Thursday, July 26, 2012

Curmudgeon learns a practical lesson about the DCMA

I got my first takedown notice this week from Blogger -- and when Blogger says take something down, it isn't a suggestion.

Blogger's email said that it had taken my post, "You thought ants were bad at a picnic?" and reset the post to "draft" status.

This was not a random intrusion. Blogger said it had been "notified, according to the terms of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), that certain content in your blog is alleged to infringe upon the copyrights of others."

The words in the offending post are mine, all mine -- but when I'd finished writing it, I went looking online for a picture with which to illustrate the piece. To break up the monotony of mere words. To bring visitors into the tent, as it were.

Using Google Images and searching under the term "brown ants," I found a very interesting picture in a September 23, 2008 post on Myremecos, a blog by Alex Wild. I grabbed the picture and used it.

In the last few months, that post became one of the most popular on this site. I'd like to think that the my prose attracted readers -- but, deep down, I know it was the photo. And though I'd also like to think that that everyone who clicked in because of the image stayed to read the prose, and then bookmarked Second Effort (or added it to their "reader" or whatever it is that people are supposed to do), I'd also like to think that unicorns exist and there really is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Seven years of blogging in obscurity, however, suggests otherwise.

In my vanity (or misplaced optimism) I hoped that some -- a few? -- one, maybe? -- new readers might decide to return after they'd checked out the cool photo that first roped them in.

If that amounts to exploitation, that was the extent to which I was attempting to exploit Mr. Wild's copyrighted photograph.

But Mr. Wild looked at the matter differently. He sells images like the one I'd grabbed and used. (Mr. Wild's site for this purpose is called Alex Wild Photography).

Anyway, I republished the post -- after taking the photograph out -- but then I wrote Mr. Wild to explain what I'd done and why I'd done it -- and to ask, belatedly, if I might use the picture with his permission.

Because it really is a pretty neat picture.

Mr. Wild was very gracious and granted permission, and the picture is back with the post -- now with a link to his photography site. The problem, he explained (and I'm paraphrasing here), was not my use, as such, but the fact that he sells some of these images to persons such as those in the pest control business. An exterminator might pay Mr. Wild for a cool picture of swarming ants to attract customers for his business. But a less scrupulous pest control business might grab and use the unattributed photo (Mr. Wild's copyrighted photo) from my site. And you can imagine how upset one of Mr. Wild's customers might be if a picture he paid for showed up in a competitor's website or brochure. My failure to provide attribution unintentionally diluted Mr. Wild's copyright. The balance has now been restored (although now I'm worried about the cool bug photos in this post....)

I try to be a good citizen on the Internet (netizen?) -- when I use someone else's article substantively I always give a link back (I like to identify the author of the article as well) -- and I'm careful about giving credit where credit is due when I grab cartoons as well.

But I've been sloppy about providing attribution for photographs that I've pulled just to illustrate a post and break up the page. I'd like to think my prose can stand on its own -- but I also want this page to be attractive to people skipping around the web. I will try and do better henceforth.

(And if you're the owner of the copyright on a photo that I've already used without attribution that might mess with your business, please send me an email. I'll remove the photo or provide attribution. Honest.)


Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

you know as great as sarge was he would simply not stop searching for and using photos! i have had several of those letters as i have set his email to forward to mine.

smiles, bee

Jeni said...

Third try to comment better be the charm here as I have no clue as to why my comment keeps bouncing back to me marked as a "form restoration error" -whatever in blazes that is.
A friend of mine posted a piece written by a friend of hers who got nailed in the same manner as you did and she had to go to court over the whole mess.

Anonymous said...

Same thing (sort of) happened to me. I was writing a holiday post and decided I wanted a picture of some flowers to go with my post. I went to Google images and typed in "pretty roses". I then selected a picture and added it to the top of my post. It seriously wasn't two hrs before the owner of said picture left me a not very nice comment on my post. I really had no idea who this pic even belonged to when I used it. I immediately got in touch with her and removed the picture, but,..... lesson learned.