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EFF, Bloggers, Everyone, Take On Web Bully

Jason Lee Miller
Staff Writer
Published: 2006-12-12

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In his misguided desire to become notorious, Michael Crook has become the preeminent villain of the blogosphere, the target of a lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a laughing stock, and a fascinating case study into blog-ethics, copyright law on the Internet, the tenets of Fair Use, the reach of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and how its abuse can affect free speech.

It also becomes the diary of a madman.

Crook's most recent tangle involved Rojo founder Kevin Burton, who claimed on his blog that SixApart was complicit to censorship after the blogging company received a DMCA takedown notice from Crook demanding that a thumbnail image of himself from an appearance on Fox News be taken offline. Crook argued his right to do so as the inherent copyright owner of the image (his face, e.g., his copyright).

Michael Crook
Fox News has told some members of the blogosphere, who have united in their hatred, mockery, and resistance to Crook, that the cable network has no objection to the use of the thumbnail image.

Not that it would matter if they did, use of the image, as the EFF claims in its lawsuit against Crook, is protected speech under Fair Use. The EFF also says that Crook is abusing the DMCA to silence his critics.

Burton's DMCA clash with Crook isn't the first time this has happened, nor is it the first time Crook has wreaked havoc on the Internet. Many have not forgotten or forgiven him for posing as a sexually adventurous girl on Craigslist in order to get men to send him personal information and photos of themselves so he could expose them on a site called Craigslist Perverts.

Crook is also reviled for a website he created called ForsakeTheTroops.info, which landed him an appearance on Fox's Hannity & Colmes. On the show, Crook intimated that American troops in Iraq deserved to die, and denied the existence of the Holocaust. That video chestnut got his image bounced around the web on blogs from Diis.net to 10 Zen Monkeys to BoingBoing to Valleywag (Nick Douglas begged for a "fake" DMCA notice and got it.)

All of these sites received the notice, written by Crook. Here is an excerpt from it:

"Although this is a photograph of an interview done with Fox News Channel in May of 2005, consent for use of my image did not extend outside of the Fox family of channels. To the best of my knowledge, information, and belief, Fox News Channel did not expressly consent to publication of this photograph. Regardless, however, I did not authorize Fox News to enable outside sources to publish the image, which is of myself, thereby giving me jurisdiction over this matter.

"Hence, it is my contention that my rights under the DMCA are being violated by the continued presence of this photograph, and although the photograph itself is not hosted on your server, it is linked to in such a fashion that it is represented to be part of your client's website. "

Yes, even linking to the image violated his rights, he said.

Top 10 People We Don't Need, 2006

1. Pedophiles
2. Fred Phelps
3. Michael Crook
4. Mark Foley
5. Michael Richards
6. Ted Stevens
7. Kevin Federline
8. Rosie O'Donnell
9. Star Jones
10. Mel Gibson (well, maybe needed for cool movies)

Crook was successful in a few cases as many ISPs and hosting services seem to have a take-down-first-and-ask-questions-later policy. Not they're allowed to ask questions, as Crook explains on his new anti-EFF website:

"The sad thing is this: all of this fuss could have been avoided had they simply shut up, asked no questions, and complied with the law."

But the EFF says no law was violated, and that if allowed to flourish by providers and hosts flinching at every DMCA takedown notice that come their way, then it could have a chilling effect on free speech.

"The Internet is home to passionate debate on countless important issues. It is too bad that some people find the robust exercise of free speech so frightening that they use intimidation to try to silence it," said EFF Staff Attorney Corynne McSherry in a statement.

"This is yet another case of someone intentionally misusing copyright law to try to shut down legitimate debate on an issue of public interest," said EFF Staff Attorney Jason Schultz. "...It's hypocritical for such an outspoken figure like Crook to attack other speakers just because they disagree with him."

Fark.com had a field day with the alleged copyright infringing image by encouraging its readers to "photoshop"(sorry Adobe) Crook as famous criminals throughout history.

It's been reported that Michael Crook is an assumed name, in which case he should consider changing it back. That name is mud throughout the blogosphere, and soon, the court system.

For some enlightening details about how Cook was discharged from the military he now maligns, click here.

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Jason L. Miller is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.

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