Things that caught our eye

Reddit CEO: Copyright law was reason for Takedown of “TheFappening” subreddit

2 Oct , 2014  | by:

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about Reddit explaining its reasons for removal of the “The Fappening” subreddit. I summarized it as “a combination of technical difficulties, copyright law, and morality.”

On his internetcases blog, Evan Brown links to a recent VentureBeat interview with Reddit CEO Yishan Wong. In the interview, Wong explains that the takedown was not an incident, but part of Reddit’s policy to remove copyright infringing materials, and to prevent linking to pay-per-click sites, or websites with malware. Wong is silent on any moral issues with regard to the celebrity photo hack:

“If there’s any confusion: [Reddit] did not shut down /r/TheFappening due to content linking to nude celebrity photos. The subreddit was shut down because users were reposting content already taken down due to valid DMCA requests, and because spammers began posting links to the images hosted on their own pay-per-click sites, or sites intended to spread malware. Both activities violate our rules and we took down the subreddit for those reasons only. Similar subreddits created immediately afterwards were also removed for similar reasons, some were created by the spammers themselves.

We understand that this was confusing because our clarification around this stance was posted at around the same time that activity in the subreddit began to violate the rules we’ve detailed here (and thus triggering a shutdown), so we hope this makes things clear.”

Based on the VentureBeat interview with Wong, Brown argues that Reddit’s fear of copyright liability seemed to be a stronger driver for removal than the dignitary interests of the celebrities:

“We can’t read too much from this comment, but it does implicate that the dignitary interests of the celebrities involved did not motivate Reddit to do the right thing. Instead, the risk of copyright liability (or, more precisely, the risk that DMCA safe harbor protection may be eliminated) was a stronger motivation.”

To add to Brown’s argument, and as Melinda Sebastian has already pointed out on this blog: the celebrity leak does not just interfere with the interests of celebrities, but also means something to us, non-celebrities:

“It is not just celebrities who are being watched. It is not just celebrities who feel that they are being watched, particularly in this post NSA-creepin time we find ourselves living in. And it is not just celebrity women who feel violated, pissed off, and all around creeped out when they feel themselves reduced to targets of nude surveillance. They just happen to be the ones with the greatest media presence, who can provide an illustrative example of this beyond voyeuristic environment.”

I assume it is not Wong’s intent to downplay the severity of the celebrity photo hack, or that Reddit doesn’t care about our privacy or that of celebrities. I think Wong’s statement should be seen as an attempt to frame Reddit’s actions as being part of its general policy to remove copyright infringing materials, and to protect users against malware. In that sense there was nothing “special” about the removal of the “TheFappening” subreddit. To prevent liability for copyright infringements, service providers such as Reddit, need to remove copyright infringing materials from their websites when they are notified about such infringements. Wong’s statement and focus on copyright law should be seen as an attempt to escape any allegations of Reddit having editorial control over the website’s content, other than the right and ability to delete content in case of copyright infringements. If Reddit exercises any such form of editorial control – let’s say: Reddit does not accept and removes celebrity nudes because it is against sharing such pictures – it runs the risk of losing the safe harbors that protect against liability for content provided by its users. And that’s not what Reddit wants…


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