Student in Mandela remark row accused of copyright law abuse

An Oxford undergraduate is embroiled in a legal dispute with a leading political blog over the use of his Facebook status.

Jeff Vinall, second-year law student at Brasenose and former Director of Communications for the Oxford University Conservative Association, posted a controversial Facebook status about Nelson Mandela. Political Scrapbook, which describes itself as ‘Britain’s leading left-wing blog’, quoted the status in a critical article earlier this month.

The quote has since been removed following a complaint by Vinall that the article made inappropriate use of his private comments.

Political Scrapbook’s web-hosts are based in the USA, and took down the content under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), a piece of US legislation intended to protect against copyright infringement and piracy on the Internet.

Political Scrapbook have responded with an article claiming to have been ‘gagged’ by Vinall, in which they also claim they are “currently seeking legal advice on the issue and hope to have the original quote back up in full shortly”.

Editor Laurence Durnan told The Oxford Student: “Jeff Vinall needs to man up. Instead of taking responsibility for his views he is trying to gag Political Scrapbook from reporting accurately what he said.”

“This is an absolutely textbook case of DMCA abuse. The irony is that his actions have generated an international audience for his comments.”, the popular blogging platform, claims that DMCA abuse is common, and that legal action is warranted against those who submit fraudulent take-down notices. In November of last year, the company filed a high-profile lawsuit against anti-gay campaign group Straight Pride under Section 512(f) of the DMCA for ‘knowingly materially misrepresent[ing] a case of copyright infringement’.

Kirsty Hughes, Chief Executive of the freedom of expression advocacy group Index on Censorship, said: “Attempting to censor the use of a…statement made on social media through the use of copyright laws is a bizarre way to attempt to limit free speech. Demands for take-down of web content come more often from prickly and controlling politicians – Turkey’s Erdogan, with his block on Twitter, being the most obvious recent example.”

Jeff Vinall was unavailable for comment.