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 is 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.

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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.”

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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.

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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”).

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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.

The Takedown Conspiracy

— Articles by WashPost, Techdirt about fake takedown requests targeted by anonymous defamation takedown request

Last year, a Washington Post investigation by First Amendment expert Eugene Volokh (of the Volokh Conspiracy, now published at Reason.com) exposed how some people were using forged court orders to force Google to delist links.

Via “Apparent forged court order for the benefit of a New Britain (Conn.) volunteer city commissioner” by Eugene Volokh, The Washington Post, March 30, 2017:

Ken Haas is a member of a New Britain (Conn.) city commission, the Commission on Conservation, appointed by Mayor Erin Stewart. Several months ago, he got into a public controversy with local activist Robert Berriault — allegedly, when someone got in a Facebook political spat with Haas, he responded by writing, “You do know I have access to ALL city records, including criminal and civil, right???” Berriault took that to be a threat that Haas would misuse that access for political purposes and wrote about this on the New Britain Independent site, as well as in a not-much-noticed change.org petition calling for Haas’s removal. (Since then, Berriault has announced his candidacy for the New Britain city council.)

And then things got really interesting: Two weeks ago, someone asked Google to deindex the New Britain Independent article and the petition, and the request was accompanied with what looked like a court order in Haas v. Berriault. The order purported to be in a libel and false light invasion of privacy lawsuit and closed with:

Plaintiff is granted damages for all counts as to Defendant Robert Berriault. Defendant must also remove and retract statements made referencing Plaintiff Haas.

The trouble is that there is no such case. There is no such court order. There is no Connecticut Superior Court Judge named John W. Darrah.

Techdirt’s Mike Masnick subsequently detailed the apparent forgery here.

Now it emerges that an anonymous complainant has sent Google a defamation complaint requesting the removal of the two articles from its search results, citing a 1979 Supreme Court case concerning the public disclosure of personal information.

Via the Lumen Database, which archives online takedown requests:

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If you can’t read that, it says:

In 1979, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized an individual interest in the “practical obscurity” of certain personal information. The case was DOJ v. Reporters Committee for a Free Press. As well, this information is harmful to me as it concerns unfounded information which never resulted in prosecution. Not only has the dissemination of this information never been legitimate, but its internet referencing is clearly harmful to my reputation as my professional and personal surroundings can access it by typing my first and last names on the Internet.

As of publication, the articles are still searchable using Google.

NBT Films: Debunked Again

— Techdirt reports my post about debunked YouTuber’s copyright complaint against fact-checking website Snopes

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Via “Snopes Debunks Fake YouTube Video; Video’s Creator Responds With A Bogus DMCA Notice” by Tim Cushing, Techdirt, December 6, 2017:

from the pressing-the-shut-up-button dept

Nothing But the Truth Films (NBT) has a credibility problem. Oh, the irony, I would normally say, except for the fact NBT deals mostly with this sort of “truth.”

We present the black and white facts about the geopolitical climate which include Islam, Illuminati, Freemasonry, Cults and more. See how your freedoms are slowly eroding and spread the message with the help of our channel.

[…]

One popular video on NBT’s YouTube channel shows a supposed Islamic man angrily and bitterly decrying the religion after having his eyes opened by [NBT creator J.K. Sheindlin’s book]. But the video isn’t what it seems: it’s actually footage taken from somewhere else, dealing with an entirely different issue, but with NBT’s fabricated subtitles giving the impression Sheindlin’s book has unconverted another follower of Islam.

It made the internet rounds enough that Snopes picked it up and debunked it.

[…]

Having been caught out, Sheindlin did what any self-respecting truth-seeker huckster would do: he decided to get Google involved. The invaluable Dean Sterling first spotted the bogus DMCA notice:

Last month, the conspiracy channel filed a DMCA copyright complaint requesting that Google delist Evon’s article from its search results. That’s according to the Lumen Database, which archives online takedown requests.

Read the full article by clicking here.

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.

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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.”

Info-Warring (Part II)

— International Business Times files copyright complaint against conspiracy website InfoWars

In February, I blogged about a series of DMCA copyright complaints filed against U.S. conspiracy website InfoWars.

The complaints by pro-gun news website AmmoLand, Danish-run news website nsnbc international, plus a third accusation of content scraping by Cincinnati survivalist website On Point Preparedness, claimed that InfoWars republished their content without permission.

InfoWars founder Alex Jones (source)

Yesterday, BuzzFeed News broke the news that “InfoWars has republished more than 1,000 articles from RT without permission”:

Over the past three years, conspiracy site InfoWars has copied more than 1,000 articles produced by Russian state-sponsored broadcaster RT to its website — all without the permission of RT.

According to data from social sharing tracking website BuzzSumo, there were at least 1,014 RT articles republished on InfoWars since May of 2014. The articles appeared on InfoWars with a byline credit to RT, but a spokesperson for the Russian broadcaster told BuzzFeed News that InfoWars did not have permission to re-publish its content.

RT is not the only outlet InfoWars copied content from. A search on BuzzSumo shows there are articles copied from CNN, Sputnik, Breitbart, CNS News, the Blaze, CBC, BBC, Vice, The Guardian, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The New York Post, LA Times, BuzzFeed, and others. RT’s articles, however, seem to be the most numerous.

Adding to that list is the International Business Times (recently rebranded Newsweek Media Group).

According to the Lumen Database, a website that collects and analyses online takedown requests, the business news publication recently sent Google a copyright complaint claiming that “InfoWars often [uses] our content without approval and incorrectly attribute canonical owership [sic] to themselves”:

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According to BuzzFeed, InfoWars has not replied to multiple requests for comment.

The Ghost of Trump U.

— Google delists marketer’s analysis of Trump University sales letter after friend of deceased Donald Trump ghostwriter files copyright claim

Trump University, founded in 2004 by its presidential namesake, was an unaccredited real estate programme aimed at budding investors.

Before and after its closure in 2010, the New York-based programme faced repeated allegations of illegal business practices by state authorities, plus two federal lawsuits brought by former students who claimed they were defrauded out of thousands of dollars in tuition fees (in late 2016, Trump agreed to pay $25 million to settle the lawsuits).

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Now Trump U. is back to haunt the archives of the Lumen Database, a website that collects and analyses online takedown requests.

Earlier this month, Lumen published multiple DMCA copyright complaints received by Google requesting that the search engine delist pages from Swiped.co, a self-described “community for marketers, copywriters & savvy business minds” founded in 2013 by New Jersey-based marketer Mike Schauer.

Swiped.co founder Mike Schauer (source)

The complaints were sent by Big Jason Henderson, founder of Las Vegas marketing company SMH Marketing, who requested that Google delist Schauer’s annotated analysis of a decade-old Trump U. sales letter by deceased Trump ghostwriter Scott “Mongo” Haines.

Henderson says he acquired the rights to Haines’ works shortly after Haines’ death in January.

Top right: Marketing consultant Big Jason Henderson (source)

Here’s one of three complaints Henderson sent Google:

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If you can’t read that it says:

I am the copyright holder of “Shortcut Copywriting Secrets.” This course includes a text-based course (204 pages), a quickstart guide (27 pages), and two volumes of sales letters (336 pages). My rights to this work include text, sales letters, logos, and cover images. This sales letter from the course appear on the website swiped.co and subsequently appears in Google search results.

Search results for “Scott Haines” show that Google has delisted the page as a result of Henderson’s complaint:

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In an e-mail, Schauer said that he is saddened by the ordeal.

“I’m not trying to pass his work off as my own or sell it,” said Schauer. “I’m using it to educate and teach copywriting, while highlighting the man who wrote it.”

I asked Techdirt reporter Tim Cushing about the possible fair use components of Schauer’s post.

“I think it’s clearly fair use,” said Cushing. “In addition to [the fact that Schauer’s commentary alone should be enough to stake a credible fair use claim], it’s a marketing letter meant to be seen by as many potential customers as possible. It’s not as though publishing it somehow diminishes the market for Trump U. offerings – even if Trump U. were still a viable entity. This is marketing material, not an excerpt from the courses Trump U. was selling.”

Cushing added: “Misuse of the DMCA process only creates more commentary.”

Strangely enough, Henderson appears to agree. In an e-mail, he said he has no issue with the delisted page, and that he intended to target another page which he claims contains copyrighted material taken from Haines’ collection – a claim disputed by Schauer.

Here’s what Henderson wrote to me:

My wife’s been helping out and says she did not intend to put in a claim for the Trump U. letter.

I had told her to only look for Trump U. letters which were addressed to Scott which would indicate it was taken from Scott’s collection.

Might have been because it was also on a page that linked to another sales letter which was copyrighted by Scott and included in his collection.

So, I believe she is in communication with swiped.co and working something out because I have no issue with and would even be willing to provide some missing info about that Trump U. letter.

Henderson confirmed that he will ask Google to relist the disappeared pages, on the condition that Schauer agrees to include a link to Henderson’s website.

In the meantime, Schauer has filed a counter notification with Google.

Update, 7/11/2017: According to Schauer, Google has relisted his website.

Boing Boinged

— Boing Boing cites my blog post about Medicare scammer’s takedown request

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Earlier this month, I blogged about multiple copyright takedown requests sent by one or more Medicare scammers, claiming copyright of their names, life stories, and criminal records, in an effort to convince Google to delist reports of their criminal convictions from the U.S. Department of Justice website.

Today my post was cited by Boing Boing, a long-running, award-winning online zine and self-proclaimed “directory of wonderful things,” which has reported about the takedown requests.

Via “The ultimate DMCA takedown fail” by Rob Beschizza, Boing Boing, October 23, 2017:

A gentleman jailed for his part in a $5.4m scam wanted Google to remove links to news stories about the wheeze. His cunning plan to get them to do it – file a DMCA takedown notice claiming copyright in his own name and criminal record – perhaps offers a clue about why he got caught in the first place.

From the FBI’s press release:

“According to a plea agreement filed in this case, Henrik Sardariani obtained more than $5 million in loans after, among other things, falsifying numerous documents. In order to obtain one of the loans, Henrik Sardariani fraudulently used a house as collateral and falsely claimed to be the president of the company that owned the property. To support the claim that he controlled the company, Henrik Sardariani created false corporate records that were presented to the lender.

Henrik Sardariani also admitted that he created fraudulent property records to make it appear that prior loans had been paid off and that, therefore, new loans would be fully secured by unencumbered property. The fraudulent reconveyances bore forged and fraudulent signatures of notaries public, as well as fraudulent stamps of the notaries public.”

Update: Shooting the Messenger writes that there are at least three of these DMCA takedowns filed by people involved in this particular case.

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:

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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:

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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.

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).