There's been a lot of hand-wringing among the types of people who hand-wring about these things, that there was a flurry of activity on Reddit and Twitter late last night / early this morning believing that one of the suspects in the Boston Bombings was Sunil Tripathi, a Brown student who went missing last month (and, for what it's worth, when people thought it was him, folks from 4Chan started complaining that they had done the real sleuthing, and were pissed off that Reddit got the credit -- but, now that it turned out to be wrong, 4Chan seems happy to let Reddit take the heat). Alexis Madrigal has the basics of the story, which has allowed the usual crew of folks who hate the concept of "citizen journalism" or whatever it's called today to whine about how awful "Reddit" journalism is. Defender of legacy newspapers, Ryan Chittum, seemed particularly gleeful in calling out that Reddit "fails again," and saying that the mainstream media did it right.
But the bigger problem is this idea that it's "Reddit" or, as some people have argued) "the internet"against the legacy media. That's not true at all. Everyone made mistakes during the rapidly changing story, but only on Reddit did you actually see the details of the process. The legacy news organizations present things as if coming from a place of authority, while Reddit is like an open newsroom where anyone can jump in. The conversation about Tripathi, for example, was about whether or not Suspect #2 was him -- it wasn't based on a declaration that it absolutely was him. Furthermore, when you look at the reason why the story actually spread, it was after some more known "press" names retweeted the initial tweet from Greg Hughes, which claimed (incorrectly) that Tripathi's name went out on the police scanner (ironically, he posted that about a minute after posting "This is the Internet's test of 'be right, not first' with the reporting of this story").
But here's the real issue: people can fret about all of this, but it doesn't change one thing: this is going to happen and continue to happen. People are naturally curious and they're going to talk to people when there's a news story going on and they'll try to figure things out. That happens all the time in newsrooms already before stuff goes on the air or is officially published. It's just that the public doesn't see the process. On Reddit, or anywhere else that the public can converse, it does happen in public. The problem is to assume the two things are the same. Furthermore, it's even more insane to blame "Reddit" or "the internet" as if those are singular entities that anyone has control over. They're not. As Karl Bode noted, they're just massive crowds of people.
An even better point was made by Charles Luzar, who noted that "the crowd doesn't implicitly profess its empirical correctness like the media does," but rather admits quite openly that it's a process in action. Further, he notes that even if the crowd presents false information before finding factual information, that's still "effective crowdsourcing" and, if anything, provides a greater role to the media to be effective curators of the actual facts.
In the end, it seems likely that this incident will actually help a lot the next time there's a big breaking news story, because (hopefully) it will give people more reason to be at least somewhat skeptical of stories coming out, but it's not going to change the fact that groups on various platforms are going to talk about things, and often try to do a little sleuthing themselves. Sometimes they'll get it right, and sometimes they won't -- just the same as many others. It seems like a much better focus looking forward is in providing more training and tools to help the world be better at it.
Just a few weeks ago, we wrote about how Flattr had integrated with services like Twitter and Instagram to make it incredibly easy to support content creators (including us!) by just favoriting a tweet. Not surprisingly, in the first month after that went into effect, we saw a boost in revenue from Flattr. Unfortunately, Flattr has now announced that Twitter has forced the company to stop this integration.
Flattr had been using the Twitter API to figure out what people had favorited, and had been gathering data about the specific tweets. However, Twitter told the company that it was violating section IV. 2 C from its API terms. That term says that:
Your advertisements cannot resemble or reasonably be confused by users as a Tweet. For example, ads cannot have Tweet actions like follow, retweet, favorite, and reply. And you cannot sell or receive compensation for Tweet actions or the placement of Tweet actions on your Service.
It's that last part where the trouble came in. Of course, it seems clear that that particular line in the terms of service was designed for situations where people are "selling" tweets or something similar. Not for cases where a service like Flattr is helping people make money from supporters. In response, Flattr even said that it would waive its standard 10% fee on any Flattrs that come via tweets. Twitter told them it wasn't good enough. Now, you can argue that "rules are rules," but rules need to make some sense. And it's unclear what kind of sense this makes. There's nothing about the way in which Flattr is using Twttier that is negative for Twitter. It seems like a really nice and useful addition. Obviously, we're somewhat biased, because it also helped us make a few bucks (not much, but some), but I can't see how it makes sense for Twitter to block this functionality.
Last night, former President Bill Clinton joined Stephen Colbert on his TV show, The Colbert Report. As many people have noted, at the very end of the program, Colbert told Clinton that he had taken the liberty of signing him up for a Twitter account, since Clinton does not currently use Twitter (he joked that he was afraid no one would reply to his tweets). The Twitter account is @PrezBillyJeff, and Colbert sent Clinton's first tweet live while on the air. If you're in the US or the one or two other places that Hulu actually works, you can see the exchange below (if you're elsewhere, blame Viacom for being stupid):
Of course, as we've been discussing this week, the CFAA is an awful bill concerning hacking, and needs to be reformed. A big part of the problem is that it appears to criminalize what seems like every day behavior, and the DOJ has interpreted the CFAA broadly. While not all courts agree, the DOJ has argued that merely disobeying a website's terms of service means that you've violated the CFAA by accessing content either without authorization or by exceeding authorization.
Impersonation: You may not impersonate others through the Twitter service in a manner that does or is intended to mislead, confuse, or deceive others
Now, you could argue that Colbert registering an account for Clinton without his permission does not reach that level, but are you confident that someone else doing the same thing less publicly wouldn't run into problems if their tweets pissed someone off? An account that many people believe actually belongs to Bill Clinton would be highly valuable. Indeed, just overnight the account has racked up tens of thousands of followers. In the meantime, it's not even entirely clear who actually controls the account. Colbert registered it and tweeted from it. Are any future tweets coming from Colbert or Clinton or someone else? It's not difficult to make an argument that the account is intended to confuse others. Furthermore, if Colbert is transferring the account over to Clinton, it means that Clinton never actually agreed to the terms of service in the first place. Would that mean he is then abusing the use of the service?
While they appear to now have been deleted, according to the Washington Post, after the inaugural post done live on the air, there were a series of other tweets in which it was not clear if it was Clinton or Colbert tweeting. One had "Clinton" refer to "Colbert" as his new "BFF" and the tweets used the hashtag "#notColbertpretendingtobeme." At the very least, there is clear confusion, and a regular person might assume that this is Bill Clinton tweeting. If it's actually Colbert, it could be seen as a CFAA violation.
Yes, this is a stretch -- no doubt about it. But that's part of the problem with the CFAA. It is so broadly worded that simple activities like these can be twisted into a violation should someone in power wish to do so.
Ah, Prince. The purple-loving musician has built up an irrational hatred for all things internet over the years, mostly focused on his belief that he should have 100% control over everything he has ever done. He's gone after companies and fans for posting pretty much anything. His music is also at the heart of the (still ongoing) Stephanie Lenz case, in which Universal Music Group issued a copyright takedown on a 29-second video with some Prince music in the background. In that case, the court said that UMG needed to take fair use into account before sending the takedown.
Given that, it seems rather surprising to find out that Prince is targeting even shorter clips -- including six second clips on Vine, the Twitter offshoot/acquisition, that allows people to post short video clips no longer than 6 seconds. Vine has built up a decent following pretty quickly, and it's difficult to see how anyone could argue that music appearing in such a Vine video wouldn't be either fair use or de minimis use (or both). But don't tell Prince that.
The DMCA takedown comes from NPG Records, which is Prince's personal record label, and names eight Vine clips, which apparently have all been removed. The notice was just sent on March 26, meaning we're still within the time frame in which someone could have filed a counternotice. One hopes that counternotices are being filed, and (perhaps) that someone is willing to challenge Prince on claiming that such videos are not fair use. Would he honestly claim that such a video harms the market for his music?
The UK seems to have a rather interesting relationship with Twitter for some reason. For the purposes of this discussion, recall that UK police have demanded the deletion of photos from the microblogging site before, in some attempt to have the internet forget certain things happened. Also, keep handy the knowledge that, in the UK, you can apparently be jailed for acting like a jackass on Twitter.
With that in mind, it's ironic that acting like a jackass in government gets you a job as an MP. Such is the case, at least, with George Galloway, who is calling for a ban on Twitter nation-wide until the site agrees to fully cooperate with UK police in all of their many deluded demands.
Filing the motion named "Twitter and the detection of crime", the MP believes the social-networking site should defer to UK authorities or be sanctioned by the Government – those sanctions involving a ban on the service.
"Twitter is now a very widely used mode of social networking; is a US-based enterprise whose primary motivation is to maximise its profits; Twitter is now used for a variety of criminal activities including sending malicious communications," reads the filing.
Non-Brits like myself will recognize this tactic of wanting to ban services that don't bend over a barrel for local police, having seen it so many times with services like Craig's List. In the case of Twitter, the company already complies with police requests that are matters of life or death and does so voluntarily. What they don't allow is law enforcement to go on fishing expeditions in non-serious matters. Now, should you think that such petty action by UK LEOs is unlikely, please keep in your mind all the links provided above. Were I Twitter, I wouldn't want to open up that can of worms either.
Luckily, that prevailing opinion is that Mr. Galloway is simply trying to draw media attention to himself. The Parliament's own website concurs.
"Although there is very little prospect of EDMs being debated, many attract a great deal of public interest and frequently receive media coverage," claims the website, whilst summarising, "The majority will attract only one or two signatures."
Given Mr. Galloway's rather, ahem, colorful history, I suppose we shouldn't be surprised by such a move on his part. That said, fear not, my dear Brits, Twitter will remain for now.
from the i-may-not-like-what-you-say,-but-i'll-fight-for-your-right-to-say-it dept
Last year the Union of Jewish French Students (UEJF) sued Twitter, because a bunch of people in France start tweeting ridiculous anti-semitic tweets as some sort of weird anti-semitic hashtag became popular in France:
Last October, the UEJF sued Twitter after the hashtag "#unBonJuif" (French for "#aGoodJew") became the third most popular trending topic on Twitter in France. With so many tweets indexed under that hashtag, many users took the opportunity to post Holocaust jokes, racially charged statements (e.g. "#aGoodJew is a dead jew"), photos of dustpans filled with dust, and even calls to kill more Jews.
Even though it's a strong defender of free speech, Twitter agreed to remove the tweets in question as offensive. As someone who is Jewish and who is quite offended by anti-semitism, I still think this was the wrong move. Censoring ignorant speech does nothing to fix things. Ignorant speech should be countered with non-ignorant speech. That said, Twitter made its decision and removed the tweets.
Turns out, that wasn't enough. The UEJF demanded the identities of everyone who tweeted such anti-semitic remarks. Twitter refused, but lost in court. Afterwards, it still refused to pass along the info, and so the UEJF has now filed a second lawsuit, seeking $50 million.
“Twitter is playing the indifference card and does not respect the ruling,” Hayoun told AFP. “They have resolved to protect the anonymity of the authors of these tweets and have made themselves accomplices to racists and anti-Semites.”
Either that or they're pushing back against a lynchmob mentality, and protecting at least some precepts of free speech and an expectation of privacy. What's incredible, frankly, is that while Europe is known to have less respect for free speech principles than the US, it tends to have greater respect for privacy rights. Apparently not in this case, however.
Twitter has put out a statement suggesting that the UEJF is much more interested in using this for publicity purposes than anything else:
"We've been in continual discussions with UEJF," a Twitter spokesperson told CNET. "As yesterday's new filing shows, they are sadly more interested in grandstanding than taking the proper international legal path for this data. We are filing our appeal today, and would have filed it sooner if not for UEJF's intentional delay in processing the court's decision."
Even more ridiculous is that it appears that it's not just Twitter being sued, but Twitter CEO Dick Costolo. If this all sounds vaguely familiar, that may be because a decade ago, Yahoo faced a similar ridiculous situation, in which both the company and its CEO were charged as war criminals (no joke!) because Yahoo's non-France websites sold some Nazi memorabilia (they blocked it on Yahoo's French sites). At some point, people bringing these kinds of lawsuits have to realize how counterproductive they are. I'm extremely sympathetic to their offense at the ignorant tweets, but their legal actions take away all of that sympathy.
Every few months, Google has been "shutting down" various offerings they feel are under-used, in an effort to regain some focus. Many of these are uncontroversial, though a few have been surprising and freaked some users out. Many, for example, were surprised and upset when Google announced it was phasing out iGoogle. But today's news that it is shutting down Google Reader took many, many people by surprise. My Twitter feed blew up with people freaking out about it. For those who use it, many really rely on it for their daily information gathering process. I know the feeling, because I used to do that -- though a few years ago I shifted to mostly using Twitter via a well-organized Tweetdeck, and found that to be just as (if not more) effective, though a somewhat different overall experience that took some getting used to.
Still, a very large number of folks I know feel like they practically live inside Google Reader -- and I know (for example) that Google Reader is a huge driver of traffic to this site, so I get the feeling many of you use Google Reader as well. The thing that seems to have so many folks upset is the fact that there really aren't any comparable alternatives if you want that same basic experience. In fact, you could argue that Google effectively killed off many of those alternatives. Back in the day there were things like Newsgator and Bloglines, but both were effectively marginalized or pushed into other markets because Google Reader really did become the de facto standard RSS reader that so many used and relied on.
Anyway, I have a few separate thoughts on all of this and might as well go through them bullet point style:
This highlights the problem of relying too much on a single provider when there are few alternatives. As such, I wonder if Google may not realize the wider impact of this move. For example, it has me directly rethinking how much I rely on Google Calendar, Google Drive and Gmail. Now, I don't think any of those are going away any time soon, but not too long ago (um, yesterday, according to some...) you could have said the same exact thing about Reader. I'm now planning to do a more serious personal audit of services I use and how reliant I am on a single provider, and start making sure I have working alternatives in place and ready to go. In the end, this will certainly make me a lot less tied to Google's services, which is probably a good thing, but probably not the sort of thing Google is hoping its users will be doing.
As mentioned, personally, I moved away from RSS readers to a purely Twitter/Tweetdeck approach to consuming news. It took a few months of doing both, but when I shut down the RSS reader, I never looked back. It's a different experience, but has some benefits. But, what that suggests is that if people are looking for a culprit for what brought us to this moment, Twitter is the prime suspect. Yes, Twitter and RSS are different in many significant ways. But, in terms of the basic user benefit that people get out of both ("my stream of news & info"), they clearly compete.
The lack of serious alternatives represents a serious opportunity for someone enterprising. Believe it or not, before Google Reader even launched we at Techdirt had built our own RSS reader, called the Techdirt InfoAdvisor, that functioned quite a lot like Google Reader, but which had some other really useful features for us internally and for some of our business clients (we would use it to curate accounts for clients, with added commentary from us). Eventually, we shut it down, because (as Google has discovered), it's actually a lot of work to maintain something like that for a variety of reasons, and soaks up tremendous resources. Still, my first reaction was to joke that maybe we should dust off our old code, put it up and see if anyone wanted to use it. We're not likely to do that (unless all of you start throwing money our way), but someone else likely is going to jump into this space quickly. They may not build a huge business out of it, but I'd bet if they weren't looking for VC-style hockey stick returns, that someone could build a decent business out of it.
It is always interesting to look at product lifecycles, but most of the time when online products die off, the writing was on the wall long before it happened. This one struck me as a surprise since so many people relied so heavily on it, and it seems really abrupt and likely to upset the basic workflow of so many -- especially in the journalism and academic fields. I can respect the reasons for killing off a "non-essential" product, but it feels like Google seriously underestimated the level to which people had built Google reader into their daily lives.
It wouldn't surprise me, given how loud the backlash is, if Google extends the deadline for shutting down Reader, or if it eventually tries to work out some sort of alternative resolution. We saw the same thing, to a lesser extent, back when AskJeeves tried to shut down Bloglines (the Google Reader of its day before Google Reader existed). And, eventually, Ask sold it off to another company who apparently has kept it running (though, who knows how many users it has today). I think that experience actually pushed a bunch of Bloglines users to jump to Google on the assumption that Google Reader was safe. You would think that someone within Google would remember how that whole thing played out. It's surprising that they don't appear to have learned anything from it.
It seems that, once again, the UK is going censorship crazy and not realizing how that only attacts more attention to that which they're trying to censor. This time, it involves some photos that were posted online of one Jon Venables, who at the age of 10, murdered 2-year old James Bulger, in a rather horrifying story. Venables was released from jail in 2001, at the age of 19 (though he has since gone back to prison). Photos of Venables, now 30 years old and apparently using a new identity to avoid his past, appeared online. The UK apparently wants a right to forget the fact that Venables did what he did, and seems to think that there should be no additional public consequences. Attorney General Dominic Grieve has said he's going to take legal action against anyone posting the photo, and has gone even further in telling Google, Facebook and Twitter that they need to magically delete any and all such photos that appear via their services.
It appears that at least Twitter has pushed back a little bit, pointing out that it will take down images if the law requires it upon notification, but that it cannot and will not monitor every one of its users to prevent them from posting the image:
Sinead McSweeney, Twitter's director of public policy in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said she did not wish to be drawn into commenting on individual accounts.
She added: "We work with law enforcement here in the UK. We have established points of contact with law enforcement in the UK where they communicate with us about content, they bring content to our attention that is illegal, and appropriate steps are taken by the company. You may read into those words what you wish in context of the current [issue]."
McSweeney, who appeared alongside officials from Google and Facebook, said Twitter could not be expected to proactively monitor what is published on its social network across the globe each day. She added: "It's important that people increasingly understand that online is no different to offline: what is illegal offline is illegal online."
You can argue that it's unfair for Venables, under his new identity, to be connected back to what he actually did, though I'm not sure I buy that argument. But, it's taking it to a whole different level to then seek to prosecute people for merely posting a photo to their social network feed. They then take it to an entirely ridiculous level to order that third party service providers actively police and censor this particular photo. And, of course, all this is doing is calling much, much, much, much more attention to the photo. A lot more people are now seeing the photo than would have if people had just ignored the original postings.
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.
Just recently, we pointed to Google latest Transparency Report, which showed a massive increase in requests for info on users from government agencies. However, it also showed that a much lower percentage of such requests were being honored, raising some questions about how Google handled such requests. Well, wonder no more (or, at least, wonder a little less) as Google has now explained the process by which it handles such requests, going into a fair bit of detail (you have to click through) in terms of the legal requirements and how Google handles different types of requests, and what data Google may be compelled to reveal. However, in an accompanying blog post, Google makes clear that it often pushes back:
When government agencies ask for our users’ personal information—like what you provide when you sign up for a Google Account, or the contents of an email—our team does several things:
We scrutinize the request carefully to make sure it satisfies the law and our policies. For us to consider complying, it generally must be made in writing, signed by an authorized official of the requesting agency and issued under an appropriate law.
We evaluate the scope of the request. If it’s overly broad, we may refuse to provide the information or seek to narrow the request. We do this frequently.
We notify users about legal demands when appropriate so that they can contact the entity requesting it or consult a lawyer. Sometimes we can’t, either because we’re legally prohibited (in which case we sometimes seek to lift gag orders or unseal search warrants) or we don’t have their verified contact information.
We require that government agencies conducting criminal investigations use a search warrant to compel us to provide a user’s search query information and private content stored in a Google Account—such as Gmail messages, documents, photos and YouTube videos. We believe a warrant is required by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure and overrides conflicting provisions in ECPA.
This is definitely good to see -- and lots of other companies should do the same thing. However, it still remains an issue that governments can, and do, get lots of information with limited oversight -- even when companies push back.
Speaking of which, Twitter also came out with its latest transparency report, which highlights the information requests it gets as well. Both companies are really leading the way on transparency here, but it's a shame that these stories are even newsworthy, rather than the way most large companies act.