The long-running defamation suit against anonymous Yelp reviewers -- brought by Hadeed Carpet Cleaning -- finally has produced some good news… sort of. Hadeed's lawsuit defines "problematic," seeing as it both threatens anonymous speech and is predicated not on actual defamatory statements, but on the allegations that the reviewers were never actual customers of the business. Hadeed has argued that a review from a non-customer is defamation in and of itself, which obviously contains some very negative implications for free speech -- anonymous or not -- if he succeeds in his legal efforts.
Two lower courts chose to apply Virginia state law rather than the Dendrite Rules, and ordered Yelp to turn over identifying information. That decision was appealed by Yelp, and the state's Supreme Court has responded by rejecting Hadeed's unmasking request… but not for First Amendment reasons. Instead, its decision is based on a technicality -- one that does little to ensure the future protection of anonymous speech.
[T]he Virginia Supreme Court issued its ruling (PDF) in favor of Yelp, finding that the company doesn't have to disclose any user information, because the lawsuit shouldn't have been filed in Virginia in the first place.While it is helpful that the court has made it clear that Virginia entities don't possess subpoena power over non-residents, that's pretty much the extent of the good news for Virginia residents. The other silver lining is that if Hadeed continues to pursue these reviewers, he'll have to do it in California, where he'll need to meet a higher standard if he hopes to obtain any identifying information.
The court's decision to focus solely on the issue of jurisdiction means that the more important public policy argument—whether the Yelp reviewers have a right to anonymous speech in this case—goes unaddressed.
"Although we were hoping the court would rule on both jurisdictional and First Amendment grounds, this is still an important win,” said Paul Levy in a statement. "If Hadeed turns to California courts to learn the identities of its critics, those courts will require it to show evidence to meet the well-accepted First Amendment test for identifying anonymous speakers. And so far, Hadeed has not come close to providing such evidence."Now, the question remains as to whether Hadeed will continue his unmasking efforts in a less-friendly venue. Considering he doesn't dispute the content of the reviews -- just the legitimacy of the reviewers -- this would seem to be an obstacle not worth surmounting.
[I]n light of Hadeed’s previous public statements, it is hard to understand how it could not go forward in California. It took advantage of the pendency of this litigation to mount a public relations offensive portraying itself as an innocent victim of Yelp reviews, making a variety of strong claims about how seriously its business was harmed by negative reviews and speculating about whether Yelp was an “instrument for defamation.” It managed to manipulate a number of reporters at respectable publications into repeating its accusations as truths. And although some of its legal papers were circumspect in admitting that, based on its reviews of its customer database it could do no more than “wonder” whether the Does whom it sued in this case were really customers, in other places it made the affirmative assertion that there was a sufficient basis in its customer database to assert that the reviewers were, in fact, not customers.
But two deeply researched reports being released this week underscore the less-heralded truth: the vast majority of hacking attacks are successful because employees click on links in tainted emails, companies fail to apply available patches to known software flaws, or technicians do not configure systems properly.In fact, the real problem tends to be that people are still easily fooled by phishing emails:
In the best-known annual study of data breaches, a report from Verizon Communications Inc to be released on Wednesday found that more than two-thirds of the 290 electronic espionage cases it learned about in 2014 involved phishing, the security industry's term for trick emails.And, then, of course, if the IT staff hasn't done much to secure things inside the gates, the hackers get the run of the place.
Because so many people click on tainted links or attachments, sending phishing emails to just 10 employees will get hackers inside corporate gates 90 percent of the time, Verizon found.
Anyone can have an idea. Multiple people can independently have the same idea. It's the expression that counts, but Alara Mills, the creator of one version of a periodic table of HTML5 elements, seems to think she should be able to curb other expressions of this idea.
Today I received a DMCA takedown request against my personal website over a trivial GitHub project that involves a periodic table layout and information about HTML5 elements.The takedown request was preceded by an "impersonal email" from Alara Mills -- a cease and desist letter loaded with all sorts of scary claims about thousands of dollars being potentially at stake.
“You neither asked for nor received permission to use the Work… nor to make or distribute copies of it. Therefore, you have infringed my rights under 17 U.S.C. Section 101 et seq. and could be liable for statutory damages as high as $150,000 as set forth in Section 504(c)(2) therein.”As Mike Riethmuller points out, he had never seen Alara Mills' version of this HTML5 table. His was inspired by another person's (Josh Duck) and was mainly just an exercise in CSS, rather than some sort of cottage industry designed to undercut the only thing Alara Mills offers at her website.
Because Mills is so protective of this product, there's no way to get a closer look at the arrangement of the elements to verify whether or not Riethmuller "copied" her layout.
Riethmuller's version, however, looks nothing like hers.
And, as he states in his post, it's clearly inspired by Josh Duck's:
Mills emailed a copy of her prospectus to Kirk Kazanjian on July 12, 2010, which contained a derivative work of the HTML Table of Elements in order to receive initial feedback from him before pursuing book publishers. Kirk Kazanjian is a literary agent/former co-worker of Mills. Mills sells quick reference guides, wall-reference posters, and table posters displaying the HTML5 Elements Table™ graphic. A true and correct copy of the graphic submitted to Kirk Kazanjian in Mills’ email is attached hereto as Exhibit D.No further explanation is provided. The cease-and-desist that preceded the lawsuit is similarly vague. It simply makes an accusation but never explains how her legal representation (or Mills herself) arrived at this conclusion.
On information and belief, Duck has been aware of Mills’ HTML5 Elements Table™ since July 2010, when Mills emailed a copy of the graphic to Kirk Kazajian.
On information and belief, Duck had access to Mills’ HTML5 Elements Table™
Ms. Mills submitted an earlier version of her chart within a book prospectus to a publisher in July 29, 2010, a copy of which is enclosed. This is the version that was possibly leaked to you in creation of your Periodic Table.In other words, Mills found something on the internet that resembled something she thought was an entirely original idea, and the only conclusion she could come to was that somehow Duck must have gotten ahold of her submission. There are multiple more likely explanations for this -- chief among them being that things based on the periodic table will often resemble the periodic table as well as the hierarchy of coding terms being fairly rigid. These two elements mean that any independent creation utilizing both of these will bear heavy resemblance to another.
The information about each element was shamelessly stolen from the Mozilla Developer Network (MDN) and the layout is thanks to Dmitri Mendeleev. But luckily MDN and Dmitri are all about the learning and they support the community; as such I have much love for them both.These two entities clearly inspired Mills as well, but no one went after her for utilizing the work of others. Riethmuller clearly didn't use hers as a starting point, but she thinks she can lock down an unoriginal idea and keep anyone else from expressing a combination of periodic tables and HTML5 elements that hews a bit too closely to hers. She's wrong, of course, and Riethmuller has filed a counternotice against her DMCA takedown. As of now, his table is still live at Github.
I’d love to remake this using flexbox and update it with newer HTML elements and more detailed content. I’d love people to be able to fork it and learn more about creating challenging layouts with css. Or develop something new from this concept.Riethmuller also points out how truly pointless creation would be if all creators acted like Alara Mills.
Imagine if we all received copyright challenges over something as tenuous a particular layout and subject matter. This would mean there could only be one single column web development blog (and not only that it would be a book).That's how over-protecting creative works kills creativity. No one has a monopoly on ideas. Expressions can be protected but something as ordinary as a re-imagining of the periodic table isn't exclusive to one person. There are hundreds of periodic table "remixes" already out there, but apparently an HTML5 elements version won't be one of them. Here's another table inspired by Josh Duck that has been killed off -- perhaps by another threat from Alara Mills.
Mills doesn't "own" this idea, nor does she have any right to push these creations off the internet. But that's what she's been doing. She still has yet to answer my question as to the unsubstantiated claim that Duck had access to an unreleased version and has apparently rescinded her offer to tell me her side of the story. It doesn't take much to get the ball rolling on copyright trolling. All it takes is for someone to believe that only they could have arrived at this creative destination and that all others are simply infringers.
This story, however, has somewhat of a happy ending. Mills reached out to Riethmuller late in the day (a few hours after the half-deleted Twitter conversation took place) and apologized to him and withdrew her legal threats. According to Riethmuller, she appears to finally have realized that her claims of ownership over HTML5 period tables are extremely weak and that ambushing creators who are wholly unaware of her previous iterations (not that those supposed "copies," like Duck's infringed on that design either) with cease-and-desist orders does nothing but turn people against her -- and copyright in general.
Regarding the matter of whether "absolute scum bag" should be deemed defamation per se rests with the present court. Mr. Boka tTots out a series of cases indicating the word "scum" and "scum bag" do not fall in that category. However, by adding the word "total" he impugns everything about me, including character and capacity to carry-out legal work. It coincides well with the Dillon standard of defamatjon per se: a maliciously intended attack on my professional capabilities, an all encompassing put-down (i.e., "absolute scum", not just "scum bag" Or "scum")...Anyway, the former Arcaya client reached out to White, who in turn reached out to Greenfield. Greenfield then reached out to Arcaya, trying to explain to him, nicely, that suing over someone calling you "absolute scum" on Yelp is probably not a productive venture and might -- just possibly -- backfire, thanks to a little thing called the Streisand Effect. About five or six years ago, a lawyer had told me that the Streisand Effect was losing its power because lawyers now recognized it. And yet, we keep discovering new lawyers who have no idea about it at all.
Again, while I have no evidence that he was part of that illegal gang, as a lawyer Greenfield still should not have served as a conduit for that criminal enterprise. Rather than calling me Greenfield should have contact [sic] the Attorney General's office or the police to denounce what he had learned. Because of his failure to uphold the principle of propriety as a server of the law, I lodged a complaint the [sic] First Department's Discipline Committee.Oh, right. Beyond just issuing the subpoena, Arcaya filed a wonderfully handwritten bar complaint against Greenfield -- for daring to explain a basic online phenomenon. Wow.