Oliver Hotham: The sordid tale of how I was censored by Straight Pride UK

[Reprinted from Oliver Hotham’s blog after threats from the Straight Pride UK group. I would suggest that other bloggers do the same, as a direct counter to this attempt at censorship and intimidation. Soupy]

Oliver Hotham writes:

“A few weeks ago, when thinking of interesting things I could write for this blog, I remembered a weird organisation that gathered some attention on the internet a month or two ago.

The organisation is called Straight Pride UK. It’s a strange group which believes that the tide of Gay rights has gone too far, and that now heterosexuals have become the oppressed minority. Essentially their philosophy is spun from the same reactionary cloth as “Men’s Rights activists” – the notion that, having essentially run Western society for most its existence, progressive demands that Christian white straight males share some of their total grasp on power is somehow a removal of their rights.

Anyway, I wrote to Straight Pride asking that they answer some questions. Stipulating that I was “a freelance journalist”, I sent them some questions, about what they do and what they believe.

About a week later they responded with an attached document with the title “press release”. I went through the questions, corrected the horrendous grammar, and organised it so it coherently answered the questions I’d posed. I also noted that two rather pointed questions I’d asked, regarding the problem of the bullying of LGBTI youth and the nature of other “pride” movements, had not been answered. I sent them an email about this, saying that I’d give them the opportunity to respond but, if they didn’t, I’d “make it clear in the article” that they avoided the questions. They didn’t get back to me for 2 days, which I thought ample time to write two sentences.

Fully satisfied that my journalism had made them look like the arses they are, I hit the publish button, and sat back, feeling all together really pleased with myself. I called the article “It’s great to be straight… yeah”, too, which I thought acutely summed up their philosophy and referenced a mid-90s dance album I rather like.

The article gained a lot of traction, too. A friend and I put it on Reddit, and I got thousands of hits. In my short career of attempting to become a respectable journalist, it was one of the most successful things I’d done.

Then came the email from Straight Pride UK’s press officer, Nick Steiner:

“It has been brought to my attention that you have published the email that I sent you to, you did not state this in your email request, nor you did have consent to do this.

I therefore request that you take down the article that you have placed on your blog.

You have 7 days in which to do this, failing this I shall submit a DMCA to WordPress to have it removed.”

I laughed this off, and responded to the email arguing their case was absurd:

1) There was no indication on the “press release” they sent me that it was copyrighted material. (I’m no expert on copyright law, but I do know you have to make clear on the material that it is protected). Nor did they make any mention of the fact that anything they gave me was copyrighted.

2) I wrote “I’m a journalist and I’d like to ask you some questions” in my first email. If you’re a press officer and you don’t know what this means, then you really aren’t qualified to have your job.

3) In my email about the questions they didn’t answer, I made reference to “the article”. If that isn’t an indication that I’m going to publish something then I really don’t what is.

I thought this was a good enough defence, and I assumed this would all be swept under the carpet, and that their rather sad attempts to remove my article because it made them look stupid were all for naught.

I was wrong – within a few days WordPress caved to them without question, removing my article and telling me if I tried to publish it again I’d be suspended, but that I could challenge the takedown of my article. I responded that yes, I very much would like to, and was emailed a form I’d have to fill in. One of the requirements was that I “consent to local federal court jurisdiction, or if overseas, to an appropriate judicial body”.

I’m a student. I don’t have the money, time, or patience to go through with potentially having to go to court over this. All in all, I just could not be bothered to challenge the decision.

So I accepted the takedown, feeling thoroughly shit about myself.

Then I get another email from Straight Pride UK, which pissed me off even more. They demanded I take down the material (which I had) but also that I:

“…remove all references to Straight Pride UK, The Straight Forward Project, along with images, and links, from your Blog.”

Ok.

So not content with forcing me to eat a shit sandwich on dubious grounds and making me take down my work, they now demand that I never write anything about them again. Are these people kidding? Who the hell do they think they are that they can simply demand that I not write about them again, in an email with the pointedly sinister name of their solicitors at the bottom?

This, for me, was the final straw, and why I decided to write this article.

Because I find it absurd that this silly little group can simply demand that remove all my references to them because it makes them look bad. What are they afraid of? Their views make them look stupid enough, why the need to so aggressively bully and harass me? Why do they care so much?

And are they so cowardly that an article criticising them is enough to attempt to pursue a tenuous legal case against the author?

It really boggles the mind.”

17 comments

  1. I’m not an expert on copyright either, but I do know that you don’t have to claim copyright for it to exist as soon as you create something. But copyright is a real red herring here, you haven’t copied their work and tried to pass it off as your own. If interviewees could get articles taken down on those terms they’re wouldn’t be any articles that made politicians and entertainment stars look stupid — and there are plenty. They could claim that you’ve libelled them, but as long as you’ve stuck to their answers (just tidied up grammar etc.) then you’re on solid ground.

  2. Before I begin, please be aware “IANAL”, however, I did used to manage the copyright officer where I work and have a reasonable understanding.

    “Criticism, review and news reporting” is a permitted activity under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act (Chapter III, Acts Permitted in relation to Copyright Works – Section 30). As long as you give an acknowledgement – i.e. sourced from whom the material originated – you are 100% free to blog it.

    I would note that copyright is automatically held by the owner. It doesn’t have to be declared to exist. However, I believe you’re entirely correct to believe that this group is acting entirely unreasonably to require you to take your article down.

    At least you have the satisifaction of knowing that their actions are leading to a “Steisand Effect” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streisand_effect).

  3. I think the comparison with MRM is a little bit… disingenuous. While many MRMs are throbbing knob-monkeys there are genuinely some areas of concern when it comes to how men are treated societally.

    This lot though… they’ve nothing legitimate to complain about at ALL.

    It’s a shame really, pride in heterosexuality (sexuality in general really!) could be a really good thing. A parade in expression of healthy sexuality could be a really positive thing and a tool against shaming and silence.

  4. Yeah, you need a blog on a service that can’t decide what you have on your site.

    I recommend your own hosted site or trying a service like Squarespace where it isn’t so apparent what platform you’re using.

    Oh, and I’d have stood my ground if I were you – they have NO legal leg to stand on here, and only stood to make themselves look even worse if they took you to court. It was just bullying, pure and simple.

  5. Oliver, I’m told by a friend that the NUS are a useful and *free* source of legal advice in these circumstances.

  6. I know little about UK law (to be put nicely, I stayed in the UK decades ago for a few months) but I do have a degree from a US university under School of Communications>Film>Photography and in my fancy-pants school, they had us take some LAW classes to protect ourselves.

    If the statement released to you was labelled ‘press release’ then it is in itself ‘ready for publication.’ They’d LOVE for you to publish their press releases as that’s called FREE ADVERTISING.

    Of course, printing it in its entirety or snipping bits and organising them in ways to make it seem ridiculous could be sticky. This is taking words out of context and it’s done all the time, particularly in PARODY (which is your safest bet). Again, I’m not an attorney, certainly not on in the UK. I have to imagine there are similar protections for writers and performers. You’ve stated that you’re a journalist and this implies non-parody. This means you’re meant to be trusted to portray to the best of your ability what this group’s intention was. If I were attempting to ‘shoot holes’ in their platform, I’d contrast it with other groups within the same piece.

    As to them having WP pull down your piece, that’s a drag. At least in the US, anybody can sue anybody. It doesn’t matter right or wrong, fairness or fraudulent. If you have money to pursue a civil case, it’s open season. They probably have more money than you do and would be able to keep court/ lawyers busy enough that you’d have to give up–unless you want to find a group who will support you (to play their part but on your side) or if you can find a particular organisation that defends your right to free speech, thinking of the US’s ACLU. Those groups are BUSY.

    It’s up to you how you want to pursue this. I’d advise being careful to protect yourself but if this is what you feel strongly about, keep reaching out to organisations for support.

    While I’m not familiar with the organisation you wrote about, publishing their PRESS RELEASE which they wanted to retract (hilarious as that is), I am more than familiar with Westboro. Think of all the press they get. I don’t think there’s any legal shutting them up for long. The price of free speech is having to deal with something I’m choosing to be more adult than usual to say here: Those People.

  7. I do think so. I do think your article will give the individuals a good telling. And they will express thanks to an individual later

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