Some Thoughts on Copyright

Now, this blog is not the sort of place where I usually make this sort of post. This site has been dedicated since its inception to purely creative endeavours – admittedly primarily photography, but the odd piece of video work too – and any thoughts, commentary or the likes (apart from commentary on my photos, obviously) are usually reserved to this blog’s parent site. However, for reasons which should be apparent, this particular rambling fits best for me on this site. Although I will intersperse some photos along the way if it will make you feel better.

Look, a sparkly picture.

Copyright is one of those problematic issues that even government haven’t got their head around yet, especially as regards to modern technologies – it is, for instance, still technically illegal in the UK to rip a CD into iTunes to put onto your iPod. For most people this really isn’t an issue as they either don’t know it’s illegal or don’t care, as it seems to be something the authorities are neither getting rid nor enforcing.

Doing what I do, however, I find I do have to take notice of copyright law. As both a creator and user of materials, I find copyright to be a bit of a double-edged sword – I’d love, for instance, to use certain photos on rob-howard.com, but often shy away because I don’t think it’s fair to use someone else’s material without their consent.

On the flip side, however, when I work on video projects, it adds a sense of gravitas when you’re able to use copyrighted music to emphasise what you’re showing on screen. Royalty-free music most of the time just doesn’t cut it – or, it carries a high initial purchase price.

Another shiny picture.

Now, I think this sort of use is okay – I’m not making any money from putting a video with copyrighted music on YouTube, and there’s no way I, as a video editor honing my craft and putting videos on the web for feedback, will be able to afford licensing fees to use the music. A quick glance at my YouTube channel shows I almost always end up using copyrighted music in some way or other (and often, copyrighted source video too).

When at work, it’s obviously a different story; I’m creating something for commercial purposes and any copyrighted materials used must be appropriately licensed and, as you’d expect, paid for. That is why I’ve been unable to show you one of my favourite video works – it was created as a promotional piece for work, and the permission we secured to use the copyrighted material used therein only covered us for internal screenings and the production of a limited run of DVD copies. The showreel I edited, on the other hand, was produced using royalty-free music, giving us the bonus that we can put it on YouTube or otherwise distribute it with impunity.

This dichotomy between my wanting to use other’s materials for free whilst still protecting my own work under the same rules I was flaunting bugged me for a while, but then I came across this story, and I realised the answer lies in Creative Commons licensing.

If you’re not familiar with CC, in a nutshell it is a more open form of copyright that has a better place in today’s internet enabled world, which offers a flexible ‘some rights reserved’ approach as opposed to traditional copyright’s ‘all rights reserved’ policy. It would probably be better if I let them explain it themselves.

This one's still watermarked.

I agree largely with the article above that just about everyone should be making use of CC licensing instead of more restrictive copyright. If all music was so licensed, then there would be no problem with someone like myself – who makes no money from his silly YouTube videos that only a handful of people have watched – making use of a tune for a personal video, whilst still ensuring that any company with the clout to pay for it still has to. With how things stand now, many of my videos on YouTube are banned in Germany for copyright violations.

I’m putting my money where my mouth is on this one. Not long after reading that article, I switched my licensing policies both on this page and on Flickr to a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License, (known as a CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 for short) which basically means that anyone is free to use any of the images on this site, provided I’m attributed, but commercial and derivative works are forbidden. I’ve also dropped the copyright watermark from the images, although I’m exploring the possibility of adding a far less obtrusive mark citing the CC license. I’m not doing this retroactively simply because of the effort required to strip the watermark from over 700 images and replace them. You might have noticed the new CC license info which recently appeared on this site (and which has now moved to the bottom of the page, if you’re looking for it).

In other words, if some random guy wants to use one of my images to illustrate a point on his blog (why would he, you may ask, and quite rightly; but this is a hypothetical situation here, work with me), he can without needing to ask or pay for the privilege whilst I get an attribution which may drive extra visitors here and give my work increased exposure (my ego isn’t going to feed itself); and in the (extremely unlikely) event that Canon want to use one of my pictures for some kind of advertising campaign, they will have to pony up some cash for the right to do so (note to Canon: I will accept lenses as payment, provided they’re L-series). There is slightly more self-deprecation in that last sentence than I originally intended, but I’m sticking with it.

Where does this leave me with my YouTube videos? I’m still holding my stance on that one; since I’m not making money off of the videos, there’s no way I could afford a license, and the archaic music companies should be using CC anyway, I don’t see anything wrong with using the odd track in, say, a silly montage video (apologies if you’re in Germany and can’t view that).

The simple point is, it’s only fair that those who have created a work get their dues for it, whilst those just starting out have access to a large library of quality material and aren’t going to be penalised for using it.

I’m interested to know what everyone else thinks on what is often a pretty cloudy subject – let me know in the comments.

2 Comments

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  1. What a great, informative, and timely post.
    I’m struggling with this on my blog. If I discuss Edward Weston’s work (he’s dead, but he has an estate), and want to show a picture of it, that seems fair use. What about a Barnbaum image from a book I bought or one of the prints I own in the same article? What about Ansel Adams? How often have you seen one of his pictures? (Actually, they may be out of copyright, but I don’t think people using them know that.)
    I freely grab pictures of fish from .gov sites (no (C) there, we already own that, but hey, can you Brits do the same?), but what about a picture of a knot? Or a fly? I was thinking about this this weekend, and normally I wouldn’t have even included these things, but my non-fishing readers requested them. I’m thinking about going through all of my posts and replacing those little images with images I took (okay, take), or at the very least linking to them. I know you can’t ((C)) a map, chart, or recipe, but a line drawing of a knot?
    That brings up another thing. On the web we are so used to linking freely, we don’t even think about it. So if I link to your text and that brings people to your page, that’s fine. What if I link to your picture to display it on my page…..
    A few years ago I had a job interview with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) group at Microsoft and they asked for a writing sample. Having written a book on intellectual property, I actually knew a little bit about this, so I wrote a fictional paper on how the inventor of CTRL+C, CTRL+V got sued for breaching DMCA (by the letter of the law, it’s illegal). I don’t think they saw the humor in it, but it did bear out the subtle and far-reaching implications of the topic. (OK, it was freaking brilliant and I definitely should’ve gotten that job, dammit.)

    Like

    • It’s not enough to be dead, copyright is usually life of the author plus 70 years (at least it is in the UK).

      But when you’re using something for illustrative purposes, especially in the context of blogging, you might be in the clear under fair use. This is the same rationale that allows Wikipedia to use copyrighted imagery in articles (see this page as an example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:WallAndPiece.jpg)

      Whenever I’m looking for an image to highlight what I’m talking about (usually on rob-howard.com) I always do my best to find something that doesn’t explicitly state any copyright. There are sites that exist containing royalty-free images, but if you’re looking for something specific, such as knot diagrams, finding something appropriate can be difficult.

      Which is of course the point of this whole post.

      Like

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