FindAGrave and the Better Business Bureau

OMG…I had to laugh at Jim Tipton’s response to my Better Business Bureau complaint! Here’s what he said:

This complaint was filed by someone who is upset with our policies, procedures and our administrators. Our site is free to use. Eric Andrist has never paid for any service we provide or any product we offer.

After reinstating Eric Andrist’s account as a gesture of goodwill, he published my private email to him in a public rant about our site. I consider that to be a violation of trust and decency (and possibly copyright law). Combine that with his previous disruptive behavior and his continued, vocal disagreement with many of the policies at Find A Grave and it’s clear we don’t have a match for either party. Why would we continue to welcome someone who is on a public tear to disparage our name and the name of our administrators?

His account was permanently suspended and he was notified of this, by email, on March 3rd. In that email, it was offered that his contributions could remain on the site. I stated in my email to Mr. Andrist: “At the moment, your contributions remain but if you’d prefer we remove them, let me know and I’ll get them removed.”

In his BBB complaint filed on March 14th, Eric Andrist, stated: “I have limited access to my own personal, copyrighted materials.” and “Mr. Tipton has the ability to make money off of the materials that I’ve worked hard to supply…”. To address these concerns and to erase any doubt that I am seeking to ‘make money off of the materials’ he supplied, we removed all of the contributions added by Eric Andrist on March 17, 2011. As it stands today and to the best of my knowledge, all materials added by Eric Andrist have been removed. If additional materials are found and we are notified of them, we are happy to promptly remove them, too.

Here’s my response:

It is irrelevant whether I have PAID money to use his website or not. I put in hundreds of hours of my time and resources (it costs me to use electricity and internet service to work on his site) to create memorials on his site that then give him the potential to make money in two ways! He can make money by selling sponsorships on the memorials I created. I know for a fact that at least one of the memorials I created was sponsored. Now that he has supposedly “deleted” them all, he has kept the money that person paid for the sponsorship as they do not refund these people when they delete memorials. There is documentation on the internet of this happening to other people. 2. He made money by me coming to his advertising ridden website. When I surf a page that has advertising on it, he makes money on that as well as if I actually click on that ad. So INDEED he was in essence paid by my participation on his website.

There was NOTHING in his email to me that stated it was to remain private. The email was of a business nature, based on a customer service issue with his site. I receive emails all the time with privacy notices attached to them, his contained none. Further, I excerpted a section of his email and published it in my blog and claim that it falls under the Fair Use doctrine of the US Copyright Law. Further and most importantly, I have to laugh that he claims copyright infringement when his website is overrun with copyright infringements! His own administrators are guilty of scouring the internet and stealing photographs of “famous” people and using them on his website without the proper copyright clearances or attributions. I have made complaints to the FBI and the US Attorney General’s office about this as well as informed the Los Angeles and NY Times about continual copyright infringement issues that Mr. Jim Tipton and his administrators turn a blind eye to and participate in.

My “vocal disagreement” with his website’s policies come NOT from me breaking their rules, but from me pointing out to them that other people are breaking their rules and they are favoriting those people and allowing them to break the rules! My blog at outlines this in detail. It was BECAUSE I wrote to them and pointed out that others were breaking the rules and they weren’t doing anything about it, that all the trouble started. They have a very cliquish attitude when it comes to their administrators and favorite members and if you cross any of them in any way, they become retaliatory and punitive. This is HEAVILY documented by complaints on the internet on several different sites.

I recently wrote to about problems with this site and they wrote back that they are very aware of the problems and issues with the FindAGrave website. Mr. Tipton’s careless attitude about customer service and the lack of quality controls on his website has become a blight to the genealogy world’s research. They are more concerned with adding as many memorials as possible, regardless of quality control and sponsorship of famous and celebrity memorials. They appear to care less about genealogical accuracy and the mistakes that are rampant on his website are creeping into people’s family trees all over the world. You can see from this complaint that he’s more concerned about his privacy than making it right with a member of his site. Yet, he has hundreds of people complaining to him all the time about the invasion of their privacy when their obituaries and memorials are stolen from them and placed on his website by strangers.

I always followed the rules and asked for clarification on how to do things right if told I had done something wrong. FindAGrave is notorious for not answering emails from members with customer service inquiries (again, highly documented on the internet). Most of my inquiries went unanswered so I was never able to make any corrections to anything.

I received NO email on March 3 stating that my account was permanently suspended. The only way I found out that it was, was by visiting the site and finding all my memorials were unaccessable. My last correspondence from Jim Tipton was on Feb 18th in regards to a famous memorial I had added, which was rejected by an administrator and given to a “favorite” member.

I have begged and pleaded with Mr. Tipton to NOT remove my memorials as doing so does not punish me as much as it punishes the genealogical community. Clearly he cares NOTHING about the genealogical community as he went ahead and deleted them anyway. There is always a concern (also on the internet) that they never really delete this stuff anyway, and it remains on their server. This was proven when he deleted my memorials the first time and after I filed my BBB Bureau complaint, they were all reinstated! So clearly they were never really deleted at all and they had/have access to all my private, copyrightable materials at any moment.

I think this complaint has become even more important now in that when people sponsor these memorials with cash, and they are subsequently removed, no cash refunds are given. This is another issue I will be raising with the US Attorney General’s Office. People pay for things, Findagrave removes them and then keeps the money. That’s not right.

This entire issue comes down to Mr. Tipton and his crony administrators having huge egos and bad customer service technique. They don’t care about most of their members and delete them with a click of their computer. I just read yesterday that a woman had 6000 of her memorials deleted when she made ONE complaint about another member (clearly a favorite) who had tens of thousands of memorials. The number one rule at Findagrave SHOULD be, NEVER complain about anything or your membership will be suspended.

These people are playing with and preying on people’s time and effort and more importantly, with the memories of their deceased loved ones. They treat these memorials like they are worthless and don’t give a single care about the mental anguish it can put people through when they arbitrarily delete them. They’re not just deleting files from a website, they are deleting the memories of people that other people love.

Mr. Tipton doesn’t seem to understand that or care. It’s all about power with him.

If he made absolutely no money off of his members, I’d say we have no right to complain. But he DOES make money off of us, regardless of what he says about it. He wants to twist the words to make it seem like it’s a free site and there’s no money involved at all.

That’s simply not true.

I am attaching a snapshot of Farrah Fawcett’s memorial on his website. It is very clear that this very famous photo is a copyrighted photo stolen from the internet and used without permission. It was submitted by one Robert Edwards, who just so happens to be one of Mr. Tipton’s administrators! I wrote to Mr. Edwards and asked about him getting permission to use this famous photo, and as usual, there was no response. There are THOUSANDS of these copyrighted photos used illegally on his website as well as copyrighted obituaries and other materials.

Robert Edwards, administrator, supplied copyrighted photo to site