If not, please have your moral compass calibrated.

If you are a victim of the site, please get in touch with me and I’m more than happy to help you seek pro bono legal counsel or put you in touch with others who can help.

Ares Rights Adopts Matroyshka Doll Approach To Censorious DMCA Takedown Notices

I wrote about Ares Rights last week, criticizing (again) their use of frivolous DMCA takedown notices to attempt to remove content criticizing their firm or government officials in Ecuador and Argentina.

Ares Rights, answering my prayers, has now sent a frivolous DMCA takedown notice demanding the removal of my entire post, citing my alleged violation of Spanish privacy law for posting their address (which I didn’t)..  That’s right: Ares Rights is using an abusive DMCA notice to attempt to take down my post criticizing their use of DMCA notices to take down criticism of their censorious DMCA notices.  When you recover from reading that sentence, the DMCA notice (and my response) is below.

Update (9/3/2014): Ares actually sent three takedown notices at the same time, but my tech guy was laughing so hard at the first that he missed the other two, which are even more funny. As far as I can tell, the other two are identical, and based on the same, purposefully flawed logic (and content) of the takedown notice sent to Ecuadorian outlet PlanV.  The second and third DMCA — that is, Digital Millennium Copyright Act — notices claim that my use of this image, which had been created and posted by PlanV, constitutes trademark infringement:

censura-internet-interior_0

To make transparent their purposes, Ares Rights’ Luis Martinez says in these notices (“client” referring to me):

Your client acts as bad faith, since my logo is recognizable brand. Now,
your client makes a word game.

Your client acts in bad faith.

My tech guy had, thankfully, not yet sent my counter-notice.  So I’ve updated it with some more word games.

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Ares Rights Wants Ecuador Journalists To Stop Talking About Ares Rights’ Censorious Abuse of Copyright

The Ares Rights saga is… bizarre. So, they’ve summoned Barbra Streisand to sing their song.  After substantial attention to the firm’s abuse of copyright law to censor political dissidents (and, er, international oil conglomerates), Ares Rights has deployed a DMCA (copyright) takedown notice against an Ecuadorian news outlet targeting their coverage of Ares Rights’ censorious abuse of copyright.

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