Kellie Waymire – Loss of a famous loved one in the Internet age

A close relative of the deceased Star Trek Enterprise actress, Kellie Waymire, called me for insight on how to remove the actress’ name from several porn sites. There are no nude photos, but the sex sites use her name to lure people in to sell things. The call really touched me; it also made me mad.

Note: I discussed this blog entry with the relative, who would prefer I not disclose his or her name or relationship to Kellie. Therefore, I will refer to the relative as “Vee”.

The Internet is, like any technology, neither good nor bad. How people use the technology is what matters.

Photo of Kellie Waymire at the 2003 Fox Press Tour from Zap2ItKellie Waymire was a very likable and charming young woman entering the prime of her acting career. In addition to Star Trek, she was in 36 other TV shows and movies according to IMDb, and a regular or semi-regular in several of the TV series. Vee also tells me that Kellie was nearly always involved in some sort of community theater product or other stage work since from her middle school years through college. Kellie made friends easily, and there was hardly a place in the country where she did not have a nearby friend who would have willingly let her stay while she visited.

The week after she passed away, Kellie’s name hit the Lycos Top 50 at number 19. (The Lycos Top 50 is a list of the most searched for words or phrases on the Internet, and it is updated weekly.) At her memorial, over 500 people attended, including directors, producers, and co-stars. Kellie was admired and respected by her peers and fans. She was loved by her family and friends who were very proud of her. She continues to be missed by all who knew her or have come to know her through reruns.

After Kellie’s passing, Vee’s grief kept her away from the Internet for over a year. She did not want to know what people were saying about Kellie. She probably did not want to even think about it more than the dozens of times each day the loss probably passed through her mind. Other relatives continue to avoid Internet sites concerning Kellie, because the pain is still too much. During that time, several websites filled up with pages and pages of condolences from fans, friends, former college roommates, people who saw her on stage, people who worked with her. It’s all very overwhelming, even for someone like me who never knew Kellie.

Vee did eventually venture out into the Internet to see what, if anything, was out there about Kellie. It turns out there is a LOT of information. There is a Wikipedia entry for Kellie Waymire, and naturally, she is listed on IMDb (as most everyone in the move and TV industry are). She has entire message areas dedicated to her on several Star Trek fan sites. Kellie even has an “unofficial” fan club site that does a wonderful job capturing the beauty of Kellie’s life. Vee is deeply touched by these sentiments. Knowing Star Trek fans as I do (being somewhat of a fan myself, though not a rabid one), it’s fair to say that Kellie Waymire will live on in the Star Trek universe, and in the hearts of her fans, forever.

As one might expect, anytime you enter a celebrity’s name in a search engine, you will find links to nude pictures of the celebrity. It doesn’t matter that Kellie never was in any nude photos, but there are still plenty of links to sites claiming to have these sexy photos and porn clips. When Vee followed these links, invariably she found one or two pictures of Kellie (usually from some scene in a TV show or movie—hardly pornography), as well as links to sexy centerfold type models, many of which were overtly sexual and disgusting to Vee.

Somehow, these pariahs of the Internet (the sex site owners) had picked up on Kellie Waymire’s name as being a popular search term, and they were using it (and any slightly sexy photo they could find) as bait to draw people into their sites. Why? Money, of course. Once Kellie’s good name had lured the visitor to the site, it’s easy to assume that people likely to click on “nude photos” in the first place, are likely to pay for a subscription to the porn site. Or maybe they will buy a DVD instead. Maybe both. All an Internet marketer is hoping for is that once they pull some visitor into their site, the visitor will stay and spend money.

Imagine for a moment that you are Vee. Your relative was such a sweet, humble, and unpretentious girl. Then you see these sites linking her with porn and disgusting sex acts. It would be almost too much to bear. At first, you probably try to ignore it. Then you start to get mad. Then you decide it’s time to take action. You look in the yellow pages. You call me. (Well, that’s what Vee did. I’m still not sure why she picked my company.)

Unfortunately, there is little I can do for Vee. I listened to her story, of course. I visited some of the websites she had visited. I helped her to download some of the touching memorial videos that had been made. I also tried to help Vee feel a little better about the situation.

I pointed out that the only reason these site owners are using Kellie’s name is because she was so popular. The fact that so many fans loved her, so many of them still search for her, so many fans still care for her, makes her name a very popular search term. The porn sites simply look at search terms for celebrities, and the more popular the celebrities’ names, the more likely their names will appear on unsavory Internet pages.

I mentioned that I am not a lawyer, so I really don’t know her legal alternatives. It would seem that if she wanted to pursue legal actions, she might have a case. After all, Vee is one of the beneficiaries of Kellie’s estate, and sullying Kellie Waymire’s name is likely to cause damage to the value of Kellie’s name and estate. That might be libelous. She might be able to persuade the courts to grant a restraining order to stop these people one site at a time. She might pay her lawyers a lot of money in the process. Because Kellie was a celebrity, using her name alongside pictures of her, regardless of the surrounding images on the same page, might be considered “fair use” of her name and likeness. She might be able to sue based on copyright infringement for the photos, but probably only if the estate is the copyright holders. She might pay her lawyers more money to try to sort all this out. She might even lose all the cases. And no matter what, there will almost certainly be more sites popping up using the same sleazy tactics to win new customers.

I pondered with her of what it must be like to be Pamela Anderson. (The obvious difference here is that Pam DOES have nude photos and videos out there.) She must find it very difficult to deal with the fact that pariahs are making money hand over fist, because they sell access to watch (illegal) copies of her video and photos. She doesn’t make any royalties off them. I’m sure it’s not the lost money that upsets Pam the most; it is the fact that sleaze bags are abusing her good name and image. No matter how famous you become, I’m sure that has got to hurt, not to mention be embarrassing–even if you are Pamela Anderson.

I mentioned to Vee that most people searching for Kellie Waymire are looking for legitimate information about her. They might be titillated to think about her appearing nude in a photo spread, but they aren’t generally seeking that out. And if they do follow a few of the links, people will quickly figure out that Kellie was a girl who kept her clothes on, and give up following those types of links.

We discussed the Star Trek fans a bit. Vee was amazed at the number of fans there were, and how long the fan clubs and conventions had been around. I mentioned that there was a Trek convention right here in Sacramento just about a week ago. William Shatner (“Captain Kirk”), Leonard Nimoy (“Mr. Spock”), and John de Lancie (“Q”) were expected to attend, and tickets were in the $30-40 USD range. Vee quipped that she probably could have received a free pass if she’d let them know whose relative she was. I laughed, and said that she probably would have been invited onto the stage to speak. We decided that if she got tired of this whole early retirement thing, she might want to consider traveling around to Trek conventions and raise money for the scholarship that was setup after Kellie passed away.

I think Vee was in a much better frame of mind after our talk. That makes me happy.

On the other hand, I was upset. I was thinking about the site owners that market their sites with misleading information hoping to lure people in and get them to part with their hard-earned money based on a lie. These people do not deserve to make a penny, yet many of them do. Lots of pennies.

It’s not just the porn sites that do this. Being in the information technology industry, I often have to track down hardware drivers, help files, documentation, or other important files that get corrupted. Searching for these files is difficult enough without the constant red herrings (misleading matches) that populate the search engines. It’s not the search engines’ fault, but the people who set up “landing pages” spammed with keywords–the words for which I’m searching. Click a link for a driver of an XYZ widget, and have 20 pop-up and pop-under ads and flash advertisements appear on your screen. If I happen to be having a really unlucky day, those ads overwhelm my browser, and I end up having to start over from scratch in my searching. Sometimes I even have to restart the computer. I also hate to think what might happen if the computer I’m using has unpatched security vulnerabilities when those things hit it.

There can be a real business cost for these misleading links. Red herrings waste my time searching for legitimate site, waste my time closing ads I will never click (on principle if for no other reason), and occasionally time lost by retracing steps and restarting. One red herring can result in 10-15 minutes of lost billable time. Meanwhile, the site owner might have earned 10-cents by “showing me” all those ads.

So who is at fault here? The site owner? He just wants to make a living like everyone else. Is it me for following a bogus link? I couldn’t tell it was bogus before I clicked on it. The search engine? I’m sure they filter more bad sites than we will ever know; it’s an endless battle. The advertisers providing a cash incentive to the site owner? That’s a tricky one. In many cases, site owners do not always tell the truth to advertisers about how they will use the advertiser’s ads. Advertisers might visit and approve one site, but the site owners use the ads on other unapproved sites that are unscrupulous. Advertisers have a lot of work to do, and can they really be expected to check, even with the help of automation, every ad impression? Besides, if the ads result in revenue for the advertiser, are they really going to care? If all advertisers suddenly disappeared and site owners were no longer compensated for misleading people to their site, would it stop the practice? It would probably curtail it considerably, but then the whole ego thing would kick in, and site owners would still want to be one of the “most” sites (most visited, highest rated, etc.). Money usually only magnifies character flaws already present in people.

Maybe it’s the government’s fault. They certainly could regulate the Internet to death. Some technological idiot could create a very broad law that effectively blocks all commerce on the Internet. That wouldn’t be very helpful. Someone could write a backwards law (like the ill-conceived CAN-SPAM act) that instead of helping the problem actually makes it worse. Someone could write lots of little micro-laws that deal with such a narrow focus, that it’s very easy for site owners to wriggle around the law, thus proving that they are legitimate. Some laws like that actually make it harder to prosecute, because it shows the parties are working to be compliant with the bad laws. No, the government is no cure for the problem.

I think the whole problem is systemic.

Look at the paparazzi and celebrity photos. You and I love to see and read about our favorite celebrities in entertainment news magazines. The zines need a steady supply of fresh photos and news to keep our appetites whetted. People literally show up on their doorsteps with photos and news to peddle. The zines pay these people for the items. We pay the zines for publishing the items. The people peddling the photos and news are photographers, reporters, and paparazzi. Because they are paid for providing information, the peddlers seek out more stuff to peddle. That is why they end up getting in the faces and lives of our favorite celebrities. We are shocked at the insane things paparazzi do to get a photo, but we keep looking at the magazines that publish the photos.

Bringing it back to Kellie and the nude photo sites, it’s similar. You and I love to see and read about our favorite celebrities on websites. Many people are even interested in seeing these celebrities in the nude or having sex. It’s a favorite fantasy for many. Websites are constantly looking for a steady supply of fresh photos and news to keep our appetites whetted. Sites offer a lot of money to people to turn over fresh content, which is why if people have a secret sex tape or photo shoot in their history, it will eventually end up on the Web. Usually, there is a bigger demand than supply of legitimate info, so, to fill the gap, sites invent content. People fall like prey into a spider’s web, and the sites capture their attention. Stupidly, enough people caught in these traps, do not immediately break free, and they end up feeding the spider (the site owner) a steady supply of money. So long as they do that, these predators will continue setting traps. The money can either come directly from the visitor, or it can come from advertisers. Either way, the spider gets fat from all this income, so there is no reason to stop doing it, and there is plenty of reason to expand their web to more and more celebrities.

In both cases, the solution to the problem is to dry up the flow of money. If magazines sell fewer copies, then they will either go out of business or become more choosy about their sources. If site owners stop earning money from advertisers who finally wise up, and if they also stop receiving money from people who fall into their traps, they will stop using these techniques.

The only way to dry up the flow of money is for each of us to stop supporting organizations that do these things. It’s much like the organic foods initiative. People always need to eat, but if we, the buyers of the products, can redirect the flow of money from sleazy sources to ethical sources–zines that do not support paparazzi and sites that do not mislead you–then the sleazy sources will clean up their acts or go out of business.

It’s not enough for me to commit to this. You need to, too. And you need to tell others.

Tell advertisers. If you find yourself in a sleazy web trap, take a quick moment to glance at the ads. If any are from what you would consider a legitimate source, go to that company’s website and contact them. Let them know that example.com is using unethical marketing practices to display ads from this company. Let them know that this association is soiling the company’s reputation, and you demand that the company block their advertising on all such sites. Many companies will quickly act once they become aware of the problem. If not, make them pay double by not buying their products.

No matter what the issue, voting with your pocketbook and telling others to do the same is usually the only way to really bring about a meaningful change. Otherwise, the money wins.

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