[LINK] "Identity Theft" [was: Copyright Infringement as Stealing: Pfft!]

Anne Hugo anne.hugo at utas.edu.au
Tue Oct 28 11:20:49 EST 2008

Here I have an example of a kind of randomised "impersonation" that involved
me recently:

Three guys set up a blog called Forgodot  and then in a posting called
"Coming soon to Forgodot" said they would soon be publishing new poems from
.... (they listed 3,500 poets or so, some obscure like me, others included
long-dead writers like Chaucer etc.) They said the new poems would be
published online as Issue 1, in a PDF ...

Poets who like me, have google alerts set up to notice when anyone mentions
them online, found out about it quite fast and soon began commenting on the
Forgodot blog things like, " But but I didn't send you a poem ....?"

Others got it and said "Ah how clever you are etc. etc"  (i.e. "How clever I
am for understanding the Waiting for Godot reference ...." etc) but lots
felt really threatened.

Then the PDF was published, and there were the poems, assigned to poets'
More comments:

Poets started saying "That's my name but not my poem" quite politely, and
others not politely at all began ranting, and so on and so on. Some
threatened legal action and wrote to the bloggers' mothers etc etc. A
high-profile US poet blogger Ron Silliman got very rattled.

Blogs picked up the story everywhere ...

Besides the whole heap of poets (the ones who were still alive that is) who
got very angry, there were also poets saying Oh, how I wish I had been
included ...

All this time the bloggers remained silent.

Some poets put up an idea for a class action against what turned out to be
three college students and a poem generating machine, because yes eventually
the Forgodot bloggers explained themselves
(See Polite clarification,

They were involved in a project to teach a machine, Erika, to write poetry,
using whatever the Erica T
is ... (And they are now asking for poets to send them chapbooks
so they could feed the words into the machine because they needed lots and
lots of stuff for it ...) Well that's the one half of the exercise.

They harvested names from a discussion list Poetics, and maybe from Ron
Silliman's blog (which for example, has links to my blog, North of the Latte

Anyhow, the part that interests me is the whole association of a person's
"Name" with a "Work" and how we read that relationship on a page ...

I was not so much angered by their use of my name as by their long silence,
which I found it a bit disturbing.

Here are the links:

http://www.*forgodot*.com/ <http://www.forgodot.com/>

Another of the explanations:


In case you are wondering, I really do write poetry but by the name of Anne
Kellas -- the only thing authentically mine in  Issue One is name -- and
just to confuse things, I use two names, one for my writing life and the
other for my work life (Hi Tony, yes I am still at the Aus. Clearinghouse
for Youth Studies and have just recently signed up again to LINK list, which
I am really enjoying a whole lot more than computer-generated poetry...)


2008/10/28 Stephen Wilson <swilson at lockstep.com.au>

> Stilgherrian wrote:
> > In the case of what is called "identity theft", I never could
> > understand what was wrong with the good old words "impersonation" and
> > "impersonation with intent to commit fraud" and "fraud" and so on. You
> > know, the actual words which accurately describe the crime being
> > committed.
> At the risk of being accused of "spin", I'd like to suggest that the
> deliberate choice of words "identity theft" serves a useful rhetorical
> purpose.  After all, words are powerful (which is an important principle
> to remember when people decry "spin" without qualification -- that is,
> "spin" is used for good as well as bad).
> Using "Identity theft", in contrast to the "fraud", draws attention to
> several pertinent points, including:
> - in its current forms, impersonation on the Internet is indeed novel,
>   for it involves avenues of attack and a scale of attack that are
>   unprecedented; so it demands a set of responses that are quite
>   different from other anti-fraud measures to date
> - we are known on the Internet (as opposed to the real world) according
>   to very discrete digital identities that are quite often very easy to
>   copy; while I take others' point about the uncertain semantics of
>   "steal" vs copy, it is still very interesting and noteworthy that
>   digital identities can be co-opted, in ways that the mundane term
>   "fraud" doesn't really capture
> - there is a compelling argument that in the digital world, we have
>   multiple digital personae, and not just one organic identity;
>   accordingly, it's useful to draw attention to the fact that these
>   personae are vulnerable separately to takeover, or "theft"
> - in the particular case of biometrics, where crazy claims are made
>   about their 1:1 correspondence to "unique" biological traits and
>   their *assumed* resistance to takeover, I feel it is rhetorically
>   very useful to employ the term "identity theft" to describe what
>   happens when someone copies and replays a template, or spoofs the
>   measurement.
> Some prefer "identifier theft" (or "identity takeover") to "identity
> theft" but I think that's splitting hairs.  I subscribe to the view that
> I possess a plurality of digital identities (bank accounts, memberships,
> personal mail accounts, employment episodes, avatars etc.) and I
> certainly feel that each of them is susceptible to theft.
> Speaking of avatars -- don't they push the boundaries of the semantic
> argument concerning 'stealing' of identities (or IP for that matter)?
> If someone takes over my avatar in Second Life, and I lose control of
> it, and it is altered in ways that I don't approve of (as an extreme
> example, that avatar kills another) then surely I have "lost" it?  The
> same consideration might also apply to "reputation".  At a high level of
> abstraction, it seems to me that these intangibles start to behave like
> they do have physical properties, and that it is therefore sensible to
> talk in terms of 'possession' and 'theft'.  Yes, one can always employ
> low level functional language to describe what is 'really' going on when
> someone takes over an avatar, but then we run the risk of losing the
> richness of the virtual experience.  So it seems to me that we cannot on
> the one hand celebrate  virtual reality and other epiphenomena of the
> Internet, while on the other hand, complain about bending real world
> language like "theft" to describe the richness of the new world.
> Cheers,
> Steve Wilson.
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