Friday, May 16, 2014

How to abuse copyright law to censor your ex

Chris Mackney was engaged in an extended, bitter divorce that mostly did not go well for him.  It sufficiently overwhelmed him that he committed suicide.  He left a suicide note in which he blamed his ex-wife and the family court system for driving him to end his own life.  You can see it here:

Now, I don't know Mr. or Mrs. Mackney, or the details of their divorce, so I'm not taking a position on whether Mr. Mackney's claims are true.  Maybe he really was treated badly by a vindictive ex and a toady judge.  On the other hand, maybe he was just a bitter man and the family court system mostly got it right.  I don't know, and that's not the point of this column.  What happened next, however, is.

After Mr. Mackney's suicide note went viral on the Internet, the former Mrs. Mackney managed to get herself appointed executor of his estate, probably because she is the guardian of his children.  She then invoked copyright law and started sending demand letters to various Web sites that had published the suicide note and demanded that they take it down as a copyright infringement.  Some sites have; some have ignored her; and others have publicly and vocally told her where she can stick her copyright claims.  Prominent First Amendment attorney Marc Randazza has gotten into the act, on the site of the Web sites.  It appears that whatever bad publicity had come from the suicide note before just got amplified by orders of magnitude.  Pass the popcorn; perhaps Mrs. Mackney should have researched the Streisand effect before sending cease and desist letters.

As I said earlier, I'm not taking a position on the merits of the divorce case.  But it does seem to me to be a particularly nasty abuse of the legal system for someone whom Chris Mackney obviously believed to have caused him misery to now be in charge of his estate, and to be using that authority to suppress a message he felt strongly needed to be delivered.

This kind of abuse is often its own punishment.  Before the demand letters started going out, "Chris Mackney suicide note" had about 200 google hits.  It now has over 4000.  Sometimes leaving bad enough alone really is the best policy.

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