Friday, January 29, 2010

Pilfered, or How I Unapologetically Violated Someone's Copyright

In this age when magazines are folding left and right, it's nice to see new ones being born. It's especially nice to see new photography magazines. The world needs more magazines of every stripe -- except this one.

A web-only publication called Pilfered Magazine has been born. And true to its title, it features photos and art stolen from the Web. And the publication makes no bones about it. It is proud of the fact that it flagrantly violates people's copyrights left and right.

The publication claims that it is not responsible for any violations arising from what it publishes and that it takes no responsibility. If you send it something and get sued, you're on your own.

The magazine's Privacy Policy states that its web users may not upload any material that "...may infringe the intellectual property rights or other rights of third parties, including trademark, copyright, trade secret, patent, publicity right, or privacy right..."

But that's exactly what the publication encourages. That's their whole reason for being.

It also says it will credit the photographer/artist when known. But instead of doing it the old-fashioned way (trying to track down the copyright holder themselves) they ask their readers to provide the owner's name if they know it. So the credit ends up buried in one of its web pages somewhere and looking like this: October Issue, Page 21. Photograph by XYZ. This is not proper credit. No reader will see a photograph and then search through hundreds of comments left by other readers with "attribution."

(Note: I pulled the photo above from the magazine's web site. But I couldn't tell you who the photographer is because I couldn't find any credit anywhere on their site. And lest you think I'm not practicing what I preach, this blog operates under fair use. It's editorial criticism people.)

From the magazine's About page:

[The magazine's] founders...have in the past spent hours surfing the web to put together presentations for various commercial ad and editorial jobs…and noticed the hours it took to gather images and felt it was time to have a massive image collective shared by the people, for the people. The goal was to make this process easier and a lot more community oriented and fun.
And this is precisely what's wrong with this picture. The notion that just because it's on the web, it's fair game for anyone who wants to use it. That information on the Internet "wants to be free." If you subscribe to that theory, then you either put your stuff out there not caring what happens to it, or you place it out there under a Creative Commons license.

I love the part about them spending hours surfing the web looking to comp their ads and editorial projects. I bet these projects got published too. I wonder if their bosses knew or cared that their comps were stolen from the web.

The problem with this whole thing is summed up nicely by one commenter on the Pilfered Magazine blog:
is not about ‘me’, it is about ‘we’. I publish therefore i am. A copyright generation has to adjust to the copyleft movement…where if i can get it, it is mine…to remix, to comment on, to share, to blog about, to twitter.
It is precisely this idea that "if I can get it, it's mine" and that it can be changed to fit the thief's whim that is the problem. People that make their living charging for their art copyright it to protect from this kind of theft.

For amateurs I guess it doesn't make a difference. Some might even be flattered that someone spent the time to steal their art and rework it. But to a professional, this takes money out of their pocket and ultimately bread off their table.

Why bother producing art in the first place, if someone is going to come along and rework it anyway? It is no longer the artist's vision then. It becomes the possessor's vision. It akin to stealing a Picasso from a museum and repainting it to suit your own vision. It no longer is a Picasso at that point.

But it's still stolen property.

UPDATE 2-12-2010: Apparently the publication has seen the light (or more likely the threat of multiple lawsuits) ans says it is going straight. It posted this on it's web site: " “With respect to our community, we would like to announce we are officially re-imagining our perspective...we would like to continue receiving your suggestions and encourage you to help us build this platform by submitting only copyrighted and permission-based content.”