Sifting Through Lies and Moving Forward
I have chosen for the most part to stay silent throughout the internet storm that surrounded Justin Vacula and the Secular Coalition for America. You won’t find any comments from me in blog posts written anywhere because my goal has always been to keep working and making art even when the world around me has spun wildly out of control. I have stayed true to that goal throughout this debacle and have been diligently working in my art studio and behind the scenes with the fine folks at Mad Art Lab* but I do feel that it is in my best interest to lay some rumors to rest before I can move on from this mess completely. This is a skeptical site after-all and so if you are investigating claims, you may ultimately find your way here for some clarity.
If this story, which is chock full of gossip is boring to you, and I don’t blame you for thinking so, please skip to the end to see some pendants I have been making to help fundraise for the fabulous fledging organization, Secular Woman.
* There are some fantastic new contributors at Mad Art Lab btw. If you haven’t been to the lab in a while go check in!
A little bit of back story for context:
If you haven’t yet, please read Rebecca’s post summarizing the latest of drama surrounding Justin Vacula. A man who, for whatever reason has decided I am an enemy. In a nutshell, he recently resigned from a volunteer position at the SCA and his supporters have blamed me in part for this. His supporters have also been spreading some pretty amazing lies about me for the last few months. I have remained silent other than a few outbursts on twitter because quite frankly, the whole thing is so over-the-top and ridiculous that I felt sane people needed no explanation. But just to be safe, let me clear a few things up.
Justin Vacula used my art without permission on his blog in a post where he criticized me. It was not a photo of me. It was a photo of a necklace that I made that I assume he thought was a sneaky way to dig at me. Cuz, you know it said, ‘feminist’ on it. I have thousands of different designs that I make but he picked the photo I have posted here, from off my Etsy shop.
He was writing about the harassment I received at TAM and specifically cherry picking an off-hand comment I had recently made on Amanda Marcotte’s podcast about wanting event organizers to take a more active role in ensuring the safety of attendees by adopting codes of conduct or anti-harassment policies. I had just returned from TAM where a group of identifiable people did many things to make me feel unwelcome. One of the things that happened, was a subgroup of 2 or 3 people made knock off Surly-Ramics necklaces with messages meant to belittle me that were then paraded around the event and posted proudly online with the event hashtag. I made a comment when discussing that one particular instance. When asked what I would like to see at future events in that situation, and I said, we wanted just basic rules so that we can say the sort of thing like making fake jewelry and intentionally offending people is not okay nor is grabbing someone’s ass. That’s it, that’s all we’re asking for.
So that one line out of an entire interview was cherry picked just like Rebecca’s one line in her video when she said, hey guys don’t do that and it became a bizarre focus used to target me online for months. Suddenly, the critics (I’m being kind with that word) decided to put a spin on the comment to insinuate that I wanted ALL FAKE JEWELRY BANNED FROM THE WORLD. Yeah, I’m not even sure what that means. In actuality, I am against the diamond industry trade so I would like to encourage my friends and readers to find and purchase ‘fake’ diamonds whenever possible.
In retrospect, I could have been more clear, but it was an off-hand comment that, had you listened to the entire interview, would have been in context. For clarification: An attack so specifically meant to mock a particular attendee of an event is not something that should be tolerated by organizers, in my opinion, if you want a safe and welcoming event. If your goal is angry visual digs at speakers, event sponsors (which I was) or other donors or visitors to your event, then maybe mocking a person’s product that is on display for purchase is indeed the environment you want to encourage. But it is something I can say for a fact, is extremely unwelcoming. Enjoy your knock-off Gucci and Cubic Zirconium all you want but personally attack an attendee with mock-ups of her art while she sits in plain view at an event in a direct attempt to belittler her? Not welcoming. Not something I ever want to have to deal with again. I will do my best to avoid putting myself in that type of environment ever again. And that of course is just one example of what happened to me at that particular conference.
But no! I am an EVIL FEMINIST™ and I must be stopped!
So Justin wrote a post about me on his blog about this off-hand comment and he used an image of my art without permission. I asked his server to remove the image of my art because Justin collects donations on his site and my art is not for other people to profit from without my permission. And because the post was about me, not my art and well, my art is my art after-all and I created it and have rights to how it is used. It even says “All jewelry designs and images shown are © Surly-Ramics™” on my etsy shop. So it shouldn’t even be a question that I choose to retain these rights.
That being said, those who know me, know I am extremely generous with my artwork. Ask me, and I will 9 times out of 10 give you permission to use whatever images of mine you want. I also donate jewelry to secular organizations to fundraise and to people who can not afford to buy art on a monthly basis. I am a giver. But take without asking while spreading misinformation about me is not something I am a fan of.
The server of Justin’s blog, at my request, removed my image. Unbeknownst to me, when his server removed the image of my art, it reverted his post to a draft form. This is where the fun begins!
Lie number one: I support censorship
I do not in anyway support censorship as Justin and his followers claim. Justin wrote a post about me on the anti-women website A Voice for Men. The post was called, “Censorship and stupidity from “free-thinking-feminists” because I asked for my art to be removed from his site. He claimed I took his whole post down. I did not. If that indeed happened, he has his server or his software to blame. Not me.
Justin also filed a counter DMCA claim against me. Which means, he filed a legal document claiming he had rights to use my copyright protected art and that it was removed by mistake. By law, the only recourse the server had was to comply with Justin’s request and I had to take Justin to court to prove my claim and to then notify the server I had done so. I had two weeks to start legal proceedings.
I looked for a lawyer.
I contacted 4 law firms. No one would take the case for under a $5,000 retainer because of the defamation and complications of the case that were involved. You see, when Justin filed his counter claim saying he had rights to my image and then bragged about it all over the internet, another copycat troll did the same. Someone else posted a WHOLE BUNCH of my photos and lied about me. I had asked for those photos to be removed before I asked Justin to take the one photo down, But when troll saw Justin bragging about how you could file a counter DMCA claim to fight the evil feminist™ who wants to censor all the poor mens, troll did the same. Troll filed THREE counter DMCA claims. So I had two men using a trick in the system to gain access to my artwork.
Lie number two: I accused Justin of filing a counter DMCA to gain access to my address.
I never interacted with Justin at all during this entire debacle. I have still, to this day, have not contacted him, nor have I commented in any blog posts regarding this matter. I have made no contact with Justin since I cut off contact on twitter. He on the other hand blogged and tweeted my user name obsessively. Someone else made the claim that he wanted my address. I have no idea who. But his response to that claim was to say, OH YEAH well anyone can find her address cuz look not only does she actually have copyrights, she owns two trademarks.
Trademarks are filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark office. My address was on file with them. Justin had to go to the trademark website and search for me and or my business name to see if I indeed was telling the truth when I said Surly-Ramics was a registered trademark. I was telling the truth. When he looked it up, he found my address which he immediately posted on a forum dedicated to hating Skepchick and Freethought blogs and their supporters. From there, the information spread. Combine the post about me on the anti-woman, anti-feminst blog, AVfM, then the other blog posts by trolls and Justin himself and the tweeting and reposting of my home address across the internet and I had a hate-laced recipe for disaster.
Lie number three: I filed a false DMCA claim
No, I filed a perfectly valid copyright claim. My photos and my art were used without permission and potentially made money for at least one person who used them. The fact is, I simply could not afford a lawyer to fight the BS counter claims. One of the counter claims from troll actually wrote the reason for filing the claim to my artwork was that and I quote (sic) “Specifically, I was criticising Amy Roth’s neck-things (pendants/ceramic jewellery) in the context of her crying at a conference called TAM, “The Amazing Meeting”. She alleged that people made imitation jewellery, which she perceived as harassment. I vehemently disagree with her desire to restrict free-expression. Furthermore, I think that she is think skinned”
Yep. That was his official claim. Justin claimed, I was a public figure and he could use my art to criticize me.
So the retainer alone would have been $5,000 and the court cases themselves would likely have been more. And if I won I would probably never even recover my court costs because I assume the type of people who spend all day harassing me online, don’t have any money. Also, and more importantly, I had the safety of my family to consider. My address combined with lies about how I support censorship, somehow want to oppress men, while simultaneously banning fake jewelry, plastered all over the internet on sites dedicated to hate against women had successfully put me on alert. This ‘internet drama’ was now real life, and was affecting my friends, neighbors and family’s sense of security.
I thought long and hard about hiring a lawyer. I decided that it would make more sense to use my money to ensure the safety of my friends and family. Or to, at the very least save my money so I could use it for something that would encourage happiness. And that is what I did. I may have lost temporary rights to a few photos I took of my art but in trade I am regaining a sense of personal security in multiple ways. Did they win? I don’t know. Maybe? They got to use my art, mock and harass me and spread some stupid lies about the evils of feminists. Congratulations! What a shallow, dull, boring, victory they must have. Maybe they threw a party in a chat room with 12 people while photoshopping fake Surly necklaces. How will I ever cope? (I will cope just fine.)
Hope that clears up some of the bogus rumors you may have heard.
TL/DR or just don’t care? Start here.
What I am up to:
Like I said in the opening of this post, I am continuing to dedicate my time and effort to making more art and having a good time doing it.
One thing I have been doing is making necklaces to help raise money for the new organization, Secular Woman. They are doing travel grants to send women to SkeptiCon, a type of project I have headed in the past. I support their efforts to do the same. You can pick up a custom fundraiser necklace in my Etsy shop. 50% of the proceeds go to Secular Woman for their travel grants. I will likely continue to offer the necklaces after SKeptiCon to help support the SW team. I really like what they are doing. You can learn more about them by going here. You can click here to go to my etsy shop to support that cause.
I am also helping to plan a workshop for CSICON happening in a few short weeks in Nashville, Tennessee. The event is October 25-28th and there will be many Skepchicks in attendance and much fun and learning to be had. I plan on doing a fun visual presentation at the workshop and will have some giveaways too. I recommend you attend if at all possible! More info on CSICON here.
That’s all for now. My art studio is calling…