Corporate Copyright Applies in Only One Direction


Copyright holders like Disney get to set the laws, commoners have to 'relax and enjoy it'.

Gaughran-Perez logged on to, the personal blog where she'd uploaded a snapshot of her dog, then waited for the Fox pug -- a sort of "Merry Christmas" icon -- to appear again on TV.


The pug was definitely Truman; the photo was definitely one she'd marked as "all rights reserved."

It's not like the picture was some golden chalice of Internet wonder. It's a picture of a stupid dog," says the Baltimore mom. "But it's my dog and it's my photo!"

Supreme irony: "Every commercial break there would be a warning from Fox saying, 'This telecast may not be reproduced,' " she says. "I guess copyright pertains only to them."

Under the banner of "intellectual property," record labels warn you not to bootleg their songs. Hollywood studios warn you not to download their movies. Intellectual property has lately seemed the concern of corporations trying to protect the artist from the grabby public.

But in an increasingly user-generated world where the public is the artist, sometimes it's the big boys who get grabby. And the questions that arise are about ownership, but they are also about fairness, and changing culture, and ultimately, the search for authenticity.

[Click to read about a whole slew of incidents of corporate theft Hey, Isn't That . . .]
There seems to be a gold-rush for user generated content filling up space in corporate media properties, yet so often the content is repurposed without acknowledging the source.

For Niall Kennedy, the issue was hypocrisy -- the casual smugness with which corporations seemed to say, Copyright? What copyright? Kennedy had snapped photographs at a technology convention in late 2005 only to see one suddenly appear, without proper crediting, on a Microsoft-run blog.

"I've had audits where Microsoft has sent people to verify that I have copyrights for the software running on each employer's computer," says Kennedy, who once worked for Microsoft and now runs a Web technology firm. "This is a company that goes after copyright violators with the assumption of guilty until proven innocent."

The original blogger later posted an online mea culpa: "I forgot to include an attribution, which I had fully intended to do, but for which I apologise [sic] to him." Microsoft did not return calls seeking further comment.

Says Lawrence Lessig, the Stanford legal scholar who created Creative Commons, when asked about the issue of corporations borrowing photos: "There's really no excuse for [these companies] except that they think it's not important to protect the rights of the amateur."

[snip] And none of it is comforting to the people who have had their images grabbed online.

So while these issues of authenticity and fairness and legality are all being sorted out, amateur photographers who find themselves more famous than they would like may consider taking advice from Niall Kennedy.

When his initial e-mails to the Microsoft blog asking it to remove links to his photo didn't immediately work, Kennedy replaced the image with one of a man engaging in an activity best described as "extreme mooning." Visitors to the Microsoft blog who clicked on the innocent-looking link were guided to the new photo.

Says Kennedy, "They pulled down the link within 15 minutes."
In many instances, proper attribution is all it would have taken to avoid controversy. Money is nice too, but at least a pat on the head.


This story reminds me of how my photos were used by pranksters(vandals) in a smear campaign. Flickr claims to be trustworthy but they do nothing to protect the user. On the contrary, an "intern" writes you a real inane letter on how to complain properly.

You are exactly right. The burden is on the individual, not the corporation.

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This page contains a single entry by swanksalot published on January 12, 2008 5:19 PM.

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