Twitter and Etsy get high marks in report card on copyright and free speech

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has expanded its “Who Has Your Back” report, which tracks tech companies’ performance on civil liberties issues, to include a new category: how companies respond to the intellectual property claims that, in the United States, are frequently employed as a means of censorship.

The EFF gives top marks to WordPress (see disclosure) and to domain name service Namecheap, which are the only two companies on the list to earn a full five stars. Meanwhile, [company]Twitter[/company] gets a special salute from the EFF for its thorough transparency reports, as does [company]Etsy[/company] for its special efforts to educate users about copyright and trademark issues. Both sites got four out of five stars (as did several others), while Tumblr and viral image site Imgur fared poorly:

EFF IP report

The report card was compiled by Parker Higgins, a copyright activist for the EFF and the co-author of a popular intellectual property newsletter. The different star categories reflect how the companies on the list respond to a complicated series of rules, including the law known as the DMCA that copyright and trademark owners use to enforce their rights.

Under these rules, companies like Twitter and Pinterest act as important middlemen, and have a role in balancing creative rights on the internet. While it may be easiest for such companies to simply comply with any takedown requests they encounter, doing so can result in a de facto censorship situation by allowing brand owners to use spurious copyright and trademark claims to overstep their rights under the law.

The EFF’s report card will not, of course, solve a complicated process that can leave people on all sides frustrated (rights owners complain that the internet makes piracy too easy, while fair use advocates claim the takedown process is too often abused), but it will help more people become familiar with the debate, and hold internet companies more accountable for their role in it.

Disclosure: WordPress’s parent company, Automattic, is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of Gigaom.