on intellectual property, my intellectual property

2008/02/13 UPDATE: The author of the piece kindly emailed me with an apology and corrected the issue. I don't feel I need to keep the link to the piece in this post anymore now that it's fixed (it's pointing a finger at something that isn't a problem anymore) and since the piece was well-written and provocative, I fully intend to get back to it in a later posting of my own. 

This morning, Adam pointed me to a recent piece on computing and the city. Since Adam doesn't see the images on my site with his RSSreader (hey, Adam, you need to adjust your NetNewsWire settings or upgrade!), he had no idea that the piece used one of my images (my photo from If You See Something, Say Something) without what I consider proper attribution. This led to a long chat about questions of intellectual property, which led to the following post.   

The above piece does link to the blog post from which the photo is taken and no doubt there will be a small spike of readers looking at that older post out of curiosity. But the link comes after the photo, in another sentence. It's not clear that the photo and the URL are linked directly. Instead, the photos all appear in the classic form of illustrations and my assumption as a reader is that the author took all of them.  

I appreciate the back and forth dialog as well as every link I get. I do take the time to find out who's linking to me via an RSS feed I have set up through technorati and, less frequently, my stats pages. Most of the time, I add whatever blog made the link to me to my feeds, at least for a while. I've learned a great deal that way and it's a key reason I keep at this. 

To be clear even though my work as a photographer is increasingly gaining in recognition, I don't mind people using my images. I license them under Creative Commons sharealike, noncommercial attribution. Doing so is, I think, critical to the free flow of ideas and media in our networked society.

Moreover, from time to time I will borrow an image from another site. I will do so only under the following circumstances.

1) I directly know the author/owner and either have asked them or assume it won't bug them since I mention their name and, 90% of the time, am focussing on whatever it is I am poaching.

Example: I didn't specifically mention it to Miltos, but I don't think he will have issues with the post Miltos Manetas Paints Cables since I am using his image to lure people to his fabulous work but if I illustrated the Undersea Net with his image and didn't ask him or explicitly attribute it, well, I think he should call me out). 

2) The image is used under the idea of intellectual fair use. This is much trickier and I shy away from it as much as possible. In general, I will only use an image in this case without asking directly if it is owned by something big (e.g. Apple, Google, maybe the New York Times) and if I absolutely need to use it. If I do this, I will mention where I got the link from. 

In the case of If You See Something, Say Something, Part 2, I thought about including a shot from the video I referenced, but even though I think that would have been fair use, I decided not to and just put in the link.

The way that Geoff does this over at BLDGBLOG seems fair to me. He captions each image with a link back to the site he took it from and usually he is saying nice things about the image anyway (see #1).  

What bugs me is that there was no direct attribution in this case. To a casual reader, it appears that the photo was taken by the author. The link afterwards is incidental. I could have sent an e-mail to the author, but this is a more important issue that readers should know about, so hence this post. 

When so many of us make indirect revenues from our blogs by generating cultural capital, either as academics, journalists, or industry players, we are already blurring the boundaries of what is and what isn't commercial. If it's a 12 year old poaching an image that they got through Google images, I don't care. But if you're playing in the same playpen as me, I do. If you get 100 hits a day, I don't care. If you get over 2,000, well yes I do. 

So if you're considering using my images, think about the fact that I just spent a half hour on this post. I do care about attribution. The work on this blog is licensed under the Creative Commons license "Attribution-Sharealike-Noncommercial," as is my FLICKR stream.  

Go ahead, use my work. I want you to. I could turn off your ability to use the images on my site with a simple switch, but I don't. But spell my name right, link to the site, and please give clear attribution where attribution is due.