Doing the Right Thing: A Word about Copyright

February 27, 2012

Last week, the world of romance exploded with another plagiarist’s reveal. I’m sure if I dug deep enough, I’d find similar events in other genres. The digital world calls to these thieves. And make no mistake about it, that’s what they are: THIEVES. They steal the product of our blood, sweat and tears to feed their own inadequacies.

As I started my weekend, fuming over this latest incident, I thought about rights in all their glory, something I’ve thought about often in the past. (You don’t work in the Mouse House without a thorough understanding of the warning, “Anything even remotely questionable goes through the legal department.”) The first time I thought about the issue of rights was when I sold a poem for ten dollars, handing over “all rights.” At the time, I wanted to be published and paid. I didn’t care if I ever owned the words again. Years later, I discovered print articles that were written by me, stripped of my name and re-sold to websites with no warning or recourse, because I held no rights. I sold them away for a few hundred dollars an article, and the publisher selling them was no doubt making much more. It was a sobering experience.

As my children grew older, I lectured about music sharing sites. I fumed when a neighbor gave my son an illegal copy of a blockbuster movie. I tossed a purse my mother bought me on the streets of Toronto. Because all of these activities infringed on someone else’s copyright.

Sometimes it’s easy to do the right thing.

Sometimes it’s not.

I like Pinterest. Actually, some days I love it. Before my conscience grabbed hold and gave me a good shake, I wasted hours, combing the internet for pretty pictures. My joy at the images I assembled overshadowed the no-fun voice in the back of my mind until one day, I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to know the deal with Pinterest and copyright.

The bottom line? It’s a gray area…certainly nothing like pirating a book. And yet, I wonder if I talked to photographers who sell those images for a living, what would they say? Pinterest stays ahead of the legal game with the help of too little legal precedent and too much passing the buck to users. (Users supposedly click upon sign-up that they own the legal rights or have explicit permission to use all images they pin. I signed up, and I don’t recall seeing this, but then again I couldn’t tell you the last time I really read a user agreement. I know…I know…) But recently, some big names in the image department have squawked enough to prompt action (Flickr being the latest). I have to admit, I wish the lines were clearer.

I want to pin, but I don’t want to infringe on someone else’s copyright. I’d like to say, “What’s the harm? Isn’t publicity enough payback?” But all things considered, one creative person to another, I’m worried that makes me a hypocrite. Honestly, I haven’t deleted my Pinterest account—I like it!—but I am more aware of what I am pinning and where I am pinning from. Is that enough? I don’t know.

What do you think? And not just about Pinterest…What do you think about copyright as it pertains to digital/intellectual property? Would you be furious to find a copy of your book posted without your permission—even if it was posted without the intent of making money for the poster? What if it was just an excerpt posted without your permission? In a digital world, do we have to loosen our expectations for control and simply hope for the best?


8 Responses to “Doing the Right Thing: A Word about Copyright”

  1. Samir Says:

    I think this is a difficult question that even the professionals are not really certain how to tackle. For myself, I don’t think in this digital age it’s possible to control every aspect of copyright. I’m for the point of view that if someone likes my stuff enough to use it, then as long as my name is mentioned somewhere visibly, it’s free publicity. If they pass it as their own, however, it’s plagiarism, Period.

    • Hi, Samir. I’ve always thought on these lines too, but I realize for every opinion there is a counter opinion. It’s nice to hear what other people think about the topic.

      Thanks for commenting.


  2. Kate Says:

    Copyright is one of those things I wish I understood better. I wish I knew what was right and what wasn’t. As it is I try my best only to use my own pictures.

    If someone wanted to use an extract of something I’d written or a picture I’d taken or drawn I’d be upset if they hadn’t asked, or if they hadn’t credited me. It’s about being polite.

  3. Nan Hartwell Says:

    If someone else creates a story, poem, article, image and has not given you express permission to use it — you are stealing said story, poem, article, image, etc.

    I see pinterest as another huge time suck and dances to close to that copyright violation line–I won’t be signing up anytime soon and I do not even go and see what my favorite authors, friends, acquaintances are putting up over there.

    Where’s the image of a smiley face shrugging their shoulders? 😉

  4. Jeannie Says:

    Personally, if someone liked something I wrote and wanted to ‘pin’ it, whether a word or two or an excerpt,I don’t care. Especially if the intent is not to make any money (which I haven’t anyway).

    Here is another point of view from Keri Smith from her blog:

    Will she care that I shared this with you? I don’t believe so. If you read it, you’ll see why.

    I don’t know how I’d feel if someone deliberately took my work then tried to pass it off as their own–that’s a whole new can of worms. I don’t think I would like it. Give credit where credit is due.

    But simple sharing, because someone admires something you wrote (or a picture or artwork), no problem. To me, that is a compliment.

  5. nicolehelm Says:

    I know nothing about copyright law, but at this point in time I don’t understand how Pinterest poses a copyright threat. As far as I can tell no one is taking credit for the words/pictures they pin. If you have a picture posted on the Internet, and someone links to it from their blog/Pinterest etc… Where is the infringement? I don’t mean that there’s not, I just don’t understand what the claim is.

    I pin recipes I want to come back to and use. I pin pictures that inspire me (just as I might have in the past cut out a beautiful picture from a magazine and put it up on my wall). I pin for me. It’s just like my bookmarks bar, except it’s public– if friends want to see what pictures I like or recipes I want to make, it’s no different than me emailing them a link… Is it? And I’m certainly not making any money off of it.

    Is there an aspect I’m missing?

    Anyway, that’s my opinion based on what I understand. I think the Internet being what it is means copyright is going to continue to be an issue. The easier it is to obtain information means the easier it is to modify it for personal gain.

    • Elley Says:

      I agree that it’s confusing, and if it weren’t for my past experience with a company copyright obsessed, I wouldn’t have had a clue something could be amiss. Creation aka intellectual property can be looked at in similar ways. Whether your medium is the written word or photographs, the rights to your creations belong to you unless you sell them or explicitly give them away. If you post writing samples on your site, no one else has the right to pick up and repost that sample without your permission. You may not have a problem with someone lifting the text from your site and posting it on their site as long as there is attribution, but what if they don’t link back to your site or tag the text with your name? This can happen even on Pinterest. Like I said above, it’s confusing, with creative people disagreeing amongst themselves (right here on this blog). But the fact that the industry is buzzing and major companies are starting to flinch makes me think it’s something we creative people need to be aware of. 🙂

      Here’s a more thorough look at the issue from Plagarism Today:

      The Internet does change the legal landscape. I’m trying to keep up. For me, the more interested I become in protecting the rights of writers, the more I feel responsible for not disrespecting the rights of other artists.

      I appreciate everyone’s input on this topic. It’s very enlightening.


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