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Russell Wangersky: How the Internet is like an elephant

Haunted by the Internet?
Haunted by the Internet?

Remember that thing you did when you were young? The thing with the statue in the middle of the fountain, the photographs and all that foaming dish washing detergent?

Russell Wangersky

Back before the Internet? Sure, maybe you were drunk, and maybe you didn’t even know your friends were taking pictures.

Well, if you did it now, the Internet might be your worst enemy — because, if the thing you did was ever posted online and connected to your name, it would pop up every time your name got searched on Google by friends and potential employers. And while things do vanish off the Internet — things like political promises and campaign details — it’s also a remarkable system for holding information.

In fact, the Internet Archive, a non-profit digital library, holds onto as much as it can on a searchable archive known as the Wayback Machine. (An interesting aside is that the Internet Archive is apparently looking at moving a copy of its records to Canada, unnerved by threats of Internet restrictions being promised by United States president-elect Donald Trump.)

But the archive leads me to a story that’s active in Canadian courts right now, a story about a guy I’ll call “Dave.”

You’ll see why I’m not using his real name in a minute. He’s got problems enough.

Fourteen years ago, in Montreal, Dave did something he now regrets.

I’ll let a judge in the Federal Court explain: “In 2002 and 2003 the Plaintiff … performed in two pornographic videos and a series of unfixed performances broadcast live over the Internet. In 2003, (Dave) decided that he no longer wanted to be associated with the pornography industry and undertook to secure the copyright in the videos so that he could ensure their permanent deletion. The videos were produced by a company located in Montreal called Intercan Media Design Inc. (Intercan). By a written assignment dated May 22, 2009, (Dave) acquired from Intercan the worldwide copyright in the videos and all related material including images and photographs, and Intercan agreed to remove them from their websites and delete all copies in their possession.”

That seems like an intriguing way to try and regain control of your youthful errors: buy the rights.

Here’s the judge again: “In 2009, (Dave) discovered that the Defendant, Internet Archive, was hosting some of this material as part of its web archive collection. … (Dave) or his agents sent to Internet Archive a number of requests that certain webpages he identified be removed or excluded from their archive. These requests included notices under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of the United States, asserting copyright infringement and identifying the copyrighted work alleged to have been infringed and the infringing web page. (Dave) says that Internet Archive advised him in 2009 that the material he had identified had been taken down from their websites and removed from their collections. However, he discovered in 2011 that Internet Archive was running a new version of one of its archiving websites and that this material was being displayed there.”

So, Dave sued. The case is still in process, and will hinge on a number of things, including an argument from the Internet Archive that photographs taken during the filming and screen shots from it do not constitute copyright infringement — that’s all the stuff of future court cases.

But the cautionary tale is already pretty clear: there’s a part of the Internet that never forgets, and we should all make allowances for that.

We were all probably young and stupid once. Many of us are old enough that we might get reminded of it if we go to a reunion or something, but at least we don’t have to wear that particular hair shirt for the rest of our lives.

Russell Wangersky is TC Media’s Atlantic regional columnist. He can be reached at — Twitter: @Wangersky.

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