EFF and 10 Zen Monkeys vs. Michael Crook and DMCA

By
November 1st, 2006


The Electronic Frontier Foundation is representing 10 Zen Monkeys in a civil lawsuit against griefer Michael Crook for abusing the DMCA and violating our free speech rights.



In September, we published an article about Crook when he mimicked Jason Fortuny by trolling CraigsList and sex-baiting guys into giving him private information which he then revealed on his site (now offline), craigslist-perverts.org. He apparently did not like what we had to say. In a brash and hypocritical (though not at all surprising) move, Crook filed a fraudulent DMCA take-down notice with our then-ISP, knowing that the "safe harbor" provision would compel the ISP to take immediate action, even before proof of copyright ownership was examined.

I was personally given an ultimatum to remove the material cited in the notice (a TV screen capture of Crook's appearance on Fox News Channel), or have my account canceled. Needless to say, Crook did not own the rights to the image, and even if he did, there's a little thing called "fair use" in the context of critical commentary.

Appalled that he was able to so easily, and without any onus of proof, jeopardize my standing with my ISP, I immediately set about moving the site to local San Francisco ISP Laughing Squid, owned by my old pal, Scott Beale — his services are more expensive, but I knew Scott would understand and respect free speech at least to the point of asking me for details before threatening to pull the plug on my site.

The first thing I did after migrating 10 Zen Monkeys was re-insert the image of Crook into the offending article and, sure enough, within 24 hours he had sent another DMCA take-down notice to Laughing Squid's upstream provider. I'm sure he was emboldened by his success at forcing me to relocate my website once, and was trying for a repeat. But this time, Scott indeed called me to get the story. He was as angry as I was, and said I should contact the Electronic Frontier Foundation. (As an ISP, Scott hadn't seen this particular abuse before, and was concerned — it showed just how easy it is under the current DMCA provisions to intimidate a website, for any reason whatsoever.)

"This is yet another case of someone intentionally misusing copyright law to try to shut down legitimate debate on an issue of public interest," said EFF Staff Attorney Jason Schultz. "Crook certainly doesn't own the copyright to the news footage — Fox News does."



The "safe harbor" provision of the law is meant to shield service providers from liability for any copyright violations that might be committed on their clients' websites. It basically states that, upon being notified by letter or email that there is content in violation of copyright, they can avoid any legal consequences by immediately removing it. (The reason the "safe harbor" is even necessary is because of the draconian copyright "protections" built into the DMCA — ones which sacrifice fair use among other things.) But since the take-down notice doesn't require a court order, or any type of judicial scrutiny, it means that shady individuals or organizations can easily use the law to stifle free speech.

"Crook has used a bogus copyright claim as a pretext to squelch free speech," said EFF Staff Attorney Corynne McSherry. "Unfortunately, it is easy to abuse DMCA takedown provisions and most internet speakers don't have the ability to fight back."

I removed the original image in the Crook article and instead linked to a similar image residing on someone else's server (Crook is widely reviled on the internet, so it's not difficult to find materials criticizing him on Google).

Surprise! Crook didn't like that either, and on October 24th, he filed yet again, this time thinking that the DMCA could be used to intimidate an ISP for a site that links to content that doesn't reside on their servers!

Crook seems to have a particularly malicious interpretation of the DMCA. He has declared on his blog his own campaign to serve take-down notices on sites he doesn't like, regardless of whether he owns the copyright on the material in question. From his blog:
One site has gone completely down. It currently routes to a "Suspended" page. This site has remained down because the webmaster hasn't responded to the complaint. I can't be responsible for that.

None of this is surprising from someone who has devoted so much time and energy finding others in a compromised state — whether it's horny men online, or wounded soldiers — and then systematically hurting them further, for nothing more than a fleeting, self-defeating publicity.

Until now, the instances of social griefing made famous by Jason Fortuny and aped by Michael Crook have brought up mostly privacy issues. In the case of Crook's abuse of DMCA, we see the same childish, ill-intentioned publicity-seeking, but that's not to say there's no difference between Fortuny and Crook. Fortuny has never tried to stop anyone from saying anything about him — in fact, he seems to enjoy the direct negative criticisms he's received. Crook, on the other hand, is clearly operating on a level of complexity that is far beyond his capacities — he wants to be notorious, but then uses unrelated, legalistic (though illegal!) manipulations to silence those who speak out against him. Despite his comical claim to the title of copyright defender, he is creating a real chilling effect on free speech.



Some of the targets of Crook's DMCA exploits have self-censored, in part because to give him attention is a reward he doesn't deserve, but also because they don't understand their rights and cannot afford to fight. The takedown provision of this law is bad for publishers and anyone who cares about free speech, and Crook has clearly demonstrated a reason why. He has also stupidly underestimated the resolve of this publication; we hope to set an example of what can be done when First Amendment rights are fully understood, nurtured, and worn into battle.

Update:
Crook taught students how to properly use the internet
Crook serves DMCA takedown notice to BoingBoing. (BB gets permission from Fox News to post image.)
Tucker Max deconstructs Crook

See also:
EFF's press release
PDF of complaint
In the Company of Jerkoffs
The Secret Life of Jason Fortuny
Jason Fortuny Speaks
Good Griefers: Fortuny vs. Crook


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43 Responses to “EFF and 10 Zen Monkeys vs. Michael Crook and DMCA”

  1. Marty Says:

    I love how he calls the EFF hippies in his press release. If a hippy is someone that can be critical of other people and their actions , then call us hippies.

  2. Mama Fox Says:

    Glad to hear of this news. Maybe they can ask for his banishment of being online also or at the least owning websites or blogs

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Out of curiousity, why didn’t you give your ISP a put-up notice? You see, there was some concern about take-down notices being abusable, so while the law requires ISPs to obey take-down notices if they want to remain within the safe harbor, they are also required to obey put-up notices (more precisely called counter notifications) which are sent by the ISP user as a rebuttal against the take down notice. Once the ISP is ordered to put the material back up, they get to keep their protection and don’t have to take it down again unless there’s an actual court order, which is a lot harder to get. This is all covered in 17 USC 512(g).

  4. Jason Fortuny Says:

    LOL! Don’t you know how to file a DMCA counter-notification? You could have saved yourself a LOT of trouble. In fact, I talk about bullshit DMCA notices on my blog, rfjason.com, and how to respond to them. It’s good stuff.

    Of course, this bitch fight is much more interesting in the long run and should generate lots of clicks for everyone around. Not that you’d ever do that. Of course not.

    Here’s a tip: if you really want to piss Crook off, make fun of his hair. It works for me.

  5. steve Says:

    Would be nice if you didn’t link to a site with a photo of a man’s genetalia or atleast provide a NSFW notice. Ugh!

  6. Jim March Says:

    Been there, done that. Beat Diebold Election Systems Inc. when they were going nuts trying to DMCA-slam websites. Mine was the only site to survive their take-down notice.

    Jim March
    Member of the Board of Directors,
    http://blackboxvoting.org

  7. doug Says:

    Ha ha, this is great. Awesome work, guys.

  8. Rob K. Says:

    Wow this guy fills me with rage but I think the only logical thing to do is nothing- that way perhaps if people stop listening or talking to him or allowing him to speak openly about his opinions he might go away. That certainly would be nice. If everyone just turned the corner and ignored him. Think of him as that crazy guy in whatever city you live in who shouts a lot and does things to draw attention to himself for no other reason then to do that. Everyone who isn’t a tourist ignores him because it really is the only logical course of action we may feel bad for him but what can we do?

  9. Jeff Diehl Says:

    Don’t you know how to file a DMCA counter-notification?

    We did file one. This isn’t about avoiding trouble. The larger issue is free speech. Why should one person be able to use fraudulent means to stifle my speech just because I’ve entered into debate? The takedown notice, even if I counter-file, guarantees that some material is down for at least 14 days. If someone is claiming the right to exercise such force, she better be able to prove that I’ve done something to deserve it.

  10. Vulc Says:

    Something about his face just reminds me of cheap zombie movies. I’m not sure which is worse yet, his horrible looks or his horrible personality. Poor kid couldn’t even come up with something original.

  11. FennecBob Says:

    Hope you hit this guy for everything he’s worth. Looking through his website, it’s pretty obvious that Michael Crook is a worthless no good shitbag. Good luck to you in this fight, sir. Hope you hit this proto lawyer into next millenium.

  12. Bob Roskins Says:

    This crook is the definition of idiot… I hope he craps his pants when when he gets taken down himself… Clearly this person has no idea about real life he even links to a site denying the holocaust… I think that someone should arrange for him to be sent to Austria, they can lock him in the same cell as david irving and let the austrian jail birds teach them some good loving…

    The fact the man devotes his time to removing your freedom of speech and at the same time expounds his own clearly needs a good lesson… I just sent a great donation to the EFF, for some great work

  13. Derwood Says:

    Jeff Diehl, you’re my new hero..
    Seriously..

    Anyone who can make Michael Crook whine is number one in my book.
    Too bad Craigslist won’t do anything about his antics on their site.

  14. Dan White Says:

    While it’s the point at all and I agree that DMCA slaps are an outrageous use of the law, and should be fought. I just thought it might it be possible to bypass this issue by hosting your website on a non-US based web host just to annoy him further.

    He could issue as many DMCA takedown notices as he likes then.

  15. Dan White Says:

    “While it’s the point at all”

    I meant “While it’s not the point at all” :)

  16. Kate Says:

    What I want to know is whether or not the DMCA will do anything about him sending out fraudulent DMCA notices. Seems to me they’ve got a great forgery case here.

    I’ll be blogging the hell out this later tonite — and we’ll be sitting back watching the little putz try to get onto our servers to see what we had to say. We’ve been toying with him for months now.

  17. Don Says:

    Apparently this guy is an idiot either way he want to flip the coin. Either:

    A) He is guilty of fraudulent misuse of the DMCA and copyright law

    or

    B) He is correct in his assertions and therefore guilty of massive copyright infringement himself by posting all those pictures of guys I heard he “outed” on Craiglist. (Therefore, using this guys logic they could all band together and legally class action lawsuit him, heh).

  18. Kate Says:

    Oh, Don, he didn’t just post their photos and IM logs. He also posted their names, addresses, phone numbers, their employers, spouse names (and in a couple of cases where the spouse was employed), he contacted one guy’s neighbors, and he just generally did everything in his power to screw up their lives. His justification was that they’d done something wrong and he was merely exposing them for it.

    He also has a site where he posts photos of dead US soldiers — and soldiers expressing their grief — so that he can ridicule them.

    AND he has another where he posts photos and articles about dead children who died doing something “stupid” that led to their death. In one case, the child’s “stupid” act was simply getting in a car with another teenager. They were hit by someone and one or both were killed. His reasoning? If they’d been home studying “like they should be” they wouldn’t have been hit.

    He’s a scum bucket. And we’ve compiled a public information file on him almost an inch thick.

  19. The Mad Pigeon Says:

    Mr. Crookity tried the same DMCA stunt with me, and unfortunately my blog host forced me to take some materials down. However, I don’t think he expected my rapid andwhithering public response or his eventual further embarrassment (included below for your reading pleasure). Isn’t freedom of speech great?

    First Article: http://www.themadpigeon.com/diary_of_the_mad_pigeon/2006/08/an_antiwar_acti.html

    Second Article: http://www.themadpigeon.com/diary_of_the_mad_pigeon/2006/08/the_crook_saga_.html

  20. Kevin Says:

    Good luck Jeff!!!

    A lot of people are rooting for you, I’m sure. Human waste like Crook and Fortuny deserve far worse than getting sued.

  21. Gar Ulbricht Says:

    Hi,

    I found this as a link on The Register, UK :
    “How to gag your enemies using the DMCA”:
    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/11/04/eff_fights_bogus_dmca_case/

    If I was registered on Groklaw, I would suggest this to Pamela Jones. as a one of her Newspicks”.

    May be it will get “digged”. I hope so, as I think this is important.

    Good luck,

    Gar

  22. Franny Ward Says:

    Crook also sent my web host, Ipower with a DCMA. I sent in a counter claim to Ipower, they insisted that I remove the whole thread in my blog, or have the web site deleted. Crook also sent (Throgh his wife, GF Kayla) theratening letters to several of my advertisers and people whom I link to on the main site, resulting in a few asking me to be removed.

    This guy is a trouble maker, I will gladly join any class action law suit against him. I have retained all the e mails, with full header information.

    Cheers.

  23. webmonkees Says:

    http://www.fark.com had a photoshop contest using Mr. Crook’s image..
    http://forums.fark.com/cgi/fark/comments.pl?IDLink=2390696

    For the first time in about 80-90?? postings of images of questionable copyright status, I received an email from photobucket telling me my image I had hosted with them in that thread was in violation of DMCA.
    Just reviewed the Fark thread; looks like Flicr has pulled a couple of other images.
    Probably same story.

    Well, it was, but again, with literally hundreds of images posted, none had ever gotten a DMCA. Thanks, Mike, I’m proud to be in the crowd!

  24. Tony Begonja Says:

    Re: http://10zenmonkeys.com/2006/11/01/eff-crook-dmca-lawsuit/

    Hi, I ran into this exact same kind of problem back in 2000-2002 when a certain DMCA abuser (Joseph Colin James III) repeatedly got my entire web site (http://www.ind-movement.org) shut down (instead of just individual pages). He ultimately sued me in Federal Court and lost. For a write-up see http://www.ind-movement.org/lawsuit/

    It should be noted that Mr. James got a *lot* of different web sites shut down at that time, not just mine.

    EFF didn’t directly take on my case at the time, but did point me to a really good free-speech lawyer.

    Ultimately I wound up using the firm owned by EFF’s former webmaster, Marc Perkel, for my web hosting (ctyme.com). Marc doesn’t take legal flak from *anybody*.

    There was even a newpaper article about Mr. James and his tactics of harassing not only critics, but just about anybody he didn’t agree with. It’s archived at http://www.ind-movement.org/articles/bw_article_cfm_aid_479.html
    (The article had been also archived on the Internet Archive, but I’m afraid that page is now “blocked”. Hmmm.)

  25. Permanent Ascent Says:

    You’ve got an ally in your corner! We hate that guy, what he says, and what he stands for. We appreciate your cause and hope that things go well in the lawsuit. We also appreciate the fact that you saw fit to mention us in that article that’s causing all of the fus – we’ve posted a link to this page and that article on our site so our community will be hopefully a little more informed. Keep fighting the good fight!

    -Chuck (guitarist)

  26. Sam Says:

    http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ1.html#noc

    This states that a copyright notice is NOT required on works, and any photographic work is automatically given a copyright when it is first taken. This would seem to indicate that the photos sent by the subjects abused by Crook to Crook ARE subject to a legitimate copyright belonging to the subject if the photos were taken by the subject themselves. This might be a good thing to mention if this can be validated. I of course have no legal background.

    Sam

  27. #1 crook fan Says:

    This guy’s a hoot. He talks about how this lawsuit will only give him free publicity, and something about exposing his views or something. I say that’s a great thing! This fella’s a laughingstock!
    That’s why he keeps coming up with these views that I bet even he doesn’t believe, he just loves the attention. I wish that he would at least come up with something worth reading- just like his craigslist copycat thing, everything that he spouts off is someone else’s idea. Yeah, he gets attention, but most comedians do.
    He’ll lose, of course, but he’ll weasel out of payment. All this lawsuit will do is show the world that he’s a total idiot. I just really can’t get how he would rather have a reputation as a copycat/griefer rather than someone worth listening to.
    oh, well.

  28. #1 crook fan Says:

    Reading some of these posts- just remember that he says things just to get a reaction. My 6 year old does the same thing sometimes. He doesn’t have the personality or genuine intelligence to be universally liked, so he’ll try to be universally hated. It’s just kind of pathetic.

  29. Derwood Says:

    Sam, you have no legal background and you are wrong…
    Ever been on TV before?? Before they can show you on TV, you have to sign a release form. That little release gives them sole ownership and copyright of the images. They can’t and won’t show your image on TV without that release.
    So, the images in question are owned by Fox News. Not Michael Crook.
    That debate aside.. The images posted fall under the fair use portion of copyright law. Fair use says the images can be used without permission of the copyright owner, especially when used as part of a parody.

    Crook Fan, yes.. He does it because negative attention is better than none. Some attention starved children do the same thing by acting out. They want attention, and they know by acting in a socially unacceptable manner they will get that attention. Even if its a spanking or getting yelled at, its still some form of attention.

  30. #1 crook fan Says:

    yeah, he brags about his “awards” on his site. It’s just sad. Thing is, he can stir up some trouble now, but he’ll always be remembered as a copycat griefer. Doesn’t matter what else he does- no one will remember the failed political attempt, the racism, the failure in the military- he’ll just be a footnote in the story of Fortuny’s life.

  31. Emily Says:

    Sam, it looks like Derwood misread your comment because he’s arguing about something completely different. Your point about the copyright ownership of the pictures sent to the Crook is valid. I would add, however, that since it’s unlikely that the subjects took their own pictures, the copyright to them belongs to whoever is the photographer. At any rate, the Crook doesn’t own them. Whether or not fair use would allow him to post them on his website is something I would not be qualified to comment about.

    Looks like the Crook is officially screwed re the lawsuit with Diehl though. Good for you Jeff!

  32. Emily Says:

    Just cruised over to the Crook’s website and read that he is now the Right Reverend Crook. I’ll have to admit it was the next link on the evolutionary chain. The United Church of the Couch or some such nonsense. May as well be the Holy Order of the Sacred Bowl Scrubbers.

    My prediction? The IRS will have him bent over the couch arm within a year. The way he plays fast and loose with “good faith” interpretation of law will land his ass in a federal prison this time.

    G*d Bless little Michael.

  33. Emily Says:

    Unbefuckinglievable!

    Michael Crook has transcended jerkoffery.

    Now he would like us to believe that he is a reverend and that we should entrust him with our deepest darkest secrets because he want to “help” people.

    An anonymous poster on his blog

    http://www.michaelcrook.org/theblog/2007/02/10/a-new-church/

    asked:

    “In the Craigslist Perverts project, was there not information given to you by your contacts that was of a confidential nature? Certainly, any photographs they gave you were given in confidence. As a man of the cloth, will you be the judge of what constitutes a breach of confidentiality or will you honor the wishes of those you serve?”

    The oh so reverend Crook weaseled, “Well, certainly the Craigslist Perverts project was a gray area” but now he’s “duty-bound” not to pull those kinds of shenanigans again.

    A gray area indeed. This man’s capacity for self delusion is without boundary.

  34. #1 crook fan Says:

    It’s one thing or another, I’m really bored with him. He’s like Maralyn Manson- entertaining to watch for a while, but has to keep taking another step forward to get attention. This will probably fade away sooner or later, and he’ll move on to something else. I used to like to see him make an arse of himself, but it’s just no fun anymore. I’m actually reading fortuny now- at least he’s original. Even read his blog- someone already beat him to the church throne/sofa/whatever thing. sigh, someone wake me up when he thinks of something on his own!

  35. Eric Says:

    Has he lost this lawsuit? I just got a “Withdrawl of DMCA” email from him… or has he just given up?

  36. Emily Says:

    I still laugh every time I see the screen capture of Crook. His lips look exactly Francis the Talking Mule. Of course, Francis was in the Navy. Crook didn’t get past the sign that says you have to be “This Tall”.

    It looks like he’s spending the day doing damage control at his blog. Deleting uncomplimentary posts and editing some to make himself look less like an idiot. That has to be a full time job.

    Happy Valentine’s Day Mike. Say “hi” to Porky.

  37. Emily Says:

    Diehl and EFF’s actions have broken Crook. All he can do now is carry on a dialog between himself and his anonymous personas.

    His formulaic hate pieces are repetitious and boring, affecting few. He will never achieve netwide notoriety again. His name will be synonymous with failure. He will be the griefer Star Wars Kid.

    Heh.

  38. #1 crook fan Says: Says:

    notice how he once again fakes taking his site down? hmm- notice that every link gives him referrer credit?
    I dunno- maybe even he’s getting bored with his own tired act. He fizzled out, is all, it happens. But just watch- we saw this before when he wanted to play cop. He pulls back , but then gets bored or lonely, so he tries to do another big thing again- for attention. Just watch, give it a while, he’ll keep trying to get attention. And, yes, people may buy into it again.
    It’s just sad- he thought that with his -ahem- “fame”, that people would, what, by his book? Join his fake religion (tax shelter?). Can’t we take up a collection for this guy? He’s always tring to get some money.

  39. A fan of Crook's Says:

    Michael Crook has posted a video response on YouTube to the FNC appearance. Go to YouTube and key in “michael crook” and you’ll see his image. Click on that video and hear his response as opposed to being hateful.

  40. #1 crook fan Says:

    What I like is that this silly goat is claiming fair use protection on his personal site… hmm, isn’t that a tiny bit hypocritical?

  41. #1 crook fan Says:

    I just read his blog post about debating Hannity. He’s going to claim that he wins, of course, if H doesn’t respond. Does he really think that he’s worth H’s time? People are bored of his tired antics, and H has to go where the news is. He’d more likely debate the originator of certain views, rather than an copycat. But, I guess that Crook is falling out of public view again- he needs another humilation just to stay in the spotlight. Sigh, like Emily said- just the griefer star wars kid. Or, perhaps, the guy that copied the star wars kid, lol

  42. watchdos Says:

    Ok, not like anyone actually posts to his site, but just a notice if you choose to. From his “terms of service:

    “Therefore, those who post “spam”, or any commercial or non-profit advertisment, including but not limited to posts, blog entries, signatures, avatars, and any other form of text to the blog and/or message board may be charged a service/handling fee of $2,000 USD per post. This fee applies regardless of whether or not the post appears, i.e. the fee may still be assessed even if the post is held in a moderation queue”

    not that he could legally enforce that, as any real lawyer would confirm- but you all know what a gnat he can be…

  43. Sarah Droid Says:

    Whoah I really admire your persistence! Its great you’re fighting for this. Its so obvious that hes a ‘Crook’ and a jerk. It sucks craigslist isnt doing anything about it. I’m sorry it must be so frustrating, good luck :)

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