The DMCA takedown process gives copyright holders the option to remove infringing content from the web.
It’s a powerful, widely-used tool that takes millions of URLs and links offline every day. This often happens for a good reason, but some takedown efforts are questionable.
Shopify was targeted by a series of problematic DMCA requests earlier this month. The e-commerce platform typically receives thousands of takedown notices per month from rightsholders, which are in part processed automatically. That works well in most instances, but not always.
Starting on October 5, an unknown person created the account “Sacha Go” which was subsequently used to file dozens of DMCA takedown requests. The notices targeted listings on a variety of shops selling perfume products, claiming that they infringe copyright.
After being alerted by one of the targeted merchants Shopify looked into the matter, concluding that all takedowns were false. Instead of containing legitimate claims the DMCA notices were being used to harass Shopify and its merchants.
Shopify Files Lawsuit
The account information provided by “Sacha Go” turned out to be false. To stop this activity and any related to future accounts the defendant may create, Shopify filed a complaint alleging DMCA violations at a federal court in New York.
“Defendant Doe has sent Shopify dozens of DMCA takedown notices littered with misrepresentations, claiming that materials Shopify merchants have posted to their online stores supposedly infringe Doe’s copyrights. But Doe does not actually own any of the copyrights to which he claims ownership in these notices,” Shopify writes.
Shopify says that it’s not feasible for the company to investigate the validity of all takedown notices in detail. As such, these false claims resulted in actual removals and the affected stores also received strikes on their accounts.
Merchants at Risk
The strikes will be removed if the merchant files a successful counternotice, but those can take up to two weeks to process. Also, those who are not aware of their right to appeal risk losing their accounts.
“[F]or unsuspecting merchants who may be unfamiliar with the DMCA, a sudden onslaught of takedown notices can result in the termination of their entire store under Shopify’s repeat infringer policy,” Shopify explains.
The defendant stands accused of sending more than 70 fraudulent takedown notices from October 5 to October 13, targeting at least twenty perfume shops with bogus copyright claims. These false claims resulted in 52 strikes against various stores.
Shopify Seeks Damages and an Injunction
On October 12, Shopify launched an investigation and the company ultimately restored all items and removed all strikes, but that came at significant cost.
“Those efforts cost Shopify tens of thousands of dollars in personnel time and resources. The loss of goodwill that Shopify suffered from penalizing innocent merchants cannot be quantified,” the company explains.
The defendant’s motivations are currently unknown, but it’s certainly possible that they run a competing perfume store. If that’s the case, these takedown notices were likely intended to harm competitors.
Through discovery, Shopify hopes to identify the John Doe and hold them responsible for the recent wave of DMCA abuse. In addition to requesting damages, Shopify also seeks an injunction to prevent more false DMCA notices going forward.
A copy of Shopify’s complaint, filed at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York is available here (pdf)
From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more.