Apparently for the first time, a US district court has awarded damages based on a false takedown notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

The court awarded $25,084 to a British blogger and WordPress.com for their “lost work and time” spent responding to the notice.

According to the complaint, the plaintiff was Oliver Hotham, a student journalist. The defendant, Nick Steiner, was the Press Officer for an advocacy group called “Straight Pride UK.”

The group described itself as “a small group of heterosexual individuals who joined together after seeing the rights of people who have opposing views to homosexuality trampled over and, quite frankly, oppressed.”

Hotham read about the group and became interested in reporting on it. He emailed the group a number of questions, stating that he was a journalist, and Steiner responded with a PDF of a document entitled a Press Statement.

Hotham posted the press release on his WordPress-hosted blog, along with commentary and background information.

Takedown Notice

The defendant then sent a takedown notice to WordPress under the DMCA, stating that he had not authorized the publication of the press release and asking to have it removed on copyright infringement grounds.

The takedown provision of the DMCA provides the owner of copyrighted material with a convenient and inexpensive method to have unauthorized postings removed from a website. An internet service provider that complies with the DMCA is relieved of liability for copyright infringement by users.

WordPress’s parent company disabled access to the post at issue based on the DMCA notice.

Hotham alleged that as a result “his reporting on a matter of legitimate and substantial public concern was silenced as a result of the misrepresentations in the Takedown Notice.”

Misrepresentation

Under the DMCA (at 17 U.S.C. § 512(f)),

Any person who knowingly materially misrepresents under this section—

  1. that material or activity is infringing, or
  2. that material or activity was removed or disabled by mistake or misidentification,

shall be liable for any damages, including costs and attorneys’ fees, incurred by the alleged infringer, by any copyright owner or copyright owner’s authorized licensee, or by a service provider, who is injured by such misrepresentation, as the result of the service provider relying upon such misrepresentation in removing or disabling access to the material or activity claimed to be infringing, or in replacing the removed material or ceasing to disable access to it.

A US Magistrate’s report concluded that “Defendant knowingly misrepresented that Hotham violated his copyright because Defendant could not have reasonably believed that the Press Release he sent to Hotham was protected under copyright.”

The US District Court for the Northern District of California agreed and awarded damages.

The plaintiffs are unlikely to recover the damages awarded, however, as Straight Pride seems to have disappeared since 2013. The judgment was issued by default.