Hey, that’s my picture! Copyright and the new Internet

Food politics
Copyright and blogging

A while ago, I had a run-in with a particularly nasty woman on a forum over attitudes to copyright issues. If I remember correctly, and of course, I do, because her attitude PISSED ME OFF, she ran a food blog and fancied herself quite the photographer.

It all blew out of nothing, as these things do.

I mentioned that I never really minded the odd photo being lifted off my blog, and that I’d noticed a couple of pictures had appeared on some Japanese blog that I couldn’t understand, but which looked harmless enough. Nothing for me to get worked up about, and hardly as if some MegaCorporation had nicked my photo to advertise their planet-destroying product. Caused quite the ruckus, that did, which ended in my new friend being reduced to calling me out for using British English spellings, ‘cos the United States rules the Internet, right?

This was all a few years ago, before things like tumblr, Posterous, Pinterest and the like rolled into view, with their ‘share anything all the time’ attitude.

That woman must be mad as a bag of cats now…

Back then, I really didn’t give a stuff about my own copyright.

I had the odd decent photo, ones that made it onto Foodgawker, Tastespotting, et al, and I’d even managed to sell a few on iStock, but nowhere near often enough to even call it a hobby with benefits. I didn’t lift other people’s photography, but I always felt ambivalent towards them lifting mine, as long as I got a link out of it, and when I didn’t I just shrugged my shoulders and did something else.

Once, one of my photos turned up on a weird Russian website. I’ve no idea what it was about, but they liked cheesecake…

I still don’t care that much. Once those photos are out there, they’re gone. My ownership of them remains in the legal sense and I don’t suppose I’d be overjoyed to see my stuff used commercially, but I’m not naïve enough to expect that people won’t pin, post, share on Facebook, etc, etc, and in a lot of circumstances, I’m very happy to let it go and even encourage it. Life really is too short, especially as I’m a rank amateur.

I run another blog alongside this one. It’s a tumblr blog, and it’s just a place to dump the odd photo that I take and think is worth an airing. tumblr photos are reblogged – see, it even has a proper name – all over the place, and my stuff has spread all over the tumblr ecosystem. Same with Pinterest…it’s just a different, more visually focused version of the same thing…a digital scrapbook.

And what are the benefits? I’ve seen definite spikes in traffic when somebody has picked up on a picture from here and reblogged it on tumblr or Posterous or some other place that encourages that sort of thing. Recently, the spikes have come from Pinterest, and tomorrow, it’ll be something different.

Interesting, though that Pinterest traffic is peaking above traffic from more established niche websites like Foodbuzz

Is it right, though?

Difficult ethical and legal question, that.

And I can’t answer it.

The law provides for fair use, which might cover the odd reblog of a picture on a non-commercial blog adequately, but the copyright holder could still object, and some definitely will.

The legalities or not of this are not my main concern.

It’s clear that if a copyright holder objects, it’s up to the person who reposted the content to either prove fair use or, more likely, back down, remove it and apologise.

My interest is whether or not the copyright holder, the blogger, should object? Should people kick up a fuss when a part of their work gets shared or spread somewhere else on a non-commercial basis, or should they just accept that that’s the way the world works now?

The Internet is a fluid place, and it’s becoming even more fluid. Those buttons down there at the bottom of this post actively encourage you to share this post, and I’d be delighted if you did.

I see it like an quotation…you reblog or repin my photo, make your point, talk about it, and I get an attribution.

Happy days.

How can a blog operate without sharing? Isn’t it about just that, about speaking your mind and getting your copy seen and read?

There’s a different side to this, and it’d be wrong of me not to acknowledge that I understand how and why people guard their content so carefully, but there is a difference between sharing a picture in the fluid world of social media and wholesale theft of intellectual copyright or its re-use for commercial purposes without permission.

The counterpoint to this lies in identifying where the line falls, where fair use or just taking part in a social network stops and copyright theft begins. I don’t believe it’s a hard-line, and I think it shifts and moves depending on the service, but it’s never still.

More than anything, it’s clear that the line tends to creep in only one direction – towards more openness.