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 filmin.es, a corporation Ares Rights apparently has unknown involvement with. What content, exactly, filmin.es owns that was used in Chevron’s videos is unclear, and it’s possible — perhaps likely — that filmin.es 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 filmin.es 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.