Why 4Chan created a copyright shield in the wake of the Apple leak

Photo by John Dill/Flickr

4Chan, a popular website whose members were among the first to share naked celebrity photos stolen from Apple accounts, has just put in place a set of legal measures that publishers use to deflect charges of copyright infringement.

According to TorrentFreak, 4Chan on Tuesday implemented measures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which is a part of the Copyright Act that can provide legal immunity to websites for intellectual property violations committed by their users.

4Chan has not explained its decision to implement the DMCA protections, which require certain steps such as providing an email address where copyright owners can notify a site of violations. But it’s a safe bet that the decision was tied to the outrage surrounding the recent publication by 4Chan users of photographs stolen from Jennifer Lawrence and other actresses.

4Chan is not the only site where the photographs have appeared, but it has been mentioned in multiple news reports about the hack, and it already has a reputation for nudity and misogyny.

In the past, Chris Poole, the founder of 4Chan, has brushed off the lack of copyright rules. The TorrentFreak report points to Poole explaining that he does not have Google-style resources and that, in any case, 4Chan’s threads are erased on a regular basis. (Such justifications would be little help as a defense under copyright law).

The real reason that 4Chan changed its policy, though, likely has little to do with a shift in Poole’s personal views. Instead, it looks more like a frantic legal tactic to protect Poole from copyright lawsuits from Lawrence and others.

By now, Poole’s lawyers have probably advised him that copyright owners must register their photographs with the Copyright Office in order to collect what is known as “statutory damages” — which allow owners to collect up to $150,000 for every infringing photograph. 4Chan, in other words, has likely raced to erect the DMCA shield before the celebrities register their photos.

At the same time, the implementation of the DMCA may also be an attempt by 4Chan to demonstrate a measure of social responsibility at a time when the FBI and others are vowing to take action against those responsible for the leak. Poole and others may be particularly worried over the fact that one of the celebrities in the photos was under 18 years of age — meaning that law enforcement may be able to use child pornography laws, which are far easier to use when it comes to obtaining convictions related to the uploading of photographs.

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