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Harvard’s Groundbreaking Project Documenting Online Content Removals Changes Name to Lumen

News release: “Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society is pleased to announce exciting changes to our pioneering Chilling Effects project, including an expanded mission and a new set of international research partnerships. To better reflect this evolution in scope as well as the changes in the landscape over the fourteen years since it was launched, the project has changed its name to “Lumen,” and can be found at The name borrows from the unit of measurement for visible light, highlighting the use of data for transparency reporting. “Since Chilling Effects was founded in the wake of the passage of the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the project has been essential to the collection and study of notices sent to online platforms requesting the removal of content,” said Chris Bavitz, Faculty Co-Director of the Berkman Center and Clinical Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. “We are excited for Lumen to continue this important work with an expanded scope, in partnership with a collection of extraordinary institutions.” Started in 2001 by then-Berkman fellow Wendy Seltzer and current Berkman Faculty Director Jonathan Zittrain, Chilling Effects was founded to provide a database of requests for content removal, to assist scholars and others in understanding trends in content removal demands and practices, and to facilitate research into how online intermediaries make their content removal decisions. “Both the variety of online communications and the range of takedown demands have grown enormously since we started transparency reporting with Chilling Effects in 2001,” said Wendy Seltzer, now a member of the Berkman Center’s Fellowship Advisory Board, “The new Lumen partnerships will enable us to shed light on takedown claims and responses around the world, further supporting academic research and news reporting on the climate for online expression. I look forward to its next decade.” Over time, the project has expanded in the types of notices it hosts, the sources they come from, and the sheer volume of requests it receives. In addition to DMCA notices, request types now include removal demands grounded in trademark, patent, locally-regulated content, and private information removal claims. Companies sharing notices they receive include Google, Twitter, Wikipedia, WordPress, and Reddit. The number of notices collected has grown from a few notices per week, to approximately 4,000 per day. As of July 2015, the Chilling Effects database contains more than three million notices and is the definitive source for online content removal requests. “While people may differ about the wisdom of censorship in one case or another, it shouldn’t take place secretly,” said Jonathan Zittrain, Faculty Director of the Berkman Center and George Bemis Professor of International Law. “Lumen stands for the proposition that demands for online redaction should be available for study, so that we can know the shape of what we are not seeing, whether the elisions are caused by a government or by a private party.”

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