Techdirt’s I Learned It From Watching YOU, Big Content, pointed me to a Washington Post story, Hey, Isn’t That… about how the big old media companies have been repeatedly caught with their pants down, stealing content from us little guys. This got me thinking again about my own similar experiences.
See, I’ve had my work ripped off by big content providers repeatedly over the years, but never could put into words why it bothered me so much. I mean, it’s not like I was profiting from that snapshot or HOWTO document, so why should I care if someone else does?
But once you juxtapose the attitude of those same companies about my fair use rights of legally-purchased content, the grain that’s been chafing me becomes clear. Media companies seem to think it’s ok for them to steal from the little guys (either by choice or through a lack of rigor, but they’ll come after me if I try to do anything at all with their content. The article’s anecdote of a stolen dog photo used in a sports broadcast surrounded by ominous copyright warnings really sums up the whole situation!
The first time I experienced this was back in 1997 or so, when I received an email from a fellow Linux hippie alerting me that a recent Linux book contained a number of online texts, mine included. The book, Linux File Systems, was “written” by Moshe Bar, better known for his work on OpenMosix and Xen, but also known as a writer for a number of other books and a columnist for latter-days Byte. I confronted him about his wholesale copying of my LVM walkthrough in his book, and he apologized, claimed he’d run out of time (which is easy to believe, looking at the book), and blamed his editor. The publisher, McGraw Hill, claimed the book wasn’t selling well anyway so they couldn’t offer me any compensation. Being young(er) and foolish(er) at the time, I let it drop.
Over my later years of writing columns and articles for Storage Magazine, InfoStor, and others, I became aware of wholesale unauthorized translation and reprinting of English magazines in other languages. A number of my articles were published in Russian magazines, for example. Again, I did nothing but chuckle about seeing my name in Cyrilic.
So why the picture of the Saab 900 above? Because just last month, I was notified that that exact photo was used by the German paper, SÃ¼ddeutsche Zeitung, (Nov 23th 2007, page 11) without permission and in violation of the license. This has happened to a number of my other Wikimedia Commons photos, with appearances in a number of papers and magazines that I know of, and probably more besides…
What’s to do? I suppose I should have pushed harder when these uses were brought to my attention. I suppose I could have banded together with others to protest. But I did nothing. What would you do?