DPP Home Business Naked In The Courtroom - The Web And Copyright

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Naked In The Courtroom - The Web And Copyright

The Internet has opened a can of worms for photographers struggling to keep control over images while also seeking to get their work seen by the public and image buyers

That's When It All Hit The Fan
TechCrunch, a hugely popular blog that reports about the technology industry, quickly lashed out at Miss Hartwell with a blog post entitled “Misunderstanding Copyright Law and Ruining Everyone's Fun.” The tenor of the blog post, written by Michael Arrington, was that Miss Hartwell didn't have a case against the Richter Scales because the use of her photo in their video came under the fair use exception of the copyright law, plus, Miss Hartwell should show a little leniency toward her fellow artists.

The post rapidly received a hailstorm of comments, some for Miss Hartwell and some against, and some were incredibly caustic and misogynistic, resulting in a mob-rule mentality. The story spread around the Internet like a wildfire during a drought. Not surprisingly, the facts of the story were quickly distorted. Within days, Miss Hartwell's name was famous or notorious, depending upon with which side of the argument you aligned yourself.

The Currency Of The Web
In a follow-up to the original TechCrunch post, “Fair Use Vs. Free Speech in the Internet Age: The Lane Hartwell Problem,” writer Erick Schonfeld made the argument that “the way creative people like Lane Hartwell get compensated for use of their work must evolve” to consider the way people express themselves on the web using video, images and other rich media in mash-up format, forms of expression that are protected by freedom of speech.

Mr. Schonfeld continued that photographers should consider not charging for the use of our work on the Internet at all, but rather consider the currency of the Internet, which is the link. He contends that “Links drive traffic, which would help each photographer find more clients and even sell more images on their own sites if they so choose.”

Kara Swisher, who's a technology writer for The Wall Street Journal and BoomTown, a column that appears on one of the most highly regarded blogs on the Internet, All Things Digital, maintains that photographers should look at the grabbing of their work as vehicles for exposure. Her perspective is that folks like the Richter Scales aren't inherently malicious, but are careless as they pursue distributing their art on the Internet. She also believes there won't be a lot of money to be made in trying to dole out usage licenses to individuals or groups like the Richter Scales who are just adding their creations to the Internet collective.

Yeah, But It's Still Mine
I agree with Miss Swisher. There never will be any money in trying to license your images to people who are creating noncommercial vignettes of expression to upload to the Internet. I also agree that there's value in attribution and getting more traffic to your website. This raises your ranking in Google, resulting in more notoriety and a greater online presence for your name. It's basically the online equivalent of doing a magazine cover for very little money to boost your street credibility.

The major exception is that when you're approached by a magazine to do a low-budget cover, you have the choice of declining, a choice that isn't available if someone heists your image without your knowledge. Unless you're prone to spending long hours scouring the World Wide Web for your work, there's really no way for you to personally track if and how your images are being used without your permission.


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