Writer Claims Libel, Copyright Infringement When Screencap Of Her Tweet Is Used In An Online Article

from the not-the-way-this-works dept

A person can undo the damage of a particularly stupid assertion by acting quickly and contritely. Too bad far too many people opt for making the situation much, much worse.

David Paxton included a screenshot of Forbes contributor Frances Coppola touting her own personal conspiracy theory about the rash of sexual assaults by immigrants in Cologne, Germany, in his article for Quillette.

According to Coppola’s hot take, the assaults were apparently some sort of anti-immigration false flag operation.

“I suspect anti-immigration ppl of organising the Cologne sex crimes. Fastest way of getting borders closed.”

Coppola has since deleted the tweet and apologized at length for it, but her first few responses were less useful. Paxton’s blog post on the subject notes that his use of her tweet was met with a handful of increasingly dubious legal threats.

The first was to claim his direct quote (via screenshot) of her tweet was libelous.

remove the section about me or face libel charges.

This line of thinking continued for a few more tweets, with Coppola insisting that taking her tweet out of context (it really wasn’t — see here) was “defamatory,” as was Paxton’s opinion that the contents of the tweet were “stupid” and “insane.”

She then claimed the tweet was “satire” and was being misread by everyone (except, apparently, the other party in the original Twitter conversation, who gave no indication that he felt her tweet was some sort of joke). She claimed this despite espousing similar sentiments throughout the rest of the conversation (“I think we will find indigenous people were paid to do it to stir up hatred of refugees“).

With the vague threat of a libel lawsuit still hanging in the air, Coppola moved on to another popular “MUTE” button: IP law.

@aleprechaunist @CanYouFlyBobby has deliberately quoted a tweet screen scraped without my permission from my personal Twitter account +

There’s nothing “personal” about a Twitter account. Any tweet viewable by the public can be screencapped or quoted without permission of the account owner. If a Twitter account holder doesn’t care to have their tweets quoted or posted elsewhere in any form, they can always lock their account, making it only viewable by their followers. Coppola’s account was public then and — after briefly taking it private — it is public once again.

Other imaginary rights were touted during Coppola’s dispute with Paxton.

@CanYouFlyBobby You didn’t contact me, you didn’t research context & provenance, you used derogatory terms and didn’t offer right of reply.

In summation: my feelings were hurt by what you said, and you didn’t give me a chance to head this off by giving me the “right” to forbid you from using my tweet in your Quillette post.

There is no “right of reply” and even if there was, she had plenty of chances to reply with comments on both Paxton’s Quillette post and his blog, as well as in her own tweets and long explanatory post at her own site.

Her response to Paxton’s “misuse” of her “out of context” tweet notes the tweet was stupid, as were her initial responses.

I have to straighten something out.

On 7th January, I made a remark on Twitter which with hindsight was – unwise. Well, ok, it was worse than unwise, it was stupid. I did not think about the consequences. It never occurred to me that issuing that tweet would lead to three weeks of sustained and vicious personal abuse.


He had used the tweet as an example of temporary “insanity” in a normally rational person caused by a highly emotive event. Had I been thinking straight, I would have seen that this was what he meant. But I’m not thinking straight. I took it as yet another personal attack – an attempt to stir up the whole tweetstorm all over again. I told him to take down the section referring to me or face libel charges.

That was both unfair to him and very foolish. There followed an unpleasant argument on Twitter in which I tried again to explain what the purpose of the original tweet was and he insisted that I did not mean that – all of it watched by a huge crowd who were mostly not on my side. It achieved precisely the opposite of what I wanted: not only did the blogger refuse to amend the piece, the piece ended up being circulated far more widely than it probably would have been, and a new tweetstorm developed, this time expressing outrage at my allegation of libel.

My attempt to resolve the situation by leaving a comment on his post and retweeting it myself also appears to have backfired, though it was intended as something of a climbdown. The blogger has now written a very angry post about me. I have to say that although the criticism he levels at me in this post is harsh, it is deserved. I have handled this very badly indeed and am genuinely sorry about the mess I have made. I have left a comment on that post apologising for accusing him of libel.

Had this been her response from the beginning, it never would have reached the point of her having to write a full blog post about the backlash she triggered. Apologies are nice but Coppola is now Yet Another Cautionary Tale about the right way to respond to criticism.The original post that set this all off (Coppola’s tweet was preceded by Paxton stating she “writes cogently and intelligently about economics”) was far from harsh.

Coppola’s tweet was presented as short-term “insanity” — the kind that blows over once someone starts thinking about issues, rather than simply reacting to them. Coppola’s response to Paxton ignored all of the helpful context and focused on the word “insanity.” Had she simply moved on, the “sustained abuse” would have been over in a matter of days, rather than “three weeks.”

The problem with being Yet Another Cautionary Tale is that the internet is full of them. The foreseeable consequences of reacting to criticism (especially very mild criticism) with baseless legal threats and clueless assertions about nonexistent rights are exactly that: foreseeable. And yet, it’s not as though the flow of cautionary tales has slowed. There’s always another one right around the corner.

And it’s not as though this is only perpetrated by “stupid” people. Intelligent people react badly to criticism as well and make situations exponentially worse by shouting “libel” or “copyright infringement” when they should — and possibly do — know better. Even worse are those who can afford to pay a lawyer to espouse their stupidity on scary-looking letterhead, leading to people who are wholly in the right backing down from the justified criticism.

Sometimes it’s incredibly difficult to accept criticism. But, compared to the consequences of doubling down on stupid threats, accepting it is much less painful.

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Comments on “Writer Claims Libel, Copyright Infringement When Screencap Of Her Tweet Is Used In An Online Article”

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Violynne (profile) says:

Another cautionary tale, readers…

“5. Your Rights

You retain your rights to any Content you submit, post or display on or through the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed).

Tip: This license is you authorizing us to make your Tweets on the Twitter Services available to the rest of the world and to let others do the same.”

… is to know people waive their rights when using third party services, so any threats of “infringement” can be laughed off with a cocktail made of the tears streaming from the “victim”.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Credit where it's due

Agree. This is a pretty small transgression. She was probably still emotional when she started her threatening routine.

When that is said, the use of copyright in the context of tweets rubs me the wrong way. Even if retweeting without giving recognition (which I doubt this was :)), the text is simply too short to avoid the Shakespere monkey doubts or constitute enough of a work to warrent such claims (de minimus).

I could see copyright coming into play if pictures/sounds or other elements were used, but retweeting is no such thing.

mcinsand (profile) says:

color me skeptical

I’m having a truly difficult time believing that the person responsible for the tweets and underlying concepts behind them is also the person responsible for the rational text that began with ‘I have to straighten…’ There is a definite difference in mental horsepower, particularly with respect to having the ability to use reason and logic. My bet is that she went looking for someone to start a legal or PR process, and ended up finding someone competent. That person then showed (forced?) her to accept that the only way to keep from further making matters worse was to at least pretend that she could act like an adult. Most likely, one of those means of showing Coppola how to act was to write that final piece for her.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: color me skeptical

As a Forbes contributor, I would think that Coppola would be able to write her own apology.

Another hypothesis is that Forbes saw the blowback and nicely asked her to write an apology. Or offered a pre-written one to choose from.

This would not be the first time that Forbes had a contributor who wrote something factually unsupported like “What SCO Wants, SCO Gets”, which was massively incendiary. Then years later sort of, kind of apologized via “Snowed by SCO”. Then shortly after moved to The New York Times.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: color me skeptical

I could see it going either way. I can’t help but note her apology never really recants the original tweet. She’s sorry she posted it because it got huge backlash, but aside from the laughable attempt to claim it was satire, she never acknowledges it was fundamentally wrong, or distance herself from the basic premise she expressed in it, and immediately thereafter. Hher statement more or less seems to boil down to “I’m sorry my belief that the rapes in Cologne were politically motivated crimes perpetrated by German citizens who framed the refugees and immigrants offended you. I’m sorry I went batshit crazy with legal threats.”

So on one hand, something written by a PR firm would almost certainly “admit” her conspiracy theories were wrong. Even that admission was a blatant lie, it would help get her past this, and she’s already learned not to make such claims openly. Something written by her would be more interested in avoiding admitting she was wrong on a point she doesn’t think she’s wrong about. On the other hand, I’d say it’s clear someone smacked some sense into her. Whether it be Forbes, a lawyer or PR firm she contacted, or perhaps just a friend, someone sat her down and made it clear to her that she was only making things worse, and doing it over a blog post that gave her a huge benefit of the doubt.

Wendy Cockcroft says:

Re: color me skeptical

We all get owned by our emotions and biases sooner or later; sometimes it happens to me.

She got defensive over a group she sees as being in need of protection and went overboard trying to deflect attention from them. Result: Don tinfoil hat, open mouth, release the hounds of stupidity.

I’ve seen people right here on TD have mental meltdowns over hot button issues because their own buttons are particularly hot where those issues are concerned.

Nobody’s perfect, mate.

Anonymous Coward says:

funny accusation...

Disregarding the whole libel bullshit… I mean really?

She submits that a bunch of Muslims perpetrated sexual assaults to make Muslims look bad?

Or is she just accusing all of those women of flat out lying?

It never fails how a woman’s sexual assault experience will be completely disregarded by another woman “Hillary style” because it becomes politically expedient to call them a liar instead of facing the allegation!

Steve Swafford (profile) says:

I hate it when...

people speak their minds and then feel like they have to apologize for it just because someone doesn’t like it. I would have way more respect for someone if they just owned it and said, this is what I said and thought and you don’t have to like it. If you’re offended, well then tough shit lol. Just turning into a bunch of pusses it seems to me.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: I hate it when...

And… what does that have to do with THIS case?

Coppola had the option to “own it.” Sure, she might be offended at the criticism in response, but it would rather hypocritical to then object to being offended.

She neither “owned it” nor apologized. She topped it by being even more offensive.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: I hate it when...

I actually agree with you. Her biggest sin is the whole libel claim in response to her perfectly public opinion making the usual rounds. I am endlessly tired of all the “I am sorry for my opinion” fuckers walking around… you only disservice your self and the cause you purport to advance whe you do.

#1. Being sorry for your opinion is disingenuous on its face.
#2. If you really are sorry? Go commit harakiri/seppuku you honor-less bastard!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It is difficult to get people to do this as a matter of course. To often they just want to “be right”, instead of being of a right mind.

There are many ways to comment on a situation, most of them will only make it worse. It takes a great deal of self-control to hold back until after the emotion has passed and then thoughtfully comment.

Anonymous Coward says:

I think these things are exacerbated purely by the permanence of the internet. If this had been a traditional conversation, she would get instant feedback, and his point about temporary insanity would be instantly (or near enough) explained.

Instead we have a system where thoughts are left without further context or answer for long periods of time, and are public enough that people who don’t know either party can draw up conclusions on their character based on a short statements. Silence, no matter how short, leads to speculation.

It’s sad all around, but I honestly don’t know how we can stop these things from happening at a societal level.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Re:

As the article explained, the context was clear. It was understood by the party it was directed to.

Sometimes (not always) a short statement can be enough to make reasonable conclusions about someone’s character. I could provide an example that would ‘Godwin’ this thread.

Why do we need to worry about trying to stop things like this from happening at a societal level? It has probably always happened. Just not at quite such a large scale.

Have you ever heard of someone becoming ‘the laughingstock of such and so city/county/whatever” ? This kind of thing could always happen when someone says something massively stupid. Then after time to back pedal, decides instead to double, triple, quadruple down. And then make legal threats, and attempt to censor anyone repeating the facts.

This kind of thing always will happen as long as there are people who ‘speak their mind’, and have something terrible, ridiculous, or factually untrue on their minds. (“the moon landings were faked!”)

Wendy Cockcroft says:

Good piece, Tim.

A person can undo the damage of a particularly stupid assertion by acting quickly and contritely.

Yep. We all do stupid and embarrassing things sooner or later, it’s called “being human” and all reasonable people will forgive us for them — or find themselves on the receiving end of the same kind of judgmental pointing and laughing as they dish out.

It’s how we cope with the aftermath that counts. Can we leave it behind and move on, lesson learned, or will we try to get everyone to pretend it never happened in the first place? If we can own our errors we can learn from them. Otherwise we end up repeating them.

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