from the and-to-think,-this-all-could-have-been-prevented dept
South Fayette School in Pennsylvania, along with a complicit criminal justice system, recently made headlines with its groundbreaking anti-bullying program, which apparently deters bullying by punishing bullied students.
Here's a short recap:
A bullied student used an iPad to make an audio recording of other students abusing him. He brought this to school administration who a) called in a police officer (after being advised by its legal team that this might be a violation of the state's wiretapping law) and b) deleted the recording.
The police officer, unable to actually bring a felony charge against the minor, settled for disorderly conduct. This charge brought him before a judge, who first stated her firm belief in the school's inability to do wrong before finding him guilty.
Throughout the entire debacle, not a single person involved even considered the possibility that the student had committed no crime or the fact that he had followed all of the school's prescribed steps for reporting bullying incidents. Instead, the desire to punish someone was obliged every step of the way.
Stanfield (the student) had announced that he and his attorney would file an appeal to that ruling but his fight may already be coming to an end. Today, Benswann.com has been told by Stanfield’s attorney that the District Attorney will allow the appeal to go forward but will no longer pursue this case.
More specifically, both the wiretapping charge (which was apparently still brought despite the involved officer's statement otherwise) and the disorderly conduct charge (which the judge found the student guilty of) were dropped.
A wiretapping charge against a South Fayette High School student who recorded two classmates bullying him has been dropped by the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office.
Mike Manko, a spokesman for District Attorney Stephen Zappala, said Judge Robert Gallo signed an order Thursday to withdraw the citation against 15-year-old Christian Stanfield.
"No one in our office who is authorized to give advice on wiretap issues or school conduct issues was ever contacted in this matter. We have made multiple attempts to contact the officer who wrote the citation and (the) results have been unsuccessful," Manko said in a written statement. "We do not believe this behavior rises to the level of a citation."
Odd that a police officer wouldn't talk to a district attorney. Unless, of course, a little bit of hindsight made him realize his every move fell between vindictive and buffoonish. Lt. Murka, who apparently considered both wiretapping and disorderly conduct to be appropriate "remedies" for a bullied student recording his tormentors, seems to have recused himself from the public eye. Manko, speaking for the DA, hits the heart of the issue -- one simple sentence that any of those involved could have deployed to call an end to this ridiculous situation before it ended up in front of a judge: "We do not believe this behavior rises to the level of a citation."
The South Fayette Township School District wishes to address recent reports in the local and national media concerning a student of the South Fayette Township School District. It is to be noted that certain information being disseminated by the media is inaccurate and/or incomplete.
Rather than clear up what exactly was "inaccurate and/or incomplete" about the reporting, it instead has chosen to hide behind "confidentiality."
The School District is legally precluded from commenting specifically in regard to these reports as the issue involves a confidential student matter.
Considering the story has been all over the news, it seems a bit weak to claim the matter is still "confidential." It would seem it could comment on any of the specifics already in the public domain. The story has gone nationwide, so it's disingenuous to pretend it's still a "confidential" matter.
While it's nice that the DA has dropped the charges and allowed the student to proceed through school without criminal charges hanging over his head, one wonders if this same outcome would have forthcoming without the attendant public outcry. Any adult can start acting like one with enough public shaming. But the application of a little common sense would have averted this incident completely.
A bit more troubling is one of the suggestions that escaped the lips of a local politician who showed up to the teen's "not a criminal" celebration.
State lawmaker Jesse White joined the rally, telling Stanfield he wants to name a law after him. He said it would close the loophole in the wiretapping law and allow victims of bullying to record it as proof for police and school officials.
His opportunistic heart's in the right place, but naming laws after people often indicates the new law is a bad one. This isn't an issue where a new law will fix things. This is an issue where no one in this chain of events showing the courage (and common sense) to stand up and ask why they were punishing a bullied kid for recording bullies.
Here comes another story highlighting the danger of schools "outsourcing" their disciplinary problems to law enforcement. As we've stated before, this does nothing more than turn routine misconduct into criminal behavior, which is a great way to derail a student's future.
A Pennsylvania teen, who claimed to have been bullied constantly (and ignored by school administration), made an audio recording of his tormentors using a school-supplied iPad. He brought this to the school's attention, which duly responded by calling the cops… to have him arrested for violating Pennsylvania's wiretapping law. (h/t to Techdirt reader btr1701)
[The student's mother, Shea] Love says that upon fielding her complaint, Principal Scott Milburn called South Fayette Township police Lieutenant Robert Kurta to the school to interrogate her son in the presence of Associate Principal Aaron Skrbin and Dean of Students Joseph Silhanek. The defendant testified before Judge McGraw-Desmet that he was forced to play the audio for the group and then delete it. Love says by the time she arrived at the school, her son was surrounded by school officials and the police officer and was visibly distraught. She says Milburn defended the teacher's response to the classroom disturbance.
The administration, rather than consider targeting the recorded bullies, instead called the cops believing (on advice from district lawyers, no less) that they had a felon in their office.
Kurta testified before the magistrate that Milburn requested his presence at the school on February 12 at 8:20 a.m. The officer said, “He believed he had a wiretapping incident.” Upon his arrival, Kurta said Milburn advised him that Silhanek fielded a call that morning from Love notifying him “that she planted a recording device in her son’s backpack to record the activities in one of his classes.” According to Kurta’s testimony, after Milburn consulted with the school district’s attorney, he advised reporting the incident to the police and treating it as a crime.
At that moment, it was certainly within Lt. Kurta’s ability to pull the principal aside and tell him, “hey, you scared the crap out of the kid, which should do the job. You realize that this isn’t a crime of any sort, and so I’m just going to back away slowly, not embarrass you for bringing me here to waste my time, and you can go back to doing whatever it is you do in this big building. Have a nice day.”
That's one option. But as these things go, that's rarely, if ever, the option chosen. The officer, having been summoned, needed to find something to charge the bullied student with.
Kurta said, “After I left the school, I wasn’t sure what charge to file so I contacted the district attorney’s office. This would fall under a wiretapping violation, which is a felony.” He later answered as to why he thought the disorderly conduct charge applied to this case by saying, “Because his (the student’s) actions — he engaged in actions which served no legitimate purpose.” He then read the statute as, “Creates a hazardous or physically offensive condition by acts which serve no legitimate purpose.”
Because capturing evidence of bullying "serves no legitimate purpose," apparently.
As Greenfield puts it, the officer was a hammer. Therefore, the bullied student must be a nail. This brought the student in front of yet another authority who could finally apply some common sense to the situation -- the magistrate judge. But that was not to be. The judge dragged in her own faith in the malfunctioning system as justification for nailing the student for disorderly conduct. In fact, Judge Maureen McGraw made her statement in defense of the school before the student could make his statement.
“Normally, if there is — I certainly have a big problem with any kind of bullying at school. But normally, you know, I would expect a parent would let the school know about it, because it’s not tolerated. I know that, and that you guys [school administrators] would handle that, you know [...] Because it’s not tolerated, but you need to go through — let the school handle it. And I know from experience with South Fayette School that, you know, it always is. And if there is a problem and it continues, then it is usually brought in front of me.”
Greenfield again, pointing out just how wrong the judge's statement is:
While this may not be a unique reaction, whether with school officials or police, it is decidedly flagrant. Where a judge’s function is so fundamentally undermined from the outset, that an accuser is so virtuous that it cannot be wrong, the prejudice can neither be ignored nor excused. The die was cast by dint of the school having “brought [the student] in front of” the judge.
The last part of the "unholy trinity" was the final hammer, coming down on the "nail" placed in front of it by school administrators (who can do no wrong) and a police officer (who is beyond fault). Guilty as charged.
The judge's statement is particularly egregious, considering the situation in front of her. First off, the judge's faith in the school's ability to combat bullying is obviously misplaced. She saw no fault in her reasoning and, using that as her platform for the rest of her statement, she went on to act on her own information and beliefs.
But further than appealing to her own authority, the judge stated how these things should be handled, apparently completely unaware (or unwilling to recognize) that following the prescribed steps is what resulted in a bullied child standing in front of her, facing a BS "disorderly conduct" charge.
The judge said that bullying victims should first bring the problem to their parents -- which this student did. Next, she says the parents should let the school administrators know -- which she did. Finally, she says, let the school handle it -- which it did. And now, the student faces her -- having followed all the proper steps -- charged with disorderly conduct. And yet, despite this, she asserts that the system works and, indeed, has always worked in regards to this particular school. Logical fallacy piled on top of logical fallacy until a bullied kid is charged with a crime while his recorded tormentors remain unpunished.
The judge refused to believe that any one of these esteemed administrators could have screwed up, failing to believe that they, too, are human and as prone to failure as anyone else. If they've never screwed up in the past, all future misdeeds are forgiven (and forgotten) in advance. This is the sort of rationale that should never be deployed by a supposedly impartial overseer like a judge, because it's just as wrong as assuming every authority figure involved here is an irredeemable monster.
[P]eople are not so one-dimensional that they are horrible in every instance, to every person, under every circumstances. The cop who beats a man one day may have saved a kitten in a tree the day before.
Maybe the school has had an admirable track record on curtailing bullying. Maybe Officer Kurta doesn't always seek to find something to charge a person with when put in this position. But everyone here came together to make a string of regrettable decisions that led to a bullied student being punished, rather than the aggressors. Maybe the future holds better outcomes, but for right now, everyone involved had a chance to stop this from reaching this illogical conclusion, but no one -- from the administrators to their legal team to local law enforcement to the presiding judge -- was interested in reining this in. In the end, it looks as though an innate desire to punish someone was satisfied every step of the way.
In the ongoing idiocy that is schools employing zero tolerance policies, the admittedly misguided overbearing results at least tend to have some pretend logic behind them. The school is afraid of guns, so ban everything that remotely looks like a gun, even if we're just talking about some kid's fingers. The school wants to curtail bullying, so they go nuclear at anything even remotely resembling bullying. Yes, it's misguided, yes, it's stupid, but you can at least follow along the logical path they walked before jumping off the cliff.
A mother and her 9-year-old son say school officials won't let him bring a My Little Pony bag to school. The boy and his mother say he's getting shoved around because bullies think his pick of a favorite toy is for girls.
My Little Pony, which has enjoyed something of a resurgence lately, is a show about friendship. One would have to work extremely hard after being hit in the head with a hammer in order to find anything offensive within it. The only explanation anyone has offered for banning Grayson from bringing his damned backpack to school has been that it sets off the bullies to go about their bullying ways. This, in case you're dense, is about as pure a form of blaming the victim as one can find. Fortunately, while the school in question decided to paint a damned backpack as the culprit in this scenario, the power of social media has risen to support Grayson.
Since it aired, the story has been picked up by websites, blogs and television stations across the nation. Tuesday it was one of the top stories trending on social media. The Facebook page 9-year-old Grayson Bruce's parents have set up for him now has more than 3,700 "Likes". Grayson has developed a following on Facebook after a friend made a support page for him. Grayson stands by his favorite cartoon and the message he says it sends. His mother says, why not?
But Noreen says Thursday the school asked him to leave the bag at home because it had become a distraction and was a "trigger for bullying."
This is absurd. In a world where too many schools are embracing too many zero tolerance policies, this one is actually going down the road of removing the subject of the bullying instead. What fun! What if the young man was gay? Or black? Mexican? What if he liked a certain kind of music, or was a huge fan of the wrong sports team? What if he had a medical condition? Sorry, sport, but you have to leave your crutches at home, 'cuz the kids just ain't down with them.
No, the proper response to is to pull those bullying Grayson aside and explain to them in stark terms why their actions aren't acceptable. Banning MLP backpacks can't be the answer, lest we allow all those children to learn the exact wrong lesson in their place of learning.
from the this-is-what-happens-when-actions-are-dictated-by-emotions dept
The two students arrested and charged with "felony aggravated stalking" by Polk County (FL) sheriff Grady Judd for allegedly participating in the bullying of a classmate who committed suicide have now had all charges brought against them dropped.
All charges against one of the girls accused of cyberbullying Rebecca Sedwick, the Lakeland girl who committed suicide, will be dropped, according to attorney Jose Baez.
Baez represents the 12-year-old girl.
"They dropped these charges because they simply didn't have the evidence, and they felt it was the right thing to do," said Baez.
The lawyer for a 14-year-old girl charged in the case says it is her understanding that charges against her client will also be dropped.
The state Attorney General hasn't given an official comment on the status of these cases as they're still pending, but Grady Judd seemed to confirm this was the case in a statement he made to the media.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd held a news conference to discuss the latest developments and said the outcome of the case was a success.
"Our goal was to create an intervention," he said. "Our goal was to bring this conduct to the proper authorities..."
Both girls are now receiving services and counseling. The 12-year-old's lawyer bashed the Sheriff for his actions, saying Judd "wanted to be a TV star" and was using his position as a "pulpit."
As sheriff, backed by a like-minded State Attorney's Office, Judd has made the signature of his administration child porn stings, Craigslist prostitution stings and so-called cyberstings modeled after NBC's To Catch a Predator. His undercover detectives pose online as teen girls to let men talk dirty to them. He arrested a swim coach from North Carolina. He arrested a man from Orlando who earlier had been called a hero for rescuing people from a plane crash. He arrested in Maryland a 57-year-old deputy press secretary for the Department of Homeland Security.
Almost all these men live somewhere else. Judd brings them to Polk County.
Apparently, no matter where you live and what local laws you haven't violated, if moved to do so, Sheriff Judd will send his officers after you and haul you back to Florida to be judged by his rules.
A man in Colorado a couple of months ago published a book called The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure, and he didn't get arrested for it, and this made Grady Judd mad.
So the sheriff of Polk County, whose job is to protect and serve the roughly 500,000 people who live in the mostly agricultural area between Tampa and Orlando, had one of his undercover detectives contact Phillip Greaves of Pueblo, Colo., and ask to buy his book. Greaves sent a signed copy back to Polk, where Judd got a search warrant, and then sent two of his men 1,856 miles to arrest him the week before Christmas.
While some may argue that all's fair in the war on child porn, there are indications that Judd's idea of what is or isn't criminally obscene may be very skewed.
In 2007, commenting on a case in which he had arrested a man who was running a porn site out of his home in Polk, he said: "No normal person could even imagine what's depicted in those videos and in those photographs." A sexual behavior expert from the University of Central Florida said in a motion in the man's court file that it was run-of-the-mill erotica available anywhere on the Internet to anyone.
According to Judd, bullying "only contributed" to the death of Rebecca Sedwick, who died last month after jumping from a tower at an abandoned cement plant near her home…
Judd told CBS News' Crimesider that he charged the girls with stalking because what they did to Sedwick went beyond bullying into harassment and intimidation, but he also said that Sedwick had problems at home that may have contributed to her state of mind on the day of her death. According to Judd, Sedwick slept not on a bed at home, but in a recliner. Her sister, said Judd, slept on the couch, and the girls' clothes were kept in "grocery sacks" in the living room.
Sedwick's mother, Tricia Norman, has been in trouble with the law since at least 1995, when she was charged with multiple counts of writing bad checks, according to Polk County records. In 2005, she was again charged with writing bad checks, as well as fraud and probation violation. The records reveal that Norman apparently has several aliases, including Tricia Craig, Tricia Howard and Tricia Jones.
While this look into Sedwick's home life may have contributed to the charges being dropped, it apparently didn't factor into Judd's decision to charge the two youths. If nothing else, his surprising move to arrest the two students garnered him the attention he seems to thrive on.
Judd says he has received overwhelmingly positive feedback from his community - and people as far away as Hawaii and Alaska - for his decision to charge the girls for their alleged bullying.
Then there's this quote from a local police chief and former co-worker of Judd's.
"I kid him: 'The most dangerous place in Polk County is to get between you and a TV camera.' He just laughs. But he's worked the media very well. It's going to keep him elected. "
While many people would like to see bullies punished for their actions, letting a publicity-hungry Sheriff who has a track record of moralizing on a national scale from his Florida office use an emotionally-charged issue as a personal chew toy is a terrible idea.
from the administrators-seek-to-control-off-campus-life-as-well dept
We saw Nova Scotia deliver the worst in cyberbullying laws (Canadian edition) earlier this year. Like most bad cyberbullying legislation, this one was prompted by the suicide of a teen. It's too tempting for legislators to rush into action with no real idea on how to solve the problem, much less mitigate it, and the attendant public uproar contributes nothing in terms of clear thinking or common sense.
As a result, laws like Nova Scotia's get passed -- laws that rely on purely subjective measures. If someone feels offended, they can press charges, utilizing a non-adversarial process that allows the accuser to present his or her case directly to a judge, who then decides whether or not it's actually cyberbullying. This opens the accused up to civil proceedings, criminal charges and a chance of being banned not just from social media but from the internet entirely, along with being banned from using electronic devices -- like a phone.
Maryland's anti-cyberbullying law ("Grace's Law") is also the byproduct of the charged reaction to a teen's (Grace McComas) post-bullying suicide. Grace's Law attempts to outlaw being a jerk while still pretending it doesn't tread all over the public's First Amendment rights. It grants exceptions for "expressing political views" and "conveying information" but that's it. And if it's a teen on the receiving end of "electronic annoyance" (whether or not the "annoyer" knows the target is a teen), expect the hammer to fall swiftly and crushingly.
On Tuesday, the new law took effect, and this morning Maryland attorney general Douglas Gansler unveiled a joint initiative with Facebook and the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) in which Facebook will create a new program for school officials, the Educator Escalation Channel — initially limited to use in the state of Maryland, presumably pending similar enactments elsewhere — allowing the officials to object to Facebook users’ content. Per local radio station WTOP, Maryland school officials will be offered the chance to flag “questionable or prohibited” language. That is to say, they will flag speech that isn’t prohibited by the new law but which they deem “questionable.”
The targets of the new program, according to Gansler as quoted by WTOP, include persons who are “not committing a crime… We’re not going to go after you, but we are going to take down the language off of Facebook, because there’s no redeeming societal value and it’s clearly hurting somebody.” That is to say, Gansler believes he has negotiated power for school officials to go after speech that is not unlawful even under the decidedly speech-unfriendly definitions of the new Maryland law, but which they consider hurtful and lacking in “redeeming societal value.”
“Facebook continues to look for ways to help parents, teens and educators better understand the safety features built into our service,” Facebook’s Brooke Oberwetter said in a statement, thanking Gansler “for his national leadership on the issue of online safety and for working with us to create this pilot program in Maryland.”
Oberwetter's statement appears to have been pre-written by an official at the Ministry of Love. It contains the sort of Big Brother-embracing faux cheeriness Oberwtter, who once sued the DC Park Police after being arrested for dancing at the Jefferson Memorial (and lost but still returned to dance again), wouldn't make on her own. Nope, this is a corporate canned speech, one that gives a glassy-eyed nod as it awaits orders from its new "partner." As Greenfield points out, this is a dangerous precedent Facebook is setting.
While Facebook may be a private enterprise, fully entitled to decide what content is acceptable on its platform and similarly entitled to decide that its users will no longer be allowed to write “Suzy is a poo poo head” on the wall, it’s not that simple when the censor is a state actor and the content at issue is deemed offensive not because it violates any law, but because someone is empowered to stifle speech that doesn’t comport with their vision of redeeming societal value, whatever that means. By doing the bidding of teachers, Facebook becomes the agent of the state.
Even the new statement issued by Facebook, where it claims it won't be changing its content policy "one iota" rings a little hollow. The response, given to the WSJ's Law Blog, claims Facebook will show no greater preference to reports via Maryland's direct line than those arriving via the "report" buttons deployed by everyday, non-Escalating non-Educators.
But the foot's in the door.
But this is Maryland? Who cares? And Facebook is so MySpace, right? Except it’s a pilot program, and it comes with the support of the National Association of Attorneys Generals, who would like nothing better than to make sure that no speech that doesn’t meet its approval is ever seen. This is how it starts, in one god-forsaken state on one declining platform.
Maryland is the only state in the nation currently working with (or adjacent to) Facebook to make preemptive strikes against posts "without societal value." It's very unlikely it will be the last. There are plenty of opportunistic politicians, administrators and attorneys general more than happy to point out how SERIOUS they are about tackling the cyberbullying menace.
Maryland's anti-bullying law sets its own dangerous precedents, as does Facebook's willingness to (at least publicly) ingratiate itself to censorious state bodies. It won't just be one state or one social network before it's all said and done. With the NSA peeking in the back door and Maryland's NAAG squad peering through the windows, the world's largest social network has placed one foot on a slope that descends rapidly to Facebook.gov.
We recently wrote about how Aaron Swartz's legal team was arguing with MIT and the DOJ about publicly releasing some of the documents in the case against him. MIT and the DOJ want to keep the names of key people at MIT and JSTOR secret, while Swartz's family says the info should be public. In response, among other things, the US Attorneys' Office has said that, since Swartz's death, they've been bullied and hacked. From the filing:
In my capacity as First Assistant United States Attorney, I have been shown various harassing and potentially threatening email messages directed at United States Attorney Ortiz and the United States Attorney’s Office following Mr. Swartz’s suicide.
Attached at Tab E are copies of the following articles:
a. Swartz case protest at Boston US Attorney’s Home, The Boston Globe, March 12, 2013; and
b. Swartz protesters go to prosecutor’s home, The Boston Globe, March 17, 2013.
In my capacity as First Assistant, I have been shown various harassing and threatening messages directed at AUSA Heymann. One such email I have seen states, among other things:
ROFLMAO just saw you were totally dox’d over the weekend by Anonymous. How does it feel to become an enemy of the state? FYI, you might want to move out of the country and change your name . . .
That same email copies personal information of AUSA Heymann, including his home address and personal telephone number, among other things. AUSA Heymann has also reported to me that his personal information (including his home address, personal telephone number, and the names of family member and friends) were posted online, and that his Facebook page was hacked.
Attached at Tab F is a redacted copy of a postcard that AUSA Heymann has informed me he received at his home.
Attached at Tab G is a copy of a postcard that Professor Philip Heymann has informed me he received.
This is the first postcard they're talking about:
The picture in the center is of Philip Heymann, father of Steven Heymann. Steve Heymann led the prosecution of Swartz. His father, Philip is a former deputy attorney general and a professor at Harvard.
Once again, as we've stated numerous times in the past, these kinds of activities, while they may feel like a way to make a statement against those who have done wrong, are incredibly counterproductive and stupid. Rather than making any sort of realistic or helpful point, they just give more ammo to the DOJ to block a full, fair and thorough exploration into what went wrong. Making them into victims is a really pointless move that helps the DOJ continue to cover up the details of what happened by giving them cover.
I recognize that there's tremendous anger towards the US Attorneys' office over this case, and much of that anger is likely justified. But channeling that anger into childish threats doesn't help anyone, least of all Swartz's memory and family. Yes, the prosecution of Swartz was unfair, and I would support a legitimate investigation into what happened and ways to keep the DOJ from such overzealous prosecution in the future (though, I agree with others that this sort of thing is endemic to the DOJ, and wasn't unique to Swartz's situation). But these actions turn the DOJ into victims and give them an excuse to hide behind. These kinds of attacks may make some kids feel better, but they don't help at all.
Fresh off of explaining why the President can use drones to kill Americans on American soil, Attorney General Eric Holder apparently feels emboldened to say just about anything to justify ridiculous government actions. The latest? Defending the Aaron Swartz prosecution at a Congressional hearing called by Sen. John Cornyn, who has already expressed his concerns over the prosecution.
As you might expect, Holder stuck with the official line that what the DOJ did in the Swartz case was perfectly reasonable. The key to his argument, as we've been hearing from others who defended the government's actions: the DOJ never intended to put Swartz in jail for 35 years. Also, apparently it was unfair of the media to use that 35 year number.
As I've talked to the people who have looked into this matter, these news reports about what he was actually facing is not consistent with what the interaction was between the government and Mr. Swartz. A plea offer was made to him of 3 months, before the indictment. This case could have been resolved with a plea of 3 months. After the indictment, an offer was made and he could plead and serve 4 months. Even after that, a plea offer was made, of a range of zero to 6 months, that he would be able to argue for a probationary sentence. The government would be able to argue for up to a period of 6 months. There was never any intention for him to go to jail for a period longer than 3, 4, potentially 5 month range.
These claims are not only misleading, but also total and complete bullshit. First off, if you never intended for him to spend more than 6 months in jail, and you're upset at the "media" for using the 35 year number... why is it that the DOJ's own press release on the arrest played up the 35 years:
AARON SWARTZ, 24, was charged in an indictment with wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer, and recklessly damaging a protected computer. If convicted on these charges, SWARTZ faces up to 35 years in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release, restitution, forfeiture and a fine of up to $1 million.
I'm sorry, but you don't get to push that number around in your own damn press release and then whine and complain about how "unfair" it is that the media uses the number you gave them.
Separately, concerning the insistence that they never wanted him to spend more than 6 months in jail, they leave out the fact that this was only if Swartz agreed to plead guilty to multiple felonies. According to various reports, the DOJ, via Assistant US Attorney Steve Heymann made it clear that if Swartz did not agree to the plea, then he would seek somewhere around seven years in jail.
Cornyn goes on to ask about why the DOJ pursued the case even after the supposed "victim," JSTOR said it didn't want to have anything to do with the case. Cornyn specifically asks if it makes sense to threaten someone with 35 years in prison when the victim doesn't even seem to feel harmed by the situation. Holder than tries to spin this around and, incredibly, argue that the fact that they didn't pursue the full 35 years is an example of good prosecutorial discretion. Seriously.
Cornyn: The subscription service didn't support the prosecution. Does it strike you as odd that the government would indict someone for crimes that would carry penalties of up to 35 years in prison and million dollar fines and then offer him a 3 or 4 month prison sentence?
Holder: Well I think that's a good use of prosecutorial discretion. To look at the conduct, regardless of what the statutory maximums were, and to fashion a sentence that was consistent with what the nature of the conduct was. And I think what those prosecutors did in offering 3, 4, 0 to 6 was consistent with that conduct.
In other words, the only thing Holder is really saying here is that there was perfectly reasonable prosecutorial discretion if and only if Swartz agreed to a plea bargain in which he plead guilty to all felony charges against him. Basically, it's a "good use of prosecutorial discretion" to bully someone into pleading guilty to a crime they don't believe they've committed, and as long as they accept that, go to jail, and be okay with being labelled a felon for life, then there's no problem.
How do we let these people into positions of power?
My apologies ahead of time for the length of this piece, but anything shorter wouldn't do the subject justice. I will, however, provide plenty of pictures and blockquotes. This post deals with a strange copyright troll, which bullies people into properly attributing a quoted poem. The troll runs across multiple social media platforms but does a bulk of its "work" at Twitter, where it can receive instantaneous feedback. Along the way, we'll deal with the poet himself, a company called On Press Inc. and some other connections which seem to indicate the poet himself is behind the trolling, along with a threatened lawsuit against me for copyright infringement, defamation and false claims.
It starts out simply enough. As a contributor to this site, I was doing the sort of thing we do in our downtime -- running a Twitter search for the term "infringement." The search results were dominated by tweets from an account that looked exactly like this one.
Only it wasn't this one. The account I saw had this name: @xsaonpress.
When I returned the next day, I was greeted with the message that the above account had been suspended. Odd. So, I searched again, only this time using the keywords "tongues" and "glass," -- two words in the title of the poem in question -- and found that On Press was still in business.
On Press Inc., supposedly a division of Knopf Publishing (according to its Twitter profiles), was running a search of its own and issuing tweet after threatening tweet to anyone who dared publish a short (really short -- under 140 characters) poem by reclusive poet, Shaun Shane, without attribution. The entire poem reads as follows:
"If only our tongues were made of glass, how much more careful we would be when we speak."
The Organization Invisible Children has plagiarized and thus committed copyright infringement ( which is illegal) on their website and on their Twitter account, a work by Shaun Shane. Exemplifying the criticism against them that they do not research their facts and have sloppy journalist methods. (Here is a link: http://www.invisiblechildren.com/) and to the Twitter post (https://twitter.com/#!/Invisible/status/196433854851055618/photo/1)
After sending out an ignored invitation (via direct message) to discuss these "tactics," I decided to throw out some bait.
Soon, I was receiving the same set of tweets I'd seen filling up my search results the night before. On Press, utilizing one of its many, many Twitter accounts, gave me its usual combination of Shaun Shane info and legal threats. On Press has a very shaky grasp on IP law, but it doesn't let its ignorance stop it from trotting out nearly every term (plagiarism, theft) imaginable in hopes of quick compliance.
The first false claim it makes is that Twitter will shut down an account for a single infringement violation. Not true. Twitter may shut down an account for multiple cases of infringement, but a single report won't result in the removal of an account, as is clearly stated in the Twitter terms of service. (On Press has also made claim that this process will shut down an account in 4 hours. You may laugh at this one.)
Twitter will also terminate a user's account if the user is determined to be a repeat infringer.
If the proper steps are followed (via the DMCA form), the offending Tweet will simply be "withheld," with a notice replacing the original Tweet. Finally, On Press delivers this bizarre phrase:
For an entity so concerned with copyright infringement, it certainly doesn't seem to understand the terminology it's throwing around. "Libel" and "liable" are nowhere close to each other in definition, and you'd think an entity this concerned with infringement would know the difference (or at least be able to spell the one it actually means).
Then there's On Press Inc itself, which has its own issues. As you can see from its profile photo, On Press claims to be a division of Knopf Publishing. However, we contacted Knopf Publishing for comment and they said that there is no division of Knopf called On Press Inc. On Press has apparently decided an appearance of Shane's poem in a Poem-A-Day-Celebration hosted by Tumblr and Knopf allows it to add Knopf's name to its profile... and the large publisher's weight to its fight against unattributed use, despite no official connection to the company.
On Press also utilizes multiple simultaneous Twitter accounts, in violation of the Twitter Rules.
Serial Accounts: You may not create serial accounts for disruptive or abusive purposes, or with overlapping use cases. Mass account creation may result in suspension of all related accounts. Please note that any violation of the Twitter Rules is cause for permanent suspension of all accounts.
In one night, my interactions with On Press Inc. included input from the following accounts: @copyrightdept, @vesoaonpress, @vseawonpress, @wasweonpress, @xaswonpress and @xseionpress. All accounts sported the same On Press logo and spouted the same tweets. One could try to make a claim that these accounts are not "disruptive" or "abusive" (and I'd love to watch them make that claim), but there's little doubt On Press Inc's multiple accounts are "overlapping." (@vseawonpress is the only account not suspended at the time of this writing.)
Now, although I was receiving the same stream of misspellings and misinformation from On Press as the other users posting Shaun Shane's (unattributed) poem, I wasn't seeing any signs of life. I was pretty much convinced it was a bot running multiple accounts. To test that theory, I called out On Press on the false claims directed my way, specifically the assertion that Twitter would delete my account for a single violation. To my surprise, it provoked a very human reaction.
So, there was a human behind the account, one who handily provided a link to the terms of service that directly contradicted what he had just said. (I've shifted pronouns, but an explanation is on the way.)
Once I had his/its attention, I pointed out On Press' suspicious behavior -- namely, the multiple suspended accounts linked to its name.
On Press responded with this blast of angry tweets, stating that Twitter itself generated these accounts for it.
It shouldn't need to be said, but this claim is completely false. Mike contacted Twitter to ask about whether or not, as On Press claims, it creates thousands of automatically generated accounts for companies with which to harass infringers, and (no surprise) Twitter said there is no truth to this claim.
I attempted to gather more information, but my overtures were rejected. At one point, an On Press account mentioned it performed this "service" for "other authors" but refused to name any. It also failed to cough up a usable URL that might indicate On Press Inc exists outside of multiple Twitter accounts.
Shortly thereafter, the accounts went ballistic, showering me with a long list of legal threats.
This was prompted by its discovery of a tongue-in-cheek review of the only book On Press has for sale, one I had posted earlier that night. (You may notice a second review has suddenly appeared -- from the same person who showed up to criticize my review.)
Again, On Press made several dubious claims, including the ridiculous suggestion that Twitter would surrender my IP address to the police on the strength of a fake review posted on an entirely different site. It also seemed to feel that the Feds would be interested simply because I was using a computer.
However, he/it wasn't kidding about one thing: "legal prosecution." The morning following this bizarre conversation with On Press (Feb. 8th), Techdirt received a phone call seeking to confirm that I "worked for Techdirt," with the "lawyer" on the phone saying that he wished to serve me with a lawsuit (at Techdirt's headquarters) for "copyright infringement, defamation of character and making false claims."
To date, nothing has been filed, despite the voicemail implying the lawsuit was already filed. But here's the great thing about legal threats: nothing being served to this point doesn't mean nothing ever will. The possibility still exists and the potential plaintiff is free to file anytime before the statute of limitations expires. This is likely a bluff, but it carries enough weight to make any future direct interaction with On Press ill advised, to say the least. This leaves him/it free to aggressively pursue those posting the poem without attribution, without worrying that I might ruin the fun by pointing out its false claims.
With the threat of a lawsuit still hanging overhead, I'm simply going to present my findings, all backed up with screenshots and/or links, with a minimum of speculative commentary.
The On Press Inc. "Network"
First off, let's address the "him/it" issue. On Press Inc. seems to exist solely as multiple accounts spanning several social media platforms. Running a search will serve up a few hits on existing businesses with the same name, but I have confirmed that these are unrelated to this bizarre attribution trolling.
A Poem Is Nothing
Shane's book is print-on-demand. Amazon doesn't list it this way, but other booksellers do. So, there's no pile of unsold paperbacks sitting in an On Press warehouse. This may explain why there's so little effort made to provide infringers with a "buy" link during the barrage of tweets and comments.
The On Press Twitter horde usually presents two links. One of them leads to this video displaying "proof" that someone (d/b/a On Press, Inc., with no address displayed) holds the copyright to "Tongues Made of Glass." (The other links to the Invisible Children photo.)
Now, a video like this could be made by literally anyone (with hands) and hardly presents a solid case for On Press' claim to Shaun Shane's poem. None of his work has been registered at the US Copyright office, either by himself or by On Press (or by anyone, actually). This limits any legal liability for infringement to actual proven damages, making the threat of a lawsuit slightly more tolerable. Also, the claims made at the end of the video, which appear to be a bastardization of the typical "copyright policies" found on sporting events, saying no copies can be made "without written consent of the publisher," overstates the powers given under copyright law in ignoring the possibility of fair use or other exceptions to copyright law.
Interestingly, the voice on the "copyright" video sounds nearly identical to Shaun Shane himself. Shane has a very distinctive cadence and tone to his voice, as evidenced by this live performance.
[Shane's voice also bears heavy, heavy resemblance to that of James Roth ("representing On Press Incorporated"), the caller who contacted Techdirt about serving me with the lawsuit.]
So, is On Press simply Shaun Shane, reclusive poet and attribution seeker? He'd certainly be the person most interested in enforcing this. His impossibly glowing bio at PoemHunter puts Shane in Schrodinger's Box, theorizing that he's dead ("...had become terminally ill and his re-emergence was to reinforce the ethic of Pure Poetry or Truly Modernist Poetry before his death..."), before theorizing in the opposite direction a few sentences later ("though it is believed, if he is still alive, he lives on the West Coast...") One of the On Press Twitter accounts I dealt with claimed Shane was dead and had willed that his work be used to raise money for various children's charities. (Too bad no one's trying to sell that book...) This claim is echoed at Pinterest, where the same sort of attribution-badgering occurs.
Whether Mr. Miche is real or simply Shaun using another name remains to be proven. (It does share a Shaun Shane-like bit of alliteration.) Miche patrols Pinterest, sending users who re-pin this photo the same sort of messages as the Twitter accounts do, only without the character limit.
Miche also sports the same shaky legal grasp and penchant for baseless threats.
Here Miche chases down a user (who deleted her tweet) and continues harassing her at her Pinterest account, claiming that people like her using an unattributed quote can "cause untold billions of dollars of lost [sic] for companies who support and publisher [sic] Authors [sic... again] works." Miche also seems to make the claim that she's legally responsible for any retweets (a claim echoed in return by the On Press Twitter accounts).
Hopewell has sent out similar messages to Facebook users, again seeking attribution and using identical wording.
There are a few differences that might indicate she was just "pitching in" with the attribution push ("This Poem is our copyrighted property your use of it uncredited to him constitutes thief."), but by and large, it resembles missives issued at other platforms.
A user named "Sean Seans" refers to himself as "Shaun" and tells her he loves and misses her. And that Sean Seans/Shaun is also busy chasing down wrongdoers posting unattributed poems.
Anne Murphy has also made posts on Facebook concerning Shane's poem and seems to be located in Texas (at least judging from the locations of most of her Friends). The wording is almost identical to the Facebook posts by Alexandria Hopewell, suggesting the same author wrote them. She has also uploaded a few videos of Shaun Shane performances to YouTube. (Interestingly, the phone number on the caller ID from the call by "James Roth" to contact Techdirt is registered to Anne Murphy and also to a vegetable farm, the O.P. Murphy Produce Company -- both in Texas. Also worth noting: there does not appear to be a "James Roth" listed on the Texas state bar. If whoever called is not, in fact, a lawyer, they might want to familiarize themselves with Texas law 38.122 which makes it a felony to impersonate a lawyer.)
But that's not all. Shane/On Press also stalks Tumblr with multiple accounts (some of which are filled with work-from-home scam posts), issuing the now-familiar statements demanding attribution. A search for the terms "Shaun Shane" and "On Press" also brings up hits on several other platforms. On Press/Shane is very busy, though (as far as I can see) never seems to direct anyone towards buying the actual book.
He has also ramped up the aggression, perhaps as a result of his "successful" legal threat. The On Press Twitter interactions were never pleasant, but the latest ones have a decidedly malevolent tone that's undercut slightly by the sheer number of false claims they contain. It doesn't help that the poem is most frequently tweeted by teens -- a demographic On Press/Shane seems to enjoy hurling threats towards.
"know that you can be track by your ip address and that your parents will be the one's who are sued since you are a minor..."
"know that the average cost is $4000.00 per instance but that is times the number of follwers you have, or the number people who are exposed to your illegal post..."
"...but if you were bright you wouldn't have been stupid enought to tweet the poem in the first place..."
"WE don't care if you care. Your account will be terminated that is all that matters to us. We are indifferent to your feelings about it. your just some dumb kid."
There are some interesting legal theories mixed up in there that we have not seen before. I particularly like the idea that infringement is multiplied by the number of followers you have. This would appear to be an entirely novel interpretation (by which I mean "wrong") of 17 USC 504, which has always been clear that the amount of statutory damages paid is per work infringed, not by the number of people who saw the work.
So, what's the point? Why should we care? On Press/Shane is just seeking attribution. It's not like he's sending out settlement letters. Well, for starters, this is not how the system is supposed to work. Those concerned about infringement are directed to Twitter's DMCA form, which to date, On Press has used only once. Apparently, this method is much less satisfying than the instant feedback one gets while hounding Twitter users (even going so far as to follow them to other platforms, as Mike Miche [above] did).
I'm not pissed off that On Press circumvents a system many rights holders find inefficient. I'm pissed off that On Press deceives people about its relationship with a major publisher, using that as leverage to harass users with a variety of baseless threats. It doesn't help that the users receiving the most abuse are teenagers who did nothing more than post a quote they liked, who are then threatened with arrest and lawsuits against their parents in return.
I'm pissed off that On Press is fighting a battle it can't win utilizing bullying tactics. It seems to want respect, but keeps forgetting respect is something you earn -- not something you beat into people. People may start to respect the stick, but they'll never respect the entity wielding it.
Furthermore, if I was a rights holder hoping to protect my creations, I'd be pissed off that someone out there is doing serious damage to copyright itself with a scorched earth policy of baseless threats and vindictive bullying. It makes it that much harder to fight infringement when any existing level of respect has been torn down by another's overly aggressive tactics.
Finally, if I'm Shaun Shane, and I'm not behind this? I'm fucking furious. Any potential legacy or possibility of expanding my audience has been absolutely destroyed by someone who has used my name to harangue internet users across multiple platforms, utilizing angry missives filled with misspellings, deception, baseless legal threats and a very dangerous misunderstanding of IP law in general.
And Shaun, if this is actually you? You're only hurting yourself and your reputation by hammering unwitting Twitter users (among others) for this act of omission. There's nothing wrong with seeking proper attribution. But there are so many methods that work better than this. You can't stop unattributed quotes from flying around the internet. You can't even slow it down.
Do you seriously think anyone's going to Google a tweet to make sure it doesn't belong to someone else before retweeting it? Do you really think people are going to Google "Shaun Shane" unless you bring it up first? Pinterest users, right or wrong, aren't going to do a reverse image search before repinning. Sure, it sucks that stuff strays so far from the original creators, but that's the price you pay for unprecedented access to millions of creative works.
But the benefits outweigh the negatives. Unprecedented access works both ways. You can connect with potential fans and customers in ways that simply weren't possible 10 years ago. If you're only going to see the worst aspects, you'll never be anything more than a set of empty words and threats, spat endlessly into a void, covered in vitriol and self-righteousness. You've crafted a poem with viral possibilities but you're only interested in slamming every door shut as soon as it opens. This final perspective doesn't make me angry. It just makes me sad. There's so much potential but you're too angry to see it. You, and only you, can turn this around.
Additional/supportive links and info.
My Storify account, where I will continue to collect interactions between On Press Inc. and Twitter users.
from the best-of-the-internet,-worst-of-the-internet dept
A few years ago, I noted the seeming irony in the fact that there appeared to be a decent amount of overlap between groups of people doing amazing altruistic things on sites like Reddit, while also doing amazingly troll-tastic things in places like /b/. Groups getting together to "do something" are a powerful force, and often are a powerful force for good. But they can also get out of hand, and turn into questionable mob-like vigilante-ism. However, it's not often that you see both such forces come together in the same story. However, that appears to be the case with the amazing story concerning upstate NY school bus monitor, Karen Klein. If you've been buried under a rock somewhere, Klein, a 68-year-old grandmother, has a low-paying job as a school bus monitor for a middle school in upstate NY (Greece, near Rochester). Middle school kids can be incredibly cruel, and a group of kids spent a bus ride mercilessly mocking Klein and filming the interaction. Someone else saw the video being passed around on Facebook and posted it to YouTube, where it quickly racked up millions of views, with tons of downvotes. The video is heart-wrenching for the cruelty from the boys in question. Just horrifying:
It also appears this was not a one-incident either. There are at least twoother such videos.
However, in response to this, someone set up an IndieGoGo campaign to raise money for Karen to go on vacation. And, wow, did the internet ever come through in a massive outpouring of altruism, donating hundreds of thousands of dollars in a day. As of this writing, it's already around half a million and there's still nearly a month to go. That's going to be quite a vacation.
Cue tons of great stories about how wonderful the internet can be.
The names of some of the alleged perpetrators — all juveniles who have yet to be charged with any crimes — and their parents and details about where they live ended up online. And since Wednesday, they’ve been barraged by death threats and harassing phone calls.
Greece police Capt. Steve Chatterton said Thursday that someone even made a false 911 call claiming there were people being held hostage inside one of the students’ homes. He said officers have been assigned to run special patrols down the youths’ streets to ensure their safety.
“We have a cellphone of one of the boys and he’s received more than 1,000 missed calls and more than 1,000 text messages threatening him,” he said. “Threats to overcome threats do no good.”
Karen herself has come out to say:
“This is going too far,” she said. “This is no better than the kids who did that on the bus.”
Exactly. If you're so upset by people acting totally obnoxiously to someone, there are a lot better ways to express yourself than to call them with a death threat.
Back in 2009, we wrote about how anti-piracy organization FACT worked closely with UK law enforcement to have the guy who operated Filesoup arrested. At the time, we noted that it wasn't at all clear what he was doing that was illegal, as the site was merely a forum. Though some people did, in fact, use that forum for the sake of infringement, that shouldn't implicate the forum host. And, in fact, after about a year and a half, the courts dropped the case, realizing that the arguments the industry kept feeding law enforcement didn't add up to anything illegal. The court noted that the charges never should have been brought in the first place. Of course, that's small comfort to the folks who ran the site and had to go through this ordeal. The site has announced that it's shutting down, and the arrests and lawsuits were a big part of what killed it.