The irony here is almost too obvious to mention: an entity dedicated to monitoring the potential “chilling effects” of DMCA takedown notices is censoring itself. Chillingeffects.org has now removed itself from search results, making those notices harder to find.
Chillingeffects.org was created in roughly 2001 as an academic and public resource to monitor and record potentially improper DMCA requests. Google since roughly 2002 has been sending takedown notices to Chilling Effects to be archived and recorded. The site is still available and online but now more difficult to find for those who don’t already know about it.
Many copyright owners and the Copyright Alliance had complained that Chilling Effects defeated the purpose of takedown notices and had effectively become a search engine for pirated content. Just as Google would remove the disputed links, Chilling Effects republished them in a searchable database. That use case was disputed by Chilling Effects’ defenders.
In particular the Copyright Alliance didn’t like the verbatim publishing of takedown notices that included “personal contact information.” It also didn’t like the implication that those using the DMCA were “proponents of censorship.”
Below is a statement (via TechDirt) from Sandra Aistars of the Copyright Alliance provided to coincide with an early 2014 hearing before the House Judiciary Committee. It explains the group’s objection to Chilling Effects:
The activities of chillingeffects.org are repugnant to the purposes of Section 512. Data collected by high-volume recipients of DMCA notices such as Google, and senders of DMCA notices such as trade associations representing the film and music industries demonstrate that the overwhelming majority of DMCA notices sent are legitimate, yet the site unfairly maligns artists and creators using the legal process created by Section 512 as proponents of censorship. Moreover, by publishing the personal contact information of the creators sending notices (a practice which Chilling Effects only recently discontinued), it subjects creators to harassment and personal attacks for seeking to exercise their legal rights. Finally, because the site does not redact information about the infringing URLs identified in the notices, it has effectively become the largest repository of URLs hosting infringing content on the internet.
It’s analogous to the Right to Be Forgotten (RTBF): as Google has removed content from search results in Europe many publishers have reposted them on RTBF-related archive pages.
Chilling Effects is operated by Harvard’s Berkman Center, The Electronic Frontier Foundation and a group of law schools. Here’s how the organization describes its mission:
Chilling Effects is an independent 3rd party research project studying cease and desist letters concerning online content. We collect and analyze complaints about online activity, especially requests to remove content from online. Our goals are to educate the public, to facilitate research about the different kinds of complaints and requests for removal–both legitimate and questionable–that are being sent to Internet publishers and service providers, and to provide as much transparency as possible about the “ecology” of such notices, in terms of who is sending them and why, and to what effect.
Chilling Effects project coordinator Adam Holland told Torrent Freak that the decision to remove the archive from search results was an effort to strike a balance between research and the interests of copyright owners. It may or may not be a permanent decision.
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