Author Dennis Cooper took on Google over the removal of his long-running blog, and after two months, he's emerged as a victor: the Goliath of the Internet is giving it back.
Cooper, best known for the gritty, drugs-and-sex-fueled series of novels called the George Miles cycle, has published regularly on his blog The Weaklings (also known as DC's Blog) since 2002. But on June 27, he discovered that his blog had vanished. In its place was a note from Google, which hosted it, telling Cooper that his site had been shut down.
"They have never said or sent one word to me about what has happened or why," Cooper said at the time. "I can only guess: either because they had some objection to something I posted on my blog, or it was hacked, or technical problem, or some accident that disabled my account."
When KQED asked why Google removed his blog, the company sent a formulaic response:
The Google Press Team
They did not answer any follow up questions.
Perplexed, Cooper began reaching out to the press. He said he was worried that he had lost more than 10 years of irreplaceable compositions when his blog was taken down. The losses included two early examples of GIF novels (novels consisting purely of animated GIFs), one of which, Zac's Haunted House, had garnered the writer critical acclaim. So Cooper lawyered up and continued to push Google to allow him to at least retrieve his archives.
"If I get my blog's contents back, I'm fairly certain I will continue the blog elsewhere," Cooper said. "If my 10 years of work, thousands of posts, six days a week effort, and my new GIF novel that I spent 7 months working on are totally lost, I think I might be too heartbroken and dispirited to continue."
Cooper successfully fought Google in the media, getting stories in the New York Times, the Guardian and the New Yorker, as well as international publications. Also, the free speech advocacy group PEN America has had his back for much of the fight and a Change.org petition garnered more than 4,000 signatures.
Less than a month later, Google's lawyers reached out to Cooper's attorney and began working on a resolution. On Friday, Aug. 26, Cooper, who lives in France, announced on his Facebook page in the early morning that Google had agreed to give him his blog back.
"I am very, very happy to be able announce that the two month-long Google-related nightmare is over," Cooper wrote.
"The gist: (1) My DC's blog will restart in a new location on this coming Monday. Watch this space. I have the data for the archive of my disabled blog, but it's not something that can be uploaded into the new blog intact. I will need to restore each post by hand, and since there are many thousands of posts, that restoration will happen very gradually over time. (2) I have the data for the 10 years of correspondence in my gmail account. (3) My GIF novel 'Zac's Freight Elevator' has been rescued. It will be published as a free download this November. More details on that are forthcoming."
Why did Google remove Cooper's blog?
Google was vague regarding Cooper's blog, forcing Cooper and other commentators to speculate as to why the blog was removed. All pointed to the same thing: Cooper's regular posts about ads for male prostitutes.
Cooper defends this content. "90-plus percent of my blog posts are about experimental art, writing, film, music, video games, amusement parks, etc. Nothing remotely controversial or objectionable," Cooper said. "Twice a month I do a post that features profile texts I have taken from various websites where male escorts do their business, usually edited, to emphasize their accidental literary qualities and their emotionality. The escorts whose profiles I use are all adults, and any images I use in those posts aren't pornographic at all and rarely even show genitalia."
Thanks to the Internet archival website the Wayback Machine, we can see a few of these posts. It's fair to say that Cooper might not be as vigilant as he should in terms of keeping graphic images off his site. (See for yourself, but warning: NSFW)
Yet it's Cooper's willingness to spotlight touchy subjects like male prostitution that make him the writer he is today. Fearless with his subjects, Cooper was once called "the most dangerous writer in America" by the Village Voice and "a master of transgressive literature" by the Guardian.
But now Cooper knows the answer, and it's nothing like he had initially thought. In his Facebook announcement, Cooper said Google removed his blog after someone reported that a picture posted on his blog back in 2006 featured child pornography.
In 2006, I did one of those posts where I asked people to send me things they thought were sexy. I had forgotten all about that post until the other day, and I don't remember what was in it. I do remember that, upon assembling the post, I realized there was some rather pornographic things therein that could potentially get my blog in trouble. So I set up that Self-Portrait Day on a separate page off the blog that could only be accessed on the blog through a link with an adult content warning.
According to Google, around the time my account was disabled, some unknown person came across this ten year-old page, thought one of the images on it constituted child pornography, and reported it to Google who immediately disabled my account. Now let me just say that I know there are people who don't know me or my work well and think I'm some kind of ultra-transgressive shock-creating monster, but I completely assure you that if someone had sent me an image that I thought was child pornography, I would never have uploaded it, period.
Cooper spent months trying to convince Google to let him get into his blog and remove the offending image. He was refused time and time again. "What followed was about three weeks of discussions, negotiations, and so on," Cooper said. "Finally, a week ago, Google suddenly announced that they were going to send me the data for the DC's blog and my email account. They did, and that's how and when the stand-off ended."
Cooper says his blog will be up again by Monday.
Read Cooper's full statement on his Facebook page: