Why I Don’t Fear Chilling Effects… and You Shouldn’t Either


It’s something of a constant in my line of work, whenever I help someone file a DMCA notice or even encourage them to do so, I notify them that there is at least a chance the notice could appear in Chilling Effects.

Usually people blow this off but more than a few have gotten very upset at the prospect. Some have even refused to file notice because of the (at times remote) possibility it could end up there.

Though I’ve always tried to calm frayed nerves and assure people that Chilling Effects is no reason to give up on your rights, I haven’t always won these discussions. But while I do understand that some would be upset at the potential public disclosure of a private disagreement between a person, an alleged infringer and their host, there is much more to the story.

Personally, I don’t fear Chilling Effects. Though I do have some gripes with it and some suggestions for improvement, the possibility of my notices ending up in their database has never once bothered me.

There reasons are actually very simple.

What Chilling Effects Does

Fundamentally, what Chilling Effects does is maintain a database of DMCA notices and legal threats that are forwarded to it. Though the database deals with a variety of areas including defamation, patent and trademark law, it primarily deals with copyright notices and, even then, primarily deals with takedown notices sent to Google.

This is because Chilling Effects relies on hosts (or others involved in the process) to send them the notices. They have an arrangement with Google where nearly all notices sent to them are forwarded, including those sent to Blogger. As the largest search engine and by far the largest Chilling Effects partner (though Digg and others do participate), most of the notices in the database relate to Google one way or another.

Before publishing a notice, Chilling Effects removes sensitive information such as addresses and phone numbers to ensure privacy. It also categories the notice, links critical elements in it and affixes any relevant FAQs. The goal is to remove personal information but also make the notice easier to understand for those not accustomed to the legalese that often comes with them.

The result is a page like this one, with both the notice and the relevant information about the law, easily searchable and linkable.

Why This Doesn’t Bother me

When you file a DMCA notice, you are essentially filing a a legal notice telling a host that content on their servers is infringing your copyright and you are demanding it be taken down. There is a very large burden there on you, both ethically and legally, to make sure that your notice is proper and correct.

If you are ashamed of the notice or are uncomfortable with public scrutiny of your actions, you should probably not be filing the notice in the first place. Chilling Effects is not an attempt to shame copyright holders who are filing legitimate notices, but to keep a record of notices filed and discourage the use of the DMCA (and other laws) in silencing legitimate speech.

If you filed a lawsuit, you would have almost no expectation of privacy as the lawsuit becomes part of the public record almost instantly. DMCA notices, however, have no such public record. Since Chilling Effects remove sensitive information, it actually provides greater privacy protection than litigation and, considering how many notices pass through the site every week, it’s unlikely anyone will notice or care about your filing unless there is something seriously flawed or controversial about it.

And that seems to be the nature of Chilling Effects today, most of the notices are mundane. The recording industry is the largest filer (certainly not having let Chilling Effects stop them) and nearly all the notices filed seem to be proper and non-controversial. As a result, they simply fall off the radar.

In short, a DMCA notice appearing in Chilling Effects, as long as it is proper, is only a big deal if one makes it a big deal. Though mistakes do happen and I have seen at least one occasion where personal information did make it into the database, that information can be removed easily by contacting the site.

Two Gripes

While I certainly have a lot of respect for what Chilling Effects is doing and don’t mind my notices appearing in it, there are two minor gripes that I have with the service and I they are gripes I’ve heard echoed by other filers.

First, the name Chilling Effects, to many copyright holders, sounds very accusatory. Though Chilling Effects “aims to support lawful online activity against the chill of unwarranted legal threats” it does so by being an impartial database of notices. Not every notice in Chilling Effects is “chilling” free speech in any way, in fact, the vast majority are not.

Many copyright holders, when they find out their notice has appeared in the database or that it might, think that someone is telling them they did something wrong, even if it was a completely legitimate exercise of their rights.

As a guy who blogs at Plagiarism Today, I understand well the unintended consequences that names can have, but a more neutral name might encourage more copyright holders, especially smaller ones, to cooperate with the database (that and an easier submission process).

Second, a problem I’ve seen with both Digg and Google Search notices is that Chilling Effects will post the full URL the content that was removed from the index. Since both sites, understandably, link to the Chilling Effects page, this has the effect of making the full URL, without obfuscation, available to anyone, defeating the purpose of filing the DMCA notice.

The only difference is that, instead of clicking the link directly in the Google results, you click the link to the Chilling Effects notice and then copy and paste the URL. This left some of my clients and friends confused and wondering if Chilling Effects was trying to sabotage their legitimate DMCA notice.

This problem could be easily fixed by obfuscating part of the URL involved in these cases, making the full content only available for host takedowns where the work itself was removed.

Bottom Line

Though I don’t think the Chilling Effects process is perfect, I’ve never once hesitated on sending a notice because it might appear in the database. Simply put, I’ve never once sent a notice I don’t believe in or would feel embarrassed by it being made public.

That being said, very few of my notices have made it into their database. Much of this is because I rarely send notices to Google, instead preferring to send them to hosts, the majority of which don’t send their notices to Chilling Effects. But even the notices I do send to Google don’t seem to appear and I’m not sure why.

Regardless, I wouldn’t mind if they did and I don’t think any creator who is filing legitimate takedown notices should mind either. What Chilling Effects is doing is important. By discouraging bad uses of the law, Chilling Effects is making it a better climate for those who want to use it legitimately and it is also keeping records of notices that may enable future research and evaluation of the law.

In short, copyright holders filing legitimate DMCA notices need to support Chilling Effects the same as those who fear false notices. It’s important to remember that a DMCA notice is a legal dispute and, if you aren’t prepared to have a legal dispute aired out somewhat in public, you probably need to rethink your position.

There are some exceptions, obviously, but in most cases the copyright holder isn’t harmed at all by the notice being made public with sensitive information removed. However, the public can gain a great deal, especially if a database is large enough to help researchers understand how the law is being used and others how to apply it correctly.

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  1. My issue isn't with Chilling Effects itself, but rather with people who react to notices that get filed there. Every time one of my DMCA notices gets published at Chilling Effects, there is a secondary spike in content theft from my site as well as in threats made against me and my business.

    • Interesting. I hadn't seen this pattern in my work and with the notices I've been involved with that have made it in. Can you send me an email via the contact page and get in touch with me? I'd love to talk with you more about this.

  2. When I look at the original relationship between Google and Chilling Effects, I see the genesis of Google's policy as being a good thing – they were forced to take down links to Scientology materials but, rather than giving in to a broad effort to scrub that information from the web, they reported the take down notices and linked to those notices in place of the content previously linked.

    I am less charitable in my perspective on the Chilling Effects database and its publication policies. Whatever the original goal of the database, the name is plainly designed to suggest that there is something wrong with a copyright holder acting to protect his rights to his own work. The database is maintained in a manner that suggests that is the intent: They make no effort to distinguish bona fide reports that result in actual take-down from reports which were actually an effort to suppress discussion of controversial issues. Further, as you point out, they list the links to allegedly infringing pages, in effect making it easy for people to find stolen content around the Internet even after links to that content have been removed from sites like Google. Their obfuscating part of the URL would advance my impression that their goal in maintaining the database is to intimidate legitimate publishers whose content has been stolen. What they should be doing is suppressing the entire report if the report has no relation to the potential suppression of speech or involves the straight-up reporting of plagiarism.

    As for Google, I think that their use of the Chilling Effects database has become part of a deliberate effort to intimidate webmasters into not making complaints, and to deliberately limit the impact of those complaints such that after a few rounds of "We decided not to act on your report" or "We need more information, which we will also submit to Chilling Effects," or "If we find that your content was stolen we will replace the link in our search results to a link to the Chilling Effects report", a typical webmaster will simply give up on the notion that they can get Google to remove stolen content from its index.

    Your approach makes sense, assuming the scale of the copyright violation makes it a reasonable response; but I think that thanks to the cynical exploitation of DMCA reports the making of such reports to Google will largely be a frustrating waste of time. Am I being too cynical?

    • “Whatever the original goal of the database, the name is plainly designed to suggest that there is something wrong with a copyright holder acting to protect his rights to his own work.”
      From my experience, 95% of content taken down due to DMCA action is not content where the copyright is in the hands of the writer/ maker. I’ll admit Im not completely sure what the meaning of copyright is but here I’m using it to mean publishing/selling rights. The kinds of things that get taken down are top 100 hits, hit tv shows, and hit movies. What I’m trying to say is that practically none of these things are ever in the control of the maker. The only purpose of this post is to move away from the silly idea that the artist has any influence at all in this process, the buyer of the copyright is the only party that would reasonably care abou this.

  3. What is the procedure of clearing your website? Chillingeffects.com removed all my content from google and I don’t know where and what is the problem so I an manage it? I’ve never got any e-mail and don’t have idea why all this happened

  4. I’m a little late to the party, but I’ve been trying to find out all day: why doesn’t anyone submit DMCA notices to Chilling Effects and/or sue them for their propagation of offending links? They’ve essentially become a warehouse of piracy links.

  5. someone recently used C/E to have some content removed from my blog archives – yet, I never received any notice to review. I don’t like the idea of a few academic cronies leveraging their relationships with people at WordPress and or Google. that has dangerous implication. for YOU and for them (to be honest) …

  6. I recently bought a domain and then found out it had a notice for child porn from back in 2007 on Chilling Effects. Their site has no way to remove the notice as far as I can tell. This is utter BS! Now my site won’t show up in Google searches and it is a completely different site!

    • Very VERY late to this conversation, but I would urge you to find a lawyer to help in this manner. There is no reason at all for that to stay on the database as it is now that ownership has changed. A lawyer could help you get a voice with C/E and be able to either A. Get your site de-listed from C/E thus allowing your content to be searchable or B. Force C/E to implement an online tool for disputing a listing on their website and showing proof of new ownership.

      To me, if neither of these things are allowed to happen, then they are treading in on libel (are they not? they are essentially defaming your character and saying that you are hosting CP.) and also infringing on your right to conduct your business in a level playing field (since you cannot show up in searches)

      Now being 2.5 years from when this comment was originally posted, I would be very interested to see how this turned out. I would also be interested if this happens often, and if this is something that could be turned into a class action suit. They MUST have recourse to prove a domain is under new ownership and remove offending items from the database. Would love an update!

  7. I filed against several scraper sites, and they got listed on chilling effects and they published my private email address? I thought google dmca form stated they would NOT do that.

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  9. Hello there. I have had some slander reports on google from my old competitors and its really making it hard for me to get work. I have had personal information posted on the net and photos of me and my family.

    I don’t know what to do. Can someone help me ?

  10. piracy is my thing so lets see u take me out LOSERS Proxy Servers 1000s of them 😛 thats why I DONT LIKE IT IT TAKES ALL OF THE GOOD STUFF AWAY FROM US WE HAVE RIGHTS

  11. I Post Mixtapes On Datpiff Since I Am A Dj But I Do Promote As Well And I Had A DMCA Report Against me for unauthorized use but I had authorized use and The Cover Was Made By The DJ That Paid Me To Promote It And I Was Blocked For Infringing And I’m Tired Of Filing Reports When I Feel Like They Get Ignored I Just Think A Better System Needs To Be Done Because There Taking Down Everything And Anything It’s Sad I Have Emails From MMG Saying Keep Supporting And Promoting Our Music I Have Done That And I Only Promote There Mixtapes on my site and Only Songs They Submit To Be Promoted The Rest I Use Itunes Links To Help Album Sales I Honestly Have To Say Using A Software For Takedowns Is Weak They Need A Better System Thanks. I Don’t Fear Anything Especially When I Know I Have Permission These Record Labels Are So Greedy And Selfish That’s Why There Artists Are Suffering Promote Your Artist The right way not the cheap way. If The Labels Shut Down All The DJ’s Promoting There Music They Will Suffer And Blame Piracy And That IS Weak To Me And Excuses Thanks.

  12. Very nice read. But… Your first gripe is justified, somewhat. Your second gripe is not. As you wrote, Chilling Effects does not provide its own content and was originally created to prevent chilling effect thing from happening. The site does not select its takedown notices because that would equal to censorship which defeats the purpose of the site. The copyright holders who file takedown notices have law behind them but the other party may not necessarily have resources or time to delve too deep so obviously some copyright holders will abuse their rights occasionally. If there’s a chance that such abuse would end up being publicly available and become a scandal most filers would think twice before nonchalanty abusing their authority. Makes sense right?
    Now the second gripe is just nonsense. Google is a search engine and removing links is censorship even if they link to illegal content; Google is still not hosting the actual content. The takedown demands Google takes in are essentially demands for Google to censorship internet and an easy way out for the copyright holders. The links itself are essentially addresses, there’s nothing illegal about that and if it wasn’t for authority abuse Google wouldn’t need to censor them. If the copyright holders were serious about taking down copyrighted content they would file a takedown request for every link (=host) they give to Google separately. Funny thing is, they probably wouldn’t have the links without Google anyway so good luck trying to remove illegal content then.

    • Also, ultimately according to your first gripe Google does defame copyright holders even if they are kept anonymous because of the site’s name, however, this is provided that the takedown files are proper.
      Pushing your own problems to not directly involved third party is not exactly too legal either so it’s not actual defamation because it’s completely justified.


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