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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Vigilantes

Taking matters into your own hands can backfire, so don’t play the fool when enforcing your copyrights. In the Wild West world of the Internet, everything isn’t necessarily as cut-and-dried as it seems.


News of Arena's blog entry spread like wildfire to various photo-related websites and Internet message boards. It very quickly found its way onto SportsShooter.com under a discussion thread with the subject heading "Outing a thief—awesome story," and on Flickr under the heading "OT: People ripping off Syl Arena's new book [The Speedliter's Handbook]." Even on Arena's own blog, the open letter prompted over 150 responses. As Arena noted on his blog, "[t]his issue has gathered far more attention faster than any other article I've written—ever." Not only did the open letter garner widespread attention, it also prompted a number of other people to make suggestions for exacting revenge. For example, Missouri-based photographer Darren Whitley posted a message in the SportsShooter.com discussion which read "[b]est part is [this] way the community can absolutely hammer [Hillsgrove] on Facebook."
 
Since it's natural for those whose rights are violated to want to exact some measure of revenge...it's easy to understand why photographers would channel their creative energies in pursuit of 'creative' copyright remedies.
 
The only problem is that Hillsgrove vehemently denied having been involved with the infringement. In a response that Hillsgrove posted to Arena's blog, she flatly denied uploading the copy of Arena's book. According to Hillsgrove, "[a]ll I know is that I logged into my Facebook account for the first time in probably a couple of weeks and I had a bunch of nasty messages waiting for me... I have a family of my own and wouldn't dream of ripping off an author of a photography book (or any other book) like this." In her response, Hillsgrove also addressed some of the nasty comments she had received: "I also don't like the fact that my name is being plastered all over the Internet as a thief and a criminal. I don't know what else to say...."

To his credit, Arena published Hillsgrove's response prominently in a follow-up entry on his blog, together with some of the lessons that he learned from the experience. According to Arena, "I've learned that it is completely plausable (sic) that access to Ann's Facebook account was nabbed through an open router via [hacking software]." Arena also revised his original open letter, instead addressing it to "Computer Hijacker," and removed the details relating to Hillsgrove.

The extent of the revisions didn't end with the open letter. Arena also removed some of the responses posted to his blog attacking Hillsgrove. As Arena wrote, "For the first time in my history as a blogger, I've decided to broadly censor reader comments. There's been enough vitriol, name-calling, and accusations. So, if you've submitted a comment to this post that challenges [Hillsgrove's] claim of innocense (sic), I have unilaterally decided to delete it rather than approve. This was a hard decision—but, I think, an appropriate one in this instance. It's my blog. I think the negativity needs to stop."

With regard to Hillsgrove, Arena wrote in his follow-up that "[a]s for the vitriol and excessive [negativity] expressed by so many towards Ann, I apologize to Ann here and will do so in a more detailed private writing. I accept her plea of innocence at face value." However, Arena stopped short of expressing regret for having published his open letter. In closing, he wrote, "[i]f you've read this far looking for me to express a global declaration of regret, I will not. There is a real cost to web piracy. I am one of the faces of those impacted by web piracy. I now add Ann's name to that list of victims as well. Draw your own conclusions. Then figure out how to move forward and fight web piracy in your own way."

 

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