Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
Tumblr’s GIF artists are upset, and rightfully so: Their works are being pulled off the Web due to rogue copyright claims signed by a man who claims to have spent the past 30 years channeling an alien from the future.
At least nine artists say that in recent months, their original works have been taken down from Tumblr, replaced by a DMCA notice. The 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act created a system whereby any website that wants to host user-submitted content—Tumblr is a prime example—is incentivized to immediately take down material that allegedly infringes on someone else’s copyright. Tumblr doesn’t provide much of an opportunity for recourse for users accused of infringement; the company even told those artists affected that if they’re caught committing three more copyright infractions within 18 months, their accounts will be terminated.
There’s an unmistakable pattern to these takedowns, though: Each of the notices was signed by Darryl Anka or Bashar Communications. And who is Darryl Anka, you might ask? He is, according to his official website, a man chosen as “channel” to Bashar, who’s “of extraterrestrial origin, a friend from the future.” Here’s an example of Anka channeling Bashar, the aforementioned alien confidant.
“To be perfectly clear, all my GIFs are made by me, and this blog is almost always the first place they get shared!” an artist named Charlie, who goes by bigblueboo, wrote on his blog. He shared one of his works that was nuked by the notice—note the lack of aliens from the future.
“I have never uploaded anything I didn’t make,” another artist, hexeosis, told the Daily Dot, lamenting that “The person sending the takedown notices claims to telepathically channel an inter-dimensional space alien from the future.”
“This has been a complete nightmare,” said a woman named Desiree who is evidently authorized to speak on behalf of Bashar Communications. Desiree stressed that she wasn’t a paid employee and refused to give her last name, citing safety concerns, but she does have access to Bashar Twitter and email accounts. “We never would have tried to take down someone’s artwork. This is a misunderstanding and an error.”
The problem, Desiree said, wasn’t on Bashar’s end. “We’re a small group. We have a small group, typing out each DMCA form,” she said, speculating that the issue was that Bashar had sent only legitimate takedown requests, but if those requests had somehow incorporated the GIF artists’ work into Bashar-related material, the original art got swept up in the complaints.
While Tumblr refused to speak on the record for this story, one employee with knowledge of the situation described the situation similarly, saying that Tumblr was working to restore the gifs. (These works haven’t been restored as of this writing.)
This is far from Bashar Communications’ first copyright rodeo, too. The website Chilling Effects, which tracks DMCA takedown requests, has evidence of hundreds of takedowns of purported Bashar material—videos with titles like “Bashar – Breathe! You are the Universes” and “Bashar – Extraterrestrial Contact with Planet Earth.”
As for why Bashar Communications actually feels the need to spend so much effort targeting those who supposedly infringe on its intellectual property—especially since Bashar’s message supposedly came free and enables a spiritual “ecstasy” available to all humankind—Desiree said that fan remixes often distort Bashar’s message. “Maybe it’s been chopped up to show a lot of negative information,” she said of Bashar fan remixes. We want people coming to our website so they are getting the pure and correct information, so they’re not getting someone else’s interpretation.”
“The vibration of the information is changed with the act of privacy,” she added. “I don’t quite grasp it, but I do at the same time.”
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