Microsoft's DMCA takedown blitz smells of Windows 8 censorship

In the last few days, a multitude of online publications have been handed DMCA takedown notices for seemingly innocuous posts, triggering speculation that Microsoft is trying to censor negative comments prior to Windows 8's official launch.

Out of the blue, a number of reputable online publications, including BetaNews, Hardware Canucks, PowerArchiver, NGOHQ, and Technize (among many others), received DMCA takedown orders from Google that claim on Microsoft’s behalf that the sites were infringing on various Microsoft copyrights.

The notices began with, “Google has been notified, according to the terms of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), that some of your materials allegedly infringe upon the copyrights of others.” The notices go on to say that because of the alleged violations, Google has no choice but to remove the URLs in question from Google’s search results.

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There was something odd about the takedown orders, however. The URLs in questions contained things like screenshot galleries and news posts that simply linked to the trial editions and release previews of Windows 8. Many of the sites also hosted user-generated comments though, many of which were quite negative in regards to Windows 8, which sparked some heated discussion that this was a strategic move by Microsoft to get negative sentiments delisted by Google prior to Windows 8’s launch.

Compounding the problem, publications are assumed guilty until proven innocent in these situations. Once a DMCA takedown request is submitted, whether the URL in question actually contains questionable material or not, the URL is removed from Google’s search results, which will adversely affect the site’s traffic. The sites have to fill out a DMCA Counter Notification form to counter the original notice and simply hope for the best.

When asked for comment, Mark Lamb, senior PR manager for Microsoft, responded:

"Microsoft is committed to ensuring that copyright is respected online. To protect our intellectual property, Microsoft's anti-piracy programs target links to infringing copies of our software; we do not target commentary. We take reports of inaccurate DMCA notices seriously, and will investigate disputed notices upon receipt. If the sites do not contain links to infringing copies of our software, we will contact Google about reinstating the search results."

That’s all well and good, but if the affected publications weren’t posting links or even talking about piracy, why send the notice in the first place? Something fishy was definitely going on, although I can’t say with any certainty that it was intentional.

I have a sneaking suspicion that this whole situation was brought on by some sort of third-party service or bot that spidered the web looking for certain Windows 8-related keywords, links, and images, and based on the proximity of the data, issued takedown recommendations to Microsoft. Unfortunately, it seems no one at Microsoft did their due diligence and checked the links beforehand, and now the company has a PR fiasco on their hands. As is usually the case, tap-dancing around the issue will do no good and only fuel further speculation.

Microsoft should just head this one off at the pass and explain themselves. If it was an error due to reliance on some sort of service, and someone at MS didn’t do his or her job, say it and move on. If, however, Microsoft is on a crusade to silence Windows 8 naysayers, then cook up some popcorn, sit back, and get ready for the fireworks. Many of the publications mentioned have no intentions of removing the posts and have been making every bit of correspondence public. It could make for some interesting reading moving forward.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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