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Copyright Infringement Is Claimed By Hacked Dating Service Ashley Madison

Copyright Infringement Is Claimed By Hacked Dating Service Ashley Madison

August 24, 2015

Copyright infringement is allegedly the basis on which dating service Ashley Madison is trying to prevent the spreading of its stolen member database.

Last week, more than 33 million records of Ashley Madison users, containing information such as names, profile information and even partial credit card information were released online.

Although it has not yet been officially confirmed by the company to be legitimate records, outside investigations have indicated that they are.

Claim Of Copyright Infringement

The infidelity-focused dating service Ashley Madison is reportedly using copyright notices to persuade websites to remove the leaked data.

Motherboard journalist Joseph Cox wrote that an employee of Avid Life Media, the company behind Ashley Madison, sent a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice after Cox posted three tweets containing fragments of the leaked material. The notice, according to Cox, also confirmed the leaks’ veracity: “Avid owns all intellectual property in the data, which has been stolen from our data center, and disclosed in this unauthorized and unlawful manner.”

Notice Of Copyright Infringement 

Copyright notices are a common way of suppressing criticism or leaked secrets, a practice that might be most strongly associated with the Church of Scientology. Filing a DMCA takedown on Twitter is as easy as filling out a short form. Anyone could theoretically send one under any name to require Twitter to investigate the submissions internally. It could only result in legal penalties.

However, tweets are hardly copyrightable materials. Emails, names, credit card details and other mere lists of information are not copyrightable unless arranged with sufficient originality invested by the author. Automatically arranging the already sorted information in a spreadsheet would not even suffice.

Furthermore, in 1991, the US Supreme Court said that the telephone directory white pages cannot be protected by copyright law.

Interestingly, experts have already commented on this issue warning users not to download the Ashley Madison database mainly because it will be considered stolen property. However, it depends on what Ashley Madison claims to be their copyright. For example, the text written in each user profile belongs to the author and owner of the profile while it is contained in a copyrighted website.

The terms of service of Ashley Madison states that:

You acknowledge and agree that all content and materials available on our Site are protected by either our rights, or the rights of our licensors or other third parties, of publicity, copyright, trademarks, service marks, patents, trade secrets or other proprietary rights and laws.

This particular section is vague, ambiguous and gives no guidance on, for example, transfer of ownership or if these terms are not signed by users.

The issue of hackers and how “invincible” they could be is well illustrated with our experience a few years ago when one of our websites was hacked. Fortunately, we were prepared and we quickly identified the nature and extent of the hack and restored the website.

Ashley Madison will allegedly claim copyright infringement against those who publish and open their database, including those who hacked into their data, however, it may be very difficult to precisely identify individuals who stole and leaked their records.

Whether an intellectual property dispute will arise or not, it is a very interesting development to keep an eye on.