The Great Image Reuse Debate

by Karoli on December 20, 2007 · 12 comments

I’ve limited myself to commenting on others’ blogs during the Lane Hartwell dustup, but the newest installment has me a little confused and concerned, because it now has been taken beyond the authorized use of another person’s image and put squarely into the realm of not-for-profit organizations, which I serve as a volunteer.

Rather than recap the issues, I suggest reading Shelley Powers’ and Mathew Ingram’s thoughts on the issue. It’s also worth reading the players’ posts — Here is the most recent Richter Scales post on the matter, and Lane Hartwell’s, the photographer who protested the use of her image in the first version of this video.

According to the Richter Scales, they are a not-for-profit organization. I don’t know if that means they are a real non-profit organization with an exemption under the rules in the Internal Revenue Code, or whether they are a group who wants to be profitable but isn’t profitable at this time. They do have a CD for sale, which they note sold 8 copies during the 1 million-plus initial run of the first video. They sell their downloadable music on iTunes and CD Baby, and offer their CD for sale for a modest price via Paypal or Google Checkout. I don’t see any ads on their site or other obvious money-making efforts on their part.

Either way, it seems obvious that these are a bunch of guys who like singing, like parody, have some talent with both, and made a video to demonstrate their talents, chose the unfortunate path of using Flickr images which were not licensed for re-use, and got themselves a whole lot of publicity and a whole lot of trouble, which they have taken pains to try and remedy by re-making the video with a photographer credit page and removing the image which belonged to Lane Hartwell.

Enough history. The problem now is that it appears to me that Lane Hartwell is implacable. She writes:

In the end, the band opted not to work with me toward a fair resolution of the issue. I have to say that I’m very disappointed with the members of the band I negotiated with in good faith.

She goes on to expand upon what “working toward a fair resolution” means; namely, that the group pay her invoice for use of the image in the initial run, so that she can pay her lawyer and donate the rest.

In my opinion, Lane Hartwell is dropping an atom bomb where a simple fly swatter would have sufficed. If she were aiming at a large, profitable enterprise, I would have less of a problem with her position. But these folks don’t have any money and are essentially being punished for the transgressions of other, nameless people in the past who have misused her images, presumably for commercial ventures.

At $15/CD, I think the assertion that this group is a “commercial” group is misstated and misguided. Co-opting others who had images in that video to also claim a right to compensation seems out of proportion to the transgression.

Of course, if Ms. Hartwell wants a fair share of the $120 (that’s gross income, not profit, which is probably more like 30 cents) they made from the CD during the run, I’m sure it would add up to about $.20, which will pay for about 10 seconds of her attorney’s time. Squeezing blood out of some turnips seems somewhat intractable and mean.

The lesson for all of us is clear: Use images which you’re licensed to use and give credit, ask permission, be wise. At the same time, I could say there’s a lesson that is unlearned but should be learned by the copyright holders, too. Make examples out of the big boys; not the ones who meant you no harm, didn’t profit from the use of your content, and tried to accommodate you as best they could.

This video came through my feeds last night via Robert Scoble’s shared items in Google Reader. I think Lessig is a genius anyway, and this video just proves it, and inspires at the same time.

Thanks to heathervescent for posting it.


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