Archive for Censorship By Copyright

Inglewood, California Sues YouTube Critic For Copyright Infringement Over Use Of City Council Videos

This is a pretty stunning example of censorship by copyright — from a literal government.

Joseph Teixeira is a critic of the mayor of inglewood, California, James Butts.  As is common among people with more than a passing interest in local politics, Teixeira takes clips of videos of city council meetings — which are available on YouTube — and posts them to YouTube, overlaying them with his own commentary and words.  Teixeira, who goes by the name “Dehol Trouth” (get it?), runs a website called “Anybody But James Butts For Anything” and, when he’s not caustically criticizing Mayor Butts, likes to make fun of the way he plays with his tie.  Here’s one of the videos:

Whether Teixeira’s criticism has any merit, I don’t know.  He comes across as articulate and well-researched, lacking an “I attend every city council meeting to rant about chemtrails” feel.   I do know this: it’s awfully hard for a public official to sue for defamation.

But of course Mayor Butts isn’t afraid of a few YouTube videos viewed by a couple of hundred people — people who probably don’t even live in Inglewood and were just searching for a Snoop Dogg video.  After all, Mayor Butts, won his last election by the largest margin in the city’s history.  So the best thing to do would be to ignore the guy, right?

Of course it is.  But that’s not what Mayor Butts and his fellow councilcritters did.  Rather, they enlisted the resources of the city they govern to sue Teixeira for copyright infringement.  Here’s the complaint.  In its path to censoring Teixeira, the City of Inglewood makes some pretty surprising false statements, on top of being completely and utterly wrong on the law.

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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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  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.

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:


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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Yale’s Censorship of Student Reviews Rings Hollow Before Falling to Student Innovation

In a series of moves unbecoming of an institution of higher learning, Yale this month effectively shuttered a student-designed website that allowed students to consider course evaluations when selecting their courses.

A Yale student named Sean Haufler (more on him below) writes:

In January 2012, two Yale students named Harry Yu and Peter Xu built a replacement to Yale’s official course selection website. They it called YBB+ (Yale Bluebook Plus), a “plus” version of the Yale-owned site, called Yale Bluebook. YBB+ offered different functionality from the official site, allowing students to sort courses by average rating and workload. The official Yale Bluebook, rather, showed a visual graph of the distribution of student ratings as well as a list of written student reviews. YBB+ offered a more lightweight user interface and facilitated easier comparison of course statistics. Students loved it. A significant portion of the student body started using it.

After two years, Yale decided it no longer liked the innovative website and abruptly blocked access to it during course registration.  Students were instead greeted with this screen:

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Ares Rights Continues Questionable DMCA Censorship For Ecuador, Targets Chevron

Ares Rights, An Unproductive Exercise In Censorship By DMCA

In June, I wrote about Ares Rights, a Spanish firm being used by Ecuador’s government to censor dissidents by way of meritless copyright claims. Their technique is as unproductive as it is reckless: Ares Rights issues a DMCA takedown notice — utilizing an American law — targeting material that is clearly a fair use of insubstantial content created by (or related to) state-sponsored media outlets.  The offending material is briefly taken offline and then made public again once the targeted dissident (and the host of the material) catches on.  It’s hard to divine what goal Ares Rights (and Ecuador) think this abuse serves, leaving only the conclusion that the practice serves only to harass dissidents.

Ares Rights’ DMCA notices have targeted (among other things) Rosie Gray’s reporting on Ecuador’s spy program for Buzzfeed, a documentary critical of Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa, and photoshops accusing the father of Ecuador’s vice president of rape. ((That’s not to cherry-pick a few questionable DMCA notices from the known Ares Rights claims: I can’t find even a single reasonably legitimate copyright claims pursued by Ares Rights on behalf of Ecuador or another South American state.)) What limited success Ares Rights has achieved has been erased, and then some, as two of Ecuador’s newspapers (El Comercio and El Universo) have since criticized the practice.

The Bigger They Are, The Dumber It Is To Hit Them: Ares Meets Chevron

Now, Ares Rights is reportedly targeting Chevron ((Yes, the multinational oil conglomerate worth twice as much as the GDP of most South American nations, including Ecuador.)) over videos critical of an Ecuadorian judge’s 2011 ruling that Chevron was liable for $9 billion in damages resulting from rainforest pollution. Chevron has contested that ruling in a New York lawsuit, claiming (among other things) that the American plaintiff’s attorney who pursued the case blackmailed the Ecuadorian judge.

In the court of public opinion, Chevron has pursued a comparably aggressive approach, launching “The Amazon Post“, a blog documenting in some detail the American case and coverage of it. The corporation also provided videos on its YouTube account, “TexacoEcuador“.

According to a post on its “Amazon Post” blog, Chevron notes that readers “may have noticed that our videos on The Amazon Post are currently down” (well, no: the videos generally don’t have too many views, which makes the takedown even more dumbfounding, because now they will get more views). Chevron says that their videos were removed from YouTube at the behest of a complaint from Ares Rights in “late November.”

The notice on the dispatched YouTube videos indicates that they were removed “due to a copyright claim by Filmin”, likely referring to Spanish movie website, a corporation Ares Rights apparently has unknown involvement with. What content, exactly, owns that was used in Chevron’s videos is unclear, and it’s possible — perhaps likely — that doesn’t own any content at issue, and is simply being used as a vehicle to censor a critic of Ecuador.

If Ecuador Can Censor Chevron, It Can Censor You

Some may balk at the notion that we should be worried about Chevron’s YouTube videos, and may insist — perhaps rightly — that videos produced by Chevron to bolster its public relations should be taken with a hefty grain of salt. These aren’t relevant considerations. We value the ability to speak, not whether the speaker deserves to be heard or believed, irrespective of whether the speaker is a corporate behemoth or a lone pamphleteer heralding the imminent fracking doomsday. A government abusing the law — whether its own law or that of another country — to intimidate critics of any sort is a danger to critics of every sort.

Chevron, for its part, has something many critics of Ecuador don’t: the resources to make Ares Rights pay for its censorious transgressions by pursuing a §512(f) claim for their abusive tactics.  Hopefully it will exercise them: it may not be a risk Chevron faces in the future, but it would sure draw more attention to the videos Ares Rights sought to memory-hole.

I’ve reached out to Chevron and for comment. ((And sweet, sweet crude oil, which is probably a safer investment than BitCoins.)) I’ll update this post should I receive any further information.

Spanish Firm Abusing Copyright to Censor Spying Documents Has Ties to Ecuador’s Government

Amidst the furor over the drip-drip-drip of NSA spying allegations and rumors that Edward Snowden would seek asylum in Ecuador, Buzzfeed journalist Rosie Gray published a series of documents concerning Ecuador’s intellgience service, SENAIN.  According to the documents, Ecuador purchased telephonic monitoring equipment and was monitoring the online communications of opposition political figures and journalists.

Ecuador’s Minister of the Interior responded on June 27, suggesting that the documents were a “fabrication”, although he conceded that Ecuador has sought to purchase surveillance equipment, which he bizarrely claimed had solved “100 percent of kidnapping cases.”  He issued a further warning: “We invite the national or international press to demonstrate one single case of groundless wiretapping.You have 24 hours to do so, or you will be determined to be liars.”

What followed, however, appears to contradict the claims of Ecuador’s government that the documents were a “fabrication.”  The same day, the documents posted by Buzzfeed were removed from document-sharing site due to a copyright claim by a small firm named Ares Rights, an anti-piracy outfit based in Spain.

This is not the first time that Ares Rights has worked at the apparent behest of Ecuador’s government — and possibly the government of Argentina — to attempt (and fail) to censor embarrassing media online.

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