AbsoluteWrite is one of the premiere sites on the web for writers to share information, get help, find out about the impossible process of getting an agent, getting published, or simply finding a sympathetic ear. Through a bizarre Kafka-esk series of events, they got shut down by a pissed-off agent and their web company for the most absurd of reasons.
Recently, I received this e-mail from Jenna Glatzer, the editor. I'm reprinting it in full because it's simply beyond belief.
I’m not sure where to start.
The past nine days have been horrifying. You’ll need a little backstory to understand why.
One of the main functions of the Absolute Write Water Cooler (our message boards) is to warn writers about scams, inept agents, deadbeat publishers, and so on. To that aim, we’re a meeting ground for many “writers’ watchdogs.” Ann Crispin and Victoria Strauss run Writer Beware (a committee of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America), and they came up with a list of the “20 Worst Literary Agents”—agents who charge up-front fees, get kickbacks from editorial services, etc. and make few or no sales to publishers.
They posted it on my board, and people commented on it. One person showed us a “cease and desist” letter she got from Barbara Bauer, an “agent” on that list. In the post, she included Barbara’s e-mail address.
Long story short: Barbara faxed and called our former hosting company, JC-Hosting, to tell them that we had “illegally” published her e-mail address. The hosting company “requested” that we take down the address. They also posted on the board to scold people and tell the moderators to take down the address.
I did take it down to appease them, but in the meantime, someone else posted the e-mail address. I explained that I wanted to get legal advice because I didn’t believe there was anything illegal about having the e-mail address there, and that bending to the hosting company’s wishes was also bending to a scammer. If I caved in whenever someone complained about being on the Bewares list (which happens every day), what would be the purpose of having it?
I asked the owner of the hosting company—a long-time member of our forum, by the way—not to shut us down while I got this legal advice. She wrote back with a big ole’ “LOL” and said she’d never do that unless forced to legally.
I got back to her to confirm that 47 USC Section 230 of the Telecommunications Act covers this situation completely. It is an absolute defense for ISPs concerning material posted by third parties on websites. Barbara can only go after the person doing the ‘harassing’ (and posting an e-mail address was not harassing)-- they cannot go after me as the website owner, nor them as the ISP. I also let her know that e-mail addresses, by matter of law, are not private. In other words, she’s safe and we didn’t do anything wrong.
She wrote another post on my message board scolding people again, which blew my mind. What right did she have to post private business on my site? She was flashing a neon sign to scammers: “Want to get rid of this site? Just call me! I’ll take down the site for the flimsiest reason you can come up with!”
Soon thereafter, I went out to run some errands, came home, and found a notice from the host: “You have till 8pm CST today (05/23/06) to remove the post [defunct url] entirely (we tried to compromise here but your users took it one step further) or we will suspend the site for harassment to an individual’s character (which has now threaten us with legal actions), till such agreement is made that you will comply with our A.U.P. and T.O.S.”
That was one hour away. I told them I needed more time; they refused. I tried to have our databases backed up in time, but they shut us down in the middle of the backup and the forums were not retrievable. Years of posts, gone.
For the past 9 days, they’ve been holding our data hostage. Twice they’ve promised us access and gone back on their word. They’ve stalled and tried to come up with criminal charges against me and tried to get me to pay their expenses. They’ve changed their story and their demands repeatedly. All I know is that they’re still not giving us back our databases.
Unfortunately, that means it’s been 9 days of almost no site income. We have no storefront, the Google Ads were not on, I couldn’t send a newsletter because the site wasn’t working, etc. And the bills are raging. In the meantime, we have to rebuild—so our staff and volunteers have been working nearly around the clock all week.
We haven’t been alone, though. Pretty much the moment the site went down, the writing and publishing community responded… big-time!
Stories about this have appeared on Making Light, BoingBoing, PublishersLunch, and hundreds of other places. The “20 Worst Agents” list is now all over the ‘net (sorry, Barbara—it was a short-lived victory, wasn’t it? You thought you’d just take down my site and no one would find out about your reputation… surprise!). As Chalicechick put it, “Yeah… you don’t want to go getting the Internet mad at you.”
Kira Connally has collected more than 100 links about this here: https://kiraconnally.com/blog/
And here’s probably my favorite thread so far about all this:
And here’s the one that made me laugh hardest:
I didn’t want to have to do this, but I don’t have a choice anymore… I need to ask for help. If you would like to contribute toward our legal expenses, hosting costs, rebuilding efforts, etc., I’d really appreciate it.
The PayPal button is here:
I've already made my pledge. You should as well. When sites such as this can be virtually put out of business by unscrupulous louts, all writers and all writer sites are in danger.
Solidarity! (Hmmm. I sound like a communist...or is that a Polish communist? Oh well, you get the idea. We gotta stick together.