Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Stealing, borrowing or using?

A Flickr contact of mine has started doing a Photo Share Podcast and through the most recent episode I heard about a post from Robert Scoble. In the post, Steal my content, please!, Robert says:
"I WANT YOU to steal my content. ... I’d like a credit, yes, but don’t demand it. I’d rather just add to the human experience and if that means that other people make money off of my work, so be it."
If Robert Scoble wants to do that with his content, I have no problem - his content, his choice. However, I do want to make one comment about his choice of words and then make a more general point about Flickr.

Firstly, "steal" is a poor choice of word. I know a minister who used to have a church up in the northwest of Scotland. He says it used to be common practice during the winter months, when there were few tourists about, to leave your keys in your car. That way, if someone needed to borrow his car, they could do it without disturbing him or his family. So sometimes he'd wake up in the morning and find the driveway empty. "Ah... Donny must have needed the car again.", he'd think. Was the car stolen? No, because he'd in effect given his permission for it to be used by other people. The same is true with Robert Scoble's content - he says it can be used, so no theft is involved.

However, not everyone is happy for their work to be used and abused by others. For example, I remember how annoyed I was when I discovered that my work (not photographs but stuff to do with networking for the Advanced Higher Computing course) was being sold to schools by a publisher. Nobody had given consent and they hadn't given credit. In fact, some years later... I'm still annoyed that they passed off my work as their own. In general, I am happy for people to use stuff I've produced but at the very least I'd like them to acknowledge that it is my work. So, to my second point...

The thing that I really like about Flickr... OK, one of the many things I really like about Flickr is that it is explicitly stated, on every single photo page, what you can and cannot do with that image. No guesswork necessary - each image page has a clear description. Some images are copyright protected but many have a Creative Commons Licence. I wrote about Creative Commons on Flickr ages ago but I still think the ability to search for Creative Commons Licensed photos is brilliant. I just did a Flickr search for "guitar" and found 527,717 images and 84,457 of them have a Creative Commons Licence of some sort. Over eighty-four thousand! Why bother stealing an image when for the "cost" of a link back and an attribution you can choose from that many images?

In the digital age, when it is so easy to copy and re-purpose, we have to make sure our students understand the importance of proper attribution. Note your sources and credit your sources. It can be a bit of a pain but it is an important lesson for our students to grasp. A blog post from John Johnston about a month ago suggests one way of approaching this and the discussion he refers to on John Connell's blog is worth checking out too (especially the interesting reply from Theo Kuechel).

Has anyone experience of using Flickr to explore these issues with classes? If so, I'd love to hear from you.

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Bill Weye said...

Hi, David. Bill, here from the Photo Share Podcast.

This issue, I think, is going to be an ongoing one for our podcast. I think it's very important as more and more content is moved to the internet, and as media companies layoff more and more employees, replacing them with "user generated content".

Thanks for highlighting your post about creative commons. We're going to be talking about CC in the weeks ahead, and I'm sure I'll use your post as a resource.

Finally, thanks for listening to the Photo Share Podcast. Drop us a line with any questions, requests, or suggestions.

John Connell said...


In answer to your question on my blog, I haven't come across anyone else doing what Theo spoke about, apart from the approach taken by John Johnston himself. But - I would be very interested in finding others who are trying to do something in this area.


Ant Jessop said...

I agree, 'steal' is a poor choice of word. However, even when taking without permission, to steal has different connotations when online or digital. If I steal money from you, I gain and you lose. The same isn't necessarily true with digital photos. I would be taking from you, but not taking away from you. I'm sure if someone had taken you original and only copy of networking material to sell to schools, you would have been even more annoyed! Perhaps it's more like counterfeiting.

David said...

Hello John

Thanks for your comment ...and I'll let you know if I come across anything.

Hello Ant

I agree that digital assets are easy to copy and re-purpose so that apparently there is no loss to the original creator when someone makes a copy... but that's not how it feels. I still feel a loss. They've stolen my time, my effort and (if it doesn't sound too pretentious) my reputation and have given nothing back. However, I agree that "counterfeiting" is a better analogy. I like that comparison but I wonder if that is more of a help or more of a hinderence when trying to help children learn about this area. I think it may help because they don't see copying digital assets as stealing. Hmm! Further thought required. Thank you for helping to progress my thinking here.