Adrian Short's blog

Free speech victory as Wonga backs down on parody copyright claim

Payday lender Wonga has backed down on its attempt to remove a parody advert criticising them from Twitter after thousands of users (and the Pirate Party UK) defied the company by reposting the picture.

Wonga said:

"We accept that we were a little heavy-handed last week when we issued a Twitter Takedown notice for @BrandySnap's image, and having seen the full ‘Streisand Effect’ ourselves, we won’t be pursuing the notice"

The Streisand effect occurs when an attempt to remove or cover up information leads to it gaining significantly more attention than it would have done otherwise.

Wonga was on shaky legal ground by using a copyright claim under the United States Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to ask Twitter to remove the image, although Twitter complied at first. Parody and criticism are protected as "fair use" under US copyright law.

Wonga censors Twitter critics - where's our right to parody?

Payday lender Wonga has forced Twitter to take down a user's parody advert by making a copyright claim. User @Brandy_Snap created the parody based on satirical arist William Hogarth's 1732 painting of a spendthrift held in a debtor's prison. @Brandy_Snap's parody superimposes the face of Earl, Wonga's "marketing character", on top of Hogarth's unfortunate debtor. It adds the words: "Fed up of final demands, whining relatives and debtors' prison?" and reproduces the Wonga logo with the added strapline: "Your soul is ours."

Twitter removed @Brandy_Snap's image from their tweet after Wonga's copyright complaint to Twitter which claims:

Earl's face has been doctored onto a painting in the tweet found at the URL above. Unauthorised use of all or a substantial part of a copyright work is an infringing act. The "wonga.com" trade mark device (blue stylised speech bubble with the words "wonga.com" in white) has been reproduced without consent. Unauthorised use of all or a substantial part of a copyright work (which the copyright owner asserts in addition to its trade mark rights) is an infringing act.

The United States Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) gives copyright holders the power to ask online publishers and web hosting providers such as Twitter to remove what they consider to be infringing material. In return, publishers are protected from legal action as long as they comply promptly with takedown requests.

Should public libraries block payday loan websites?

Several UK councils are now blocking access to payday loan websites in their libraries and on their public wifi networks. Some, such as Nottingham City Council, are also redirecting users trying to visit those sites to the website of the local credit union. Usually this web blocking is part of a wider anti-debt strategy designed to help local people manage their money better that might include debt advice and personal finance courses.

This is a fundamental shift in how public libraries think about providing internet access. Public libraries have always blocked some websites. They block illegal material such as child abuse images and political extremism. And they block legal pornography because viewing it could be disruptive and offensive to some patrons beyond the person who’s choosing to view it. But blocking the websites of legal businesses because the council disagrees with some of their commercial practices takes us into the realm of paternalism: restricting access to information for the individual’s supposed own good.