Automattic for the People

In the wake of my blog post simultaneously exposing Sean Manchester as the person responsible for my current suspension on Facebook and the author of a blog dedicated to stalking me called Hoggwatch (Hogg 2013c), I’ve taking steps at protecting myself from the very real possibility that Manchester will maliciously issue a DMCA takedown notice against this blog for hosting a screencap proving his authorship of the stalker blog in question. This screencap:

Facebook - 2013-11-25_23.50.27

That’s what Facebook issued against me after an “intellectual property” claim was brought against me after I posted a link—again, a link—to Hoggwatch on my Facebook group, Did a Wampyr Walk in Highgate?. The blog’s author was listed as “B.O.S.” (British Occult Society), yet the screencap proves Manchester was its true author all along. Naturally, he’d be keen to suppress such evidence. It’s not even the first time he’s done it.

Some time ago, I exposed him plagiarising content from the British National Party (BNP) blog, which he palmed off as his opinion on the presidency of Barack Obama (Hogg 2010b). In case you’re not familiar with the BNP, they’re “a far-right political party in the United Kingdom” which “restricted membership to “indigenous British” people until a 2010 legal challenge to its constitution” (“British National Party” 2013).

When I confronted him about this theft, not to mention whether he actually shared the BNP’s racist views, via the comments section of the blog he posted it to, he didn’t directly acknowledge or apologise for pinching, propagating or palming off their content. Instead, he framed me as a “compulsive stalker” and an anti-Catholic homosexual (Hogg 2010a). For the record, I’m neither.

I didn’t receive any DMCA takedown notices in that particular case. So why would I think he’d do that now? Well, late last year, Manchester bombarded WordPress with a series of DMCA takedown notices against my blog (not to be confused with the Blogger one), Did a Wampyr Walk in Highgate?, leading to its closure (Hogg 2013a). The content in the blog entries was pretty incriminating. For instance, I exposed him plagiarising content from an Internet forum, discussing the possible identity of the vampire he allegedly staked and cremated in the backyard of an abandoned “once magnificent neo-gothic house” in Crouch End in 1973 (Manchester 1985, 91–114).

The forum commentator, “DrEdwardx”, speculated that the vampire may have been a 19th century Russian immigrant named Mikhail Oleg Ostrog. Manchester plagiarised DrEdwardx’s commentary for his blog, Bishop † Seán † Manchester: Questions & Answers—without realising Ostrog is better-known as a Jack the Ripper suspect; a fact I uncovered while researching my exposé. More to the point, Ostrog didn’t even resemble the vampire Manchester “exorcised”—which I established by comparing photos of Ostrog with a picture of the vampire in its death throes, featured in Manchester’s book (Hogg 2012b).

Shortly afterward, Manchester issued a DMCA takedown notice against me due to my use of the vampire picture in my critique. It was the first in a string of DMCA takedown notices—most related to the subsequent criticism that followed. You see, in the midst of having to deal with that matter, I noticed that Manchester had significantly revised his blog entry. Gone were the views Manchester “shared” with DrEdwardx. Instead, his blog entry watered down the possibility that Ostrog was the vampire he’d staked. It was accompanied by an extensive background on Ostrog and a picture of him—both taken from the same source I’d used to unravel Ostrog’s identity and cited in my entry; a website called Casebook: Jack the Ripper.

That’s right: Manchester reported my blog entry for violating his copyright, then stole my research (Hogg 2012a). By this point, you probably wouldn’t be surprised to know he’d also plagiarised the Ostrog info from the Casebook website, too (Hogg 2013b). I posted two screencaps comparing the original version of Manchester’s blog entry with the revision which followed shortly after his initial claim. Manchester issued DMCA takedown notices against those screencaps, too.

You might be wondering, why didn’t I challenge them? Actually, I did. However, the process required me to hand my personal information, specifically, my name and address to the claimant: Manchester. Considering his tendency to stalk me and post my personal details online—the raison d’être for his blog, Hoggwatch—you can see why I was reluctant to do that. Pleading “Fair Use”—the copyright law which in which a “reviewer may fairly cite largely from the original work, if his design be really and truly to use the passages for the purposes of fair and reasonable criticism” (“Fair Use” 2013)—got me nowhere: WordPress could only follow procedure. I even offered to hand my personal details over to them, instead. No dice.

However, due to the sheer volume of Manchester’s notices—and despite me removing the “offending” content—WordPress opted to shut down my blog. They probably did sympathise with my plight, though—after all, they allowed me access to my blog for a brief time so I could save its content. They even walked me through the process.

And that brings me back to what I said about protecting myself against the possibility of yet another DMCA takedown notice. After writing the previous entry, I contacted WordPress about the prospect of pre-countering a DMCA takedown notice, that is, is it possible that tipping them off in advance about my dealings with a malicious claimant (i.e. Manchester) would cover me? I was told that I’d have to wait and see. However, they also gave me a very very interesting link to check out.

It looks like I’m far from the only person who’s been subjected to malicious and suppressive DMCA takedown notices. In fact, the link—from WordPress’s own blog—encapsulates the experience I’ve gone through:

A common form of censorship by copyright stems from improper use of legal creations called DMCA takedown notices. The DMCA stands for the “Digital Millennium Copyright Act,” which is a US federal law that created a system for protecting copyrights online. The DMCA system works pretty well, but has a few overlooked flaws that have made it too easy to abuse. Under the DMCA, companies, like Automattic, who publish user content cannot be held legally responsible for copyright infringement — so long as we follow a procedure to take down materials when we receive a notice from a copyright holder that something appearing on our platform allegedly infringes their copyrights. Every company that you use to share videos, pictures, and thoughts (from Google search to Facebook to Snapchat to WordPress.com) relies on the DMCA to balance free expression with copyright protection.

The DMCA system gives copyright holders a powerful and easy-to-use weapon: the unilateral right to issue a takedown notice that a website operator (like Automattic) must honor or risk legal liability. The system works so long as copyright owners use this power in good faith. But too often they don’t, and there should be clear legal consequences for those who choose to abuse the system.

We receive hundreds of DMCA notices and try our best to review, identify, and push back on those we see as abusive. Our users have the right to challenge a DMCA complaint too, but doing so requires them to identify themselves and fill out a legally required form saying that they submit to being sued for copyright infringement in a place that may be far away. If they don’t, their content is taken down and could stay down forever. This tradeoff doesn’t work for the many anonymous bloggers that we host on WordPress.com, who speak out on sensitive issues like corporate or government corruption (Sieminski 2013).

Sieminski’s blog entry continues to detail the ways Automattic—WordPress’s owner—is looking at combatting this rampant abuse of their good will. They’ve certainly got my support.

Though I’m not entirely anonymous (funnily enough, my real name was publicly revealed by Manchester operating under the guise of the “Vampire Research Society” [Hogg 2008]), I keep my personal details close to my chest for obvious reasons. In fact, Manchester’s attempted to obtain and publicly distribute my personal details for several years; in one amusing instance, mistakenly attributing my address to a petrol station’s (Hogg 2011).

Less amusingly, he also posted pictures of at least two other people he thought were me, along with the usual derisive commentary written under his bewildering array of sockpuppet aliases. Therefore, Automattic’s stance is certainly reassuring.

I also take heart with the positive things that have emerged from my Facebook semi-exile. For starters, the support shown to me by members of my Facebook groups, in particular my good friend, Angie Watkins, for making announcements to my Facebook groups on my behalf, and Erin Chapman, who broadcast my blog entry discussing the suspension on her popular Twitter account:

Twitter _ Vampires2hunt_ Did a #Vampire Walk in Highgate__ ... - 2013-11-28_03.42.58

In hindsight, I’d also like to thank my mate, Trystan Swale, for rehosting my Did a Wampyr Walk in Highgate? WordPress blog on his own, Leaves that Wither. All things considered, the WordPress staff have been pretty good, too. Thanks, guys.

Hoggwatch has also undergone a significant change in the wake of my exposés on its authorship. If you view it now, you’ll be confronted by this:

Blogger - 2013-11-28_04.00.16

I’d love to think Manchester’s conscience got the better of him, realised he’d gone too far and closed the account. But that’d be believable if he apologised for creating it in the first place, not to mention asking Facebook to lift their suspension off me (as of this writing, my email request to him has still gone unanswered). Instead, it’s obvious he realised the jig was up and tried burying the evidence by deleting the blog.

What Manchester’s forgotten though, is that the Internet always remembers: I’ve noticed a screencap of an earlier version of the blog was saved to Archive.is. There are also various references to it online and each time I’ve linked to it in a blog entry, I’ve saved a copy of the page. In fact, that practice was inadvertently instilled in me by Manchester, after I noticed his pages tended to “disappear” or were quietly revised when I’ve written exposés on his frequent plagiarism and other dodgy behaviour. It’s good a method, too. I’d recommend to anyone who writes online content, as it helps transcend the transient nature of online material. As a result, I save pretty much every page I link to in any blog I write. Including this one. After all, you never know when webpages will vanish, their content (mainly) lost forever: MySpace’s blog debacle is a classic example (Lomas 2013). So, thanks, Sean. Much appreciated.

As we draw to this post’s conclusion (finally!), you might be wondering why I’m bothering. The blog is gone, my suspension will be lifted shortly. Aren’t I just drawing more attention to myself by highlighting Hoggwatch? That’s true, but the principle matters: if it’s not me, someone else will cop it. And many have. That’s why I even resorted to writing a PSA for anyone delving into the Highgate Vampire case (Hogg 2010c). And if it’s not something as trifling as that in the grand scheme of things, how about the other folk mentioned in Sieminski’s blog post? If the DMCA abuse issue is so rampant, WordPress would resort to reviewing its policies and advocating amendments to the law, what’s that say about the state of blogging rights and writing online content?

Images

Chapman, Erin. 2013. Twitter post, November 25, 11:16pm.  https://twitter.com/Vampires2hunt/status/405233486824751104.

References

“British National Party.” 2013. Wikipedia. Last modified November 18, 2013 at 14:51. Accessed November 28, 2013. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_National_Party.

“Fair Use.” 2013. Wikipedia. Last modified November 26, at 19:24. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use.

Hogg, Anthony. 2008. “The VRS Has No Problem Disseminating Personal Correspondence.” Did a Wampyr Walk in Highgate?, October 1. http://dawwih.blogspot.com.au/2008/10/vrs-has-no-problem-disseminating.html.

———. 2010a. “Bishop Allows Derogatory, Hateful Comments on His Blog, but Censors Comments about His Own Deceitful Ways.” Did a Wampyr Walk in Highgate?, February 8. http://dawwih.blogspot.com.au/2010/02/bishop-allows-derogatory-hateful.html.

———. 2010b. “Manchester vs. Google.” Did a Wampyr Walk in Highgate?, February 5. http://dawwih.blogspot.com.au/2010/02/manchester-vs-google.html.

———. 2010c. “Public Service Announcement.” Diary of an Amateur Vampirologist, February 8. http://doaav.blogspot.com.au/2010/02/public-service-announcement.html.

———. 2011. “The Hatchet Job.” Did a Wampyr Walk in Highgate?, April 7. http://dawwih.blogspot.com.au/2011/04/hatchet-job.html.

———. 2012a. “Bishop Reports Me for Copyright Violation; Then Steals My Findings.” Did a Wampyr Walk in Highgate?, December 27. http://www.leavesthatwither.co.uk/dawwih/bishop-reports-me-for-copyright-violation-then-steals-my-findings/.

———. 2012b. “Jack the Vampire?” Did a Wampyr Walk in Highgate?, December 22. http://www.leavesthatwither.co.uk/dawwih/jack-the-vampire/.

———. 2013a. “Downfall.” Did a Wampyr Walk in Highgate?, January 19. http://dawwih.blogspot.com.au/2013/01/downfall.html.

———. 2013b. “Manchester Rips-off Ripper Site.” Did a Wampyr Walk in Highgate?, January 3. http://www.leavesthatwither.co.uk/dawwih/manchester-rips-off-ripper-site/.

———. 2013c. “Suspended from Facebook.” The Vampirologist, November 26. https://thevampirologist.wordpress.com/2013/11/26/suspended-from-facebook/.

Lomas, Natasha. 2013. “MySpace Punishes Its Few Remaining Friends by Vanishing Their Blogs.” TechCrunch, June 12. http://techcrunch.com/2013/06/12/bring-the-blogs-back/.

Manchester, Sean. 1985. The Highgate Vampire: The Infernal World of the Undead Unearthed at London’s Famous Highgate Cemetery and Environs. London: British Occult Society.

Sieminski, Paul. 2013. “Striking Back Against Censorship.” Just Another WordPress Weblog, November 21. http://en.blog.wordpress.com/2013/11/21/striking-back-against-censorship/.

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3 thoughts on “Automattic for the People

  1. Pingback: Last Post of the Year | The Vampirologist

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