April 11, 2013

Continued Copyright Violations


I feel a bit like a grumpy ole curmudgeon for doing this, but I put up an official copyright notice. I really hate to do that, but after finding a second person using my baby photos of Nicki in as many days, I felt I had to do something. At least this time I believe it was an honest mistake, and not another person pretending photos of Nicki are photos of her child.

As I was writing the copyright notice, I kept thinking about when I first got online, and my very first websites. Like most of my peers, I would occasional use an image I didn’t own the rights to. I wouldn’t use any photos with an obvious copyright, but the non-obvious ones? Sure, I’ve done that. I had an inkling it was wrong, but I figured I wasn’t harming anyone. I wasn’t profiting off it, and everyone does it. I figured if I was caught I could just say “I didn’t know it was copyrighted” (half true) or “my friend sent it to me to use, I thought it was hers” (a total copout.) The ultimate irony: I’ve heard both excuses from people using my images without permission.

It’s easy to make mistakes. There’s a misconception that a link back to the original source of a photo and your not directly profiting off of it, using the photo counts as fair use. That’s like saying if you credit George R. R. Martin you can post the full contents of A Song of Ice and Fire on your website. One of the key factors in determining whether something constitutes fair use is how substantial the portion of the copyrighted material is being copied. A still from a movie or a passage from a book is a small piece of the whole work. Copying a photograph is reproducing the work in entirety.

But as difficult as it was to write my copyright notice, there is some good that may come from it.

Good for you: Less ambiguity. Some people have pointed out possible copyright issues with pinning on pinterest. In the past I’ve implied I’m ok with pinterest, now I’ve explicitly stated it. I’ve also decided to reserve only some rights, not all! That means I’ve given permission to post my images/photos on your website/blog under certain circumstances. When in doubt, you can always ask. I’ll probably be so tickled pink that you want to use my work that I’ll say yes.

Good for me: Consistency. I agonized over what to do with this latest copyright violation. I started filling out a DMCA take down request when I started having flash backs to my younger self. How would I have felt had my webhost informed me that I was in violation of someone else’s copyright and they had temporary suspended my website as a result? Make no mistake, the copyright owner and my webhost would have been well within their collective rights to do so (as would I in this case.) I truly feel most people are honest, just unaware. My policy gives everyone 3 days to respond when I email them about a copyright violation. I understand that someone might be on vacation, or travel, or otherwise occupied, so I’m just looking for a response in that time that implies their taking my request seriously. Absent that, or a way to contact them, I’m afraid I will have no choice but to follow through with the DMCA take down request. Seems fair, right? I feel less bad about filing the complaint if it’s a uniform policy I apply to everyone.

Will the new policy be effective? Probably not. I suspect in both cases the copyright violator found the photos using Google image search, and never visited my blog. If they don’t visit my blog, they won’t see my copyright notice. Regardless, I will feel better about taking action.

Someone asked me why not block Google from archiving my images. For the most part Google is my friend. I actually get a fair amount of traffic to my blog through Google image search. I want potential readers to be able to find me. Still, it’s a valid point. Copyright laws are only work in countries that agree enforce them, and I can’t stop someone if I don’t know their using my images. The only way to truly prevent copyright violations is to not let anyone have access to the photos in the first place.

Since I still intend to blog, the most effective strategy I can think of is to continue to post small images – big enough to display in a blog post, but too small to be useful elsewhere. (One of the reasons people became suspicious of the first copyright violator was that she did not have the high resolution versions of the baby photos copied.) Actually, that’s not true. The best strategy would be to post terrible photos that no one wants to steal, but that’s not a path I want to go down. At least not intentionally.

Updated 4/13: The second person violating my copyright has voluntarily removed my content when it was pointed out to her. I did not have to file a DMCA take down request.

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