Jason Scott, creator of textfiles.com, tells some hilarious stories about ins and outs of the old BBS files archiving activity during a Defcon presentation.
Since the beginning part is kind of introducing myself and everything else, I am going to go move forward with that. My name is Jason Scott – that’s my proof (see left-hand photo). The name of this talk is “That Awesome Time I Was Sued for Two Billion Dollars”. It’s not a fake title, I was sued for two billion dollars, actually a little bit more. So, don’t worry, it’s not a trick, this isn’t going to be some CISSP bullshit. This is actually a real thing. Just saying…I run a site called textfiles.com (see right-hand image), which is an archive of computer history. Started out pretty simple: I had a bunch of old computer bulletin board documents from when I was in my teens, and I noticed in around 1998 that there really wasn’t a huge collection of them online, and this surprised me. So I put them online and it got some press immediately, and it slowly grew in success. People started to send me their old computer bulletin board stuff. I have to ask this now, because when I now say “computer bulletin board”, how many people know what I’m talking about? Just checking… What happened is that over time people started to send me other historical artefacts. They would send me things that were sound while those were in text files, so I created audio.textfiles.com. I started scanning all the ads that became digitized. I had ANSI art, I had music created by people in the 80s and 90s, ArtScene. And finally, pdf.textfiles.com, probably the lamest name on the entire set, which is stuff that was sent to me in PDF form. And I’ve put a lot of things up there of all various stripes, manuals and everything else, and it’s now really huge (see left-hand image). I probably have somewhere close to a terabyte of data online that I provide for free with no ads. Including, I might say, cd.textfiles.com (see right-hand image). I’m mentioning this one because this is an interesting situation. I have a lot of shareware CDs, and if you don’t remember that period of time, everyone was really excited by the fact that you could get 640MB onto a single piece of plastic, but then we quickly ran out of things to put on them. So, what ended up happening was there were people who would go around to computer bulletin boards, and then they would grab all the files from them and shovel them onto one big CD and sell it for 15 bucks. Those were known as “shovelware”. Those guys were bottom feeding assholes, kind of like when you search and you see a “Hack a Day” article, and it’s got ads all over and it’s not Hack a Day – same idea, except, you know, 1990s clothing. Basically, I grabbed hundreds of those and put them online, so I have hundreds of gigabytes of shareware stuff. Those guys turned out to be archivists, who knew? Things have gotten more intense lately. One day I had to go rent a truck. Why did I have to go rent a truck? Because it was given to me to take most of the collection of Leonard Tower who was one of the co-founders of the Free Software Foundation, who decided that he was trying to clean up things. So he gave me all of his old stuff that includes old issues of Byte journal, everything else (see left-hand image). So I had to actually get an intern, which is a crazy thing, and we’ve been sorting through this thing, creating paper.textfiles.com, where I have been basically taking all of these old magazines and cataloguing them. We may scan some portions or things like that.
In other words, I’ve been having a happy life doing computer history, and I vacuum up terabytes of data, all sorts of things. And this is kind of what I do. I love doing it. Chances are somebody has probably bumped into my site several times in their online career. I have had kids who were going to college, who have always known a time when textfiles.com is on, and tell me that it really influenced them. Very touching, very friendly.Ideally, that should be the end of it, right? There’s me, there’s Al Jaffee who created the Mad Fold-In (see right-hand image), and we should all live happily ever after and everything should be awesome, except that I’m on the Internet.
So, on the Internet you get letters. When you have a terabyte of data, especially stuff you’ve collected kind of strangely, people send you letters. In fact, lawyers send you letters. I get letters from lawyers all the time. I get letters from regular people, too; and they are very friendly and sometimes they are angry, but when they are angry – so what? I don’t care. If the person is angry for a legitimate reason – great! If a person says: “You know, when I was 13 and I called myself “the mad dickwad” and I called myself by my friend’s real name and now I kind of regret it”, – I’m like: “Oh, that’s a real shame!”This (see left-hand image) is a letter sent to me from Oblon, Spivak, McClelland, Maier & Neustadt, from a very nice person named Roberto Bran. Bear in mind this is a letter that merely warns me something, and it already says that it’s going to be C.R. Bard, Inc. v. Textfiles.org: “Infringement and Dilution of the BARDEX Trademark”, with a reference number which, to the glancing person who doesn’t quite know what they are up against, looks almost like it’s some sort of legal case number that’s been filed somewhere. None of that is true. This is, basically, a letter saying: “We don’t like something about your site. Get rid of it!” What is it? (see right-hand image) Well, it’s an interesting thing: “We have not received a response from you and improper references to the BARDEX mark used to refer to enema equipment continue to appear in the several stories posted within your EROTICA section. In particular, inaccurate references to the BARDEX appear in the stories ‘An Interesting Saturday Night, Part 5’, ‘Lori’s Last Day’ and ‘Pamela’s Story’.”