FYI, I’m posting this in case other people publishing public domain ebook editions get similar notices.

Tuesday night around 8:30 I got this email (I’ve removed the contact info):

Subject: This is a verified DMCA Removal Request from Attributor

*** Sent via Email - DMCA Notice of Copyright Infringement ***

Dear Sir/Madam,

I certify under penalty of perjury, that I am an agent authorized
to act on behalf of the owner of the intellectual property rights
and that the information contained in this notice is accurate.

I have a good faith belief that the page or material listed below
is not authorized by law for use by the individual(s) associated
with the identified page listed below or their agents and
therefore infringes the copyright owner's rights.

I HEREBY DEMAND THAT YOU ACT EXPEDITIOUSLY TO REMOVE OR DISABLE
ACCESS TO THE PAGE OR MATERIAL CLAIMED TO BE INFRINGING.

This notice is sent pursuant to the Digital Millennium Copyright
Act (DMCA), the European Union's Directive on the Harmonisation
of Certain Aspects of Copyright and Related Rights in the
Information Society (2001/29/EC), and/or other laws and
regulations relevant in European Union member states or other
jurisdictions.

My contact information is as follows:

Organization name: Attributor Corporation as agent for Rights
Holders listed below
Email: ...
Phone: ...
Mailing address: ...

My electronic signature follows:
Sincerely,
/Eraj Siddiqui/
Eraj Siddiqui
Attributor, Inc.


*** INFRINGING PAGE OR MATERIAL ***

Infringing page/material that I demand be disabled or removed in
consideration of the above:

Rights Holder: Deseret Book

Original Work: Life of Heber C. Kimball
Infringing URL: http://bencrowder.net/downloads/mtp/LifeOfHeberCKimball.epub
Infringing URL: http://bencrowder.net/downloads/mtp/LifeOfHeberCKimball.mobi

Initial reaction: Oh crap. They’re going to force my hosting provider to take down my websites. And there may or may not be some maximum security prison involved. Also, is this a scam? It does look like one, but why on earth would they pretend to be an agent for Deseret Book?

Then it got more confusing, because Life of Heber C. Kimball was originally published in 1888 and is unequivocally in the public domain (all U.S. copyrights before 1923 have expired). I did some quick research to make sure I wasn’t misunderstanding the law, and it was clear: Life of HCK was in the public domain.

So why was Deseret Book pretending to be the rights holder for something in the public domain? Seemed evil and greedy.

I responded to Eraj’s email explaining that there must have been a misunderstanding. I also dug up contact info for Deseret Book’s intellectual property person and emailed her as well. And I forwarded the takedown notice to Linode, letting them know that it was a false accusation and that I was working with DB and Attributor to clear things up, in case Attributor sent the same notice to Linode. (I’ve heard horror stories.)

Yesterday morning, I hadn’t heard back from Eraj or the DB person (understandably), so I found the DB person’s number online and called her. Apparently Deseret Book sends a list of titles to Attributor, who then checks for those titles online (title meaning the text “Life of Heber C. Kimball”) and sends out takedown notices when they find a match. The reason Life of HCK was on the list is that Deseret Book has reprinted it with additional material (images, etc.) that is copyrighted by them.

Anyway, the DB person said this is the first time this has happened (presumably because there aren’t really a lot of people making ebooks of old Mormon texts). She apologized for Attributor’s error and told them to stand down. Later in the day I got the following email from Attributor:

After further review of the matter, we would like to rescind the take down notice which was sent for the title and link in question. We have included a full retraction notice which follows.

*** Sent via Email – Retraction of DMCA Notice of Copyright
Infringement ***

Dear Sir/Madam,

I would hereby like to rescind my take down request for the
content described below. My contact information is as follows:

Organization name: Attributor Corporation as agent for Rights
Holders listed below
Email: ...
Phone: ...
Mailing address: ...

My electronic signature follows:
Sincerely,
/Eraj Siddiqui/
Eraj Siddiqui
Attributor, Inc.

Original Work: Life of Heber C. Kimball
Retracted URL: http://bencrowder.net/downloads/mtp/LifeOfHeberCKimball.epub
Retracted URL: http://bencrowder.net/downloads/mtp/LifeOfHeberCKimball.mobi

Phew.

So, Deseret Book is not in fact claiming ownership of the public domain. And the Deseret Book person was nice and apologetic and asked for feedback on my experience and how they could make things better. I made the following recommendations:

  • For the public domain reprints that Deseret Book does, have a human check the supposedly infringing content first before they send out a takedown notice.
  • For titles in the public domain, where there’s more likelihood of a false positive, have someone at Deseret Book email the person first.
  • Add a line to the takedown request saying something like, “If you feel you are not in fact infringing, here’s the name and number of the person at Deseret Book you can talk to.”

Overall: scary at first but turned out not to be a horror story after all. Hurrah for reasonable people.