After an extended legal battle, author and artist Dennis Cooper has regained access to over 14 years’ worth of materials — including a work in-progress GIF novel — from his Blogger site which was abruptly shut down on June 27 by Google after they received reports that a 10 year old post may contain images that constitute child pornography.
Dennis Cooper is best known for his avant-garde and experimental work, including the novel series the George Miles Cycle, as well as numerous short stories, poems, and visual pieces. Never one to shy from topics that some would construe as morbid or grotesque, Cooper has made a career out of depicting moments of life, death, violence, and sex unfettered by social and artistic conventions. His personal literary blog mirrored these interests as well as invited others to contribute to the conversation, resulting in one of the most popular and commented upon blogs in the literary community. From the personal ads of international male escorts to images of demolished mansions, as Roxane Gay of The New York Times writes:
I never know what to expect when I read it, but I always know I will be provoked, challenged and intrigued. Over the years, Mr. Cooper, an artist and writer, has curated any number of collections of ideas and images, revealing an inexhaustible curiosity about art and the human condition. He has unfailingly championed small-press writers, and particularly those who experiment with language, narrative and form.
It is perhaps for this reason that the Southern California native’s experimental and sometimes controversial blog came became the center of a heated censorship battle earlier this year after Google unexpectedly took down his blog over what would later come out as concerns regarding a 10-year-old post. Google gave no explanation for the removal, and it took exhaustive measures to uncover the reason why Cooper’s blog was shut down. Google ultimately cited a violation of Blogger’s content policy which states a “zero tolerance policy towards content that exploits children.”
The post in question was a submitted entry to Cooper’s “Self-Portrait Day” series from 2006, in which he asked readers to send him things that they found sexy. Although the materials that ultimately made it to the site were curated by Cooper himself and hidden behind an adult materials warning, one post in particular was flagged by a user as child pornography. Cooper shared his finding on Facebook. Via KQED:
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.
Although Google maintains the right to remove content based on their terms of service and Cooper never explicitly called the decision an act of censorship, many expressed concerns over the abrupt removal of the blog and Google’s lack of communication regarding the matter. “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 executive director of PEN America Suzanne Nossel, adding:
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.
Weeks after the removal of his site, with the support of several media outlets and the threat of the lawsuit, Cooper and his lawyers were finally able to get in touch with Google. After two months of negotiations, Cooper has regained access to his emails and posts, which he will begin manually uploading to a new site.
With support from his community, Cooper was successfully able to gain access to his work, but as Jennifer Krasinski of The New Yorker writes, “Cooper’s ordeal is a chilling reminder that those of us who use the Internet to house our creative work do so at the mercy of the platforms who host us.” Nossell further notes, “Implicit in this exchange is that people like Dennis Cooper are trusting a platform as the keeper of their creative work. If that trust can be betrayed, especially summarily and without expectation, it breaches the bond.”
Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!