Neowin was shut down late Thursday and came back online Friday afternoon.
Microsoft's Internet investigator sent a takedown notice on Tuesday, alleging the site was infringing the company's copyrights relating to its recently released Windows XP Peer-to-Peer Software Development Kit (SDK), apparently due to a message posted by a reader in an online feedback forum.
Such legal filings are routine. But in this case, the request turned into a nightmare for Neowin when it was sent not to the site but to the upstream Internet service provider responsible for Neowin's Web connection. That provider responded by pulling the entire site offline. Neowin declined to name the ISP, but a traceroute on the Neowin.net address showed Williams Communications Group, now known as WillTel Communications, as its furthest upstream provider. Sources later confirmed that Microsoft contacted the closer upstream provider, Hurricane Electric Internet Services of Fremont, Calif.
Hurricane spokeswoman Sommer Farrin said that the ISP did receive the notice from Microsoft. But she said Hurricane took no action against the site, instead passing the request on to a customer--not WillTel--that provides services to Neowin's Web host, Invision Power Services Hosting (IPS). She declined to name the customer.
Neowin and IPS blamed Microsoft for the incident, saying the software giant gave them no chance to fix the problem before referring it to the ISP for more draconian measures.
"Neowin and IPS did not have the chance to remove the said content before the provider deleted (access to) the contents of the server without contacting Neowin or IPS," according to a post on the Web site just before it returned to normal Friday. "(IPS) received a copy of the e-mail that Microsoft sent and we can confirm it was a standard 'remove content' e-mail that did not warrant a total shutdown."
Takedown notices have become common under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which grants ISPs immunity from liability if they promptly remove material upon notice of alleged infringement from a copyright holder. Large ISPs may routinely receive and comply with hundreds of takedown requests a month. Sites subject to takedown actions have no immediate recourse, but can later appeal for reinstatement.
The Neowin shutdown is unusual, however, since such complaints typically result in the removal of specific infringing material, rather than entire sites.
"(Microsoft) should have contacted Neowin directly," said a spokesman for IPS. "This was like going three levels up the command chain."
A Microsoft representative said, "Microsoft just wanted the page removed and the download redirected to Microsoft Developer Network." He described the posting of the software as piracy.
"Unfortunately, the host went a little further than Microsoft intended and pulled the whole site," the representative continued. "Somebody got a little ahead of themselves. There's no blame here. It's just a mistake that happened."
The Microsoft representative insisted the removal of the site was not the intention and the company communicated that to the ISP in a second e-mail. "When Microsoft learned that the entire site had been disabled, it sent a follow-up message to the host restating that the takedown request related only to the specific download," the representative said.
Neowin specializes in news about Microsoft and Windows. About 20 posters are responsible for the main content, and moderators are responsible for public forums. The site also closely tracks beta software, covering news such as last Friday'sof Longhorn, the code name for the next version of Windows.
"Enthusiast sites are often at odds with the companies they cover," said Jupiter Research analyst Michael Gartenberg.
This is not the first time Neowin has drawn the ire of Microsoft for software posted on the site, but in past instances the software giant had contacted Neowin directly.
Tom Warren, news poster and forum moderator for Neowin, said the software giant contacted the site about four times in the last three years regarding unauthorized software posted on the site. In every instance, Neowin responded immediately to Microsoft's request, Warren said.
But in this instance, Microsoft approached the ISP, giving Neowin no opportunity to investigate claims that pirated software had been posted on the site, according to Warren.
Warren said the offending software was apparently posted by a reader in a feedback forum relating to a news story on the release of Microsoft's Windows XP Peer-to-Peer SDK.
"We are all a bit dazed as to why Microsoft or its contracted partner decided to contact our server host and not us," he explained. "Neowin was not contacted by Microsoft, only by our ISP that alerted us as to why we were down."
But the Microsoft representative said that in most cases of piracy Microsoft contacts the ISP directly, asking only that the offending software be removed.
"The objective of Microsoft's notice and takedown program is to facilitate the removal of unauthorized downloads of Microsoft programs from the Internet," the representative said. "In this case Microsoft investigators?sent a takedown notice to the registered host of the IP address requesting takedown of the download."
The representative again emphasized the company would have been happy with the removal of the software and "for the site to post a link" to msdn.com. Microsoft did not request that the entire site be disabled.
Since some files were deleted when the Web site was pulled, Neowin returned only partially restored. Due to a problem with the SQL Server backup, the site lost as much as a month of content.
"We lost our Longhorn articles and Office 2003 articles," Warren said.
The Microsoft representative said that the company would do whatever is necessary to help the site, again reiterating that the company sent a second notice to the ISP restating that its request was only about one specific page.
"With that made clear, Microsoft has no objection to the site being restored and will do whatever is appropriate to help ensure that the interested parties and their host are able to get this situation resolved," the representative said.