This post is a bad idea, and will totally run contrary to my drama-avoidance vows. I know this, because I already wrote it once a day or two ago, then deleted it. But this morning, I tackled my backlogged blog reader, and I came across this post by DearMYRTLE. Now I’m all fired up again. So standby while I give some side-eye here.
First, some background info: Last winter-ish, there were all sort of Facebook posts that alluded to the allegation that someone had stolen a big chunk of content from Cyndi’s List. Now, Cyndi herself didn’t say publicly who had stolen this content from her, which makes sense, because the first thing any attorney will tell you is that you need to shut up. If you’re planning to sue someone, you can’t say anything. I don’t blame her a bit. But, oddly enough, nobody ELSE wanted to say the name of the alleged content thief either. You could ask around via email and find out easily, and there were clues and rants on Facebook and elsewhere that made it obvious…but if you weren’t in those places, or were busy with other things, it’s possible you could have missed it.
Then the lawsuit was officially filed and became public, and there were blog posts all over saying that Cyndi Howells of Cyndi’s List was suing Barry Ewell of MyGenShare over these copyright issues. This was pretty widely reported in the genealogical world, so most people who are active enough to have a bunch of content online are active enough that they likely would have seen it.
Last week the news came out that Cyndi’s List and MyGenShare had settled the case out of court. They can’t discuss the terms or the case (and that’s always how this works, so no knock on either of them for remaining mum).
That’s when things got weird.
All of a sudden, I’m reading all over Facebook and blogs about how other people also had content allegedly stolen and put on MyGenShare. All over the place, people are saying that this is a pattern of behavior, not just a one-time thing that allegedly occurred involving Cyndi’s List. I cannot figure out why this news is suddenly coming out now, when we’ve been talking about this for months. Is the issue that a whole bunch of new content theft allegedly occurred right after the news that the original case was settled came out? That’s possible, I guess, but it seems like a remarkably productive holiday week for Barry (allegedly). Is it that people somehow missed the big hue and cry when the news first broke, and the second hue and cry when the lawsuit was filed? I guess that’s possible too…but it seems odd.
Here’s what I suspect is really going on, though: People were waiting to see whether the Cyndi’s List/MyGenShare litigation would solve the (alleged) problem and remove MyGenShare and Barry Ewell from genealogy-land. It didn’t (it rarely does), and I think that’s why people are suddenly saying, “Hey, me too.” If that’s what happening, it really sucks. Here’s why:
- It’s not fair to Cyndi Howells. Suing someone is an awful experience. You have to put out a wad of cash. You spend tons of time in lawyer’s offices, which significantly cuts into your income-earning time. You have to watch people talk about and speculate about your case all over the place, and you can’t say a word. You’re basically fighting the (allegedly) good fight alone. It’s not cool to expect one person to shoulder that burden and solve the problem for everyone else. Note: Cyndi’s List has been going through a huge server upgrade while all of this was going on. Server upgrades are expensive, and so are lawsuits where you take on one person on behalf of (allegedly) a whole bunch of other people. You can donate to Cyndi’s List here.
- It doesn’t provide a complete picture. Back in my HR days, I routinely had to investigate claims of harassment and other types of wrongdoing. Sometimes one person would accuse, the accused would deny the wrongdoing, and I’d have to decide who was telling the truth based only on the word of the two people involved. Then, after I’d done that, I’d find out that oh, by the way, that guy has done the same thing to 17 other women, and none of them wanted to say because they figured #18 would get him fired. If I’d known about the other 17, he would have been fired…but I didn’t. I don’t know whether every one of the people blogging, Facebook posting, and emailing DearMYRTLE also provided that same information to Cyndi Howells, so that she could ensure that the judge, the attorneys, and everyone else involved could factor in the fact that (allegedly) this has been going on all over the place. I hope so, because in my experience, it probably would have affected the outcome.
- It’s not fair to the onlookers. Genealogy-land is a relatively small community. Everyone’s mostly interconnected, and that’s made for some uncomfortableness over the past few months. I’ve seen some of Barry Ewell’s well-meaning friends defending him over the course of this whole thing (as loyal friends do). Now that far more information is coming to light, they’re in an awkward spot, because they were operating on the very limited information that was out there at the time. In addition, some of the people whose content was (allegedly) stolen might have discovered this sooner if everyone had said straight out who and what they were talking about. All this hush-hushery we seem to insist on in this community doesn’t do anyone any good. We vaguebook, we refer to “that individual” or “this person” instead of saying who we mean…it’s ridiculous. If we aren’t comfortable saying who and what we’re talking about, we shouldn’t be talking. Period.
- It doesn’t solve the problem. Here’s the thing about lawsuits: The accused is always going to deny wrongdoing. He’s never going to say, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that. Let me fix it.” I’ve long said that that’s what I thought Barry should have done, but in fairness to him, once you’ve hired a lawyer, that’s not an option. They don’t let you do that. That’s why your car insurance company sends you instructions that tell you not to apologize when you hit someone; because admitting to and apologizing for what you did wrong screws up the subsequent lawsuits. I’ve said for some time now that I think sunlight is way better than lawyers when your stuff is stolen, and I continue to believe that. It’s much faster, much cheaper, and it allows everyone to form an intelligent opinion right from the beginning. This post by Michael Hait is a perfect example of what I think is the best way to handle these sorts of issues. If everyone who (allegedly) had content stolen had done this when this issue first came to light last winter, I believe it could have been resolved much sooner. Emailing DearMYRTLE, on the other hand, does absolutely nothing (unless you’re hoping she posts about it for you, which seems really unfair to her). It’s this culture of hush-hushery that allows these things to fester. It’s worth noting that Barry Ewell’s Facebook and Twitter accounts disappeared within a day or so of Michael Hait’s post; that didn’t happen when the lawsuit was filed, when it was settled, or when folks emailed DearMYRTLE. That’s the power of sunlight.
DISCLAIMERS: I don’t know Cyndi Howells or Barry Ewell at all. I do know some of the other alleged victims, but only via Facebook. I have no idea who emailed DearMYRTLE, but I’m sure those people are super delighted with me right now. Don’t bother to email me, because that horse has left the barn. Also, I’m allergic to horses, and I’m working on emails from May, so I don’t really need more. I’m not a lawyer, nothing here is legal advice, and if you take legal advice from random blogs, you’re an idiot. If you want to sue me, please make sure you spell my name right.
Photo by Astolath