WASHINGTON — An independent journalist who has been a vocal critic of the Malaysian government is being targeted with a copyright complaint after she posted widely available photos of a controversial financier with ties to the Malaysian prime minister's family.
The attempt to take down Clare Rewcastle Brown's Sarawak Report appears to be the latest attempt to use copyright law as a political cudgel against independent media that criticizes a government.
Brown, a sister-in-law of former British prime minister Gordon Brown, was notified that the company that hosts Sarawak Report had received a copyright complaint claiming that Brown did not have permission to post photos of Jho Low, a Malaysian investor known for a high-flying lifestyle and for being involved in several secretive real estate deals in the U.S. worth many millions of dollars. Low is a friend of Riza Aziz, Prime Minister Najib Razak's stepson and a producer of "The Wolf of Wall Street." Brown had included the photos of Low in an article about 1Malaysia Development Berhad, a controversial development fund whose chairman is Razak and with which Low is associated. Brown had written about the fund's connections with oil company PetroSaudi International and alleged that Low had used PetroSaudi to skim money out of the fund.
Brown — who does not claim to own the photos, but says she believes that the person making the complaint does not either — received a Digital Millenium Copyright Act complaint from someone named David Shumacher at a company called Celeb Images Agency on March 1. On March 17, she was notified that Rackspace, the company that hosts her blog, had received a complaint and that she has until March 20 to remove the photos or her site will be shut down. A spokesperson for Rackspace declined to comment, saying "we actually have confidentiality clauses in all of our contracts, which prohibit us from discussing any information regarding our customers."
Celeb Images Agency has no web presence and or any other evidence of its existence. The email that sent the complaint is a Gmail account. BuzzFeed News sent an email to the address and did not receive a response.
The photos in question, of Low partying with Paris Hilton, are widely available online. One appears in a recent New York Times story about Low's real estate dealings in the U.S., and is credited to WENN. In the complaint, the person writing on behalf of Celeb Images Agency gives no evidence as to its claim of having copyrighted the photos beyond stating under penalty of perjury that it owns them.
The complaint singles out the photos that Brown included of Low with Paris Hilton in Saint-Tropez in 2010.
A spokesperson for Low did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
This is not the first time Brown, an environmental campaigner and sharp critic of the Malaysian government, has been targeted. Last year, she faced a lawsuit threat from a lawyer for Aziz after she published stories implying that the money for Aziz's Hollywood investments came from Malaysian government corruption. In 2013, her website came under a denial-of-service attack three weeks before Malaysia held elections. And Brown has been barred from entering Malaysia altogether.
DMCA complaints have been used before in attempts to silence online media. For example, a Spanish company called Ares Rights has repeatedly made DMCA complaints to counter content that is unflattering to the Ecuadorian government.