Copyright Claim of List of 20 Questions Takes Down 1.45 Million Blogs

Copyright problem or poor customer service problem?


Alt-text deleted due to DMCA takedown notice.

In 2007 a teacher posted on a blog a list of questions that measure a person's feelings of hopelessness. The list was included as part of an upcoming lesson plan.

The list happened to have a name, Beck's Hopelessness Scale, copyrighted by testing and assessment company Pearson. The company charges $120 for the list. Pearson must have just now discovered the violation and sent in a Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown order to the blogs' hosting company.

The blog turned out to be part of Edublogs, a massive online hosting service that does exactly what the name suggests: help manage blogs for members of educational institutions. They manage more than 1.4 million blogs.

Last week the hosting company shut them all down. All of them. Over a copyrighted list that is less than 300 words. According to James Farmer, the founder of Edublogs, they had actually recognized the copyright violation and had blocked access to the offending blog, but it wasn't enough:

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.

Actually they did get a warning that a server shut down was coming 12 hours before it happened. Really, the case is as much a customer service issue as it is a copyright issue.

Reason has written loads on the ins and outs of the DMCA and the stupid, awful things that have happened as a result here.

Hat tips to Cato's Julian Sanchez and Techdirt.

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  1. Why anyone bothers trying to do anything is beyond me.

    Just give up, people. Everyone just guit, and go on welfare.

    1. You sound so hopeless…

    2. Yeah, it was a lot of work to copy and paste 20 questions. They were great achievers thwarted by the man.

      1. I take it you missed the part where a million other people were collateral damage for punishing the sins of the one.

  2. Well, on the one hand, that’s a huge dumb case of IP BS.

    On the other hand, it’s teachers. Who blog.

    1. I feel like teachers blogging is a step in the right direction for cost-effective education. But yeah, will take a few more steps before I’d “piss on them if they were on fire.”

  3. Also not mentioned is the mention of fair use, which is extremely broad when a work is used for educational purposes. A teacher can’t mimeograph [I’m dating myself] an entire textbook chapter for his class, but he sure as hell can mimeograph the list of questions at the end of the chapter.

    1. All I remember is blue ink and lots of hand cranking.

      1. Blue ink with a lovely smell, no less.

    2. “[I’m dating myself]”


    3. Also not mentioned is the mention of fair use, which is extremely broad when a work is used for educational purposes.

      No it isn’t. Generally educators get away with passing out photocopies because it’s unlikely for the publishers to find out what they’re doing, and even if they do see it happening it isn’t worth the hassle if it’s just a few pages of a 300 page book handed out in class.

      Posting stuff online is another matter entirely, because the access is so much broader. Plus, in this case it was the entire content that was posted, not an excerpt.

  4. ?2012 Reason Foundation.

    1. That’s just a step too far, there. This comment is going to have to come down.

    2. Yeah, made this point many times myself. You should come over to my site where I repost all their articles verbatim without their permission. But I do have pictures of Lobster Girl on every page and alt-texts on every picture. Also, the fallacy trolls are kept in their own little reservation. Also, there are no Obama/Romney GoogleAds and comments aren’t threaded. features exclusively adult film stars. So suck on that, Welch and Gillespie!

  5. If 20 questions are so insignificant, why couldn’t these teachers come up with 20 of their own questions rather than copying someone else’s work?

    1. The 20 questions are an assessment tool used in the psychology field when dealing with depression/suicide. The lesson plan was about these assessment tools.

      1. OK, that wasn’t clear from the original post. That makes it at least close to being fair use. Still, copying an entire work is unlikely to be considered fair use, even if it is in the context of commentary or lessons covering the work.

  6. Anything that is copyrighted by a text book company isn’t worth a damn in any legitimate research.

  7. Fuck copyright.

  8. I bet if we really looked, we could find at least one copyright violation on ServerBeach.

    I wonder, would ServerBeach be so happy that WMD-level net controls exist when ServerBeach’s backbone server gets a DMCA takedown about their site?

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