March 9, 2013

Thinking about Copyrights and Credit

I’ve been online for nearly two decades now. I’ve been a web master for nearly as long. Back in those early days, being a ‘webmaster’ meant throwing a little static HTML onto angelfire or geocities.

I’ve also been around long enough to have my work stolen. Multiple times.


Despite the copyright theft, I never bothered water marking my photos, like other bloggers. Watermarks can be cropped and tend to be kind of ugly. Instead, I upload only a small version of each image. They’re too small to be resold, printed or posted to social media. They’re basically useless for anything other than blogging. If there’s ever a question of who took the photo (or created the stick figures diagram) I have the larger original. I also have the raw file format.

More than copyright theft, I worry about lack of credit for my ideas.

Take pinterest for example. Why buy the cow if the milk is for free? In this case, buying the cow would be reading a blog post, and the milk is the ideas. A photo with a quick caption is often all it takes to get an idea across. A pin may spread like wild fire among new pinterest users, without anyone ever tracing it back to the original blog. A great recipie, a neat craft project? They get re-blogged and re-pinned. That’s a scary concept for a fledgling blog like mine that doesn’t get much traffic from other sources. No traffic means no revenue.

Of course, the counter argument is if no one knows you exist, you won’t get traffic or revenue. But here, too, lies a problem. Have you ever seen a blogger post a recipe they’ve tried from pinterest? My guess is they listed the full ingredients and enough information that you don’t need to visit the blog for the recipe details.

As a computer scientist who has been a stone’s throw from silicon valley, I’m well aware of the new mantra Github is the new resume. Resumes can be misleading. Who really had all the good ideas on a project? Gone are the days of line counts to see complex a system is. (I can write a 2000 line hello world function, but that shouldn’t be a reason to hire me.) Project managers want to see real code in order to evaluate you as a coder. It’s a push for everything to be more open.

While I think open source is great for learning and fostering ideas in general – it’s a large part about how I got started! – here again I worry about being that passed over cow. I’ve written quite a few applications outside of work that I own the sole rights to. Two in particular are responsible for fair amount of traffic to my resume website. The writing sample analyzer and Labor Predictor. If something is hard to implement, the implementation tends to be unique. Make the code free, and a hundred writing sample analyzers may pop up. The exact same analyzers. On more popular websites.

The alternative is not to share, but that seems just as detrimental. Why visit a blog that has nothing interesting to say?

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