Joel Watts, DMCA abuse, and Dubious Evidence

I wish I wasn’t writing about this again. Mostly because, for a certain segment of readers, this is going to be final proof I’ve got some personal grudge against Joel, and protesting the opposite is going to sound hollow when I’ve written about this three times.

But if there’s something I hate more than sounding like a vigilante, it is flagrant dishonesty.

So in Post 1, I discussed how Joel Watts retroactively edited a page to remove a creative commons license after issuing a DMCA take down request for copyright violation on a copy of that page.

In Post 2, I discussed the legalities of DMCA and why Joel’s insistance that WordPress had agreed with his copyright claim wasn’t true.

In the comments to post 1, Paul D pointed me to suggestions of tampering in one of the bits of ‘evidence’ Joel put on his site. I downloaded the image, looked carefully, and I agree, this image has clear indications of being set-up to misrepresent the sequence of events in the original copyright claim.

An annotated version of Joel's evidence (click through to see the details). Image a fair use (Criticism and news reporting) of an image by Joel Watts at: http://unsettledchristianity.com/2013/06/run-dmca/

An annotated version of Joel’s evidence (click through to see the details). Image a fair use (Criticism and news reporting) of an image by Joel Watts at: http://unsettledchristianity.com/2013/06/run-dmca/

It appears to me that the image shows Joel in the process of manually changing the time and date backwards to exactly the time and date he claims to have sent a previous email. And he has disconnected from the internet as a precaution while he does so. Whatever the reason (Paul gives a reasonable conclusion in this comment), this is really saddening.

Of course, there might be a valid reason for this suspicious behaviour. Even if there isn’t, Joel could invent one if he wanted to, I’m sure: post-hoc rationalisation is humanity’s only superpower, after all. But as it stands, this is incredibly suspicious and given the chain of events so far, it is hardly surprising.

So, if this is evidence that Joel didn’t attempt to contact Neil before issuing the DMCA, what of it?

Well, it doesn’t affect the substance of the legal case. It would mean Joel broke WordPress terms, not the DMCA process (which does not say you have to make any attempt to contact someone who you believe is infringing).

And it doesn’t much change my dim view of the morality of the DMCA take down, nor of Joel’s subsequent changing of the license. As I said to Neil R in a comment, I understand the temptation to keep digging when you find yourself caught out.

It’s just, well, really? Setting up evidence? The irony of quoting McCarthy isn’t lost on me, but: have you no sense of decency?

I’m on a serious downer now. I hope (pray?) this is the last that needs to be said about this. But I wrote this because I deeply care about copyright bullying. And I feel it is important to shine a light on the way it is abused with a hair trigger and a lack of transparency. Even when that happens by someone who I previously felt rather well disposed to.

And, for all those who are feeling overly warm and fuzzy to me over this, I’m afraid, I still think there was a historical Jesus ;)

Copyright Use: I have created an image above, by transforming part of a pre-existing work that is copyright, for the purpose of non-commercial criticism and comment, in a manner protected under US law, Title 17, §107:

the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.

But as I said in the last post, Joel only needs to issue a DMCA take down and it will be removed without consideration of the merits of his claim. But, if that happens, I will counter-file and pursue this, it will either have to be returned to the web 10 days later, or Joel will have to file an injunction that I will contest. In the words of South Park’s Scientology Episode: “sue me”.

[Edit: Removed the following description of Paul D: "(who I fully understand is a long-time antagonist of Joel's)" - see the comments]

Update: On his facebook page Joel has dismissed this as a conspiracy theory, and linked to a long page that discusses issues synching Outlook with Microsoft Exchange Servers. I infers he means that the glitch is responsible for the anomalies, though he merely posts the link. But I suspect he hasn’t read the link, since it nowhere describes any symptoms that match, nor that would require you to rewind the date and time to the exact time of a message and disconnect from the internet. And, as has been pointed out (though I’ve never received an email from him, so I can’t verify) he uses Gmail for sending (as indicated by the status bar in the image), not a Microsoft Exchange server.

I think there comes a point where a person has gone so far into lies and dishonesty that it is very unlikely they’ll come to their senses and come clean. It is a shame, I thought we were getting somewhere when he admitted things had gone too far the other day. But the wagons have circled, enough of his tribe made encouraging noises, so he feels safe keeping it up, I guess. Perhaps Neil will follow through on his intent to file a lawsuit against him, in which case I wonder if he’ll see continuing the lie into perjury as a sensible course. Besides that, I suspect any hope of resolving this with any honor is lost.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Joel Watts, DMCA abuse, and Dubious Evidence

  1. I’m not sure why you think I’m a “long-time antagonist of Joel’s”. If you search for my username and Joel’s site on Google, you’ll find all my prior participation there was civil and generally on the side of whatever point Joel was making.

    However, I have perceived (maybe incorrectly) a shift in tone on his blog recently, and I unsubscribed a few months ago in my RSS reader. And I did leave some indignant comments there and on Dr. McGrath’s blog regarding this past week’s brouhaha.

  2. Ian

    I may be confusing you with someone else, then, or simply imagining things. Sorry. I’ll remove that sentence to an edited block at the end.

  3. No problem. Anyway, I love your blog, so keep up the good work.

  4. vinnyjh57

    I actually think that Craig Falvo may have stumbled upon the best argument for Joel, although it’s not the one on which he proclaimed “Game. Set. Match.”

    Joel’s Share Alike license granted permission only to those who used a license that was the same or similar. Neil’s No Derivative license is not the same as Joel’s Share Alike license, but does it qualify as “similar”? Joel could have argued that it is not similar because No Derivative is more narrow than Share Alike and because it doesn’t allow the same use of Neil’s post that Neil made of Joel’s. I think you could probably make an argument that Neil didn’t have permission to alter, transform or build upon Joel’s post because Neil’s license didn’t allow others to remix his posts. I don’t know whether it wins in court, but I think it’s a lot better than arguing that “All rights reserved” negates the Share Alike license, i.e., I had my fingers crossed.

    Of course this does nothing to justify anything else Joel did, which just goes to show that it is very important to settle on a legal theory before you start trying to cover your tracks.

  5. Pingback: A Timeline of Events Regarding the Demise and Resurrection of Vridar | Against Jebel al-Lawz

  6. Also, Ian, you didn’t notice the brackets visible in Watts’s screenshot, which prove Watts filed his complaint before he forged his email to Neil.

    http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/2013/07/05/a-veritable-reconstruction-of-joel-wattss-sent-items/

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