I’m not the first one to discuss this issue and most certainly not the most prominent to do so. In recent days/weeks/months there has been an (sort of) out pour of stupid authors/artists doing stupid, if not psychotic, things to other folks in similar fields. Both instances have floored me, in a way, not because I’m at all surprised (after the “entertaining” William Sanders fiasco I can’t say I will ever be surprised in this field unless I find out that some of my favorite authors are actually white supremacists who eat non-white babies for breakfast), but because it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But, since this post is about two entirely different incidences, I’ll separate my arguments/rants/discussions into two separate posts. Here goes:
The Sciborg Sam/Erik Secker Fiasco
I’m about sick and tired of this sue-happy culture we live in. I get the need to sue people who cross the line and to punish them, but more often than not people cross the line, suing people for millions of dollars when a hundred thousand would do just fine. We’ve gotten to the point where lawsuits are done for profit on the side of the plaintiff, which to mean screams of an ethical problem, if not a moral one. And yes, free speech is often squashed in these suits (almost every time, actually), and yet the people who do the suing have absolutely no issue with that, usually stating that free speech is still alive and well as a way of navigating responsibility away from themselves (don’t look at me, I’m the good guy–no, you’re not).
Sciborg Sam is the latest in this attempt to silence free speech. Apparently Erik Secker recently posted a “review” (for lack of a better word) of this Sciborg Sam character’s attempts at music (or whatever it is that this person thinks he or she is doing). The following horrible video was posted (which I will post here in hopes that I will get a similar treatment as Secker):
Then, Secker received a cease and desist letter telling him:
This letter is to inform you that your website is in violation of United States copyright laws.
There is an image of my artwork posted on it and a music video produced by my band and also text copied from my website. These were posted without permission or contract. Your website portrays my work in a negative way, which I believe may be libelous.
I’m sorry, what? Now, first off, this is just idiotic at best. For someone to claim that you are violating copyright laws and yet be so oblivious to them is like a racist who gets banned from the local pub for trying to kill black people claiming that everyone else is discriminating.
Now, Secker has done a good job laying out all the legal mumbo jumbo (that copyright does not protect you from negative or positive review, that one may use small portions of material for reviews or criticism with proper attribution, etc.), so if you want all that, go read the post. I’d like to chime in that Sciborg Sam clearly wasn’t paying attention to Youtube, because allowing for his video to be embedded constitutes a willingness to have it used elsewhere (otherwise that option would be deleted). The same can be said about the ability to comment on the videos.
What stands out in all this is the fact that Sciborg Sam is threatening a lawsuit over something you can’t technically sue somebody for. Secker’s only crime is…wait, he didn’t commit any crime. He posted a “review” or “criticism,” using small snippets of text, embedding a video from a public video site, and using a picture from the same location for the same purposes. This is not illegal. If it was, then there would be no book reviews, no movie reviews, no nothing, because if you could legally sue people for criticizing your work, then nobody would be criticizing at all. We’d all have to figure out whether a movie is good on our own and then be careful about what we say in public, lest we be sued for imaginary libel.
This is a clear case of attempting to stifle free speech. Seckler never did anything other than speak his mind. His review was somewhat negative, which is perfectly acceptable. But Sciborg Sam doesn’t seem to understand that. Libel is intentionally lying, to say something not true about someone else in a public forum. If the local newspaper wrote that I murdered children for fun, that would be libel. I have not, to my knowledge, murdered any children, and I doubt if I did that I did it for fun. If a local newspaper wrote that I have a habit of procrastinating, then that wouldn’t be all that untrue. In fact, that would be 100% true, as I am procrastinating while writing this. I’d probably be pissed off about the comment, but there’s nothing I can really do about it short of writing an nasty letter-to-the-editor.
This all leads to my discussion of Author Conduct (or Artist Conduct). Where do we draw the line in protecting one’s intellectual property? Where do we draw the line on hurt feelings? Sciborg Sam may have been upset by those supposed mean words, but if he wanted nothing but positive comments, he wouldn’t have put his stuff online in the first place. No artist should ever expect positive words on everything.
Tobias S. Buckell has received a mixture of comments on his work (good, bad, and neutral) and yet I have not seen him run around throwing a tantrum (he apparently likes driving off of icy roads into ditches, though–kidding Mr. Buckell!). But, you see, Buckell is a professional, as most people in the writing and artistic worlds are. He knows he’s going to get criticism from people. He knows that not everyone will love his work or him. And in knowing this, he doesn’t get upset when someone gives a negative opinion on something he has written. Sciborg Sam hasn’t learned this lesson yet.
Writers and artists alike need to take a step back and realize that this sue-happy culture that we have created is dangerous. It’s a threat not only to our ability to be artists (no matter the form), but to society in general. The more common and more profitable lawsuits become for the plaintiff, the more dangerous it will be for all of us to express ourselves. As soon as we begin to make it acceptable to sue people for disliking something one person wrote or created, then the entire notion of free speech will collapse along with freedom of expression. We lose what it means to be an artist or a writer or a musician.
And ignorant people running around pretending to be lawyers-in-the-know should be ashamed of themselves. Most people don’t know enough about copyright law to be able to ignore Sciborg Sam. People will take him seriously. Just as Wikipedia largely misinforms the viewing public, so do people like Sciborg Sam. Sooner or later it will become commonplace for us to believe that one can sue for the same reasons Sciborg Sam is threatening Erik Secker. This is dangerous and frightening. We live in an ignorant society. Let’s not make it any worse.
And that is all! Comments welcome.