Sunday, 29 June 2014

Adventures in Copyright Infringement, Part 2

[For the first part of this post, see here.]

One of my resolutions when I quit my day job at the end of last year was to start fighting my corner a little harder.

In part one of this post, for those too busy piloting jumbo jets or wrestling tigers to go back and read it, I talked about how I'd stumbled upon one of my stories on a web magazine I'd never sent it to, had asked the editor in question to take it down and, when they tried but failed miserably to do so and didn't reply to my e-mail explaining that this was what had happened, decided to give up on the whole sorry business and just live my goddamn life.

Six months later I realised that this wasn't fighting my corner.

To put that arbitrary-seeming decision in perspective, I found myself in a position where the copyright of that particular story was suddenly significant again, and - I'm being honest here - where I was itching to see if there was anything I could actually do about someone ripping off my work.  And, being now a full time writer, I had both the time and the motivation to see the thing through to its bitter, bloody end.

All of that put together made me think that rather than get in touch with the editor yet again, (this would, after all, be my fifth e-mail), I'd go down the more dramatic route of a DMCA Takedown Notice.  After all, it was pretty clear that they didn't entirely understand either copyright or how to take pages off their own website.  But - and still being really honest, and maybe just a little bit like a five year old with an atom bomb - I also really wanted to see what would happen if I sent a DMCA Takedown Notice.

What I'm saying is, I possibly didn't think through all the ramifications of what I was doing.

At any rate, things got off to a disappointing start.  The company I'd pegged as being  the web host in question wrote back to say it wasn't them at all and pointed me elsewhere.  The company they'd identified didn't have a dedicated e-mail address for such things like the first one had so I had to contact their sales team instead, and was already feeling disillusioned with the whole endeavor.  But they did get back to me too, albeit not so quickly, and promised to look into the matter.

After that nothing happened for a few days, and the matter slipped my mind, mostly because by then I'd gone away on holiday.  It was perhaps a week from when I'd last heard anything that I got a somewhat panicked and accusatory e-mail from the editor, asking why on earth I'd raised a DMCA Takedown Notice against him and told his hosting company he'd failed to respond to multiple requests to take my work down when the matter had been settled months ago?  Now the hosting company had taken not only the website in question offline but all of his other websites too.  My behaviour, he suggested, was akin to opening a door with a hand grenade.

At this point I felt horribly guilty.  In so much as I'd considered it, I'd assumed the hosting company would just delete the offending content (I'd given them the precise URL) and maybe do a bit of minor wrist slapping.  What had actually happened was far beyond anything I'd intended.

On the other hand, I quickly reasoned, I had asked four times for my story to be taken down.  I wrote back explaining this, copying the hosting company in, and said that so for as I was concerned there'd been no malicious intent and that as long as my content vanished from the site that was the matter settled.  The editor wrote again, still grumbling, and then almost immediately after sent a somewhat more apologetic e-mail in which he admitted that the story had indeed been left up and that he'd finally checked and confirmed I wasn't the one who'd sent it to him in the first place.  He contacted the web designer who managed his site, managed to get the change made within the twenty-four hour slot his host allowed him, and that - thankfully! - was the end of the matter.

But it could have gone a lot worse.  And if I had it all to do again I'd certainly have done things differently.  That said, then, my conclusions are a) that DMCA Takedown Notices do indeed seem to work, and are taken very seriously indeed, at least by legitimate web hosting providers, and that b) this means that, like any other potentially dangerous thing that can wreak havoc in someone's life, they should be used with care.

Put it this way ... if I ever go down that route again it will be because I think someone's maliciously abusing my copyright, and not because it's a wet Tuesday and I can't be bothered to write another e-mail.

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