Michael Crook Case Settled

Yesterday, the EFF, Jeffery Diehl and Michael Crook announced that the lawsuit between Dielhl and Crook had been settled.

This brings a relatively quick end to the case, which was started in November, and puts to rest the issue of Crook’s false DMCA notices.

All parties involved seem to be very happy with the settlement. EFF staff attorney said, “We’re pleased that Crook has taken responsibility for his egregious behavior. Hopefully, this will set a precedent to prevent future abuse of the law by those who dislike online news-reporting and criticism.”

Crook, on the other hand, issued a press release saying that, “I am thankful that this matter is finally coming to a close.” He also announced the creation of a new Web site dedicated to redacting the Fair Use Act.

It’s the predictable end to a very strange and very entertaining case. However, in its current form, it’s unlikely that the outcome will have any major impact on Webmasters protecting their content.

However, that’s probably the best news of all.

Some Brief Background

The case began after Crook, upset at the posting a screencap of his appearance on the Fox News program Hannity & Colmes, filed DMCA notices notices against several sites, including Jeffery Diehl’s site, resulting in the takedown of several of the images and forcing Diehl to change hosts in order to keep the article intact.

The EFF agreed to represent Diehl and sued Crook for filing the false notices. Crook countersued, citing harassment and “emotional distress”, and the case case seemed destined to drag on. Crook furthered that impression by posting several articles on his site about avoiding being served for legal papers and hiding assets from judgments.

However, just before the new year, Michael Crook offered a settlement to the EFF. The initial offer was refused but in January the case entered arbitration.

Eventually, a settlement was drafted and, after several revisions, a final one was settled upon some time this month. That version was filed yesterday, following Crook’s completion of his requirements.

The Settlement

As part of the settlement, there are seven key things that Michael Crook agreed to do:

  1. Never again file any cease and desist notices concerning the image of him on Fox News
  2. Withdraw each and every DMCA notice he served regarding the image
  3. Take three two courses on copyright law basics
  4. Refrain from filing any DMCA notices for 5 years unless the material in question is personally authored, photographed or originated by him or his wife
  5. Include in any DMCA notice during that 5 year period, URLs pointing to the EFFs web page summarizing this case
  6. Turn over ownership of any domain names to Jeff Diehl and 10 Zen Monkeys if he is caught violating any of the terms of the agreement
  7. Publish a video apology for his actions (see below)

Noticeably absent from the settlement is any mention of monetary damages. Michael Crook was able to prove that he is indigent and would be unable to pay any such damages. Thus, he was released from doing so.

The settlement seems to sit well with others involved in the case, including others that received threats from Crook. Likewise, those not directly involved in the case are largely pleased as well. Even Jason Fortuny, the Craigslist sex-baiter Crook copied initially, was supportive of the settlement and even created his own video on the subject of Michael Crook.

The greatest criticism of the settlement came from Michael Arrington at TechCrunch, who felt that EFF might have been overzealous in demanding the video apology, destroying Crook’s dignity along the way. Others, though very happy about the outcome, criticized the video because they felt Crook’s apology was insincere.

Everyone, however, seems to be very pleased that the matter is said and done and they hope that it will be the end of Crook and his DMCA notices.

My Take

Overall, I am very pleased with the settlement. It acknowledges the potential usefulness of the DMCA while taking a firm stand against using it for illegal purposes. It changes little for Webmasters protecting their content as legitimate use of the DMCA is supported by both sides.

However, I do share Arrington’s concerns that the EFF may have been overzealous. Demanding a video apology definitely makes a statement, but it also raises ethical concerns. I worry, like others, that they are stooping to Crook’s level by using public humiliation as a tool to make their case.

On the flip side, I also agree that the apology seemed insincere in places. Much of that, however, was probably due to the scripted nature of it. It’s clear from the video (see end of article) that Crook was reading an agreed-upon script.

What is surprising is that the video apology also included a great deal of explanation from Crook. He claims that he had no fraudulent intent, that he was genuinely mistaken in the assumption he had copyright over the images and that now he understands he was wrong.

That sentiment is summed up neatly when Crook asks the camera, “Who knew you can’t control your own image?”

The other points of the settlement are pretty standard. The point that enjoins Crook for five years from sending out DMCA notices on works he did or his wife did not author seems a bit odd. As a consultant, I’ve sent out many notices for work I didn’t author, but I am a rare case. Few would ever have a need to do that and it hardly seems to be a severe restriction placed on Crook.

Despite these concerns, the settlement does the job it set out to do and bring a very clean end to this case. It is over, Crook is clearly the loser in the matter and, though no legal precedent will be set since the case was settled without a verdict, a very important moral and ethical one will be set by this.

Conclusions

My sincere hope, and the hope of others, is that this is the true end of the saga. It has been a long and winding road but it appears that, finally, it is over.

Though Crook himself appears to be unbowed by this settlement, he posted a response to the settlement on YouTube, most hope that this will be the last time the Web hears of him as well.

Sadly, in the the long run, this will not be the end of Crook or of DMCA abuses. Others will follow.

Hopefully though, now that this case has been resolved so handily, others will be discouraged from attempting what Crook did and that those who do will be easier to deal with.

In short, he world of copyright law did not change overnight. The villains did not slink back into the shadows and all of the old problems still remain. However, with any luck, all of those problems have become a little easier to deal with and, with time, that can make the Internet a much better place.

That was, when it is all said and done, what the lawsuit was about in the first place.


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