Someone Set Up a Weird, Fake Corporate Website to Trick Twitch Into Banning Left-Wing Streamers 1

Someone Set Up a Weird, Fake Corporate Website to Trick Twitch Into Banning Left-Wing Streamers

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Still from Chapo Trap House Twitch stream

Still from Chapo Trap House Twitch stream
Screenshot: Chapo Trap House

Streaming giant Twitch.tv issued 24-hour bans to some of its biggest left-wing podcasters on Tuesday night, including Chapo Trap House, radio host David Pakman, and Mychal “Trihex” Jefferson, citing Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown requests over streams of the Democratic primary debate in South Carolina.

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That in and of itself is not unusual—some Twitch personalities were the subject of similar punishment for streaming a CNN-hosted Democratic debate last year—but the claimant listed was a likely nonexistent political firm with email addresses that bounce, and that has no clear connection to CBS News, the actual rights holder of the broadcast. Twitch now tells Gizmodo it’s revoked the bans.

Chapo Trap House, Pakman, and Trihex are all politically left-wing streamers who have tens to hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitch. Each received emails from the streaming service on Tuesday night informing them their accounts had been banned for 24 hours, citing DMCA takedown notices related to their debate live streams. (While a Chapo contributor told Gizmodo their channel had streamed actual footage of the debate, and Pakman tweeted that he streamed audio, Trihex insisted on Twitter that he had only streamed subtitles so his fans could watch him alongside an official debate stream.) Copies of the takedown notices seen by Gizmodo show that they were supposedly filed on behalf of CBS News, but listed the claimant as a firm called “Praxis Political.” 

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Broadcast networks generally file DMCA takedowns under their own corporate names, as the law only allows legitimate rights holders to file complaints. They can designate a DMCA agent as a proxy to handle filing these takedown requests, but they’re usually law firms.

Praxis Political—not to be confused with a separate firm that told Gizmodo via Twitter DM it had nothing to do with this mess—is not a law firm. It doesn’t even have functional email addresses. The complaints against the streamers listed a contact email, legal@praxispol.com, that returned a bounce message to Gizmodo when contacted. The same happened with a separate email listed on its public website, contact@praxispol.com. As curiosity about the spree of takedown notices spread on Twitter, whoever was operating the website removed that email address.

A screenshot from the bullshit “Praxis Political” website.

A screenshot from the bullshit “Praxis Political” website.
Screenshot: praxispol.com

A screenshot from the bullshit “Praxis Political” website.

A screenshot from the bullshit “Praxis Political” website.
Screenshot: praxispol.com

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Illustration for article titled Someone Set Up a Weird, Fake Corporate Website to Trick Twitch Into Banning Left-Wing Streamers

Screenshot: praxispol.com

Praxis Political claimed on its site to have offices in Washington, D.C.; Reno, Nevada; and Jersey City, New Jersey, but searches did not turn up any evidence that these offices exist. A WHOIS inquiry also showed that the Praxis Political website was registered anonymously on Feb. 8, 2020. The Federal Elections Commission vendor search lists several firms using the name Praxis, but all appear to be unrelated, such as a GOP mailing list company that has no clients listed since 2014. Nowhere is there any evidence whatsoever that it has any affiliation with CBS.

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The only clue as to what Praxis Political supposedly was showed up on its About page, where it somewhat ominously referred to protecting “our clients’ work and content in a heavily competitive, and sometimes ugly, marketplace”:

Praxis Political works with, and on behalf of, clients in media, consulting, policy, politics, and campaigns.

We help ensure your data, content, and other work remains yours and is utilized in an optimal fashion. We are your stalwart advocate.

Praxis protects our clients’ work and content in a heavily competitive, and sometimes ugly, marketplace.

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As of Wednesday, the site has vanished from the web. Gizmodo reached out to the developers of Carrd, a website-building tool apparently used to hastily build a fake website for Praxis Politica. A spokesperson said Carrd “removed that site to resolve an abuse complaint filed at one of our own providers (who stated it made “fraudulent DMCA claims”),” adding that they had used the same contact information as in the takedown notices.

In other words, someone seems to have gone through the effort of setting up a fake political firm for the sole purpose of filing DMCA takedown requests against a handful of left-wing streamers. That is weird, to say the least.

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“Twitch’s investigation has determined that the alleged copyright infringement notices directed to channels from Praxis Political are false,” a Twitch spokesperson wrote to Gizmodo. “Twitch is reinstating access to each account and removing any strike attributed to a channel in connection with the notice, effective immediately.”

“We regret that a false notice from a 3rd party disrupted any of our streamers and appreciate all who alerted us to the concerns about Praxis Political,” the spokesperson added. “The safety of our community is a top priority and it is unacceptable to target folks with false claims. The investigation continues as to the actor that submitted the notices.”

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Copyright trolls who send fraudulent DMCA takedown notices are nothing new, but in most cases, a profit motive is involved. Appealing alleged DMCA violations to large platforms like YouTube or Twitch can be a big hassle—especially because many of them use Kafkaesque automated systems that are often unable to spot illegitimate requests to automatically carry out DMCA takedowns on a massive scale. In the meantime, content creators lose money while their channels are down. The combination of a copyright law that allows claimants to demand content be removed from the web and platforms that comply without investigating has created opportunities to extort content creators: Just file bullshit claims and contact the channel owner offering to retract them for some cash.

Nothing of the sort appears to have happened here, leaving possibilities ranging from political vendettas or a simmering grudge to a random asshole doing it for laughs. The only thing that is clear is that the DMCA remains as riddled with opportunities for abuse as ever, and that it doesn’t take a genius to figure out how to do it.

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