Beware internet lynch mobs

The Photographer, The Entrepreneur, The Stockbroker And Their Rent-A-Mob

Jeremy Nicholl has written an amazing commentary on a fascinating and controversial series of events.

A quick backstory:

The photographer Jay Maisel took a picture of Miles Davis for the cover of the famous album Kind of Blue. Maisel owns the copyright to the image.

Many years later Andy Baio decided to use the image as the basis for the graphic design for the cover of a new album, Kind of Bloop. The new image is highly pixelated but the original image can be made out.

Maisel sued Baio for copyright infringement. Baio, who is well known on the web posted Kind of Screwed describing what happened to him and his feelings about fair use. Baio’s post is well worth reading just for his history of the fair use issue no matter how you feel about this particular incident.

Then things got ugly as people who had no idea who Jay Maisel was formed a lynch mob and went after him both on the internet and at his studio. The most vocal of these people was/is a guy named Thomas Hawk (a pseudonym for Andrew Peterson) who my friend Dale and I have been disgusted with since from the early days of flickr. Hawk/Peterson is a professional victim and ambulance chaser, wherever there’s controversy there’s Thomas Hawk, usually claiming victimhood for himself or someone else.

Now that you have a bit of backstory and the names of the major players, read Jeremy’s commentary and don’t forget the comment thread under it, some great posts there.

You may wonder how I feel about this and the truth is, I have mixed feelings about the gray area where copying collides with standing on another person’s shoulders and taking an idea further. The aspect of this that most infuriates me has nothing to do with copyright or fair use, it has to do with internet lynch mobs who can do serious damage to a person without having to take responsibility for it.

The downside of the social internet is that it gives people tools to spread an idea around the world in minutes with no vetting on the accuracy of the idea. As the idea is telephoned through Twitter, Facebook, blogs (like this one) and more it becomes decontextualized or re-contextualized and warped, usually leaving an over-simplified story that is ripe for the likes of Thomas Hawk and his tribe of ambulance chasers.

When is sharing a photograph stealing?

That famous space shuttle photo: When is sharing stealing?

Stefanie Gordon took a picture of the Space Shuttle taking off from a commercial airliner. No doubt some of you have seen the image. She tweeted it to friends with Twitter when she landed and didn’t think much more about it.

By the time she was out of the airport she was getting congratulatory messages about the image from people she’d never met. The image went viral in a matter of minutes and has been viewed over a million times.

The linked to piece above discusses the legal technicalities of taking pictures, sharing them and having them lifted by third parties you don’t know who see them on the web. Fascinating stuff and well thought out. Bottom line:

The mere act of taking a photograph means the photographer holds the copyright for that picture. Sharing it on a social media site does nothing to limit or reduce that fundamental right.

[via Coudal Partners]

What some people don’t know about copyright is a lot

The Day The Internet Threw a Righteous Hissyfit About Copyright And Pie

Great headline. Fascinating story.

Linda Holmes at NPR has written the best overview I’ve read yet of this now viral story about copyright and ignorance. I particularly like that Linda makes reference to what I call virtual lynch mobs: people ganging up on others just because a bunch of people have tweeted that these people have done something wrong. I’m not defending Cook’s Source or the editor, they deserve to be routed for thinking it okay to lift copyrighted information and republish it, even with proper citation but without permission, but no doubt the comments on Facebook and elsewhere involved dismembering people for this nasty deed. Support the authors who were plagiarized, stop subscribing to and using Cook’s Source and put them out of business but let’s not waterboard the editor.

Annie Leibovitz To Keep Iconic Portfolio

Annie Leibovitz To Keep Iconic Portfolio

A private equity firm took over the debt Leibovitz owed the loan organization that fronted her $24 million in exchange for signing over the rights to all her past, current, and future work.

So, she’s still under the thumbs of money men but these money men are helping her market her work and no doubt have a piece of the action as well as the debt.

This is no doubt a common story in the art, music, and performance world, it’s just that the scale is bigger here.

Insight on copying


I first learned about Insight through this post at Signal to Noise: “Smart” pasting at The New Yorker site.

If you copy text from a site that has Insight installed, when you paste it the paste will include a link back to the original post. That link is easily deleted if you don’t want it but if you do nothing, will be included.

The comment thread at Signal to Noise which is now closed is fascinating: many people think it’s invasive to modify what a user copies. Only in the end does someone come up with the idea that these users who are copying are copying content that is not theirs. The least they can do is allow a link back to the original content. But, of course that link can easily be deleted so no one is forced to accept links back to the original text.

This seems like a great idea to me and as someone who has found entire essays of mine lifted and reposted elsewhere, not to mention having my photographs stolen from flickr and reposted with some else’s copyright, I’m all for at least nudging people who take other people’s original content toward acknowledging the content’s author.

Oh, and I don’t have Insight installed here.

Shepard Fairey admits lying about image used in HOPE poster

‘Hope’ Poster Artist Admits Error

Shepard Fairey, a Los Angeles-based street artist with a long, often proud history of breaking rules, said in a statement Friday that he was wrong about which photo he used and that he tried to hide his error. It was not immediately clear whether he would drop his lawsuit against the AP over the use of the photo.

This doesn’t clear up the copyright infringement issue but it does show that Fairey isn’t the best poster boy for fair use policy debate.

The issue isn’t that he used the image, the issue is that he used the image without citing the photographer and then sold posters based on it.