Theft of My Intellectual Property
I find myself in a bit of an odd situation: the Houston Chronicle has “stolen” one of my photos off of Flickr.
Just to put the facts in order before I dive in: back in the day, when I was teaching at Big Southern Boarding School, a group of my much-beloved students surprised me with a very generous (and thoughtful) gift in the middle of our last study-break LAN party in the computer lab. Which I documented for posterity.
Bear in mind that that isn’t some puny half-height locker. That’s a full-length, floor to eyebrow-height locker. Full to the brim with caffeinated, brominated, carbonated vegetable oil. Delicious sugar water. Wow. I took some photos and posted them to Flickr (right).
Then, this morning, the Houston Chronicle posted an article online about the beverage industry subverting a planned fatty tax on highly-sugared beverages (a tax, which, by the way, I think is probably a good idea). An article which they illustrated with my photo (below right). For all I know, they used it in their print edition too. But I kind of doubt it. I think a print editor would have been less slack about copyright. But maybe I’m prejudiced.
If they had asked me, I probably would have given them permission. But they didn’t. And that image, like all my images, is posted under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Which specifies that it can be reused, but not for commercial use. And the Houston Chronicle, as far as I know, is pretty much decidedly commercial use.
Here are the things that occur to me at this moment:
- How ironic is is that, having spent much of the past ten years working to educate my students on the intricacies of intellectual property and fair use, that one of the rights holders whose property I have been struggling to protect turns around and snags my intellectual property?
- If they were going to credit me (as they did), why didn’t they bother to honor the rest of the license? It’s like they just read the first couple lines, and missed the rest of it.
- I’m a little guy and they’re pretty big. I can get up on my hind legs and complain. But I doubt they’ll pay attention to me. And besides, this particular violation of my rights is relevant to the world (and, really, me) for only the next few hours, until this cycles off their front page. And then it’s just something that happened that’s easy for them (and me) to ignore.
- The challenge to getting recompense here is suspiciously high: there’s no email for the Chronicle on their contact page. So I either have to call or snail mail them. Which means I actually have to do more work to complain to them about how they have violated my rights than they did to violate my rights.
- Mostly, the only reason I can think of to complain is if the Chronicle has been doing this systematically. I don’t really care all that much, but I’d like to be a squeaky enough wheel to keep them from doing this to other people routinely.
With all that in mind, I may give the Chronicle a call tomorrow morning. I just wish that it felt less like a Quixotic pursuit.
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