We should all know by now that Facebook's reliability to handle copyright takedown requests is... not great. Like far too many internet platforms these days, the site typically puts its thumbs heavily on the scales such that the everyday user gets far less preference than large purported rights holders. I say "purported" because, of course, many bogus takedown requests get issued all the time. It's one of the reasons that relying on these platforms, when they have shown no willingness to have any sort of spine on copyright matters, is such a mistake.
But few cases are as egregious as that of Leo Saldanha, a well-known environmental activist in India. When I tell you that Saldanha had a Facebook post taken down over a copyright notice, you must certainly be thinking that it had something to do with environmental activism. Nope! Actually, Saldanha wrote an all-text mini-review of an Indian film, Padmaavat, which was taken down after the distributor for the film claimed the post infringed on its copyrights. Here is the entirety of his post that was taken down.
“In my view, #padmaavat is a bore fest. Halfway the movie was coming to an end, I felt. But then woke up to the cruel fact there still was the other half, and it involved the horribly cruel act of mass suicide. There is something horribly wrong about a film, when a man’s voice reasserts, that this gory act was to protect ‘Bharat’s swabhimaan, or something to that effect.”
“The whole movie has one plot: of owning a woman. And all the characters conspire to subordinate women. True, this is a mythological account of times far in the past. But that one statement after the movie emphasises horrendous social mores of a medieval time and contextualises it as relevant to our times. Movies like these aren’t made with innocent intentions. Ranveer Singh is an incredible actor!”
Seriously, that text is the entire post. And I have to say that it's quite tame as far as movie reviews go, not to mention fairly relevant from a movie critique standpoint. This wasn't someone dumping on the movie for fun. Saldanha had a well thought out point, no matter of whether anyone might agree with the content of his argument. Certainly nothing in that is copyright infringement by any measure.
Yet Viacom 18 issued the takedown request and Facebook complied. Not only did it comply, in fact, but when Saldanha pushed back on Facebook trying to figure out what the hell was going on here, the only reply from the site was to warn of a perma-ban for repeated infringement and a recommendation to get Viacom 18's permission to post his review. Saldanha, to put it lightly, was not pleased with this response.
Speaking to TNM, Saldanha says that he is deeply offended by the messages he received from Facebook and the allegation that he had violated anyone’s rights on any social media platform.
“Anyone should be free to express in any form, their views about public matters. This includes the right to agree, disagree and the right to dissent. I also maintain that I have never used threatening language while offering my opinion on any issue that is public, or of any public person. The fact that Facebook pulled down my post is a serious issue. This only shows that Facebook leans towards those with financial muscle. Viacom18 clearly does not want critical views for the movie,” Saldanha says.
There are all sorts of ways this could have happened -- but none of them make either Viacom 18 or Facebook look good. The most immediate theory would be Viacom 18 abusing copyright law to take down a negative review -- and Facebook assisting without a good reason. A more charitable (though still terrible) explanation would chalk it up to (once again) horrible automated systems flagging anything mentioning Padmaavat and falsely assuming it's infringing. And, again, Facebook assisted this without good reason. No matter what it's yet another example in our increasingly long list of cases where copyright is used for censorship.