Bless Her Heart, Cartoonist Donna Barstow Complains To Google About Popehat

Remember Donna Barstow? She's the cartoonist with a history of bogus legal threats who got into an ill-considered internet fight with the forum goons of Something Awful when they posted some her cartoons in a thread that criticizes awful cartooning. I wrote about her in July 2012, which resulted in a truly surreal phone call from her. I also wrote about her odd follow-up rant in which she suggested that copyright is a federal crime. Apparently she actually meant that copyright violation is a federal crime. I think.

Anyway, this morning (that is, nearly 17 months after I wrote about her) I got an email from Google indicating that she had complained that my post contained private information:


We're writing from to bring the following page to your attention:

A Whois search indicated that you're the host for this page.

A concerned user contacted us to report that handwritten signature is published on this page. We hope that you'll assist this individual in restricting access to this private information by removing the page from the web. If it's changed to return a true 404 error via the http headers, please let us know and we'll also remove the listing from the Google index.

We appreciate your assistance. Should you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact us.

The Google Team

On 11/18/13 15:54:25 wrote:
your_name: D. Barstow
webmaster_info_live: agree
webmaster_info_contacted: agree
hidden_subject_signature: Your personal information removal request for a
handwritten signature

As far as I can tell, Ms. Barstow has used a Google tool asking Google to remove my post about her from Google's search results. Her premise is that I published "private information" about her — to wit, her "handwritten signature."

There's only one place Ms. Barstow's signature appears in my post about her — it's in her cartoon about Mexico, which I put in the post to comment upon it, criticize it, and report on ongoing allegations that some of her cartoons are racist or otherwise obnoxious. It's the signature that she displays to the world in all of the cartoons she publishes. It's "private" in the sense that you can't see it unless you look at one of her cartoons on her web site or published elsewhere by her.

I've written back to Google. I presume they won't fall for what I can only characterize as a dishonest — and even fraudulent — attempt to de-list criticism.


I've written Ms. Barstow seeking comment. I'll update this post if I get a reply.

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. Pete says

    I'm missing something – what kind of authority does Google have in this matter? Are they the internet police?

    Edit: doh

  2. Talisker says

    I think it's entirely reasonable to remove the popehat page with her personal signature on it from google's search results, provided they remove all other instances of her signature as well (including her own site, etc).

  3. Drakkenmensch says

    Isn't it adorable when someone who has no idea how computers work tries to act like a big time computer expert?

  4. Joe Pullen says

    I wouldn't count on it. Google took down YouTube videos of mine for similar bogus claims. They often don't look at the complaint, just go along with pulling info down because they don't want to waste the time actually figuring out what is going on.

  5. Jacob H says

    This is such a ludicrous effort on her part…Can you even imagine the hell she would have raised if you had posted her comic with the signature removed/pixellated?! Such hypocrisy…

  6. LauraW says

    Ken, if you end up needing to talk to one of Google's lawyers, let me know and I may be able to hook you up. (Feel free to dig my email address out of the blog software.) All the Google attorneys I've worked with seem extremely sharp from my layperson's point of view.

    Joe, most of the silly video takedowns I've heard about are due to the DMCA-mandated "notice and takedown" process that providers follow in order to avoid liability. But IANAL, and I have little inside knowledge of YouTube, so take that with a grain of salt.

    Disclaimer: I'm a Google engineer.

  7. htom says

    I think she does not understand the Streisand Effect at all. Perhaps she thinks it applies only to photographs of real estate?

  8. Mu says

    If he would pixilate/delete the signature she'd probably claim he's posting a defaced version of her copyrighted work by removing the attribution.

  9. Khaim says

    @LauraW: YouTube also runs ContentID, which is distinctly not DMCA. There are numerous, reasons for this, both obvious and subtle. I probably shouldn't comment beyond that. (Disclaimer: Also a SWE, also !Lawyer, also !YT.)

    @Joe Pullen: I suspect that if you were to estimate the total amount of time it would take to have a real human look at every request and comprehensively evaluate "what's going on", you would end up concluding that Google bought out Motorola just to have enough employees to keep up.

  10. Scote says

    "@Pete: as the post says, it's an effort to get Google to remove the post from Google results."

    Unfortunately, it is more than an effort. It is, as of right now, successful, at least in part. If you Google "Donna Barstow" you get this at the bottom of the search results page:

    "In response to a complaint we received under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, we have removed 1 result(s) from this page. If you wish, you may read the DMCA complaint that caused the removal(s) at"

    Fortunately the Popehat article is now the number one link, even if one of the search results is censored. :)

    Oh, Donna Barstow, how soon you have forgotten Barbara Streisand.

    What is especially lame is that google allows people to claim DMCA on search results reporting **links**, mere addresses, to allegedly infringing content as opposed to the content itself. That's like claiming publishing the name of a book or the address to a house is against the law if someone alleges that the book or house is some how infringing.

  11. Luke says

    @Khaim –

    I've often wondered if some form of loser pays escalating fee for takedown notices would help with that. First 1-3 are free, after that an escalating $15 charge. So if you infringe once or twice, or have a couple invalid takedown notices you are fine. But if you are a serial abuser on either side, the cost goes up quickly.

    Would be harder to work in this case, as we are talking about Google search results instead of Youtube and I'm not sure this is the right approach overall but the amount of invalid takedown requests, some deliberately so, is becoming an issue and there is no real deterrent.

  12. Narad says

    This is likely 99-44/100% unrelated, but if anyone else happens to have the misfortune of suffering AT&T's U-verse IPDSL offering, are you finding that www-popehat-com redirects to the NVG510 GUI and then barfs a 403?

  13. Grifter says

    I've never really thought about it before, but while her complaint is obviously ridiculous, stupid, and likely crazy, it does make me wonder whether artists have a fraud problem because they put their sigs out for the world to see? Is check fraud against artists common?

  14. NRG says

    I challenge the veracity of the claim that her name, as printed in the cartoon, is her actual signature.

    Does anyone believe that is the signature she uses to endorse a check or execute a contract?

  15. KronWeld says

    Well, Boing Boing has picked up the story now. Streisand Effect picking up speed. I don't see it on slashdot, but I wouldn't be suprised if it shows up there too.

  16. says

    For the love of all that's holy, can someone please tell me how a marginal cartoonist gets enough attention in the first place to even be noticed by Something Awful?

    Seriously. I want to know. Contact me privately if necessary.

  17. Myk says


    I thought I was the only one who used different signatures for different contexts

    Remind me one day to tell you about this guy named John Steele.

  18. Shane says


    Does anyone believe that is the signature she uses to endorse a check or execute a contract?

    Stupid is as stupid does.

  19. GoSign says

    Her beef is with a thread in the forums, not articles on website's main page. The forums are huge, diverse, and constantly milling through new content. One particular thread is just there to post and make fun of bad political cartoons. They go through tons and tons of cartoons, prominent and obscure. Someone dredged up her work, they made fun of it for a while, then they would have moved on except she somehow found the thread and started complaining.

    That was all over a year ago. I don't think anything new has happened until this.

  20. NI says

    She complained that your post "contained private information." Wow. Does that mean that anybody who is embarrassed by anything about them on the internet can get it removed by claiming it's private information?

  21. mcinsand says

    Regarding the phrase 'bless your heart' and variations, I really like my mom's succinct translation: 'you poor idiot.'

  22. AlphaCentauri says

    I like Gary Warner's way of phrasing it:

    As a transplant to the South, I was not at first familiar with the expression "Bless his little heart". Its often used to express amusement at something silly a young child or animal may do, because they don't know any better. When used with regards to adults, it replaces Yankee expressions because Southerners are generally too polite to say someone is too stupid to live.

  23. Erth says


    Not SomethingAwful the website but the SomethingAwful forums. The Debate and Discussion subforum has a very long running and active political cartoons thread where they post both good and bad cartoons from across the political spectrum. Barstow's cartoons were mocked about 17 months ago and are now considered too bland, idiotic and boring to even post.

  24. barry says

    There ought to be a law, and it ought to be on my side..

    That she's complained on defamation, product disparagement, copyright (earlier post), and privacy grounds all for the same thing suggests she doesn't much care as long as whichever law can make it stop . That's either bad faith or thin skin or both.

  25. Tootie says

    I just had to look at the Rapeutation site because of a reference in the comments at BoingBoing. And what a rant CC written about poor Ms. Barstow!
    What month is the pseudo interview between Charles Carreon and Donna Barstow archived in on the Censorious Douchbag website? I can't find it, but I have enjoyed going back over those months of hilarity. How, oh how is it that Carreon has tied himself into this. Is he the person who advised Ms. Barstow to take this silly action?

    Please Ken, make sure that Google puts back into its search engine anything it has taken down. Let them all know that you can't use these tactics to bully people.
    On the other hand, I feel kind of happy that such obtuse people have found each other. What a great triangle; Donna the horrid cartoonist libertarian, Tarra the fallen Tibetan Buddhist, and Charles the self righteous litigious bully.

  26. says

    A bit late to the party, but I got the same letter. She seems to be targeting anyone who criticizes her. I was too busy with school at the time to respond accordingly.