I have a gmail account. I hate gmail, so I don’t use it for correspondence and rarely check it. But one day a couple of weeks ago, I did, and to my surprise I found a takedown notice for one of my Writer Beware blog posts, alleging that I’d infringed someone’s copyright.
The post in question discussed the 2018 implosion of small publisher Fiery Seas Publishing, about which I received a flood of author complaints following owner Misty Williams’s abrupt announcement of “re-structuring” due to poor sales. A couple of months after my post, Fiery Seas closed for good.
I checked, and the post had indeed been taken down (though I was able to view it thanks to the Wayback Machine). For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to have infringed. Maybe Misty Williams’s announcement email, which I’d reproduced in full?
After some permissions applications, I was able to work my way to the actual DMCA complaint.
Say what? Who the hell was Bella Andreas, and why was she claiming that she’d written my blog post? Navigating to the “Original URL” link on what purported to be Bella’s blog, I found a large portion of my post reproduced verbatim:
Note the date. I published my post on September 28, 2018. Bella’s post is dated September 3, 2018. In other words, she’d stolen the bulk of my post, backdated it to make it look as if she were the original author, and gotten my post taken down with a fake DMCA notice.
I was stumped. Fiery Seas is dead. The authors who were caught up in the publisher’s collapse have moved on. So, presumably, has Misty Williams, who, if she objected to what I wrote about her, has had plenty of time to protest. What purpose could this fakery possibly serve?
Bella’s blog struck me as odd in general, even beyond the stolen blog post, with its peculiar name (Comusa: blog you deserve), motto (“Blog about the thuth [sic] Not for everyone. For you.”), lack of info about Bella herself, and random-seeming array of other posts over what appeared to be a period of several years–most of them about financial fraud, but also consumer issues and scandals of various kinds.
Digging into the posts themselves, I discovered something interesting. Every single post had been stolen and backdated, just like mine. For instance, here’s Bella, with a purported date of 1/5/2020:
Here’s the original article, dated 2/4/2020:
Bella, dated 3/19/19:
Original article, dated 3/21/19:
I could go on. Every post is like this. Every. Single. One. Moreover, the date fakery isn’t limited to backdating. Posts are dated as far back as 2014, yet Bella’s domain name didn’t exist before October 2016. And regardless of their apparent publication dates, source code indicates that all of the posts were in fact published between early December 2020 and late March 2021.
My stolen post falls right in the middle of that brief time period. Bella published it on January 26, 2021–the same day she filed the DMCA notice. That’s additionally confirmed by the date on the image upload:
I filed a counter-claim with Google on April 5, providing all of the information above, and received the usual “we’ll get to it when we get to it” response. In fact, they got to it much more quickly than I expected.
The post has been re-instated in its original location.
So what the hell was it all about?
Who is Bella Andreas, and what’s her beef with my blog post? Could she be someone I pissed off somehow? A disgruntled author? An outed scammer? But she doesn’t show up in any of my email or other Writer Beware records. And websearches on her name and variations of it are inconclusive. She doesn’t appear to be a writer (you’ll probably have noticed, as I did, the similarity of her name to that of bestselling author Bella Andre). I can’t find any indication that she’s associated with any part of the publishing industry. Assuming that “Bella Andreas” is a real name at all.
And what’s the deal with Bella’s blog, with its weird typo-ridden motto and its bizarre collection of plagiarized, backdated posts? Could it have been created solely in order to take down my post? I know that sounds farfetched, but consider. All of Bella’s blog posts were created in a short span of time, which her DMCA claim falls exactly in the middle of. Also, apart from the various news articles Bella plagiarized, for which she couldn’t plausibly claim infringement, several of her posts have been stolen from blogs like Writer Beware. For instance, this one (here’s the original post) and this one (original post) and this one (original post). If fake-DMCA’ing was her game, she could easily have had them taken down based on the same pretext she used for mine. But all are still online. Mine is the only one that was (if only temporarily) removed.
Finally, why that post? Fiery Seas and its collapse are old news. And why now, more than two years after the post was published?
It all seems completely, weirdly random. Except…
At the end of my post is a postscript, in which I mention A Certain Agent who is known for his efforts to get references to himself removed from the web. Last spring, he contacted me to demand the takedown of certain of my tweets, a discussion on the Writer Beware Facebook page…and my Fiery Seas blog post.
I did not comply. You can’t DMCA tweets and Facebook threads, but you can DMCA blog posts. And remember I mentioned that Bella stole most of my post, but not all of it? She omitted the intro, which linked back to Writer Beware. But she also omitted the postscript.
Coincidence? You be the judge.