ServerBeach takes 1.45 million edublogs offline just 12 hours after sending through a Pearson DMCA notice for a 20 question list…

Update Wed 17th October: ServerBeach Deals With DMCA While Pearson Perversely Perseveres

In case you don’t already know, we’re the folk not only behind this site and WPMU DEV, but also Edublogs… the oldest and second largest WordPress Multisite setup on the web, with, as of right now 1,451,943 teacher and student blogs hosted.

And today, our hosting company, ServerBeach, to whom we pay $6,954.37 every month to host Edublogs, turned off our webservers, without notice, less than 12 hours after issuing us with a DMCA email.

Because one of our teachers, in 2007, had shared a copy of Beck’s Hopelessness Scale with his class, a 20 question list, totalling some 279 words, published in 1974, that Pearson would like you to pay $120 for.

WTF, OMG, GAH, RAGE, FUME, DESPAIR etc.

I’ll get into whether or not this should be a legitimate DMCA in a moment, but in the meantime let’s focus on how quickly and pro-actively ServerBeach responded to Pearson’s lawyers, as opposed to how they deal with one of their better customers (we’ve been with them for years and years, ok we’re no WordPress.com – another one of their customers – but $75k+ p/year has to count for something right?)

Edublogs, as you might have guessed, is a blogging service for education, and like most blogging services allows students and teachers to sign up for free, and then upgrade if they want for extra storage, features etc.

And, like most blogging services, we’ve been heavily attacked pretty much since our inception by Sploggers (people, or machines, creating blogs to add links to other sites or promote their own badness) – so much so that we even developed and maintain the only dedicated Anti Splog service out there.

And, of course, sploggers don’t care much for copyright (neither do a lot of students, but that’s another story), and thus we invariably get a bunch of emails every day complaining about copyright issues, here’s how we handle them:

  1. Look at the complaint, is it a splog we haven’t caught yet, if so kill the splog
  2. If it’s a genuine student or teacher blog evaluate whether the claim is legit or not
  3. If it’s legit then ask the user to remove the comment, if not then let the user know about the complaint and also that we have rejected it

So, yesterday, when we got a DMCA notice from our hosts, we assumed it was probably a splog, but it turned out it wasn’t, rather just a blog from back in 2007 with a teacher sharing some materials with their students, see below:

And the link they complained about specifically is still on Google cache, so you can review it for yourself, until Pearson’s lawyers get Google to take that down… or maybe Google will get shut down themselves ;)

So we looked at it, figured that whether or not we liked it Pearson were probably correct about it, and as it hadn’t been used in the last 5 years ‘splogged’ the site so that the content was no longer available and informed ServerBeach.

Clearly though that wasn’t good enough for Serverbeach who detected that we still had the file in our Varnish cache (nevermind that it was now inaccessible to anyone) and decided to shut us down without a word of warning.

Well, that’s not strictly true, they did send us the below:

Which clearly states that ‘your web server has been or within the next 24 hours will be, disabled’.

So, technically, this can happen to any customer of ServerBeach who may happen to host other people’s content, ooo, like WordPress.com without notice.

Here’s all that has to happen:

  1. Someone uploads something copyright infringing to, say, a wordpress.com blog
  2. Someone sends a DMCA complaint to ServerBeach
  3. Someone at ServerBeach judges that to be valid and immediately shuts down the entire service

And then they inform you, or maybe they’ll give you 12 hours notice, if you’re lucky :/

Seems like a bad case of judge, jury and executioner… and an even worse case of stupid automated systems and utter ignorance of your customers.

Now, back to the offending content, here’s a ‘fair use’ sample:

Now, like I said, the list only runs to 20 questions, sub 300 words, and I think is a pretty important and useful resource for teachers to share with their students.

But clearly Pearson isn’t making enough money already, and intends to, rather that let this 38-year old work be shared, discussed, used, even in a way that might save some people’s lives, on the internet.

Instead it wants a regular teacher to handover $120 for it.

Here’s another idea Pearson, maybe one that you could take from Edublogs, howabout you let this tiny useful list be freely available, and then you sell your study materials / textbooks and other material around that… maybe use  Creative Commons Non Commercial Attribution license or similar to make sure you get some links and business.

Or at the very least contact us directly about it.

Rather than being assholes and stuffing up hundreds of thousands of teachers and students through getting your lawyers to lay into our less-than-satisfactory hosts :(

Meh.

Addendum 1 – I contacted ServerBeach 5 hours ago to ask them how this could happen, and tell me ho wit won’t happen again, they have offered since to explain the DMCA to me, not really what I was after, I’ll update here with any response.

Addendum 2– ServerBeach have responded that apparently they contacted us 10 days about this through their automated system… needless to say it either wasn’t sent or we didn’t get it, but they figured that they’d just shut down our servers regardless without doing something simple, like, calling any of the 3 numbers for us they have on file…

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49 Responses

    Dustin Goerndt

    Oh no there’s a terrorist in San Fransico. NUKE’M!!

    This is clearly an attempt to set precedence.. To scare the very ones that are the frontline free thinking.. The Teachers.. The Students..

    There are hundred rational questions that can be asked, each of which have an answer that justifies not disrupting all the work happening at edublogs.

    The people behind this are sick.

      ty.thornock

      Not to be a vice of contention, but there may be other issues with the questionnaire. 1. Beck may not have any say, as Pearson may hold copyright. 2. Most of the money in developing these things is not in coming up with questions, it is with establishing norms and baselines and such -expensive research that currently Pearson has to pay people with Masters degrees as much as $50 or $100 administer. Was Pearson right? I think not. The questionnaire is so outdated that it is probably professionally unusable, but may be entirely appropriate for an individual seeking to collect anecdotal evidence.

    Michael Cabral Poubel Bastos

    Hit me up at [email protected] and I’ll be glad to help move you guys permanently over to Amazon Web Services, I use it religiously and have given a few WordCamps talk on it already…

    http://2012.vegas.wordcamp.org/session/wordpress-on-amazon-web-services-from-start-to-finish/

    http://2012.nyc.wordcamp.org/session/wordpress-on-aws-from-start-to-finish/

    https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1zM5O6HhfBg2Hz80K9LYszQ8I9HJZasioPwFDoYVL8PI/edit#slide=id.p

    tylermc

    Let’s not abdicate our responsibility as (for those of us that are) Americans and let the DMCA stand as it currently is. It should not be those that host, provide, or accommodate copyright violators, but those that actually violate copyright that are targeted.

    The idea of whether copyright in its current form is a good idea or not is a question for another day….

      Seth Reeder

      There’s a lot of money and power lobbying for us to always think it’s a question for another day. The DMCA is an answer to the question of how copyright should be applied in an era when everyone in the country can make hundreds of copies of a work in the blink of an eye and share them almost as easily, actual comprehensive copyright reform is another answer to that same problem. It’s difficult to address the one bad answer to the challenge without addressing alternative answers.

      Shawn K. Hall

      This is why when I receive a DMCA notice for my clients I contact them personally to address the problem. Shutting anyone down without severe abuse is just bad business.

    Iain MacGillivray

    Hi James,

    my sympathies to you and all the end users affected – they are the real casualties here. Don’t you just hate when big brother hits the switch and all the little gatekeepers quote policies at you.

    Huge job to move, and I sense your anger but balance that they were doing a great job until this massive screw up. Root cause corrective action – remember that old chestnut – is required though and some assurance that a different route to resolution will be taken next time..

    If I were you, and my spend with this company amounted to something in their eyes (if it does not then you have to go), then I would seek a highest level, if not the top man, contact and get a big “hands of edublogs” sticker slapped on your account, and something hard written into your terms and conditions on handling this type of issue in the future – with suitable penalty agreed if violated. Or it really is time to get the wheels out..

    You have to be able to sleep at nights.

    Just my tuppence worth, and having been kicked around by hosting companies and switched off myself, I know the hopeless anger. I walked on mine though, right away – and I won’t say who, but it was not a big move like yours.

    If they ain’t concerned though it’s writing on the wall..

    all the best, and isn’t it good to get it off your chest :-)

    ServerBeach Kahuna

    Hi James,

    Just wanted to post a quick comment here to round out our communication attempts to reach you (phone, email, twitter and now your blog) regarding this entire situation. Our time difference (Texas vs. Australia) makes communication a bit difficult but I am more than happy to make myself available whenever you are free today. Honestly, I am disappointed that we find ourselves in this situation with you since we’ve enjoyed a great relationship up until this point. I very much want to get us back on the path of customer goodness with you and I think I have some options to share with you that can do just that. Please feel free to respond to my email or let me know if a Skype session would be easier so we can start getting things back on track.

    Thanks very much,
    Dax Moreno
    GM – ServerBeach

        Seth Reeder

        This seems to be a PR event, not yet a nightmare. This post seems like the beginnings of an effective response, and hopefully containment. We’ll see how they do.

      Mark Wall

      @Dax Moreno
      You may call it Karma, but The ONE TRUE GOD says we reap what we sow! You should reconcile this matter before my prayer time tonight! :)

      @James
      Sorry to hear about this! With hosting being as competitive as it is, one would think a host company would not coward up to legal threats so quickly!

      For the price you pay, i am sure you could buy some servers, and host them yourself, There are many libraries and colleges that have closed their doors here in the USA. Why not start your own hosting company?

      Or you could get a WOW rack and pay Joe to manage it for you! At least this way you would not be subject to cowards hosting your dream!

      Be Blessed with Peace and Prosperity James, May those that bless you be blessed and those that curse you be cursed!

        Jeff Veit

        It’s gone mainstream. BBC are covering the story now – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-19960486

        What I think is interesting is that ServerBeach “detected that we still had the file in our Varnish cache”. So they know enough about the internal workings of the site to monitor Varnish, yet they apparently don’t understand it enough to know that the material is unavailable.

        Nor enough to delete it.

    Pete Laberge

    This is sad. It’s a 38 year old article… The teacher probably shared it because he saw/knew/thought some kids were depressed. So maybe he wanted them to think, or was trying to save a life. I dunno. I doubt theft was intended. It seems like a fair use thing.

    I went over the questions. There is a “good” & a “bad” answer to each. I wouldn’t overly worry, because I hit 100% of the bad answers. Mind you, I’m 56, not 16. A 16 year old, might not have developed the ability to cope. Experience & age have value. Kids don’t know this yet.

    Presumably, if the teacher gave a “proper bibliography”, when using it, it was fair use. But, heck, anyone could paraphrase those questions. It is less the questions and more the diagnosis, that counts. But if someone is asking you those questions, they have a purpose/reason. And things are NOT good. Especially if you’re under, oh, say, 28 yrs old.

    I can understand copyrights, and I can understand people wanting payment for their work. But you know, if we each worked for an hour & got an hour’s pay, it would be a much better world. We have too many people wanting to own the world, or what they did 30-some years ago… forever.

    Today, if someone invented the wheel, or discovered fire, society could/would never make any use of it. Someone would own the patent or copyright. I think we should also consider banning Phoenician Numbers & the Alphabet. Someone must own that too, right? Sigh.

    michael_johnson8

    —Here’s another idea Pearson, maybe one that you could take from Edublogs, howabout you let this tiny useful list be freely available, and then you sell your study materials / textbooks and other material around that… maybe use Creative Commons Non Commercial Attribution license or similar to make sure you get some links and business.—

    This is the whole DMCA issue in a nutshell. Traditional businesses completely missing the forest for the trees when it comes to monetization. This also shows why change via government regulation NEVER works. 1.5 million education websites taken down for something so silly. Free markets ALWAYS provide incentives for companies like incsub to provide innovative solutions to solve problems via the profit motive. Great ending to this whole episode?-kill em with kindness, SHOW Pearson how much they stand to gain by implementing a more modern approach to list building and content marketing, further position yourself as an authority and leverage the the buzz and traffic that’s sure to follow from this whole episode.

      Mark Wall

      Your Kinder than me Micheal Johnson; I would offer an incentive for the Teachers & Students to demand their educational institutions to boycott all “Pearson” services, or loose enrollments. Million voices make a lot of noise! Also i love to see People/Companies get the opposite effect when they pull this type of Camel Dung! They try to make $120 of something that should be free; then loose 1.2 million or more for being greedy. It just does not get any better than that. Oh please do James, i could use a good laugh! Want any help? We could arrange an Occupy Pearson event! :) Sell some Edublogs swag to fund it! Here is Pearson contact link if anyone wants to jam their phone lines and emails. Physical address if your bored and wanna arrange a student protest! http://www.pearsonassessments.com/pai/ca/contact/contact.htm

    Song Zheng

    This is so ridiculous that it became quite funny. I’m sorry to all those affected, but this is an act of such absolute dumbassity that borders on hilarity.

    Andrew Ragland

    Dash Systems. I have no commercial or monetary connection with them. They will go to great lengths to help you move to their secured server facility, are much more aware of copyright issues and how to properly handle them, and friends who have content hosted with them say that their personalized customer service is fantastic. Vote with your wallet.

    Adam Blake

    Hi James,

    Why host in the US where this is going to be a problem for you? Why not host in Australia? Yes, you are still going to be subject to similar copyright laws and international agreements (look at Kim Dotcom, NZ) but I think you will be given much fairer treatment and will not be subjected to such draconian heavy-handed action.

    I’m sure there are many companies here in Australia that could help you, mine included. I would be interested to hear your requirements and at least attempt to point you in the right direction as best I can.

    Either way I wish you the best.

    Adam Blake

      Shawn K. Hall

      Sadly, the Kim Dotcom situation is a perfect example of why hosting outside the US wouldn’t make a difference. If anything, having yet another nations’ laws involved might create additional problems (as it has for Kim Dotcom), and even hosting elsewhere won’t prevent the FBI from taking down your servers. It will prevent you from using them (or recovering critical data from them) for months or even years.

      Adam Blake

      Shawn,

      The Kim Dotcom situation is an extreme one and too complex to discuss in brief. I only mentioned it to point out that you cannot entirely escape US copyright law, or at least that part the US State Department is attempting to export. The point of hosting in Australia would be that you wouldn’t be subject to 24 hour DMCA take-down notices without a lot of legal jurisprudence and therefore you would have a lot of time to make enquiries and correct the situation.

    james_farmer

    Appreciate all the support and feedback guys, also I had a great chat with their GM today and hopefully we’re gonna have a really cool resolution all round that I can share with you tomorrow or the day after.

    Really, they aren’t bad guys (very good guys in fact) – it looks like just a shitty policy mistake (like so many hosts and services are making these days over DMCA) so let’s hope this shifts it all in the right direction!!!

      Cody Watkins

      That’s great to hear. Regardless of the outcome, there needs to be some punitive repercussions for such poor customer service. At a minimum they should be crediting you a full month’s bill.

      And your contact should be updated to prohibit physical shutdown of your equipment for DMCA notices. They should be required to use your slog reporting tool.

        Shawn K. Hall

        The DMCA is explicit in how contacts should be sent and addressed, and doesn’t allow excuses or custom processing (such as via splog reporting). The administrative phone number and email address for the registrar is how you should expect to be contacted, so make sure they’re current and monitored.

    David Deubelbeiss

    James,

    I appreciated your reply and thank you for forcefully and correctly telling it as it is. The issue goes beyond copyright and into “right”….. that’s all I’ll say.

    David

    johnlamerand

    I create content. Good content. Sometimes people take it without permission and I contact them in order to collaborate with them, as a first step. Some people who take what is not theirs never want to work together and that is a sad mindset to have – this is the kind of mindset that the DMCA is designed to protect us from. On one occasion I contacted the host and asked for the specific content to be frozen and they complied promptly, without question. Relief. But what happened on the edublog site was, it appears, COMPLETELY OVER THE TOP. Pearson probably feel threatened by blogs and MOOCs, but they should adapt and prosper instead – they should “learn to play nicely”. -John johnlamerand.com

Comments are closed.