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.