Why I Hope WordPress's Victory Over Straight Pride UK Is The First Of Many

Nick Greene    By under Digital Marketing.


I'm always a little disgusted when I see people wielding the DMCA as a legal bludgeon. That's not even remotely what it was intended to do, after all. It's suppose to serve more as a shield - as a tool that can be used by legitimate content creators when someone steals their stuff.

The DMCA should come into play when someone plagiarizes an article. It should be utilized when someone profits off of someone else's music. It should be brought into effect when a user steals someone else's video.

What it shouldn't be is a tool for censorship and intimidation - and yet that's exactly what it's turned into.

Want to write something controversial? Want to blow the lid off of a huge scandal within a corporation, or put together a scathing review of someone's brand? Best hope the person or organization you're talking about can handle criticism.

Straight Pride UK certainly couldn't, when they used the DMCA to silence student journalist Oliver Hotham.

Back in 2013, Hotham contacted the political group requesting an interview. Predictably, their responses to his questions effectively outed them for what they were - little more than a hate group. After trimming the fat from the interview and editing it for spelling and grammar, Hotham posted it online - and it quickly went viral.

Straight Pride UK didn't like that, and a short time later, they had the content torn from the web through a DMCA filing.

"WordPress caved to them without question, removing my article and telling me if I tried to publish it again, I'd be suspended, but that I could challenge the takedown of my article," explained Hotham. "I responded that yes, I very much would like to, and was emailed a form I'd have to fill in. One of the requirements was that I 'consent to local federal court jurisdiction, or if overseas, to an appropriate judicial body."

"I'm a student," he continued. "I don't have the money, time, or patience to go through with potentially having to go to court over this. All in all, i just could not be bothered to challenge the decision. So I accepted the takedown."

As part of an initiative designed to strike back against DMCA abuse, WordPress parent company Automattic picked up Hotham's case against the now-defunct political group. Representatives of the organization failed to show up in court, so they won by default; a bit of a hollow victory, but an extremely important one just the same.

"The win, in a California district court, sets a rare precedent against attempts to use the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to take content offline," writes Alex Hern of The Guardian.

See, cases like Hotham's are becoming infuriatingly common. Don't like what someone's saying about you? Just claim they're violating one of your copyrights. Disagree with someone's opinion? Say the opinion contains stolen content.

Basically, it's gotten to the point that the DMCA is accomplishing the opposite of what it was intended to do.

The worst part is that it doesn't really even do much to protect content creators, according to Vox Indie's Ellen Seidler. She points to YouTube as an example of how broken the DMCA really is. Specifically, she speaks about indie filmmaker Celine Sciamma's 2011 film Tomboy - which had a pirated copy uploaded to YouTube.

Sciamma filed a claim against it, but because she lacked the funds to challenge the uploader's counter-claim, she was unable to protect her own content.

With this in mind, WordPress's victory over Straight Pride UK is important for two reasons. First, it'll discourage trolls from misusing the DMCA as a means of censorship - demonstrating that there are real legal consequences to doing so. Second and perhaps more importantly, as more cases like this hit the courts, they may well force a reexamination of the law.

And maybe, just maybe, when that reexamination kicks off, someone will finally admit that the DMCA simply isn't working.