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).

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!

Mormon Search Engine Optimization

Wow. You learn something every day. This post got long, so I turned it into a Hub:

The Church of Latter-Day SEO

SEO basics and ethical questions raised by the Church of Latter-Day Saints’ grass-roots SEO campaign.

The Latest Google Update and Squidoo

A Squidoo Parable:

When I moved to a little condo by a lovely small park of grass and trees, I met my aged hippie neighbor taking a walk with weeds in his hand. He explained he weeded the park each day so that our homeowners’ association would not spray chemical herbicides. We all benefitted from his effort, because we never had to inhale or walk on poison. Institutional solutions tend to be overkill.

I have always considered the “Report Abuse” button at the bottom of every Squidoo page to be our version of volunteer weeding, with one crucial difference: Squidoo HQ double-checks to confirm it’s a weed before yanking it.

Since January, I have been concerned about Google’s widely-discussed updates to weed out low-quality and scraped content. I’m glad Google is doing it: search results were getting junked up by content from the “build crap and slap ads on it to make money” brigade. At the same time, I’m worried my baby may be tossed out with Google’s bathwater.

Obviously, I don’t consider Squidoo a content farm, or I would not be turning my old academic papers into Squidoo lenses (revised for the general public), receiving random plugs from Washington Post columnists needing a source for ancient Greek military history, or making Squidoo into my main platform for publishing articles on everything from volcanology to CSS help to personal product reviews. I have been publishing articles on the web since 1993, because I’m committed to the web being a place where you can find out and share what you know on anything. But the reality is, I need to earn money on my content, so I began posting it on Squidoo where I would earn a passive income for my work.

There are thousands of others like me who put a lot of pride, research, and work into our Squidoo articles. After all, we don’t earn a cent unless our pages actually perform with traffic, clicks, ratings and/or sales!

Yet on any open publishing site, there are always some who take short cuts. They’re the ones that worry me. We don’t want shoddy, low-quality pages eclipsing all our hard work. Thankfully, Squidoo has had mechanisms for years from spam filters to the Squid Angel volunteer program to ordinary members who report copied and spammy content so it can be weeded out. So hopefully Google has noticed our efforts, and will continue to rank good-quality Squidoo articles well. But we cannot be sure.

The good news is that (unsurprisingly), Squidoo HQ has also been watching developments at Google Webmaster Central. Read Megan’s post in the official Squidoo announcements forum on additional steps Squidoo is taking to help detect and remove bad apples quickly and proactively.

We can all help, too, by continuing to tweak and improve our own lenses. Make sure you do not have content plucked from elsewhere (we don’t know which copied content Google penalizes, and anyway it’s against Squidoo’s TOS). Look at the search queries on your traffic stats and ask, “Did my page answer what that person was searching for? Really?” Read your lens and ask, “If I found this as a random page on the web, would I read it? Would I click on some of these links? Really?”

Watch out for and report any copied content or spam you find. The “report abuse” button is at the bottom of every Squidoo page. Use it. I’m sure, in light of these developments, SquidHQ will be looking at those reports even more closely.

Google understands there are sites like Blogger (which it owns) where some people produce better quality than others, but the best content is unique and outstanding. Let’s keep proving that Squidoo is a similar site.

Squidoo, Zazzle, and Creative Commons

Zazzle Referrals = Creative Commons that Earn Cash?

Last week I had a brain wave. Zazzle designs work a little like e Creative Commons: as a Zazzle Associate, you may feature them on your page or blog by providing credit and a link (in this case, a referral link) back!  You’re promoting an artist’s products (that’s the whole point). But as a side benefit, you have access to a huge body of gorgeous graphics.

Which of course meant I had to make a lens about it:

Want Graphics? Use Zazzle Designs Like Creative Commons


Students: Untapped Web Traffic Source

An awful lot of my Squidoo lenses get queries from students.

How to Make a Pyramid Kite gets kids trying to build pyramids for a school project.

Ancient Greece Odyssey, my travel diary, gets kids needing maps of Greece or information about Greek history and art.

My California Sea Hare page gets medical students trying to track down neurological research using sea slugs!

How do I know? I watch the Traffic Stats tab on my lenses and monitor for phrases like “Roman names for Greek gods” or “How to make a pyramid school project”.

This suggests a powerful untapped strategy for web traffic.


Squidoo Lensrank Tip: Cite Sources

Guess what? My lenses aren’t all original. Of COURSE not!

My “How to Get Your Lens Found” tutorial includes some tips I learned from PotPieGirl and Spirituality and Fluffanutta, and I used to cite Mr Lewissmile, before I decided I disagreed with some of his tricks and changed my recommendations. My CSS Codes Tutorial includes something I call CSS Kung Fu, which I learned from Glen. On baseball lenses, I’ve got links to forum discussions on MLB boards.

And ya know what? I thank these people for their help, and pay them by sending them traffic. It’s only fair!

On a pragmatic level, those links represent a large part of the clickthroughs for my lens. Repeat after me, squids: clickthroughs boost lensrank; lensrank determines payout tier.

There are several other ways that being honest about your sources can actually benefit your bottom line. (more…)

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.