DMCA Abuse and Suppression of competition.

As anybody who is following things over here at AltAway will have spotted, there are a few broken links.

It would seem that I have become the focus of attention for Mr Andrew Michael Ross Barr (poor chap having to use all that in official filings) the operator of  Vzones, if you are not aware, is a commercial service operated by him though his company Computer Planet Limited, of Warrington, England.  Until just recently, this link and ownership was not admitted on his website; indeed, there was no indication at all of who ran it.

For somebody like myself who was not a subscriber, and hadn't been since 1999 when the "Virtual Zones" were being operated by Avaterra Inc, this looked highly dodgy.  I didn't even know that vzones still existed, to be honest, until just recently; the last time I looked, a few years ago, I had discovered Metroworlds, but nothing else.

Anyway, it seems that Mr Barr has taken offence at this project.  He believes that he owns all the rights to the worldsaway software and graphics that were created by Fujitsu Business Systems of America back in the 1990s, and by every subsequent operator of the vzones since.  He will merely state, though, that be bought this from Dot8 Inc.  As of yet, he has not yet produced the requisite paper-trail to show that the rights were assigned away from Fujitsu in the first place and then handed down through the trail of failed companies since.

If we are generous, though and accept that Mr Barr is acting in good faith, it is important to decide what rights might be breached by this project and what a suitable remedy might be.  

Mr Barr is currently claiming that we are in breach of copyright.  He has submitted multiple DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act, a USA law) claims against my social media accounts and service providers alleging this. His indication of the source of the items copied is simply '' - He has not identified any particular item, be that an image, program or source code file that he claims has been copied.   This is problematical in itself.

Plainly, I've not copied his entire website. That would be silly.  Nor have I copied any text or images from his website.  That should be easy enough to check; I've not posted enough to make it hard to cross-check my images against his.

He has complained about images posted to twitter where I show the 1999 WorldsAway clients connecting to our own servers.  OK, technically he would be able to claim copyright in the client image, but this sort of usage is pretty much textbook fair use, and there are many similar images across the Internet that he has not taken objection to. To not object to those, but only to my use, would seem petty and vexatious.

He has complained to GitHib about the simple chat server that I posted.  This is, and I will guarantee this 100%, entirely code written by myself.  There is absolutely nothing in this code that was copied from  any worldsaway software, be that Fujitsu's code or his. The entire point of publishing this code was to show that it was possible to write a server and NOT break any copyright.  For him to issue a DMCA takedown against this shows that either he does not understand what copyright is, or he is willing to perjure himself in order to suppress it.

Copyright in computer software rests in the source code.  The human-readable text that describes a program that is then 'compiled' into something that the actual CPU in your machine can understand and run.  The compiled code itself cannot be copyrighted, and nor can the data that this code might produce and use, this includes network communications and parameters and information saved in data files, as these are all created by other computer programs, not humans.  Images can be copyright, because they would have originally been created by a human, but asking a program to display an image it already has present is not itself a breach.

This distinction is what allows for alternative software to be written that can operate on the same data files as, or communicate with, an existing program.  A basic example is that there are many word processors out there that can open files saved by Microsoft Word.   Another example is the web browser you are reading this on now - there are now countless web browsers, all of which can interact with countless web servers.  They manage to talk to each other because the protocols they use are understood and documented.  You cannot copyright a protocol.  You could copyright your description of it, but you cannot stop people looking at the data being exchanged and determining that knowledge for themselves.

It is a very common situation for somebody to look at something and decide "I can do that!"  The vast majority of software you will encounter on the internet, on your computer, on your tablet or telephone, is a result of somebody having this thought. Or, more usually, "I can do that better!"  Android was written because the existing mobile phone operating systems didn't do what Google wanted, or were not available to it.  Angry Birds, the hugely successful game and movie franchise, was inspired by a similar "flinging" game, Crush the Castle.  Outside computers, the popular cookies, Oreos, were an imitation of Hydrox cookies which had existed for four years previously. I could go on.

You can't copyright an idea!

It is for this reason that all of Mr Barr's DMCA notices are incorrect.  I've used the word fraudulent, but that implies he knows he's mistaken.  I might prefer to use stupid.  I've also used the word vexatious, and in this case I firmly believe this.

I'll restate this - nothing he has complained about is subject to any copyright that he owns or thinks he owns.  The few images in question are such good examples of Fair Use, that requesting their removal can only be an indication of a personal crusade against me.

All computer code published or unpublished, and used by the servers is my own work, and copyright rests in me!

I'll also admit here and now that there are some individual object images that the demo world server will supply to a client on-demand.  These are all 1990s era and, along with the 2.4 client, subject to copyright notices from Fujitsu.  I have offered to remove these if he can show the proof of ownership. So far he has declined to do so.  I would of course remove them if Fujitsu themselves asked.

The chat server doesn't support images at all.  It merely tells the client to use body #6 or #7, head #8, #9, #10, #11, #12 or #13, picked randomly, and leaves it up to the client as to what to display, if anything.  

Numbers cannot be copyrighted either.

Mr Barr's actions are obviously those of a frightened and desperate man; he is so keen to stamp out any possible competition and to hang onto those paying users of his service that he's not already driven away, that he will do and say anything in order to maintain his position.  Even the hint of an open-source server that anybody could start up and run is obviously very frightening to him.

Rather than try and evolve his service, to enhance his user experience, to make his offering much more attractive than anything anybody else could come up with, he would rather attack and destroy anybody who crosses his path, even inadvertently, in case they became competition for him.

I started this project back in 2016 as a fun way to pass time and to de-stress from my real-world life. I only learned of him and the current instance of vzones after I started, and I was warned not to let him know who I was or where I lived. This is why I stick to a pseudonym when posting online about this project.  This is also why I have not immediately responded to his DMCA notices - issuing a counter notice imposes on me a duty to reveal my true name and address.  Normally I would have no problem with this - the majority of software I write and release has exactly those details attached - but given Mr Barr's reputation, I don't think this is appropriate in this instance.  I do not want to provide him with a physical target.  As I said, this was supposed to be my relaxation, not a source of conflict and stress itself.

If our situations were reversed, I might have reached out to the new server designer and tried to work with them.  I gather the existing software was designed to run on the Solaris operating system, which is a hideously expensive piece of software to licence, and you can't simply buy a second-hand machine and use it without breaching the licence.  To instead be able to run your world on the cheapest VPS you can rent, or even a Raspberry Pi, as can be done with my server, would be a godsend!  

Obviously he's not gone this route.

I'll finish this by noting that I am seeking legal representation for further dealing with Mr Barr.  This is taking longer than anticipated due to the current COVID-19 crisis and nobody being in their offices, so until the DMCA takedowns can be safely countered, things might be quieter, and might move around a bit, but I'll be endeavouring to keep the blog and demo world running.

Demo world was, I will point out, intended to be limited service existing for a few days only, whilst I ironed out a few bugs.  I did not anticipate the welcome it got, nor did I expect the level of unreasonableness from Mr Barr.  So the world is now here to stay.  See, he did it to himself.



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