Baseless Copyright Claims Used to Shut Down Debate Over Privacy Controversy

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed suit today against the man behind "" -- a website that publicized responses to fake personal advertisements posted on -- on behalf of an online journalist who criticized the controversial outing campaign and received legal threats in return.

Michael Crook posted the fake ads earlier this year, claiming to be a young woman seeking a casual sexual encounter. Crook then displayed many of the replies on his website, including information such as the responders' names, photographs, phone numbers, and where they worked. Jeff Diehl, the editor of Internet magazine 10 Zen Monkeys, published an article in September critical of Crook's behavior and used an image of Crook being interviewed by Fox News to highlight how controversial a figure he was.

Instead of responding to the criticism with words, Crook sent a legal notice to the magazine's online service provider, claiming to be the copyright holder of the image and demanding that it be removed under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Such actions violate the DMCA's requirements that only the copyright holder or someone authorized by her can send such notices.

"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. "Crook certainly doesn't own the copyright to the news footage -- Fox News does. Furthermore, a still shot of that footage, used as part of a commentary on the controversy surrounding him, is clearly a fair use. It's hypocritical for such an outspoken figure like Crook to attack other speakers just because they disagree with him."

Because of Crook's misuse of the DMCA, Diehl was forced to switch web-hosting companies in order to continue publish the photo. But even then, Crook sent another bogus DMCA notice to the new hosting company, and Diehl had to remove the photo for a second time. In the lawsuit filed today, EFF asks that Diehl be compensated for the financial and personal expenses associated with responding to the meritless claims and switching web hosts -- as well as for the infringement to his free speech rights protected by the First Amendment.

This lawsuit is part of EFF's ongoing work to protect online free speech in the face of bogus copyright claims. Last week, EFF filed an objection to a subpoena from Landmark Education, a group that claimed copyright infringement in a video uploaded to the Internet Archive.

"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. "EFF is grateful that people like Jeffrey Diehl and the Internet Archive are fighting back."

For more on the lawsuit against Michael Crook:

For more on the Internet Magazine 10 Zen Monkeys:

For more on the Landmark Education's subpoena campaign:


Jason Schultz
Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Corynne McSherry
Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Jeff Diehl
10 Zen Monkeys

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