In Trying to Follow Copyright Law, Facebook Takes Down Innocent Pages

Recently, Facebook has removed several Pages of well-known organizations in response to copyright infringement claims that have turned out to be bogus. Facebook is experiencing the same problem with the Digital Millenium Copyright Act as other user generated content sites such as YouTube and Google’s blogging platform Blogger — namely that if it doesn’t work to “expeditiously to remove, or disable access to, the material that is claimed to be infringing upon” copyright, it can lose its safe harbor status offered by the Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act and can itself become financially liable for the copyright infringement.

However, Facebook’s content removal strategy may be more aggressive than other sites, exposing a loophole for abuse by malicious users, so it might need to grow the team responsible analyzing complaints.

The most recent and prominent case of an innocent Facebook Page being removed is that of tech blog Ars Technica. It seems that a malicious third-party has complained that the Page was infringing on their copyright. As Facebook hosts too much content to be able to investigate claims individually while still remaining eligible for safe harbor from liability, it had to respond to the claims by immediately disabling the Ars Technica Page.

Facebook’s copyright infringement complaint process is flawed because any email address can be used to submit a complaint, and these email addresses don’t have to be verified. This enables address spoofing that allows a random person to appear to represent a copyright holder. However, Facebook’s form follows the standard also used by Google; it requires a telephone number, mailing address, and details on what content infringes on copyright; and Facebook includes a statement on the form indicating that false claims can be considered perjury.

Facebook may be slow to reply to appeals of bogus infringement claims, but this is in part a consequence of it hosting nearly 700 million users but only having about 2000 total employees, not purposeful negligence.

The company told told Ars Technica thatWe take seriously both the interests of people who post content and those of rights holders. Abuse of DMCA and other intellectual property notice procedures is a challenge for every major Internet service but we work to ensure that we don’t take content down as a result of fraudulent notices.”

Though Facebook may be at fault, the issue of users losing access to their online presences, and the negative impact on the public impression of web services that remove content that doesn’t violate copyright, stems from the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. We believe the law must adapt to address these issues by creating a grace period for investigation of claims before hosts become liable for content they haven’t removed.

Copyright law wasn’t designed for the massive volume of content and users handled by today’s most popular websites. As long as the law continues to hold content hosts liable if they hesitate to remove content that’s been complained about, innocent users will have their accounts suspended and content removed, and web services will endure their reputation damaged. But until then, Facebook may need to reconsider its strategy and devote more resources to complaint resolution.