When Google deleted 14 years of online art: The case of Dennis Cooper

Google and services such as Blogger.com can delete the content you create and store on their websites at any time.

 

Is this trash or can it be thrown away? When a maid threw away parts of an installation by the artist Romana Menze-Kuhn in St. Philip's Church in Mannheim on February 2016, it was probably a mistake. The same applies to the retiree who on August 2012 wanted to restore a Jesus fresco in a church in the small Spanish town of Borja– and completely destroyed it.


However, when, Google simply removed the blog of author Dennis Cooper including its URL from the Internet, this was intentional – and it destroyed 14 years of artistic creation. Cooper used the address denniscooper-theweaklings.blogspot.com for the publication and dissemination of his literary works of art.


Beginning in 2002, Cooper hosted his private distribution platform “DC's Blog” at the Google service, Blogger.com. For 14 years he used it to publish content such as the critically celebrated GIF novel “Zac's Haunted House”. An innovative “html novel” containing almost no written words found its place on the blog as well.

Then suddenly everything disappeared. Notes, ideas, manuscripts – all completely deleted along with the highly-frequented Web address and e-mail account at Google’s Gmail service with more than ten years’ worth of saved correspondence.

Cooper had trouble getting to the bottom of things

It’s important to stress that Cooper was by no means the proverbial babe in the woods. The author, poet, journalist, blogger and performance artist is known for his tendency for extreme views and even scandalous topics. Peculiar protagonists characterized by sadism and self-destruction live out frequently abstract fantasies in his short texts and essays. At the popular domain, “DC's blog” quickly developed into a meeting place for a lively online community. Authors, artists, publishers, musicians and activitists exchanged ideas almost daily on the blog entitled “The Weaklings”.

Did Cooper push the boundaries too much with his literary works? Did he violate Google's conditions of use for blog operators? Did somebody feel harassed?

But Google would not provide a concrete reason for taking down Cooper’s website. Upon entering the address denniscooper-theweaklings.blogspot.com, visitors encountered only the standard error message for deleted blogs: “Blog was removed“ and furthermore: “This address is no longer available for new blogs.”

Cooper’s attempts to contact Google by telephone were unsuccessful. He was also unable to find out anything further via e-mail. “Violation of the conditions of use” always came up as the reason in the automated responses. Cooper himself suspected that some of his earlier blog entries were a problem for Google. In some, he combined excerpts from user profiles from various dating platforms and thus created artistic figures in a defamatory manner. However, even if some of what was posted could perhaps be interpreted as objectionable – the pictures published were never truly explicit.

 

Initially, Cooper came up short when he went looking for answers on his situation. Even the conditions of use referred directly by Google did not provide any enlightenment.

However, Google came around

As a result Cooper was at a crossroads: ten years’ worth of work (most weeks working six days a week), thousands of blog entries, a Web address performing well in SEO up to that point and a new GIF novel that he had spent seven months working on – all deleted. He told his fans on Facebook that if he couldn’t at least get all of his preexisting content back, he wouldn’t continue his work on the Internet.

After two months, a compromise was reached. After the topic became public knowledge thanks to media reports, Google’s lawyers contacted Cooper's lawyers with a solution. In the end, the company's lawyers surprisingly agreed to return the blog including URL to the artist.

And why did Google really delete Cooper's blog?

Google even provided a reason after the fact: occasionally, Cooper called for a “self-portrait day” on his blog. His readers were then asked to make their own contributions on a particular topic. Sometime in 2006, the focus was on things that the blog users found “sexy.” Some of the photos were actually quite explicit, as Cooper admits on his Facebook profile.

The message of an anonymous user who claimed to have discovered forbidden material on one of the pictures led to the temporary deletion of the subdomain denniscooper-theweaklings.blogspot.com. Today, Cooper still disputes this vehemently – and he was clearly able to convince Google of this, too.

And the moral of the story?

What should you learn from this story? Do not entrust your important data or complete artistic works to one single online service – at least not without having a data back-up plan in place. Or host your blog on your own domain. This way a private company cannot simply switch off your site due to a misunderstanding.