DMCA Take-Down Part II: attacked and threatened for my unauthorized use of “time travel”

As you may recall, several months ago, a Detroit Mercy law student, in an attempt to purge our collective hive mind of any trace of his shameful indiscretions as a Young Republican operative on the campus of the University of Michigan, had my site yanked from the internet, citing a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) violation. It would seem that I had used a photo several years ago, which had appeared in an number of different venues, that I did not own the rights to. The photo showed the young man in question, a day or two after having been severely beaten, nursing a shattered eye socket, in what appears to be his parents’ suburban kitchen. As you may remember, his attack, which had originally been reported in the conservative press as the work of “liberal thugs,” had turned out to have been perpetrated by one of his friends, who’d grown tired of his drunken assholery outside a frat party. I thought, as the image had appeared in a number of different places, that it was fair game, but apparently I was wrong. I removed the image, my site flickered back to life, and I promptly called upon members of my audience to submit drawings of the young, black-eyed man in question, to replace the photograph that I’d been coerced into deleting. And, with that, a story which would have just faded away, was given a new lease in life, much to the chagrin of Mr. Zatkoff, who now works for a prominent Republican judge, who also happens to be a relative… Anyway, I would have thought that little parable would dissuade others from attempting to take down my site, but apparently it hasn’t. These past few weeks, I’ve been battling yet another DMCA accusation.

This time, my accuser is a man in Texas, who as taken offense with my having used the phrase “Slime Gravel Academy.”

That, of course, isn’t really the phrase in question, but it’s as close as I’m willing to get, seeing as how I’ve been threatened not only with a DCMA shutdown, but a full-blown FBI investigation.

Here’s how the story begins…

Two years ago this week, I posted something about a poorly done, subscription-based, animated web series being launched by Mike Huckabee, in which a team of patriotic young protagonists travel through time, witnessing historic events firsthand, and saying things like, “Reagan believes we can do anything… We just have to get the government out of the way!” It was clearly a money grab on the part of the painfully sanctimonious presidential hopeful, who saw an opportunity to share in the ever-growing “Oh My God, our kids are learning something other than ‘God loves our country best, and we can do no wrong’… and we have to do something about it” economy. And, as Huckabee called this animated truth squad of his The Slime Gravel Academy, that’s what I referred to it as in my post. But, it would seem that phrase was already “owned” by a litigious science fiction writer in Texas, who, for the purposes of this post, we’ll call Smeginald Smilliams. Mr. Smilliams successfully prosecuted Huckabee, and then he set out to obliterate any mention of the politician’s ridiculous enterprise online, contacting every news outlet that had made mention of the Slime Gravel Academy, and threatening legal action.

While I could certainly see how Huckabee might be in the wrong, if he did in fact launch a product without first doing a copyright search, I didn’t see how I could possibly be held accountable, as I’d just reported the story in good faith, referring to the educational series in question by the name that it was then being marketed under. I didn’t think it was even remotely possible that larger players, like the New York Times, for instance, would be coerced into edit their coverage, years after it had first appeared, and I decided to join them by fighting back on the grounds that, rightly or wrongly, this was the name that the series was being marketed under at the time.

Then I remembered, however, that I don’t have an attorney on staff, and I decided to give in to every unreasonable demand. I wasn’t afraid of the threat to get the FBI involved, as I figured they had bigger things to worry about than a guy who used the phrase “time travel” on his blog, but I didn’t want to have my site taken down yet again, and I knew, based on past experience, that the company hosting my site would do just that in the face of legal action. (They seem like good folks, but they clearly didn’t want to fight for me if it meant jeopardizing their entire enterprise.)

Unfortunately, this is how the system works. The burden of proof is all on the blogger. All someone has to do is demand something be changed and threaten legal action… if the changes aren’t made immediately, the site will be pulled from the internet.

Oh, and this man didn’t want me to just remove certain phrases from my posts, but also the tags that I’d used to categorize these articles that I’d written, so that people could find them more easily. So, now, as a result, anyone searching the web for mention of Huckabee’s contribution to American online education, won’t find anything if they search under the name that the product was officially offered under, at least on my site.

One last thing, I’m not the only one that uses meta tags on my site. It would seem that Mr. Smilliams does too. Here’s a screen capture of the source code from his site. As you’ll notice, he mentions a great many things, which, I’m quite certain, he does not own the rights to… So, tonight, I’m staying up late and writing to Brad Pitt, Will Smith, the new CEO of Apple, and the producer of Iron Man, suggesting that they call Washington immediately, and “file a complaint with the FBI”. My hope is that justice is swift and merciless.

It’s also worth nothing that I did offer to add an addendum at the end of the post in question, explaining that Huckabee had infringed on the copyright of Mr. Smilliams. Apparently, though, that wasn’t good enough. Nothing short of removing the phrase in question, I was told, would be acceptable.

Now, I’m going to see if I can find Mr. Smilliams’ book to review. Wish me luck.

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  1. Edward
    Posted May 14, 2013 at 6:09 am | Permalink

    The difference is that your tags were relevant to your posts. You weren’t just hiding celebrity names in order to increase your search results.

  2. anonymous
    Posted May 14, 2013 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    See “chilling effect”:

  3. Hubert
    Posted May 14, 2013 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    Hello. This is quite interesting. In Belgium we have had a Time Travel Academy since the early 1980s. It is not possible that Mr Williams has invented it.

  4. Eel
    Posted May 14, 2013 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    I know it’s wrong, but I’m tempted to find this man’s books on Amazon and review them tonight, after I’ve had a few highballs.

  5. Posted May 14, 2013 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    Uh oh – your screen cap includes the phrase in question. You’re probably going to get another take down request.

  6. double anonymous
    Posted May 14, 2013 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    Screen caps aren’t searchable. Mr. Maynard is a sneaky mother fucker. He’s given everyone the name of the company without making said company aware.

  7. K2
    Posted May 14, 2013 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    How is this even possible? You wrote about a product that was publicly available under the name that it was being sold under. It’s not your fault that they didn’t have the right to the name, and it’s absolutely asinine to suggest that everyone amend their stories. What an ass.

  8. K2
    Posted May 14, 2013 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    Also, if you review this guy’s book, I can see him threatening to sue again, unless you remove both his name and that if the book, as he owns both. Is that what the world is coming to? Will people like Galagher be able to sue you if you say on Facebook that his show sucks? Can Nickleback scrub the web of every negative comment?

  9. Brad Pitt
    Posted May 14, 2013 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    Thank you for bringing this to my attention. The FBI has been called back from Boston and they assure me that they are looking into this issue. I think we’d all agree that this is the most insidious use of meta tags ever, and I will not stop until this man is flushed from his hiding place. I promise you that.

  10. Aaron B.
    Posted May 14, 2013 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Wow…. what a wacky world we live in. I think the entire world went Coo Coo for Coco Puffs (Am I aloud to post that term even?).

  11. Scott Trudeau
    Posted May 14, 2013 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    In my semi-informed (not a lawyer) opinion, this guy has absolutely no legal leg to stand on. The name of something is not protected by copyright (see ). It could be protected by trademark, if registered, which gives very different kinds of protection from copyright. The Digital Millenium *Copyright* Act protections do not apply to trademarks. If Mark had actually posted a significant portion of the contents of Huckabees’ series, that could be a violation of Huckabee’s copyright, but again, has nothing to do with this guy. (This is different than the earlier case of the photograph which *is* protected by copyright and would only arguably be considered fair use). That said, who wants to pay a lawyer to slap this guy down when you can instead mock him?

  12. XXX
    Posted May 14, 2013 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    I agree that this fellow likely didn’t have a legal leg to stand on. I don’t know, however, that Mark had an alternative if the company hosting his site told him that it would be taken down if the requested edits weren’t made. He could have, I suppose, hired an attorney, but I suspect he weighed the pros and cons and decided against it. Better to just focus on reviewing this author’s book, and using “Time Travel Academy” in the proper context.

  13. Meta
    Posted May 14, 2013 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    I found video:

  14. Meta
    Posted May 14, 2013 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if he’s got the rights for all the stock photography he uses in his YouTube videos.

    Note that he’s also disabled comments on his videos. Judging from the reviews he’s getting on Amazon, I’m not surprised. Here are some examples.

    “This is one of the worst books I have ever read. The plot was infantile, the “science” was nonsense, and the writting was cliched. Do not buy this book!”

    “I was going to read this, but i know a guy who knows the guy who actually wrote this book, and he told me all i need to know, if you can read between the lines then this review has helped u make an informed decision.”

    “I keep this book on my iPhone, so I can refer to it occasionally. I like to read from it out loud to my helpless friends. It was so jaw-droppingly, mind-numbingly bad that I couldn’t stop reading. Think of any pulp sci-fi cliche, and you can bet it’s in there, whether it makes sense or not. There are sequels? I can’t wait. I recommend this. Just read it for laughs, and hope they don’t ever try to make a movie from it.”

    “This is in my top 5 worst books I have ever subjected myself to. As the title says, this was like a bad mash-up between a weak “Stargate” episode with “The Karate Kid”. Ridiculous leaps in logic, 2-dimensional characters, bad writing and “science” that makes no sense whatsoever. No sooner do characters and “mutants” pop up for no reason, they are dispatched with little or no drama or logic. Did I mention that part of this takes place on “Planet Peligroso” which is in another galaxy, millions of years in the past, heading for a black hole….and everyone speaks English! There’s even a guy with Spanish name; Guerrero, which he helpfully explains means “warrior”. There’s also pointless trips to Russia, a Kung Fu academy with a bad mob shake-down subplot, space bees, emails in space, stereotypical army bad guys sabotaging our heros for no real reason…too much ridiculous dreck to go into.”

  15. Elliott
    Posted May 14, 2013 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    He thinks he’s sitting on a gold mine with his Time Travel Academy, and he’s trying to protect it. I just did a quick Google search and found an article in which he was talking about selling the rights to Hollywood.

  16. Posted May 14, 2013 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    Awww shit, K2…Nickelback can get me for slander then (Just today, I was lecturing a few high school students on how awful Nickelback is)

  17. Posted May 14, 2013 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

    OK, I found his book on Goodreads and I was going to act big and be all, “I’m reading it for US! I’m falling on the sword so I can come back and report on this book and we can make fun of it” but I’m sorry, I can’t. I couldn’t make it past the description on the Goodreads site. I love you folks, but I’m not a masochist.

  18. Posted May 15, 2013 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    As part of “The Rules” on EMUTalk, I make reference to the EFF’s legal guide to bloggers, and one of the things they talk about here is section 230 of the Communication Decency Act. I am not a lawyer nor do I play one on TV, but this would appear to lend you some protection against your suit from crazy people like this one.

    That said, I can completely understand your approach here. I haven’t had a situation where someone asked me to take something down like what you’re describing, but given that fighting it probably wouldn’t be worth the hassle, I would almost certainly comply with the wishes of the crazy person. Sadly.

  19. Rai Harashi
    Posted May 21, 2013 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Steve really nailed it here. Sadly, it’s what you’ve got to do. What’s your blog Steve?

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