Bad faith actors used DMCA takedowns as a weapon and censored a major crypto critic

The nefarious actors have long since put in place armed systems to protect the original work of the creators. When they file false copyright removals, these parties have the power to claim, monetize, or remove content over which they have no rights. YouTubers, musicians, digital artists – they are all quite familiar with Content ID warnings, copyright infringement notices, and other similar bad faith removals of their work on Internet platforms.

But writers, journalists and journalists: are you aware that this can happen to you too? A cryptocurrency muckraker learned this the hard way when bogus DMCA takedowns canceled his entire work and exposed shortcomings in online copyright protection.

Dirty Bubble Media, a newsletter hosted on the Substack writing platform, covers the shady aspects of the cryptocurrency industry since early 2020. Under the pseudonym of Mike Burgersburg, the newsletter’s author has been on top of some of the biggest stories of this year in space.

For example, you’ve heard of Celsius, the cryptocurrency lender who supposedly functions as a Ponzi scheme that helped to crash the entire cryptocurrency market this year? Burgersburg was dive in the internal workings of the company and raise the alarm in January. Around the time Celsius suspended customer withdrawals, Burgersburg was also looking into another cryptocurrency lender called Voyager. Not long after, Voyager will suffer a similar fate as Celsius’.

Burgersburg had become a trusted source of information in the small but growing crypto-skeptic circle, which is why it was strange when the online home for all of her dealings was suddenly pulled down from Substack on July 15th.

“Publication Unavailable”, see a notice on the Substack page when someone has tried to access DirtyBubbleMedia.substack.com. “The page you are trying to access is not available.”

It seemed unusual for Substack to dishearten one of its own creators. The newsletter platform has generated controversy over the years due to its less stringent content moderation policies. For example, the company went to bat to defend the writers on its platform accused of creating transphobic content.

“I just went looking for one of @ dirtybubblemed3’s blog posts to use in a quote and found that the substack cleared its search (” Reported as TOS Violation “),” tweeted Web3 creator is doing great, Molly White, on July 17th. “Hopefully @SubstackInc will restore this soon once they realize that people are turning their reporting flow into a weapon.”

On Twitter, Burgersburg explained that Substack had its blog canceled due to “many spurious DMCA complaints”.

“People don’t see copyright as a word restriction because it’s supposed to help creators,” he said EFF Associate Director for Politics and Activism Katharine Trendacosta on a phone call with Mashable. “But copyright is a monopoly right on expression that has been granted by law, and that makes it conflict with free speech, and that makes the DMCA, which gives people an unprecedented ability to eliminate things without a court order, an effective tool for censorship “.

Trendacosta noted how these false removal tactics have increased in frequency over the years, where even authoritarian regimes abroad have used copyright as a weapon to silence critics.

In a statement provided to Mashable on July 15, a Substack spokesperson confirmed that the company had “received multiple valid DMCA infringement notifications regarding Dirty Bubble Media” and that it “notified the author each time and explained our dispute policy. on copyright “. Substack claimed to have removed Dirty Bubble Media content at the time due to its “repeat infringement policy”.

Mashable contacted Burgersburg, who provided copies of three DMCA takedown requests that were sent to Substack and led to the removal of his report. Two were for unique articles and one for an updated version of an article for which a removal had already been filed.

While each platform’s policies differ, Jonathan Bailer, copyright and plagiarism consultant at CopyByte and author on the website Plagiarism todayhe tells Mashable that he found it odd that the platform was doing away with its website entirely in this particular case.

“If the case could be handled with just one DMCA notice and we’re not talking about a huge number of jobs, it shouldn’t have been triggered. [their termination] politics, ā€¯Bailer said.

Burgersburg also confirmed that multiple DMCA takedowns were sent over a four-month period and Substack had attempted to reach it as early as April. However, he hadn’t seen these early requests because he didn’t regularly check the e-mail address he used to sign up for Substack.

About five days after the Dirty Bubble Media account, Substack restored the account. However, some of Burgersburg’s places were still conspicuously absent. According to Burgersburg, Substack gave the complainant 10 days to respond to the dispute.

Since spring, a company called “Mevrex” has filed three separate DMCA takedown requests claiming that Burgersburg plagiarized their original work on one of their online properties, UNFT News.

A DMCA removal refers to the 1998 United States copyright law known as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which essentially provides copyright holders with a way to remove material they own from a web host or online platform. Mevrex used the DMCA takedown service, DMCA.com, to file their takedown complaints. DMCA.com offers customers a subscription service starting at $ 10 per month or a flat fee of $ 199 for filing a DMCA takedown.

After receiving the third takedown notice from DMCA.com on behalf of “Mevrex”, Substack has decided to remove the Burgersburg newsletter and its archives from the Internet.

One problem: the copyright claims were false. Burgersburg did not plagiarize the work of UNFT News. In fact, the opposite happened. UNFT News copies and pastes the Burgersburg reports verbatim. They then claimed it as their own by simply backdating the post on their website so that it appeared on their website as published before Burgersburg published it.

DMCA.com did not respond to a request from Mashable.

“Service seems unlikely [DMCA.com] have knowingly filed a false notification (they’ve probably been fooled too), “said Bailer of Plagiarism Today, noting the problems this poses for the depository company as well.” Cases like this make hosts understandably distrust your notifications , which causes problems along the way. ”

Burgersburg articles that UNFT News claims as its own include “Who Spends $ 24 million on an NFT? Meet Deepak Thapliyal, CEO From Nowhere “and” Heidi Klum It owns A cryptopunk. How Had His wallet is a little weird. ”

Burgersburg originally published the piece on Deepak Thapliyal on February 14th. UNFT News reposted Burgersburg’s work on their website under the UNFT News subtitle and simply backdated the post to February 12. They then issued a DMCA takedown request and sent the post dates as proof Burgersburg was plagiarism.

UNFT News repeated this process with Heidi Klum’s NFT article which was backdated to February 9th. Like Burgersburg underlined, there is a problem with that publication date. UNFT News’s domain name, unft.news, wasn’t registered until February 10, which means UNFT News claims to have published that piece before their website even existed.

A Mashable investigation into these claims unearthed archived versions of the UNFT News website on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. UNFT News, which claims to be “a leading online magazine” run by “4NFT Media, NFT Media’s largest operating company,” didn’t even appear to be launched until mid-March 2022. The first archived version of the website is from 19 March The archived page from this time period does not show any of the pieces Burgerberg actually wrote.

Indeed, looking archives of the website throughout March 2022, there isn’t much crypto coverage on UNFT News. Most of the UNFT News website in March 2022 included articles dating back to 2016 with headlines such as “Top 10 Best Photo Hunt Of Ice Rugby”, “The Great Time For Enjoy City View On Mountain” and “Outdoor Photo Shooting With Sexy E very beautiful.”

Mevrex, the company that claims to own UNFT News in DMCA takedown requests, advertises itself online as “a media agency that services over 200 brands and companies in over 30 countries.” The vast majority of Mevrex mentions online consist of press releases and paid advertising from the company itself, which claims to have been founded by a young entrepreneur named Lakshay Jain and is based in India.

A screenshot of an archived UNFT News article

Articles like this filled UNFT News in March 2022. But articles claiming Burgerburg took from them are nowhere to be found.
Credit: screenshot

Diving into UNFT News’ social media, it appears that accounts have received artificially inflated growth.

UNFT News’ Instagram page, @UNFT, was first published on March 29, 2022. With 244,000 followers, posts rarely receive more than one figure of likes. His Facebook page, which was created 2 days earlier, has around 13,000 followers and also receives very little engagement. His YouTube channel has over 280,000 subscribers, but no public uploaded videos appear on his profile page. The UNFT News Twitter account, @UNFT_News, appears to have been suspended in April or May of this year. Filed versions Twitter profile appears to show that the account was known as @NFTNews and changed username in April.

Attempts to contact Mevrex and UNFT News for comment were unsuccessful.

“In the absence of a lawsuit,” explained EFF’s Trendacosta, “there’s really no deterrent to sending a bad takedown.”

As for Mike Burgersburg and Dirty Bubble Media, Substack has yet to restore two of the three posts that Mevrex falsely claimed had been plagiarized.

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