Imagine waking up one morning and seeing that your Gmail account has been completely deleted. Or all your Google Photos, wiped off the face of the Earth. Or all your videos on YouTube, gone. That’s exactly what happened to author Dennis Cooper – except what Google took from him was 14 years of literary work, including his new novel.
Without warning, Google deleted Cooper’s blog that was hosted on the Google-owned platform Blogger. His Gmail account was also deactivated. The reason? A general violation of the terms of service, but Cooper has been unable to get a more detailed answer from the world’s largest data company.
“They say you own your intellectual property rights, but they don’t legally have to give them to you,” Dennis Cooper told Frieze.com.
Over the last 14 years, Cooper’s blog had become his go-to outlet for publishing original fiction, visual inspiration and research. Cooper had even completed a GIF novel that was posted only on the blog. By default, his latest novel belonged only to Google. The blog’s fascinating insight and nontraditional narrative techniques attracted a legion of loyal readers.
“This notion that Google can just remove someone’s artistic output with no warning and no explanation feels really sinister to me,” literary editor Hedi El Kholti told The New Yorker. “Surely they must know who Dennis Cooper is?”
Dennis Cooper is one of our finest literary provocateurs, and he would often post sexually-charged and homoerotic material on his blog. Was that why it was banned? The blog included a warning that readers had to be 18+. You couldn’t access it unless you gave your consent that you might be subjected to NSFW material.Weeks went by and Google remained silent – neither restoring the blog nor reaching out to Cooper to help resolve the issue. Google’s nonchalance in addressing this literary erasure did not go well with PEN America, the international foundation focusing on protecting writers and their freedom of expression against all forms of censorship.
“Blogs and social media accounts serve as crucial outlets for creative and artistic expression for millions of people around the world, as well as venues for open discussion among interested visitors,” said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN America. “Disabling Dennis Cooper’s blog with no explanation and no assurance that his years of work have been preserved undercuts the trust that users place in online platforms that host their work and ideas. PEN has joined Cooper’s calls for a prompt response from Google.”
Cooper’s dilemma was also written about in The New Yorker and The New York Times. Over 4,000 people signed a Change.org petition for Google to restore the blog. And that’s just about all it took for Google’s legal team to finally reach out to the author’s lawyers.
This raises the biggest question of all: who owns your art? Tech giants like Google offer the most reliable and convenient platforms for us to reach the world or to store our work and thoughts. And it’s all offered to us for free. Or is it? As Dennis Cooper found out the hard way, there’s little we can do if Google decides to delete our Gmail account, if Tumblr wants to wipe out our blog, or if Squarespace kisses our website goodbye.
At least, Google gives us an option to download all the information we’ve stored over the years. Just be careful to where you take it next.