Version 19 (modified by Jamie McClelland, 9 years ago) (diff)


Legal threats to May First/People Link


This page describes May First/People Links experience with receiving legal threats and our political position on the matter.

By far the most common threat we receive invokes the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The DMCA is a US law that governs, among other things, the publication of material on Internet that include copyright infringements.

In short, the impact of this law on May First/People Link is that

  • We are legally responsible for any copyright infringements on any of our servers
  • We can avoid legal liability if we immediately take down material after receiving a legal letter claiming copyright infringement (aka the safe harbor provisions).
  • In the event that we take down the content and the content is not a copyright infringement, we are protected from being sued by our members

As you can gather from these three points, the law makes it very clear to any provider of Internet services: if you get a legal take down notice from a lawyer claiming that material on your site is infringing on their copyright, you should take it down first and ask questions later. The impact of this law is devastating for activists. We've heard numerous stories of organizations that have had their web sites taken down at critical points during their campaigns based on spurious claims of copyright infringement.


Over the last several years, May First/People Link has been impacted by this law on several different occasions described below.

  • The Yes Men/British Petroleum. In February 2008 we received notice via our upstream provider that the Yes Men's spoof site on British Petroleum was infringing on the rights of British Petroleum. As is our policy, we got into contact with the Yes Men (documented [ticket:641 here). It turned out that the site was a spoof in progress - not yet fully developed and not ready for public consumption (they had only copied the site, but hadn't added the spoof elements). In the end, the Yes Men finished the spoof site and published it (the domain for the spoof site has since expired).
  • The NY Times Special Edition. In October 2008, a collection of groups and individuals published a spoof of the NY Times, which included spoofs of various adverstisers. We received a DMCA take down notice from the New York Times. In addition, the group organizing the site also received a DMCA take down notice. The folks behind the web site contact the Electronic Frontier Foundation who wrote a letter defending the site as legitimate free speech. May First/People Link replied to the NY Times stating that we refused to take down the site, attaching the EFF letter as further explanation.
  • Shell Jazz Fest. In May 2009, Oil Change International began a campaign against the New Orleans Jazz Fest since their primary sponsor is Shell Oil (the company responsible for reaping incredible environmental and political destruction in Nigeria). The campaign came to an abrupt halt when their Internet Service Provider (Dream Host), yanked their site after receiving a DMCA take down notice from the Jazz Fest Lawyers who complained about copyright infringement. Shell Guilty immediately joined May First/People Link and moved the site to our servers, after which we received a take down notice. Shell Guilty also contacted the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who wrote a defense of the site under the Fair Use doctrine. We sent the EFF letter to the Shell Jazz Fest lawyers indicating that we refused to take down the site. The lawyers then went to our upstream provider (BandCon) threatening them with legal action. We discussed the situation thoroughly with Shell Guilty indicating that we were willing to fight (including moving the site to a different colocation center). After much discussion Shell Guilty decided that is was not tactically strategic to fight this battle and instead decided to make modifications to the logo (which was the main point of contention between the lawyers).
  • US Chamber of Commerce. In October 2009, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent Hurricane Electric a letter complaining about a website spoofing the Chamber's obstructionism on climate change policies that was created by MF/PL member the Yes Men (read more about the spoof). Hurricane Electric cut off our entire Internet connection for one and a half hours without notification. We fought back, regaining service and protecting the spoof site by moving it to another one of our colocation centers (, which several days later forwarded another DMCA take notice to us. We then moved the site to a third center. Eventually, the Yes Men requested that the site be taken offline.
  • fitwatch. In a move even unusual for MFPL, fitwatch was accused by the London police of engaging in criminal behavior by helping activists who were part of the massive student demonstrations in the UK in the middle of November 2010. fitwatch, hosted with a company called Just Host, were surprised to find their site disappear. Apparently, Just Host doesn't take the time to consider the validity of an absurd take down requests. With the help of Tachanka Collective, they were moved to an MFPL server where they remain up to this day. Unlike all our other conflicts, this one is in fact not copyright related.

  • Apple Conflict Free. In November 2010, Apple Computer sent a DMCA take down notice to Hurricane Electric in response to a faux web site from the Yes Men advertising a new model of the iPhone that was developed without ravaging Democratic Republic of the Congo. After consultation, the Yes Men decided to voluntarily take the site down.
  • The Yes Men released a fake Bank of America web site in April 2012. Although we didn't get any legal notices, we did receive a phone message from the head of security at BOA. It was a very urgent request to speak with us, but when we returned the call he said they didn't need to speak with us after all. Did he realize it was a prank? Google didn't - they promptly listed the fake BOA web site as a phishing site (a phishing site is one that tries to entice you to enter your usesrname and password in a fake site so they can capture them and re-use them on the real site). Of course, it was not a phishing site, but the fact that it was a bank seems to have given Google the green light to omit it from any search results.
  • Also in April 2012, the FBI seized a Riseup server in our colocation cabinet. Apparently, an anonymous re-mailer on the server was used to send a bomb threat to a university in Pittsburgh. The seizure happened after we received a subpoena to turn over all data on and about the server. Since the server was administered by Riseup, and they used encrypted disks, we had nothing to turn over.

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