Saturday, October 17, 2009

Photos of Barack Obama, The Associated Press, Intellectual Property Rights, and Common Sense

I'd better point out, particularly for fans and supporters of President Obama, that this post isn't about Barack Obama. It's about an artist who used a photo of Barack Obama that belongs to The Associated Press. And then lied about it.

Never mind the ethics involved: That just wasn't smart. At all.

Again: This post isn't about Barack Obama. It's about somebody else.

An Artist, The Associated Press, and Watergate - the Lesson Not Learned

"Obama Poster Artist Admits He 'Submitted False Images' in Legal Case"
Christopher John Farley, Speakeasy, The Wall Street Journal blog (October 17,2009)

"Shepard Fairey, the artist behind iconic multicolored posters of Barack Obama, admitted Friday that he concealed information in his lawsuit against the Associated Press that claimed that he had the right to use one of the AP's photos as the basis for his artwork.

"The AP had said that Fairey used one AP photo as the basis for his poster, and the artist had claimed that he had used another AP photo that arguably looked less like Fairey’s poster.

In a statement posted to his Web site Fairey said 'While I initially believed that the photo I referenced was a different one, I discovered early on in the case that I was wrong.' He said that in his 'attempt to conceal my mistake I submitted false images and deleted other images.'...

I was doing a term in college when Watergate happened. There's a lesson to be learned there. It isn't the crime that hurts you. It's the cover-up.

The Wall Street Journal blog directs the reader to the 'complete statement of Mr. Fairey's. Actually, the link leads you to a page on the website, which in turn has a link to the .pdf-format file.

The Associated Press, "Fair Use," Corporate Fantasy Worlds, and Lawyers - Lots of Lawyers

"Obama poster artist admits error"
The Associated Press (October 16, 2009)

"Artist Shepard Fairey, who designed the famous Obama "HOPE" poster, says he was mistaken about which Associated Press photo he based his work on and that he tried to hide his wrongdoing...."

The AP article identifies Mr. Fairey's oopsie as "copyright infringement." That's not the sort of, ah, error anybody involved in handling information would reasonably want on his or her record.

On the other hand, I haven't been all that impressed with The Associated Press' notion of what does, and does not, constitute "fair use." I won't go as far as one writer did, and call the AP stand "preposterous." On the other hand, the AP's heavy-handed, and inconsistent (June 22, 2008), interpretation of intellectual property law doesn't impress me favorably. And the AP's application of it's massive financial and legal resources against commoners leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

It reminds me of the RIAA's efforts to ruin a Minnesota woman. (June 22, 2008, June 17, 2008)

The Recording Industry Association of America will probably succeed, eventually, in draining Jammie Thomas of every asset she, her family, and for all I know the grocery she goes to, has. American lawsuits decisions may not be as crazy as they were a few decades back, but I wouldn't count on it. (See "RIAA Jury Finds Minnesota Woman Liable for Piracy, Awards $222,000," Wired (October 4, 2007), "Jammie Thomas Found Liable For Copyright Infringement With $1.92 Million Penalty," Pulse2 (June 19, 2009).)

On the other hand, a couple of lawyers who aren't on the RIAA payroll are talking about a class-action lawsuit that, in addition (I suspect) to making them a bundle, might force the RIAA to return something like $100,000,000 they claim RIAA stole. ("Lawyer and Harvard Professor Combine Forces To File Class Action Lawsuit Against The RIAA," Pulse2 (June 12, 2009))

Don't Lie - and If You Do, When You're Caught: Admit It!

I've mentioned Watergate before.

"Shepard Fairey admits to wrongdoing in Associated Press lawsuit"
Culture Monster, Los Angeles Times (October 16, 2009)

"...Fairey said in a statement issued late Friday that he knowingly submitted false images and deleted others in the legal proceedings, in an attempt to conceal the fact that the AP had correctly identified the photo that Fairey had used as a reference for his 'Hope' poster of then-Sen. Barack Obama.

" 'Throughout the case, there has been a question as to which Mannie Garcia photo I used as a reference to design the HOPE image,' Fairey said. 'The AP claimed it was one photo, and I claimed it was another.'

"New filings to the court, he said, 'state for the record that the AP is correct about which photo I used...and that I was mistaken. While I initially believed that the photo I referenced was a different one, I discovered early on in the case that I was wrong. In an attempt to conceal my mistake I submitted false images and deleted other images.'..."

I've got ethical, moral, and philosophical reasons for disapproving of telling lies: but there are practical reasons for being accurate. Truth is like quack grass. It's hard to kill, and keeps coming back.

Which brings me to the last news quote for this post.

Lie to Your Wife, Lie to the Police, Lie to the Judge: But Don't Ever Lie to Your Lawyers!!

"Lawyers for Obama poster artist say he misled them"
The Associated Press (October 16, 2009)

"Obama 'HOPE' Poster Artist Admits Photo Error "
The Associated Press, via FOXNews (October 17, 2009)

"...Fairey's attorneys, led by Anthony Falzone, executive director of the Fair Use Project at Stanford University, have informed the AP that they are withdrawing...."

Like I said, I don't approve of lying. But for someone to lie, get caught, try a coverup, and then try to hoodwink his own lawyers - - -.

Intellectual Property, the Real World, and This Blogger

First of all, I'm not all that favorably impressed with The Associated Press. The AP is an 800-pound gorilla in the world of journalism - and therefore impossible to ignore - but I'm not convinced that its executives are right when it comes to intellectual property rights.
The Associated Press = All Journalism?!
For example, one of AP's lawsuits claims that "...the uncredited, uncompensated use of an AP photo violated copyright laws and signaled a threat to journalism." (AP, October 16, 2009)

I suppose they mean that if a whole lot of people started using AP photos without paying The Associated Press, or saying where they got the photos - it wouldn't be good for AP. And, if the practice spread, it wouldn't be good for other traditional news organizations, either.

But - using one AP photo without paying them will threaten all of journalism? If journalism is such bad shape, I think we should have a brief memorial service and then get on with developing the new ways we have of sharing and verifying information.
Rules are For the Little People?
I think this bears repeating. The Associated Press has a strict, no-nonsense interpretation of what constitutes "fair use" - for people quoting AP sources. When AP lifts material from another source, copying larger chunks of content is okay - for AP. According to AP. (June 22, 2008)"

Like I said, AP's an 800-pound gorilla. In practical terms, it can sit where it wants, and have any banana it wants.

I don't quite approve: but I'm one guy living in central Minnesota, who's running a struggling sole proprietorship. I don't have a legal staff and the corporate resources it takes to keep suing some schlemiel until he (or she, as the case may be) dies or goes broke.

I certainly couldn't take on AP and win.

So, I try to figure out what AP really wants, make sure that I'm doing a little marketing for them with links whenever I use their material, and I've stopped using their photos in my posts and micro-reviews.
AP's Got Company
The Associated Press isn't the only traditional-media outfit that's having trouble adjusting to the Information Age. RIAA's been shooting itself in the foot (my opinion) with its efforts to ruin that Minnesota woman; and the American movie industry's been doing its part in this apparent mass-suicide of old corporate giants.

Some little time ago, the Motion Picture Association of America asked universities to put spyware on their networks. The MPAA, not unreasonably, was afraid that students were ripping them off by pirating movies. Turns out, the spyware they wanted installed was a pirated copy. (December 13, 2007)
Quote? You Bet I Quote!
This blog is mostly what I call micro-reviews of what I find on the web. I generally lead with my subject's headline and the first two or three paragraphs. Then I talk about what I read, what I think of the article, and my view on the subject of the article.

And, yes: You'll find posts that don't fit that format. If I don't have something to say about an article's subject - or how it's written - I don't say it. Well, sometimes I do, anyway, but that's another topic.

Each time I quote, there's a headline or its equivalent that links back to my source. I put quotes inside quotation marks, and I make any photos I use from other sources - link back to the source.

I figure that outfits that aren't AP won't mind getting the sort of publicity I provide - particularly since I give links back to the sources.

That isn't all that big a deal for me: I got used to attributing sources back in my college days; and it's an easy habit to maintain.
'Everything Should be Free - and I Should Get Paid'
That's a trifle unfair, in some cases. There are, I suppose, people who rip off other people - and don't mind a bit when someone rips them off.

Still, the 'everything should be free' ethic that I first noticed in the sixties seems to be alive and well and living in cyberspace. This post is already long - even by my standards - so I won't start writing about business models, marketing, and the emerging online culture.

I go along with the 'everything should be free' idea to the extent that I doubt I'll ever charge admission for my blogs and websites. Let's get real: who'd pay to take a look at this? Particularly if they didn't know what was here in the first place.

On the other hand, I don't have a problem with having the equivalent of a tip jar on pages. I even ran into a service that calls their donation function a 'tip jar.' But that, again, is another topic.
What If Someone Rips Me Off?
My hat's off to people who go after content thieves like rabid chihuahuas. But I'm a little more laid back.

As I said, I don't have AP's resources: and I'm too busy creating content to spend hours a day chasing down malefactors. Besides, I put links to other relevant pages in my Small World of Websites™ in many of my posts - so if I get ripped off, whoever gets the content will also probably do some of my marketing for me.

I do keep an eye on where my content's showing up online, though. And if you think I'm going to post how I do that in a public forum like this: you're crazier than Dilbert's CEOs.

That's about all I've got to say about intellectual property rights for now: it's been a long journey, from some artist trying to lie his way out of using an AP photo without giving the journalism giant a piece of the action, to why I put so many links in my posts.

Related posts, more-or-less about intellectual property:

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