Nicole Olson, owner operator of Emerald Creative, a funeral support service in Sydney, just knows exactly what happens when you innocently share something on a website.
Nicole posted on her website a suggestion list of poems that were ideal for reading at funerals. One of these poems was “The Dash”, by US poet Linda Ellis. The Dash can be found unauthorised and unlicensed on hundreds of thousands of websites worldwide. It is a very popular poem recited at funerals, and also is regarded as an inspirational poem on living your life to the full, with the ‘dash’ described as the years between date of birth and death. It is often posted on the websites of schools, non profit organisations and religious groups, to name a few.
In June 2012, Nicole received a copyright infringement letter from Linda’s Lyrics, a company that manages and protects the work of Linda Ellis. The letter outlined that removal of the poem from the Emerald Creative website was not enough – there was also a demand for $7500 as ‘settlement fee’ for posting the poem. If this settlement fee was not paid, then there was a risk of litigation involving payment of a maximum of $150,000.
Understandably, Nicole was quite concerned and troubled to receive such a letter. After all, she was just recommending the poem on her site’s poem list, a seemingly harmless intention. Nonetheless, after much thought, she decided to investigate this letter and contents to ensure its legitimacy. First stop was the Linda Ellis website which does indeed state that her work is not to be reproduced anywhere without permission. Further investigation however also unveiled a whole range of posts and links on Google describing the Linda’s Lyrics letter as an extortion scam.
The practice is known as copyright trolling, whereby an attempt is made to enforce copyrights for purposes of making money through litigation and threats.
As a result, Nicole removed the poem immediately from her website but refused to pay the settlement. As her investigation got more detailed, she learned that not only businesses like her own were being targeted, but also private family blogs where the poem was published by those mourning the loss of a loved one. Given her work in the funeral industry and her desire to help people through bereavement, it’s no surprise Nicole found this information quite disturbing. Knowing that this poem was very popular, Nicole took matters into her own hands by searching Australian websites to find others who had posted the poem. She then contacted those she found to alert them to her story. “The response was great, some had received letters, some hadn’t - these people were glad they weren’t the only ones.” Nicole said. But even Nicole concedes that her efforts are probably just the tip of the iceberg, and that there are many others out there who need to be aware. Nicole also contacted the Australian Funeral Directors Association, who then in turn notified their members of the story.
Her internet search also led her to another person who had received the same letter, April Brown, a US based charity auctioneer who posted the poem briefly on her website late last year. April also refused to pay and has since been outspoken about copyright trolling, starting her own publicity campaign ‘Beware Don’t Share the Dash Poem’. The search also included a US website, ExtortionLetterInfo.com, which has a whole discussion forum dedicated to the Linda’s Lyrics letter. April suggested to Nicole to come out publicly and post on the forum, and share her story with as many people as possible, as well as in the news. Because April decided to take a stand and speak out about copyright trolling, she became the target of a malicious campaign by Linda Ellis to discredit her work in charity, launch attacks on her character & business practices, even going so far as to try to have her husband Mike sacked from his job by making false allegations against him to his employer. As distressing as that may sound, none of this fazes April, who sees Linda Ellis only trying to make a ridiculous grab for attention which consistently fails.
“The only way to fight these people is to speak out. If you run and hide, you play in to their hands, and they feel like they have won.” Nicole says. “Most people who post this poem on a website are totally unaware of the strict copyright restrictions, and this is exactly what Linda Ellis is banking on.”
Nicole recommends that if you have received this letter, the first action is to remove the poem from your website. Then take a deep breath, and go to the Extortion Letter Info website for an insight into copyright trolling and an education into the history of this practice. And above all do not pay any money. Nicole says “Don’t hide; come out publicly and share your experience by posting to the forum. The more publicity this gets, the more chance we have of pushing Linda Ellis and her scam into oblivion”.
Nicole intends to keep spreading the message by sharing her story with everyone. "I have no intention of ever letting this story rest, I would like to ensure that no one else has to fall victim to this scam both now and in the future."
Emerald Creative Funeral Support Services
Emerald Creative is dedicated to helping you create a funeral service that celebrates the life of your loved one, with funeral stationery, pre-planning and Memorial DVD's. We pride ourselves in maintaining our outstanding reputation for being compassionate, reliable, detailed, and professional.
P: 1300 130 767