Hanlon’s razor entreats us to:
Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.
While Clarke’s third law states that:
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Mash them up and that leaves us with Clark’s law:
Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.
I have experienced a textbook case of extremely advanced incompetence.
When I wrote about the shenanigans of Perfect Pitch, in which a DMCA claim was used to remove a perfectly innocuous discussion on The Session from Google’s search index, I pondered about whether malice could be ascribed:
Could it be that the owner of perfectpitch.com sent a DMCA complaint to Google simply because another site was getting higher rankings for the phrase “perfect pitch”? If so, then that’s a whole new level of SEO snake-oilery.
In turns out that the correct cause is incompetence at a stunning level. I got an email from Gary Boucherle at perfectpitch.com who explained:
Periodically we’ve contacted Google to submit the following complaint:
We believe our copyrighted works have been illegally copied and made available for free download at the web sites listed below …
The following URL was one of hundreds of URLS (mostly torrent sites) found with the Google search terms Burge+Pitch+Torrent:
While we try to check every URL to make sure it either contains torrents, or is a torrent file sharing site (not the case with this site), it was included with our complaint inadvertently.
So here’s what’s happening: A company is doing a search for a phrase on Google, making a list of all the URLs returned by that search and then submitting that list to Google as part of a DMCA claim. Google then removes all those URLs from its search index without verifying any infringement.
I subsequently had a phone conversation with Gary and he was quite contrite about his actions— although he did try to claim that the mere mention of torrents in an online discussion might be justification for a take down (a completely indefensible attitude).
The more I talked to him, the more I realised that he simply had no idea about the DMCA. He was completely oblivious to the potential consequences of his actions were he to lose a counter-claim in court.
Gary Bourcherle abused a piece of extremely poor legislation in a scattergun approach without even understanding what he was doing. It’s like putting guns into the hands of small children.
Well, Gary is very sorry now and promises he won’t do it again. He is going to contact Google and ask them to reinstate the discussion on The Session in the search index.
Here is an official statement of apology, sent by email for redistribution here or anywhere else (try to ignore the bits where The Session is referred to as “a blog”):
To All Readers:
Here at PerfectPitch.com we made a big mistake.
We instructed Google to block a blog site managed by Jeremy Keith, citing that they were in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyrights Act (DMCA). As per our request, Google did indeed remove this page from their search listings.
We wish to formally apologize to Mr. Keith and his bloggers for this mistake, for which we are deeply regretful.
Please understand that we had no intention whatsoever to suppress the speech on Mr. Keith’s page. Please know that we are ardent supporters and advocates of free speech for everyone.
We recognize this was a careless error, and there is really no excuse for this. Nevertheless, please permit us a moment to explain.
Here’s what happened:
We were actually submitting to Google a list of sites that were illegally distributing copies of our copyrighted intellectual property. We of course have every right to request that Google have these sites removed from their search engine results because we believe these sites violate the DMCA, which prohibits the illegal distribution of copyrighted materials over the internet.
To our shock and horror, an employee of ours mistakenly included Mr. Keith’s site in our list, merely because it made a reference to illegal copies of our course. Naturally, this is not grounds for removal of this page at Google. Our intention was only to remove actual pages where the course is being illegally distributed, and not any pages of free speech, such as Mr. Keith’s blog. This was a misjudgment and error on our employee’s side, and on behalf of our company, we sincerely apologize.
This event has never happened to us before when reporting illegal distribution of our materials. Please rest assured that we will redouble our efforts to ensure this never happens again.
We have requested that Google immediately reinstate this page in their search results, along with our apology to Google as well.
If we have offended any potential musicians who wished to purchase our best-selling, university verified ear training methods, again, we sincerely apologize. To make it up to you, we would invite you to try our courses at a substantial discount not offered to the general public, valid until the end of this month. Please go here to retrieve your special offer with our apologies:
Again, please accept our sincere regrets for this goof.
Happy blogging, everyone.
Apology accepted. Now don’t do it again.
No word from Google on their “obey first, ask questions never” approach to DMCA claims.
And if you thought the DMCA was a bad piece of legislation, just wait till ACTA arrives.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to change my email signature to “Burge Pitch Torrent.” It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? Like “Klaatu Barada Nikto”.