FeminismRandom Asides

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.

I also make “this is what an atheist looks like” and “this is what a humanist looks like” to show that marginalized groups in our society are just regular people too. When you wear one of these pieces you become part of an art project that helps to normalize minority or oppressed groups.

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.

Then Justin posted my home address with a photo of where I live on a forum called the Slime Pit.

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.

This is utter bullshit. My address was not found via an ad for my business. It was found via the US Trademark office registry. Also, the US trademark office does not have a photo of where I live. Justin found that image for my apartment complex somewhere on the internet after searching for my address.

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…

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia, science-loving artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is currently in love with pottery. Daily maker of art and leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Tip Jar is here.

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  1. Well. That sounds absolutely exhausting.

    I’m glad you’re staying strong and continuing to be a force for good in our community:)

  2. To suggest that Amy, Rebecca, Jen, Ophelia, Stephanie, Greta etc are the villains of this piece is like beating up another person and accusing her of hitting your fists with her face.

  3. On Justins blog and in other places I pointed out that he had no proof it was Amy who filed the DMCA when writing the AVfM piece. So now Amy has clearly said she did file it all the stuff about harassment etc will fly over their heads. Feminist admits to DMCA! Free speech! Even though they were sure it was her before…

    No amount of ‘wrong’ on Amys side would justify posting an article that was attacking a feminist on that site. Same as no amount of ‘wrong’ would justify posting an attack on a black person to a racist website. They look for justification for hating *all* women by picking out examples where *some* women have supposedly done something wrong. Fuelling that bigotry and hatred to push a petty vendetta was one of the key things that made me think Justin was not suitable for a leadership position.

    1. It’s like those vacuumheads who try to portray anti-harassment policies at conferences as criminalizing consensual behavior when it’s really just about normal human decency and not being a dick.

      Likewise framing the current discussion in terms of whether parodying another person’s intellectual property for the sole purpose of humiliating and mocking her is obviously and unambiguously against the law (all context elided as usual) is just a dishonest attempt to divert attention from how is a shitty thing to do, and if you behave that way, you’re an asshole.

  4. Seriously, what is it with address posting? Do people not realize that posting someone else’s address and house pic is basically screaming “I’m a creeper, join me in some creepy fun!” I don’t care if it is posted by some gov’t agency on the bare-naked internet – why re-post or link to it? Why enable any (potential) crazy weirdo stalkers by making the information easier to get?

  5. Hi Amy. In solidarity I just ordered another necklace. (Okay, I’ve been meaning to order one anyway, this just seemed like a good time to do it.)

    I can’t even give him props for resigning to end the controversy of his (voluntary) appointment because of the way he announced it: as the victim. Yeesh.

  6. Would any of the lawyers you talked to let you pay for an hour’s consultation or an informal opinion? I hate to suggest that Justin Vacula is right even on a technical point, but, based on some (admittedly limited) background in IP law, Vacula’s use of the image of your pendant is likely in the general range of fair use. (Fair use is the reason someone can write a pan of someone else’s book and quote a paragraph or two to show why it is so bad. It’s *related* to the reason that someone can write a negative article about Disney™ and illustrate it with a drawing of Mickey Mouse™.)

    The use DMCA takedown notices against fair use of copyright material is a one of the major issues in the neighborhoods of the web I mostly frequent. If you goofed on this—and I’m not actually certain that you did, which is why I’m suggesting paying for a consultation—you’d get great credit with that one part of geek culture if you said so. On the other hand, people are sufficiently passionate about the issue that it could turn into a real distraction. People need to be focused on the really inexcusable things Vacula did, like posting photographs of your home.

    I’ve been of two minds about posting this. I’m hoping that it’s helpful, but that you can ignore it if it’s one more source of stress. I really want this to come out well for you.

    1. You are correct, there was a chance I could have lost the case on the basis of fair use but I did receive consultation from two separate attorneys who were confident that I was within my rights.

      1. First off, the guy sounds like a douche. But, as an Amy supporter, I’m disappointed you’d use a DMCA takedown like this. It’s true, you have a right to submit a DMCA notice for this sort of thing, but it’s unlikely to be effective. More importantly, it’s a guaranteed strategy to get sympathetic publicity for the person you’re issuing the takedown to, and to get yourself copious ill will from the internet savvy.

        1. Yeah, well lesson learned. At the time I assumed I had a right not to have my art used without my permission. I had no idea I was an internet-famous public figure as was claimed and that so many other people were assholes. Now I know.

  7. If you haven’t already, it might be worth getting in touch with Ken at Popehat. While it is primarily a legal blog, a lot of his posts are very skeptic friendly. He has helped other bloggers to find pro bono representation in a few cases. Many of his posts deal with DMCA, copyright infringement, and online censorship issues, so he might be particularly suited to give some advice (his writeups on The Oatmeal vs. Charles Carreon affair are certainly worth a read, too).

    Keep kicking ass and don’t let the bastards get you down!

  8. I’m glad to see Skepchick moving forward and leaving all the slime behind. This could have made a less resolute person give up entirely. I hope writing this post has been a bit of a catharsis for you, and a closing chapter.

  9. Wow. Clearly, I’ve been away far too long! This is the third place I’ve looked at today where I’ve mentioned this Margaret Atwood quote:

    “Men are afraid women will laugh at them; women are afraid men will kill them.”

    The power imbalance should be so obvious than no man should consider aggressive behaviour as acceptable in any way, even as “just a joke”. And printing an address on a website devoted to railing against women can’t be considered anything else (as Oolon mentioned).

    Good to see this reply by you: there is no reason to leave the story in the dark, where only his version has public support. Treat him as bullies deserve.

  10. This situation brings to mind something I heard elsewhere that seems appropiate (it’s not the exact saying, though):

    Life on Earth is difficult enough as it is.
    Why would someone deliberately make things more difficult for others?

    Vacula’s actions seem similar to what a stalker might do. He seems obsessed and is playing the victim.

    Keep fighting this creep.

  11. Just want to throw my $0.02 in as well.

    It isn’t like those who live in the slimepit don’t know that they are hurting people. They are deliberately doing stuff that they know is getting people upset and hurt so as to upset and hurt them.

    Who gets upset if their “right” to upset and hurt someone is infringed upon? Bullies who don’t have a way of interacting with people, only with victims, so they have to turn everyone into a victim.

    If hurting someone makes you feel good, then you are a psychopath and need either mental health treatment to reorient your motivation so you won’t hurt people, or you need to be in prison to keep you away from people so you can’t hurt them.

    1. Someone on Ophelia’s blog made a point about how xe didn’t think anyone had said Vacula was a horrible person, and that may be true for all I know. I can personally remember calling Vacula a monster and a waste of space, but I certainly wouldn’t call it a person…

      If you want to know what someone is really made of, the things they do when think they can get away with it are far more revealing than the nopologies they offer after being called out. If Vacula can turn that nasty against someone as non-offensive as Surly Amy (!), why on earth should anybody expect him to treat them any better the moment their personal limits rub up against his sociopathic sense of entitlement? This is why I would feel immediately threatened to find myself in the same room as someone like Vacula (like being caught with a rattlesnake), and I wouldn’t voluntarily spend any amount of time in their proximity.

      1. “If you want to know what someone is really made of, the things they do when think they can get away with it are far more revealing than the nopologies they offer after being called out.”

        That quote should be repeated everywhere and for decades to come!

  12. I’m getting so tired of people I used to listen to and admire having such trouble with basic human decency. Stay strong, Amy.

    Time to go re-browse my Etsy favorites for the holiday season, I think…

  13. I am really enjoying my new Darwin evolution tree earrings! They go with practically everything!

    Keep up the good work, Amy!

  14. Thank you for giving the other side of this story. I had read one of the blogs giving you hell (censorship!) for filing a DMCA claim. I thought it sounded a little strange, so I chose to ignore it. I’m glad I did and I’m glad to see you standing strong in the face of this misinformation campaign. It is so strange that a simple call for people to be decent is received in some corners as such a threat, ’tis very sad. Anyway, Skepchick still Rocks, as do you and I am proud to be on your side.

  15. What an annoying waste of your time! I can’t imagine how shit it must be, you must just want to get on with doing more enjoyable things. Posting your address is so bloody creepy.

  16. Thank you for this post, dealing with all the lies. I know it must be tiring, to put it mildly, but many of us appreaciate the hard work you and the other Skepchicks put into skepticism.

    I don’t wear jewellery myself, but I’ve made sure to support your shop as much as I can.

  17. Yes, thank you, Amy, for your strength and honesty, as well as your support for Secular Woman. Our members are loving the SW jewelry and conference attendees are loving the travel grants. (BTW, all genders are welcome to join.)

    1. That is very kind but I have decided not to fight and in fact I am releasing images into the creative commons, see here: On the issue of creative commons, and use of images of my art: http://bit.ly/SYgvGc

      But if you want to show me support please consider buying some holiday gifts for yourself or friends in my Etsy shop. Making art is what really makes me happy and keeps me going.

      Thank you. :)

  18. Wait, did it really say ” Furthermore, I think that she is think skinned”” … THINK skinned? That’s funny. You might be, depending on what that means.

    Anyway, thanks for writing this, it is good to have the whole story in one place.

    Having said that, also do remember that there are about 66 of these misogynist creeps out there. They spend inordinate effort of their hobby, harassing you and others. I’m NOT saying “don’t feed the trolls” … not at all. I’m just noting that even though it seems that the world is made out of creeps, it really isn’t. It’s made out of you.

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