Posts Tagged ‘Copyright Infringement’


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.

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?

January 13, 2012

SOPA is Just Bad Business

There’s been a lot of talk about sopa and it’s sister bill pipa lately. Both bills are designed to combat online privacy, effectively by giving the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and others a big broad sword with which to swing at ‘copyright pirates’. In reality, the bills will do little to stop real pirates and can do more harm to you and me.

Supporters of the bills argue that they will just target large sites, and not about censorship or going after small, personal websites that are using copyrighted material under the fair use act. But the companies that make up RIAA and MPAA haven’t shown much integrity on that front, nor have they particularly acted rationally. Let’s not forget the sony rootkit scandal where Sony was so concerned over their own profits that they stealthy installed a rogue program on all their customers’ personal computers – without said customers’ permission. The program (called a rootkit) monitored what each customer was doing on his or her own computer, and beaconed the information back to Sony so Sony could attempt to identify possible copyright theft. Not only was it an invasion of privacy, the rootkit had vulnerabilities that allowed hackers to gain access and control the customers’ computers. Sony put their customers’ privacy and personal data at risk with an ‘everyone is guilty until proven innocent’ mentality.

But there’s one area of SOPA that’s bad and I’m surprised no one is talking about it. SOPA reflects an old marketing thinking of ‘control your brand at all costs’, taking a draconian approach to even the most mild of infringes. The problem with this approach is it’s counterproductive online. In truth, the power of the internet is viral marketing, where a message is allowed to spread like wild fire, at little or no cost. By allowing fans to create fan fiction, or homage videos, you’re gaining free marketing that not only drums up fan interests, but helps companies reach a larger audience. The fact that these are fans and third parties, thus not affiliated with a company, spreading the companies allows corporations to easily distance themselves from any representation they think is unflattering to the brand while simultaneously profiting from positive buzz.

In fact, companies being heavy handed with fans over derivative works has caused numerous fan backlashes, such as the Mad Men case where AMC went after fake twitter accounts designed in homage to fan’s favorite characters. In contrast, 2 consumers created a fan page on facebook for coca cola, which became the second most popular fan page, a technical violation of the facebook terms of service which says only the company can create a fan page. Coca-Cola instead thanked the consumers for their hard work and devotion. Under the new bill trademark infringements, not only could twitter and facebook face being taken down, but there could be possible jail time for the fans responsible in these homage works. Whether you’re paying homage to a Coca-Cola or an AMC is the luck of the draw.

The problem is the RIAA and MPAA in particular have no strategy for the online world, and have been resisting change. They assume down sales are due to pirates and not a changing market or changing consumer desire. They fight with netflix and resisted Apple’s micro-payment model as long as possible. Yes, piracy is bad and should be stopped, but until the attitude that any-paying-customer-is-a-potential-copyright-thief-or-trade-mark-infringer changes, I can’t get behind stronger copyright bills that give them unlimited power with no form of recourse to decide what is and is not a copyright violation. We’ve come along way in the past thirty years. There are many new forms of entertainment out there: smart phones, personal computers, e-readers, etc. The world is moving away from the days of vast CD and DVD collections, in favor of digital media and streaming. It’s time for the RIAA and MPAA to adapt, not dig their heels in further. The world has changed, and those that are unwilling to bend often brake.