a note on intellectual property

I interrupt your regularly scheduled Chookooloonks for this important announcement:

At my last law job, I once remember going into my boss' office at the end of one particularly rough day, so that I could whine.  (Bless his heart, he listened to me whine a lot.)

"I have no idea why a law degree is required for this job," I said, petulantly.  "I use far more of my mothering skills than my legal skills."

"How do you mean?" he asked, amused.  He didn't have kids, but still, I could tell he knew where I was going with this.

"Well, think about it: with HR issues, half the time I feel like saying, 'Stop touching him! Stop touching her!  Play nice!"  If the issue of fraud arises, I say, 'No, you can't do that! It's not nice to tell lies! You mustn't steal!'  With most disputes, I feel like saying, 'Go to your rooms, think about it, and when you can say nice things, you can come back out!'   Seriously, who needs the bar exam? All you have to be is a parent."

He laughed, but he knew I was right.

I don't practice law anymore, but with a lot of the behaviour I see on the internet when it comes to intellectual property, I still feel exactly the same way.  In the last week, I've seen no fewer than three instances where individuals or organizations appear to have quite literally stolen the ideas of small independent artists (most glaringly, this recent case of retail giant Urban Outfitters and this jewelry maker).  There have certainly been occasions when I've found my images or words on various sites around the internet when I know I haven't given any type of consent for use.  And while, on one hand, I suppose I could feel flattered that there are people who like my work enough that they'd like to use it for their own, I'm much more disheartened that someone would take my creations without asking me first.

Now, of course, there are laws that are designed to protect artists from this kind of behaviour, laws that use words like "copyright infringement," "misappropriation" and just plain "theft."  And certainly, the existence of these laws is supposed to act as a deterrent, keeping people from conducting themselves in any manner other than proper intellectual property behaviour.  But really, shouldn't we all know better?  Personally, I'd love to see people refrain from this kind of behaviour not just because it's illegal, but simply because that's how they were raised.  We should know that we shouldn't use images or designs without asking first -- we learn in kindergarten that we're not supposed to take things that don't belong to us, don't we?  We should know that before putting images or words on our websites that aren't ours, we should ask for consent first; or, at the very least, acknowledge where the material came from, credit and link back to the artist, and really celebrate their work.  And definitely, before putting images on sites like Tumblr, we should think twice: because these sites are horrible about retaining the copyright and credit, rendering that information lost forever.

And honestly, we should know this not because we have a working understanding of intellectual property law, but because this is just common sense.

Anyway, in an abundance of clarity, here's how I would hope my images and words would be treated:

1.  If you love an image, it inspires some thoughts and you would like to put the image on your website as part of a blog post, just jot me an email.  Assuming your site isn't horrifying (like filled with hate or criminal activity), I will likely be okay with it, as long as you credit me and link back to my site.  The same goes for my words.

2.  If you would like to use one of my images from the blog as your desktop wallpaper, I can't stop you; however, again, I really would love if you'd let me know.  The major exception to this would be to the high resolution images that I provide every month over here, where you are free to download them for your desktop (or iPhone) without asking me (and frankly, these will look better on your computer than the smaller, low resolution images that I put up on the blog every day).  In fact, in the past, I've had readers ask for a specific image be used for the following month's desktop image, and I usually try to make it available that way, so if there's an image you like, just let me know, and I'll see what I can do.  Keep in mind, of course, that by downloading the images, you're agreeing to only use the images for your personal desktop wallpaper, and not for any other purposes.  With respect to other images, for any use, please let me know, first. 

3.  When it comes to Pinterest.com, a website which helps you make virtual inspiration boards of images, please, pin away -- I am ALWAYS flattered when one of my images turns up there, particularly because they do a great job of making sure that the image is always linked back to my site.  In fact, I use Pinterest liberally myself -- you can see my inspiration boards here.

4.  If you see an image of mine that you like and you want to try to recreate it with your own camera, I'm totally cool with that.  As I see it, there's a total difference between being inspired by someone, and straight-up stealing their work.  One thing, however:  if you do this, with my or any other artist's work, the polite thing to do, if you publish your work, is to say that you were trying to emulate the style of the original artist, and link to them.  Hint: if you do that, it's really really hard for the original artist to get mad -- you've come clean that you're trying to copy the work, you've flattered the artist by saying that you were inspired by her work, and you get to practice your own chops.  It's a win for everyone.

5.  Please don't try to make money off of my images, or pass them off as your own creations. Ever.  I can't possibly think of any exception to this rule.  In return, I solemnly promise not to take any of yours.

I feel pretty comfortable in saying that these rules probably would be acceptable for other artists who are on the internet as well -- but of course, don't take my word for it; ask them first.  Also, for those of you whose work appears in your own personal sites (and "work" includes photography, other forms of art or your words), consider adding "Terms of Service" (also known as "Terms of Use") on your site, making it clear what is okay and what is not okay with you (for reference, my Terms of Service can be found here -- simply scroll down).

Finally, talented artist Kal Barteski recently addressed this very issue on her blog in video form -- and I completely co-sign her thoughts.  Please be sure to check it out.

Thanks -- and with that, I'll return you to your regularly scheduled Chookooloonks.  And remember, friends:  play nice.


Image:  Photographed with my Nikon D300, 60mm micro lens.  aperture 3.5, shutter speed 1/1000, ISO 200.


SongGimme by Jill Scott