Techdirt Receives Its First 'Right To Be Forgotten' Request
from the which we will not follow dept
Following the ridiculous right to be forgotten ruling in the EU Court of Justice last month, we knew that it would open the floodgates to crazy requests from people trying to take down embarrassing things about them online. Immediately after the ruling, politicians and pedophiles alike rushed to ask Google to take down links to content about them. Once Google set up a form for handling such requests, tens of thousands of requests poured in.
But, of course, it was only a matter of time until people started trying to stretch the ruling further and further impacting other sites — including ours. We’ve already noted how former NSA top lawyer Stewart Baker has asked Google to “forget” all Techdirt posts about him, though he was doing it to highlight the absurdity of the “right to be forgotten” concept (though, I imagine he wouldn’t mind if all such posts disappeared).
However, over the weekend, we received our first request to remove comments from Techdirt, with the request referencing Europe’s new ruling on the right to be forgotten. Over the years, we’ve received many, many legal threats in attempts to get us to remove comments, but (to date!) no actual lawsuits, because nearly all the threats are bogus (usually they ignore the protections Section 230 of the CDA provide to Techdirt, but they also tend to have extreme — and extremely incorrect — definitions of what kind of content is “illegal”). This particular situation appears to be a bit more complicated, but we’re still not removing the comments.
The request references three comments on this story from 2011, which was about a (very bad) ruling by a California state appeals court, that found two advertising firms could be held liable for spamming actions done by their affiliates (and sub-affiliates). We found this problematic for a variety of reasons, but mainly because it totally ignored Section 230, and put the blame on one party for actions done by another. In the comments, someone named “Bill Silverstein” popped up to defend the ruling. In what appears to be something of an aside, he mentions in passing that he, himself, is engaged in some sort of similar litigation against two individuals, David Szpak and Emmanuel Gurtler. To be honest, the details of Silverstein’s lawsuit are not at all clear from the comment, but he clearly thinks that this ruling helps his case.
I responded to his comment suggesting that the ruling was still problematic and that the focus should be on going after the people actually responsible for the spamming. Silverstein then responded, disagreeing with me and ranting about spammers — again mentioning Szpak and Gurtler.
Over the weekend, we received an email from Emmanuel Gurtler demanding that all three comments be deleted, based on what we believe is his own misreading of both the claimed settlement between Gurtler and Silverstein and the new right to be forgotten ruling. Here is the main part of the email we received (leaving all typos in place):
I am contacting you in regards to the comments in the above URL by Bill Silverstein (#6, #31) and Mike Masnick’s quote (#26). The comments refer to a lawsuit which has been settled with Mr Silverstein. Part of the settlement offer, the Platiniff (Bill Silverstein) is supposed to remove all information about the lawsuit. Having the fault infromation and false claims listed on your site is causing great deal of reputational probl
“8. Silverstein to Remove Materials from Websites and Refrain from Future Publication. Within ten (10) calendar days of the confirmation that all payments have been completed, Silverstein shall remove from the Websites and all other media under his control and/or ownership, any reference to the Lawsuit, the Dev8 Defendants and/or Affiliated Entities, including but not limited to any personally identifying information regarding the Dev8 Defendants and/or Affiliated Entities. As of the Effective Date, Silverstein agrees not to publish or cause to be published, in any form of media heretofore known and/or subsequently invented, devised, or discovered any reference to the Lawsuit, the Dev8 Defendants and/or Affiliated Entities, including but not limited to any personally identifying information regarding the Dev8 Defendants and/or Affiliated Entities. Silverstein acknowledges that should he violate this Section it shall constitute a material breach of this Agreement. He further acknowledges and agrees that it will be difficult to determine the resulting damages to the Dev8 Defendants and/or Affiliated Entities, and, in addition to any other remedies the Dev8 Defendants and/or Affiliated Entities may have, they shall be entitled to temporary injunctive relief without being required to post a bond and to permanent injunctive relief without the necessity of proving actual damage. The Dev8 Defendants’ and/or Affiliated Entities’ failure to seek any or all remedies with respect to any given breach of this Section does not restrict them from seeking any remedies with respect to any other breach, and shall not constitute a waiver of rights.”
Furthermore, as a resident of the European Union and per the above Settlement order, I am asking in reference to “European Data Protection Directive (Directive 95/46EC)” aka Right to be Forgotten, to have the aforementioned comments and/or quoted replies removed from your site.
First off, we have no way of confirming if the settlement happened or if that’s in the settlement if it did. He provides no further information, case name, or anything. As far as I can tell, there is this lawsuit, which the defendants removed from California state courts to the federal court, but which was quickly sent back to the state courts, where it’s much trickier to track down the records. And, either way, it shouldn’t matter.
Second, and more importantly, even if everything about the settlement is entirely accurate, it pretty clearly says that Silverstein needs to remove statements about the case “from the websites and all other media under his control and/or ownership.” Last I checked (and, hey, I just checked), Silverstein has no “control and/or ownership” of Techdirt. So that settlement term is entirely meaningless to use. Chances are it was directed more at pages like this one, which Silverstein created, tracking the docket of his own cases. Separately, any settlement between Silverstein and Gurtler is between those two parties. Techdirt and myself were clearly not parties to the lawsuit and are clearly not bound by any settlement terms in the lawsuit. So, uh, no, we have no reason to remove.
Third, moving on to the “right to be forgotten” claim. The recent ruling is quite clear that it applies to “the operator of a search engine” and even distinguishes search engine results from information on web pages that those search engines link to, pointing out that even if the original publication may be legal, it’s the search engine (not necessarily the site) that would need to remove the links. Thus, there’s nothing in the latest ruling that directly applies to us anyway. Furthermore, the EU directive in question is about “data controllers” for which Techdirt almost certainly does not qualify. Data controllers are organizations that collect data on people and then store it. Here, Silverstein just posted a couple of comments. Quite different. The latest ruling and the directive have nothing to do with us.
Fourth, as an American company based in the US, incorporated and headquartered in California, and with all of our servers within the US, we are not subject to European laws on this issue. This is just an attempt by someone in the EU to try to censor statements made in the US.
Either way, the entire situation is bizarre and silly — but highlights the kinds of things that plenty of companies are probably now forced to deal with thanks to the ridiculous EU Court of Justice ruling. What’s worse is that many smaller websites and companies that probably don’t follow or understand these issues carefully are probably scared into taking down content based on similar threats. And, frankly, sending the email makes almost no sense at all for Emmanuel Gurtler. This was on a story from more than three years ago, getting basically no traffic at all. The only comments that reference his name are from Silverstein, and, in our opinion, don’t necessarily reflect well on Silverstein, because myself and others argue that his interpretation of the law is suspect and troubling. It’s difficult to see how any of that reflects poorly on Gurtler or hurts his reputation.
However, sending a bogus threat in an attempt to silence other people from mentioning his name? That doesn’t seem to reflect particularly well on Gurtler.