Under the wonderful post title “Copyright Infringement And A Medieval Apple Pie”, the blogger Jane Smith (not her real name, one would guess) has documented the history of an online copyright infringement. Hardly unusual, you would think, indeed the internet is supposed to be not only rife with plagiarism, but host to vociferous defenders of the practice.
However the person committing the infraction, one Judith Griggs, has been subjected to the modern equivalent of the mediaeval punishment of being thrown into stocks and pummelled with garbage in the town square. In this case it was a viral and vicious Facebook and Twitter campaign accompanied by calls for a “Googlebombing”, which Wikipedia defines as “practices intended to influence the ranking of particular pages in results returned by the Google search engine”.
Judith Griggs did seem somewhat unbelievably naïve and self serving in her attitude, pretty irritating one might say, but not perhaps entirely deserving of the massive backlash against her. Fortunately for the offending author, after venting their collective spleens, bloggers, commenters, twitterers and the like eased up, and the general discourse turned into something humorous.
What I found interesting however was that the whole campaign was not only the opposite of the open source community stereotype of borrowings, mashups and samplings, but despite frequent invocations of the law of copyright by the hunting pack, there seems to have been only one person who actually threatened legal action. All the rest was entirely the old fashioned coercion of social opprobrium and shame, which writers like Thomas Scheff,* (who is an intellectual descendant of Norbert Elias) find so fundamental to social control.
*Scheff, Thomas J. 2000. Shame and the Social Bond: A Sociological Theory. Sociological Theory 18, no. 1 (March): 84 – 99. doi:10.1111/0735-2751.00089.