Tech by VICE

Ashley Madison Sent Me a DMCA Request for Tweeting 2 Cells of a Spreadsheet

Does that mean the leak is real?

by Joseph Cox
Aug 19 2015, 5:40pm

Image: OlegDoroshin/Shutterstock

As journalists (and probably criminals) dig through the cache of internal documents and customer data leaked in the Ashley Madison hack, it seems the company is trying to fight back—using copyright law.

A few hours ago I received a notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) relating to three of my tweets.

"Hello," the email from Twitter starts. "The following material has been removed from your account in response to the DMCA takedown notice copied at the bottom of this email."

Image: screenshot of author's removed tweet

The first tweet included a partial screenshot of an apparent floor plan of the Avid Life Media office. This was removed by Twitter.

But the DMCA request also asked for another two to be removed. One was a heavily censored screenshot of a spreadsheet which details the shareholders of the company and the percentile of shares they own. The screenshot did not include any names, figures, or other data, but simply the headers of two columns. Another screenshot showed the column headers of a spreadsheet detailing the company's bank accounts. No actual bank data was included. Twitter apparently did not remove these two tweets.

According to the takedown email, the DMCA notice was filed by Jamie Rosenblatt, the director of business development for Avid Life Media.

The motivation behind flagging both tweets was that "Avid owns all intellectual property in the data, which has been stolen from our data centre, and disclosed in this unauthorized and unlawful manner." This statement presumably confirms the authenticity of the data posted online.

It's not the first time a company has tried to use copyright law in an attempt to prevent reporting on leaked information. Sony tried something similar when it was hacked back in 2014, and Ashley Madison also employed DMCA notices in July to take down snippets of information revealed before the full data dump.

DMCA notices are intended to stop the spread of intellectual property and copyrighted material—not to claim ownership over the generic column titles of an accounting spreadsheet, or to stop journalists from covering a significant event.

I deliberately censored these screenshots to protect sensitive data; posting full scrapes of bank account numbers would be irresponsible. But this story carries a lot of news value: the hack may affect millions of users. A breach of this scale and impact will be reported, whether Avid Life Media likes it or not.