Fair Use and Copyright Abuse: WordPress Dismisses Abusive DMCA Complaint About My Story on DMCA Abuse

— Automattic, the Californian tech company behind blogging platform WordPress, has dismissed a copyright complaint about this blog by conservative writer Michael Moates, citing fair use protections

In February, I published a story about frivolous attempts to suppress sexual harassment claims against conservative writer Michael Moates.

As I wrote in that story, since October someone has been filing copyright complaints in Moates’ name requesting that Google delist a bunch of news articles, including pieces by Right Wing Watch and Raw Story, that reported on lewd and inappropriate messages he allegedly sent to three young women, including two underage girls (click here to read more about the allegations).

Late last month, Automattic received a brand new copyright complaint, sent from Moates’ personal e-mail address, targeting my story and requesting the removal of a number of photos and images (two of which were embedded from other sites), including a screenshot of a Facebook exchange in which he appeared to proposition sexual/domestic assault victims’ advocate Kylie Thomas to go on a date with him.

source

In an e-mail yesterday, Automattic, whose free speech bonafides include fighting copyright abuse by suing on behalf of its users and even tolerating a few less-than-flattering posts by this blog (see: Arif Trumps WordPress), said it has decided not to comply with the complaint, citing fair use protections.

Here’s Automattic’s e-mail, including Moates’ complaint, in full:

Sal P. (Automattic)
May 2, 23:10 UTC

Hello,

We have received a DMCA notice for material published on your WordPress.com site.

Normally this would mean that we’d have to disable access to the material. However, because we believe that this instance falls under fair use protections, we will not be removing it at this time.

Section 107 of the US Copyright Act identifies various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. You can learn more about that here:

Copyright and Fair Use
Copyright Law of the United States

While we believe that your use of the material is protected (we have fought for our users in similar cases in the past – see “WordPress wins against ‘straight pride’ group in copyright censorship case”), please keep in mind that the complainant may choose to continue to pursue this matter, perhaps directly with you. If you would prefer, you are still able to delete the content from your site yourself.

The notice we received from the complainant follows.

— BEGIN NOTICE —

First name: Michael
Last name: Moates
Company name:
Address: [Redacted]
City: [Redacted]
State/Region/Province: [Redacted]
ZIP: [Redacted]
Country: United States (US)
Phone number: [Redacted]
Email address: michael.moates@thenarrativetimes.org

Copyright holder: Michael Moates

Location of unauthorized material:
shootingthemessenger.blog/tag/michael-moates/
shootingthemessenger.files.wordpress.com/2019/02/moates.kylie_..jpg

Location of original materials:
http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=815500755265835&set=piaarp.100004177545170&type=3&theater
http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=965443223604920&set=a.360042224145026&type=3&theater

Description of original materials:
See embeded copyright images on page:

Moates in front of White House
Moates and Sean Hannity

See photos in story

Photo of Moates attached to Facebook message

I have a good faith belief that use of the copyrighted materials described above as allegedly infringing is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.
I swear, under penalty of perjury, that the information in the notification is accurate and that I am the copyright owner or am authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.
I acknowledge that a copy of this infringement notice and any correspondence related to it, including any contact information I provided above (address, telephone number, and email address), will be forwarded to the user who uploaded the content at issue. I also acknowledge that a note may be placed on the site in question detailing the name of the copyright owner who submitted the takedown notice.

Digital signature: Michael Moates
Signed on: 2019-04-27 09:21:23

— END NOTICE —

Sal P. | Community Guardian | WordPress.com

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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.

WordPress Yields to Erdoğan

WordPress updates its takedown policy to comply with Turkish censorship demands – four months after I blogged the story

Last year, I reported about a Turkish political blog that was geo-blocked by WordPress following a takedown request from tyrannical Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

In a series of tweets, the Turkish journalist and noted Erdoğan critic, Mahir Zeynalov, questioned WordPress’ decision to censor the blog.

source

source

The San Francisco-based blogging platform had previously stated that, without a U.S. court order, it refused to honour Turkish requests to censor content.

However, when I asked about the censored blog, a WordPress spokesperson said it had been forced to comply with demands from Turkey or face a whole WordPress.com site block in the country,” but that it would “look into making the current process clearer in our next transparency report.”

Earlier this month, WordPress updated its takedown policy via its bi-annual transparency report:

During the previous reporting period, we changed our approach for takedown demands from Azerbaijan and Turkey. We now respond to them as we do the demands from Russia, which is why the percentage of requests where some or all content was removed has increased.

According to the report, for the period July 1–December 31, WordPress received 93 court orders and 235 requests from government agencies or law enforcement.

It complied with 66 percent of the total 328 requests, but refused to comply with some of the more absurd requests including a request from Colombian authorities to suspend six websites for “insulting and dishonorable comments against political figures in Colombia and imputing unfounded charges to people who generate business at the national level.”

Error 451

WordPress censors critical blog post about Armenian Olympic Committee President and rumoured Sochi crime lord Ruben “Robson” Tatulyan following complaint from Russian state media watchdog Roskomnadzor

This is part three of a series of posts about WordPress, the San Francisco-based blogging platform which earlier this year said that – absent a U.S. court order – it chooses to ignore outside requests to censor content, but now complies with takedown demands from Russian and Turkish authorities.

In October, Russia’s state media watchdog, Roskomnadzor, sent a complaint to WordPress demanding that it censor a critical blog post about Ruben “Robson” Tatulyan, President of the National Olympic Committee of Armenia and rumoured Sochi crime lord.

roskomnadzors-october-31-2016-complaint-to-wordpress-about-ruben-tatulyan

Roskomnadzor’s October 31, 2016 complaint to WordPress (source)

The offending blog post, which Roskomnadzor claims violates Tatulyan’s privacy “rights and freedoms,” describes an incident at Sochi International Airport earlier this year, when Tatulyan and his entourage – driving vehicles carrying Armenian embassy number plates – brazenly violated numerous traffic regulations.

According to Russian news reports, Tatulyan boasted to security staff about supposedly having acquired ambassadorship in Armenia, before speeding away in the wrong lane through the airport’s car park and ramming an automatic barrier.

A video of the incident, as captured on CCTV:

Tatulyan is not listed as holding office at the Armenian embassy in Russia, although several Russian news reports – including the targeted WordPress post – have alluded to his possible involvement in Russia’s criminal underworld.

One popular online publication, Crime Russia (itself the target of multiple takedown requests from Roskomnadzor), even alleges that Tatulyan is “shadow ruler” of all crime syndicates in Sochi, succeeding the notorious Russian mafia boss Aslan Usoyan aka Grandpa Hassan, who was assassinated in 2013.

Roskomnadzor’s complaint to WordPress does not try to refute these claims, instead citing a dubious Russian law restricting the publication of “personal data” in an effort to censor the offending blog post.

roskomnadzors-october-31-2016-complaint-to-wordpress-via-the-lumen-database

According to the Lumen Database, WordPress has partially enforced Roskomnadzor’s complaint (source)

Via my blog last month, WordPress recently changed its policy about how it responds to takedown requests.

Although the blogging platform has built a strong reputation on its principled support for free speech, it now says it complies with censorship demands in order to ensure access to the bulk of WordPress.com for users within authoritarian countries, who would otherwise face more severe punishment from their Internet Service Provider (ISP).

The change in policy goes back to March of last year, when a ban on a single blog post led Turkish ISPs to censor all of WordPress in Turkey.

Via this March 20, 2015 tweet, WordPress initially seemed intent on fighting the block…

wordpress-2015-response-to-turkey-censorship

…reaffirming its free speech bonafides via this January 28, 2016 Automattic entry, in which a spokesperson for WordPress stated that, without a U.S. court order, the company “refused to take action in response to the takedown demands from Turkey.”

Under our legal guidelines, we require a U.S. court order before proceeding with the removal of content from WordPress.com. To this point, we have refused to take action in response to the takedown demands from Turkey. After we receive notice of an order, Turkish ISPs, who are bound to obey the court orders, move to block the sites named in an order, making it unavailable to all visitors from Turkey without any further explanation.

However, last month WordPress admitted to having censored a Turkish political blog after receiving a complaint from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Per this undated Automattic entry, WordPress also recently started implementing blocks on request of Russian authorities, with the stated aim of “protecting all of the other 79 million WordPress.com sites.”

Today, when we receive a takedown demand from RSOC [Roskomnadzor], we review it and will often end up suspending the site in question because of a violation of our Terms of Service (for selling drugs or containing pornography, for example). In cases where the site does not violate our terms, we try to take the most limited and transparent actions available: blocking content so that it is unavailable only in Russia, and blocking only the content specified in the takedown demand (rather than the entire site). We take this action with the goal of protecting all of the other 79 million WordPress.com sites.

It’s possible to find out if WordPress has geo-blocked content in Russia by entering certain URLs – such as the one mentioned in the Roskomnadzor complaint – into a Russian proxy.

If WordPress has blocked the URL in question, you’ll see the following message, a nod to Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451:

unavailable-for-legal-reasons-wordpress

A list of WordPress blogs currently geo-blocked in Russia is available by clicking here.

See also: “Erdoğan Strikes Again,” my November 27, 2016 item re: WordPress censorship of Turkish political blog following court order by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

And: “WordPress Yields to Putin,” my December 3, 2016 item re: WordPress censorship of “Putin-Hitler” mock photo on request of Russian state media watchdog Roskomnadzor.