As a courts/crime reporter for a daily newspaper, I’m well aware many of the people I write about don’t want me to write about them. Defendants have begged me and attempted to bribe me not to run their names in the paper. I’m been cursed out and lied about. It comes with the territory, and I take appropriate (though fortunately minor) precautions to protect myself and my family.
And now I face retaliation from someone I wrote about on Eye on Comics.
In the fall of 2009, I wrote about a federal court decision out of Ontario ruling in favour of American cartoonist Rich Koslowski, who won a legal action against Hogan Scott Courrier, the owner of Geeks Galore Computer Center in Marmora, Ont., for copyright infringement. Courrier used an image from Koslowski’s 3 Geeks comics in signage and other material for his business. A year later, I wrote a followup piece, in which Koslowski confirmed he hadn’t received the court-ordered monetary award and that Courrier hadn’t removed the image from his business material. In that followup, I also quoted Courrier after having reached him via email to allow him to tell his side of the story.
That was the last I heard of the story — until last week.
More than two years after I published the original article and more than a year after the followup, my hosting service contacted me mid-week to notify me a complaint had been filed alleging a violation of the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The complainant: Courrier. While both I and Courrier live and work in Canada, my hosting service is an American company, and it felt compelled to react to the complaint. A representative emailed me, notifying me the service had received a notification of an alleged violation under the act and informing me unless I responded with a “counter notification,” my account would be suspended. The following is an excerpt from the email sent to me by my hosting service:
It has been reported that your Web site, eyeoncomics.com, allegedly contains material in violation of copyright infringement laws contained in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). You can find this Act at the U.S. Copyright Office Web site (http://www.copyright.gov/legislation/dmca.pdf).
I was notified by a representative of Geeks Galore Computer Center. They are claiming that your site contains material that infringes on their intellectual property rights. The following images/links were reported to having infringing material: http://www.eyeoncomics.com/?p=522
Unfortunately, I hadn’t checked my webmail for about a day, so by the time I saw it, my account was suspended and Eye on Comics was down for a short time. As soon as the service received my informal reply, though, the account was reinstated and Eye on Comics was live again — complete with the original content with which Courrier took issue.
Further communication with my hosting service revealed Courrier sent the following message to the service:
My name is Hogan Courrier, owner of Geeks Galore Computer Center. It seems Don MacPherson from Eye on Comics, hosted at your hosting facility is using my name and business name on his website without my permission. He is also acting in a slanderous and libel way with regards to my personal information. I would ask if you can have him remove my information and business information from his website.
And then there’s the following passage from Courrier’s formal letter of notification (which I received as a PDF document from my hosting service):
I have a good faith belief that the items or materials listed below are not authorized by law for use by the above named domain name owner or their agents and therefore infringes the copyright owner’s rights. I hereby demand that you act expeditiously to remove or disable access to the material or items claimed to be infringing.
Allegedly infringing items or materials: Using my personal name and business information in a negative way without consent.
The hosting service also notified me Courrier was claiming the content constituted a breach of the Canadian Privacy Act. It’s a ludicrous claim. Simply referring to an individual and a business name in a legitimate piece of journalism doesn’t constitute a violation of copyright or privacy. Furthermore, reporting on a publicly and readily available court judgment doesn’t constitute libel. That I’ve had to respond to such outlandish and unrealistic allegations is frustrating, to say the least.
I was initially quite irked with the hosting service for failing to determine if there was an air of reality to Courrier’s claims and for seemingly siding with a complainant rather than a customer. However, further communication revealed staff were simply following procedure and once my counter notification was filed, the service won’t touch my account again unless directed to do so by a legal authority. A representative with the hosting service informed me thusly in a couple of emails:
I apologize to bother you again but it appears that the said representative from the previous emails we have discussed is not letting this issue go and has filed an official DMCA notice. I will attach it in this email so you can read over it. Because of this we are suppose to take steps to suspending your services with us unless you can provide us with a counter notification. Please let us know what you would like your next step of action to be. Thank you.
I believe there is some confusion about what exactly our role as the hosting company is in this situation. We in no way are accusing you of anything illegal and are not partial to either group in the situation. Because of U.S. law when we receive a DMCA complaint we are required to take steps to remove the content unless a counter notification is filed with us. So I didn’t examine your content or believe that you were in the wrong. We were simply following procedure. Since I have now gone ahead and forwarded your response to the original complainer that will work as a counter notification. Once a counter notification has been filed we as a hosting company is no longer involved unless we receive a court order requiring the removal of the data in question. I hope that makes sense. So essentially we just act as a middle man in the situation between you and the one who filed the DMCA complaint.
Like I mentioned at this point it is now up to the courts and we won’t take any action against your account unless we receive a court notification requiring such.
That came as a relief. I also learned the hosting service forwarded my explanations and defence of my content to Courrier, who’s apparently not satisfied, according to the hosting service:
I have now gone ahead and forwarded part of your email from yesterday to the person in question. I will wait to hear what they respond back, but it appears from my conversation from yesterday that they are willing to take legal action.
No such legal action has been launched, as far as I know. I’ve been served with no documents, and I’ve not heard from Courrier directly or from his legal counsel, if he’s retained any. Furthermore, I have no idea where such an action — the jurisdiction in which the hosting service is located; Marmora, Ont.; or Fredericton, New Brunswick — would be filed.
The irony of the situation is this false accusation of copyright infringement on my part comes from an individual who’s been found in breach of someone else’s copyright and has yet to make good on it. After I became aware of Courrier’s complaint, I contacted Koslowski to get an update on his dealings with the man.
“No, I haven’t ever seen a dime and yes he’s still using my copyrighted images. I tried pursuing this more but without being willing to pay even more money out-of-pocket to lawyers and/or collection agencies, etc. I had no recourse. I did call one collection agency up in Canada but they never even got back to me,” Koslowski told me last week. “I’m out over $8,000 as it is in legal fees and about a hundred hours of my time as it is.”
I will keep readers apprised of any significant developments in the situation. In the unlikely event it results in another disruption of Eye on Comics, I’ll inform colleagues at several other comics sites.
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