If you want to read video game news on Kotaku, or IGN, or hell, even Motherboard, you could go to those publications’ websites, peruse the content there, and help pay for the work by passively consuming advertisements. Or, you could go to Archive.today, a site that disgruntled GamerGate members are using to illegally divert traffic from websites the movement says it’s protesting.
To do that, all you’ve got to do is grab a link, go to www.Archive.today (formerly known as Archive.is) or another internet archive site, paste it in, and you’ve immediately got an ad-free and shareable copy of the copyrighted content. As far as piracy goes, it’s one of the easiest things you could possibly do, and the site’s copies are often just as readable and just as fast to load as the original.
As a method of protest, it makes sense to try to attack a site’s pocketbook. Sites like Archive.today have been used by climate change deniers to share and criticize links to popular climate news websites, for example.
But, well, recently, it’s been all GamerGate. A quick scan of the subreddit being used to spread GamerGate news shows more than 500 links to websites that have been copied over to a third party website in a specific attempt to divert advertising revenue from those sites. A scan of 8Chan, the image board being used to organize, shows the same.
Would it be OK for a civil rights activist to mirror a Nazi site to make sure it wasn't getting advertising?
Web traffic analytics company Alexa notes that 13 percent of Archive.today’s traffic comes from reddit (the most of any site), and a search of reddit shows that the majority of its links to Archive.today come from GamerGaters. A Twitter search for “Archive.today” links shows the same.
On /r/KotakuInAction, the most popular GamerGate subreddit, a moderator specifically requested that its users use a site called Archive.today to share all links to Gawker's games site Kotaku and other sites targeted by the movement, rather than a separate link site called DoNotLink (which preserves all advertisements on a site and still puts a particular user on the intended site, but does not impact its Google ranking).
"It has been asked about several times now and we agree. Please use sites like https://archive.today/ instead of DONOTLINK," the moderator wrote. "Screenshots are welcome too. DONOTLINK still allows Kotuku to gain money from page visits."
Another post is titled " How to effectively use Archive.today. Don't give them the hits and ad revenue."
To be clear: Regardless of morality or protest value, this is illegal and not a "fair use" of copyrighted content in the United States. A search at Archive.today shows that, so far, users of the site (not all of which come from GamerGate, obviously) have copied:
- 9,474 articles from IGN
- 3,457 articles from Gawker
- 1,647 articles from Motherboard
- 3,862 articles from Vice
- 7,778 articles from Kotaku
- 3,840 articles from Polygon
- 9,300 articles from Gamespot
- 1,648 articles from Grist (primarily climate science)
The purpose of this is obvious and, from a moral standpoint, at least, potentially arguably acceptable (hey, look at this shit Motherboard did, what a bunch of unethical journalists). But, well, it is still illegal.
The economic effects of this are difficult to estimate without knowing the traffic of specific Archive.today pages. In the cases of some of the more upvoted posts on reddit, we’re probably talking about several tens of thousands of pageviews, a nontrivial but ultimately not devastating number.
Archive.today's traffic sources. Screengrab: Alexa
In any case, it’s become increasingly clear that whoever is archiving our site isn’t doing it as a protest tactic—they’re doing it simply because they like our site and want to read it.
In recent days, most of our site is getting mirrored, including articles that have absolutely nothing to do with gaming and are, presumably, just things that people want to read. They include articles about Ebola, Canadian spying, a class about wasting time on the internet, an article about the UK’s proposed sentence for computer hackers, a story about an early internet crash, and one about webcams that look for ghosts (and, yes, a couple of video game-related articles).
For the record, I messaged every moderator of the most popular GamerGate subreddit where this stuff happens and no one responded. I messaged Archive.today and no one responded. My request for comment did, however, spur this post on loltaku, a Tumblr associated with GamerGate:
Actually, no. The loltaku webmaster is right: AdBlock isn’t illegal, but wholesale copying, screenshotting, and sharing of a website definitely is, according to three separate copyright fair use attorneys I spoke with.
Archive.today is even different, legally speaking, from the Wayback Machine. The Wayback Machine automatically crawls the internet making copies with a bot—specific (and common) instructions to that bot will prevent it from making a copy. There is no way for a website to protect itself from having an Archive.today user mirror the site.
When considering copyright, judges look at several things, including the nature of the copied work, how much is taken, what it's taken for, and whether the copying is likely to harm the original creator. Copying part of a work, and sometimes, even the whole thing, is permissible as long as it's for commentary or criticism purposes. But that only applies when the original isn't freely available and the commentary occurs on the page itself (i.e., a newspaper's book review or a video review of a movie).
"They want to criticize the original while destroying its market," Ben Depoorter, a law professor at the University of California Hastings College of Law, told me. "It's 100 percent OK to destroy the market for the original, but not by copying it entirely."
using those tools to copy entire articles so people can continue to read sites their movement ostensibly disagrees with is just plain old stealing.
Richard Stim, a copyright and intellectual property blogger, told me that "arguably (and in a bizarre way) they are commenting on the content by removing the ads, but I don't think that's going to justify fair use either."
Two questions that immediately come to mind are a) So what? and b) What can be done about it?
Copyright problems on the internet are nothing new. There's a legitimate reason to archive certain websites, and the fact that someone is pirating something on the internet is not necessarily all that interesting.
Meanwhile, filing a Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown request can sometimes require— in the case of reddit—sending something in by mail. An informal “abuse” request I filed with Archive.today was not answered. Even when the takedown requests can be filed online, like with Twitter, the workable lifetime and commercial viability of an online article or blog post is often mere hours, not months or years, as would be the case for a song, television show, or movie.
But, well, I’d argue that it’s worth discussing when it’s acceptable to mirror an entire article or an entire website and make it available for anyone to look at.
Daniel Nazer, an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, suggested that it might be challenging to establish fair use if the sole purpose of archiving an article was to cut off the author's revenue, but that many forms of archiving to preserve content and promote commentary could be fair use: Politicians are caught making dumb tweets, controversial blog posts are cached before they're deleted, and that sort of thing.
"Would you take a different view if it were someone you agreed with taking these precautions? Like, if it was folks monitoring Nazi speech and someone's Nazi site has straight up unapologetic Nazi advertising on there?" he told me. "Would it be OK for a civil rights rights activist to mirror the site to make sure it wasn't getting advertising? The answer to that question shouldn't be different than what it is for GamerGate."
As a public service, Archive.today and its unaffiliated spiritual predecessor, the Wayback Machine, provide invaluable services designed to "snapshot a page which could change soon." But, using those tools to copy entire articles so people can continue to read sites their movement ostensibly disagrees with is just plain old stealing.
This post has been updated to clarify Daniel Nazer's position on fair use law. This is the old text: Daniel Nazer, a copyright attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, agreed that using Archive.today links to spread copyrighted material is probably illegal, but said that lots of people do it for a lot of reasons: