Pearson’s DMCA Takedown Shuts Down 1.5 Million EduBlogs

Textbook publisher Pearson sent what must have been the single most effective takedown notice since the passage of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act last week when a request to take down a page on one of the websites hosted by EduBlogs brought down the entire 1.5 million blogs on the network.

The issue was a blog post from 2007 that reproduced Beck’s Hopelessness Scale, which was first published in 1974. The document, which is owned by Pearson, was part of a list of 20 questions which the company sells for $120. Although TechDirt.com asks why Pearson would charge that much money for a 38-year-old questionnaire, the takedown of the entire EduBlog network could be more properly laid at the door of their host, ServerBeach.

In order to be protected under the DMCA’s safe harbor provisions, upon receipt of a takedown notice from a legitimate copyright holder, hosting providers must immediately take down the infringing content pending a counter-notification from the website owner that the copyright holder is mistaken, or if the site falls within the fair-use exception. Although most hosting companies simply remove or block access to the offending page, ServerBeach’s DMCA policy involves taking down entire servers to comply with the notice.

Thus, 12 hours after the ServerBeach emailed the notice to EduBlog admins, the entire EduBlog ecosystem went dark.

Although EduBlogs took action to block all access to the offending blog entry as soon as they received the ServerBeach email about it, because they didn’t delete it from their servers, ServerBeach flipped the switch. The issue was eventually sorted out and EduBlogs was back online within hours.

As much as this will be billed in the coming weeks as yet another demonstration of the takedown notice process run amok, one of the biggest questions raised by the incident is why no one seemed to notice it took place for a full five days. Kristen Winkler of BigThink.com asks why neither the management of EduBlogs nor its users raised raucous objections over the entire blogging network going dark.

Winkler managed to unearth just two tweets about the problem dated on October 10th — the day it happened. It wasn’t until the October 15th TechDirt article that the event started to get any play at all in the educational community.

So, it took the education community five days to realize that their blogging platform was down due to a DMCA notice by one of the biggest textbook publishers. And either the edublogs.org team didn’t notice themselves or they prefer not to talk about it. In the news section I did not find an update on the issue and looking at the Twitter account, it seems to be handled as a non-issue as well.

Some of this could be attributed to a short duration of the downtime – EduBlogs were back a mere 60 minutes after they went down. Yet, it’s quite at odds with the typical reaction to some other rather high-profile online/blogging controversies.

But looking back at the days when the popular platform Ning was going premium and teachers were brewing up a sh*tstorm (pardon my French) that led Pearson to sponsoring educational Nings I am a bit disappointed about the overall reactions so far. What about fair use or protecting a fellow teacher to pay $120 for the right to share a document with his class?