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]

Aggravated about aggregation

NYT Editor Says It’s Only Journalism When He Does It

I love it. Matthew Ingram’s Gigaom piece was aggregated by the New York Times and the piece is about Bill Keller, the executive editor of The New York Times looking down on aggregation as theft.

The piece is brilliant.

Here’s the piece that set Matthew Ingram off: All the Aggregation That’s Fit to Aggregate. I’m with Matthew Ingram, Keller comes off like an ass.

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.

Flickr as an Interior Decorating Tool

On June 24th Sonia Zjawinski posted a piece for The New York Times’ Personal Tech section: Flickr as an Interior Decorating Tool. In it she both celebrated the number of excellent photographers that can be found in the flickr community but also seemed to advocate using those photographers’ images to decorate one’s home. No mention was made of permissions, copyright or fair use policies both within flickr and on the internet in general.

As you can see from the number of letters that post got, Sonia hit a nerve although I can say from years of experience with flickr, there are various interpretations of flickr’s fair use policies and tools for sharing photographs.

Sonia and The Times printed a followup post to back off a bit on the “flickr is a great place to get free stuff” meme that was explicit in her first post: Are Flickr Photos Fair Game for Home Printing?.

This post is getting plenty of comments as well, some of them, like in the first comments section incredibly rude. I think Sonia and The Times have handled this perfectly.

What many in both comment threads fail to acknowledge is the responsibility of the creator of the content to understand the terms of the flickr universe and correctly set up their flickr account to control access. Of course, flickr members need to consider whether they want a copyright or maybe a creative commons license on their images and then, whether or not they want to allow searches from outside of flickr to include their images (public access).

All of this being done, flickr is a photo sharing site, the key word being “sharing.” Sharing doesn’t mean stealing but having one’s work online runs the risk of the wrong people finding and taking it.

Rethinking the Shepard Fairey Hope poster fair use issue

Roy_Lichtenstein_Drowning_GirlDrowning Girl by Roy Lichtenstein

I was looking through the excellent photographs of Laurie Lambrecht at lens culture: Inside Roy Lichtenstein’s Studio and images like “Bathing Beauties, stencils,” and “Naples” made me wonder if there is a connection between what Roy Lichtenstein did with period graphic images and what Shepard Fairey did with the photograph that was the basis for his Obama “Hope” poster.

Shepard Fairey Obama "Hope" poster comparisonOf course there’s a connection but Fairey got in trouble for not citing the photograph (by AP photographer Mannie Garcia) he used as source material for his poster. Many in the photography world got bent (me included) about Fairey not citing the photographer of the image he copied and initially, he denied copying anything until someone came up with the image.

There is no doubt that most artists, photographers, and creators of images are standing on the shoulders of those who came before them. It’s useful to acknowledge that and I’m wondering if Lichtenstein ever acknowledged the graphic designers and artists who’s work he used as the basis for his pop art. Whatever Lichtenstein did or didn’t do doesn’t excuse Fairey but it’s an example of the context in which Fairey was and no doubt continues to operate.

The art world is one weird place.

Use Their Work Free? Some Artists Say No to Google

Use Their Work Free? Some Artists Say No to Google

This is fascinating and it parallels sentiment in the photography world. Personally, I’m not sure this stance is right for everyone but it’s certainly right for some, especially well established graphic designers and artists who aren’t groping for exposure.

My problem with it is this: a beginning photographer (or artist) might feel the need to bootstrap exposure and may not be so secure in the quality of his or her work. Taking advantage of a few opportunities to show work to a wider audience, with citation and without pay, can lead to more exposure, confidence, more work, and in the end, money.

This other side is like a beginning photographer going crazy watermarking his work and being overly concerned with theft before the work is mature and before the work is stolen.

So, it’s complicated and one size doesn’t fit all.

I stole your images, put them back or I will call a lawyer

I stole your images, put them back or I will call a lawyer


The twist is that moving images breaks legitimate inline image posts as well, like me posting my images from flickr at this site. If I replace an image on flickr it breaks the link to this site which of course I can fix but it’s a pain. And, I know others legitimately blog my images from flickr and those links do get broken as I replace images. It happens rarely but it does happen.

As for the person who wrote the email linked to above, I’m speechless.

Stolen picture used on a billboard in another country

Stolen picture used on a billboard in another country

Danielle innocently scans holiday card of her family, posts picture to facebook and her blog and a friend notices it used on a billboard advertising a grocery store in the Czech Republic.

No doubt this goes on all the time and sometimes through chance it’s caught. The assumption of the folks who steal the pictures is that if you reuse them in another country the odds of someone familiar with them finding out will be low to nil. But, now that the world is much more connected the odds of someone on facebook with friends in other countries means the odds change and this is an example of that.

I see an idea for a new web site: a lost and found for images. Photographers can post images there that they know have been stolen and folks who see images like this can post pictures of the stolen pictures in use. Hopefully the site would have a way for these two posts to match up. Of course, thieves might troll this web site looking for images. Gad.

[via Digg]

When a Picture Is Worth a Thousand Debates, Give or Take

When a Picture Is Worth a Thousand Debates, Give or Take

A great discussion of the ideas behind a traveling photo show: “Controversies: A Legal and Ethical History of Photography.”

In the article Michael Kimmelman discusses what he calls “the messy, philosophical heart of photography” which involves everything from the ethics of street photography to copyright issues to the snapshots of torture at Abu Ghraib. I hope this show makes it to the US.

[via Brad Willet]

Nina Paley and Sita Sings the Blues

This is a trailer for Nina Paley’s full length animated feature: Sita Sings the Blues.

Nina’s earlier work, Fetch was a wonderful early animation that showed a bit of her creativity but Sita takes it to another level (another world).

In the process of releasing Sita, Nina ran into issues surrounding her use of some background music and has become a Creative Commons activist. Her blog has numerous posts and videos describing what happened to her.

Thirteen, the PBS station in New York did an extensive interview with her about the Sita issue: Nina Sings the Copyright Song and they have the entire film Sita Sings the Blues online for watching: Sita Sings the Blues.

Update: You can make a donation to Thirteen and download the HD version of the film and watch it on your computer or an HD TV. It’s incredible. I’ve now watched the entire thing full screen on this computer, well worth the download (and donation): Download here. To download hold the Option key down as you click the download button.

Read a review of the movie in The New York Times: Hindu Goddess as Betty Boop? It’s Personal.

Fantastic film, beautifully done, worth watching in its entirety in HD on your computer. Wow.

Coldplay’s photo contracts

Cold shoulder from Coldplay

The British rock band Coldplay’s management has decided to change the rules by which the band is photographed essentially hogging all rites to all photographs. If photographers don’t adhere to the new contract they’re not allowed access to the band. A number of high profile rock photographers are rebelling and writing new contracts and no doubt they’re hoping the band will get the message.

As a photographer I would recommend a boycott of their music until they get the message (picture).

[via Dale Allyn]