Time to take notice

Will new laws to protect copyright make life easier for the censors?

According to a report commissioned by the government of the time, between 1966 and 1970 Scientology organisations initiated 29 libel actions in the English courts. Since then, Ron Hubbard’s acolytes have gained a reputation for their appetite for legal sanction. And, in the digital age, policymakers have made it easier for them to have their fill.

Today, it is not defamation, but copyright law that is the censor’s friend. At the beginning of this month, an organisation called American Rights Counsel llc sent out 4,000 takedown notices to YouTube, all making copyright infringement claims against videos critical of the Church of Scientology. Some of these videos were filmed by the people who posted them on YouTube, and others were clips from international news channels, making ARC’s claims that all the videos infringed the copyright of its client appear highly dubious. Nonetheless, overnight, YouTube removed all the videos in question.

YouTube was acting in compliance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), a US law designed to protect copyrighted works on the internet, and the intermediaries – such as YouTube – which may unwittingly host them. As a host, YouTube was obliged to remove the material, or assume liability for the infringement itself. So, without recourse to the courts, the company censored the content at the behest of ARC. But the story does not end there.