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Bogus DMCA Takedown Targeting Indian Copyright Blog Demonstrates The Problems Of Notice And Takedown

DATE POSTED:March 14, 2019

If you're unfamiliar with it, the SpicyIP blog is a wonderful blog covering issues related to copyright and patents in India. We've linked to it a bunch over the past decade. And now it's going through something of a rite of passage for sites on the internet: the absolutely bogus takedown notice. In this case, it was informed by Google that a certain page on the site was to be de-indexed following a DMCA notice claiming that SpicyIP was infringing on the copyrights of Saregama, a large Indian music label. The DMCA notice, helpfully found at the Lumen Database, shows that the organization had sent a list of 99 URLs that it claimed infringed on:

The sound recording or other musical works /song titled APNI TO JAISE TAISE sung by KISHORE KUMAR written by PRAKASH MEHRA and music composed by KALYANJI ANANDJI being made available for streaming and/or download without license/permission from Saregama India Ltd.

Out of those 99 URLs, SpicyIP's, was definitely one. Except that SpicyIP URL was clearly not at all infringing. It was, instead (as you might expect) an analysis of a copyright dispute over the Bollywood song in question. So, at least they identified the right "song" but nothing in a blog post discussing a legal copyright dispute magically makes that blog post infringing itself. SpicyIP rightly notes just how problematic this notice-and-takedown process can be in leading to outright censorship:

Even if SaReGaM ‘correctly’ identified 98 infringing links, is the takedown of a lawful post a legitimate casualty to the process? What if the post was a criticism of SaReGaMa’s or Google’s policies, or critical of the legal process?

The present instance is the result of the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, (S. 512) which implements a ‘notice and takedown’ regime for intermediaries to remove copyrighted content. The provision rests intermediary safe harbour for publishing putatively infringing content upon the expeditious removal of notified links, and subject to examining any counter-notice, explained in more detail here.

The Copyright Act (S. 52) and Copyright Rules (R. 75) in India, incidentally, have a similar procedure, which creates a ‘notice and takedown’ regime for intermediaries which host ‘incidental or transient’ links to copyrighted content, which includes a counter-notice mechanism with the right to reinstate the content in the absence of a court order within 21 days. Unfortunately, it is unclear what intermediaries fall within the scope of this procedure, and in the absence of such clarity, the Delhi High Court has created a separate regime for certain intermediaries in Myspace v Super Cassettes. This judicially created regime is rather vague and does not include even the minimal procedural safeguards available under the Copyright Rules.

Regardless of the form of notice-and-takedown, it is apparent that placing an obligation to police copyright infringement on intermediaries create perverse economic incentives on private parties like Google or YouTube to over-comply and take down legal content. This is not solely attributable to the intermediaries’ practices themselves, but the policy and legal decisions which are created and are supposed to to strike a balance between access to knowledge and copyright protection in the digital age.

SpicyIP admits that "it's funny" that such a bogus takedown would target a copyright law blog, with people who can easily respond, but the same is not true for many other on the receiving end of such a takedown notice. As SpicyIP notes:

Yet, had it happened to a non-lawyer, or even someone who had ceased to take interest in their old blog, as it often does, it would result in the permanent removal of public information from an index which serves as the gateway to the internet, due to the ‘mistakes’ of private parties whose interests do not coincide with public access. What does this mean for the future of access to knowledge?

The blog further points out that this problem is likely to get worse, not better. We've already been talking about how Article 13 could soon require automated takedowns and content monitoring, India is exploring a very similar law to put more liability on the platforms to not allow any infringement at all. In such cases, the problem becomes much, much worse, and some content may never be allowed to be uploaded at all, even if it's perfectly legal.

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