Facebook reacts to disabled man's complaint of copyright theft by canceling his account

When a retired journalist with Parkinson's disease noticed a Facebook page calling on its readers to commit a criminal act was stealing copyrighted images from his news blog, he complained to Facebook. They reacted - by canceling his account.
Dec. 16, 2011 - PRLog -- ELKRIDGE, MD -- While profiling a Facebook group that calls for the illegal gathering and destruction of signed petitions in the Wisconsin effort to recall Gov. Scott Walker, Bill Schmalfeldt, managing editor of an Internet news and opinion site called "Turning Over the Rocks" noticed the group was stealing copyrighted images from his site, altering them in a mocking fashion and re-posting them on their Facebook page.  When Schmalfeldt filed a copyright infringement and DMCA complaint with Facebook about the tactics of the Facebook group known as Operation Burn Notice he felt assured the social media outlet would take immediate action, which they did.  

They banned him from their service.

"I was shocked," Schmalfeldt said. "It made no sense whatsoever! I was the one making the complaint. Sure, the back and forth between myself and the people at Operation Burn Notice got a bit salty at times, but I was not the one advocating the commission of a crime. That's what they are doing. And Facebook is letting them do it."

The 57-year old Elkridge, Md., resident is retired in March after 30 years as a professional broadcaster, journalist and columnist, followed by a six year career as a writer/editor with the federal government.  After battling Parkinson's disease for 12 years, he is practically housebound. Operation Burn Notice came to his attention while he was working as one of the 50,000 independent contractors with Examiner.com, a conservative-owned hyper-local news site.

"Somebody sent me an e-mail telling me about this group that was calling for people to gather and destroy legally-signed petitions," Schmalfeldt said. "At first I was skeptical because the Facebook page looked like it had been written by bored 12-year old kids."

After a couple of his Examiner stories about Operation Burn Notice were published, Schmalfeldt was interviewed by a reporter for the widely-read progressive website, AlterNet. She was writing a story about how Facebook and GoDaddy seemed to be protecting people who were engaged in possible criminal activity in efforts to stall Walker's recall.

"It's a bunch of middle-aged Republicans who think they're doing their party a favor by pretending to, or actually, gathering petitions and burning them," Schmalfeldt told AlterNet in a telephone interview."

"Part of me still saw them as a bunch of inexperienced, not very smart, certainly not very serious pranksters," Schmalfeldt said.

Schmalfeldt said he learned how serious the Facebook group was after the AlterNet story went public.

"They got me fired," the veteran journalist and columnist said. "One of the people involved in the Operation Burn Notice group wrote to the legal department at the Examiner's office in Denver and said he was being defamed. The only mention of this individual in the story was that he was a listed participant. He used his own name. I included a photo of him holding a baby and the caption said, 'So and so, who to his credit uses his own name in the Facebook group, is seen here in a tender moment holding a baby.' If I had written that it looked like he was going to eat the baby, that would have been defamatory!"

Schmalfeldt said the Examiner, owned by billionaire Philip Anschutz, friend of the Koch Brothers and financial supporter of Gov. Walker, fired him without even bothering to read the story.

After being dismissed, Schmalfeldt began his own news/opinion site, "Turning Over the Rocks." That's when things began to get more heated between Schmalfeldt and the gang of contributors to Operation Burn Notice, some of which (according to Schmalfeldt) seem to have multiple Facebook accounts.

"It really hit the fan when I learned that one of their members who boasted online about taking lives in combat never even finished boot camp," Schmalfeldt said. "I included verification and proof in the story. The 'pretend soldier' resigned from his American Legion post in disgrace. And since then, it's been non-stop harassment from Operation Burn Notice."

Schmalfeldt said he hit the "report this page" feature on the Facebook page time after time, reporting Operation Burn Notice for harassing him personally, harassing people he knew, harassing family members, and mocking him for having Parkinson's disease.

"They posted a photo on their site of a guy holding a gun to his head with the slogan, 'A Cure for Parkinson's Disease'," Schmalfeldt said.

"Then they started stealing copyrighted items from my copyrighted web page," Schmalfeldt said. "That's when I filed a Copyright Infringement Form and DMCA complaint with Facebook, showing how the images were taken from my copyrighted site, altered, and presented in an unflattering fashion on the Operation Burn Notice web page."

Facebook was quick to respond to Schmalfeldt's complaints... they banned Schmalfeldt and deleted his account from Facebook. Operation Burn Notice was allowed to continue unabated.

However, for six hours on Dec. 14, the Operation Burn Notice page was pulled from Facebook.

"My e-mail inbox began to fill with all sorts of hateful messages from people who felt their first amendment rights to harass me were being squelched," Schmalfeldt said.

It was a short respite.

At 6pm ET, with a triumphant announcement of "We're Back!," the Operation Burn Notice Page was back in its usual place online.

Again, Schmalfeldt wrote to Facebook, telling them that if the Operation Burn Notice page was not pulled from their site by 1pm Thursday, Dec. 15, he would go public with his story. When 1pm arrived, Schmalfeldt posted a video on his website, announcing he had sent a press release about his dealings with Facebook, seeking either a lawyer willing to work on a pro-bono basis or donations to help him fund the hiring of a lawyer to fight Facebook and to stop Operation Burn Notice from the continuing harassment and theft of copyrighted material.

"It's just wrong what they're doing," Schmalfeldt said. "Mocking me. Dragging my kids into it. Mocking old ladies. Mocking the 1.5 million people in America with Parkinson's disease. They continue to steal my copyrighted material, alter it and re-purpose it to ridicule me. They've posted an aerial photo of my neighborhood. What's the point of that? So someone can come out here to Maryland and kill me? Kill my wife? My dogs? Someone has to stand up against this kind of stuff. If Facebook won't stand up to them, somebody has to. And if Facebook won't observe its own Terms of Service, then someone has to call them on it."

You can read more about Schmalfeldt's efforts to hold Facebook responsible on his news and opinion blog, http://turningovertherocks.com.  

You can see his video press release here -- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hiwd7-nOngY

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We shine the light of truth into the dark places under the rocks where the crawling things hide and make then scatter.
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