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. Warning, takes a while to load but it does load.

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.

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.

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.

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]

Shepard Fairey ripped off my picture first

Shepard Fairey ripped off my picture first

Ed Nachtrieb took a picture of two Chinese soldiers in Beijing. That iconic image was used by Fairy in a poster. The comment thread is fascinating.

This is a discussion of copyright, citation, ethics and what exactly original artwork is. Fascinating and no doubt all of us have to keep an open mind going forward.

Sita Sings the Blues

This is the full movie: Sita Sings the Blues by Nina Paley.

If you watch it in a browser window on your computer, zoom it out and turn it up.

Absolutely incredible, one of the most creative and interesting animated stories I’ve ever seen in any medium. Paley threads multiple types of animation, multiple types of music, multiple storylines (including autobiography), multiple ethnicities in voice over and more into what could have been a failed mashup of too much stuff but in fact, its a masterpiece.

In the process of releasing Sita, Nina ran into issues surrounding her use of some background music and has become a Creative Commons activist and so, Sita is free to the world.

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