If this were a movie, they'd call it Griefer Madness.
(Story background here). Serial internet bully Michael Crook, whom the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is suing for sending phony DMCA takedown notices to critical blogs in an attempt to silence them, has issued a phony DMCA takedown notice to BoingBoing in an attempt to silence us.
Here is a copy of the bogus DMCA notice: Link.
Crook (an assumed and self-chosen name, according to this website) is most recently known for copying fellow "griefer" Jason Fortuny: both Fortuny and Crook posted fake, sexually explicit ads on Craigslist, to trick sexually adventurous guys into sharing their photos and personal information. Then, Fortuny — and later, Crook — posted the victims' photos and data on the internet.
The homemade DMCA takedown notice (sent as an MS Word email attachment) which Crook sent to BoingBoing's ISP (based in Canada, where the DMCA don't shine) pertains to this image, which is a screengrab from Crook's appearance on the Fox News channel program, "Hannity and Colmes." Crook appeared on that show to talk about websites he'd made — on those sites, he denied the existence of the Holocaust, said soldiers who die in Iraq get what they deserve, and police in the US deserve the same, among other things.
The notice is bogus for a number of reasons. First, fair use. Second, the image was produced by Fox, not Crook. Third, the image in this BoingBoing post is not hosted on boingboing.net, but on xeni.net. The ISP behind xeni.net is Laughing Squid — also the host of the 10zenmonkeys blog named in the EFF lawsuit.
And irony abounds: On his website, Crook published photos of Craigslist users he tricked. Now he's abusing the law to try and trick other websites into removing *his* photo.
WHY THIS MATTERS:
Crook is a deranged, serial troll, and his behavior is consistent with that of someone who craves attention, no matter how negative. But what does matter is the fact that the DMCA is so poorly conceived and written that even the nuttiest, most deranged of trolls can abuse it into silencing constitutionally-protected online speech.
For instance, others might use the same tactic to chill political speech: what better way to see to it that your opponent's campaign ads are yanked from YouTube a week before the elections?
More here from Wired News: Link. 10zenmonkeys, the blog which Crook first DMCA'd, has more here: Link. More here on thomashawk.com: Link. Tailrank's Kevin Burton weighs in here: Link.
See also this BoingBoing post for background: Link.
An admin contact at Prioritycolo.com, the righteous, kickass upstream provider to BoingBoing.net's ISP, replied to Crook's phony takedown notice thusly:
The irony of the fact that you've just sent us a clearly illegitimate DMCA notice, relating to an article documenting a lawsuit against you for sending similar such notices is not lost on me. We do not host the content in question, and you've already acknowledged that. You have no case, and your disruptive activities are not welcome here (BoingBoing's content clearly qualifies as fair use on a variety of levels; see Kelly v. Arriba Soft Corporation if you disagree). — Myles Loosley-Millman
UPDATE: Fark.com has a photoshop contest:
"Michael Crook has been filing false DMCA claims against websites that post a headshot of him from a recent appearance on Fox News. So let's photoshop him. Theme: Michael Crook as famous criminals in history."
Link. Favorite comment so far: "Dude already looks like a friggin Dick Tracy villain. What more needs doin?" (thanks, Drew Curtis!!!)
UPDATE 2, 1130AM PT: I just spoke to a producer on the Fox News program "Hannity and Colmes" — the image Crook is complaining about is a screengrab from his appearance on that show. I explained Crook's latest bogus DMCA hijinks to the Fox producer, who 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.
Reader comment: Brian Cain says, "If only there was a way to combine a photo of Michael Crook and an online fake boarding pass generator…now there would be a combination!"
UPDATE 3, 2PM PT: Scott Beale of Laughing Squid says,
Crook just sent us DMCA #4, this time it references the YouTube video from his appearance on "Hannity and Colmes": Link to video, Link to phony takedown notice (MS Word). YouTube has already removed the video based on the bogus DMCA he sent. No wonder he keeps doing this. Mirror of video here: Link.
Ryan Singel of Wired News says,
In a nice ironic twist, it seems that one of the victims of the original Craigslist Sex con got his picture temporarily removed from Jason Fortuny's website using a DMCA takedown notice. Fortuny says he filed a counter notice, which wasn't responded to, and now the image is back up. Link.
Chad Arsenault says,
This bit of The Crook's DMCA notice caught my eye:
"[…]I am the copyright owner, in that the image, though belonging to
another source is of me, thereby giving me certain copyright rights[…]"
He's basically saying that although Fox owns the copyright to the actual
image, he owns the copyright to his face.
Feel that? It's as though millions of photojournalists suddenly began
laughing hysterically at once…
Michael Crook has a partner in crime here — the DMCA itself. YouTube took down the video in part because it's run by clever but gutless schmucks, but also in part because the DMCA makes obeying the take down demands the only sensible business decision, regardless of how illegitamate the demand is. In a sense, it deputizes private citizens without bothering to check and see whether those citizens are worthy of the honor, it puts the face and force of government behind any crank with internet access.
UPDATE 4, 725PM: BB reader Burton says,
I came across this additional case of Michael Crook possibly abusing the DMCA. According to this post Michael Crook sent a takedown notice to this person's host demanding removal of quotes that "violated his copyright". The original post has been altered, of course (oops, see below), but it seems that this would have certainly also fallen under fair use as criticism. The quotes in question relate to his "Forsake The Troops" controversy.
Actually, as I write this I seem to have found the original post after all: Link.
But check the archive.org links to his old site, they've been blocked: 1, 2.
I strongly agree that the DMCA is wack and maybe a douchebag abusing the shit out of it is the spark that's needed to burn it down.
Tailrank founder Kevin Burton spoke to a YouTube rep about their video takedown and the story around Crook's abusive, egregious DMCA notices, and the video is now back in circulation there. Link, and here's a direct video link at YouTube (thanks, Jason Schultz!).
More after the jump.
Lionel Artom-Ginzburg, an attorney in Pennsylvania, says:
The most unbelievable thing to me is that Crook, who makes a big deal on his website about wanting to be a lawyer, is willing to shoot himself in the foot like this. Unless he makes some very major life changes, he's never going to be admitted to the bar.
Every candidate, after they pass the bar exam, in every state of the US, has to go through what's called the Character and Fitness committee before they're admitted to the bar and can actually begin to practice law. You basically have to detail your whole public life, and a fair bit of your private one. Criminal background check (down to speeding tickets), sometimes fingerprinting (most states check with the FBI), lists of every address you've ever had, every job you've ever held, your driving record, any institutionalizations for mental illness, your record of paying alimony or child support.
Some states even require credit reports — I knew a guy in law school who was rejected from the bar (after completing 3 years of law school and passing the bar exam and running up FSM-only-knows amounts of debt) for a history of multiple bankruptcies, for example. They gave him a chance to explain it away, and he couldn't do it to their satisfaction. The C&F committee simply felt that he was incapable of being trusted with other people's money when he did such a bad job with his own. It is, in its own way, as difficult as the bar exam, because it requires you to accumulate (or point the Committee in the direction of) a truly frightening amount of information about yourself– because if you omit something unpleasant that they discover, they can refuse you admission on those grounds.
*You also have to detail every lawsuit you've ever been involved in as a party.* The kind of activity that Mr. Crook seems to have involved himself in (the technical word is "barratry") is *exactly* the sort of stuff that gets a Character and Fitness committee *really angry*. Take a look, for example, at the guidelines for New Jersey, Mr. Crook's home state:
(from NJ Bar Character and Fitness regulations, PDF Link)
"REGULATION 302. Initial Review and Certification
302:1 Conduct Requiring Investigation. The appropriate Part of the Committee, or such member or members thereof so assigned, shall review the Statement of Candidate and related documents. If, on such review, further information is deemed desirable, a request therefore may be made of the candidate
or any other appropriate source. The request may be made in person or by telephone or mail. Conduct requiring additional action may include, but is not limited, to the following:[…]
m. Abuse of legal process or history of vexatious law suits."
Did I mention that if one state rejects you, that that's generally grounds for other states to refuse you as well?
Were I one of Mr. Crook's victims (what a Dickensenian name!), I would certainly consider keeping a proper paper record for future submission to the C&F committee of any state he intends to apply to for admission to the bar. Indeed, given the already-low reputation of lawyers in this country, I'd consider warning C&F about him to be a public service.