Although the accelerating pace of technology makes forecasting difficult, there is one prediction that will always come true. No matter who wins or who loses, no matter what becomes popular and what is forgotten, lawyers will make money at every turn.
A trite poem titled "Life Is" has been circulating on the net for several years. It claims to know what life is and isn't about. It is tired and obvious and Forest Gumpy enough to be extremely popular on the web. A quick search found it on over a thousand web pages, but many of them are no longer up. The reason: last week the owners of many of these web sites received threatening e-mail from Laturno and Graves, lawyers representing Mr. F.* who claims to have written the poem. The letter demands that the web owners remove the poem immediately and send them a check for $200.
I exchanged e-mail with several web owners who received the message. None of them knew the origin of the poem or intended to violate any copyrights. Many of them included notes on their pages asking for any information about the author so proper credit could be given. But the e-mail they received insisted intent doesn't matter. Remove the poem from your page, the letter demanded, then remove two hundred dollars from your wallet and put it in ours.
The attorneys didn't bother personalizing the letter Ė itís addressed to "Dear Madame/Sir..." None of the people I contacted were served papers or sent registered mail, receipt requested, which is the standard practice for legitimate lawsuits. They simply received an e-mail demanding money. The fact that mailing addresses might have been difficult to obtain is immaterial. There is no way to prove someone received e-mail unless the recipient was foolish enough to respond.
Many of the pages which contained the poem now return a "404 Ė not found" error. Others remain intact with the poem discreetly removed. A few mention the reason it was removed and at least one displays the attorneys' e-mail message in full.
Mr. F. displays the copyright date prominently on his web page, including a link to a graphic file of the copyright registration form. The graphic proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he filled out a form. But the poem showed up in usenet three months earlier, and before that had evidently been circulating through e-mail. Another writer claims (on his web site) that he wrote the poem in 1991, five years before Mr. F's copyright. E-mail to him remains unanswered.
A writer should protect his copyrights, but the nature of the poem seems out of sync with the nature of suing people. A polite letter asking for the poem to be removed or that proper credit be given would have been more appropriate. Sending threatening letters demanding payment seems, in light of the ideas the poem attempts to express, more than a little hypocritical.
Perhaps heís trying to inspire himself for another rewrite. Although most authors finish a piece and then move on to the next, he keeps rewriting this. (I was going to include a metaphor about a dog returning to chow down some diseased rodent parts he just threw up, in hopes that they will be better the second time, and then the third, but thatís too much of a stretch, so I'll leave it out.) I sent him e-mail suggesting he add the following line to his poem:
"Life is finding people who like your stuff enough to post it on their web page, and then suing their ass!"
He hasn't answered. Of course, if he uses it, I'll have to demand $200.
Update, May 2002: I occasionally run a program that runs a site-wide check for broken links. It notified me that the authors home page, linked to in this article, was no longer available. A through search for any page belonging to him proved fruitless. However, entering a few of the lines from his juvenile poem turned up hundreds of copies of it, nearly all of them on horribly designed amateur web pages. In each case it was labeled "Author Unknown."
Life works out well some times, doesn't it?
*Update, September 2007: I received a letter from the author requesting (politely, no lawyers) that I remove this article. Whenever anyone searched his name this article was on the first page of Google. Rather than remove the article I've removed his name from it. This has been following him around for seven years, more than two standard eternities in internet time, and that's more than enough embarrassment for anyone.
© 1999 Dave Hitt
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