Blogs, Photo and Copyright: Winning the battle, but let’s not lose the war. (or the “Good enough for Google” rule.

The launch of Autoblog.com was accompanied by a lot of excitement and, unfortunately, some legal headaches. Turns out someone didn’t like our use of their photos and it looked like the legal guns were about to be drawn.

Then logic prevailed.

After a couple of really nice, positive phone and email messages I got the publisher in question on the phone. He appreciated me taking the time to call and email him (about a half dozen times!).

He also appreciated me addressing the issue by taking his big beautiful photos and bringing them down to nicely cropped thumbnails (about 25% of the total picture), crediting him with the photos, and offering to take them down if he really wanted me to. Of course I explained that if I take the photos down, the post and link to his site comes down too (read no traffic for people who don’t like to share).

We’re getting lunch in a couple of weeks, and who knows we might collaborate on some things. 🙂

SIDE NOTE: Amazing how picking up the phone can change things. It’s easy to say “f- you” in email, it’s harder to say that over the phone, and even harder still face-to-face. I’m all about the phone and face-to-face meetings myself, probably because I’m so blunt that email, IM, and blog posts sometimes lead to people misinterpreting what I’m trying to say.

Anyhow, back to the issue: fair use and photos.

I spoke with about 20 of the top bloggers out there, and some lawyers, and here are the basic points these people made, in no particular order:

  1. Don’t bring this upyou’ll wake the sleeping giant!
    True enough, but the giant is tossing and turning already. I say let’s wake the giants up and make them a nice cup of coffee.

  2. This will only impact the sites trying to make money.
    True right now, but false in the future. Copyright holders typically start with the people making money, but they work their way down the line to the end user (check the music industry’s strategy as an example).

  3. Screw em, let them sue you because a) they won’t win and b) they will look like fools when the bloggers smack them down!
    While this may be true it might also cost me tens of thousands of dollars to defend myself, and I’d rather have people feel like they are part of the blogging revolution than make them feel like fools (note: the people in the blogosphere who are elitist today will be obscure freaks tomorrowwe all saw this during the early Internet era).

  4. Thanks for bringing up this important issue Jason, if you need bail money let me know!
    Thanks for the support, and the promise of bail money (can I pay by PayPal?). I think we’ve all learned a lot from this discussion, and when the big wave of copyright notices come I think we’ll be better served because of the feedback.

The Solution (not)

OK, well, there is none.

However, it seems there are things you can do to minimize the chances of getting a letter and being sued. Now, we all know that getting permission beforehand is out of the question because it takes too long and it’s too hard to get in touch with these people. Imagine calling a big media company and asking them for permission to use a photo. They would take weeks, if not months, to get back to youif they ever did!

We’re taking a “Good enough for Google” approach to the problem. Google uses thumbnails in their index to help people navigate the Internet and we’re using thumbnails to help navigate the Internet. We’re also going to follow Google rule that if the Webmaster (aka publisher) asks us to remove something we will. Someone asks for a photo to be taken down then we take it down. They don’t get the traffic or the link, we don’t get the image and the user doesn’t get the storyeveryone losses equally.

Now, I’m no lawyer. Don’t take any of this as legal advice. Even the lawyers can’t tell you for certain if you’re infringing. I think you have to follow the spirit of the law, which is intended to protect the owners of the images. Does putting the image on your blog help or hurt the owner? Well, if the person clicks through to get more information then you’re helping. If the person has their need fulfilled by your presentation of the photo, with no additional curiosity to click through then you’re probably hurting them. In all cases I suggest linking back to the owner of the photo, or at least to the place where you found it.

Good luck with this everyone, and additional feedback is always welcome.

Disclaimer: This is not legal advice, and this only reflects my personal beliefs on this issue. The bloggers in The Weblogs, Inc. Network are responsible for their own posts just like the people posting to a message board. Blogs are enhanced message boards; let’s all act responsibly.

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