Tumblr Blog Ban Shows Terms Of Service Trump Freedom Of Speech

The Coquette, aka coketweets, was an anonymous blogger with a huge following until Tumblr deleted everything last night — because of just three songs posted months ago.

The Coquette was, until last night, author of three very popular anonymous blogs run on Tumblr. She had created Dear Coquette for advice, Coquette Style for fashion, and simply The Coquette for sarcastic and witty pop culture writing and comment. She had amassed a large, loyal following since she started blogging on Tumblr in 2009. Her blogs were included on best-of lists from Time magazine and the Huffington Post. She published a book, Notes to My Future Husband, in 2012, and she wrote for other sites (including BuzzFeed). She inspired such devoted fans that screenshots of her tweets (she has almost 30,000 Twitter followers) would be posted to Tumblr and then get thousands of notes.

In fact, the Coquette was so popular on the platform that Tumblr asked her to participate in "Answer Time," Tumblr's new initiative that's kind of like Reddit's AMAs with famous people. It's an officially promoted Q&A for fans of popular accounts. It was scheduled to take place on Monday. But instead, she found herself booted from Tumblr entirely.

On Monday night, the Coquette announced on Twitter that Tumblr had shut down her account due to a copyright complaint over three songs she had posted to her blog. The songs were "I Feel Better" by Gotye, posted last August, "Take Me to Church" by Hozier, posted this February, and "Warm Water (Figgy Remix)" by Banks, posted just this week.

Not only has @tumblr terminated my account, but they also terminated my backup. I don't know what's going on yet, but this is a big deal.

It's very strange. My backup account never violated a single @tumblr policy. Not to sound paranoid, but it all seems rather targeted.

From @tumblr: "We've terminated your Tumblr account at http://t.co/LdSz99zBsX."

"As per guidelines, you were previously terminated by the DMCA tool at http://t.co/a0y4EhQFBF."

"Creating new blogs or accounts with this same subject matter or content will result in immediate account termination."

"This termination is final, and replies to this message will not be reviewed."

Know what's even more ridiculous? I'd just been invited by @tumblr to participate in Answer Time. Then they go and delete my account.

Tumblr's terms of service state that "Tumblr will terminate, under appropriate circumstances, the Accounts of Subscribers who are repeat copyright infringers." Ari Shahdadi, general counsel for Tumblr, says they use a "three strikes" policy for Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedowns — three takedown notices and you'll be permanently banned from the platform. If a user successfully files a counter-notification by sending in some paperwork, the "strike" goes away.

"The law does not give us a tremendous amount of flexibility in how we deal with these," Shahdadi told BuzzFeed News. "We send incredibly detailed emails about [violations]. We offer to talk to them on the phone and walk them through how it will affect their account ... We take a lot of care with this issue."

Yet in the case of the Coquette, there is some degree of disagreement over whether she willfully ignored the DMCA warnings or just never received them.

The Coquette says that the email warnings were sent to an old email she no longer uses, and she never saw them. Tumblr claims that it has corresponded to her in the past over email, and while it can't speak to what emails she did or did not see, around the time of her first DMCA takedown notice she wrote a blog post saying, "Fuck the DMCA, fuck the RIAA, and especially fuck the IFPI." (IFPI is the music rights group that issued the notice).

For three-strike offenders, Tumblr bans all their accounts and blogs, not just the one that committed the offenses. In the Coquette's case, her popular advice blog, Dear Coquette, was separate from thecoquette.net, which had the music posts, yet both were affected by the takedown.

In an email to Tumblr's support that she shared with BuzzFeed News, the Coquette wrote, "If you have to terminate the old account with the music, so be it, but let me at least have access to the Dear Coquette site. Don't destroy a half decade of my life's work because it lived under the same account as a personal blog with some music on it."

Tumblr is giving the Coquette an archived copy of her blogs that she can export to another platform. "As for how this will effect my career, I'm not worried in the least," she said in an email to BuzzFeed News. "I loved the community that gathered around the Tumblr platform, but I'll go build another one."

This is hardly the first time something like this has happened, nor will it be the last. Recently, for example, the celebrity gossip blog The Shade Room was suspended from Instagram. Instagram's official statement was that the suspension was "a mistake," but fans suspected the actual cause was a complaint from a reality star of whom The Shade Room had posted compromising photos.

It's a grim reminder for people who have built up a following and even a career on one of these platforms — it can all go away due to terms of service.

Fans of the Coquette took to Twitter to lament the loss:

.@coketweet getting deleted from @tumblr is your old favorite bar getting torn down for condos by people who don't even live in the city

Wow. @coketweet's tumblr is the only one I read. Deleting it for DMCA reasons is ridiculous; @tumblr is 100% DMCA violations...

Alarmed to learn that tumblr deleted @coketweet's entire account, with 7+ years of posts—whatever offenses? are there, others do much worse

me at @tumblr for deleting @coketweet

Tumblr's founder and CEO David Karp answered a question about the Coquette on his personal Tumblr:

Skip to footer