The DMCA on 7 Message Board Hosts

Message boards are often thought of as dinosaurs on the Web. Where once having a presence on message boards and forums was almost as ubiquitous as email and IM, message boards have fallen on hard times, pushed aside by blogs and social networking sites.

However, there are still many thriving communities on the Web that use message boards to communicate. They are still popular with those in literature, role playing and sports communities among others. Its ability to offer niche communities targeted forums for their conversation and discussion has given the message board an ongoing place on the Web.

But message board hosts often take a very distant attitude when it comes to copyright on their service. Though they are technically protected by the DMCA, they often rely on the admins and moderators of their individual forums to do the heavy lifting on these issues.

While that sounds great in theory, it does nothing to stop cases where the admin either refuses to delete the infringing material or is the one actually doing in the infringing. For those cases, the host is needed to step up and step in, but how willing are such hosts to handle such matters? Let’s take a look and find out.

The DMCA on 7 Message Board Hosts Image

Format: Email
Email Address: sdemello at ezboard dot com
Location of Policy: Submit Legal Complaint Page
Registered with USCO: Yes
Comments: An industry leader and one of the most popular message board hosts, ezboard takes legal issues very seriously. Their Submit Legal Complaint Page reads like a syllabus for a mass media law class. However, their DMCA policy leaves a great deal to be desired. They don’t repeat their contact information, as required by the law, they make no mention of repeat infringers and offer no guidance on how to be DMCA compliant. All you get is a form, much to small for the purpose, and a check box to mark that you are reporting copyright infringement. Fortunately, they are registered with the USCO so you can get their “real” information there, but its clear from looking at their online policy that they do not place high value on these copyright issues.
Grade: D+

The DMCA on 7 Message Board Hosts Image

Format: Form
Email Address: None
Location of Policy: Terms of Service
Registered with USCO: No
Comments: A big name not just in the message board hosting field, but in hosting Web sites, blogs and photo galleries, Bravenet’s copyright policy is a major disappointment. Though, under 8f of their terms of service they take a very strong stand against copyright infringement, there is no DMCA information on their site, no registration with the USCO and no other mention about how to handle such matters. All that you get is a form to file your complaint with no instruction about how to do it. Though I’ve heard that Bravenet responds quickly to such complaints, the fact is there is nothing on their site about it, at least nothing that I’ve found.
Grade: F

The DMCA on 7 Message Board Hosts Image

Format: Form
Email Address: None
Location of Policy: Terms of Service
Registered with USCO: No
Comments: Pro is supposed to be short for “professional” but there is little professional about the way this site handles abuse. Their terms of use is terminally short. There is no mention of copyright at all in their TOS, just a brief mention that “User’s content must comply in a manner consistent with any and all applicable laws of the State of California and the US Federal Government.” There is no DMCA information on the site, no registration with the USCO and their form to report violations of the TOS doesn’t even have an option to report infringement of text, just images. Where they could have simply said “Using Copyrighted Material” they said “Using Copyrighted Images”. I find that somewhat insulting considering message boards are still one of the top places I find my literature being plagiarized. All in all, there’s nothing here, just a lot of legal holes left to fill.
Grade: F

The DMCA on 7 Message Board Hosts Image

Format: Email
Email Address: agent at invisionfree dot com
Location of Policy: Legal Page
Registered with USCO: Yes
Comments: Finally, a message board host that gets it right and does it well! Their DMCA policy is very robust, has all of the needed information and is located easily under the “Legal” link at the bottom of every page they control. Though they don’t have it in the footer of the actual forums, all you have to do is visit their home page and you’ll find it there easily. They’ve registered their site with the USCO and have done an all around thorough job here. The one minor omission is that they do not have a stated policy on repeat infringers. An easy oversight and not a major deal by itself. All in all, their policy is complete, easy to find and profession. A model for others in the field.
Grade: B

The DMCA on 7 Message Board Hosts Image

Format: Email
Email Address: tos at hyperboards dot com
Location of Policy: Terms of Service
Registered with USCO: No
Comments: If you’re looking for someone to report a TOS violation to at Hyperboards, you’ll be looking for a while. To find the email, you have to first visit their support forum, you then go to the FAQ board and, from there, click on “Other Information“. Only then do you get the option of “Reporting a TOS Violation“. If you’re counting, that’s four clicks to find the information to report ANY abuse, including copyright infringement. Hyperboards has no DMCA policy, no DMCA agent, and their terms of service makes no explicit mention of copyright, just a more generic “You agree not to use Hyperboards for any unlawful purpose.” There’s nothing here but headaches when it comes to copyright issues.
Side Note: I don’t usually do this kind of commentary when I do a DMCA Seven review, but a line in their TOS really drew my attention:

“You agree to refrain from using ‘ad-blockers’ such as ‘pop-up blockers’ and the use of ‘scripts’ or html in order to disable or hide any and all advertisements found on any and all Hyperboards forums. If you are using a browser with a built in ‘pop-up blocker’ you agree to disable the ‘ad-blocking’ feature on your browser.”

They are saying, essentially, that by visiting the site with Safari, which has built-in popup blocking, that I was violating their TOS. Good thing I’m not a member, otherwise they might have “terminated” my account. At least that’s what they say in the TOS.
Grade: F

The DMCA on 7 Message Board Hosts Image

Format: Fax
Email Address: None
Location of Policy: Terms of Service Violations & Legal Issues
Registered with USCO: No
Comments: Sparklit is actually a Canadian company meaning that they are not technically bound by the DMCA. However, one look at their copyright policy and it is clear that they reference it and require a DMCA notice to act. But even though they expect submitters to follow the DMCA, they don’t themselves. There is no email address for the DMCA agent, no registration with the USCO and their Legal Issue Support Form is just a PDF that needs to be faxed or mailed in. It is like Google’s policy, only much worse. What is especially unnerving is that this is the method used to deal with all abuse complaints, including some which may have urgent needs such as privacy and direct linking issues. But, as bad as it is, they at least have a policy and have made it clear.
Grade: D-

The DMCA on 7 Message Board Hosts Image

Format: Email
Email Address: tos at delphiforums dot com
Location of Policy: Terms of Service
Registered with USCO: No
Comments: Delphi is one of the most popular forum sites on the Web. However, their forums look and feel different than almost anything else on the Web. However, when it comes to their copyright and DMCA policy, they are pretty much par for the course in this field. Their TOS makes it pretty clear they don’t tolerate copyright infringement and they offer an email address to report all violations, but that is about it. There is no DMCA agent, no USCO registration, nothing. If you’ve never sent a DMCA notice before, this site would be a nightmare to try it out on.
Grade: D-

Conclusions

When I decided on this topic, I knew that it wouldn’t go well. However, I had no idea that it would go quite this badly.

Of the seven reviewed, six got a D+ or below. Only one, Invisionfree, got above a C.

These services are often called dinosaurs and, looking around these sites, I can see why. I saw home pages not updated in more than five years, TOSs not updated in at least as long and almost none of the DMCA compliance we see and expect form other online service provides.

This is a service area where the hosts have clearly fallen behind in more ways than one and that age is now not only risking their business, but their legal protections. The DMCA is there specifically to protect OSPs such as message board hosts and to ignore or otherwise not follow it essentially turns down free protection from certain legal risks.

They’re foolish for doing it and they are endangering the rest of the Web. By having such lax policies they risk making their sites havens for all kinds of unseemly activity. That, of course, will only further sink the reputation of the message board as a community format and could be a nail in the coffin of what is already seen as a struggling industry.

What the Ratings Mean

A – A complete policy that goes well above and beyond what is required. Often shows real innovation.
B – A solid policy that is well-thought out and is very complete. Shows consideration for submitters and users.
C – An average policy, follows the law to the letter but doesn’t go out of its way to help those submitting a notice or its users.
D – A policy that, while mostly complete, still raises severe ethical and/or legal questions.
F – An incomplete policy that fails to follow the DMCA or local laws in a severe way.

Pluses or minuses are used to indicate how the where a host fits in relationship to other hosts in that that tier.

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