It makes one wonder what the curriculum must have consisted of...
- Hairstyling for Web Video
- Net Etiquette 101
- Protecting Your Privacy
- How to Leverage the Internet to Make Everyone Despise You (Including Every Armed Human in America!)
- Legal Pitfalls Online
In the last five days millions of web surfers have learned the legend of Michael Crook — his story, his image, and his attempts to squelch it by abusing a badly-written copyright law.
Crook objects to the use of a goofy picture taken from his 2005 appearance on the Fox News network. But Xeni Jardin, a BoingBoing writer, posted that she's since contacted a producer at Fox News, saying they'd "laughed, asked why Crook was claiming rights to an image that Fox produced, then said Fox had no problem with BoingBoing or anyone else posting the thumbnail image online."
It's becoming a giant parable — showing people online how easily copyright law can be mis-used. But in a new twist, they're responding, rising up in an an impromptu celebration of free speech. TailRank CEO Kevin Burton re-published the photo, urging Michael Crook: "Please send me a fake DMCA takedown notice... I'm going to auction it off on eBay and give the proceeds to the EFF!" Fellow griefer Tucker Max also republished Crook's photo, writing that he was calling Crook's bluff and adding "Fair warning: I OWNED the last lazy-eyed douche to come at me." (A debate has apparently been scheduled between the two for Wednesday at 3pm Eastern time.)
The writers at TechnOccult not only re-published the photo on their blog and MySpace page — they urged others to do so as well, even including the necessary HTML text. "By standing up to intimidation and spreading the word about this case," they wrote, "you can help the fight for free speech online." And soon the image was appearing on blogs around the world. Pranksters at Fark.com even started a contest, photoshopping Crook's picture into new satirical settings, showing him assassinating President Lincoln, tormenting William Shatner, and appearing as the photograph on a box containing a douche.
IN THE COMPANY OF GRIEFERS
Also republishing Crook's photo was the original CraigsList sex pranker, Jason Fortuny, who also dared Crook to send him a DMCA notice. ("Operators are standing by.") Ironically, Crook first gained the attention of 10 Zen Monkeys after mimicking Fortuny's Craig's list experiment of republishing the responses he received to a fake ad pretending to be a woman seeking casual sex. Now the two men are apparently locked in a weird online rivalry. Friday Fortuny went to the trouble of adding a new entry to his official blog scrolling 20 copies of Crook's photo, along with more abusive commentary. ("This is Michael Crook. He has AWESOME hair. In his spare time, he likes to DMCA websites.") How did Fortuny handle the DMCA notices he received? "I send the counter notification to my webhost, who then notifies your attorney, and your attorney notifies you and follows up with something like 'this will cost thousands of dollars to follow through.' And then you swallow, and smack your forehead, and you don't respond within the alloted 14 day period specified in the counter notification and my shit goes back up...Thanks for playing. All contestants on the RFJason Show get 'The Craigslist Experiment' home game and free turtlewax."
MICHAEL CROOK RESPONDS
Crook joined the online conversation, and Friday even created a new domain - FuckEFF.org. Lambasting "the almighty Electronic Freedom Frontier," he decries the group's lawsuit as malicious prosecution — then 15 words later writes "I will go broke ensuring [Jeff Diehl] incurs eternal financial misery for going after me."
Crook says the action against him will "expose arrogant hippies such as the EFF and Jeff Diehl" — not as defenders of free speech, but as "arrogant abusers of the legal system." Apparently confused by the word "frontier," Crook free associates that the group is "renegades who feel the Internet is the Wild West, and that they can do whatever they wish." Jeff Diehl and the EFF are "hippies," he writes again, but thwarted by the DMCA, they cannot "rule the internet."
"All of this fuss could have been avoided," he writes wishfully, "had they simply shut up, asked no questions, adn [sic] complied with the law." Calling the DMCA a "wonderful law," Crook argues that the EFF suit "is about publicity and pity-whoring..." (Although his own official statement on the matter includes contact information for any media outlets seeking to interview him.) In fact, later his position on attention-seeking becomes more clear. "It's unfortunate that their true movitation is intimidation, publicity, and pity-whoring" he writes — above four Google AdSense ads.
To draw more traffic from search engines, Crook augmented his anti-EFF page with over a dozen different hidden keywords in its HTML code, including "hippie lawyers," "jackasses," and "whiners."
And he's also helpfully includes a banner ad where you can download Firefox. At the bottom of his web page he's posted that it's copyrighted to "Michael Crook Internet Properties" — so don't get any funny ideas. Although ironically, all four of his AdSense ads are recommending attorneys. ("We Fight For and Defend Your Rights! Call 24/7....")
THE MONKEY'S BARREL
As Crook voiced his opinions about image control, the online world apparently decided to join the discussion. Saturday someone sent Michael Crook's dorky high school yearbook photos to 10 Zen Monkeys in a show of support, saying they'd gone to the same school as Crook and remembering that "he was always kind of a spaz." (In the yearbook's section for a quote or favorite memory, Crook offered "I'm the great Cornhuho!")
It's just one of many responses to the original article. "Been there, done that," wrote a director from Black Box Voting, adding he "beat Diebold Election Systems Inc. when they were going nuts trying to DMCA-slam websites."
Another commenter challenged Crook's argument that his presence in the photo grants him a copyright, saying it raises an interesting question "about the photos he published of men who had answered his CraigsList ad. (Who would presumably then enjoy the same copyrights.)"
A LEARNING OPPORTUNITY
It's an exciting moment, as the tubes of the internet fill up with dozens of conversations, all about the same topic: a flaw in online copyright law.
A law student at New York Law School writes that the legislation "promotes a 'shoot first, ask questions later' response from ISPs," but notes that the counter-notification policy also creates a "game of chicken" situation in which "the ISP is only obligated to listen to the last party to speak on the issue." He identifies the problem as the default assumption that a copyright infringement is taking place. "If an ISP were to contact users of DMCA takedown notices before removing the material, this assumption isn't that strong, but most ISPs don't behave this way... once the ISP gets a takedown notice of any sort it will usually just pull the material down and let the user know in due course." And even if a counter-notification is filed, the ISP still observes a 10-day period of time where the contested material remains offline.
Technology writer Thomas Hawk writes "I think it's abusive to use the DMCA, a law that was meant to be used for copyright owners to have their copyrighted material taken off the internet, abused and used as a tool of censorship." And Plagiarism Today links to an academic study from earlier this year offering statistics showing the DMCA being mis-applied. The study shows 30% of the DMCA takedown notices being marred by obvious issues like fair use or the targeting of material which couldn't be copyrighted. Nine percent are incomplete. And apparently over half the notices sent to Google were targeting competitors, with over a third targeting sites which weren't even in the U.S. Thursday Plagiarism Today observed that "The problems with Crook's DMCA notices are so numerous that it is hard to know where to begin." Calling the mistakes "a sign of extreme recklessness, or malice," they argue that Crook holds no claim to the image's copyright, and points out the existence of a well-known exemption for the "fair use" of copyrighted materials.
"In the end," they add, "it appears that Crook has done the most damage to himself. The photograph he sought to bury is now plastered all over the Web, his name is now eternally connected with this matter and, perhaps worst of all, he's on the wrong end of an EFF lawsuit."
AN ETERNAL WAR?
Crook has started using new wording in the DMCA notices he's been sending, now claiming he enjoys a "jurisdiction" over the photo, simply because he appears in it. Significantly, in the earlier notice which first caught the EFF's attention, Crook had written: "I swear, under penalty of perjury...that I am the copyright owner or am authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive copyright..." Crook now swears only that he is the copyright owner "in that the image, though belonging to another source, is of me, thereby giving me certain copyright rights...."
"Feel that?" one BoingBoing reader responded. "It's as though millions of photojournalists suddenly began laughing hysterically at once..."
A new fight has also erupted over the video footage where Crook's image originated. Thursday TailRank's Kevin Burton was surprised that YouTube had removed a movie showing Crook's disastrous appearance on Fox News. Burton contacted a friend at YouTube who apparently restored the footage — but by Saturday night had removed the video again, displaying its standard red-box warning. ("This video has been removed at the request of copyright owner Michael Crook because its content was used without permission.")
But the post-Google era may ultimately bring a new willingness to challenge any perceived mis-handling of copyright claims. Burton simply linked to another copy of the footage he'd found elsewhere online — and hosted another copy himself.
Update: Tucker Max de-constructs Crook
In the Company of Jerkoffs
EFF vs. Crook