There are moments when, as the publisher of the 13-blog strong — Boles Blogs Network here on WordPress.com — I find something on the web that instantly sickens my stomach with anger.  Yesterday was an example of that sort of “Immediate Internet Illness.”  I read an alarming article from Wired.com’s Threat Level concerning Righthaven — a “Copyright Troll” — and their purposeful, chilling, delight in making money by filing lawsuits against, what amounts to, fair use and freedom of speech by bloggers and online forums.

Here’s a longish — but we hope, forgivable — quote from that harrowing Wired.com story:

Founded in March, the Las Vegas-based Righthaven has begun buying out the copyrights to newspaper content of the Las Vegas Review-Journal for the sole purpose of suing blogs and websites that re-post, or even excerpt, those articles without permission. The company has settled about 60 of 160 cases for a few thousand dollars each, and plans to expand its operations to other newspapers across the country.

Many of its lawsuits arise, not from articles posted by a website’s proprietors, but from comments and forum posts by the site’s readers. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a website enjoys effective immunity from civil copyright liability for user content, provided they, promptly remove infringing material at the request of a rightsholder. That’s how sites like YouTube are able to exist, and why Wired.com allows users to post comments to our stories without fear that a single user’s cut-and-paste will cost us $150,000 in court.

But to dock in that legal safe harbor, a site has to, among other things, register an official contact point for DMCA takedown notices, a process that involves filling out a form and mailing a check to the government. An examination of Righthaven’s lawsuits targeting user content suggests it’s specifically going after sites that failed to fill out that paperwork.

That’s a disturbing story, isn’t it? I encourage you to read the entire Wired.com article because it provides lots of links and a deeper examination into this sort of prosecutorial “Copyright Trolling.”

As the publisher of 13 blogs, I wondered if my blogs were protected in a DMCA “Safe Harbor” here on WordPress.com or not?

Or did I have to pay the Copyright Office $165.00USD to become the “registered agent” for all our network blogs for DMCA takedown requests in order to avoid a possible niggling, trolling, Copyright infringement lawsuit?

Last night, I decided to write to WordPress.com support and ask.  Automattic is the parent company for WordPress.com.  Here is the query I sent:

Hi there —

I’m writing to inquire if WordPress.com hosted blogs are covered by Automattic’s DMCA agency registration or not.

I ask, because of this horrifying article published today in Wired.com:

http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/10/dmca-righthaven-loophole/

As I read the information in that article, it appears that WordPress.com blogger would be covered by Automattic’s registration, but I’m asking you to make certain my understanding of the law is correct.

On the Copyright Office’s official “Directory of Service Provider Agents for Notification of Claims of Infringement” page, Automattic’s hyperlinked name is spelled wrong as “Automatic” —

http://www.copyright.gov/onlinesp/list/a_agents.html

Here is the agent page for Automattic — and no websites are listed for protection:

http://www.copyright.gov/onlinesp/agents/m/maticinc.pdf

Do WordPress.com blog owners need to individually purchase DMCA “safe harbor” protection for $105, plus $30 for each additional 10 websites — or are we provided umbrella coverage from Automattic?

I know Automattic.com has a DMCA takedown contact page and that you have proactively shut down blogs because of Copyright issues in the past —

http://automattic.com/dmca/

— so it appears you are acting as our official agent of contact for any and all DMCA issues — but I don’t want to assume anything.

I thank you.

David W. Boles

Early this morning, I was pleased and delighted and relieved to receive this clear and straightforward reply from Anthony in WordPress.com support:

There is no need to purchase any such protection; if there is infringing content found on a site hosted at WordPress.com, all DMCA notices are to be sent to us (as per http://automattic.com/dmca), and we will action them accordingly. We are the designated agent for WordPress.com, so you do not have anything to worry about.

That is fantastic news, and let me tell you why.  If you publish a blog on WordPress.com, that means Copyright Trolls like Righthaven have to go through Automattic first for any DMCA takedown requests.

Automattic, on your behalf, will determine if the takedown request is legitimate or bogus — and if you are in violation — they will work with you to protect you and to get your WordPress.com blog into Copyright compliance.

Having Automattic as your blog’s DMCA Safe Harbor point of contact is a tremendous value-added bonus for all WordPress.com blogs!

Hosting your blogs on WordPress.com gives you added layers of security and protection you would not have if you were publishing a self-hosted blog.  If you were publishing your blogs on your own, you would need to go through the proper registration process with the Copyright Office — and pay the necessary fees — to become the DMCA Safe Harbor contact for violation notices.

There is security in community and safety in massive numbers — and with Automattic watching your back — you can more freely conduct referenced and quoted conversations on your blog without having to worry about dealing with the technical aspects and legal processes of becoming a registered DMCA Safe Harbor contact for the blogs you publish.

Long live Automattic!

Viva la WordPress.com!

Death to Copyright Trolls!

10 Comments

    1. Yes, it’s definitely a relief to publish on WordPress.com, Gordon!

      People who run standalone blogs and forums now have a greater DMCA concern that they need to fix by ponying up some dough to the Copyright Office to help provide an initial layer of protection from the Copyright Trolls.

  1. What a story! Reading the Wired article was exhausting. What a scam this whole thing is. I is good to know that WordPress protects you. That seems invaluable to me.

    1. Yes, having DMCA protection on WordPress.com is a relief, and a great barrier against those who seek to willfully harm us without regard to the truth or established law. Now we at least having a fighting chance against the monied interests who seek to repress fair use discussion for the want of a dollar.

  2. UPDATE:

    The horror continueth:

    In June, DiBiase posted a story from the Las Vegas Review-Journal about a Nevada man being sentenced to death for killing his wife who was never found. That put DiBiase in the crosshairs of Righthaven — a company formed last March to acquire the rights to newspaper articles, and then sue blogs and other websites that post or excerpt those articles.

    The company has so-far sued over 160 defendants for cribbing articles from the Review-Journal, which is owned by Las Vegas-based Stephens Media. Righthaven’s lawsuit against DiBiase seeks $75,000 in damages and forfeiture of the nobodycases.com domain name.

    http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/11/eff-copyright-troll/

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