Bottom of the (Hosting) Barrel

If your site (or that of anyone you know) is hosted by QWK.net, I strongly suggest you move those sites to another host immediately.

I don’t know how often most of you check out the sites in the links column, but my hope is that if you’re a regular here, then you’ll at least give those sites the occasional look-see. Given the range of subject areas there, odds are you won’t find all of them to your liking, but the reason they’re there is that I at least read them regularly, and thought some of you might find them equally intriguing.

A while back, one of those sites, a blog entitled The Ankle Biter @ Quibbling.net, stopped updating. Now, as a rule, it doesn’t throw up any red flags when a blog doesn’t post for a while. After all, several of those sites don’t update all that often, and others will frequently go through bursts of inactivity (although the phrase “bursts of inactivity” seems a little odd, I trust that you get the idea). I’ll occasionally go through dry spells myself, either from a heavy real-world workload, lack of inspiration, or merely doing other things (I’m not actually attached to my computer, though my wife occasionally disputes that assertion).

But then one of the other sites on my list, Adventures in Troubleshooting (which just happens to be run by the fiancé of the former site’s operator), explained exactly why the silence had occurred. It appears that someone out in the ether decided to steal an image from Quibbling.net; furthermore, the thief linked directly to the image in question, thereby also increasing the bandwidth usage on Quibbling.net. So in an effort to combat the theft, Tiff (who runs Quibbling.net, as well as the extraordinary Magic Pot of Jobs) wrote a bit of code that would substitute another image for the stolen one when any other site attempted to hotlink the file. An image that was... let’s just say not so inoffensive.

Upon seeing that the image she stole was not the one being displayed on her little soccer-mom site, the thief complained to Quibbling.net’s host, the aforementioned QWK.net. At which point QWK.net — spoken for by its owner, Quinn Whipple — actually sided with the thief: QWK.net immediately shut down Quibbling.net entirely.

Now, was QWK.net within its legal rights to do so? Sure. As stupid a decision as it may have been, the image in question was (or at least would appear to be, as I’ve not seen the image itself) in violation of the “no adult content” clause of QWK.net’s terms-of-service agreement. (Said TOS agreement being notoriously difficult to find, but again, not fraudulently inaccessible.) But there are any number of ways to better handle a dispute between a long-term customer and an admitted thief than completely shutting down a site. Like... oh, say, actually talking to the customer in question. Explaining that using that particular image to thwart theft wouldn’t be such a good idea, and maybe some alternative solution could be reached. Something that would solve the problem going forward, but wouldn’t be so insipid as aligning with a thief in this dispute.

But Mr. Whipple decided to make the stupid decision. Hey, whatever he wants to do — it’s his business.

Apparently, the clearly short-sighted Whipple thought that this would end things. As if simply returning Tiff’s intellectual property so that she could move on to a new host would be sufficient to ensure that there were no hard feelings.

ConstitutionWell, not quite. While she was perfectly happy to move on, Tiff — along with Tom from Adventures in Troubleshooting and Dawn from Caterwauling — decided to take advantage of this little thing called the First Amendment to the Constitution. In other words, she dared to talk about it.

Was the recounting of events a trifle one-sided? Only in the sense that the tale was told from the perspective of the person whose site had been unceremoniously dumped; in actuality, the comments — and the discussion that followed — were pretty good at making sure all of the details were accurate. Mr. Whipple even had an opportunity to (attempt to) defend his actions. And I’ll certainly give him more credit than a crony of his — who went by the moniker “Nateguts” (though his real name is readily available to anyone who would like to do even cursory investigative work) and, using Whipple’s computer, decided to post personal attacks rather than reasoned defense (and then lie in a feeble attempt to cover his tracks).

But — wonder of wonders — Whipple wasn’t exactly gaining any converts. Quite the contrary; the more he said, the more people seemed to realize that — while he hadn’t behaved illegally or unethically — he had sure as hell behaved like a petulant child. And really, who needs a webhost who’s going to treat its customers that way?

It was at this point that he decided to go from merely a poor businessman to an outright coward. It a fit of poorly-reasoned pique, he emailed Tiff a cease-and-desist order. An order that he also sent to Dreamhost, Quibbling.net’s new host. An order in which he rather idiotically alleged that by talking about QWK.net, she was somehow violating his trademark. And, since trademark violation is prohibited by Dreamhost’s terms of service (which, if you’re curious, you can actually find in a matter of moments), well... you get the picture. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

All of this despite the fact that mentioning a company by name in discussion doesn’t even come close to trademark violation, as any lawyer worth his salt will tell you. Hell, as anyone with a basic understanding of the law will tell you. But either Mr. Whipple doesn’t have even so rudimentary a grasp of the concept of “trademark,” or he somehow thinks that even making the allegation of trademark violation will make other webhosts fold as quickly as he did. At present, Whipple is standing by his actions and refusing to retract the letter — a course which strikes me as even dumber. Hell, you make a mistake — a whopper in this case — have the common sense to admit it and back off.

But no. Apparently, this asshole thinks that if he just bulldozes ahead — and can throw around patently inapplicable words like “slander” — everyone will cower in fear before the might of his nonsensical legal rambling, and this whole thing will just go away.

Not a chance, buddy. Before today, I was perfectly content to let Tiff handle things herself, to provide support without necessarily making a huge deal out of it, to just point people over her way and let her explain the situation. But then you went way over the line, Mr. Whipple. You attacked her right to free speech. You attempted to harass someone with whom you’ve got an ostensibly minor dispute into remaining silent. And ’round here, that’s an inexcusable offense.

I would encourage everyone reading this right now to go investigate the tale for yourselves — I’d start here, then go here next, then finally here and here — and post your own comments on the subject, either on those sites or your own. Hell, post them all over the ’net. I know I sure as hell am. On every message board, every discussion group, every user-comments form I can find.

You want to run your business like the kid who takes his football and runs home? Knock yourself out, buddy. You want to harass people for exercising their First Amendment right to free speech? You just dropped out of the category of reasonably disagreeing parties and into that of absolutely worthless scum. You want to retract your actions, apologize to everyone concerned, and make it abundantly clear that you recognize the error of your ways? I’ll gladly reconsider. But until then, I will do everything I can to ensure that QWK.net goes out of business entirely.

* Of course, it remains entirely possible that the esteemed Mr. Whipple (who, according to my site statistics, has in fact been reading this page) will attempt to silence me in the same manner he’s tried to do to Tiff, in which case this may be the last entry of Prometheus Unleashed; since it’s hosted by Blogger, who doesn’t make their money from hosting fees, it’s entirely reasonable to believe that they might pull the plug. I sincerely doubt it, but it’s possible. And while that will certainly upset me, if I have to go down defending the First Amendment, I’ll gladly do so.

Update: The story just made The Consumerist. And from there to Instapundit.


At 12:01 PM, MontiLee said...

I switch out pics all the time from people hotlinking my images (I use an erect gentleman lovingly caressed by a vice and straight pins).

I never thought someone would be so freakin petty as to complain after they were in the wrong first.

The gall of some people.

I'd like to hunt the complaintent down, personally.


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