An Editorial by Iowa Cold Cases Founder Jody Ewing
Update Notice Re Defamation Claim, Aug. 9, 2012, 4:58 pm:
The Legal Department of BlueHost.com — which provides hosting services for Iowa Cold Cases, Inc. — has graciously provided to us notice of a defamation claim filed by Ms. Bowers regarding the mention of her full name in this editorial. Under their Terms of Service, section 10.05, they politely asked I remove Mr. and Mrs. Bowers’ first names in this post. By removing the first names in the few places they were mentioned, and instead replacing them with “Ms. Bowers” or “Mr. Bowers,” it would put this article “in compliance” with BlueHost’s Terms of Service.
As BlueHost mentioned, I’d already used “Ms. Bowers” throughout most of this post’s content anyway, and I was more than happy to accommodate and replace Nancy’s first name with ‘Ms.’ The editorial itself remains focused on facts as related to Ms. Bowers’ dismissal from Iowa Cold Cases, Inc., without resorting to angry outbursts or personal character assassinations; I simply will not respond in kind to those she’s made about me or engage in any kind of puerile tit-for-tat.
* Iowa Cold Cases encourages thoughtful and civil discussions but is not responsible for readers’ comments or feedback. Users who engage in “hit-and-run” attacks (routinely posting inflammatory comments just to delete the post a few minutes later) will be blocked from our discussion forums.
In early June 2012, the Iowa Cold Cases, Inc., Board of Directors voted unanimously to terminate employee Ms. Bowers for behavior “not the professional standard expected by an officer of a nonprofit organization.” This included, but was not limited to, sarcastic public outbursts casting aspersions on the organization’s founder, and the media, via condescending, gleeful ridicule.
Legal statutes for incorporated entities (nonprofit or otherwise), are governed by an organization’s Articles of Incorporation and/or Bylaws, and a Board vote to terminate was not required by this organization; the optional vote was conducted to support and reinforce the president’s decision.
Ms. Bowers joined ICC on January 11, 2010 (blog entry posted Jan. 25, 2010, announcing her addition to ICC), and became an official employee in April 2010 when ICC incorporated. (Employed seems almost a misnomer, since neither of us earned any income from our work. Total financial contributions during the entire 2-1/2-year period prior to her departure were $300, plus an in-kind donation of one Mac Mini hard drive, donated by Mr. Bowers, valued at approximately $550.)
During her last year here, Ms. Bowers frequently sent out ‘Cease and Desist’ letters to other online sites who republished, without any attribution, articles copyrighted by Iowa Cold Cases. In fact, as recent as March 11, 2012, Ms. Bowers sent a letter to two women who maintain the IaGenWeb online site. The subject line read:
You have stolen the entire Iowa Cold Cases website.
The letter included, in part:
I just discovered the Cold Cases section on your site, which fittingly has yellow crime scene tape across it because theft has gone on.
Every name and detail you have listed about victims and cases is stolen from the state-registered, non-profit website Iowa Cold Cases (iowacoldcases.org) which journalist and crime reporter Jody Ewing founded and which she and I Co-Administer. It is the only place where these names are listed — you could not have obtained them anywhere else.
We are both professional writers who volunteer our time to do this work. We have carefully – over many years — compiled the list you so cavalierly present as your own. It was not given to us. We tracked down every name, every victim through research. Or we were contacted by family members or law enforcement jurisdictions.
Our work is protected by copyright and cannot be used without permission and only then if anything used is attributed to the website and to us as the authors.
In an ironic twist, Ms. Bowers has now taken copyright infringement one step further; she herself has created what officials commonly refer to as a “parasite website,” meaning a cloned, copycat website that feeds off the original’s success. This is Intellectual Property Theft in its purest form, and in this case, also encompasses Copyright Infringement, Plagiarism, Self-Plagiarism (yes, see: Different Types of Plagiarism), Internet Plagiarism, and even Identity Theft.
Ms. Bowers — in what some might call an arrogant act of chutzpah — announces on the Home page of her parasite website:
This is the only true and authorized site for the 100s of stories that will be posted.
And, as a true testament to ‘No Good Deed Goes Unpunished,’ she also states this:
If you’re looking for pages cluttered with links to breaking news and sensational current events or forced and maudlin sentimentality or a scatter-shot approach to the simple crime of homicide, you won’t find any of that here — no flash, dazzle, or glitz. And you won’t be asked for a donation.
It gets better.
Ms. Bowers recently hired an attorney to send Iowa Cold Cases, Inc. a Cease and Desist letter with a 13-page list of large font, bold-printed names of case summaries to remove from the website — many of whose names and case details were already on the ICC website years before Ms. Bowers even joined ICC. (More on this covered further down.) The 13-page list also included a number of posts Ms. Bowers had posted on the ICC Blog, many whose contents she’d simply paraphrased from case summaries written by me.
Her attorney, Kirk Hartung (read the letter here), claims the ICC’s display of Ms. Bowers’ work “is in violation of the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 504.”
Copyright Law is complicated at best, with no one-size-fits-all solution to apply to any given circumstance. It is unfortunate Mr. Hartung overlooked a critical element of copyright infringement, which often refers to copying “intellectual property“ without written permission from the copyright holder, which is typically a publisher or other business representing or assigned by the work’s creator.
Examples of this are infinite. To see what I mean, visit any online medium that publishes articles. Pick an article. Any article. I’ll use this example: Sioux City native dies in Beirut climbing accident, an article written for the Sioux City Journal by Thomas Ritchie (note his byline at the top of article). Thomas no longer works for the Journal, but his article(s) may remain on the Journal’s website for however long the Journal wishes. Scroll down that same article’s page and you’ll find these words:
Copyright 2012 Sioux City Journal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
These words are there for a very important reason. You’ll find those same words at the bottom of all the Journal’s articles (same with other newspapers and organizations that publish articles) regardless of whether the writer still works for them or not. You’ll also find those exact same words at the bottom of every article on the ICC site (obviously, with the “Iowa Cold Cases, Inc.” name in place rather than the Journal’s).
Iowa Cold Cases was an established medium publishing cold case articles many years before Ms. Bowers joined its ranks and willingly submitted her material for publication on the site.
The ironies simply abound. It is Ms. Bowers, in fact, who is in violation of Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 504. (Financial remuneration for said articles is irrelevant unless a contract or written agreement existed specifying compensation, which is not the case here; Ms. Bowers will be the first to admit that neither she nor I expected compensation.)
Ms. Bowers can no more demand I remove her bylined articles from the ICC site any more than Thomas could demand his be removed from the Journal. (NOTE: I used Thomas and his article purely as an example, and it in no way implies he would ever even consider asking the Journal to remove his material. It’s just an example, folks.)
Just the Facts, Ma’am (The Backstory and Why ICC is defined by law as an Intellectual Property)
More than eight years ago, I began researching Iowa’s unsolved murders for a series to be published in the A & E newsweekly Weekender. The articles would focus on cold cases in the Sioux City area.
The first in the series — the 1974 triple slaying of two young men and pregnant woman shot execution style in the home they shared — posed a new kind of challenge for this writer; no statewide compendium of unsolved murders existed in Iowa — nor any other state across the U.S. I’d soon realize few police and/or sheriff’s departments included unsolved homicides on their respective websites. Little to no information existed on the Internet for the vast majority of cases more than than a few years old, and many victims’ cases were relatively unknown outside communities where the crimes occurred. Some victims’ lives, stories and/or updates hadn’t been publicly profiled in decades.
The Weekender published the triple homicide story May 20, 2004, and before I finished the series I’d already fielded dozens of calls and e-mails from other victims’ family members, even outside the Sioux City area, who wanted to know if I could write about his or her loved one’s case. A day hadn’t gone by, they said, where they hadn’t thought about their brother or sister or mother or son, even though everyone else, they told me, had long forgotten the still unsolved crime.
Those calls and letters set the stage for what became a long-term commitment.
I began designing a framework and in 2005 launched the Iowa Cold Cases website (domain name iowacoldcases.com). While still researching, writing about and adding more and more cases to the site, I worked on fine-tuning this first-of-its-kind statewide database that would highlight all of Iowa’s unsolved murders and missing persons cases — with all information cross-referenced by city, county, year, and so on. The end result was something I hoped other journalists and researchers would find useful and easy to navigate when writing about and remembering cold case victims and families.
My visits with local police departments often included discussions about the need for an official statewide cold case unit, something the Iowa Department of Public Safety and Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation had thus far been unable to fund. So in early spring 2008, when I learned just such a unit was being considered as part of a budget proposal, I wrote [then] Special Agent Kevin Winker, who’d been pegged to likely oversee the new cold case department. When he called me in May, we spoke about the agency’s new website, which he said would not be nearly as comprehensive as the one I had (time and budget constraints), but instead limited to basic case information (i.e. victim’s name, crime date, location, case number, one or two sentences summarizing case details). He praised ICC’s more detailed summaries and offered words of encouragement.
Per our conversation, I began forwarding to him tips provided to me by ICC’s readers. In December 2008, Agent Winker wrote me with contact information for SAC (Special Agent in Charge) Mike Motsinger, who he said would now be heading up the new Cold Case Unit. (The DCI had promoted Winker to the position of Assistant Director.)
I continued to pass along information to SAC Motsinger, and in 2009 the DCI posted to their new Cold Case Unit website the names and brief details for approximately 150 victims. Some victims’ cases were already listed on the ICC website (where LE officials had previously provided the info to me), but many were cases of which I’d not been aware. I quickly set up case summary pages for each on the ICC website and then began diving into research to uncover details that would help tell each of these victims’ stories.
I also continued working solo on the site and database I’d created with a clearly defined mission statement: to ensure all victims’ stories are told and cases kept alive and “out there before the public” until those responsible are charged and held accountable. Part of accomplishing that goal involved working with media who wished to feature unsolved cases in their respective communities; after all, not all Iowans have computers or Internet access. News articles and TV broadcasts reminded readers and viewers that investigators still needed tips and information — regardless of how old or seemingly insignificant — because one missing puzzle piece might lead to closing a case.
In December 2009, I met Ms. Bowers on Facebook, where I’d established a discussion group for Iowa Cold Cases. After exchanging a number of e-mails, I asked her (in January 2010) about serving as my co-admin on ICC, where she would help flesh out some of the cases I hadn’t yet finished and/or write case summaries for victims whose current ICC pages were, as I called them, still skeletal other than the stats and details like one sees on any specific city or county page. She agreed to do so.
I’d also been communicating with international human rights attorney Eileen Meier, whom I’d gotten to know some time earlier due to her personal connection to an Iowa cold case; her 8-year-old sister, Valerie Peterson, was killed in a 1971 hit-and-run and her murder remains unsolved. We’d been discussing whether or not Iowa Cold Cases should incorporate as a nonprofit organization. After five years and a database of names now in the hundreds, it seemed like the logical next step in demonstrating ICC’s professionalism and commitment, whether working with the DCI or local law enforcement, or even sponsoring an art contest to bring about awareness to Iowans’ lives cut short by violent crime.
Iowa Cold Cases, Inc. officially incorporated as a nonprofit organization in the state of Iowa in April 2010, and at that time began using our new .org extension with our (iowacoldcases) domain name. Both are still associated with the same website — the iowacoldcases.com url merely redirects to iowacoldcases.org. (No duplicate pages or files — one domain empty folder is simply parked with a redirect.)
In 2011, the DCI’s Cold Case Unit was unable to secure funding for continued operation; it officially shut down near the year’s end.
The Iowa Cold Cases website, however, has continued to grow since its inception. The website alone (not counting Facebook or Twitter traffic) currently receives over 2 million hits per month. July 2012 saw 36,551 visitors (with 16,397 unique visitors) and 195,555 page views. (Statistics provided by Awstats.)
I mentioned previously that many of the cases Ms. Bowers demanded we remove from the ICC website already existed there before she joined ICC. Perhaps neither she nor her attorney are aware of this, but a number of methods exist to recover how pages on a website appeared on any given date.
Long before I switched the entire ICC website over to the WordPress platform, I’d been using DreamWeaver (CS4) to build the pages. Anyone familiar with CSS and HTML editor software knows that “individual pages” are created within the application. (See image to left.) What this means is that the software stores individual html pages for each page on a website, vs. the php-based model (like WordPress) where a vast number of php pages (all containing php code) come together to “display” a web page on the Internet, even though the actual page content (the words one writes in the body) is stored in a MySQL database.
Let’s jump backwards a moment to my earlier reference of the Iowa DCI’s new Cold Case Unit website. As I mentioned, the DCI’s case information was limited to one or two sentences, and I’d been fleshing out the case summaries as time allowed.
Once I’d created a new page for each victim, I would go in and add a brief, one-paragraph summary of the case to the appropriate city page, then the county page. I’d also add the victim’s info to the corresponding decades page, the case summary page, the ‘Cases by Year’ page, the ‘Rewards’ page (if a reward was offered in the case), and the Picasa photo album page. Finally, I would add the victim’s info to my master calendar (which provides pop-up reminders on my computer for upcoming anniversary cases) and also add the victim’s details to a master Excel file I’d been keeping since Day One, where victim info could be sorted by first name, last name, day, month, year, etc.
This set-up was all in place and being done before Ms. Bowers ever came to work for ICC. And, when she did begin working with us, I’d told her that unless we had a fully written article, there was no need to add a “byline” at the top. After all, one or two short paragraphs containing only basic information does not constitute an article.
I soon discovered, however, that with many of the cases, Ms. Bowers had found family member information about the victim on ancestry.com and simply added that to a victim’s page. It usually included a short paragraph, for example (using fictitious name here):
Tom Jones was born April 18, 1967, the second child born to Harry and Mary Jones of Anytown, Iowa. In addition to his parents, he was survived by two brothers, Bill and Bob, and a sister, Meg.
Ms. Bowers would then tack her byline to the page, despite my having added the original case information and cross-referencing it to the other pages. These cases are many of the (approximate) 200 she now insists I “remove” from the ICC website because, as her attorney states, they are her “original works of authorship.” Original works of authorship??? See an example here.
Regarding the more detailed case summaries, Lillian Randolph and Sheila Collins are two prime examples of Ms. Bowers’ attempts to claim “authorship” of a cold case page that existed long before she arrived.
- Lillian Randolph – I’d already had a more condensed version of Lillian’s case listed, and Lillian’s granddaughter sent me numerous photos to include on the page, which I then uploaded into ICC’s “Media” files. It was one of the first cases Ms. Bowers wanted to further explore, and I provided to her all the case information I had on file (as well as the photos). Ms. Bowers rewrote the article, changed the byline to her name, and is now demanding I remove Lillian Randolph’s page from the website.
- Sheila Collins – I’d already published a regular case summary for murdered Iowa State University co-ed, Sheila Collins. When I discovered Ms. Bowers was working on a book about the case and had a special interest in Sheila, I told her if she wanted to rewrite the case summary and expand on it and then put her name on it instead of mine, I’d have no problem with that. She went ahead and did so. Now, Ms. Bowers is demanding I remove Sheila’s entire case summary from the website. (Intuition? We’re last on the mail route, usually receiving our mail between 3:30 and 4:00 p.m. The morning of Wednesday, July 1, I’d gone back to my original case summary for Sheila — which I had stored as an html page in my DreamWeaver application — and redid the page with my own case summary. Later that afternoon, I received the attorney’s packet. Yes, everything is time stamped. Gotta love technology.)
On Ms. Bowers’ parasite website (which will be shut down shortly — that paperwork is already in progress), she continues to insist that the only glory she seeks is for the victims. Perhaps I am simply obtuse, but a flood of actions she’s already taken speaks volumes to the contrary. Her outbursts over what she referred to as “Drive-by mentions” of her in newspaper articles raises yet other “thou doth protest too much” flags.
I’d like to close by saying that terminating Ms. Bowers was still one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life. I knew she could bully, but I’d still considered her my friend. I’ve had an extremely difficult time dealing with her betrayal. Some close friends had warned me nearly a year ago, but perhaps I just didn’t want to see it, believe it. I’d simply trusted her.
Not that very long ago, when she and I were still Facebook friends, she’d posted a little image that read: “Trust No One.”
Thanks to all who’ve helped make Iowa Cold Cases what it is today, and rest assured, your loved one’s case will not leave the ICC website without a fight.