28 July 2009

[IP] The Associated Press Protects Something, Somehow

2173.This is apropos to anyone who thinks about design, blogs, or blogs about design, because in the end it goes back to copyright.

Copyright is something every blogger should think about, actually. In the days before something could be copied-and-pasted with just a few presses of buttons, only those who published were the one that had presses. These days, of course, everyone with a few hundred dollars, a netbook, and a net connection, can lift and republish whatever content they see fit. Even, most of the time (Flickr's "spaceballs" notwithstanding) it's a simple matter of dragging (or saving) a photo to your desktop and – bingo – you have an illustration.

Copyright is the device by which, in a perfect world, every content creator would be ensured a way to make money off the "sweat" of their creative brow, all the time, or at least be ensured of the credit. And I know few people who disagree with that idea. But a World Wide Web who is desperate for content is a gestalt entity that can be very greedy at times. Content is repurposed without the creators' content a great deal of the time. Even my own meagre talent has been 'borrowed' without permission from time to time.

On the up side, my strategy for responding to this has been to request credit from the people who borrow my work, and in the give-and-take environment of the Web, this has worked rather well. So far, every use of one of my banal photos has been credited, after I requested it.

I believe that you take a certain risk when simply posting your photos to a blog, which is a very easy place to 'pick' stuff away from, that someone will simply borrow what you've posted. I don't believe that when you do so, you allow that your work is available for giving away and you shouldn't expect be enabled to do something about it. That is to say, expect to see your stuff copied-and-pasted, but you can still put your foot down and say "credit me" or "pay me", you don't give away that right.

Which means that, as far as the Associated Press and I go, we are really on the same page (you'll excuse the dead-tree pun). But the thing about the AP's new DRM system, as this article notes, is that while they call it a "wrapper", it's not seeming to wrap much. I'm not quite sure here where the 'protection' comes from.

As an expert quoted in the referenced article states (and actually, with more clarity than my circumlocution):

You'll be forgiven if you find it difficult to square the reality of hNews with the AP's pronouncements about it. Ed Felten, the eminent Princeton computer security researcher, couldn't figure it out, either.

"It was hard to make sense of this, so I went looking for more information," he wrote on his blog. "AP posted a diagram of the system, which only adds to the confusion—your satisfaction with the diagram will be inversely proportional to your knowledge of the technology... hNews is a handy way of annotating news stories with information about the author, dateline, and so on. But it doesn't 'encapsulate' anything in a 'wrapper,' nor does it do much of anything to facilitate metering, monitoring, or paywalls."

My reading of the article is that this new system goes down to a sort of markup, HTML essentially, that embeds rights and tracking info into the article, which is fine – as far as HTML goes. But if there's really a phalanx of people repurposing AP content at will without so much as attribution, then it won't take too much gumption from such types to strip the HTML right out.

And if you're the type who doesn't do any more than strip a few quotes or a paragraph out, fair-use-style, and link back? Well, the AP says those aren't the droids they're looking for.

On a tangetial tack, I find it amusing that the AP is insisting on a DRM approach – even though even Apple has abandoned that idea. DRM doesn't seem to be the holy grail that big-money content creators have thought it would be.

What does it all go down to? Even in these DMCA days, it's good to have what might seem an old-fashioned approach to using other content. A good one would be:
  1. Remembering that Fair Use, the princple in United States law that allows you to quote, excerpt, and use excerpts from published works for your own blog articles, doesn't allow you to borrow wholesale. If you're using more than a few paragraphs, it might be time to look into asking permission.
  2. Just because it's easily grabbable on-line doesn't mean the creator put it on line for you to use at will. The Berne Convention, which the US subscribes to, implies copyright on all original content.
  3. If you want to be sure you have permission to use something, ask! You'll be pleasantly surprised how many content creators will allow you to use something if you only ask them (and credit them).
  4. Don't simply repurpose content and figure the creator will 'appreciate the exposure'. Payment and/or credit is much better. If I could make bank on the 'exposure' I've gotten so far, I could retire right this very real second. Exposure doesn't really seem to translate into fame and fortune.
  5. If you feel you must borrow content, get in the habit of crediting it as a matter of course. Whatever you do with it, link back to the creator.
As a relevant example, this article I wrote here a few days ago now features a panel from a recent Mother Goose and Grimm strip that I thought was topical and incredibly funny. It would have been grand to simply help myself to the image I wanted (computers make it easy as pi) but it seemed to me a better way (especially since I can just link to it anyway) would be to get permission. After a polite request in which I exactly specified exactly what my purpose was, permission was given – not only now do I have a great post with a great illo, but I can also caption the graphic with the phrase used with permission, which looks slick and professional.

Copyright is important, and too important not to think about. Especially since everyone is creating content, pretty much all the time.

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