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International Law

DMCA Abuse: How corporations are using US copyright law to harass and silence individuals

Prof. Murray Hunter

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The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was unanimously passed by the United States Senate on 12th October 1998, and signed into law by President Clinton on 28th October the same year. The Act was put into law to interpret and enact two 1996 World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) treaties which dealt with copyright circumvention and providing Internet service providers (ISP) and online service providers (OSP) safe harbour against copyright liability, provided they meet specific requirements.

The DMCA criminalizes the production and dissemination of technology, devices, or services intended to circumvent measures (commonly called digital rights management) that control access to copyrighted works. Further, the DMCA also criminalizes the act of circumventing any access control, even if there is no actual infringement of the copyrighted material itself, i.e., providing a mere link to a third site where suspected copyright material exists is criminal.

The Act has extended the reach of US law beyond its traditional geographical jurisdiction. Moreover, the Act has given copyright right holders a “lethal weapon” to utilize against parties who allegedly breach their claimed copyright. That is, the ability to claim copyright breach directly against any individual. Further, the Act enables copyright holders to force ISPs and OSPs to take down any identified alleged infringing material immediately from any internet site.

However the Act doesn’t give respondents any recourse against a DMCA takedown notice before any material is taken down by the ISPs and OSPs.

Through the DMCA takedown notice procedure a copyright holder becomes a prosecuting judge. A copyright holder need only serve a takedown notice on an ISP or OSP to take down any third party’s material from the internet to have it instantly removed.

The rules and procedures of this process are prescribed under section 512 of the Act. ISPs and OSPs are given immunity from prosecution from both the copyright holders and respondents to takedown notices, if they strictly adhere to the takedown and counter-takedown notice procedures prescribed in Section 512.

This ‘safe harbor’ provision gives ISPs and OSPs incentive to cooperate with copyright holders who are in the majority corporations. Section 512 even exempts ISPs and OSPs from ‘good faith’ in the removal of any material, i.e., they may know the takedown notice is flawed in some way, providing the procedures are followed. In effect ISPs and OSPs become the agents of the copyright holders and aren’t obliged to consider the interests of their users, except through facilitating the counter-takedown notice procedure.

As mentioned above, the material identified in any takedown notice must be removed from the site identified. The respondent can only respond to the copyright holder through issuing a counter notice which identifies the person who put up the material, submits to the jurisdiction of a US court, and subjects the respondent to the laws of perjury in the response. It is the responsibility of the ISP or OSP to pass on the counter notice to the copyright holder and if legal action hasn’t been taken against the respondent in the takedown notice within 10-14 days, the ISP/OSP may reinstate the original material to their website.

The DMCA takedown notice procedure deems a respondent of a takedown notice guilty. There is no provision for a hearing from the respondent to either the purported copyright holder or ISP/OSP before the material is removed. At a minimum any material subject to a takedown notice cannot reappear for at least 14 days.

The takedown notice procedure is dreadfully biased towards the purported copyright holder. Section 512 gives copyright holders protection and power over respondents to takedown notices. For example, unlike respondents who decide to file a counter notice, the copyright holder issuing the takedown notice in the first place, need not submit itself to the jurisdiction of the US legal system. The issuer of a DMCA takedown notice may be, and is in many cases, a foreign corporation with no intention to submit itself to the jurisdiction of US law. The corporation can use the DMCA for convenience to rid the internet of some material at its own whim, where it is almost practically impossible by a respondent to make legal claim for issuing a false takedown notice.

If a respondent of a DMCA takedown notice takes a copyright holder to court, there is no guarantee that the issuer of the notice will submit itself to US law, unless it is already a US legal entity. Even within the US itself, some issuers of takedown notices have escaped jurisdiction of the US court system.

Sadly, US case law has tended to protect the issuers of false takedown notices. In 2004, the decision in Rossi V. the Motion Picture Association of America found that the DMCA takedown notice issuer had to actually know their claim was false and not merely lazy or mistaken for a respondent to succeed in their claim against a party who issued a false takedown notice.

Further, the issuer of a DMCA takedown notice bears little responsibility for false notices. Although Section 512 (f) makes the issuer of any false notice liable for damages, the cost, time and effort to take a copyright holder to court for issuing a false notice according to current case law in the United States would most likely only compensate the respondent for his or her legal costs in direct relation to the takedown notice and minimal damages.

There is nothing within Section 512 that restrains copyright holders from issuing DMCA takedown notices through the principle of fair use. The legally enshrined principle of fair use allows for the copying of small amounts of material for comment, criticism, or parody. Such use can be done without the need to get permission from the copyright holder. Section 1201 (c) states the underlying substantive copyright infringement rights, remedies, and defences, doesn’t allow the use of fair use for defence of a DMCA takedown notice. Fair use is not exempted as a circumvention action and has thus not exempted from criminality under DMCA.

This weakness in the DMCA has allowed for the exponential growth of DMCA takedown notices since the Act became law almost 18 years ago.

Twitter receives about 10,000 DMCA takedown notices per month which has grown 58% from the year before. WordPress receives about 700-800 DMCA takedown notices per month, up 55% from the year before. Google receives about 80,000 DMCA takedown notices per month, which has grown also around 50% in volume from the previous year. If the fair use provision was upheld in section 512, the number of takedown notices would be far less and more manageable by ISPs and OSPs to handle. Instead we are reaching a situation where free speech, expression, and even creativity are being stifled by the DMCA.

Earlier this year Jennifer Urban and Brianna Schofield from University of California, with Joe Karaganis of Columbia University found in a 160 page in-depth study looking at 100 million notices, that more than 32% of DMCA takedown notices were either flawed or had characteristics which raised questions about their validity. This equates to more than 35 million notices. This somewhat agrees with Twitter’s own data indicating that around 33% of notices it receives are ineffective. WordPress found 60% of the DMCA takedown notices it receives as being ineffective.

One very recent case that illustrates the above issues and highlights several sinister aspects of DMCA abusers’ behaviour relates to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and its Legal Director Howard Stupp. Howard Stupp is well known for his vigilance in protecting IOC intellectual property, and even made a ban on the use of short GIFs on social media during the recent Olympic Games.

Stupp instituted an automated system which systematically searched the internet for key words. The system was so sophisticated that winners’ names were added as key words to pick out new postings during the games. However what was apparently absent was any human interface to ensure that the system didn’t mistakenly highlight postings that didn’t breach IOC copyright. As a result in one such case, a DMCA takedown notice was sent to Twitter claiming a posting had breached IOC copyright by showing a GIF of the recent games, when in fact the Tweet was posted weeks before the games and GIF was of another sporting event not under the jurisdiction of the IOC.

DMCA1

The Tweet subject to an IOC DMCA takedown notice issues by Howard Stupp

DMCA2

A partial screen shot of the DMCA takedown notice issued by Howard Stupp

Like the example above, the use of automated systems leads to questions about accuracy and fairness in due process of copyright holders issuing DMCA takedown notices. Human interface is required to ensure copyright holders exercise a duty of care. Automated search systems have turned the DMCA takedown system into a massive fishing expedition where individuals who breach copyright may be caught along with a large group of innocent individuals.

In the case above, the recipient of the DMCA takedown notice issued by the IOC attempted to contact the organization through the email given in the takedown notice (The issuer of a DMCA notice doesn’t have to state their address like the requirement for respondents to do so) to point out their mistake, but this was to no avail. Repeated emails were just left with silence.

The fact that the IOC refuses to enter into any correspondence with respondents indicates the principle of ‘good faith’ is not being adhered to.

The IOC, like many other corporations not registered in the United States are difficult to actually locate and thus beyond the jurisdiction of US law. This makes it extremely difficult to take any legal action against parties who issue false DMCA takedown notices. The DMCA takedown notice system is allowing people like Howard Stupp to act without any duty of care and legal responsibility. The IOC must be aware that some of its DMCA are false through mistaken identification of content (i.e., no one has checked the links the automated system has identified).

Organizations like the IOC will continue to issue frivolous takedown notices in a contemptuous and arrogant manner, and ISP/OSPs like Twitter will continue to support large corporations against their own users because of the nature of the current takedown and counter notice procedures in section 512. These are all massive abuses of the system which must be corrected.

There are numerous other well reported abuses which indicate the DMCA is being used by corporations for other motives than seeking out copyright infringement. Warner Bros filed DMCA takedown notices with Google as a tool to takedown websites which would lead to possible infringing content, rather than infringing content on websites as the DMCA specifies. Sony has been trying to obtain license fees on the fair use of their copyrighted material. A web security firm used the DMCA takedown system to silence a vocal critic of its services in the guise of copyright infringement. The London Sunday Times sent a DMCA takedown notice to eliminate a critical article written in The Intercept. Some organizations have issued DMCA takedown notices against bloggers just to find out their identity. The DMCA takedown notice procedure is cheaper to utilize against critics than using defamation laws, which many corporations are taking advantage of. People with a grudge use the DMCA takedown notice procedure to attack and force suspension of their social media accounts.

The safe harbour provision of Section 512 makes the ISP and OSP willing collaborators with organizations which use DMCA takedown notices as a tool for other agenda that the Act was not intended for.

DMCA takedown notices only allege breaches of copyright infringement. DMCA takedown notices do not prove cases of copyright infringement.

This is a denial of natural justice where the takedown and counter notice procedure assumes guilt before innocence, contrary to common law.

With the large number of DMCA takedown notices coming in to ISP/OSPs, it is time consuming and costly for these organizations to deal with each individual notice. They are doing the work of copyright holders and bearing all the costs involved.

The unbalanced onuses placed upon the recipient in filing a counter notice, and fear of the costs of defending any potential action in a court of law is the probable reason why there are very few counter notices. DMCA takedown notices, as can be seen by the example above are intimidating to many people who receive them. Further, liability is unbalanced and favours copyright holders. Many corporations don’t fear suits as they aren’t within the jurisdiction of a US court unlike the respondents who must formally put themselves under US court jurisdiction in filing a counter notice.

Large corporations like Sony, Disney, Comcast, Viacom, and others used automated systems to issue DMCA takedown notices which often misidentify material. This is an injustice upon innocent parties who are at risk of having their social media accounts closed if they receive three takedown notices under the multiple offender provision of the DMCA.

The DMCA takedown notice procedure has harassed many internet and social media users, silenced critics of corporations, and disrupted people running blogs. Section 512 (f) is toothless in restraining corporations using automated software and takedown notices go on ‘fishing expeditions’ to seek out copyright infringers. Innocent peoples’ rights are being violated and in some cases damage done to them where no practical recourses exist to remedy the injustice. The Howard Stupps of the corporations are free to run their agendas disregarding the principles of ‘good faith’ and fairness. They appear immune from responsibility for their reckless actions.

Section 512 has failed to protect people from false takedown notices and allowed the DMCA to be abused by corporations for their own ends. The use of the DMCA to silence critics and eliminate articles written by journalists in all probability if challenged in a US court could even be found unconstitutional due to its incongruence with the 1st Amendment that guarantees freedom of speech and the press.

Let’s hope the US Copyright Office corrects these shortfalls of the DMCA in its current review of the legislation and considers the introduction of statutory damages and/or bonds to decrease the issuing of false notices.

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International Law

Human Rights Council election: 5 things you need to know about it

MD Staff

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The United Nations General Assembly held secret-ballot elections for the Human Rights Council (HRC) on Friday.  As of 1 January next year, the 18 newly-elected States will serve for three years on the UN’s highest inter-governmental body, mandated to protect and promote human rights worldwide.

While the institution has been the subject of controversy since its creation in 2006 – culminating in the withdrawal of the USA this past June – UN Secretary-General António Guterres reiterated that it plays “a very important role” in the UN’s human rights architecture.

1. First of all… how does it all work?

Elections to the Council happen annually, with countries serving for three years on a rotational basis, as some of the seats expire on 31 December every year. There are 47 seats, equitably distributed according to five regional divisions.

Countries need a minimum of 97 votes to get elected, and everything happens by secret ballot. This year, 18 seats were up for election:  five for Africa, five for Asia-Pacific, two for Eastern Europe, three for Latin America and the Caribbean, and three for Western Europe and other States.

2. So… who’s in and who’s out?

After Friday’s election, here’s how the Council will look from 1 January:

IN, elected this year: Argentina, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Czech Republic, Denmark, Eritrea, Fiji, India, Italy, Philippines, Somalia, Togo and Uruguay.

IN, continuing their terms: Angola, DRC, Egypt, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Tunisia, Afghanistan, China, Iraq, Japan, Nepal, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia, Ukraine, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Mexico, Peru, Australia, Iceland, Spain, and United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

OUT, because they didn’t apply for a second consecutive term: Belgium, Burundi, Ecuador, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Panama, Slovenia and Switzerland.

OUT, because after two consecutive terms, they’re not eligible for re-election: Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Kenya, the Republic of Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Venezuela and Germany.

3. What does the Council actually do?

In a nutshell, the HRC is a multilateral forum to discuss anything relating to human rights issues around the world.

In addition to launching fact-finding missions and establishing commissions of inquiry into specific situations, it meets three times a year to review the human rights records of all UN Member States, in a special process designed to give countries the chance to present the actions they have taken, and what they’ve done, to advance human rights. This is known as the Universal Periodic Review.

This video explains it all in a simple way:

4. How come some countries accused of human rights violations still serve?

The HRC was created in 2006, following a proposal by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan. In a report titled “In Larger Freedom”, he noted that the Commission on Human Rights, created in 1946, was suffering from “declining credibility and professionalism” and was “in need of major reform”. Subsequently, based on his recommendations, the Human Rights Council was established by the General Assembly to replace the Commission and several measures were put in place to try and avoid the same problems that eventually arose with the Commission.

For example, as it is understood that the Council can only be as effective as its Member States, the election process was placed directly in the hands of the General Assembly, the only UN organ where every one of the 193 countries has equal voting weight.

In addition, the geographical group divisions and seat allocations are meant to prevent disproportionate focus on just a handful of regions and countries, and ensure that every country has a chance of fair consideration.

Finally, during the elections for each regional group, the General Assembly allows extra blank slates: this should theoretically ensure there are more candidates than available seats, enabling a competitive process. However, if – as was the case this year with 18 candidacies for 18 available seats – no extra countries apply, then no competition occurs, and whichever Member State applies, is likely to get elected.

5. So does the HRC make a difference for human rights worldwide?

Although human rights have always been a very sensitive matter for Member States, the Human Rights Council remains an essential part of the UN’s human rights architecture.

The Council has the power to adopt resolutions, launch fact-finding missions and investigations, and establish commissions of inquiry. In particular, the HRC can appoint independent experts on specific issues. At the moment, there are 44 thematic experts and 11 country ones appointed to monitor and report on human rights issues as requested.

All these mechanisms allow for grave violations to be highlighted and brought up on the global stage for examination, discussion and, whenever feasible, action.

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International Law

Unilateralism Vs Multilateralism

David Ceasar Wani

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During the 73rd sessions of the general assembly at the UN, the crunch of unilateralism and multilateralism between US and China kicked off, in which Trump’s unilateral visualization of the world likely to hurt the US, but it might undermine his presidency. As the competitions between unilateralism and multilateralism are viewed inversely. According to the international relations scholars, unilateralism has defined an approach in international relations in which states act without regard to the interests of other states or without their support. Unilateralism is usually contrasted with its opposite approach, yet multilateralism is acting cooperatively with other states. Though unilateralism is often used in a negative way, experts agree that there are positive aspects to occasionally acting unilaterally, such as in issues of national self-defense.

Some politicians and international experts support unilateralism, at least for certain issues. An example of a unilateral action is the U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord in 2017. The Paris Climate Accord was actually negotiated and approved by nearly 200 nations around the world, and the issue of climate change is impossible to be handled significantly without united efforts of all the countries, particular the major ones. Trump withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord, saying that it hurt American jobs and American interests as well. Trump’s decision was opposed by many experts and average people around the world including the United States.

Nevertheless, it is believed that unilateralism is a policy of dealing with affairs that may be violent, regardless of the will of other countries or nationals. Given this, the most prominent feature of multilateralism is the negotiation since it can pay close attention to the shared interests of the majority and take practical and reasonable measures to deal with affairs in international affairs. The U.S. adopts unilateralism as a kind of closed rather than open behavior. Self-interest is the American priority mentality that Trump previously reiterated, and this approach seems to be a good way to safeguard the interests of the United States, but in fact, it is inconvenient for American nationals, and for the United States.  Conversely, politics, diplomacy, and trade all have disadvantages and this disadvantage can be a hindrance to domestic investment, risk from political changes negative influence on exchange rates, higher costs, economic non-viability, expropriation, negative impact on the country’s investment, modern-day economic colonialism and etc.

From this point of view, it can be said unfavorable to Americans. The reason why the United States has become strong from a dispersed federation compared with the confederation is mainly between states. Improvement of politics and other status has enabled the United States to develop and be strong because of a strong government. If the United States 1787 Constitution was originally formulated by the founding fathers’ generation, and then adopted unilateralism and did not negotiate, it is unimaginable that there would be a powerful United States today. So now Trump adopts unilateralism, which is contrary to the spirit and method adopted by the U.S. Constitution. The threat to his presidency is great because unilateralism is difficult to promote the cooperation and development of national economies. The interests generated by the United States are very short-lived, but they pose great threats to their long-term development and the long-term interests of their citizens. Therefore, when dealing with state affairs or international affairs, multilateralism should be adopted and negotiated. The problem is that we can better safeguard the interests of all parties, maximize the benefits, and promote the development of countries and their own economies.

In conclusion, it is important to understand the evolution of China’s concept of multilateralism, because one has to begin with China’s particularly humble experience with multilateral institutions e.g. it’s being kept out of the United Nations (UN) and its institutions during its preliminary decades as also for it is being the target of UN criticism and sanctions (for Korean War) during those years. The things were to begin to change following the Sino-US rapprochement and China’s entry into the UN and other multilateral institutions from the 1970s. Another crunch change to overlap with the late 1970s was the rise of Deng Xiaoping to power in China. Deng’s economic reforms and openness become the driving force behind China’s conclusive shift toward multilateral institutions.

According to Zhang Baijia, expert at the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) Central School, numerous internal and external developments during the first half of the 1980s were to expressively influence Deng’s strategic thinking in three major ways: (a) Deng aborted the long-held view that world war is inevitable’ and instead stresses on ‘peace and development’ as central theme for China; (b) Deng acknowledged that the contemporary world is heterogeneous in nature and that conflicts coexist with cooperation and competition with interdependence; and (c) Deng maintained that independence does not equal isolation and self-reliance does not mean rejecting all foreign things as had been the case during Mao’s times. Change in Deng’s worldview was to result in the change in China’s approach towards international institution and towards the whole idea about multilateralism.

As a result, the whole of the 1980s witnessed extraordinary qualitative and quantitative changes as China gradually involved itself in not only international organizations in the political domain but also expanded its participation in economic and security types of multilateral forums. As regards China’s future vision on multilateralism, it has been motivated primarily by China’s felt need (a) for undermining the basis of United States’ unilateralism and its global power profile and (b) for making efforts to become acceptable as the benign rising power amongst its immediate neighbors and amongst the world at large. By far these two remain China’s most important foreign policy challenges through its rise as a major power has already been accepted as a given reality in general. The conditions have also been facilitated by external dynamics, especially following the collapse of former Soviet Union which has shifted the focus of international relations and led to the widening of the whole understanding of security and strategic calculations amongst major players therefore moving the dynamic of international power politics beyond two superpowers to include new actors like China.

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International Law

Strengthen UN, Implement UN Charterer in true spirit

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Humanity is suffering everywhere whether it is Syria or Yemen, Afghanistan or Libya, Iraq or Myanmar, Palestine or Kashmir. The one who are being killed are human beings, irrespective of his or her race, color, religion, nationality, its human lives which are being lost. Last couple of decade, around 2 million people have been killed, 6 million have been made refugees in their own country or forced to migrate to other countries. Threats and tension is felt in Iran, Turkey and North Korea, Ukraine, and many other parts of the world.  If one switches on TV or read or listen to News, it is all about War, Killings, Blasts, hate and suppressions. People are fed-up of bad news all the time. Everyone is suffering with mental torture. Geo-political situation is deteriorating rapidly. The world is less safe than few decades ago. Insecurity feelings are rising exponentially. What is new world order? On the name of World new order, we have made this world more hostile and fragile. Who is suffering, humanity! Who is the beneficiary, end of the day, no one will be winner.

United Nation General Assembly is busy in its 73rd session. Leaders from all over the world are meeting each other and making speeches one after another, but what will be the out-come or result?

United Nation was founded on 24 October 1945, just after the World War II, in replacement of League of Nations. Its head quarter is at New York, USA. The United Nations is an intergovernmental organization tasked to promote international co-operation and to create and maintain international order. The charter of UN was very well drafted and very comprehensive. Its charter was formulated on justice and equality. It was hard work of genius people.

But with the passage of time, it is losing its effectiveness and failed to maintain world order. Some nations became so strong that, they put aside the UN and act unilaterally. Some nations are so stubborn, that they violate UN charter openly and feel no guilt. Some countries are so feeling-less that the whole world condemned them but they keep criminal silence.

Should we stay calm and just became spectators and watch what so-ever will happen? Should we leave all the issues to our next generations to suffer? Should we close our eyes and do not acknowledge the issues? Can we escape? Can we be ignorant? Can be we so cruel to our kids and leave them to be humiliated?

I believe, it is time to think and raise our voice, and struggle for a better tomorrow, better tomorrow for everyone, better tomorrow for my kids, better tomorrow for your kids, better tomorrow for our next generation, better tomorrow for everyone. We should struggle to make our tomorrow better than our yesterday. Think positively, act smartly and be optimistic.

We demand, respect of the UN , we demand for implementation of UN charter, We demand for justice, We demand for equality, We demand for fair-practices, We demand respect for human kind, We demand for a stoppage of killing, we demand stoppage of violence, We demand for protection of weak, We demand for uniformity etc.

It is natural, when we live together, the differences may rise among us. It can be among individuals or nations. It is very much normal and was happening since ages. We quarrel with our kids, brothers and sisters, parents, spouse or friends, boss or subordinates or colleagues. It is understandable. But we live in a civilized world. There are mechanisms to resolve the differences. In our day to day life we are over-coming on many issues and resolve with each other. The same approach may be followed to resolve the differences or misunderstanding among nations. UN is the right platform, UN charter is the proper guidelines for resolving the issues. Diplomacy is the weapon of civilized world. We all must respect UN, and its charter and resolve all issue through peaceful manner and dialogue. No one should have the right to by-pass UN or impose its decisions unilaterally.

I suggest, the International Community may join hands and strengthen UN and implement its charter in true later and spirit. UN may investigate the history of almost 7 decades and point out all the violators and let them declare responsible for their wrong doings. Force them to rectify their mistakes, compensate their wrong doings. UN should strengthen to the extent that any country how strong it might be, should not dare to violate UN charter. Any sanctions without UN approval may be declared null and void. Any military action without UN approval may not be recognized and declared criminal acts. They must be punished for their heinous crimes and war like crimes.

Let us struggle to make this world a place of “Peace, Harmony, Justice, Equality and Prosper” place for our generations to come. We may sacrifice but our next generation may enjoy Peace, Harmony and Prosperity.

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