— WeRateDogs (@dog_rates) February 8, 2016
Matt Nelson is a college student who is very good at rating other people’s dogs on Twitter. Somehow, that fact earned him a determined nemesis, whose name he doesn’t even know.
Thanks to multiple, likely bogus, copyright claims against @dog_rates, Nelson’s popular account disappeared from Twitter on Tuesday night, prompting brief and intense outrage among the citizens of Dog Twitter. Nelson himself said he was devastated. “I was distraught,” Nelson told the Intersect by phone Wednesday morning. “I was just sitting in my bed, not moving.”
In several tweets from his personal account on Tuesday night, Nelson outlined, to the best of his knowledge, why @dog_rates had been taken offline and why, he believed, he’d done absolutely nothing to deserve it. Although his account was reinstated hours after it disappeared, he has heard little from Twitter on the matter officially. A Twitter spokesperson noted to the Intersect that the company does not comment on individual account suspensions for privacy and security reasons.
These two pirates crashed their ship and don't know what to do now. Very irresponsible of them. Both 9/10 pic.twitter.com/RJvUjgGH5z
— WeRateDogs (@dog_rates) February 9, 2016
Nelson’s best guess at why someone wanted to ruin @dog_rates comes from a bizarre email exchange with the anonymous person whose email was listed on the multiple copyright claims against Nelson. The person at the other end of the email, who didn’t identify themselves to Nelson and who did not respond to a request for comment from the Intersect, gave Nelson the following reason for making multiple copyright complaints against @dog_rates’ Tweets:
“I am doing this because I am dogrates and you are the fake. I copied you on instagram but i’m guessing u already seen this. when i steal enough tweets from you. ur account is gonna be shutdown on twitter. i want all your followers lol”
In a brief email exchange with the Daily Dot, the anonymous individual first said that Nelson stole the @dog_rates account and all of its images from them, but then claimed that only one image was stolen, and that they only sent in one copyright report — a story that Nelson disputes, and that doesn’t really match up to the email exchanges Nelson provided to us.
“Please you have my attention what do you want,” Nelson replied in the email chain, “I’ll do anything to keep my account running. It makes so many people happy.” The reply from his anonymous tormenter? “give me your password on twitter.”
“It’s like a classic supervillain hacker deal!” Nelson said of the exchange. “It’s just wild.”
For Nelson and many of his fans, the whole ordeal has raised some serious questions about whether it’s simply too easy for pranksters to successfully remove content from the Internet by abusing the copyright claim process, particularly on Twitter.
Guys I found the dog from Up. 12/10 pic.twitter.com/WqoZtX9jmJ
— WeRateDogs (@dog_rates) February 9, 2016
Submitting a copyright complaint under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act on Twitter is as easy as filling out a form. But Twitter’s resources on copyright issues make it pretty clear that doing so is not a decision to make lightly: A copyright complaint opens up the person filing it to potential legal liability. That’s in part what makes the above email exchange, and some of the complaints filed against Nelson’s account, feel a bit jarring.
Craig Hickman is a New Zealand dairy farmer. Charlie is his dog. Both are on Twitter, and both are fans of Nelson’s work. Two weeks ago, a photo of Charlie, snapped and submitted by Hickman and later reposted and rated on @dog_rates, was removed from Twitter due to a DMCA notice.
But the request didn’t come from Hickman. It came from one “Keith Chennocks,” of Bozeman, Mont., who listed his company as “Dairyman” and his occupation as “Dairy farmer,” according to a copy of the full complaint Twitter sent to Nelson. The email associated with that DMCA notice is the very same one used by Nelson’s apparent copyright troll.
Nelson contacted Hickman on Twitter to see if he knew anything about the takedown request. Hickman told the Intersect that while he had been disappointed by an “abysmal” 8/10 rating for Charlie, he had nothing to do with the copyright claim and offered to help Nelson fight it in any way he could. The dairy farmer even contacted Twitter himself to clarify that he, and not whoever submitted the complaint, held the copyright to the photo and that he was fine with it appearing on Nelson’s account.
“I own the dogs. I own the cows. I took the picture,” Hickman told Twitter in a copy of the email given to the Intersect. “The DMCA notice you have received is mischievous.” Hickman told us that he never heard back from Twitter about it.
In the meantime, Nelson has reposted Charlie’s photo, along with a new and improved 10/10 rating.
Meet Charlie. He likes to kiss all the big milk dogs with the rad earrings. Passionate af. 10/10 just a great guy pic.twitter.com/Oe0XSGmfoP
— WeRateDogs (@dog_rates) February 10, 2016
Of all the people to find themselves fighting a weird trollish copyright situation on Twitter, Nelson might be one of the better prepared. As Fusion documented, Nelson has devoted a lot of time to fending off copycat accounts that also promised to rate dogs — even though many of their tweets were directly lifted from Nelson’s original photo captions. Nelson eventually succeeded in getting one particularly prolific copycat suspended from Twitter, and that account remains offline.
“I know that it’s just social media, but it’s a platform for content creators, and we need to protect it,” Nelson said
Based on his previous experience navigating copyright complaints on Twitter, Nelson has now filed counter notifications for two of the DMCA takedowns against his account — itself a complicated, legal process that won’t be resolved quickly. But Nelson is trying to find other ways to ensure his account stays online, with mixed success.
That’s in part because @dog_rates won’t stay a hobby for Nelson forever. He sees his future inextricably tied up in the success of the account. Since its founding in November, @dog_rates’ Twitter popularity has translated into good press, which prompted Nelson to start imagining what more he could do with @dog_rates — and to acquire a publishing agent. He now spends pretty much full-time hours rating dogs for his 180,000 followers, he said, in addition to his responsibilities as a college freshman.
To ensure that this mysterious individual wouldn’t continue to try to remove his work from the Internet, Nelson decided to try to negotiate with them. Their email exchange is … strange. At one point, the troll claims that they will next target another popular animal Twitter account dedicated to goats. After several emails, the two finally settled on a resolution. The copyright complainer wouldn’t target @dog_rates further if Nelson promised to delete two of the tweets targeted by the DMCA claims. Nelson was given a dramatic 20-minute time limit to comply.
After he deleted the tweets, Nelson asked, “Mind telling me what that was about?”
His troll replied: “Enjoy your account. Sorry about that. I’m just a one of your old followers. I’m going through a tough time I’m really sorry.”
All seemed to be well on Wednesday morning, when Nelson and I spoke. But later on Wednesday Nelson said that @dog_rates was suspended again and that he was notified of another DMCA takedown request against his account, one bearing the same email as before, according to a copy of that request forwarded to the Intersect.
The person filing the latest complaint listed their name as Bushido Brown, which is the name of a character from the animated show “The Boondocks,” and wrote “n/a” in the field where Twitter asks for a link to the original, copyrighted work that has been allegedly copied.
So now @dog_rates is back on Twitter, again. Although the reported tweet has occasionally displayed as normal, the Intersect has observed the tweet being displayed without the image and bearing a copyright notice instead:
Here's a pupper with a piece of pizza. Two of everybody's favorite things in one photo. 11/10 pic.twitter.com/5USjFjKI7Z
— WeRateDogs (@dog_rates) February 11, 2016
At this point, the story gets even murkier: Is this latest claim even from the same person? Since Nelson tweeted the email associated with some of the initial copyright claims, this one could be from a copycat troll.
Anyway, we will try to keep you updated on this very important dog story. And if you are the person or persons behind all these DMCA takedown requests, please reach out to tell us whyyy?
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