Not Happy About Sharing: A Copyright Perspective

[rant alert]

Eric Zorn's column in the 6 April 2014 Chicago Tribune (scroll down to "A Sign of the Times") discusses his sharing of a photograph with his online readers. Zorn did not contact the photographer first and request any sort of permission from them to use the item. He did credit the photographer when he used it and that was supposed to suffice.

Let me go into your yard, pick your flowers, and then "give you credit" for them. Yeah...good luck with that.

This picture has nothing to do with this post.
But it is totally my own work--
math work in this case. The photograph is (c) 2014
Michael John Neill. The actual text may or may not be
copyrightable--as it's just the demonstration that a
specific complex number solves a specific quadratic equation.
The article also makes the claim that the photograph didn't appear to be copyrightable to Zorn.

Excuse me? Photograph not copyrightable? How did that slip through editorial? Maybe I should perform an experiment to see if photographs really are copyrightable.   I'll start using photographic images from the Chicago Tribune on my blog and see how long it takes me to get emails from attorneys that mention the word "copyright." If the emails contain the words "cease and desist" and "copyright," then the photographs were copyrightable. Otherwise they aren't.

Apparently the sharing of the photograph and the apparent world fame that would ensue is what should have mattered to the image creator, not a pesky little thing like copyright. After all, any image creator would be thrilled beyond all levels of wild imagination if someone at the Chicago Tribune shared that image. Apparently the image creator was not. And she is perfectly within her rights.

Common sense told me a long time ago that favors are best done for people when you know they are going to appreciate them. Cliched as it may be, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. That's not law...that's just the voice of experience.

It is up to the creator of an image or an article whether or not your "sharing" is helping. It does not matter whether you "think" you are helping or not.

Zorn has an excuse which centers on the concept that "everyone else is doing it" which is apparently justified because "I gave her credit." I stopped using that excuse when I was about eight years old. Apparently Zorn doesn't. "Everyone else is doing it" is an excuse for teenagers who come in past curfew or slightly inebriated. Zorn's picture makes it clear he's no teenager.

Zorn admits that "technically" the photographer has a point even if what the creator has made is "just a picture". The use of the word "technically"  and "just" makes it appear that Zorn still doesn't really take her concern seriously. It's easy to not take someone else's concern over copyright seriously when you have already assigned  yours to your corporate employer. An employer that I'm pretty certain would be firing off an email to me if I used his entire column in a blog post of my own.

Could I post his entire column in a blog entry on this site by saying "I was trying to 'help' promote Zorn within the genealogical community?" Would that be a good excuse? Probably not. I'd probably get more emails from lawyers using the words "cease and desist" and "copyright."

Zorn indicates that he had done the woman a "small favor" by using the photo. He did delete it. But he never indicates that he should not have posted it in the first place.

The column makes the point that we have a long way to go to educate not just the masses about copyright, but the media as well.




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