A while back, I noticed that the Houston Chronicle had ripped off one of my Flickr photos for their web site. They had credited me, but had used my photo in a way that violated its non-commericial Creative Commons license. I posted about it, and didn’t have much hope that I’d ever get anything resembling satisfaction. It’s been resolved, or as resolved as it ever will be. I’ve been meaning to post something about it, but have been waiting… really, waiting and hoping that something else would unfold to make me feel better about how it had gone. In the end, I got connected with Dean Betz, the Chron.com Director of Content, and he told me:
It’s no surprise what I found; a well-intentioned producer, hoping to help illustrate an interesting story but not sufficiently trained in the appropriate use of Flickr, used your image not licensed for commercial use on our clearly commercial Web site.
That’s partly my fault in not giving better direction to our staff on Creative Commons. We’ve used this as a “teaching moment” to improve our training to staffers, and I very much appreciate your pointing this out.
We’ve removed that photo from our site, but by way of remedy, I’d like to offer to pay you our standard one-use fee of [none of your dang business] per image. I’d like suggest that I post a followup message to your blog with my mea culpa on not giving sufficient direction to our producers on Flickr and Creative Commons, and that we’ve taken remedies to close the gap.
I had been not anticipated much in the way of a response at all from the Chronicle, so this was all a pleasant surprise:
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.
In the end, it took a bunch of follow-ups with Dean (Gmail counds 18 emails in that thread, back-and-forth), several versions of an invoice, and just plain a lot of patience, but I got a (token) payment for the use of my image, a vague promise that some education had happened in the newsroom, and no deeper explanation than what I posted from Dean above. I appreciate the payment. I appreciate the promise that education was happening… but the work to get all that was, in the end, much more than it was really worth.
I think that all of this goes to highlight the difficulty of working with intellectual property law in general: there’s a huge imbalance in terms of the amount of effort required for small fry like me and a major publisher to track down and combat the theft of their work. Nothing that the Chronicle asked of me in return for payment was excessive (it was all normal stuff that outside contractors have to do if they want to get paid by a corporation — but I feel like a sucker now that they have my social security number), but every additional effort that I had to make to obtain redress was increasingly less worthwhile for me. If I had to do this regularly, I would be the world’s grumpiest human being. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, and, it turns out (and I had already known this intellectually), there’s no such thing as redress without real effort (and now I really get it). Nobody’s gonna make it right to you unless you hold their feet to the fire. And I was dealing with nice people who meant well at a decently reputable company; it was still a hassle.
Would I raise my tiny fists and shout into the whirlwind in vain again in a similar situation? Probably. And I’ve got some new thoughts on how to do it — next time I can shortcut some of the email back and forth by just leading off with an attached invoice. And an invoice for an amount that I think is fair (now that I have something resembling a ballpark figure: more than the Chronicle paid me). But I hate how whiny and bitchy it makes me feel. Having the fact that I’m the little guy rammed home makes me feel even littler than before.
A quick follow-up on my post from earlier in the week on my Flickr image turning up on Chron.com:
Yesterday morning (via some suggestions from Alex Howard on Twitter and friends and family on Facebook), I got connected with Dean Betz, the Director of Content for the Houston Chronicle online. Dean has turned this into a learning opportunity for his staff, and has been candid with me about how events unfolded. Suffice to say that I am really impressed with his response thus far, particularly his decision to handle this as a teachable moment. He’s planning to post an explanation here, in his own words, of what happened and how he’s handled it.
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.
In much the same manner that I have opted to do an end-run around the issue of changing email addresses by establishing my own, permanent email address that forwards to my current email provider of choice, I have just installed my own URL shortener. At least I know that my short URLs are at no one’s mercy but my own. Who knows? This could be a disaster. But I’m excited about it right now.
So, I’ve spent far more of this fall mucking about in the Stygian stables of PowerPoint than I would really prefer. I don’t use it regularly myself, but have been working on converting a bunch of lesson units that were sent to my team as PowerPoints into an actual, y’know, shareable format. I’ve detailed at length my battles with converting PowerPoints into web pages (short version: don’t — I already knew this, of course, but had PowerPoints and needed web pages…).
Some quick history: these PowerPoints are created in Israel in Windows, I believe as PPTX files (i.e. Office 2007 documents). They’re saved as PPT files on those Israeli Windows systems. Which means that, in fact, my Mac PowerPoint 2008 converts the PPT files as they’re opened (into what, no one knows — they get “converted” again every time I save them, so I’m guessing it “converts” the PPTs into PPTXs).
Right now, I’m at a point where I need to pore over several hundred PowerPoint slides one-by-one and double-check hyperlinks, rebuilding pages that contain structures that PowerPoint is (mysteriously) incapable of exporting to the web correctly. And I see this bizarre view:
No, your eyes do not deceive you: the slide preview on the left is roughly double the size of the actual, editable, slide on the right. That left column is my list of slide thumbnails. I kid you not. And, it turns, out, that I can’t drag the divider very far to shrink it, maybe only 30 pixels:
This isn’t much of an improvement. (And, lest you think I haven’t clicked around enough, it turns out that if I try to close the left-hand slide thumbnail column by clicking the close box next to the divider… all that happens is that the column contracts to this slightly narrower width.) And I still have this miserable, unworkable right-hand pane in which to edit the actual slide. To add insult to injury, it turns out that I can control-click in the slide preview column and choose a zoom level for the previews:
So, this is the slide previews zoomed to 100% (which implies that they were previously displayed at something like 200% or 300% of their actual size). But I still can’t move the dang divider and create enough space to edit the actual goldang slide. As Obelix would say: “rhubarbrhubarbrhubarbrhubarb…”
Moreover, it turns out that when I switch from slide preview view to outline view, I can slide the divider around as much as I want. But the outline view doesn’t work for me, since these slides are made almost entirely of images and text boxes (and therefore the outline shows nothing). And, when I switch back from outline to slide preview mode… the flippin’ divider pops back to take up two thirds of my window.
I did some futzing around. It turns out that if I open the presentation in OpenOffice and save it as a PPT again, the slide previews go back to normal, reasonable, adjustable sizes…. but all of the links to supporting documents are destroyed because OpenOffice doesn’t support hyperlinks in presentations yet. Apparently. Ditto Keynote (it borks the layout, hyperlinks get munged, etc.).
And now, here’s the cherry on top: when I open the file in PowerPoint 2003 on Windows, it opens with the slide preview on the right. As though I were using an Israeli system. Same proportions — wide left column for editing, narrow preview column on the right. But I can’t move the preview column over to the left. I can only hide or show it. It seems that PowerPoint is saving column widths, but not remembering which column goes in which width: it opens it in Windows “Israeli-style” and knows the narrow right column is for previews, but on the Mac, it only sees the narrow right column — not that it’s a preview, and assumes — because I’m in the US, that the actual slide editor is the right column. But doesn’t let me adjust the width.
And, since I’m trying to get these PowerPoints working for Mac users… it’s not really a solution to edit them in Windows. Or to travel to Israel.
Argh. And the Microsoft “support” forums are populated by ignoramuses and arrogrant dimwits. And pptfaq.com is aimed at Windows users.
This is perhaps one of those midrashim that strive to unnecessarily explain the inexplicable…
It is, perhaps, worth noting — in my endless struggle towards internal consistency — that I’m still on board with what I wrote about striving to be less authoritative in my own classroom (as a means of pushing my students to be more active and independent learners).
The term “Expert Plan” that I was throwing around last weekend (and that, in fact, has become a whole category unto itself on this blog) is not of my devising. And is, in fact, my department head’s effort to do exactly as I aimed to do in being less authoritative: distribute leadership, push the folks doing the learning to take control of their learning, and generally promote active, independent learning… among faculty in preparation for going 1:1.
I am working on an “Expert Plan” for using laptops in education wearing my classroom teacher hat, not my educational technologist hat (although, perhaps, documenting with the educational technologist hat in the vicinity).
My step-father has commented that tracking my travels (and those of my sisters) is not entirely unlike tracking the movements of U-boats in the North Atlantic. For those of you who didn’t grow up playing Bismarck — and if this is you, then you led a deprived childhood — this is not an indication of strong communication skills on our parts.
February has been chock-full of activity, although little of it has made it into this blog (which, as an exercise in ego, may be representing lingering self-esteem issues). The postings that follow are little tidbits that have been lingering, which need to be cleared from the decks before I move forward. Bear with me.
I have spent the past several weeks and months trying to a) get to know my new school and b) define a vision for academic computing that complements the goals of the school.
I’ve been doing a bit of reading online (and on dead trees) in an attempt to refine my own idiosyncratic vision into something that is supported by research and generally applicable. I have spent the past few days poring over Will Richardson’s Blogs, Podcasts, Wikis (it came out a couple of years ago: one interesting twist is that I did not intend to return to technology and education after my last experience, and so am finding myself playing catch-up this year).
My initial reaction to his introduction was to cast the book aside in exasperation: he articulated the standard shiny-eyed wonder at the potential for all of these wonderful web tools to revolutionize education, the world and probably the way we make french fries as well. Standard pie-in-the sky futurist-gibber. Groan.
However, that frustration, combined with a recent talk at school by Nicholas Negroponte, Bob Metcalfe and Lars Perkins on the topic “Computer Science is a Liberal Art”, reminded me that the reason we (or at least I) study computer science is because it provides a methodical approach to handling complexity. Academic computing is a complex problem. So, let’s start by defining the problem and then think about how to solve it. Top down design is a wonderful thing.
Richardson prompted me to think about blogs as an extension of scholarly learning. Scholarly work draws on diverse sources, reading each source critically with the intent of providing a analytic and well-supported interpretation or synthesis of the information. If computer science is all done with zeros and ones, then scholarly work is all done in the footnotes. If you think that scholarly works are dry, Edward Gibbon’s footnotes will change your mind, if not your life. Blogs as the outgrowth of annotated lists of links are, at their best, scholarly works — that is, assuming that the annotations are written by someone who has critically examined the links in question and provided a useful analysis, thereby contributing the a reputation-based validation of the information.
Combine these two ideas: a need to think through a complex problem methodically and a blog as a mode of scholarly discourse, and I suddenly have all the reason in the world to blog: I can put together my thoughts under the public scrutiny of my peers, drawing clearly on the ideas of my peers, while trying to work through complex design and logistical problems.
With this in mind, over the next several days I intend to take a serious swing at using this blog as an area in which to get my vision in order. I am thinking most about the desired outcomes of academic computing in high schools: what should a high school graduate be able to do with technology? (And how does this connect to other things that a high school graduate should be able to do?) The bullet points that I expect to expand upon over the next several days are:
- Being a good web citizen
- Evaluating information of unknown provenance
- Communicating effectively in diverse media
- Fearless tinkering as a means towards working knowledge
- Supporting inquisitive and passionate people
I shall, understandably, endeavor to steer clear of identifiable specifics, leaving much of the logistics for my (private) wiki.
Updates: adding links for the bullet points.