When faced with takedown requests, the Wikimedia Foundation often consults with the Volunteer Response Team (VRT), to ensure the best course of action. In June, we received a request to remove an image of a work of art from Wikimedia Commons, a repository of free-to-use images, sounds, videos and other media. The takedown request appeared legitimate. However, with assistance from the VRT, we were surprised to find that the uploader of the work carried the same name as the artist requesting the takedown. This was a peculiar situation because if an uploader chooses to upload their own work to Commons, it implies that they have agreed to release the image under the applicable Creative Commons license. Because of this, the Foundation decided to investigate further and contacted the artist directly. In doing so, we discovered that the artist had never uploaded pictures of their work onto Commons. Since the image was uploaded by a person only masquerading to be the artist with permission to freely license the work, the community took down the images.
In January, we received a request from the subject of a biography of a notable living person on the Norwegian and English language versions of Wikipedia. The requester claimed that inaccurate statements were published in the article about them. However, they did not specify which article (English or Norwegian) contained allegedly false information, nor did they provide any evidence for their claim of inaccuracy. Speculations that the article is based on claims from an ex partner is not a verifiable source of information. In this case, the lead paragraph of the article referenced eight different sources from reputable global news sources. When statements on Wikipedia reference reliable sources, volunteer editors are not likely to change the information because it adheres to their established editorial policies. Moreover, when the subject is a public figure, as was the case here, Wikipedia’s policies dictate that the article documents what the published sources say, even if it is negative or the subject dislikes it. We recommended that the requester contact the third-party publications listed in the references section of the article. If a source publication is updated or retracted, our global community of volunteer editors can update the statements in the article referenced to that source, helping to ensure that Wikipedia remains factual and reliable.
In March, we received a request about the use of a trademark in an English Wikipedia article. The trademark was about the name of a famous hamburger. The trademark was referenced correctly; however, the requester claimed that the statement was not accurate and accordingly wanted deletion of the entire statement referencing the trademark. The requester had also asked for deletion on the Talk page – a page where volunteer editors can discuss improvements to Wikipedia articles – and they did not respond when a community member asked for the rationale for the requested deletion. Instead, they turned to the Wikimedia Foundation’s Legal Department to escalate their request to remove the statement. We explained that the statement in question made assertions that were not incorrect and suggested two courses of action: respond on the Talk page with more information, or email a polite suggestion to the Volunteer Response Team. The responder chose not to take any further actions. The statement remains on English Wikipedia.
A 3000-Year Copyright Term?
We received a request to take down several images on Wikimedia Commons showing a photograph of a Bronze Age artifact. One of the requester’s claims was that they have a copyright-related right to the artifact. The domestic law where the artifact was found considers that millennia-old artifacts, that have not been shared with the public or published, are still subject to copyright. Such a claim would be difficult to support in other countries, including the US where copyright generally is considered to last the length of the author’s life plus another 70 years. This unique case reveals how uneven intellectual property laws between countries impact the collective understanding of what belongs to all in the public domain. When copyright law is invoked through takedown requests, these laws can be used to limit access to our collective cultural heritage. We continue to scrutinize the merits of these requests to preserve access to free knowledge.
What’s In a Name?
We were recently contacted by the privacy team of a large telecom company. They asked us to remove an image of their CEO’s signature from an English Wikipedia page, claiming it to be “personally identifiable information” that posed a “risk [to] both the individual and the company.” We take privacy claims seriously, so we investigated to determine if there were any dangers to hosting the image. After concluding our investigation, we responded by pointing out that that same CEO’s signature was proudly displayed on the company’s Annual Reports, available on their official website for all to see. In light of the circumstances, we respectfully disagreed that our hosting of an image of the signature on English Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons posed any genuine harm and declined their request.
Taking Down Bad Takedown Requests
This transparency report period, we received an onslaught of a particular type of DMCA request, all with the same approach: the requester backdates a blogpost (usually on Blogger.com or WordPress sites) containing an image or text from Wikimedia Commons/Wikipedia and then sends us a DMCA request claiming that we are infringing on their copyright. In one case, the blog post was backdated to 1980 — before the World Wide Web (let alone WordPress) even existed. It remains unclear why this is happening. The targets seem somewhat random, so this mostly appears to be the work of young people playing pranks; or it is a confused bot. However, some of the abusive requests target civil rights activists, which — if deliberate — could be a worrying example of the DMCA being used for political purposes. Thankfully, while automated systems might not spot this, the humans behind Wikimedia projects can catch these inconsistencies.
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