The short version: For about a day, the site Crooks and Liars was displaying the entirety of “Get Your Fake Conscience Objections Off My Lawn” without my permission. When informed they didn’t have permission, they were rude and dismissive. It took me dropping Twitter on their head to even get them to stop stonewalling me. They have been rude and insulting to me and to friends of mine, and have completely failed to take any responsibility for my copyrighted material appearing on their site.
I responded by being rude right back. I called them thieves. My reaction did not reflect well on me, and while I don’t believe it in any way justifies Crooks and Liars’ behavior, I’m sorry I behaved the way I did.
The longer version begins with a thought experiment.
Imagine for a moment that I monetize this blog. I run it with a staff and make money off advertising. Imagine also that I have a deal with the Geek Feminism bloggers where I reprint their posts here. This arrangement is beneficial to me because I get to sell ads next to their work. (None of these things are true. We’re imagining).
Now imagine that I reprinted a guest post from Geek Feminism, in its entirety. A day later, people are in my comments informing me that I’m violating the original author’s copyright–she didn’t even grant Geek Feminism permission to print it; she certainly didn’t grant them permission to offer it to others.
Now, I might understandably be kind of upset to have angry people in my comments accusing me of stealing. After all, this was an honest mistake–I thought I had permission to reprint the post.
But now that several people, including the original copyright holder, have informed me that I do not, in fact, have permission, it’s not an honest mistake. I know that I am violating someone else’s copyright, and I have a choice.
I can choose to take responsibility for the content that appears on my site. I can apologize to the post’s author for the mixup and take it down. I might explain to her that I believed I had permission from Geek Feminism, and suggest to her that she might want to speak to them about this as well.
Or I can choose to stonewall her, ban her and others who’ve called me out for this from my comments (but not ban or delete the commenters of mine who are telling them to shut up), and refuse to do anything about it until I see a DMCA takedown notice for which I have conveniently failed to provide an email address. I can let my staff call her sister-in-law a troll, and use my official twitter account to call her a liar.
One guess which option Crooks and Liars chose.
It took me dropping Twitter on their head before they even supplied a takedown email address. I was not the least bit conciliatory about how I approached this on twitter. I called them thieves. They called me a liar and two of my sisters-in-law trolls. We both came out of it looking bad.
Back to our thought experiment. Maybe just taking the post down isn’t so easy. Maybe I host Geek Feminism’s content inside an iframe, so I don’t have any way to change what appears there. Maybe I don’t know how to remove a single Geek Feminism post from syndication.
I can still choose to take responsibility for the fact that an infringing work is appearing on my site–because however it got there, it’s still sitting on my site, next to ads I’m getting paid for. I can apologize to the author, explain the situation politely, and tell her that I’ve reached out to Geek Feminism to get this issue resolved so that I’m not hosting infringing content.
Or I can dismissively tell her that I’ve syndicated the post so it’s not my problem, stonewall her, ban her from comments, insult her on twitter, etc etc etc.
Those of you who’ve been following along at home already know which option Crooks and Liars chose.
(Edit to add: Based on this FAQ on Repost.us, the service they use to syndicate Liberaland’s content, it appears that they did actively choose to copy the content, and should have had no trouble removing it the moment they were informed they were violating my copyright. It wasn’t a case of a software issue they couldn’t resolve).
Geek Feminism is standing in for Alan Colmes’s Liberaland in this example. One of Colmes’s users posted the entirety of my conscience post to Liberaland without my permission.
Because Crooks and Liars syndicates Liberaland’s content, the entire post ended up there as well. Crooks and Liars then reprinted the post through a syndication service. It appears that they actively chose to do so; the post wasn’t pulled automatically into their system.
I contacted Colmes and asked him to remove the post. He asked if he could do an excerpt and link back instead; I said that would be fine. He was prompt, polite, and apologetic. He took responsibility for the situation and told me what steps he was taking to keep it from happening again.
And if Crooks And Liars hadn’t already been hostile, unprofessional, and completely allergic to taking any responsibility for infringing content appearing on their site, that would have been the end of it–the post is now an excerpt with a link back on both sites, which is driving traffic back to my site, and so everyone should win.
But unlike Alan Colmes, John Amato of Crooks and Liars has yet to apologize for having my entire post up without my permission. He has yet to apologize for his and his staff’s rudeness to me, for stonewalling me, for banning me from commenting on the thread they’ve put under my post, or for calling two of my sisters-in-law trolls.
I wasn’t much of a charmer about this, either–and I take responsibility for that behavior. I regret calling them thieves, and tweeting at them in all-caps. I was under no obligation to stoop to the same rudeness they were directing at me, and the fact that I did so does not reflect well on me.
I’m a web application developer. I get that sometimes, something that seems simple–like removing a post–can be really complicated (Edit to add: this doesn’t appear to be what happened here–see edit above). But I’m also a content creator and a content publisher (I mean I publish this blog–I’m not putting on airs). I know that what appears on my site is my responsibility. If I’m violating someone’s copyright, the how and why of that is my problem, not theirs.
And while I might choose to explain to someone that I’m not originally responsible for the infringement; that I published the work in good faith, and/or that for technical reasons, removing the work from my site is a complex proposition? Those explanations come with the apology, not in lieu of it. They come politely. They come with my best effort to resolve the situation. They come with an understanding that, whatever my intentions, I did infringe on their rights–and that as a result, people saw their work on my blog (which has significantly more traffic than theirs) and were misled about its authorship.
I’m glad that more people are seeing the Conscience post. I wouldn’t have posted it if I didn’t want people to see it. But I’m not the least bit glad about how this whole situation played out. Crooks and Liars had an opportunity to be professional, polite, and responsive. Everyone could have come away from this misunderstanding perfectly happy.
They chose not to take that opportunity. I chose to respond to that badly. The only person to come out of this looking good is Alan Colmes.