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 others, Buzzfeed 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.
- 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. ↩
- 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. ↩