Homeless in Vancouver: Abbotsford honoured for shitty attempt to censor my blog

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      In a post entitled “Hall of Shame: Something Stinks in Abbotsford“, Automattic, the San Francisco company which owns WordPress.com, the online content management system which hosts my blog, is highlighting a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) take-down notice filed in January against one of my posts. It's cited as yet another example of the misuse of a DMCA notice to muzzle legitimate free speech.

      I learned about the DMCA notice targeting content on my blog on January 12 in an email message from a WordPress.cоm Community Guardian named Jasper:

      “We have received a DMCA notice…for material published on your WordPress.cоm site. Normally this would mean that we’d have to disable access to the material. However, because we believe that this instance falls under fair use protections, we will not be removing it at this time.”

      The DMCA notice was submitted by one Haley Hodgson, who listed her address as “City of Abbotsford—City Hall” but whose email address belonged to a Port Moody marketing company called October 17 Media.

      The poop finally hits the fan nearly four years late

      The City of Abbotsford logo and my parody of it—helpfully stamped with "parody" in case you couldn't tell.

      The January 2017 DMCA notice alleged that a parody of the City of Abbotsford logo, which I had created for my July 25, 2013, post about the city’s dumping of manure the month before on a homeless campsite, violated copyright.

      The image was clearly a legitimate parody editorial image illustrating my post about Abbotsford’s dumping of chicken manure on the homeless campsite. I even included the following caption underneath the image:

      “Oh crap! Abbotsford already needs to update their new city logo.”

      However, Hodgson apparently saw it differently, swearing in the DMCA notice:

      “I have a good faith belief that use of the copyrighted materials described above as allegedly infringing is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.

      I swear, under penalty of perjury, that the information in the notification is accurate and that I am the copyright owner or am authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.

      I acknowledge that a copy of this infringement notice and any correspondence related to it, including any contact information I provided above (address, telephone number, and email address), will be forwarded to the user who uploaded the content at issue.”

      I emailed Hodgson on January 12  to explain that WordPress.cоm had judged the parody graphic to be fair usage and that the blogging service would not enforce her DMCA take-down notice and I added:

      “I have no desire to remove the image from my blog, however, to further make the obvious unmistakable, I have altered the image in the post by surprinting the word “PARODY” across it in large, outline red letters.”

      I didn’t tell her that I would have done at least as much had the City of Abbotsford reached out to me and asked politely.

      But I did ask her in what capacity she had filed the DMCA notice. Had the City of Abbotsford hired her company October 17 Media (which lists social media as its specialty) for the specific purpose of trying to remove the parody logo from the Internet? Or was her company acting on its own behalf as the creator of the City of Abbotsford logo?

      Hodgson did not get back to me so I cannot say what exactly triggered this DMCA notice nearly four years after the image in question had been published.

      But I can speculate.

      I was aware that the image had caused some distress among Abbotsford politicians during the run-up to the 2014 municipal election in that municipality.

      As Abbotsford Today reported at the time, long-time City of Abbotsford employee and independent candidate for council, Lyle Caldwell, wrote on his Facebook page of this nagging aspect of Abbotsford’s ongoing image problem:

      “Ok team ABBOTSFORD – as some of you may know.. our city logo is coming up… well with a bit of crap in it.. Can we all please copy, rename and repost a copy of the city logo (a nice good happy one.. – take a photo of the city cruiser, go take a selfie in front of a city sign you love.. or one of our downtown art sculptures) and name it 'City of Abbotsford Logo' plus some descriptor.”

      Thanks in part to then Abbotsford Today editor Mike Archer reposting my parody City of Abbotsford logo on his company's website (the post is gone now), it was coming up very high in Google image searches relating to Abbotsford, B.C.

      And as long as the parody stayed online, on my blog, it would keep coming up in Google image searches. So, for that reason alone, the City of Abbotsford may have acted as it did.

      It’s all poop under the bridge now though

      As far as I’m concerned the Abbotsford officials who conspired to use reeking and unsanitary chicken manure as part of an ongoing city campaign to harass and intimidate homeless residents deserve to be forever tarred with the shitty image that my parody image evokes.

      However, on November 15, 2014, Abbotsford voters tossed out incumbent mayor Bruce Banman and several of his cronies and elected city councillor and staunch Banman opponent Henry Braun as the new mayor of Abbotsford. (Caldwell lost his bid for a seat on Abbotsford city council.)

      Which is to say that Abbotsford is no longer governed by quite the same gang of rednecks as it was in 2013. Sure, Braun’s administration carried on a B.C. court case against Abbotsford homeless people but when the B.C. Supreme Court ruled in 2015, more or less, in favour of the homeless, Abbotsford did not appeal the ruling. And under mayor Braun Abbotsford worked with B.C. Housing to open its first (temporary) homeless shelter, something his predecessor Banman had steadfastly refused to ever do.

      The controversy of 2013 is over and new people are in charge. I have to be hopeful that a new spirit of humanity and inclusiveness will govern Abbotsford’s treatment of its least fortunate.

      So when I revised my parody of the City of Abbotsford logo (in spite of the DMCA notice) I deliberately changed its file name, making it a completely new image, which could only help push it down in Google’s rankings.

      Of course, any publicity from the City of Abbotsford’s ill-conceived DMCA notice can only tend to push the parody image back up in the rankings. So, good thinking on someone’s part.

      Back when Abbotsford shat on its homeless people

      On June 4, 2014, the City of Abbotsford sought to discourage the use of a well-known homeless campsite on Gladys Avenue by covering it in chicken manure. The regional media quickly got wind of the action and within 24 hours it was national news. I first covered the story on June 6.

      Widespread public outrage followed. Almost everyone agreed that Abbotsford’s treatment of it homeless people in this instance and others stank.

      Facing a public-relations nightmare, the City of Abbotsford, under its reactionary mayor Banman, tried to make a molehill out of the mountain of manure by passing it off as the ill-thought-out, knee-jerk reaction of one lone city official to public complaints.

      City manager George Murray dutifully stepped up, took complete responsibility, and publicly apologized, and that was supposed to have been that.

      Except that, on July 23, CBC News dug up internal City of Abbotsford emails showing how several city departments had discussed and coordinated the manure dump—putting the lie to Banman’s dishonest spin.

      As I say, it was in my July 25 post reporting the fact of these emails that I ran my poopy parody of the Abbotsford logo.

      Stanley Q. Woodvine is a homeless resident of Vancouver who has worked in the past as an illustrator, graphic designer, and writer. Follow Stanley on Twitter at @sqwabb.