AltSciFi DMCA Response: 2018-01-18 Github DMCA Takedown Notice for altscifi.github.io

We are an informal group of artists and technologists online who collectively go by AltSciFi.

This message is long. It is easy to repeat unsubstantiated rumours and lies mistaken as facts. It takes substantially longer to write explanations that adequately refute those assumptions and misstatements. This blog post addresses specific mischaracterisations and unfounded claims as clearly and thoroughly as possible.

The DMCA request was a result of a mistake (not a misidentification). The content has already been removed, and the artist will be blacklisted from this project unless she requests to be included from this point onward.

The incident here seems to be an honest mistake by the artist based on incorrect information, rather than purposeful misuse of Github’s DMCA system due to bad faith or malicious intent.

The worst comes first:

This part in particular, quoted verbatim from the original DMCA request, is simply a paragraph of lies based on slanderous rumours that began on Twitter and circulated via social media sites like Tumblr and Facebook:

Other artists have also commented that [AltSciFi] has taken their work and is selling these works as prints on this website – while I cannot obviously file a DMCA takedown on their behalf, you should also be aware [AltSciFi] is trying to make money off prints as well.

This is a blatant falsehood. Again, it was probably an honest mistake, but the lie is now on public display. This blog post is a response to it.

The lie quoted above began as a petty whisper campaign on Twitter after a completely unrelated disagreement with an uninvolved individual that ended months ago. As such issues tend to become a form of entertainment for some people on social media, the petty whispered lies aroused an exaggerated response of tribalistic rage among a small group of heavy Twitter users. It quickly snowballed into the culmination that is this DMCA complaint.

At no point in time did anyone contact AltSciFi for clarification. The typical excuse was “it’s not my job to contact you! You have to contact me!”

Yes, when the project is officially ready for the public, AltSciFi will make a reasonable attempt to contact all artists.

And no, if the intention of a person who feels wronged is to bully or slander others based on unsubstantiated rumours, it is always necessary to contact the potential target for clarification first.

What began as a misunderstanding based on false rumours became a Twitter slander campaign. It then transformed into a face-saving attempt at rage-filled bluster after contradictory facts emerged, and finally resulted in a full-blown mindless Internet gang attempting to destroy a project by artists, designed to help artists.

Yes, it is always your job to hear both sides of a story. There are no exceptions, especially when the only “facts” you have are rage-filled rumours (ones that ultimately turned out to be mistaken assumptions and lies in this case).

You can read more about how events unfolded in three blog entries on the topic. The blog entries were written as an attempt to clarify and counteract the bullying and slander as it was happening in realtime, over the course of more than a week. Hopefully anyone who stumbles upon this series of blog posts will read more and decide for themselves:

1. The real reason why most indie artists are starving: overcoming (and preventing) community drama as AltSciFi evolves.

2. How Artists Starve, Part 2: Lessons to Draw From Ongoing Drama

3. AltSciFi Drama, Part III: How Distorted Language Transforms False Rumours into Bullying and Harassment

The so-called “offending material” was contained on one page, not several pages.

The DMCA notice incorrectly inflates the apparent number of pages by citing several regions (called “anchor tags”) on a single page. The mistake is understandable, but it still makes the allegations of “illegal (for-profit) use of work” unnecessarily inflated, on top of being false in the first place.

The artist is right to reserve permission for use of her work. That’s not in dispute here.

Here are the relevant facts that no one bothered to find out:

– the AltSciFi project began several years ago as a hobby for finding inspiration and sharing with others online. Over time, it became an idea for helping artists using the principles of the open web, and as an alternative to intrusive advertising models prevalent on most websites today. The concepts and designs for the site, and the project itself, have changed over time. What you might dig up online from seven months or three years ago likely does not represent the project today.

– the site, as of 2018.02.06, is not yet complete, and has never spent funds toward marketing or promotion to the public as a completed business or professional entity. AltSciFi has always been an informal project by artists, for artists and fans, and will continue this way for the forseeable future.

– of those few artists and fans who were asked for feedback during development of this project, all pre-subscriptions were offered on the basis that the project is incomplete. Subscriptions help defray the hundreds of hours of skilled work necessary to build this project thus far, and toward expenses necessary to officially launch. Pre-subscriptions were always received as a vote of confidence and investment in an idea — not “profit from a business.”

– What exists at Github, as of 2018.02.06, is a test site for web development only. Artists’ pages were not listed on the first page of search results using the DuckDuckGo search engine (a popular privacy-oriented search engine), as the site was not optimised or intended to be found by search engines. Search engine optimisation and visibility are questions that will wait until the site is complete.

– we will contact artists when the project is complete. This project is not a typical approach that fits as “weblog” or “store” or “artist management”. From past experience, having visible examples to show artists tends to be easier to understand — with explanation as well — rather than using description or example alone. This is why our test/development site exists on Github in the first place, and why it’s important to communicate rather than blindly assume.

The Github site contains three or four pages with functioning PayPal links. Those links were for testing purposes only. AltSciFi was not “selling these works as prints on this website” for the following reasons:

1. AltSciFi does not maintain inventory of any kind. After we officially open, our system will enable artists’ existing sites to connect to our site, or we will help them open their own store elsewhere. This is literally the entire purpose of our “store” concept, as reflected in its structure and design.

Again, we literally can’t sell anything because we have no inventory to sell.

AltSciFi has never, and does not currently have, any interest in dealing directly with anyone’s inventory, and will not for the foreseeable future.

2. AltSciFi has not officially launched yet. A miniscule number of people have ever seen the site. If you look at the source code, the site is clearly not optimised for search engines. And if we were “selling” anything, we certainly would not keep an incomplete store website hidden away in a corner of Github where practically no one would find it on their own.

3. Of all the galleries on the site, only a few pages had any links at all. This is because they were used for testing purposes only. If we were “selling” anything, we would have created functioning links for all pages, not an apparently random few. Nor would we try to sell images copy-and-pasted from Instagram or anywhere else on the web.

Our intentional obscurity, current in-development status, and lack of printing-quality images, makes notions of “selling art” logically nonsensical and empirically unsupportable. It simply doesn’t make sense. We are not selling artists’ work without their permission, because that violates our core philosophy and more importantly, we quite intentionally have nothing to sell (ironically, this decision was made in part to help avoid entanglements about who sold what to whom).

If you were an artist or writer, ask yourself:

Would you spend years creating a project designed to help independent artists, only to throw it all away by trying to sell low-quality prints from an incomplete, hard-to-find website without the artist’s consent?

It’s mind-boggling that anyone could believe that, even for a moment.

Rumours, lies and misplaced rage are very, very powerful things, especially in combination.

Again, the incident here seems to be an honest mistake by the artist based on incorrect information, rather than purposeful misuse of Github’s DMCA system due to bad faith or malicious intent. This blog post seeks only to clarify and correct the rumours and lies on which the artist unfortunately based her DMCA notice. Now that you know the other side of the story, you can make up your own mind.

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