Thomas Hawk

Beware internet lynch mobs

The Photographer, The Entrepreneur, The Stockbroker And Their Rent-A-Mob

Jeremy Nicholl has written an amazing commentary on a fascinating and controversial series of events. Warning, takes a while to load but it does load.

A quick backstory:

The photographer Jay Maisel took a picture of Miles Davis for the cover of the famous album Kind of Blue. Maisel owns the copyright to the image.

Many years later Andy Baio decided to use the image as the basis for the graphic design for the cover of a new album, Kind of Bloop. The new image is highly pixelated but the original image can be made out.

Maisel sued Baio for copyright infringement. Baio, who is well known on the web posted Kind of Screwed describing what happened to him and his feelings about fair use. Baio’s post is well worth reading just for his history of the fair use issue no matter how you feel about this particular incident.

Then things got ugly as people who had no idea who Jay Maisel was formed a lynch mob and went after him both on the internet and at his studio. The most vocal of these people was/is a guy named Thomas Hawk (a pseudonym for Andrew Peterson) who my friend Dale and I have been disgusted with since from the early days of flickr. Hawk/Peterson is a professional victim and ambulance chaser, wherever there’s controversy there’s Thomas Hawk, usually claiming victimhood for himself or someone else.

Now that you have a bit of backstory and the names of the major players, read Jeremy’s commentary and don’t forget the comment thread under it, some great posts there.

You may wonder how I feel about this and the truth is, I have mixed feelings about the gray area where copying collides with standing on another person’s shoulders and taking an idea further. The aspect of this that most infuriates me has nothing to do with copyright or fair use, it has to do with internet lynch mobs who can do serious damage to a person without having to take responsibility for it.

The downside of the social internet is that it gives people tools to spread an idea around the world in minutes with no vetting on the accuracy of the idea. As the idea is telephoned through Twitter, Facebook, blogs (like this one) and more it becomes decontextualized or re-contextualized and warped, usually leaving an over-simplified story that is ripe for the likes of Thomas Hawk and his tribe of ambulance chasers.

Three tales of trolls

Derek Powazek has an interesting post: Three Tales of Trolls which, for those of you who have not followed the evolution of this term, gives a nice back story on situations that are influencing its more modern meaning.

Troll (internet) on Wikipedia.

The Thomas Hawk – SF/MOMA incident is a fascinating situation in that it covers a lot of territory, including how fast someone like Hawk can get a blog post to go viral.

To be clear, I’m not saying Hawk was wrong in any of these cases. I’m just saying that when you keep being the victim in stories like this, one has to wonder if you may be trolling for a conflict.

I like Derek’s take on it and this gives us a new use for the term “troll.” Troll was initially analog: fishing boats trolling for shrimp, then digital: Nikon trolls causing problems in Canon forums, and now we’re on to both analog and digital: trolling (looking) for a conflict and then inciting digital trolls to go viral with the story, causing an enormous lynch mob.