I just submitted my first DMCA takedown notice, and even though it was obviously justified, it sure didn’t feel very good. Everything I write here, I share under what I think is a pretty generous license, so I get a bit peeved when people repost my writing elsewhere without the minimal courtesy of attribution. The entire sordid story is after the jump.
Back on September 29th of 2009, I wrote a short article about my experiences installing Linux on the Zipit Z2. It wasn’t a huge article. It wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever written. I doubt it was read by more than a handful of people. But, dammit, it was my original work.
Today, I was doing a simple Google search for some Zipit-related information, and what comes up in my search results but a copy of my article. Seeing that it wasn’t here on mythopoeic.org, I followed the link. Imagine my surprise when I found that one Dwi Handayani had reposted my entire article verbatim. So far, so good — it’s under a CC “attribution share-alike” license; you can do that.
He’d skipped the whole attribution part. In fact, he did one better and posted the article over his own by-line.
Here’s a link to the original URL of the scene of the crime: http://handayani-dwi.blogspot.com/2009/10/linux-on-zipit.html
If you miss the old-school flavor of Geocities, check out the screenshot to the right.
(I expect that link to be dead shortly about a day and a half from the time of my report. The Google folks are generally pretty responsive to stuff like this.)
So, to cases: No, Dwi, you didn’t write that. When you reposted it without attribution, you became a thief. When you put it on a web page above the words “posted by Dwi Handayani” you became a liar as well. The DMCA is a bad law: badly conceived, badly written, inconsistently enforced and generally an exercise in pandering to greedy corporate middle-men who are trying to drag our entire culture down along with their antiquated business model.
But for all that, the DMCA is also an excellent bludgeon to use on people like you, Dwi: people who can’t be bothered to take five seconds to comply with my incredibly generous licensing terms. My disdain for the DMCA may take the enjoyment out of using it to get your copy of my page yanked, but that won’t stop me doing so.
On calmer reflection, there are some useful lessons here as well:
- give credit — Plagiarism is among the worst academic sins, and educated people tend to react to it with outrage. It isn’t hard or expensive to throw out a credit or a link to the orignal.
- CC license is a real copyright license — “Creative Commons” doesn’t mean you can do whatever you feel like. It might mean that you can do what you want without money changing hands, but read the license first.
- provide contact information — My first reflex was to write Dwi some email asking what’s up. Had I been able to find a working contact link, we might have been able to resolve this like adults.
- allow comments — Maybe it’s my Adblock Plus, or maybe my NoScript, but I couldn’t manage to leave a comment on Dwi’s stolen copy of my article. Had I been able to say “I wrote this, and you can read the original here” then I’d have been satisfied. It was only after I found that I couldn’t that I became seriously angry.
- don’t compound theft with vandalism — I was irritated more than a little bit by the stolen copy of my article having been stripped of all formatting. Presenting my words as your own is bad enough, but making it look like I wrote a wall of undifferentiated brick-text adds insult to… well, other insult I suppose.
- be vigilant — I’d been under the impression that everything on this blog, and especially the Zipit article, was well under the “not worth stealing” threshold. I guess I was wrong about that.
- make license information easy to find — Not that it excuses plagiarism, but finding license information for posts on Small Golden Sceptre requires clicking the “Policy” link at the top of each page. Maybe I should stick the little CC banner up in the header or something?
I’m leaving out “don’t mortally insult someone while simultaneously handing them a huge stick” from the list of lessons. That’s not a lesson, that’s a thing that should be bloody obvious to anyone who takes a moment to think about what they’re doing.
Update 29 Oct 2009 1548CDT: The infringing page is still up, which is surprising (and a little annoying). I guess on balance I’d prefer the Google guys to move slowly on DMCA takedowns than for them to move quickly. My inner cynic tells me it’s because I’m not a big media conglomerate with a stable full of lawyers. I think I’ll give it at least a week before I escalate.
I was able to leave a comment on the infringing page using a bare-naked browser running in a throwaway VM. Of course, it was “held pending moderation” and I think we all know what the outcome of that’s going to be, don’t we?
It looks like Dwi’s blog is nothing but the cut-and-pasted unattributed works of others, slapped together in a big pile to drive search hits thus site visits thus ad revenues. I don’t think commerce is evil. I don’t think commerce on the web is evil. I don’t even disapprove of Google’s business model. But when they provide pointy-clicky ways for Joe Random Luser to “monetize” a web site, they have to expect that this sort of thing will be the outcome in a sad minority of cases. I just wish they were better about policing it.
Update 29 Oct 2009 2104CDT: And, it’s gone. Not just the infringing page; the whole blog. Thanks, Google team. (I have no idea if my notice had anything to do with it, but the important part is it’s gone.)
Update: 03 Nov 2009: I just got a form letter from Blogger. Dwi’s blog is back up (and seems to still consist entirely of the unattributed work of others, and ads). However, the page I complained about is no longer present. As much as can be expected, I suppose.