Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Yahoo’s Tumblr stifles free speech, silences TSA critic

For a year and a half, I ran a website on Tumblr that lampooned the practices of the U.S. Transportation Security Administration. The blog focused on one comical aspect out of many of airport security: TSA screeners patting down and scanning recognizable Hollywood celebrities like Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez, Megan Fox and Regis Philbin as if they were potential terrorists.
On May 20, Tumblr summarily deleted that blog and all my research and writings because of a questionable copyright complaint filed against an unrelated Tumblr blog of mine. I had three Tumblr blogs, two of which were never the subject of any copyright complaints – including the anti-TSA blog.
But on one blog, a Canadian photographer didn’t like my use of three of his images. He filed two complaints with Tumblr under the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act. I appealed, saying my use of the images fell under “fair use” protection, specifically the “transformative works” provision. The photos were heavily edited with funny text added.
But Tumblr never responded to my appeal, or my numerous emails, and deleted all three of my blogs. Tumblr terminated my account for “repeated” violations of the DMCA. Tumblr apparently has a two-strikes law, not mentioned in its vaguely worded user policy.
Tumblr, now owned by Yahoo, apparently isn’t interested in “fair use” arguments or DMCA appeals.
While Tumblr publicly claims to support its users and free speech, its actions in my case and likely others demonstrate that’s not so.
Think of all the popular Internet memes that are transformative works based on copyrighted photos, including Texts from Hillary, McKayla Is Not Impressed and Ryan Gosling “Hey Girl,” all of which are hosted on Tumblr, by the way.
Tumblr is chock full of photos and videos that don’t belong to the bloggers posting them. These range from fan sites for celebrities like Justin Bieber and screenshots of TV shows and movies to the hard-core pornography that’s rife on Tumblr. But Tumblr turns a blind eye to those websites as long as it doesn’t get a complaint from a copyright holder. They could all be taken down by zealous copyright enforcers.
All it takes to stop blogs from running those images is a copyright holder with a rigid view of copyright law and a blogging company with no interest in exemptions to it.
That happened in the case of the original “Sad Keanu” Internet meme hosted on Tumblr. However, it didn’t stop the humorous meme from spreading elsewhere on Tumblr and the Internet.
Tumblr founder and CEO David Karp talks about free speech (usually related to porn on Tumblr) and supporting Tumblr’s users. But talk is cheap, David.
Imagine you wrote a book that you spent more than a year researching and then because you quoted portions of another book, even with proper attribution and “fair use” protections, your entire book was deleted. Not just the portions of someone else’s work, but all of your writing and research. Now imagine that you had two other books deleted at same time that weren’t part of the copyright dispute.
That’s basically what happened to me with Tumblr.
Instead of taking down just the photos in question while I appealed, Tumblr deleted my entire account and my three blogs and then ignored my appeal.
Through its actions, Tumblr silenced a critic of the U.S. government’s TSA. Tumblr didn’t care about my First Amendment rights. It’s a private business that can cut off your microphone whenever it feels like it.
I hate to think of the many hours I spent on those three blogs. They were my hobby for a time. Now they’re gone. And Tumblr refused to return my writings and my research, including the weblinks I had collected.
So, back up your work, if you use Tumblr.

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