Hacking Democracy: Google/YouTube Proxy Group “Fight For The Future” Crashes US Copyright Office Website During Crucial Comment Period

 

Test Comment through takedownabuse website

We replaced the canned message on the takedownabuse.org web form with a message like this, to verify that Google/YouTube proxy Fight For The Future website was indeed automating comments on an official US Government website. 

Torrent Freak is reporting that  Google/YouTube proxy  “Fight for the Future” generated a flood of automated “comments” that crashed the regulations.gov website Thursday.  This was within the crucial last 48 hours of a comment collection period for a consultation on the DMCA notify and takedown process which currently allows Google/YouTube to reap billions by monetizing “user generated content” that actually belongs to songwriters  like myself.

FFTF (Fight for the Future) publicly boasted about the website outages on Thursday to Torrent Freak:

“The flood of new submissions over the last several hours appears to have repeatedly crashed the website that the government set up to receive feedback,”

(On Friday night around 10:30 PM we received a tip and then verified that the regulations.gov website was again unresponsive.)

Screen Shot 2016-04-03 at 8.27.02 PM

Users? Actually FFTF web form bot crashed the page.

How did this happen?

FFTF employed a sophisticated campaign of technology and misinformation to electronically generate tens of thousands of identical canned comments to the CO website.    Further instead of having users visit the consultation comment page for comments as the Copyright Office requires, FFTF used a web form hosted by Fight For The Future at www.takedownabuse.org, and this is where things get ugly. Very ugly!

Visitors to this website were directed to fill in their email address, name and ZIP code which then automatically posted a canned comment to the copyright office website.  We tested the web form and discovered:

  1. FFTF (Fight For The Future) did not verify email, name and ZIP code before accepting comments.
  2. FFTF did not verify our IP address was in the US before accepting comments.
  3. FFTF web form allowed multiple comments. By refreshing the page you could simply comment again and again.
  4. FFTF put no restrictions on “bots” on their web form. Using the crudest keystroke automation we managed to post rapid fire comments (less than three seconds between comments).++
  5. FFTF violated the federal rules  that require comments be posted only using the regulations.gov interface. FFTF appears to have violated this rule and further may have used automation to simulate a visitor (rather than bot) to the official government website.
  6. The Copyright Office website was non-responsive late Friday night when a large number of the automated comments came in.
  7. FFTF was still auto-generating comments after the official deadline and demanding the copyright office accept these submissions.

We believe FFTF’s actions may have been illegal in several ways:

Using automation to post comments to a government website and as a result causing a website outage is essentially a denial of service attack on a USG agency.

Using a third party website and automated systems to post comments for the copyright office consultation is clearly against the consultation rules.

The campaign by FFTF would seem to qualify as Spam! Further the likely coordination between  FFTF, Google and other commercial entities could qualify this as a deceptive commercial communication since the associated videos contained unsubstantiated claims, and the Google funded study reference also makes unsubstantiated conspiratorial claims+++

By effectively monopolizing the regulations.gov website for the last two days did FFTF unlawfully suppress the constitutional right of creators to petition their government?

We call on the Copyright Office, Congress and FBI to look into whether any laws were broken by Fight For The Future and their patron Google.  

++ we conducted only a short burst of “automation” on the takedownabuse.org web form. Less than 7 comments were potentially posted.  The copyright office was informed we made test comments through the takedownabuse.org website.

+++  Example:  “A more pointed question is whether the notice escalation represents coordinated retaliation against Google for its role in opposing stronger enforcement obligations on OSPs, culminating in the defeat of the Stop Online Piracy Act in 2012. The timing of the escalation outlined by Seng is suggestive.  2011 saw a large 305% increase in notices over 2010.  But the banner year was 2012, with a 524% increase overall and a 227% increase in April alone, in the immediate aftermath of the withdrawal of the bill. Most of the major rightsholders only began actively targeting Google Web Search during this period, including those who currently send massive numbers of notices: the RIAA and BPI, the major movie studios, and Degban Ltd.—the lead REO for the pornography industry.”

This is of course absurd and  they presents no evidence to support their claim. Further with Occam’s Razor in mind, a theory that adds far less assumptions and doesn’t require a massive conspiracy among half a dozen multinationals is this:  After the failure of SOPA large rights holders only had only one option left, DMCA takedown and notice, so as rational actors they all used this tool to protect their copyrights.

About David C Lowery

Platinum selling singer songwriter for the bands Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven; platinum selling producer; founder of pitch-a-tent records; founder Sound of Music Studios; platinum selling music publisher; angel investor; digital skeptic; college lecturer and founder of the University of Georgia Terry College Artists' Rights Symposium.