Myspace: Set to Private

Myspace: Set to Private ImageOver the past few weeks, I’ve had reason to send a much higher than normal volume of DMCA notices to Myspace. I’ve been attempting to clean up a very large plagiarism mess there and it has required sending dozens of notices over Myspace users blatantly plagiarizing my previous works.

However, this has given me a strange chance to monitor and track Myspace’s responses to DMCA notices and I’ve found it to be both worrying and interesting as it seems much of the response has been far from traditional.

In short, rather than simply taking down the infringing content or suspending users, especially those that repeatedly infringe, Myspace is marking their blogs or profiles as private and thus blocking them to all but the friends of blogger, making it unclear if the work has been removed or what other reprimands the person involved has received.

This new tactic is very disconcerting both from the perspective of a copyright holder seeking removal of the work and the user, who could be censored far beyond what is needed.

It is a bad policy for everyone and it has already ensnared at least one major Myspace user.

What Happens

Myspace: Set to Private ImageIf you file a DMCA notice, or likely an other abuse request, with Myspace, the reaction to it is inconsistent. Though this is somewhat expected given that the site seems to have many dozens of agents working on these issues, at least some of the responses are very frustrating.

Generally, you can break down the responses into one of three categories:

  1. No Response: A few notices seem to fall through the cracks and receive no response at all. This is to be expected to a small degree and resending the notice almost always fixes the issues. The number is higher than I would like, but not so high as to frustrate me.
  2. Remove the Work Directly: Myspace typically removes the work surgically, neither disabling the account nor the page itself if there is any non-infringing material. Photos are removed from galleries, individual blog entries are removed, etc.
  3. Mark as Private: Finally, and most worrisome, is that Myspace will frequently mark blogs and profiles that have been the subject of notices private, thus removing them from the public view and making them only visible to the friends of the person.

Of the three outcomes, it can be difficult to predict which will happen and I am yet to find anything that seems to be an indicator of which will happen. Whether this is a case of individual agents having a wide amount of leeway in making decisions or me simply not having a large enough sample is hard to say.

Why this is Worrisome

This is a DMCA strategy where nobody wins. Though setting a blog or profile to private might seem like a great way to quickly remove an infringing work, it actually hurts both the complaining copyright holder and the person who is the subject of the complaint.

Consider the following:

  • No Confirmation of Removal: If you’re the copyright holder, there is no confirmation that the infringing work has been removed and you are actually barred from seeing it for yourself (unless you can trick the other person onto “friending” you). If the work has been removed, there is no way to prove it.
  • Doesn’t Resolve the Issue: If the work has not been removed, setting the blog to private does not resolve the issue as many Myspace members have hundreds, or even thousands, of friends that can still see it. Though search engines won’t be able to access it, many of the other dangers of plagiarism remain intact.
  • The “Censorship” Factor: If you are the member that had the notice filed against you, this can turn what would usually be a very simple removal of infringing material into a censoring of everything posted. Where removing a single image or blog post might have sufficed, this censors all material posted, including that which is not infringing.

In short, it does not matter if you are the copyright holder or the user, this system has potential to backfire and backfire it has.

The PostSecret Debacle

Earlier this month, PostSecret, the popular blog and art project, had their Myspace blog shut down by the admins. At the time, the Postsecret Myspace blog was the most popular blog on the service but the Myspace admins set the blog to private, making it so that only friends of the PostSecret account could see it.

Though there was no clear explanation as to why the blog was set to private. The operators of PostSecret have since reposted the controversial postcards and have published a response from the Myspace admins saying the following:

As you may know, MySpace currently has nearly 118 million monthly active users around the globe. As we continue to grow we stay focused on keeping our online community safer, comfortable, entertained and informed.

While we welcome self expression and the ability for users to connect and share their offline lives online, we think it is important to keep you informed of how to have a safer and more secure online experience. And that is why we encourage you not to post personal information such as your cell phone number.

Though the matter seems to be resolved, the incident has left the PostSecret community, along with others on the Web, with a very bad taste in their mouth about how Myspace handles questions of abuse.

Conclusions

Dealing with abuse is difficult. Companies like Myspace and Facebook have my sympathies as they have millions of members, many of whom spam, post inappropriate content, use the service for copyright infringement or generally create trouble for the community. It is hard to create good abuse guidelines, even harder to find good abuse personnel and still even more difficult to implement those policies effectively.

However, it is important that users and copyright holders alike keep on top of companies to insure that their policies are both fair and effective. The reason is simply that it only takes one or two negligent hosts to create headaches for millions and a host with a bad policy toward its users can create a hostile environment for creativity and posting works.

Balance is the key but the current Myspace solution seems to injure both sides equally. In that regard, it needs to be stopped, if for no reason than to avoid future incidents like the PostSecret one.

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