Russian Law Being Used to Prevent the Disclosure of Banned Websites

— Russia’s media regulator is preventing Google from disclosing thousands of URLs that were banned under so-called “VPN law”

For the past week or so, Google has been embroiled in a censorship war over Russia’s attempts to ban instant messaging service Telegram.

Russia’s media watchdog Roskomnadzor banned Telegram after the company refused to hand over encryption keys that would allow Russian security agents to spy on users’ private messages.

source

Telegram has so far managed to circumvent the ban by using proxy servers, including Google sub-networks, allowing users in Russia to continue to communicate anonymously.

Yesterday, Roskomnadzor escalated the web war by banning certain Google IP addresses under Russia’s so-called “VPN law,” which regulates the use of Virtual Private Networks.

Takedown requests published by the online archive Lumen Database show that Roskomnadzor is using another legal tool brought in late last year, order N 217, to prevent Google from disclosing thousands of URLs that have been outlawed under the VPN law.

source

“Google received a request from [Roskomnadzor] to remove over 635 URLs from Web Search in Russia,” reads one of the takedown requests published earlier today. “This request came under Russian federal law 276-FZ…commonly referred to as the ‘VPN law’. We are unable to publish the full list of URLs due to Russian law (Roskomnadzor order #217, appendix 3, dated October 25, 2017).”

The nature of the offending content, and whether or not Google has complied with Roskomnadzor’s demands, remains unclear.

Click here to read order N 217.

Erdoğan Censorship Demand Links Him to ISIS

— Turkey’s authoritarian president demands U.S. social media giants censor critical posts, tweets, and satirical cartoons linking him to Islamic terrorism

In 2016 and 2017, I blogged about takedown demands sent by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, targeting satirical cartoons and “humiliating” news reports comparing him to Hitler.

Turkey’s censorious circus continues with yet another round of online takedown requests, this time targeting “insulting” posts about its authoritarian leader, who in recent years has jailed hundreds of journalists and critics as part of a sweeping media crackdown.

The illicit content concerns Erdoğan’s alleged ties to Islamic terrorism, including claims by a former Turkish government official that the Turkish president helped fund ISIS and other militant groups in Syria through a non-governmental charitable organisation.

source

The claims were published by British investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed, whose in-depth report about Turkey’s terrorist ties is just one of several critical posts included in a lengthy ten-page court order that earlier this month was sent to U.S. tech and social media companies on behalf of the Turkish president himself.

According to the February 2 court order, “hurtful, exaggerated words…constitute a criminal offence against the President of the country” because “a significant segment of society identifies themselves with political leaders” and because “the insults that have been made and reflected to the public have caused reactions to increase polarisation in society…with many killings and injuries.”

In the interests of full disclosure, here are a few notable examples of the “hurtful, exaggerated words” and images cited in the order:

source

source

source

Fake News Ban Targets Political Speech, Sexual Content

— Germany’s recent fake news ban is already being abused by would-be censors

The Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz (NetzDG) law, which came into force in October, requires social media websites to remove “fake news” and “hate speech” or risk fines of up to 50 million euros (40 million pounds).

While intended to stop the spread of disinformation and hateful rhetoric online, recently published “local law” complaints show that would-be censors are using NetzDG to target all variety of content, including mainstream news stories, sexual words and images, an anti-Nazi online forum, and criticism of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and of the NetzDG law itself.

That’s according to the Lumen Database, which archives online takedown requests.

Anti-NetzDG campaign: “Think ban on criticism” (source)

German author Martin Hilpert was among the first to be targeted for allegedly committing “criminal offences” under NetzDG.

On his Google Plus profile, Hilpert has published dozens of posts criticising Chancellor Merkel’s immigration policies and calling for her immediate dismissal.

source

In October, Google received a request to remove “problematic” content from Hilpert’s account on the basis that his political views allegedly constitute “hate speech or political extremism” under NetzDG.

He’s not the only one in the cross hairs.

Two prominent German news publishers, centre-right newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) and tech website Heise online, have both had similar complaints lodged against them.

The complaint against FAZ states that the newspaper engaged in “harmful or dangerous acts” for a story about NATO, while the complaint against Heise states that the tech website engaged in “hate speech or political extremism” for publishing concerns by the EU Commission that NetzDG could lead to “possible abuse by governments seeking to limit freedom of expression.”

source

From there, the censorious slope only gets slippier.

Last month, a Google Plus forum called NaziLeaks that exposes and ridicules neo-Nazis online was targeted for “discrimination, insults, defamation” and for being “extremely political.”

A separate takedown request for a photo of a snowman dressed like Hitler (allegedly containing “terrorist or unconstitutional content”) is probably unlikely to win over skeptics of the new bán.

source

Next on the list of offending items, a perennial favourite of the would-be censor: sex.

Targets include a book of semi-nude photos of model Emily Ratajkowski (“sexual discrimination”), a forum for “friends to talk and exchange” that includes a soft focus nude photo (“pornographic”), and a public invitation for sex (“indecent”).

source

While the few examples included here are all still available to view online, hundreds more aren’t.

As reported by Politico, last month Twitter deleted tweets by satirical magazine Titanic, comedian Sophie Passmann, and far-right politician Beatrix von Storch after receiving local law complaints.

It’s unclear how social media platforms determine what constitutes fake news.

Bad Fan Fiction

— Michael Jackson’s estate targets erotic fan fiction with series of copyright complaints

According to the Lumen Database, Jackson’s estate recently hired self-proclaimed “Web Sheriff,” British IP lawyer John Giacobbi, to scrub a blogger’s erotic fan fiction about the late singer.

John Giacobbi (source)

The targeted blog, MJ Fan Fictions, includes “semi-erotic adventures” about Jackson and the blog’s owner, Trinette Rani Johnson.

source

Here’s a particularly inspiring sample of Johnson’s work:

Daryl [Jackson’s character from the Bad video] was enjoying himself too much. He was off from school and his mother wasn’t home from work. His new girlfriend wasn’t home either. He had on his stereo to the sounds of Stevie Wonder. He had eaten dinner and was about to take a shower. He took his shirt off first revealing his taunt tan chest, perky little nipples, define muscles, and his outtie belly button.

If that does it for you, you can read more by clicking here.

Citing U.S. copyright law, Giacobbi has requested that Google delist Johnson’s blog because “the use of the copyrighted materials…is not authorised by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.”

The complaint is part of an ongoing series of legal efforts to purge Google’s blogosphere of Jackson fan erotica, described in a separate complaint as a subculture of “libellous innuendo” and “obscene and malicious falsehoods.”

Snopes Chews Up False Cheeseburger Emoji Story

— Award-winning fact-checking website Snopes cites my blog post debunking Fox News “cheeseburger emoji controversy”

source

Earlier this week I debunked claims that Fox News failed to report former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s indictment in favour of a story about cheeseburger emojis.

The post has been cited by award-winning fact-checking website Snopes.

From the “About” page of Snopes website:

The Snopes.com web site was founded by David Mikkelson, a project begun in 1994 as an expression of his interest in researching urban legends that has since grown into the oldest and largest fact-checking site on the Internet, one widely regarded by journalists, folklorists, and laypersons alike as one of the world’s essential resources. Snopes.com is routinely included in annual “Best of the Web” lists and has been the recipient of two Webby awards. Snopes.com personnel have made multiple appearances as guests on national news programs such as 20/20ABC World NewsCNN Sunday Morning, and NPR’s All Things Considered, and they and their work have been profiled in numerous major news publications, including The New York Times, the Los Angeles TimesThe Washington PostThe Wall Street Journal, and Reader’s Digest.

With over 20 years’ experience as a professional researcher and writer, David has created in Snopes.com what has come to be regarded as an online touchstone of rumor research. The site’s work has been described as painstaking, scholarly, and reliable, and has been lauded by the world’s top folklorists, including Jan Harold BrunvandGary Alan Fine, and Patricia Turner. Hundreds of the site’s articles have been cited by authors in a variety of disciplines, and various of their articles have been published in textbooks currently in use in the U.S. and Canadian school systems.

Via “Did Fox News Ignore News of Paul Manafort’s Indictment and Cover a Cheeseburger Emoji Controversy Instead?” by Kim LaCapria, Snopes, October 30, 2017:

Conservative news did not make a meal of a silly emoji story about cheeseburgers instead of covering the federal investigation into alleged Russian election tampering.

[…]

Although it appears that the meme began as a joke about Fox News covering a cheeseburger emoji controversy in lieu of the topical events surrounding Paul Manafort, it quickly became something people on social media believed was literally the case.

Independent fact-checking site Shooting the Messenger moved quickly to debunk the story:

But did the famously Trump-friendly news network really fail to report Manafort’s indictment in favour of Google’s apparent emoji cheeseburger crisis?

The answer, unfortunately for Hannity-haters everywhere, is no.

As this clip from this morning’s Fox & Friends shows, the bulk of airtime was spent in anticipation of the indictment, with the emoji story briefly appearing to pad out the show between updates….

The story later made an appearance as part of a brief news round-up that aired immediately before a commercial break.

By comparison, CNN also covered the emoji debate, yet Twitter focused on the early morning show’s comprehensive coverage of the Manafort news.

Click here to read the full article.

Seryan Mirzakhanyan©

— Medicare scammer claims copyright of his name, life story, and criminal record in effort to convince Google to delist reports about $5.4 million fraud conviction from U.S. Department of Justice website

Seryan Mirzakhanyan, a 32-year-old Armenian-born scammer from California, who in 2016 was convicted of defrauding Medicare of $5.4 million, has filed at least three DMCA notices with Google requesting that the search engine delist records of the criminal scheme from the Department of Justice (DOJ) website, plus a number of news and legal document hosting sites.

According to one of the targeted DOJ reports, last year Mirzakhanyan along with three other men including two former Houston medical clinic owners, admitted that they opened three clinics “with the intention to defraud Medicare,” that “the majority of the diagnostic tests allegedly done at the three clinics were either not done or not medically necessary,” and that “the medical equipment, patient files and doctors were all there only to make it appear legitimate. They further admitted hiring doctors for that purpose and that they paid marketers to bring patients to the fraudulent clinics.”

In an effort to convince Google to fulfil his request, Mirzakhanyan is claiming copyright of his name, life story, and criminal record. Here is an example of one of the requests, via the Lumen Database:

source

If you can’t read that it says: “my name seryan mirzakhanyan is copyrighted, which includes my criminal record.”

Here’s the DOJ delisting request:

source

If you can’t read that it says: “life of seryan mirzakhanyan born in armenia, got charged with healthcare fraud.”

In January, Mirzakhanyan was handed a 28-month prison sentence and ordered to pay restitution of $1.48 million for his part in the criminal scheme.

Update, 23/10/2017: It appears that two other people who were involved in the scam (or one person pretending to be multiple people) have filed identical requests. Click here, here, and here to read.

Stockholmies

— Charity for self-exiled Turkish journalists living in Stockholm cites my blog post re: legal efforts by Turkey’s First Lady to scrub negative news stories about herself from the web

Earlier this week I blogged about legal efforts by Turkey’s First Lady Emine Erdoğan to scrub negative news stories about herself from the web.

The story has since been picked up by the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF), a non-profit advocacy group set-up by self-exiled Turkish journalists living in Stockholm, Sweden.

From the “About” page of the SCF website:

Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) is an advocacy organization that promotes the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights and freedoms with a special focus on Turkey, a country with eighty million citizens that is experiencing a dramatic decline in its parliamentary democracy under its autocratic leadership.

SCF is a non-profit organization set up by a group of journalists who have been forced to live in self-exile in Sweden against the background of a massive crackdown on press freedom in Turkey, where almost 300 journalists have been jailed, (For updated list click) and close to 200 media outlets have been shuttered by a series of arbitrary decisions taken by the Turkish authorities. It is headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden, a country that has a strong tradition on the freedom of expression and just celebrated the 250th anniversary of the anniversary for the adoption of legal guarantees for freedom of information and a free press.

SCF is committed to being a reference source which provides a broad and accurate perspective on rights violations in Turkey, monitoring daily developments through the lens of fact-based investigative journalism, and documenting individual cases of infringement of fundamental rights and liberties.

The founders of SCF are experienced and respected journalists who managed national daily newspapers in Turkey for years before they were forced to leave. They have the expertise, human resources, and network on the ground to track events in Turkey despite serious challenges and impediments to accessing information.

Via “Turkey’s ‘First Lady’ seeks to censor negative reports about her on Internet,”¹ Stockholm Center for Freedom, October 6, 2017:

According to an article written by Dean Sterling Jones titled “First Lady of Lumen” published in “Shooting the Messenger,” based on data assured by the Lumen Database, a website that collects and analyses online takedown requests, Emine Erdoğan, who is the wife of autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan so she is Turkey’s First Lady, sent a Turkish court order complaint to Google and WordPress demanding the removal of news reports describing them as “damaging” to her “personality rights.”

“Personality rights” refers to “the right of an individual to control the commercial use of his or her name, image, likeness, or other unequivocal aspects of one’s identity.” However, according to the article most of the targeted URLs, including one of the WordPress blogs, have since been removed from the web, making it difficult to determine the specifics of Erdoğan’s complaint. From the remaining URLs, it appears that she objected to a blitz of negative news reports and images.

Targeted URLs include a Google blog post about Turkey’s nationwide Twitter ban, another since-deleted story that implicates the Turkish First Lady in a corruption scandal, and an article that appears to suggest that Turkish citizens who insult their government will be deported and have their citizenship revoked.

[…]

Turkey has become once again the leading country among the countries that have censored and requested removal of content from Twitter, according to a transparency report covering between Jan. 1 – Jun. 30, 2017.

The Turkish Interior Ministry stated on August 7, 2016 that 3,710 people have been the subject of legal proceedings and 1,656 were arrested between March and August 2016 due to social media posts. As of the end of 2016, at least 10,000 people were under investigation for committing the alleged crime of making terrorist propaganda and insulting senior state officials on social media.

According to figures released by the Ministry of Interior Affairs in December 2016, 3,710 social media users had been investigated in the last six months of 2016, of whom 1,656 were arrested. A total of 1,203 of those investigations resulted in releases on probation.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the SCF has shown that 280 journalists and media workers are now in jails as of September 30, 2017, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 255 are pending trial, but only 25 journalists remain convicted while serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrant remains for 134 journalists who live in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Click here to read the full article.

¹The English is a little shaky, so I’ve made some light edits.

First Lady of Lumen

— First Lady of Turkey Emine Erdoğan demands takedown of negative news reports

That’s according to the Lumen Database, a website that collects and analyses online takedown requests. In April, the site uploaded a Turkish court order complaint Erdoğan sent to Google and WordPress demanding the removal of news reports described as “damaging” to the “personality rights” of the First Lady.

source

“Personality rights” refers to “the right of an individual to control the commercial use of his or her name, image, likeness, or other unequivocal aspects of one’s identity.”

Most of the targeted URLs, including one of the WordPress blogs, have since been removed from the web, making it difficult to determine the specifics of Erdoğan’s complaint.

From the remaining URLs, it appears that she objected to a blitz of negative news reports and images, including this image of her husband, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, wearing what appears to be a training bra on his head:

Definitely not a fez (source)

Elsewhere, the Turkish First Lady has targeted Turkish opposition paper Ulusal Kanal for reporting that she copied her Twitter bio from former U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama. While the original link is no longer available, a duplicate of the story carries the headline: “Emine Erdoğan is disgraced in the world!”

The story was first reported in 2014 by former Pentagon advisor Michael Rubin, who wrote via the American Enterprise Institute:

When it comes to respect for Intellectual Property Rights, Turkey ranks quite poorly. If Turkey wants to reform, perhaps they should start at the top. When Recep Tayyip Erdoğan assumed the presidency last month, his wife Emine became first lady. It seems Emine models herself after Michelle Obama, right down to her twitter account.

The description on Michelle’s twitter account reads, “This account is run by Organizing for Action staff. Tweets from the First Lady are signed -mo.”

Now here’s the description from Emine Erdoğan’s twitter feed: “Emine Erdoğan Resmi Twitter Hesabı This account is run by Organizing for Action staff. Tweets from the First Lady are signed -mo.”

Then again, maybe it’s not shameless plagiarism in Turkey’s presidential palace. Maybe Emine Erdoğan really does use the initials ‘mo.’ And as for suggesting any impropriety that might undercut Emine’s vestal image, I’m sure we’re only a Turkish press conference away from blaming this scandal on Jews, the interest rate lobbyyours truly, that well-known personification of subversion Steven Cook, or the Gülenists.

As it happens, Turkish officials didn’t blame the Jews, instead blaming “anti-government forces” and claiming that the Twitter account was not operated by the Turkish First Lady.

Speaking to the Washington Free Beacon, Rubin gave his own interpretation:

“The account has been active since August,” Rubin said. “Turkey has taken the power to knock sites offline without court orders in a matter of minutes. The Turkish explanation beggars belief.”

“The fact that Emine Erdogan’s account continues—this time with its plagiarized description fixed—suggests that Emine’s handlers screwed up but were too proud to admit it,” Rubin said. “The whole incident is a metaphor for what Turkey has become: dishonest, dishonorable, but too proud to admit its fundamental corruption.”

Other targeted URLs include a Google blog post about Turkey’s nationwide Twitter ban, another since-deleted story that implicates the Turkish First Lady in a financial corruption scandal, and an article that appears to suggest that Turkish citizens who insult their government will be deported and have their citizenship revoked.

source

It’s not the first time the Erdoğans have petitioned Google and WordPress to delete negative reports about themselves from the web.

Last year I blogged about successful attempts by the Turkish president to block a WordPress blog featuring satirical cartoons depicting him as a tyrannical dictator. That story was subsequently picked up by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund’s Maren Williams (click here to read), and touched on by The Daily Beast’s Lachlan Markey (click here to read).

Earlier this year, the easily offended president asked Google to delist “hurtful, humiliating” reports comparing him to Adolf Hitler. That story was subsequently picked up by Techdirt’s Tim Cushing (click here to read).

Paparazzi Schätze

— British law firm claims copyright on paparazzi hot tub photos of pop star Rihanna with her billionaire Saudi boyfriend

British law firm Carter-Ruck Solicitors is claiming copyright on paparazzi hot tub photos of pop star Rihanna cosying up to her new boyfriend, billionaire Saudi Toyota heir Hassan Jameel. That’s according to the Lumen Database, a website that publishes online takedown requests.

Records submitted by Google show that Carter-Ruck recently employed Web Sheriff, a British anti-piracy company, to target a number of well-known women’s magazines and gossip sites, including Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Fashion Magazine, Uproxx, Complex, and perennial litigation-magnet Lipstick Alley.

On behalf of Carter-Ruck, Web Sheriff has sent Google around 14 requests claiming that the “pirated copyright photographs” were published “without license or authority,” and that “the nature of images means they do not qualify as ‘fair use.’”

Here is an example of one of the requests, via Lumen:

DMCA (Copyright) Complaint to Google

SENDER
Web Sheriff
on behalf of Carter-Ruck Solicitors (Law Firm)
[Private]
…GB
Sent on August 24, 2017

RECIPIENT
Google Inc
[Private]
Mountain View, CA, 94043, US
Received on August 24, 2017

SUBMITTER
Google Inc

Re: Unknown
SENT VIA: UNKNOWN

NOTICE TYPE: DMCA

Copyright claim #1

KIND OF WORK: Unspecified

DESCRIPTION
1. Rights Owners : CARTER-RUCK SOLICITORS / LAW FIRM (OWNER OF IMAGES VIA FULL ASSIGNMENT OF COPYRIGHT) 2. Rights Agent : WEB SHERIFF® 3. Infringed / Violated Rights : COPYRIGHT 4. Infringed Individuals / Entities : CARTER-RUCK SOLICITORS / LAW FIRM (COPYRIGHT OWNER) 5. Infringing / Violating Materials : PIRATED COPYRIGHT PHOTOGRAPHS (PUBLISHED WITHOUT LICENSE OR AUTHORITY – AND NATURE OF IMAGES MEANS THEY DO NOT QUALIFY AS ‘FAIR USE’)

At least one of the targeted publications, Toronto’s Fashion Magazine, has since 404-ed its article about the couple.

Carter-Ruck Lawyers has a reputation for using aggressive legal tactics to squash negative news stories about its celebrity clientele. Last year, I blogged extensively about the firm’s attempts to censor internationally based journalists and Twitter users from reporting or discussing British pop singer Elton John’s open marriage (click here and here to read).

Arif Trumps WordPress

— WordPress blocks critical blog about Trump’s inner circle after Turkish court order from Trump’s Bayrock business partner Tevfik Arif

Earlier this week I blogged about Bayrock Group CEO Tevfik Arif’s attempts to get news reports about his 2010 arrest for human trafficking removed from the Internet.

Arif, a former Soviet commerce official, is best known for his business partnership with Donald Trump: the two were partners on the troubled Trump SoHo hotel in Manhattan, recently the subject of a criminal investigation and a lawsuit; and the doomed Trump International Hotel & Tower in Fort Lauderdale, which was sold in 2012 after the developer defaulted on a $139 million construction loan.

Tevfik Arif (centre) with Trump and former Bayrock director Felix Sater at the launch of Trump SoHo (source)

According to the Lumen Database, which collects takedown requests of online content, Arif sent multiple Turkish court orders to Google and Automattic (WordPress’ parent company) demanding the removal of sites and blogs that reported about his arrest aboard Turkey’s presidential yacht, where he was attending a private party.

During a raid of the $57 million yacht, Turkish police reportedly found “nine young girls” from Russia and the Ukraine, “a huge amount of contraceptives and a file with escort girls’ pictures and hotel receipts.”

source

Arif was charged and later acquitted of human trafficking, although four lesser-known businessmen were convicted.

While Google doesn’t appear to have honoured Arif’s demand, Automattic told Lumen it has taken “partial” action against a critical WordPress blog that reported about Trump’s dubious friendships and business relationships, including his partnership with Arif.

source

When I asked Automattic to confirm and clarify what action it had taken against the offending blog, I received the following reply from Community Guardian Francis:

Hey Dean,

Thanks for reaching out. The site has been blocked in Turkey as a result of a decision of the Turkish Access Providers’ Union. We were forced to take that step in order to avoid WordPress.com (as a whole) from being blocked in the region.

Best,

Francis
Community Guardian
WordPress.com | Automattic

As I reported in October last year, WordPress recently updated its takedown policy to comply with Turkish censorship demands.