Thursday, December 06, 2012

CityBeat: Journalist Petrelis
on His 'Troll' and Legal Problems

(Illustration by Adam Vieyra for San Diego's CityBeat.)

Do you remember the legal hassles I dealt with last year because of alleged violations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act?

My blog was censored for a short while, until I received help from Art Neill and his terrific New Media Rights nonprofit, and the post that offended Tom McMasters, the hoaxer behind the phoney Gay Girl in Damascus blog, was fully restored and available for all to read.

The matter is now part of an excellent story by Dave Maass for the San Diego CityBeat weekly alternative that hit the web yesterday. It pleases me that Art and New Media Rights are receiving this flattering press coverage, and that they continue to help internet underdogs like myself.

From the CityBeat piece:

Let’s say you’re a citizen journalist who wakes up one morning to an alert from Google that, due to purported copyright infringement, it has removed one of your blog posts about [a straight male American] student in Scotland who’d been posing online as a Syrian lesbian to score a book deal. You know the copyright claim is crap, but what then?

“Yes, I’ll use the F-word: Frightening,” says gay-rights blogger Michael Petrelis, whose blog, The Petrelis Files, received such a “takedown notice” in August 2011. “To get that email from Google, I just knew, to keep my stress level down I was going to need expertise to challenge Google . . ."

During the last decade-and-a-half, major online communities—most notably Google’s and You- Tube—have instituted a largely automatic, frustratingly bureaucratic system of censor-first self-regulation when it comes to alleged copyright infringement. It’s easily, and often, abused and tends to favor aggressive “trolls,” who use the system as a weapon. These trolls are sometimes corporate legal teams; other times, they’re just independent bullies seeking to block critical content from release.

“I think he saw me as an easy target,” Petrelis says of his troll. “He’s certainly intelligent, smarty-pants enough that he knew how to lodge the right kind of complaint with Google.”

After talking to attorneys at Harvard University’s Citizen Media Law Project, Petrelis was referred to a San Diego legal clinic, New Media Rights, whose executive director, Art Neill, personally talked him through the process and helped him file a successful counter-claim.

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