So, the Quackometer has been up and running for 24 hours now and most systems have been restored. A bit more to go though. For the technically inclined, this has involved a move from cuddly cotton wool children’s Microsoft servers to grown up, open source, Apache/Unix servers where a missed semi-colon can kill faster than a homeopath dishing out malaria pills.
It’s been a bit of a bother, but I have time in the evenings now after becoming a Wiidower. Mrs Canard Noir bought me a Wii for Christmas and I have barely used it. She is next to me hogging it at the moment, trying to get Laura Croft to shoot wolves. You should see her on Wii Boxing. It scares me.
So, I might as well blog.
Backstory: Professor Dr Professor Joseph Chikelue Obi FRCAM(Dublin) did not like some stuff I wrote that highlighted his bizarre behaviour and strange quackery. After a year or so, when the Google search results were displaying my site highly despite his best efforts to write so many third person articles about himself, he gets a professional letter writer, Ms Tanja Suessenbach, to threaten my web hosts, Netcetera, with legal action if they do not pull my site.
One would have thought they would have laughed it off. As was so beautifully put on Gimpy’s Blog,
This isn’t the case of a credible individual holding a gun to the head of Netcetera in the form of a grievous and legitimate complaint it is a man in a chicken suit successfully robbing a bank while holding a giant inflatable banana and farting loudly.
But no, they asked me to remove the offending pages and ‘seek agreement’ with Obi. I did to avoid immediate suspension, but felt that Netcetera had put me in an impossible position of being completely unable to reach any sort of reasonable agreement with Obi. How could I? He had got what he wanted.
All I could do was dig up more info on Obi in an attempt to show Netcetera just how ridiculous he was. It was soon clear that his ‘College’ he set up in Dublin (Royal College of Alternative Medicine, RCAM) was a complete facade with some strange anomalies in its registration.
I wrote to Netcetera on the 30th of January,
Thanks for getting back to me. I fully understand this is a difficult position for you. Netcetera want to get on with the business of web hosting rather than deal with rubbish like this. However, I feel that an important point is being missed. Obi made his claim of defamation without a shred of evidence to substantiate that. On your request, I asked for that evidence and you still asked me to take down the pages.
I hope that as a service provider you do not feel that it is acceptable for third parties to demand the removal of your customers’ content without having to back up their demand with good reasons. We will not get the evidence required to substantiate Obi’s claims.
You can see the level of Obi’s response here… http://www.professorjosephchikelueobi.com/
We have now waited long enough for either Obi or his ‘legal advisor’ to respond in a meaningful and constructive manner. That has not happened, not will it happen because his case is utterly groundless and he has achieved what he wanted to do – take down those pages. I therefore believe that it is entirely justified to re-instate
those pages and I intend to do so. I hope it will be with your consent.
I heard nothing.
Then, last Monday, I got this email,
Thanks for your comments.
We do not wish to be in a position where we could be taken to court, and incur the loss of time and expense that would involve. Consequently Netcetera have decided to suspend the Quackometer website, with reference to our Acceptable Usage Policy, the first part of which is quoted below.
The full policy can be found on our website www.netcetera.im/SiteInfo/AUP/ “Acceptable Usage Policy This policy is subject to change, without alternate notice, so please check regularly for updates. This policy is in addition, and considered part of Netcetera’s Terms and Conditions. Netcetera will be the sole arbiter as to what constitutes a violation of this provision. 1) Web Hosting 1.1) Netcetera reserves the right to suspend or cancel a customer’s access to any or all services provided by Netcetera, where Netcetera decides that the account has been inappropriately used. Netcetera reserves the right to refuse service and /or access to its servers to anyone.”
We will prevent public access to the site as of noon today 18th February 2008. You will be able to access the content to be able to transfer it to another host if you so wish. We will hold the content available to you for 30 days, and then we will remove it from our servers.
So, that gave me 20 minutes to prepare for the collapse of the Quackometer.
On the face of it, it looks like Netcetera were unhappy about being taken to court over something that was not their argument. I think it is worse than that. If anyone there had slightly looked at the complaint (and remember, Obi and Suessenbach refused to respond to request to make clear their grievance), it would appear obvious that the complaint was groundless. Worse than that, the complaint was a blatant attempt to remove legitimate criticism from the web. Netcetera would have won and reclaimed any costs. They just did not want the bother – far easier to lose a customer than to defend their customers.
Positive Internet offered me free hosting after the Magic Watergate scandal. I had been dragging heals over this because of the large amount of work involved when I could have been harassing quacks. Positive are marvelous; you can read about them here. For me it is enough to say that they are the only Internet hosting provider with an entry on the Pilkipedia. Right now, I am aware that I have lost half my audience as they are now exploring the Pilkipedia. Damn, there goes another 50%.
So, for those of you left, I shall finish the story.
The consequences have been inevitable. Such a story spreads quickly and within hours the blogs start appearing. What is more, it starts hitting the mainstream IT sites such as ZDNet, where Rupert Goodwins starts his article by saying,
If you fancy running a controversial website, you might like to think twice before signing up with Netcetera for hosting purposes. The Duck’s crime was to collate newspaper reports concerning one Joseph Chikelue Obi.
If you fancy doing some waterfowling of your own, do check whether your hosting contract says, as Netcetera’s does, that you can be terminated without recourse and without reason. You might like to take your punt gun elsewhere.
The blogs started coming thick and fast too. No Nonsense! was one of the first of the block and described the lilly livered apology for a Web Hosting company, Netcetera. Twonilblankblank asked, “Would your webhost fuck you over?” JDC325 said, “and for all those web hosts out there, please remember: there’s a difference between defamation and criticism.” Hawk/Handsaw said “Netcetera fold like a cheap suit“
The story hits the IT mainstream when a full feature makes one of the main stories of the day at El Reg. The Register reporter, Chris Williams, does some digging and phones both Netetera and Suessenbach. Netcetera do not want to play. Suessenbach tells El Reg that “We cannot speak as litigations are imminent.” Scary.
There are now way too many blogs and web pages covering this for me to mention them all (and I want to have a go on the Wii at some point). You can see a comprehensive list here. But some of my favourites are:
- Apathy Sketchpad – “Spineless Morons“
- GagWatch – “Netcetera promptly wet themselves“
- Thinking Is Dangerous – “Netcetera condemn themselves as pathetic caitiffs”
- PalMD on WhiteCoatUndergound – “What a bunch of bloody wankers!”
- Chemo Brain – “we’ll take your site off the internet if a total schmuck frightens us“
- Orac on Respectful Insolence – “outcry from the medical and skeptical blogosphere“
- MediaWatchWatch – Just check out the fantastic picture!
What does this mean? Were Netcetera right? At one level, I can sympathize with them. This is a fight they did not choose and could not gain anything from (although Positive will do well). The really big enemy is English Law that is just muddle, unfair and confused – firstly, with its heavy handed libel laws, and secondly, its inability to accommodate electronic media. A more sensible approach needs to be adopted here so that people with genuine grievances can have them heard and addresses whilst the flippant and mischievous can be harried away without fear.
But we should not let Netcetera off the hook. The fact that another host were prepeared to take me on and at their expense at least shows that it is not clear cut. For me, I had a contract with Netcetera and they broke it without giving good reason and relying on an unfair and unequal clause in their lobsided contract. Its all a bit fucked up.
And so, the last word ought to go to Mr Obi himself. What has he got to say? Well, “alighting from the back seat of an Extended Black Daimler Limousine at the start of a Whirlwind Alternative Medicine Tour”, he says,
Alternative Medicine Strongman and Royal College of Alternative Medicine (RCAM) Boss, Professor Joseph Chikelue Obi , has today sent out his very best wishes to the Quackometer Blog Owner Andy Lewis, who is currently transferring his Internet Service Provider (ISP) Ports from Netcetera Ltd to Positive Internet Ltd.
My fundamentally humble message to all Skeptic Internet Service Providers (out there) today is therefore extremely loud and exceedingly clear : Stop condoning the ruthless harassment of Alternative Medicine Practitioners – or be fully prepared to face the dire financial consequences of your actions !
Obi is truly a spokesperson for the whole alternative medicine movement.
Joseph, perhaps you would like to apply for this job?
Chief Executive Officer and Registrar,
COMPLEMENTARY AND NATURAL HEALTHCARE COUNCIL
£60,000 p.a. pro rata.
The new Complementary and Natural Healthcare
Council (CNHC) has been established to put in place a regulatory body for those complementary therapies which are not statutorily regulated, nor seeking statutory regulation. The main function of the new body will be to enhance public protection and confidence in the use of complementary therapists. The Council now wishes to appoint to the role of CEO/Registrar, as soon as possible.
You would certainly get my full support.
Update 23rd Feb
From The Wardman Wire and Humaniform I learn that the presitigous Bear-Faced Usmanov Award has been made to Mr Obi for “extreme efforts in closing down websites which are criticising you by threat without evidence”. Also, The Double Headed Schilling is awarded to webhosts who roll over before such threats, has naturally been given to “internet hosting (sometimes) company Netcetera.”
Check out the graphics depicting these awards to Netcetera.
(Usmanov, for the uninitiated, is a Russian oligarch, and part owner of Arsenal football club, who tried to suppress ex ambassador Craig Murray from writing alegations of Usmanov’s ‘colourful’ past by threatening ISPs with legal action. Naturally, attempts at this sort of suppression, massively amplified the exposure of the allegations. One would have thought people would learn a lesson.)
I hope he does not mind me reproducing it here…
Yes, the British law on this is a hopeless mess compared to the UK and Canada. The need for some sensible new legislation is clear, but British Govts are historically reluctant to do anything legislative that curtails lawyers’ ability to trouser huge fees (such as in defamation lawsuits). Perhaps this is because so many British politicians are lawyers.
In the UK situation, if the plaintiff says to the ISP “this libellous thing about me is posted on your servers, take it down”, then an ISP that doesn’t take the stuff down becomes directly liable for the libel (Godfrey vs Demon internet). Furthermore, the longer the stuff remains up, the greater the potential libel damages “for accumulated damage to reputation” in a defamation suit – the longer the offending passage is up, the greater the potential harm to reputation, goes the reasoning. The ISPs almost certainly take the view that they are a more “attractive” libel suit target, as they are companies and hence clearly have assets, while the blog poster is likely to have no money to speak of. So the ISP has a large vested interest in caving in. This is why the “legal chill by threat to sue” types in the UK go for the ISP rather than the blogger.
All American bloggers should be duly grateful, methinks, for the judgement in Zeran vs. America Online, which effectively says “ISPs are not publishers”.
In the UK, where the law conversely does see the ISP a a publisher, it comes down to whether the ISP is prepared to tolerate any potential liability, or even inconvenience, for the sake of some kind of principle.
When UCL was trying to boot David Colquhoun ff their servers following complaints and spurious libel threats, many of the people writing to the UCL Provost (including me) argued that as a University UCL had an overriding duty to protect free comment, and scientific accuracy, as part of its core purpose. But it is a bit harder to make that argument with a business or corporation, whose overriding obligation is presumably to maximize “shareholder value”.
An interesting and unresolved question, with wide Internet implications, is to what extent a judgement under the silly UK law can be enforced in any other jurisdiction. In print libel cases there are suggestions that under some circumstances it can,
hence the phenomenon of “libel tourism” I referred to earlier.
You can read more Dr Aust here.
More updates (27th Feb)
The Skeptics Guide to the Universe
Rebecca Watson – The Skepchick – and Steven Novella, MD – Neurologica – discuss the Quackometer/Obi/Netcetera affair on the weekly Podcast
I hosted u a website, but I eated it
LOLquacks in an easy to understand synopsys of the Obi/Necetera Affair. A Must Read.
Quackometer vs Obi – Abusing Lawsuits to Silence Critics
Steven Novella discussed the implications of net censorship in light of the netcetera/obi affair.