If this picture looks a bit familiar it might be because I blogged about it back in January 2006.
Or, of course, it might just be that you're familiar with the alphabet. I think most of us are.
Here's the thing. These letters are painted on metal shopfront shutters. They're by an artist called Eine. He's become quite famous these last few years. In 2010, David Cameron gave Barack Obama one of Eine's paintings... but that's by the by.
In January 2006 I went out for a late night bike ride with my camera and my tripod and returned having snapped several of these letters. I posted them to flickr and added some musings about whether or not the complete alphabet was in the area.
People started leaving comments on the photos saying that they knew where some of the missing letters were and within two days I'd completed the lot. Putting them together in one image like this was the obvious thing to do... so I did it. Individually I don't think the pictures are much cop... but together I think they look quite nice.
Anyway, this soon became one of my most popular images on flickr. By October 2007 it had been viewed by nearly 160,000 people. It had received 100s of comments and favourites from fellow flickr users. It was published in a Brazilian magazine and linked to by hundreds of blogs and was one of the first image search results for words like typeface, font and alphabet. It was linked to by the brilliant Boing Boing, and by Wikipedia as a reference on Eine's page... all of which kept the views turning over long after it had been buried beneath all my other photos.
But I can only tell you the number of views/favourites/comments etc. up to October 11th 2007 because that's the last record of it at its original url in the internet archive.
Unfortunately, on February 17th this year, Flickr - who are owned by Yahoo! - deleted the image from their servers. The page it was on disappeared... and with it, all the comments, favourites, and the record of its views disappeared too. That stuff matters only because I'm vain... but every blog that linked to it now has a broken link that goes nowhere and that matters because links are what make the internet the internet. With all those links broken, 6 years worth of photo-sharing has been undone.
I don't have a beef with Flickr for deleting the image. They didn't do so because they wanted to or because they were being bloody minded. They did it because they had to. By law. It's down to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
Sites like flickr - and yahoo, twitpic, youtube, yfrog, facebook, blogger, wordpress etc etc - allow their users to upload content. If they were held responsible for every bit of content on their sites the way a print publisher is responsible for the content of their magazines/newspapers etc then they simply couldn't function. To avoid being sued for breach of copyright they would have to check each bit of content before publishing it. Which is impossible. (There are more than 6 billion pictures on flickr already... who'd look through them all and how would they check who owned the copyright?)
So instead of being responsible for them they abide by the terms of the DMCA. Which means that when someone else sends them a legal notice saying that their copyright has been breached they have to take it at face value and remove the content. No questions asked. It gets deleted. They don't have to check to see if it makes sense - in many cases it would be impossible to know anyway - they just have to delete the content.
And that's why my picture was deleted. Because someone else - a company called Wasteland Inc. had told flickr/Yahoo! that they were the rightful copyright holders. It crossed my mind that maybe Ben Eine was behind it. It seemed unlikely... the letters are painted in public places and it would be impossible to claim nobody could photograph them. And I received an email from Ben a few days ago confirming that he had nothing to do with it and didn't have a problem with the photo.
I knew that the copyright for that image was mine, so I got in touch with Yahoo! and worked out how to file a counterclaim. Which means I sent a legal notice - under threat of perjury - asserting that I was the copyright holder and again, Yahoo! has no choice but to follow procedure. They passed my counterclaim on to Wasteland, Inc who then had 14 days to decide if they wanted to continue to fight by sending a court order to restrain me! 14 days later, Yahoo! wrote to me telling me that I could repost the picture. [EDIT (MARCH 7) According to the terms of the DMCA, they - the service provider - are supposed to replace the content they removed. They haven't done this. I do have a beef with flickr about that, because reposting it doesn't achieve all that replacing would.]
But reposting it doesn't bring the comments/views/favourites back and nor does it put it back at the same url which would preserve the links. They're all gone for good. The picture's life from January 12 2006 is destroyed... instead it is reborn on March 2, 2012, its history wiped. (At least we share a birthday)
I googled, 'Wasteland, Inc.' to see if I could find out who they were and why they had thought they owned the copyright to a picture I'd made. That suggested a secondhand clothes store in the US (and online) but when I asked if they were responsible, they came back saying that it had nothing to do with them. I believed them.seems that Wasteland, Inc. are pornographers (bondage and fetish if you're asking) and they've employed a company called Degban to file copyright complaints on their behalf. They were doing so in January/February 2012... so it seems highly likely that they're somehow responsible for my picture being deleted. (And not just mine... they also filed a copyright complaint against a picture of some canal hardware.)
So I looked up Degban. Their website describes them as a multimedia copyright protection company... and says, "Whether you are a multi national media conglomerate, Community based music label, a University owned publishing house or just an independent multimedia producer, Degban can rescue you from the plague that is Digital content piracy."
I'm not sure how many community based music labels or University owned publishing houses they represent. It doesn't take much googling to establish that they work, almost exclusively - if not wholly exclusively - for the porn industry. Which might explain why they recently hired a former porn model, Ella Black, as a spokesperson. (I don't have a problem with that by the way, pornographers are just as entitled to copyright as anyone else... but it does serve to make them landing at my picture even more bizarre and unlikely.)
I emailed them and had no response. I called them and nobody answered the phone. So I did some digging. I discovered the CEO is a man called Taban Panahi. He's on facebook, but he didn't respond to the message I sent him there. He recently joined PenpalParty too... but I decided not to try and be his penpal.
But I did eventually find, an @degban.com email address for their spokesmodel, Ella... and using that, I took a guess at one for Taban. I sent them both an email... and at last, Taban has replied.
Degban make all sorts of spurious blind-them-with-science claims on their website. It's not easy to understand quite what they're claiming because their use of the English language is a bit creative - although it is good to know that their client care team isn't just made of people who are only pleasant - but I think they're claiming that they have some kind of automatic detection software running and an automatic process that then files thousands of takedown notices a day. Or an hour. Or whatever sounds most impressive.
So in my email I asked Taban and Ella to see if they could explain the process. It can't just be automated because every time you file a DMCA notice you have to do so under threat of perjury. But if it involves a person, with eyes, looking at the image and deciding that, yup, they do need to deal with it... then how the hell did they wind up filing against me?
Here's Taban's reply. I can't say it's all that convincing:
Hello DaveWhich is either bullshit - which is worrying... or true... which is even more worrying.
I do apologize for the inconvenience, we have been victim of a phishing/hacking attack, which was aimed at reducing our credibility
among clients and the public as you can see how, I truly am sorry
that you were effected as such, but allow to humbly suggest that
you channel a part of your anger at those holier than thou hackers
who effect users like yourself by such irresponsible actions
we are working hard to fix the matter, but alas we can not do much
as the size of the attack was larger than we could have expected
I am hoping you can manage to get back your traffic and are never
affected by such issue ever again
It could be that he doesn't have any automatic detection software and that all Degban do is manually send out as many DMCA notices as they can with little regard to the truth behind them because all they want to do is show their clients that they've had x-hundred replies saying that content has been removed. Which is worrying because whoever you are, if you have photos, or videos, or songs or words on the internet somewhere, you could find your host is one day forced into deleting some of them because Mr Panahi - or someone else in his industry - is simply showing off to a pornographer.
Of course it could also be that they do have some kind of automated process running without any human intervention. In which case this is worrying. Because whoever you are, if you have photos, or videos, or songs or words on the internet somewhere, you could find your host is one day forced into deleting some of them because a computer is working on an algorithm so schonky, it can wrongly identify, say, a picture of some street art, as, say, some fetish porn.
Or it could be that Taban Panahi is telling the truth. Which is worrying. Because whoever you are, if you have photos, or videos, or songs or words on the internet somewhere, you could find your host is one day forced into deleting some of them because one of Mr Panahi's rivals has hacked into his site and sent deliberately false and malicious copyright claims to them in order to discredit him.
Either way, it surely adds up to the same thing. Degban - and the DMCA claims they file - can't be trusted.
I don't have a problem with people trying to enforce copyright. But I don't think the DMCA is the way to do it if it's this easy to get wrong. (According to this, 37% of notices are not valid copyright claims)
Every single bit of content you and I have online can potentially be destroyed. Either because Degban - or companies like them - are incompetently/negligently scattergunning DMCA notices around hither and thither, or because their industry is worth enough money to encourage the kind of skulduggery Taban describes so convincingly in his email. Does it really matter which one it is?
Why should a company be obliged to destroy content when there's such a high chance that the claim is incorrect. (Actually, why should they do so when there's any chance that the claim is incorrect. Surely they should let the claim/counterclaim/court process finish before acting accordingly)
Or to put it another way:
I think that's the mature response called for right now.
PS: There's more