What are your options if you don’t like what someone says about you online? Ignoring it is one option that seems to go unpracticed now that the Internet has given everyone who has a connection a public forum to voice their opinion. In the case of corporations, however, it appears as if the preferred strategy for silencing online criticism is to try and flex some prior restraint muscles. Often, these attempts are disguised with words and phrases like “copyright infringement” and “intellectual property,” but make no mistake, these moves are, in many cases, an attempt to control the message.
Just ask Comcast and the Internet publication TorrentFreak.
In an article posted last week on TorrentFreak, the author detailed how Prenda Law had been seeding the very torrents they were trying to protect in an effort to catch downloaders in some kind of sting operation. After Prenda’s activities were exposed by The Pirate Bay, it was discovered that one of the IP addresses located by The Pirate Bay belonged to a Comcast customer. After a legal request asking for the identity of the torrent-seeding user was submitted to Comcast, they responded with the following letter–which started Comcast’s prior restraint actions–confirming the IP address belonged to someone employed by Prenda Law:
The fact that such a revelation helps verify Prenda Law’s seeding activities, and that their subpoena was public record, was apparently lost on Comcast. Their response was issuing a cease and desist letter saying TorrentFreak’s use of the letter was copyright infringement. The TorrentFreak article explains in further detail:
To find out more we contacted Cyveillance [the brand protection company that issued the letter on Comcast’s behalf] with a request for additional information. In a quick response, the company informed us that the copy of the subpoena (also available on the Internet archive) response was the problem.
“The thing that we would like you to remove from you post is the copy of the subpoena form that contains Comcast subscriber’s information, The rest of the post can stay,” we were told.
While the response is clear, it still doesn’t explain what the actual infringement is. According to our knowledge court records are public domain and can be freely used by reporters, especially when they are the center of a news piece.
Apparently, Comcast is more concerned about controlling the message than they are following statutes and court rulings that have protected the freedom of the press since the early 20th century. Unfortunately, Comcast’s heavy-handed techniques appeared to frighten LeaseWeb, the hosting company for TorrentFreak. The article also reveals the hosting company indicated the site’s IP address would be blocked if they didn’t comply with Comcast’s demands, even though their legitimacy is highly dubious, which is something to consider if you’re ever looking for another hosting company.
Unlike LeaseWeb, you might want to find a host that legally protects their customers instead of acting intimidated whenever legal correspondence shows up in the mailbox. Maybe someone should tell them freedom of speech and freedom of the press is still a thing in the United States.
Update: Comcast responded to our article with an email saying, “I saw your post and wanted to let you know this notice was sent in error, and we have advised TorrentFreak to disregard it. We apologize for any confusion.” TorrentFreak’s article has also been updated to reflect the recent communication.[Lead image via]