Greekgeek's Online Odyssey - Hubpages and Online Article Writing Tips


Coloring Pages, Copyright, Transformative and Derivative Works

We’re having a thoughtful discussion of coloring pageson the Squid∩ Community  message board.

A common question has come up: is it legal to trace or create your own art using someone else’s photo or art?

I want to copy my response here discussing transformative vs derivative work,  partly so I can find it again, since it’s one of my more coherent (and brief) write-ups (with apologies to Susan for my coming-down-like-a-load-of-bricks AGAIN, gack.)


Fair Use and My Web Copyright Philosophy

Once again a SquidU forum post spun off a riff for me, this time on Copyright and fair use.

I am chaotic good, to borrow the old term from D&D: I don’t obey the rules precisely so much as try to understand why the rules are there and then do what’s best for the people impacted by them.

I am much less rigid about copyright when it comes to stills and screencaps and even fanvids of well-known movies and video games. If someone’s got a Yoda icon or a fanpage on a favorite video game, I absolutely do not get my knickers in a bunch. Everybody knows who Yoda is, and that Yoda icon is going to remind you of Star Wars and maybe even go look up the Yoda lightsabre duel video clip and maybe from there think about buying a Yoda doll or a Blu-Ray Star Wars disc (if you can stomach Lucas’ latest fiddling).

Whereas when it comes to copying a photo or piece of art from someone’s Flickr stream or DeviantArt or the like, I’m much more strict. I’ll only use Creative Commons images. If it’s reproduced somewhere else, such as on Wikipedia, I follow the CC link back to its source  to double-check the terms of use and make sure the owner really did give permission for reuse. I am also much more careful about credit when it comes to art and photos from individuals. DeviantArt’s embed codes include a small thumbnail plus the artist’s name and a link to his/her profile, so I use those as is, but Wikimedia Commons and Flickr do not include the photographer/artist’s name in their embed codes, just an image linked back to the source. That’s not good enough for me. I always add an image caption to those, including the photographer or artist’s name, with a visible, clickable link back to the source (not just a hidden clickable link attached to the image).

Am I being hypocritical? Why am I so picky about copyright for stock photographers, Zazzle artists, and their ilk when I will use stills to illustrate an article on the Lord of the Rings films without batting an eyelash?

Well, one can argue that stills from films fall under the “amount and substantiality” factor of fair use, the aspect of copyright law that lets you use a quote or short excerpt. Whereas a copy of a photo is not an excerpt; it IS the photo and competes with it in search results, commercially, and functionally. (Also, there’s the whole “permitted for critique/commentary” aspect of fair use: if you’re writing a fan page about a movie, then it’s commentary; if you’re using someone’s photo as a free illustration for a blog post that has nothing to do with that artist’s work, then it’s exploitation).

But that’s not really why I make the distinction between the two kinds of sources.

The Lord of the Rings films are famous and successful, instantly recognizable. Any publicity they get reminds people of the films which they already know.

Not so with a photo or piece of artwork from somebody unknown. In that case, the image is a signpost to the person’s work, their calling card and their chief asset.  Jane Q. Photographer might have shared some photos on Stock Xchng or Flickr with a Creative Commons license, hoping to get recognition and drum up publicity for her blog or photography site. I want to help Jane by giving her a visible credit and a backlink and observing her terms of use carefully, since even one backlink spotted by the right person might land her a job, an offer to license the photo, or lots of traffic from a big website that also likes and uses the photo with the CC credit and backlink.

As a matter of fact, this odd distinction I make is another of the Four Factors of Fair Use, one that’s not well-understood: “The Nature of the Copyrighted Work.” Fair use grants more leeway in using a published than unpublished work. I used to find this aspect of Fair Use baffling. Now my understanding is that if a work is already published, out there, successful, widely known, and making money, then your use of an excerpt is less likely to compete with it than if the artist is still trying to become known and hasn’t quite figured out how to make money from that image or creation. (Which is not to say one gets carte blanche to print up and sell T-shirts with your fanart of Sean Bean as Boromir in The Lord of the Rings. It’s just that one has slightly more leeway).

How much is too much? There’s no hard and fast rules. In a copyright lawsuit, the judge has to make a ruling based on his interpretation of the four factors of Fair Use and how they seem to apply to that particular case.

As always with fair use, the hardest part about it is that it depends on human judgment of individual circumstances  rather than a fixed, rigid set of rules. The four factors are guidelines that can help us feel our way.


Update: SPEAKING OF FAIR USE, check out these utterly adorable and highly creative parodies of Star Wars crossed with Winnie the Pooh: Wookie the Chew.” Yep, that there would fall under the “Transformative” factor of Fair Use (and parody, which is almost always Fair Use).

On Pinterest and Copyright Concerns (Yes, That Again)

I wrote an article called “Is Pinterest a Haven for Copyright Violations?”  that covered the hidden catches buried in Pinterest’s Terms of Use. The article went viral, and a firestorm ignited on Twitter when my article and two others on Pinterest and copyright came out at about the same time (search “Pinterest copyright” on Twitter).

Apparently what I said resonated with many. The comments I received on both sides of the argument are worth reading. That was actually my intention in writing it:  I wanted to present one side of the story as clearly as possible, and was hoping for the debate that followed.

On a tangent, the “how to” side of things:  this is only the second time I’ve had an article go viral. In both cases, I tapped into an issue that a lot of people cared passionately about, and which was rising in popularity.  In both cases I used a Magnetic Headline posing the topic as a question designed to provoke an emotional response. I didn’t know it would go viral, but just in case it did draw traffic, I posted it on Hubpages which pays better for individual impressions than Squidoo does. (I think Squidoo is better for pages that people click links on and/or buy things from.) Hubpages also has a cleaner, more professional-looking skin for a reader unfamiliar with the site, which I find makes a difference in op-ed and informational articles.

However, I didn’t post the article just to get traffic. I posted it to deliver important information on an issue I care about. I was terrified that I’d be virtually tarred and feathered, but I was gratified to find some people in the comments making my points better than I could make them myself. Of course, many commenters argued the other side of the debate, and some of them had important things to say, too. I urge you to read it, and them.

Squidoo Takes a Page from Facebook?

There are two different Web 2.0 approaches.

One is to provide tools, widgets and open-ended features that let users share their content. This is an “opt in” model, in which you provide really useful tools, and users find powerful ways to use those tools which you didn’t even dream about. That creates goodwill and draws more traffic to your site.

The other is to repurpose users’ existing content, mining and exploiting it and redistributing it in new ways that users may not have imagined. Following Facebook’s lead, this approach is usually presented as a fait accompli. If there’s enough user pushback, the company may add an “opt out” option.

Squidoo has provided us with many handy tools and new modules — building blocks — and let users find great ways to use those blocks. It’s also taken some building blocks away, including powerful ones we still miss. (Squidcasts and favorites.)

Other building blocks have broken, or never worked properly. I keep hoping Squidoo will shift from the attitude of, “If you can’t put up with a site that’s got frequent glitches, bugs, and nonfunctional tools, then Squidoo’s not the site for you” to “Our site has fabulous tools, more than any other publishing site, and we’re going to nurture and cultivate that edge. Tell us what’s broken so we can fix it and maintain Squidoo’s superiority over other user-generated content sites.”

Instead, in the past year, Squidoo has been moving in the Facebook direction.

  • Our lenses get featured in Squidoo magazines — except, in practice, our lenses don’t actually appear in these magazines. Our lenses simply get links across the top promoting the magazine, boosting its search engine rankings, and diverting traffic away from our lenses. Lenses hijacked by Squidoo magazines also get yanked from the SEO-friendly Squidoo category tree. For example, Google search results will display a lens under the breadcrumb trail “Happy Snowman” instead of “Holidays > Christmas > Christmas Tree Decorations.” “Happy Snowman” is less informative, so less likely to get clicked on, and it undercuts search relevance for “Christmas Tree Decorations.”  After a user pushback, Squidoo gave us the ability to “opt out,” but refused to change it to “opt in.” That means that every month, more of our lenses are hijacked by Squidoo magazines, so we have to keep “opting out” if we care about SEO.
  • The Facebook Gift Guides mined our Facebook friends’ personal information to create for-profit pages which implied our friends had endorsed them. Member pushback, pointing out the illegality of this, convinced Squidoo to make Gift Guides “opt in” rather than “opt out.”
  • Now Squidoo’s added a “pin it” button to the top of each Squidoo lens, granting members of a third party website, Pinterest, permission to copy, share, repost, redistribute, and embed full-sized images from our Squidoo lenses not just on Pinterest, but on any blog or third party website. I’m not sure that the temporary traffic spike of a social media share will compensate for having my best photos posted who-knows-where on the web, forcing me to compete with myself for image search traffic (which is responsible for most of my lenses with 500+ visitors a week). Pinterest’s TOS  also claims the right to redistribute, manipulate, or sell images posted on its site. That’s against the TOS for Zazzle images, affiliate images such as Allposters and Amazon, or images that we have paid license fees to use on our own articles.

What other ways will Squidoo repurpose our content?

I’m concerned that Squidoo’s focus is shifting from creating and maintaining tools for us to publish content to finding new ways to use and exploit our content.  

That approach may well work for lensmasters who aren’t getting much return out of their content. However, for me, it’s a reason to reconsider which kinds of content to post on Squidoo, which elsewhere.

Have You Written Your Rep About SOPA Yet?

Here’s why SOPA wrecks the internet and threatens many of the websites we use most:

PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.

They call it the Stop Online Piracy Act, but it’s actually the Stop Online Publishing Act. It’s too broad and too flawed, and it actually does very little to stop the most blatant and widespread form of internet piracy (see the video for why).

Here’s why SOPA (in Congress) and PIPA (same idea, but in Senate) destroys the internet.

  • It blocks any site which could POTENTIALLY be used for copyright violations. Not has been used. POTENTIALLY used. So all user-generated content sites will be threatened by SOPA. ALL.
  • Internet providers will no longer be protected by “safe harbor” laws. Before, users, not webhosts, were liable for their own copyright violations. Under SOPA, the website, the domain, and the internet host will all be liable for everything their users post. If a copyright violation is found anywhere on their sites — on YouTube, on Facebook, on Blogger, on Squidoo, on Tumblr, on Wikipedia — the internet provider will be liable for copyright violation. They could be prosecuted for felony. (Before SOPA/PIPA, the fault was the copyright violator’s, not the host site or internet provider).
  • It gives internet providers immunity from prosecution if they proactively remove any content that might be a violation. So webhosts and sites are motivated to remove anything, quickly, WITHOUT due process, WITHOUT any legal expertise on whether it’s Fair Use or an actual violation, to protect themselves. This means that corporations can make false copyright violation claims to censor anything they don’t like. Think it won’t happen? It’s already happening:
  • Before SOPA has even passed, one of its chief lobbyist sponsors, Universal Media Group, sent a takedown notice to YouTube to take down a video that criticized them. Universal Media Group claimed the video violated their copyright. This was untrue. The video simply criticized them. YouTube capitulated to the takedown notice. So SOPA will let corporations or governments remove content they don’t like, because webhosts would rather be safe than liable for their users’ content.
  • SOPA covers not only copyright content, but links. Your email provider and any service you use will be required to filter any links you share and make sure they don’t point to any pages with copyright violations. Think those filters will work 100% of the time? And if some of the links on a page you post point to pages with copyright violations, you’re liable.
  • Liability means you’ll be considered a felon, will go to prison for five years and have to pay a fine. Yes, you, who posted a video of your five-year-old dancing and singing a song from the Little Mermaid on your Facebook profile.

Think this video and I are being alarmists? Think again. Here’s an open letter by 83 of the engineers who helped invent and build the internet begging Congress not to wreck the web with SOPA.

This New York Times editorial discusses how SOPA institutes internet censorship on a scale comparable to China’s.

Journalists are also deeply concerned about news sites being taken down by SOPA censorship.

WRITE TO YOUR REPRESENTATIVES. WRITE TO YOUR SENATORS. SOPA = The Stop Online Publishing Act, and it will NOT do much to stop piracy.

Congress will be voting on SOPA any day now. Right now, they’re only hearing from Wal-Mart, Disney, and other big corporations. Remember, under SOPA, the internet provider has to shut down the entire domain if copyrighted content is posted on it. Can you think of any sites that might be impacted by that? (Hint: YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia, and of course Squidoo and Hubpages.) Any user-generated content site will be at risk.

I don’t normally write to my reps: I’m shamefully apathetic. But I’ve written them on this. Scarily enough, during the SOPA hearings, one rep after another used “I’m not a nerd” (translation: I don’t understand how the web works) as an excuse before passing judgment on SOPA. They are deferring to Hollywood’s high-paid lobbyists to tell them how this law works, and said lobbyists are obviously not mentioning the fact that SOPA violates due process.

We HAVE to tell Congress! Use little bitty words like  “kills jobs” “stifles innovation” and “no burden of proof” that even they can understand! Use all your copywriting skills to get through to them!

Links and Copyright: How to Solve Copyright Issues on the Web

As a writer and sometime teacher, I care a great deal about copyright and vigorously reject plagiarism. At the same time I appreciate that the web lets people combine material, collaborate and build on each other’s work in ways that were not possible before information and content were available instantly and on a large scale. These “mashups” can provide value and unique content that were not foreseen by the original authors. How can we preserve authors’ rights while encouraging the potential of this new medium? This essay suggests a possible solution.