Monday, March 11, 2013

Battle of Internet Ethics

Leaving aside the trolls, sock puppets, hijacking, and general rudeness of the internet, I had my first experience (that I know of) with old-fashioned plagiarism. That is, stealing my intellectual property - and I won. (Well, sorta).

It went down like this. My uncle called me out of the blue yesterday afternoon and said there was this interesting Facebook historical page with some pictures of people I might recognize. When I went there, I saw my little brother at my Grandpa's bowling alley and then, a family portrait of my Grandparents and their offspring, including three young grandsons, I being the oldest. I knew immediately that they were from my posting on the Gay Way in Fruitland, Idaho. I thought that was kind of cool. But then, "Wait a minute! There's no link to my blog!" There wasn't any attribution at all. So, I went to battle.

I first posted a fairly polite notice  on the Facebook page that they had taken my pictures without permission or any link to my blog and I added such a link. Then I posted this on Facebook [with reference to their site I am now boycotting]:
So this is kind of cool. Pics from my blog got posted on the ____ Co. Historical page. But WITHOUT ATTRIBUTION!! I gave them a friendly and diplomatic reprimand and I'll be waiting for the apology . . . waiting . . . . I easily forgive, but . . . waiting. . . .
There was some sympathy expressed from a friend on my FB post then I noticed that my comment with link to my blog on their FB page had disappeared! And I wasn't able to post at all on their page. They cut me off! (Probably blocked in technical FB terminology.) I was fighting mad.

There was an email address, so I sent this:
To whom it may concern:
I don't mind at all my blog work being shared and spread throughout the internet. However, there are photos from my blog, one of which I have the only copy of that mysteriously appeared on your history page without any attribution. I have a copyright notice on my blog page from which these pictures were taken. As I have no current financial interest in my blog (but I reserve that right), I don't mind it being shared as long as the sharer has the common courtesy to give proper attribution to the source.
I attempted to remedy this by posting on your site with a mild reprimand and a link to the source of the photos on my blog. My posting has mysteriously disappeared. The text about Gay Way Junction was on my blog with proper attribution to the source, author, and the original publication. That's how it should be done. And the text about Gay Way Junction appears on your page without any attribution to my blog or even the original sources!
This is all very bad form on your part. I would expect a correction and linkage to my blog or at least an acknowledgement of the source and where your readers could find it. I have no interest in a lawsuit for copyright infringement, but I have no hesitation to report you to Facebook for use violations. I actually have a friend who works at Facebook with a PhD in computer science who can help me get your site shut down. I really would not like to see that happen. I love history and your page is very interesting. I'd even like to follow it once I am assured that you give proper attribution to your sources.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. I will be anxiously awaiting your correction.
With apologies to my friend at Facebook for using him as a threat, the battle went on. I realized that I could log on FB with my wife's account and I posted this on their page:
I'm posting on my wife's FB account now. I hope you got my email. It is very bad form for a history blog to take photos from another blog without proper attribution - especially when there is a copyright notice violated. This is easy for your to correct. And the same applies for anyone else whose material you may have appropriated. If it is a common practice with you, it speaks very poorly of your organization. I suppose you will be blocking this FB account now as you did with mine. As I warned you, I know someone who works at Facebook and you are violating terms of use. Please correct.
Well, I was still making threats thinking I'd better look up FB's actual policies to make sure there was a violation. But I was pretty sure FB doesn't encourage you to post material with an intent to copyright notice stolen from somewhere else, even if there's an awful lot of that going on. Then I got an email response:
I don't even know what your talking about, we have had several people here today looking at the site and I haven't seen any message from anyone about this. Please clarify.
Sure, there could have been some misunderstanding, but that seemed a tad bit disingenuous for me:
You do understand my email, though? That it is more than common courtesy to give proper attribution? It is actually a legal requirement with a copyright notice?
I posted a friendly comment on your site with a link to my blog that was the source of your Gay Way Bowl and Vaughn Family pictures. My comment disappeared and I am blocked from posting on your history site under my Facebook account. Here is the posting I made from my wife's Facebook account which is still up there as of the last few moments:
I'm posting on my wife's FB account now. [and the rest of the message above follows] 
I still am willing to forgive and forget if only you would give proper attribution for those photos from my blog and a simple link to my blog would do the trick. I hope you do the same for others. You may not like my blog, then just take the photos down. But what you have done violates all journalistic, internet, and common courtesy ethics - not to mention Facebook policy and copyright violation under law. Maybe it wasn't you personally who came up with the photos but they should have given you a source, or you should have looked for one. My blog, including the Gay Way posting comes up easily on any search term for Fruitland or Gay Way. You should acknowledge the source if you use the pictures on your own site.

That picture with the little boy bowling is my little brother. I took that picture when I was about eight years old. I have the only copy in the world that I posted on my blog with copyright notice. So, it's not just like you are taking advantage of me, you are taking advantage of that 8-yr-old boy I once was. Please make the corrections and all will be forgiven.
Thank you
Now that was kind of weird that my inner-child popped out. But somebody had to stick up for the little guy. I could have added that the picture came from my Cub Scout scrapbook that I've had, well, since I was eight years old. There's some good stuff in there that could keep me blogging for a while. Now back to our story:
We have taken your photos down, as they were sent to us from a fan. We have a very large collection of photos and we have friends that also send us material. We are very sorry to have caused you any inconvenience.
As I had already covered that possibility, I still wasn't buying their story. All stories finally come to an end:
Thank you. I'd be very happy to give permission to use them if only someone would ask. I will not be following your site unless I see some improved form of ethical behavior with your material.Thank you again.
I went back on my wife's account and deleted my previous message. 

So, I dunno what to make of all this. The internet is a risky place. Score one for the Cub Scout.


Comments are welcome. Feel free to disagree as many do. You can even be passionate (in moderation). Comments that contain offensive language, too many caps, conspiracy theories, gratuitous Mormon bashing, personal attacks on others who comment, or commercial solicitations- I send to spam. This is a troll-free zone. Charity always!