Saturday, December 17, 2005


Mixed feelings

I'm interested in your comments on the use and misuse of creative work posted for free on the web.

Blogger Tetricus at The Angry Sicilian has paid me a somewhat double-edged compliment, here. He has downloaded three of my photos from Flickr (Berliners, Red Death Star Apple, and Jetson Towers), printed them, and put them on "public display," expressing the hope that I won't mind.
DSCN1755 DSCN5708 DSCN6087

On the one hand, I'm flattered that Tetricus likes the photos. On the other hand, the "public display" is apparently a merchandizing display at Best Buy or one of those type stores to sell HP Laser printers. If that's the case, then I have to say I do mind.

I'm not angry at The Angry Sicilian, and let's not direct any harsh words his way. First, I'm sure Tetricus meant this as a kindly intentioned gesture: He wants me to know he likes my photos. If he was simpy about stealing stuff, he wouldn't have told me, and I'd never have known my photos were being used in this way. For all I know, office supply stores around the country are displaying photos they've taken off of websites without authorization or even notice.

Second, my sense is that bloggers think in terms of the permissive property regime of the non-commercial parts of the web -- a system of property-sharing, characterized by "open source" and "creative commons" -- concepts which I admit I only dimly understand. I think Tetricus may have confused this blogosphere property-sharing ethic with commerce.

But I'm fairly certain that original content -- whether visual or verbal -- posted on blogs or stored on web sites like Flickr are proprietary original works, with the creator (in this case me) holding a copyright -- and that nothing about posting on a blog or on Flickr waives those rights.

I myself have copied photos and artwork from other blogs and posted them to this blog. But the difference -- which makes all the difference -- is that (1) I've only done so to promote the blog I've borrowed from (which means I always give credit) and (2) my blog is not a commercial endeavor. Note that I don't even have blog ads.

I've done some other posting of photos that is at best sketchy in terms of intellectual property rights -- news photos, magazine covers, and most recently New Yorker cartoons. Other bloggers do this too. I get away with it probably because this is a non-commercial blog with low traffic.

In sum, what I think is objectionable about Tetricus's use of my photos is that he's appropriated them for a commercial enterprise -- he or his employer wants to make money by using them -- but have not obtained my permission. And I wouldn't give permission for commercial use of my creative work without some kind of value received in exchange.

So, Tetricus: thanks for the compliment. Thanks for reading my blog. Thanks for your honesty about the fact that you're using my photos. But please stop using them for commercial purposes. Though I could use a color printer, so maybe we could discuss a deal...

I agree with you, Oscar, on all points.

In fact, we had another mind-meld (as you've called it). I just completed a post which includes this phrase: "I am one of those freaks who believes artists should get paid for their work".
Well I took them with me after I left the store.. I used them to print out as samples of the speed and color of the machine, along with my own photos. No harm intended. Please accept my appologies. I thought they were great and wanted to share them.
No worries.

Those other photos are yours? They're fabulous!
There are 2 camps about intellectual property on the 'net, and it's a widely argued topic. And one that I've argued about, widely.

Thing of it is, you should carefully read the TOS (terms of service) for your photo hosting website, which you do not own. Ensure that you are not, by posting your material there, giving away ANY of your rights to your IP(that's intelectual property, not IP address).

You may want to consider a small copyright notice at the bottom of all your pages. It won't stop people from stealing your work if that's what they want to do, but it will give the people who are honest an indication of what rights, if any, they may enjoy besides viewing/reading your work.

Of course you have an implicit copyright in your works; however "publication" on the web without explicit notice may ease your works into the public domain. I'm not really sure about the current legal precidents in that case.

Those authors of creative works who are concerned about retaining their rights should really put something on the bottom of each of their web pages. It's not that difficult, and it removes ambiguity.

On all of my websites I have a small print copyright notice. Some permit reproduction on others' web sites, if proper attributions are made. Others do not.

I am not a lawyer, but I've been protecting my IP online for a while, and I keep up on such things.
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