Tech & The Web

Far From Perfect

123RF

I spent a good deal of time today pondering how life might be different if we lived in a perfect world.  I don’t think we’d recognize much of anything that we’re so used to now.

You may have noticed that three recent posts were suddenly pulled from this site.  There’s a reason for that.  Normally, I feel guilt on the rare occasions when I have to pull a post; in this situation, I don’t, because I think it’s important to set the record straight with information I have now that I didn’t have before.

A few nights ago, I stumbled upon a website called CopyScape.com.  The purpose of this website, its whole reason for being, is to scan for other websites that are potentially copying your content without your consent.  Depending on the license or copyright notice you place on your site, such instances may be considered copyright infringement.

In a perfect world, there’d be no such website as CopyScape, because there’d be no such thing as infringing on someone else’s intellectual property.

Maybe it takes a little too much ego for a website owner to scan their own site…as if they believe their site is so full of little pearls that everybody must be champing at the bit to copy and paste.  I took that bait, and found that one website had a few hits on CopyScape as having pulled content from my site.  Specifically, I found that on several instances, a user at that site had reposted questions from several versions of my Saturday Six and retitled them without crediting my site.

Honestly, I wasn’t really ticked off as much as I was just shocked.  It wasn’t as though I’d posted a formula for some cancer cure, after all.  Still, when you publish things on a website, you have a legal responsibility to protect your rights, so you pretty much have to address it.

I thought that the easiest way to do so would be to register for a username in that forum, and post a simple message pointing out the source of the material.  I did so, only to have that post deleted just minutes later by a moderator of the site, who suggested that I should take it up privately with the original poster.

I was fine with that.  I probably should have tried that first, but it didn’t seem, for whatever reason, like the obvious choice at the time.

I sent a private message pointing out the problem and included a link to my blog as proof of the material’s location.  Just to be safe, in case the person wasn’t willing to correct it himself or herself, I sent a copy of the same message to the moderator.

In a perfect world, you wouldn’t have to copy anyone on messages.  The one person you asked would jump immediately into action and do whatever was necessary.

Unbeknownst to me, following the moderator’s instructions to send a private message caused a domino effect of problems.  First, because mine was a newly-registered account, and because I had sent two private messages containing links within the first 48 hours of my username’s existence, the forum software identified me as a potential spammer and blocked me from accessing the website at all.

In a perfect world, such a strict security protocol would have been thoroughly unnecessary, because spammers wouldn’t exist.

When the system decided to block my account, an automatic action beyond human control, the software never bothered to explain that I had been blocked or why that had happened.  In fact, I didn’t even know that it was blocked until I tried to return to the website to see if any action had been taken.

Also, as this comedy of errors continued to spiral, because my account was blocked, neither the moderator nor the original poster were able to respond to my private message.  It was entirely possible that the forum’s software even deleted those messages, thinking they were spam, before they could have been read.

In a perfect world, software would never jump to conclusions.

Since I didn’t know why I was blocked, I sent an email to the owner of the website.  I asked for an explanation.  I didn’t get one.  I waited.  I waited for more than 48 hours.  I thought that was fairly generous, especially considering that I have the patience of a gnat with an advanced case of ADD.  I thought I had magically tapped into some kind of deep pool of patience I’d never even imagined existed.  I thought I was being reasonable, and was almost proud of myself for exhibiting such calmness.

In a perfect world, there’d be no inner struggle over what constitutes a reasonable waiting time because patience wouldn’t be a problem for anyone.

Also unknown to me at the time, the website owner’s wife had fallen ill and was in the hospital.  He was, naturally enough, at her side.  Where he belongs.

In a perfect world, he wouldn’t have had to be at the hospital because no one would have gotten sick to begin with.

I then noted that the website, which had previously been open for non-members to view, was suddenly restricted to members only.  I still couldn’t access because I was blocked.  I still hadn’t heard anything from the moderator or the poster.  I still hadn’t received a response from the website owner.  Maybe it’s only natural, at such a point, to assume either hostile intent or a lack of concern.  Or maybe a little of both.

In a perfect world, humans wouldn’t jump to conclusions, either.

So I took what I felt was the next reasonable action: I sent what is called a Digital Millenium Copyright Act Takedown Notice to the website’s hosting company, detailing everything that had happened up to that point and asking them to step in to get the content removed.  Clearly they felt that I had acted reasonably, but then they didn’t know what was happening any more than I did.  They suspended the site, at which point the website owner was able to respond to my original email asking about the nature of the copied material.

I sent a detailed explanation, and he explained about the security protocols that kept communication that should hve happened from happening in the first place.  As for the sudden login requirement, he explained that the change had been initiated the moderators who weren’t sure how to handle my complaint in his absence.  He also acknowledged that he is, like me, a Christian, and said he was disappointed and even hurt by the posts I’d made here regarding this situation.

It was not my intent to hurt anyone.  It wasn’t even my intent to get his website suspended.  (I’m happy to report that it is now up and running again.)  Oddly enough, my primary motivation in posting updates on what was going on was to provide some sort of useful information to my fellow readers about policing website content.  As for my position on what seemed to be happening — quite clearly at the time — what I know now makes it clear that what seemed to have been was a totally inaccurate picture of what was actually happening.

In a perfect world, perception would not be reality.

Over the course of my updates here, I also let a particular comment appear that I should not have allowed.  The comment suggested that the cause of this snafu was likely that the website owner was some teenager who didn’t know the first thing about copyright.  The comment used the word “jerk” to describe this imagined character, and that’s the part that I didn’t catch and now regret having allowed to appear.  Oddly enough, I took some comfort with the thought that this whole thing was caused by someone — age unimportant — who just didn’t understand the importance of copyright.  Somehow, that scenario seemed to make this whole thing a little easier to understand, if that makes sense.

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to look long and hard for ways to make sense of things we didn’t understand; we’d already know it all.

I have exchanged a couple of emails with the website owner now.  He has agreed to remove my content, which I greatly appreciate.  He has behaved in a responsible manner that indicates to me that this entire problem was a misunderstanding assisted by spam-blocking technology, moderators who weren’t quite sure how to properly proceed in his absence, and a personal family emergency.

As I said in my post this morning, I never held any ill will toward this guy or his family.  I hope that his wife has a speedy recovery.  And I appreciate his willingness to work this out.

All of that said, it’s time for me to make an apology.  This isn’t one of those “Washington politician” apologies, in which someone slyly says, “I’m sorry if you took offense to whatever I said,” thereby deflecting any real blame and, thereby, apologizing for nothing.

This morning, while having coffee with a very close friend, also a Christian, he advised me that no matter how I handled the situation, I should be careful not to compromise my testimony as a Christian.  Did I?  Well, that argument could be made.

So, this is genuine:  I’m sorry for anything I said that cast the owner or the website in a bad light.

Yes, there was apparently a user there who was pulling content he or she shouldn’t have.  Yes, there were failures of communication.  Yes, maybe I didn’t behave any differently than most anyone else who is reading this would have if they had been on my side of things.  And yes, I wish I had known then….  But these are not offered as excuses.  Merely explanations.

In a perfect world, hindsight wouldn’t be 20/20, because there’d be no need for hindsight.

I’m still sorry for the way things went down.  I’m glad his site is back up.  I’m hoping things go well for his family.  They’re in my prayers.  And I hope that if you are so inclined, his family will be in yours, as well.

Maybe there is one good thing about not living in a perfect world, and exhibiting all the signs and symptoms of imperfection far more often than I’d like to admit:  maybe it’s the fact that we can go through a dispute or disagreement or just a period of feeling that we are being slighted, and yet still manage to feel that we’ve somehow grown when all is said and done.

There’s value in that, I think.  And it’s why we should be grateful for those little lessons that make us look at things, even if only for a moment, from someone else’s point of view.

As always, thanks for reading a little of mine.

2 Comments

  1. Sounds like (almost) the right resolution to the problem. I think the best outcome would have been for the the website owner to add the link to your website to the offending posts, and explain why copyright is important to his users.

    In my defence, reading your original two posts, it sounded to me as if the website owner was also the offending poster. That now seems not to have been the case. (Did I really use the word jerk? OK, so I should slow down and think sometimes, too. Sorry about that.)

Comments are closed.

Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.