More Copyright Issues

I'm a big fan of Google's special holiday logos.  As most people are aware, every so often, Google replaces its logo with a jazzed up version celebrating an event or holiday.  (Clicking the logo, of course, does a search on the internet for the given event.) 

Yesterday, I briefly noticed some work of Joan Miro making up the logo -- but, I admit, I didn't know who Miro was until I looked into his work a bit.   The family of Miro, however, got a bit upset about this usage (violating copyright and all) and kindly asked Google to remove it (read the story here).  Google did remove it, though commenting that they felt it did not violate any copyright law.  (That's pretty standard stuff, right?  Capitulate but admit nothing!)

So, these stories always interest me.  I commented on Google's library project in this post awhile back, in which I felt (and still do) that it violates author's rights.  In regards to Miro's work, I saw one somewhat ignorant post displaying some displeasure and annoyance with Miro's family pointing out that Google using Miro's work was terrific publicity.  That is certainly true, since many, including myself, were not familiar with Miro prior to this news.

However, copyright law isn't about money (although some use it for that purpose) and it isn't about publicity.  Originally, it was intended to spark creativity and innovation, while protecting the copyright holder's rights dictating how the work is used, copied, and distributed (among several other rights). 

Although many people won't quite understand this, many artists have a great deal of emotion and personal value invested in their work, and copyright is usually the only thing that is protecting this personal investment.  When people (or organizations) violate this, it's taken personally.  As a bad example, consider your neighbor just waltzing into your home to borrow a cup of sugar without asking.  It's the act, not the result or outcome, that is the violation.

I have been on both sides of this issue personally.  In '98, I found a digital image of mine was being used in a television commercial.  Upon contacting the company, they insisted the image was theirs -- however, there was absolutely no mistaking the image's origin.  Upset?  You bet.   Only after hiring a lawyer did the company change its tune and acknowledge the image was indeed mine. 

Sometime in 2001 or so, I received an e-mail from one of Gary Larson's attorney, asking me to remove an image I created and placed in my online gallery that parodied one of his Farside cartoons.  I wish I didn't have to do that, as I had received hundreds of e-mails from Larson fans that loved it.  And even though it was enjoyable and, from my view, created no harm,  there is an emotional attachment artist's have to their work, and regardless of intentions or outcome, you have to respect it.

It will be interesting and heated to see how intellectual rights shake out over the coming years, with the DMCA, DRM, and patents (like this one from Philips designed to prevent ad skipping).  May we live in interesting times.

Comments (3) -

4/23/2006 12:39:54 AM #

Copyright seems to be a much bigger issue now that the Internet has made finding and ripping off material much easier than ever. We publish several e-zines and periodically track down abusers of our material to give them grief.

One common misconception is that citing the source makes it okay to copy the material. When we've told people to take our stuff off their site, several of them have complained that they gave us a by-line and sometimes a link to our site, so we should be happy for the publicity. So what? What they did is still thievery.

As more and more drivel and garbage makes its way onto the internet and more and more scams try to monetize traffic (see the latest Bob Parsons blog entry on the registrar" target=_blank>Add/Drop Scam), content is king.

We write new material and put it up on our sites because regular, fresh, and desirable content brings in new visitors and returning visitors. That content is what makes our sites what they are, and spreading that same content around the web erodes its value to us. That is why we bother to track down abusers.

By the way, I doubt the Farside folks really had much of a leg to stand on with regard to copyright. Parody is generally an accepted use of copyrighted material, although I'm not sure of the details regarding how much it has to be changed and how obvious it has to be that it is a parody. I'm sure they make it a policy of going after everyone and letting the lawyers sort it out. In most cases, people like you and I won't have the resources to argue with them, and we are forced to capitulate. It is typical legal intimidation, but it works for them.

The most annoying thing about finding your stuff has been ripped off is the feeling of being ripped off. It really ticks me off that these no-talent jerks who lack the ability to produce their own material think they can get away with just stealing stuff from others. The second most annoying thing is that many of these idiots don't even realize they are breaking the law! To quote Forrest Gump, I guess "stupid is as stupid does."

Okay. I'm done now. As you can probably tell, copyright violation is a sore subject with me.

4/23/2006 8:26:04 AM #


I completely agree.  Unfortunately, some even believe that if it's on the internet, work is in the public domain!  Oy.  And what really bugs me about that add/drop same you linked to is how everything scams like that make life much harder for everyone else.  Ultimately, the grace period will simply be removed.  And thanks to comment spammers, we have ridiculous methods such as CAPTCHA and other hoops to make users jump through.

As for the Farside thing -- I gave the parody avenue some thought, because that's what it was intended for.  The letter, as I recall, cited the reason for the removal was because my work was a derivative of the original.  (">Here's some info on derivates">.)  When looking over the definition of derivate works specifically, I can't rule it out.

Obviously, parodies will always be infringing somewhat; but as you allude to in the legal intimidation statement: are you willing to bankroll the defense?  Is the pricipal larger than belief (that is, is it worth taking a stand)?  (And that's why all but one or two haven't stood up to the RIAA ... it may make a good stand, but no one is willing to bankroll it, and I don't blame them.)

In looking at">this article">, the big problem I have is resolving the word "criticism."  Does the parody separate itself enough from the original by criticizing it?  Is it an obvious parody?  I'm not so sure.  And in the end, I'm a fan of the work.  Obviously his work was inspiration for mine, and even though I didn't understand the reasons, I thought it respectful to comply.

Ah, good times.  I'm amazed that some people try to correct or justify their taking of your work.  And speaking of which, I've seen a number of cheezy search engine portals that take RSS feeds for content.  When Googling for something, I've noticed I often land on these ad-heavy portals that are pulling content from bloggers.  It would be interesting to go after them for illegally copying blogger's work.

4/24/2006 9:35:08 AM #

Having seen the Jib Jab parody mentioned in the second article link, I found the article to be very interesting. The author's amusing treatment of the subject shows that not all lawyers are stiffs.

In the end, it seems that a parody must make it clear that it is referring to the original work, but in order to make a different or contradictory point. Criticism is one way to do that, but the Jib Jab article makes it sound like any kind of commentary that adds new meaning might qualify. All this just makes me glad I'm not involved in copyright law.

In our situation, the discovery that most of the abusers were actually just stupid made for a fairly simple solution: We added a Copyscape notice to the top of our pages, which clearly states that the content is protected and should not be copied. That won't stop the intentional thieves, of course, but it does strengthen our claim to copyright protection while it clues in the "accidental thieves" (i.e. morons).

I've seen the RSS "re-publishers" you described. Those thieves are particularly a problem for people like you who include the content in the feed. I've seen our feeds referenced by other sites, but that doesn't bother me because all they get is the summary and a link to the original article. The only complaint I can muster is that they are linking to our site without permission, but we at least get a traffic benefit from that, and the content itself is not being copied. Besides, we do offer a free feed script for some of our sites that works more or less like an RSS capture (it provides links to the original articles with summaries).

We've reconciled ourselves to the fact that the scum is out there and will continue to do scummy things. We'll continue to give them hell, but we know we can't stop them from being themselves.

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