In Which Sara Mayhew Abuses Copyright to Harass

Four months ago, I documented the fact that Sara Mayhew had libeled Rebecca Watson. The next day, I followed up by reporting her response to that documentation. Since that time she has continued to repeat the libel.

Yesterday, out of the blue, Mayhew decided to comment on that post to assert a copyright claim on her response.

You do not have permission from me, the artist, to download and repost my art. This is a commercial website and your use of the artwork in its entirety for non-educational purposes does not meet standards of fair use. Your reproduction has the potential to impair the market for this work, by hosting it on your server and therefore discouraging traffic to the original work.

Please delete the image from your server.

I’m careful about copyright issues here and decently educated on fair use, so I was pretty sure her claim was unfounded. I went back and checked anyway, because, you know, careful. Then I laughed, forwarded the notification of her comment to Ed Brayton because I tell him about even bizarre claims about the legality of what happens on his network, and responded.

Sara, I do have permission. Even without questions of fair use, that’s very clear. This picture was posted on Facebook, addressed to me, with instructions to “pass it on to your douchey FTB Skepchick friends.” Based on your Twitter “discussions” with others, you define “FTB Skepchick friends” very broadly indeed. I did what you instructed.

The full quote on Facebook, on her public post, was:

Hi Zvan! Thanks for stalking by. Hope you pass it on to your douchey FTB Skepchick friends. Hey PZ, sorry you left reality so long ago. Have fun bashing vets on remembrance day!

Being friends with Skepchick or FtB is her go to complaint for why people disagree with her when she says ugly stuff on Twitter, which makes the audience she wanted me to share this with rather large indeed. It certainly applies to the vast majority of people who read this blog.

Then she tried a different tack:

The original facebook post was not sent to you. Regardless, it does not give anyone permission to download and reupload the artwork for commercial use. The post itself can be shared within the framework of facebook or tumblr, but cannot be downloaded and redistributed by another host.

Please take down the file from your server.

My response:

I’ll put this simply: You’re making things up. The picture stays.

There is nothing about “share this with your friends” that limits the venues in which it can be shared. In fact, I would have been unable to share her response on Facebook, because she blocked me well before she posted something addressed to me. To confirm that she had told me to post it, I had to log out of Facebook. I know about the picture because someone else alerted me to it.

Then Sara took to threats in email:

I have made the request that you delete from your server the file you are redistributing without my permission. If you continue to host my work without my permission I will contact your web host informing them you are in violation of their TOS regarding copyright.

I responded in detail this time because I was done. I had other things to do with my day.

Sara, Ed has been in the loop on this from the start. I’m simply going to copy him on this so you understand that this will be shared with our host should you do what you’re threatening to do.

1. You not only gave me permission to share you picture; you gave me instructions to do so. They’re attached to this email, in case you need to refresh your memory. [I attached a pdf of the Facebook posting.]

2. You have acknowledged this permission in the comments section of my blog today. Then you claimed that such permission would only apply to Facebook or Tumblr. This is absurd for a number of reasons I won’t bother to elucidate. If you’re curious, ask a lawyer.

3. I didn’t need your permission to use that photo. That photo was your public response (see the Facebook permissions in the pdf) to an article documenting your repeated libel of Rebecca Watson. That is a matter of public interest, and I reported it as such. The fact that you drew it instead of typing it doesn’t change that.

4. It is also a matter of public interest that you’re using unfounded legal tactics to attempt to continue a harassment campaign that’s gone on for more than a year. If you attempt to have this picture taken down, not only will it remain, but it will spread as I and others make your attempts public. I’ve already had it suggested that I contact Popehat over this. He loves blogging about absurd legal claims made for harassment purposes. This would suit his tastes. I am currently refraining, but I don’t need to continue to do so.

I consider this matter closed. Do not contact me over it again.

Emphasis added. So, of course, she promptly mailed me back. Because that’s what you do when someone says not to contact them and that they’ll make the situation public.

Again, I didn’t make any communications with you. The post does not give anyone permission to redistribute the file. You have taken an image from a post I created and downloaded it on to your device(s) and uploaded it to without my, the artist’s, permission.

This isn’t simply bad practice (downloading art from Facebook/tumblr/twitter and re-uploading it to a new post), but hosting files on your site without permission of the creator is against your host’s TOS.

Any other issues you’ve brought up are irrelevant, since your blog at is your personal commercial website, and not applicable to fair use for non-profit, educational, or journalistic practices.

Again, my Facebook and tumblr posts are creations which you do not have permission to download and replicate in part or whole. You are hosting a file of an image you do not have the copyright to distribute and did not obtain with my consent.

Please remove the file from your site.

Then she emailed me again.

Your website does not have permission to host the file found at of my artwork, which has been downloaded and redistributed without my permission. As copyright holder of the image, I request you delete the file from your server(s) and cease hosting the file.

A DMCA takedown request will be sent to your hosting provider. does not have permission to host the file or any of my artwork.

As a for-profit personal website, the content does not fall under fair use applicable to non-profit, journalist, or educational organizations. Regardless, as owner of the copyrighted work, I am within my rights to demand a take down of the infringing material.

Then, when I continued to ignore her, rather than file said DMCA takedown notice. She tried to leave another comment on the post this morning.

The simple fact is that is hosting a file which was downloaded and re-posted without obtaining permission from the copyright holder, me. As owner of the copyright, I am within my rights to request it be deleted from your servers. Freethoughtblogs is a personal for-profit website, and not applicable to any fair use which might apply to non-profit, journalistic, or educational outlets.

Any opinions on the quality of the work are irrelevant. Svan never obtained permission to download and redistribute the file, which is required. Continuing to host the file against the wishes of the copyright holder violates‘s TOS with their hosting provider.

Again, please cease hosting the file on your site.

In addition to all this, Mayhew has been tweeting at me, responding to my tweets on the matter despite my having blocked her there ages ago.

Now, there’s a lot of crappy information about copyright in those comments and emails, accompanying the counterfactual “I didn’t give you permission” and the misspelling of my name, which would make it difficult to serve any legal papers on me if she really did think she had a case. However, they’re fairly common misunderstandings. In fact, Mayhew hits two of the three most common misunderstandings the Center for Media & Social impact found when they surveyed journalists, old media and bloggers alike.

•   Fixed amount. They often believed that there was an absolute number out there somewhere, beyond which lay lawsuits. (This common misapprehension is reinforced by a plethora of misguided attempts, available on the Web, to simplify fair use decisions.) Examples varied: “three graphs from a New York Times Magazine,” or “two to five paragraphs but make damn sure you source and attribute and are transparent and don’t use a whole page” or “keep it under 30 seconds” or “100 words in an article and 300 words in a book.” The comments of one print journalist—“the rule in the back of my head was it should only be a few seconds”—embodied the typical rule-of-thumb understanding many articulated.

•   Noncommerciality. A journalist working in public media said, “there’s an attitude that it’s more loose because it’s not for profit.” In fact, the dispositive factor in fair use is transformativeness—recontextualizing. While noncommerciality can feature in a decision, it is a secondary feature and never one that can make the difference. Furthermore, most journalism, including public broadcasting, has commercial elements.

•   Market loss. Another common but erroneous belief was that the “fourth factor” of fair use—effect on the market—was key. One academic said, “Infringement on the copyright holder’s ability to make money from their original work is the issue.” While relevant up to a point and within context, this factor is not dispositive in today’s legal climate. The key concept of transformativeness will safely ensure that a new user will not sap the market for the original work, even if the owner suffers the (hypothetical) loss of a licensing opportunity.

So when Mayhew notes that I get paid for my blogging, it’s irrelevant. When she claims that my posting damages her ability to make money with the post, it is as irrelevant as it is absurd. (If you want to protect your commercial interest in an image, do not put it in a public Facebook post. “When you publish content or information using the Public setting, it means that you are allowing everyone, including people off of Facebook, to access and use that information, and to associate it with you (i.e., your name and profile picture).”)

Mayhew should understand the transformative part of fair use. It’s what allows her to claim copyright on the picture in the first place, despite its lineage. Her image was originally a frame in this video (3:11 timestamp):

Then another artist changed that image by moving the upraised finger to the center and posted it to Tumblr, where Mayhew reblogged it. Then she traced over it, gave it her hair and some distorted shoulders, and raised the top of the head to provide her trademark forehead extension, like so:

Animated gif, showing the transformation described in the text.
Gif developed for this post. Copyright relinquished. Image in the public domain.

Then she drew in a supportive crowd in the background and stuck the final product on a “postcard” with an insulting message to produce the final image.

Hand drawn "postcard" of blond woman giving the finger. Titled "Postcard from reality. Wish you were here." Postcard text: "Dear idiots, Sorry you couldn't join us here in the real world! Sara XOXO"
While the tracing isn’t going to do Mayhew’s image as an “international award-winning mangaka” any favors, it doesn’t violate anyone’s copyright. Her image doesn’t exist to entertain an anime audience, either in video or across the web. It stands as an insult to me for reporting on her libel and to PZ for unpacking the concept of honoring veterans. That, rather than the cosmetic changes, is what “transforms” the work for the purposes of copyright. It is legally fair use.

The Center for Media & Social Impact also identifies seven principles and limitations for the use of materials under copyright that are generally shared across journalists. Two of them apply to my use of Mayhew’s image.

PRINCIPLE: Fair use applies when journalists use copyrighted material as documentation, to validate, prove, support, or document a proposition.

The postcard image was used to document my statement that “Mayhew didn’t like having the actual story behind ‘ugly Jew’ made public.” This principle requires that as little copyrighted material as possible be used to support the proposition in question. However, Mayhew did a remarkable job creating an image to vent her spleen. The inclusion of the whole was required to show much work she put into the project, which demonstrated the depth of her feeling.

PRINCIPLE: Fair use applies to illustration in news reporting.

Even if Mayhew had included a message reacting to the charge of libel to go along with that postcard, it still would have been–as an act of gall–so remarkable as to warrant inclusion. People like me reporting on the situation with harassment in the skeptical movement have faced a great deal of minimization of both the hostility displayed toward people like Rebecca Watson and the degree to which that hostility has motivated charges of Rebecca and others being “unskeptical” or libel like Mayhew’s. That postcard makes such minimization much more difficult. It has immense value as an illustration of the problem.

Those two uses are what make my inclusion of her picture in that blog post fair use. They transform the work from a bratty “fuck you” to documentation and illustration of a problem I’ve been reporting on for quite some time.

Mayhew has no legal grounds for demanding the removal of that picture. If she files a DMCA takedown notice, I’ll file a counter-notice, and I will prevail. I think she knows this too. That’s why she’s continuing to threaten me rather than taking action. This is just one more piece of her harassment and libel campaign that has carried on for more than a year.

In Which Sara Mayhew Abuses Copyright to Harass

19 thoughts on “In Which Sara Mayhew Abuses Copyright to Harass

  1. 2

    What a pathetic and creepily obsessive person. I struggle to see the point, the end-game, the payoff, the reward, the whatever-it-is that Mayhew gets out of constantly poking other people (unless she enjoys publicly embarrassing herself). Whatever the initial source of her disagreement/s with and eventual hatred for you, Stephanie (and Rebecca and everyone else), most grownups would’ve just spined up and moved on by now; instead, Mayhew’s output – especially her twitter feed – is a one-note symphony of inexplicable, incandescent hatred.

    As for her art, well, I had no idea who she was before she boarded the FtB/Skepchick hate-train. She’s effectively prevented me from caring; it makes me wonder how many other potential fans she’s turned off by this weird behaviour. Her art could be Miyazaki-brilliant or high-school-standard, derivative otaku-hime crap; I will probably never know.

  2. 4

    Sorry to go OT with art criticism, but that is not how necks. Why didn’t the artist just trace the line of the neck and shoulders in the original? The poor girl looks like a pez dispenser.

  3. 6

    A beautiful example of the Streisand effect. Now more people will know she traces artwork, more people will know of her obsession with a few bloggers, and her reputation will be much worse than if she’d just let things slide. Your excellent takedown will only drive the point home, Zvan. Bravo!

  4. 7

    Well, yes, but compare the postcard to the original it was traced from. There’s no way you can blame this one on the anime. In the original, the neck is about half as wide as the head – which is already artistic license – and it meets the collar of her clothing and the collar bones of her shoulders naturally after only a short distance. In the traced version, the neck is a skinny stick, one third the width of the head, that extends straight down like a ruler – way too far down – into a torso that has not been corrupted by the least attempt at anatomy. I don’t even know what’s going on there. In the back (why can we even see back there?) there’s a sort of ridge of… shoulder? Torsoblob? that runs behind the neck. In the front, the neck seems to just taper off into a trail of vapor. Like Slimer.

    The costume is drawn as though it’s hanging on a human figure, and looks good – I suspect if anyone cared enough they could find the separate source from which it was traced. But if you look, the clothes aren’t actually resting on her shoulders, but are floating a couple inches above. You can see into the gap between the shoulder of her jacket and the top of her torsoblob.

  5. 8

    Marcus Ranum:

    It’s always seemed to me that anime has a lot of dysmorphia behind it.

    I think the problem is that real Mangakas draw life in a stylized manner, while their epigones just draw the style. It’s like the difference between Picasso, and someone who tries to imitate Picasso by randomly moving around facial features.

  6. 9

    This isn’t simply bad practice (downloading art from Facebook/tumblr/twitter and re-uploading it to a new post), but hosting files on your site without permission of the creator is against your host’s TOS.

    Has the Internet changed so much in the last decade-or-so that hotlinking is no longer considered “bad practice,” not to mention both rude and potentially costly? Or is Sara Mayhew just disconnected from the reality she visits so infrequently as to feel the need to buy postcards when she’s there?

  7. 10

    Anatomically incorrect? Hmmm….. Perhaps Mattel should sue her for copyright infringement of Barbie? High forehead, long scrawny neck….

  8. 11

    I note that Sara Mayhew is from/lives in a small town in a somewhat remote area. IMO she suffers form “small pond syndrome” in an area that is notoriously underserved by the mental health profession. I’ve met her kind before, they tend to flip out if anyone challenges them on anything. They’ve been the ruler of their patch of swamp for too long to realize they don’t have any power past it.

  9. 12

    When I was six years old and sending pictures to “Possum’s Pages” in the hope of winning a “Yellow Certificate” worth one-point, the entry coupon always carried the warning that tracings were not accepted. Even more ominously the editor had added the words: “We always know.”

  10. 13

    I hope she didn’t win her mangaka award with a trace-over. That would suck beyond suck. There are some real artists out there and I hate it when I see someone doing what amounts to creative plagiarism.

  11. 14


    They always know because it’s actually much more difficult to make a traced image look natural than it is to just draw the damn thing yourself. Lines look more stiff, there’s less flow, and if you’re tracing from a photo that effect gets even worse. As the great teacher Andrew Loomis noted, normal proportions in real life actually looks a bit dumpy on the page so you need to monkey with them a little.

    The lack of coherent anatomy in Mayhew’s piece is another big giveaway, since when tracing you’re paying a lot more attention to line than structure, which is a sure way to fuck it up. Taking a quick peek at her comic (oh god she sets up her panels to be read right-to-left, that just screams “weeaboo”) I get the impression that structure generally isn’t a big concern of hers which is why it looks kinda like amateur manga from the early 90’s.

  12. 16

    I vaguely remember her threatening to sue over being on the Block Bot, too. Presumably that epic case must be dealt with before she starts dealing with DMCA notices.

    Her legal antics are a superb example of Dunning-Kruger in action.

  13. 18

    I humbly retract my previous question in a comment to another post, and also my suggestion that you should stop blogging about this person.

  14. 19

    Oh yes. They were going to sue the BBC for being shown on a block-bot list of some sort for less than 1 second.

    They were not even shown on the screen only some L1 nyms who had been threatening Caroline Criado Perez. So it was just some “guilt by association” thing where the BBC talking about Level1 people meant them at L2/3 were horribly, horribly slighted, due to inability to read. I hope Stangroom, Mayhew, Radford and the others actually wasted money on lawyers. The BBC lawyers opinion was communicated to me and it consisted of, LOL! (Short version anyway)

    Maybe Sara will spend some more time and money on lawyers, time and money that should be going on her comic book. That deadline is approaching Sara, procrastination through harassment may seem attractive but TED fellows really should make their dates.

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