Nikola's Plan To Combat Its No Good, Very Bad Month Appears To Be Using Copyright To Silence Critics

from the keep-digging dept

PR crisis management is not an easy gig. When a company suffers through a tumultuous period, it is all too easy for a company to try to combat the bad press through all kinds of means that are, in the end, a detriment to the effort. Instead, good PR crisis management follows three chief axioms: don't lie, don't try to downplay the severity of the crisis, don't be afraid to say you screwed up.

Nikola Motor Company is doing a shit job of following this advice. As we detailed recently over the course of a couple of posts, the company is very much in the middle of a PR crises. It began when a hedge fund revealed that Nikoa founder Trevor Milton allegedly flat-out lied to the world about having a working Nikola 1 model in 2016, with the obfuscation going so far as to put out a video of the truck driving down a highway, when the reality was that the truck was rolling down a hill not under its own power. After that public report, Nikola missed the first deadline to have a major partnership deal with General Motors. The stock tanked, massively. Milton suddenly found himself facing two charges of sexual assault, one of them from his own cousin.

If ever there was a time when a company needed to follow good crisis PR protocols, this was it. Instead, the company is apparently quite busy trying to use the DMCA process to silence critics on YouTube.

As noted in a Financial Times report, a number of financial commentator channels on YouTube have reported that they received takedown notices from the hydrogen truck maker, resulting in several videos being removed from the video-sharing platform. In a statement to the publication, Sam Alexander, a Nikola critic and YouTube host, stated that he received notifications on Wednesday that at least four of his videos were reported for copyright infringement. All four of the videos featured sections of the “Nikola One in Motion” ad.

The same was true for fellow content creator Tom Nash, whose finance-themed channel has 41,000 subscribers. According to Nash, he was required to take down three critical Nikola videos including one that featured sections of the rolling Nikola One prototype. Nikola reportedly took issue with Nash’s use of videos that featured its prototype jet ski and hydrogen station as well. “It’s what you would call a death sentence for a creator. This is my livelihood. I have three kids. I quit my job to do this,” Nash told the FT.

Honestly, it's more that this is what you would call a death sentence for the company trying to abuse copyright law to silence critics who's critiques clearly fall under fair Uue. Put another way: if the company had a fallback position other than trying to censor its critics, it would have played to that position. Instead, Nikola is very much opening itself to both liability for bullshit DMCA claims and, more importantly, to even further public criticism as a result of the company trying to bury the public's head in the sand.

Now we're in pure Streisand territory. As a result of the company trying to bury criticism, that criticism is getting even more play and attention than it already had. If this strategy was thought to be a good idea by those in charge of Nikola, then maybe it truly would be best if the company just bad-acted itself into oblivion.

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Filed Under: censorship, copyright, criticism, takedowns, trevor milton
Companies: nikola


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  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 6 Oct 2020 @ 10:50am

    If the internet sees censorship as damage, censors see copyright as the bomb that can cause said damage.

    And to think, all those anti–Section 230 assholes are so worried about “censorship” (read: content moderation) that they’re overlooking stuff like this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Oct 2020 @ 11:01am

      Re:

      And to think, all those anti–Section 230 assholes are so worried about “censorship” (read: content moderation) that they’re overlooking stuff like this.

      This statement assume said people were arguing something they believe, in good faith. I propose that is bullshit (they either do not believe their own arguments, or they aren't putting it forward in good faith... or I guess a small percentage of them are simply too stupid to think or have semi-logically consistent beliefs).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        ECA (profile), 6 Oct 2020 @ 12:20pm

        Re: Re:

        Abot to wonder IF' the video was publicly used, then why isnt it Public, and not Private.
        Can you see Every corp stomp around YT, contesting the Old commercials?
        How about Warner brothers, getting upset, about all the OLD cartoons on YT?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 7 Oct 2020 @ 12:27am

      Re:

      "If the internet sees censorship as damage, censors see copyright as the bomb that can cause said damage."

      Anyone recall when Erdogan, dictator sans portfolio of Turkey was in hot water over a few bloopers he managed to make on open media a few years back? Turkey's supreme court would have opposed direct censorship so instead he shut down all social media discussing his blooper over a copyright claim.
      Germany tried to sidetrack a public transparency demand by making the claim the demanded documentation was under copyright by the responsible agency.

      Copyright is information control and every line of legislation supporting it a workaround to get article 8 favored over the first amendment.

      That can be used by private interests or governments alike.

      "And to think, all those anti–Section 230 assholes are so worried about “censorship” (read: content moderation) that they’re overlooking stuff like this."

      A needless hint, perhaps, but what makes you think they're "overlooking" it rather than just "trying to talk past it fast enough"? Short-sighted politicians concerned with the next four years and in full knowledge they have a lot of dirt in their past and present, will always support censorship, as long as it's the kind they themselves can use.

      Long-sighted politicians know damn well that carving principles apart will work just as well for the other side - better, if the other side is even less principled - and are keen to strenghten free speech rather than oppress it.

      If anyone manages to spot a long-sighted and somewhat principled politician, please advise the nearest park ranger. They're on the endangered species list and we suspect they'll have to be carefully bred back into sustainable numbers in captivity. All we've got so far is Bernie.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Stephen T. Stone (profile), 7 Oct 2020 @ 4:28am

        Copyright is information control

        Ah, thank you for the new addition to my personal lexicon.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Samuel Abram (profile), 7 Oct 2020 @ 4:47am

        Re: Re:

        If anyone manages to spot a long-sighted and somewhat principled politician, please advise the nearest park ranger. They're on the endangered species list and we suspect they'll have to be carefully bred back into sustainable numbers in captivity. All we've got so far is Bernie.

        Does Ron Wyden count? There are also Democratic Socialists in local and state seats, such as Lee Carter (Virginia House of Delegates), Summer Lee (Pennsylvania House of Representatives), Sara Inammorato (Ibid.), and Julia Salazar (New York State Senate) who are far more principled than their colleagues of the same party (this is not an exhaustive list, BTW). Also, keep in mind that someone who doesn't share your principles could still very well be principled.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 8 Oct 2020 @ 12:46am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "Also, keep in mind that someone who doesn't share your principles could still very well be principled."

          True enough. I might not agree with Romney on very many things, for instance, but he at least appears to have taken a status of pariah in exchange for trying to stick with his guns against his party.

          "There are also Democratic Socialists in local and state seats..."

          Encouraging. Now to find some republicans fitting that profile.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 6 Oct 2020 @ 10:58am

    Pathetic, or, Why I'm a Copyright Minimalist

    Pathetic by Nikola. This is why all my original works (and public domain adaptations) are licensed with a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license: The Attribution is to make sure nobody plagiarizes me, and the Noncommercial is to make sure nobody uses my work for profit without compensation (also any original tune licensed with the "noncommercial" clause can receive performance and (if you own the rights to the recording) master royalties, which is not the case with creative commons licenses without said clause).

    In cases where I would want to donate to free culture (as in PD/CC-BY/CC-BY-SA), I waive all of my copyright with a CC0 public domain dedication, because my philosophy is if you're going to go free, go all the way!

    All that being said, Nikola using Copyright as a censorship tool just means that they have no leg to stand on and are admitting that they are everything that everybody else said they are. It's also similar to how the Church of Scientology sued over Copyright Infringement instead of Defamation, to show how toothless the claims are from both.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 6 Oct 2020 @ 11:16am

      In cases where I would want to donate to free culture (as in PD/CC-BY/CC-BY-SA), I waive all of my copyright with a CC0 public domain dedication, because my philosophy is if you're going to go free, go all the way!

      There's a reason my icon here on Techdirt is a Public Domain symbol. 😁

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 7 Oct 2020 @ 12:30am

      Re: Pathetic, or, Why I'm a Copyright Minimalist

      "The Attribution is to make sure nobody plagiarizes me, and the Noncommercial is to make sure nobody uses my work for profit without compensation..."

      And that, right there, is the normal state of what the public will bear. No information control and commercial restrictions based on standards of common decency.

      "Nikola using Copyright as a censorship tool just means that they have no leg to stand on and are admitting that they are everything that everybody else said they are."

      They are, in other words, using copyright for the exact purpose it was designed to accomplish.

      "It's also similar to how the Church of Scientology sued over Copyright Infringement instead of Defamation..."

      Defamation, after all, has an actual burden of proof required.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 6 Oct 2020 @ 11:07am

    That trick always works

    Because if anything is guaranteed to reduce the criticism a company is facing it's desperately attempting to bury damning information via abusing the law to try to silence people.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 7 Oct 2020 @ 12:44am

      Re: That trick always works

      "Because if anything is guaranteed to reduce the criticism a company is facing it's desperately attempting to bury damning information via abusing the law to try to silence people."

      Well, they do have the alternative of just boldly saying "OK, it's a fair cop, we invested all the money in long stays at mar-a-lago and in retirement portfolios, then rolled a normal gasoline truck down a hill in our 'electric truck demo'..." but I'm not sure that'll reduce the criticism that company is facing.

      It would also be out of Trevor Milton's comfort zone. He's probably never told the truth in his life, judging by his public history.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DB (profile), 6 Oct 2020 @ 1:31pm

    A bit of a clarification about the report claiming that the video was faked.

    The report claimed, with extensive evidence, that almost everything having to do with the company was faked. They didn't develop any of the technology that they claimed. The components shown were purchased off the shelf, with the origin not acknowledged. With visible components the company names were covered with a decal or simply taped over. The vehicles that they showed were "pushers", a term for a non-functional mock-up, despite being repeatedly described as fully functional.

    The report also savaged the supposed expertise of the management team, pointing out that that none of them had relevant expertise. https://hindenburgresearch.com/nikola/

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 7 Oct 2020 @ 12:48am

      Re:

      ...that same report from Hindenburg research, unless i'm mistaken is the one which states Trevor Milton, Nikola's owner, made his whole career on, quote, "An ocean of lies", end quote.

      The wiki entry on poor Milton doesn't spare the rod much. A rich history of borderline fraud and failed investments, sex abuse allegations, a life built on lying...toss in some racism and bigotry and we might be looking at the next GOP presidential candidate here, folks.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mononymous Tim (profile), 6 Oct 2020 @ 2:06pm

    So predictable

    You can't be an idiot your way out of being an idiot, but they always try.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 6 Oct 2020 @ 4:31pm

    Viva le Internet

    And WOW.
    How much of the info would be spread as fast as the internet could?
    Only thing faster, is Gossip in a small town.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Oct 2020 @ 5:14pm

    And so the content creators will again suffer needlessly. Yes, platforms have to take the content down, or tell the creator to do so. They do not have to issue strikes or delete a channel/blog/whatever. And in particularly egregious cases, they could support a creator in a counterclaim. That isn't just nice or just, it's enlightened self-interest.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Oct 2020 @ 7:11pm

      Re:

      They do not have to issue strikes or delete a channel/blog/whatever.

      Technically, this is true. Of course technically they do not have to take the content down either.

      But just as failure to remove content introduces liability under 512(c), failure to implement a repeat infringer policy introduces liability under 512(i).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    GHB (profile), 6 Oct 2020 @ 6:19pm

    this is the company's version of “self-destruct-ism”.

    I've seen users threaten to nuke their own posted works if they get used without permission, but to go to war against people criticizing them of their behavior, is downright Alex Thomas Mauer. They've kamikazed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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