Posts tagged copyright
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.
One of my responsibilities at Jewish Day School is to write a weekly “tech tips” column for the online faculty news. This is one such tip.
As teachers, we are perennially swapping the hat that we wear: lecturer, confidante, counselor, coach, security officer, parent. With the ability publish work instantaneously to the entire globe with a single click comes a fresh and daunting hat: copyright lawyer. The Gordian Knot of copyright law raises its Medusa-like head at several times during the year: preparing readings, vetting student research and writing, and presenting student accomplishments. At this time of the year, it seems most appropriate to focus on the last of these…
What copyright concerns come along with exhibiting and presenting student work? What follows are some questions to ask yourself (and your students) to clarify this situation. (Remember: IANAL, so this is not technically legal advice, this is friendly, collegial advice!)
- Is this work original? If the student presenting work that is entirely original — not based on the work of any other being here or on Alpha Centauri, living or dead, then you can’t possibly infringe on anyone else’s copyright. It would behoove the student to include a copyright notice on their work to protect their own copyright!
- Are you using material in the public domain? If so, then you can do whatever you want, however and wherever you want. Always assume not, unless specifically labeled otherwise: figuring out public domain is tricky. Most of the time, it’s best simply to start with material that is licensed the way you want to use it — and simply owning a work does not give you license to reproduce it (you can’t use an iTunes song as the soundtrack to your YouTube video in the same way that you can’t base a poster on an AP photo without incurring the wrath of the AP).
- Are outside sources quoted parsimoniously? Fair use allows for quotation and reproduction for critical purposes — but if you’re reproducing entire works verbatim or using more than you need to make your point, you could be violating the rights of the author (and exposing yourself to legal action). There is no hard and fast rule (and there is no straight-up “exemption for education”), but a “reasonable man” test is a good guideline. In general, if you’re in doubt, you should hedge your bet and ask for/buy permission before exhibiting.
In general, if you can’t answer yes to at least one of these questions, your best bet is to not publish: you’re taking a risk not just for yourself, but for your student and the school. Treat work that doesn’t meet these criteria as a draft, available only within the school walls. Push your students to revise their work to meet these criteria in exactly the same manner that the editor at your publishing house would push you.
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.