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Website takedowns: a followup

Posted on March 18, 2011

We recently wrote about how an offensive website was taken offline by complaints.

In particular, we talked about the tactics that were used to take them down and whether they were a good thing for the internet or not. The two tactics described were:

  1. Complaining to the ISP that the site breached their terms of service. We said this risks reducing opinion on the internet to the level of whatever a company's PR department finds acceptable.
  2. Using copyright complaints over the site's use of a photo without permission. Taking down an entire site over what is arguably a reasonable use of an image is an affront to freedom of speech and shows how dangerous these US-style shoot-first-ask-questions-later copyright laws are.

The article attracted a fair bit of comment both for and against the use of these tactics. We also received some new information and thought it was worth posting a followup.

Updating the facts

There is still some doubt as to exactly why the site was taken down. Bluehost, the hosting company, has refused to answer our questions on the matter. They did say that they received "literally thousands of complaints" about the site.

We do know that the photographer whose photo was used on the site did make an official DMCA complaint to Bluehost about the site infringing his copyright, and that the site was taken offline within a couple of hours.

The photographer has also said that at least part of the motivation in sending the DMCA complaint so quickly was the fact that he found the content of the website to be disturbing.

We still don't know who created the site. At the time of writing the site is still unavailable.

A third tactic - Distributed Denial of Service attack

It turns out that a third tactic was also proposed - the use of a Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attack to attack the hosting company. This is where a number of people all run a tool that is designed to send as many requests as fast as possible at the target, thus overwhelming the systems and taking the site offline. Participating in a DDOS attack is illegal under New Zealand law (section 250 of the Crimes Act).

We know that some people on Reddit, Twitter and other sites were encouraging people to launch a DDOS attack against Bluehost, and that one commenter on our original article claimed that the attack was the real reason Bluehost took the site offline. We don't know whether any DDOS attack was launched or its scale if it was.

But if the attack was launched and did force the site offline, is this an acceptable tactic? DDOS attacks are a form of mob-rule, based on someone whipping up a crowd against a target and then persuading them to take action against it. Do we really want 4chan or similar groups deciding which websites we're allowed to see on the internet?

DDOS attacks also tend to have a lot of collateral damage too - their indiscriminate nature will often mean that other websites on the same server (or hosted by the same internet service provider) will also be taken offline for the duration of the attack. We do sympathise with any ISP hit by a DDOS and accept that this could force them to remove the target until the attack stops.

Conclusion

At Tech Liberty we strongly oppose the use of DDOS attacks to take down websites, both on freedom of speech grounds and also because of the damage they do to innocent parties.

Posted by Thomas Beagle

Comments (2) Trackbacks (0)
  1. The validity of the DMCA notice aside, hosting companies in the US don’t put up much of a fight when they receive them, often leading to the taken-down website moving to a new host. That’s US copyright law working at its finest, much to the delight of copyright holders. That’s the result of media conglomerates lobbying their government, and a result I don’t want to see in our country.

    Using freedom of speech to publish serious hate speech is legally sound, sure, but only in the same way that the US hasn’t been torturing suspected terrorists.

    Abusing the law tends to invite others to do the same.

  2. that offensive website shares server space with many other legitimate websites.. and they all lost service, mine included.. the DDOS went after the bluehost server, not the offensive website. A legit, unoffensive and unavailable website whose function is to provide critical services to a community can result in some serious consequences. There are better ways to take out an offensive website..


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