Facebook Responds to Abused DMCA Loophole Issue, Doesn’t Fix System

Yesterday we reported on a problem that was affecting several Facebook page owners – due to a loophole in Facebook’s process for handling DMCA takedown requests, anyone with an ax to grind and a fake email address could take down any Facebook page by filling out an online form with false information, claiming copyright infringement.

Facebook doesn’t verify the identity of those filing the claim, and more importantly, it doesn’t verify the claim is from a legitimate email address. After a handful of high-profile sites became the victim of this problem, Facebook has stepped in to resolve the problem. Well, sort of. The social networking company says it has restored four pages, but it has not made any changes to its system as of yet.

What Was Happening?

With Facebook’s faulty system, which we detailed here, anyone could get a Facebook page taken down just by filling out an online form with fake information. Because Facebook did not verify the email address of the person doing the reporting, several page owners found themselves without any way to resolve the dispute. In some cases, the fake email addresses the scammer had entered ended up belonging to an uninvolved third-party, who, fortunately for the site owner (Taimur Asad of RedmondPie), was kind enough to contact Facebook on the owner’s behalf to have the claim removed. Others, like Hamard Dar, who owns a site called Rewriting Technology, were not as lucky. His page was down for over a month. He was only able to restore it by performing an investigation on his own to determine who submitted the complaint and then threaten them with criminal charges.

Facebook’s Response

In light of the controversy, Facebook has now responded to these complaints, saying that it has “investigated a number of recent intellectual property cases and have restored four pages as a result.”

Yes, just four.

The spokesperson also added:

Abuse of DMCA and other intellectual property notice procedures is a challenge for every major Internet service and we take it seriously.  We have invested significant resources into creating a dedicated team that uses specialized tools, systems and technology to review and properly handle intellectual property notices.  This system evaluates a number of factors when deciding how to respond and, in many cases, we require the reporter to provide additional information before we can take action.  As a result of these efforts, the vast majority of intellectual property notices that we receive are handled without incident.  Of course, no system is perfect and we are always striving to improve our practices.  As such, we will be considering the results of our investigation into this matter as we continue to refine our systems and procedures. 

How Many Others are Out There?

Unfortunately, this response is not good enough for others who are still dealing with the effects of Facebook’s failed system.

According to Hassan Ali, who runs apniisp.com, a popular entertainment website based in Pakistan, his Facebook page with over 44,000 fans was disabled on March 3, 2011, and the email address belonging to the supposedly infringed upon party is not even working – all the emails just bounce back.

This goes to one of the main issues with Facebook’s system – it doesn’t even verify the email address works. In addition, Facebook’s support in this area doesn’t help the affected parties – form letters from what appear to be bots called “Reggie” and “Marissa” are the only “people” who will respond to emails asking for help. And they always say the same thing: Facebook won’t get involved, work it out yourself and get a lawyer.

But in Ali’s case, Facebook isn’t even listening to his legal counsel, he says. In an excerpt from Facebook’s email, the company writes,

“If you believe that this claim has been made under false pretenses, we recommend that you contact a lawyer or your local law enforcement agency and discuss this issue with them.”

But when Ali’s lawyer contacted Facebook on his behalf, Facebook replied:

“We can only correspond with an admin of the removed content.”

Ali says he has been struggling with this issue for 50 days and doesn’t know what do to anymore.

Restoring Pages is a Band-Aid, Not a Solution

While the four site owners affected were glad to see their pages return, the brand reputation they suffered is, in some cases, irreversible. In one instance, a new, fake Facebook page had appeared, offering the newly migrated fans “free iPads,” in what was clearly an online scam.

When asked what Facebook was doing in the future to address this issue, as simply restoring the pages of those bloggers notable enough to have caused a ruckus doesn’t fix the real problem, Facebook told one of the site owners that the issue would be discussed and Facebook will “consider refinements to our system.”

Consider?

How hard is it to implement email validation? What’s to consider? At the very least, the form should verify the email address works before removing pages based on faulty claims. At best, Facebook should make it more challenging for these claims to exist in the first place. A good first step? Stop allowing disposable webmail addresses in the “email” portion of the field.

We expect that this isn’t the last we’ll hear of changes to the DMCA takedown system over at Facebook. In the meantime, can someone besides “Marissa” or “Reggie” please look into Ali’s case?

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