Web Takedown Notices: Punish the Monkey
Here is one letter that you don't want to receive: "You are currently hosting website content that contains our proprietary information. We demand that you take down the posting immediately."
I guess I am fortunate that I have only received one takedown notice in all my years of building and running various publication Web sites.
This past month we've seen a lot of judges and lawyering up to try to remove various Web content -- ranging from a video of teens brawling in upstate New York to documents from a Swiss bank that supposedly show offshore money laundering, to even a game of Scrabble that is played on Facebook. It is sad to see, ineffective, and a waste of everyone's time.
Almost always a takedown notice is a mistake, because all it does is focus attention on the about-to-be-banned content and motivate others to post it elsewhere. We even have a term for this, called "The Streisand Effect."
Mike Masnick coined the term on his popular technology blog after the actress
Barbra Streisand's 2003 lawsuit seeking to remove satellite photos taken of her
As a result of the attention from the lawsuit, her photo is now easily accessible and notorious. So the effect of the legal action just promotes the accessibility of the content that the lawyers are trying to ban.
courtroom antics of last month around the Swiss bank brought the notion of
takedowns to a new level of ridiculousness. Here, we have lawyers in a
bank's lawyers went this route because the site's registrar was a
"The press generated by this Court’s action increased public attention to the fact that such information was readily accessible online. The Court is not convinced that Plaintiffs have made an adequate showing that any restraining injunction in this case would serve its intended purpose."In my own case, the takedown was related to a speech that was given at a conference, and our article had copies of the presentation slides that were removed by the conference organizers at the request of the vendors involved. The lawyers claimed the content was proprietary and the presenter was "not authorized to distribute it" at the conference. Again, by the time we took the information off our site, it had been picked up elsewhere around the Internet.
It is time to stop punishing the monkey, and realize that there are better solutions than takedowns. The term comes from the wonderful lyrics of guitarist Mark Knopfler. If you haven't heard the song, it is worth giving a listen. Here are some of the lyrics:
You've been talking to a lawyer
Are you gonna pretend
That you and your employer
Are still the best of friends?
Somebody's going to take the fall
There's your quid pro quo
The boss has hung you out to dry
And it looks as though
They'll punish the monkey
And let the organ grinder go