capitol house of representatives senateWordPress.com is striking back against censorship. Paul Sieminski wrote on the WordPress.com News blog this week that the mission of WordPress.com is to “democratize publishing,” and to that end, the WordPress.com team has set its sights on inappropriate use of DMCA takedown notices.

Paul explains:

“The DMCA stands for the “Digital Millennium Copyright Act”, which is a US federal law that created a system for protecting copyrights online. The DMCA system works pretty well, but has a few overlooked flaws that have made it too easy to abuse. Under the DMCA, companies, like Automattic, who publish user content cannot be held legally responsible for copyright infringement – so long as we follow a procedure to take down materials when we receive a notice from a copyright holder that something appearing on our platform allegedly infringes their copyrights. Every company that you use to share videos, pictures, and thoughts (from Google search to Facebook to Snapchat to WordPress.com) relies on the DMCA to balance free expression with protection of copyright.

“The DMCA system gives copyright holders a powerful and easy to use weapon: the unilateral right to issue a takedown notice that a website operator (like Automattic) must honor or risk legal liability. The system works so long as copyright owners use this power in good faith. But too often they don’t, and there should be clear legal consequences for those who choose to abuse the system.”

Copyright abuse isn’t a new thing. In fact, copyright trolling has been happening for a long time. For example, there is an entire website dedicated to what’s come to be known as the “Getty Images Extortion Letter.” Rather than sending a cease and desist letter and giving a publisher the opportunity to make corrections before legal threats are made, copyright trolls use the gray areas of copyright law to bully online publishers. The same is true of DMCA takedown notice abusers.

While the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee (Chairman, Bob Goodlatte; R-Va.) is poised to give copyright laws the most in-depth review of the past 35-years, these types of abuses continue. Yes, many copyright complaints are absolutely appropriate, but WordPress.com, wants to reduce the number of inappropriate actions against publishers that violate freedom of expression.

In his article, Paul Sieminski explains that WordPress.com receives hundreds of DMCA takedown notices and shares two specific examples of improper DMCA takedown notices as recent catalysts to its focus on reducing DMCA fraud and protecting freedom of speech.

One of those examples happened to Retraction Watch, which is syndicated by Newstex. When a reader disliked an article published on Retraction Watch (a site that critiques published scientific papers which might not tell complete stories), that reader, “copied portions of the Retraction Watch site, claimed the work as his own and issued a DMCA takedown notice against the original authors.”

WordPress.com is joining publishers like Retraction Watch to make the necessary changes to copyright laws through communications with Congress and participating in court cases against abusers. Already, WordPress.com’s parent company, Auttomatic Inc., filed a lawsuit with Retraction Watch against the person who filed the improper DMCA takedown notice, and a second lawsuit with a separate publisher, Oliver Hotham, is also underway.

WordPress.com shared both filed complaints. You can follow the links to read the complaint in the Retraction Watch case and the complaint in the Oliver Hotham case.

Image: mpasquini