If you want me to take you seriously, do your research, and don’t play the victim card…

November 17, 2023, 2:10 PM

Recently, while I was checking for copyright violations, I turned up a tweet by Twitter user @alx.  The tweet, from this past September, showed my photo from 2004 of a Simplex fire alarm at Taylor Hall with the caption, “Any idea what this does?”  I assumed, based on the date, that it was supposed to be commentary on the recent incident where Democratic representative Jamaal Bowman pulled a fire alarm in the Cannon House Office Building.  Yes, Bowman is an idiot for doing that, but that’s beside the point.  Looking the tweet over, I did not see the attribution that is required per the terms of the Creative Commons license under which that particular image is offered, so, per my usual practice, I submitted a DMCA takedown request to have that unauthorized usage removed.  Then the folks who process these things at Twitter removed the image about twelve hours later.  That speed is typical for Twitter, since they’re usually really good about processing DMCA notices, even following Elon Musk‘s acquisition of the platform.  In other words, for as much of a cesspool as the Twitter has become these days, if there’s one thing that they still do right, it’s copyright enforcement.  So as far as I was concerned, our transaction was complete.  The image was removed, and we all went on with things.

Then the next day, I got an email from the folks at Twitter, telling me that Alexander Joseph Lorusso of Worcester, Massachusetts had submitted a DMCA counter-notice against the tweet that I had reported earlier, and that, as per the usual process, they would restore the content in ten business days unless they receive notice that I’ve filed an action seeking a court order on it.  Here is what Lorusso said in his counter-notice when prompted for a reason:

This picture is a picture of a fire alarm and is on WikiCommons stating it is free “to share – to copy, distribute and transmit the work”

This person is weaponizing DMCA against me

First of all, while it is true that the image is free to share, i.e. to copy, distribute, and transmit, there’s more to it.  None of my photos are in the public domain, and therefore, while I allow people to use some of the material that I create freely, it is subject to certain stipulations.  Think about it this way: nothing in life is free, and if you want something, you must pay for it, even if the method of payment is something other than money.  That’s like when you use various social media sites, you’re paying for them by providing the companies that operate the services with valuable marketing data that they can then use to sell advertising on their platforms.  In the case of Creative Commons media, downstream users aren’t usually paying for the content with money, but rather, in the case of an Attribution-ShareAlike license like I’ve historically used, you’re paying by providing that byline, and then you’re also paying by releasing any derivative works under the same license as the original (thus you are obligated to “pay it forward” under that sort of license).  But if you don’t pay via the byline, as is the case with my Creative Commons content, I have ways of rectifying the situation – and the people who are on the receiving end of that probably won’t like it.  In Lorusso’s case, he failed to provide the requisite attribution in his tweet, and so I made use of the remedies available to me.  And as such, his tweet got DMCA’d.  Simple as that.  As long as you play by the rules, then you get to continue playing.  If you choose not to play by the rules, then you get sent to the penalty box.  Lorusso chose not to follow the rules by not including the necessary attribution, and thus he chose the penalty box.

However, note that last line: “This person is weaponizing DMCA against me.”  That is a pretty big leap right there, and it really tells me all that I need to know about their stance on the issue.  They feel that they should be allowed to do whatever they want based on their possibly incomplete interpretation of what the rules are, and anyone who attempts to compel them to comply is actively plotting to silence them.  Yes, a random person who lives in the suburbs outside Washington, DC who had never even heard of you until about two minutes prior to completing the copyright claim is really trying to weaponize the DMCA against you.  Sure, we’ll go with that.

I was also notified about a tweet thread on this matter when I checked my Twitter notifications and a few people tagged me in some downstream tweets.  It started out with this tweet, where Lorusso posted an image that showed that his account was locked following my copyright claim, and remarked, “I just got DMCA’d for a picture of a fire alarm.  ‘Copyright’ laws are incredibly dumb.”  He also attached this image of what the folks at Twitter sent him:

"Your account has been locked."

I appreciated seeing this, because it tells me that Twitter makes sure to get users’ attention when they are caught violating copyright.  It’s nothing that the user can’t satisfy in a matter of minutes, but all the same, they are unable to do anything else on the service until they deal with the copyright matter.  In other words, there is no way that they can say that they missed the notification, because the service locks them out until they acknowledge it.  And it sounds like all that they’re saying is, “Hey, you got caught violating someone’s copyright, we took care of it, and we want to make sure that you know that copyright is serious business, and that continuing down this road will lead to removal of your account.  Therefore, you may not do anything else until you acknowledge this.”  Good.  We want to instill a healthy respect for intellectual property, and combat the misconception that if it’s on the Internet, it’s free.  I’d much rather it happen through educational means, i.e. convey the message on the front end before a violation happens, but failing that, I have no problem bringing the hammer down, and I’m glad that the folks at Twitter still take it quite seriously as well.

Going down that tweet thread, though, I get the sense that when it comes to Lorusso, he’s setting himself up to violate copyright again and again, which will end with is losing his account.  Following his initial tweet, he then tweeted, “I’m not a copyright lawyer but the image that the rights holder claimed is listed on wiki commons as free ‘to share – to copy, distribute and transmit the work’.  Am I misunderstanding here or is the rights holder making an improper claim?  Is there a penalty for weaponizing DMCA to make false claims?”

In his tweet, Lorusso also included this screenshot, with highlighting on the first passage:

Creative Commons information from Wikimedia Commons. Highlighted text appears in Lorusso's original post.

The problem here is laid bare for everyone to see: he didn’t read far enough.  He posted everything that he needed to know, because “under the following conditions” explains exactly what needs to happen in order for the usage to be legal.  And therein lies the rub, in that Lorusso failed to complete his own obligations under the license.  And he really answered his own question with that screenshot.  It says right there what he needed to do in order to make it ironclad, and he didn’t follow it, nor did it ever cross his mind that he might have legitimately screwed up.  I find it hard to feel any sympathy for him under these circumstances, since he showed his audience all of the steps that he needed to complete in order to do it correctly, and he chose not to do so.  Providing attribution is a requirement for any usage, and not just if modifications are made to the content, as Lorusso mistakenly believed.

As an aside, on the subject of “false claims”, it is worth noting at this juncture that my boilerplate rationale for DMCA takedown notices, which Lorusso would have received, is “Use of copyrighted image without permission from the copyright holder.”  That keeps things as simple as possible, because the simpletons that process DMCA takedown notices on many platforms get all confused when I provide a more detailed rationale.  I used to routinely say, “Use of copyrighted photo in violation of Creative Commons license where no alternative arrangements have been made.”  Those people hear “Creative Commons” and their brains turn off because they think that because the image is under a free license that people can just use them with wild abandon.  As such, the results that I would get back were all over the place, with some places’ coming back to me for clarification and my having to restate my rationale in a very stern tone, usually including the line, “Please explain to me exactly what is still unclear to you.  If there are no further questions, I expect you to process my request without further delay.”  Then others would simply ignore me, and some who actually understood a few things about Creative Commons licenses would actually complete my request without further question.  And the thing is, since these sorts of usages violate the license anyway, the license becomes irrelevant.  Therefore, there is no need to muddy the waters by mentioning it.  It’s a photo to which I hold the copyright, and they’re using it in a way that I have not authorized, so that’s exactly what I tell them, in as few words as possible.

Meanwhile, in the case of these posts about Congressman Bowman, I find it amusing because it seems like no one ever gets the fire alarm correct.  I did two takedowns related to that incident during this same session.  One was Lorusso’s, and another one was from an account called “I Meme Therefore I Am“.  Lorusso stole a photo of a Simplex pull station at JMU.  The “I Meme” account stole a photo of a Cerberus Pyrotronics pull station with “LOCAL” lettering in DC.  For those wondering, the pull station in question at the Cannon building was the Notifier version of the BG-12, and contained no “LOCAL” wording on the station itself.

But in any event, why should we let facts get in the way of a good outrage case, right?  Lorusso’s followers were more than happy to stroke his ego and gin up the outrage.

The responses tended to fall into a few different categories.  First, there were people who showed a complete lack of understanding of how copyright and DMCA takedown notices work:

As a citizen “journalist”, you have a valid abridgment rights violation case, since this was a newsworthy photo taken of an object in “public view”…. – @ckolchacksghost

I’ve never had any such thing happen, but I’m invisible.  I’m guessing you’re monetized.  THAT might be the difference between you using it, and me. (same pic, I mean). – @BillBrasky11

If it’s a CC license and you making money then you can’t freely share the image. – @gregorycgravett

That should not fall under copyright.  It is an object openly displayed in a public place.  This smells very like censorship – @BarbFreitchie

DMCA grants YOU (not them) every right to use ANY media you wish for the express purpose of comment, comparison, comedy, criticism or parody.  Anyone can use whole footage segments and completely TRASH a Disney movie with a scathing review.  (for example) – @budswider

Some people questioned various policies, both platform-specific and legal:

This sucks.  I’ve noticed many abnormalities on X as of late.  Algorithms are being screwed with.  So many conservatives’ accounts are not getting any reach. – @TanyaNe00441025

How long is it gonna take to clean up Twitter’s legacy codes, policies, etc.? – @Nielo_Gan

You got more punished than Jamaal Bowman did and he’s a sitting United States representative. – @Truthseeker2344

@elonmusk is that something that choose to do, or is that mandated by local legislation? – @___R___N___ahah

DMCA needs to be fixed, it’s stupid and forget about “fair use”.  Scrap it completely actually. – @WVBAK47

Some people made blatant attacks against me:

Imagine having the time to go after alleged “altered” free images for copyright infringement. – @MichelleWhitzel

Wow, he looks a EXACTLY like somebody who would make a DMCA takedown report on his picture of a fire alarm. – @SirLurkWell

Ben Schumin is a colossal douche canoe. – @Brick_Suit

Others cried persecution:

I’ve had 100 vid memes removed, two violations with 50 in each one.  Almost all were anti Desantis made with reels from popular apps like Pinata Farms.  I wonder who’s butthurt. – @GrimsMemes

DMCA may be their new tool here on X, going forward. – @ConsTreehouse

Copyright was THE way to target and destroy someone on YouTube, which was a precursor to their dark side turn. – @ConsTreehouse

This is incredibly concerning, especially given how prone to weaponization it is and unwitting breaking the rule of the DMCA is – @Malcolm_fleX48

DMCA is a censorship weapon, nothing more. – @8Notables

At least now we know what it does – it gets you DMCA’d. – @VatchinkU

Wow, now that is a desperate attempt to censor! – @TootslilFighter

Copyright laws are used to censor truths that upset the establishment or things that could benefit humanity but haven’t had sufficient regulation installed to profit/blackmail the creators. – @NwoSpotter

False claims of copyright violations are not uncommon. It’s a way for those who are bothered by a post to get it taken down… usually without any repercussions. – @DUF2A

And then, most amusingly, there were people who questioned the fact that the Twitter/X branding changeover is quite incomplete:

Why do the pages still reference “Twitter”? – @sfm_42

What’s this Twitter they speak of in the notice??  Never heard of it .. – @remaxbrianwilks

Why is it referencing Twitter and not X? Is this old? – @efrensosa16

Odd, ‘Twitter’ is not a legitimate company name.  @elonmusk – ?? – @AmericasImpetus

By and large, the sense that I got from the whole Twitter thread was that I was dealing with an idiot who had lots of idiot followers who created a nice little echo chamber of misinformation for everyone to sit inside.  I was not about to engage any of them directly, because the only thing that such an action could accomplish would be to give me a headache.

However, not everyone who responded was an idiot.  There were two people who didn’t simply add to the echo chamber.  One person had some advice on how Lorusso could keep himself out of trouble:

Source your content. – @toThaBeebs

And another person clearly appreciated that I knocked Lorusso down a peg:

Whoever owns that fire alarm image, massive W.  Keep copyrighting him please – @Rizzmaster420

But at the end of the day, Lorusso filed a counter-notification, and claimed persecution rather than making a legitimate argument over the merits of it.  I suspect that he took the persecution route because he has no argument on the merits of things.  This is about as clean-cut as it gets as far as copyright cases go, because he made the decision to use my image contrary to the terms of its license without making alternate arrangements with me, got caught, and then had to face the consequences of that decision.  And it absolutely is possible to provide proper photo attribution in a tweet.  Here is an example of Creative Commons attribution on the Twitter done right:

A tweet from a grassroots activism account, providing proper attribution for Creative Commons imagery.

That simple “image by @SchuminWeb” line at the end is really all that it takes to do things correctly.  If Lorusso had done that, his usage would have been fully legal, and there would have been no invocation of the DMCA.  Let’s admit it: DMCA takedowns are a pain in the butt to do, because they’re very detailed, very repetitive, and they don’t make me any money (because I only use DMCAs for cases that don’t meet Pixsy’s case requirements).  If he had done it right, the most that he would have gotten out of me would have been a laugh for getting the fire alarm model wrong (but no one ever gets the model of fire alarm right).

The whole idea of persecution via the DMCA becomes even more ridiculous when you consider the many things that claiming persecution assumes that simply aren’t there, at least as far as I was concerned.  Even if I had managed to find some small amount of sympathy for him initially (I didn’t), once he decided to claim that the DMCA was being “weaponized” against him and played the victim card instead of owning up to his mistakes like an adult, any sympathy for him that might have previously been there immediately fell away.  If you want a surefire way to get me to stop listening to you, there are a few “cards” that you can play that will get that result, because they’re almost always copouts, such as the race card, the 9/11 card, the COVID card, and, in this case, the victim card.  It also lays bare an overinflated sense of self-importance, and assumes that people care about him a lot more than they actually do.  Truth be told, Lorusso’s post was one of 18 pieces of unauthorized content for which I submitted DMCA takedowns that day, with 16 of those on the Twitter, and the other two on LinkedIn.  Lorusso’s post was the eleventh takedown that I submitted that day, i.e. right around the middle.  Other content that I submitted takedowns for included photos of my old high school, the Bay Bridge, road signs, other fire alarms, the Roanoke Star, and a few different Walmart buildings, among others.  And that does not even count the numerous cases that I had submitted to Pixsy for licensing resolution during the same session.  In other words, it’s nothing personal – it’s just business.

My stance on these things is pretty simple: my loyalty is to my photos, and I want to make sure that things are done right by them.  I’m less concerned about the contexts that my photos end up in downstream as much as I’m concerned that they are being used properly in those contexts.  I’ve seen my photos used in some pretty objectionable contexts in the past, but if their use satisfies all of the requirements for downstream use, then more power to them.  I just grit my teeth and sigh seeing my name appear on pages with content that I find distasteful, but if they’re using the photo legally, they’re good, even if I disagree with their stances and/or find their opinions abhorrent.  For one thing, you wouldn’t believe how many right-wing sites use my antifa photos in ways that make me roll my eyes or go, “Come on, really?” about them.

As far as what I’m doing about it from here, since he is not worth hiring an attorney and going to court over, the most that I’m going to do about the matter is this Journal entry, so that people know that when they see the name Alexander Lorusso, it belongs to someone who steals photos and then abuses legal processes to try to wiggle his way out of things when he gets caught.  David Pinson was the same way, though his counter-notification took on a tone of cluelessness than one of victimization.  It’s still 100% malarkey on both of their parts, but unfortunately, it raises the bar pretty high for me to continue to pursue it, which leads to their ultimately getting away with copyright infringement, and leaving me quite annoyed.

And just like in past instances, the overarching lesson is simple: don’t steal.  But if you do steal and then subsequently get caught, be an adult about it and own up to it, and then don’t infringe again in the future.