October 17, 2012

Pearson DMCA takedown notice shoves 1.5 million blogs offline


A copyright dispute over a questionnaire called the Beck Hopelessness Scale caused the Edublogs site and its millions of linked education blogs to go offline for more than an hour. The incident, initiated by a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice from academic publisher Pearson, throws into relief the ongoing mess of the current copyright protection regime.

The Scale, a 20 question list, totaling less than 300 words, was first published in 1974. When a DMCA notice was issued to Edublog’s server, ServerBeach, back in September, the page was taken down from being publicly accessible. Then, according to the BBC,

“in early October automated systems at ServerBeach spotted a copy of the disputed blog entry stored in the working memory of software Edublogs uses to make sure web pages are displayed quickly.

The copy of the blog entry was in this memory store – only visible internally – because of the way Edublogs readies web pages for display. When Edublogs did not respond within 24 hours to emails alerting it to the allegedly infringing content, ServerBeach shut down the entire site.”

Edublogs, naturally upset over the temporary shutdown of millions of websites without ServerBeach ever picking up the phone, highlighted on ZDNet the problematic nature of trying to police DMCA notices, and sorting the genuine from the spam.

“Like most blogging services, we’ve been heavily attacked pretty much since our inception by Sploggers (people, or machines, creating blogs to add links to other sites or promote their own badness) — so much so that we even developed and maintain the only dedicated Anti Splog service out there. And, of course, sploggers don’t care much for copyright (neither do a lot of students, but that’s another story), and thus we invariably get a bunch of emails every day complaining about copyright issues, here’s how we handle them:

Look at the complaint, is it a splog we haven’t caught yet, if so kill the splog

If it’s a genuine student or teacher blog evaluate whether the claim is legit or not

If it’s legit then ask the user to remove the comment, if not then let the user know about the complaint and also that we have rejected it

So, when we got a DMCA notice from our hosts, we assumed it was probably a splog, but it turned out it wasn’t, rather just a blog from back in 2007 with a teacher sharing some materials with their students.”

The current DMCA system, run as it as by overzealous automated copyright search robots, is just adding to the messiness of the process. Of course, one DMCA notice shouldn’t be able to take down 1.45 million unoffending education blogs because of a 1974 article buried in a cache, but fear of litigation is doing just that.



Ariel Bogle is a former publicist at Melville House.