I'll preface this post with a spoiler: this story seems to have a happy ending! You might reasonably ask why I'd give something like that away so early in the post?
Because if you're an ani-blogger, having unresolved DMCA requests could make your site disappear from the internet search engines like Google. This isn't a horror blog; I didn't want to subject you to that kind of suspense! So I want to start out by saying in my case, the system seems to have worked, and my site's not going to become invisible to Google.
While this story has a happy ending, I think the story might help you to prepare yourself if one of these e-mails shows up in your inbox. Because I can tell you this: It pretty much ruined my day!
I also want to say thanks to several Twitter mutuals who offered their advice as I tweeted about the experience:
- Infinite Zenith (@InfiniteZenith)
- James (@chikorita157)
- MBICE (@MBICETA)
- Rocco "Mallow" B (@Secluded_Bloop)
- Ty-Chama (@AkatsukigirlTy)
In a situation like this, it helped to know I wasn't completely alone! So thanks!
In the Beginning...
I'm a big believer in legal streaming sites, in giving credit where credit's due, and in general, behaving in a legal sort of way. So when I started writing anime reviews, I tried to understand what I could and couldn't do.
For example, I wanted to use screen captures, and I wanted to do it legally. So I researched fair use on the US government Copyright.gov site and other sites like Harvard University's Copyright and Fair Use page. I also went to great pains to credit each screen capture back to the streaming service, though in retrospect that was less a legal concern, since the copyright holder is the most important party to consider. I'll keep doing that to give credit where credit's due. It's important to me that I recognize the role Crunchyroll, Funimation, HIDIVE, and the rest play.
Also, I was careful never to use any screen capture to help me sell anything. The only images I used for that were directly from Amazon or CD Japan as part of their affiliates programs. I tried to be sure I only used images for review purposes (for criticism and commentary).
In short, I thought I was covered!
Early Christmas Present from Google!
Late December 23, 2018, I saw I got an e-mail from the Google Search Console Team. I couldn't recall ever seeing an e-mail from them before. Image my surprise when I saw the subject was "Notice of DMCA Removal from Google Search."
I'll tell you this for free: this is not what I wanted for Christmas!
Stunned, thinking this was some kind of mistake given my efforts to stay legal, I clicked on the link to Lumen's site, unaware until that moment that there was such a thing as an "aggregator of legal complain notices." Sure enough, I found one of my site's URLs in the list!
I was aghast! Plus, I have to admit that I felt kind of dirty being lumped in with what appeared to be illegal streaming sites!
The original Google e-mail helpfully included a link to a counter-claim form. Notice what the form would do: It would request that my page be reinstated. In other words, at that moment in time, that URL was no longer in Google Search.
People searching for material on Made in Abyss, one of my more popular series' reviews, would no longer find my review of episode 13.
From Google's perspective, that page was dead to them! And to my potential readers.
So, I clicked on that link and was presented with some information about me, my company, and my contact information. Further down on the form, I had to provide the offending URL, which I got from the Lumen site's page:
Later on the same form asked me to justify my request to reinstate my pages in Google Search. Remember how I thought I was covered by fair use? I figured I might as well use it as my shield, so I answered that "The way I used the content is fair use" and provided some details to justify that request:
Once I submitted it, Google sent me an automatic reply:
Thanks for reaching out to us!
We have received your legal request. We receive many such complaints each day; your message is in our queue, and we'll get to it as quickly as our workload permits.
Due to the large volume of requests that we experience, please note that we will only be able to provide you with a response if we determine your request may be a valid and actionable legal complaint, and we may respond with questions or requests for clarification. For more information on Google's Terms of Service, please visit http://www.google.com/accounts/TOS
The Google Team
I think it's important to note that I don't think Google had a choice here. They had to respond to the complaint. I'm actually grateful that they included an easy to use form for me to file a counter-claim.
You'll also notice that their reply didn't commit to a specific turnaround time. I had no way of knowing when that page might appear in search results again. So far, it was a frustrating experience.
Something happened in the next few minutes on that December 23rd that made things even more frustrating.
I got a second e-mail.
I got seven more on December 25th.
After filing counter claims for each, I started doing some more digging (and thanks again to the Twitter folks who gave me ideas and shared their experiences -- they were very helpful!). At the very top of Lumen's page, I noticed this:
The sender, Remove Your Media LLC, was acting on behalf of Japan Creative Contents Alliance LLC. I'd seen the latter in the news, so I figured I'd try to reach out to them to get more insight into why my site was being lumped in with illegal streaming sites. I found their website, which included an e-mail address: email@example.com.
Imagine my surprise when I got this response to my e-mail:
This is the mail system at host mailb1.tigertech.net.
I'm sorry to have to inform you that your message could not
be delivered to one or more recipients. It's attached below.
For further assistance, please send mail to postmaster.
If you do so, please include this problem report. You can
delete your own text from the attached returned message.
The mail system
<firstname.lastname@example.org>: Host or domain name not found. Name service error for
name=jccadmca.com type=A: Host not found
Ummm. "Host not found?" I checked WhoIs, and sure enough, jccadmca.com was available. No one owns it.
It's not a live site.
Now I was really concerned. Was someone trying to scam both Google and me? Just what was going on here?
Wait -- The System Works?
Around this time, I got another e-mail from Google in response to my counter claim:
Thanks for reaching out to us.
As described in 17 U.S.C. 512(g), we will forward the counter notification to the complainant. If we do not receive notice that the complainant has brought a court action within 10 business days, we will reinstate the material in question.
The Google Team
Google also carbon copied me on the e-mail they sent to Remove Your Media LLC (which, as you'll remember from earlier, filed the complaint on behalf of Japan Creative Contents Alliance LLC). That e-mail read:
We have received a counter notification in response to the DMCA notice you sent us. As described in 17 U.S.C. 512(g), by this email, we are providing you with a text copy of the counter notification and await your notice (in not more than 10 business days) that you have filed an action seeking a court order to restrain the counter notifier's allegedly infringing activity. In order to process your complaint, please send us a copy of the action filed or applicable court order.
If we do not receive such notice from you, we will reinstate the material in question.
We encourage you to review https://library.educause.edu/topics/policy-and-law/digital-millennium-copyright-act-dmca for more information about the DMCA and the requirements of a counter notice. If you have legal questions about this, you should consult your own legal counsel.
I really appreciate Google keeping me in the loop! Not knowing is way worse than knowing! Do you know what else I appreciate? Prompt responses. I was astounded when Remove Your Media LLC responded within 2 1/2 hours:
I’m getting the site whitelisted. We’ll also rescind.
Google forwarded that e-mail to me and added:
They have been retracted.
Can you believe that? I was braced for a long, drawn out conflict. I had received the original notice on December 23, and I received the retraction e-mail on the 27th. Greatly relieved, I responded, carboning the Google Search Team, and thanked everyone for their prompt attention. That generated this response from Remove Your Media LLC:
Keep up the good work Terrance.
So, it appears that this story has a happy ending!
I'm hesitant to blame any of the parties involved in this situation. According to the DMCA, Google had to respond to a takedown notice or risk fines.
Faced with rampant misappropriation of their art and other intellectual property, companies involved in anime production had to do something to protect themselves, so they formed the Japan Creative Contents Alliance LLC.
That company didn't have the expertise to crawl the web looking for violations, so they contracted with Remove Your Media LLC, which somehow captured my site along with illegal streaming sites. But to their credit, they said they'll whitelist my site, which I appreciate.
Finally, there are so many complaints that a company like Lumens had to step up to provide a cleaning house for the complaints.
Each company in the chain is simply fulfilling a need of another company, so I can't really blame them, since a) they are trying to address a real problem (misuse of copyrighted materials) and b) they seem to have provided a fairly responsive appeal process.
If I have to blame anyone, it's the People of the United States for allowing their representatives to pass such a flawed law. The complaints against the DMCA are well-defined, but we the People in the United States continue to allow large companies to have a disproportionate say in the legal process. If it weren't for the safety protocols that Google, Remove Your Media LLC, and others have provided, a site like mine wouldn't have a chance!
In other words, right now, I'm relying less on the law of the land and more on corporate goodwill to keep my site operating! I'm pretty sure that's not how this is supposed to work.
After the e-mail exchange with Remove Your Media LLC, I received two more take-down notices. I filed the counter-claims as before, and I think there's probably some kind of delay between when Remove Your Media LLC white-lists a site and when their crawler stops reporting on that site. At this point, I have confidence that it'll work itself out.
From my perspective, the only loose end is the domain name for Japan Creative Contents Alliance LLC. That was the only e-mail address for their site, so I can't report it to anyone. I have no real concern at this point that they're anything but legitimate, but I wish they'd fix their address!
If there are any more major developments, I'll update this post.
Let's Hope That's Out of the Way!
I'm currently working as a computer security professional, and I've worked before as a Disaster Recovery Architect. In case you can't already guess, that means I often imagine worst case scenarios, so when I first received the DMCA takedown notices, I figured my site was done for.
Of course, that's irrational. Literally hundreds of anime review sites exist, and my screen captures are no different from theirs. But it's easy to feel apprehensive when you're up against very well funded companies who could easily outlast me in a legal fight!
That's one of the reasons I was thankful for the folks on Twitter who offered their thoughts and experiences. I was able to set aside the panic and try to work the system. I'm just glad to say that it looks like that approach worked. I hope that by sharing this experience, I can help you prepare should someone's automated algorithms inaccurately target your site for DMCA takedowns!
Have you had a similar experience? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!