October 23rd, 2019, was the day the freedom on the Internet died for me. For years large corporations have been fighting the Internet for sharing their multi-million dollar projects whether it was music, movies, television shows, or news photography. However, the Internet has been resilient as users continued to share information in a variety of ways under the fair use act through education, news, or parody. Unfortunately, that window is closing and closing fast.
As a teacher, I have used blogging and creating YouTube videos to help teach others how to run the school online news site. We have a school news website and YouTube channel in which students love to parody the pop culture around them. However, as of this week, it all came crashing down.
I received letters from a law firm claiming they wanted money for illegally using their client’s work, in this case two photographs, from over two years ago. The law firm claims they can fine the blogger, company, entity using photographs without the owner’s permission. Citing the source of where the photograph was found does not count. Here’s the rub, I spent some time talking to the school’s attorney; it just so happens that the law firm contacting me was a legit entity and had legal right to sue the school even though we provided citation for the photograph and links back to the original site. We were legally at the mercy of the company. Fortunately, we had no advertisement on our school website, which could have earned the school or class money, so the company let us go with a severe warning. The school news site is now taken down, and I must purge every photograph from the website for the past 6 years it has been operational.
At this point, many readers may be saying so what, a school website got taken down. This is just the beginning my friends and the storm is rapidly approaching from the horizon. How do I get permission to use a photograph from the owner? Contact them, wait for an email. What if I get permission and the photograph is sold to a news agency? Then I have to get permission from the second party as well, how will I know who the owner is? What if I borrow the picture from a public domain site in which the photograph was illegally posted, I would be liable.
Here’s where it gets really serious. Every meme created using a movie photo or gif could be consider copyright infringement. The law firm can now trace the photograph’s illegal use to the IP address to the home and computer user that posted it on their social media account. Each sharer is liable for copyright infringement. Many of the political memes in this country, the United States, are designed to poke at the absurdity of our bureaucracy; it’s those same bureaucrats who were lobbied to allow this course of legal action to take place.
Six months from now what will Wikipedia be like. Each direct copy and pasted article without owner permission will be taken down for copyright infringement. Every photograph used without the owner’s permission, copyright infringement. The source of free knowledge will no longer be available to the public for free. I do not rely on Wikipedia as my main source of knowledge; I use the source links the authors reference, copyright infringement. Fair Use has been chipped away at for the lining of political pockets as well as serve a way to further control the flow and sources of information.
So, how do the law firms do it? I am uncertain how our picture from 2 years ago was flagged as copyright infringement. There is face recognition software, so I can’t see this being such a stretch in programming. If the photograph gets a hit with the recognition software the IP address is hunted down, the owner of the website is contacted, and served the legal documents to cease and desist while being required to pay a fine. And yes, the courts are upholding the copyright claimants rights to fine those using the images, and quotes illegally even when the source is cited.
Just recently I learned China’s General Secretary of the Communist Party, the highest political leader in China, Xi Jingping, was memed for looking like the lovable character Winnie the Pooh. He decided on his own to ban Winnie the Pooh from all of China. He couldn’t take the comparison of being a lovable, huggable, character apparently. The threat was then extended to all of Disney if they did not disavow Winnie the Pooh’s existence on their websites. Currently, only in the United States and Canada will Disney claim Winnie the Pooh. Corporations are so desirous for the potential billion person country of China to purchase their goods, they will change product lines, names, disavow huggable, lovable, characters to receive a potential multi-billion dollar contract to operate in China. Chinese censorship is coming to the United States and the rest of the world. Don’t like a political view censor it, fine it, remove it from search engines, block, shame it. Freedom of information, the free sharing of knowledge died for me on October 23rd, 2019. We may not have a dictator, but we have law firms that know there is money to be made and have the politicians’ approval to do so.
I have gone through Living a Sustainable Dream’s website. I have begun deleting all my pictures that I borrowed and cited their sources. Charts, graphs, pictures of different off grid products have all been removed. In those posts, there are now craters or voids of information that once told a more complete story. If you have borrowed pictures for sources that are not in the public domain, you may want to begin the purge as well. Under a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court, the statue of limitations is 3 years from the point of discovery. That means the past 5 years of this blog a picture could be brought to my attention, and the company has 3 years to take me into litigation from when they discovered the 5 year old picture.
Remember SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Personal Information Protection Act) from 2011-2012? Note the names chosen to hide the nightmare we are now facing. Somewhere in the chaotic circus the mainstream media has created these past 7 years, under the guise of protecting people from Internet piracy, something passed. Something that gives certain law firms the power to track photos and direct quotes down and fine those who use them. The free exchange of knowledge is dead; we just don’t know it yet.
Many lawyer jokes exist in our culture, but the lowest respected lawyer has always been the ambulance chaser, who hoped to use an accident victim as a way to line their pockets. Perhaps, that will change as recognition software is used and law firms approach photographers, news agencies, Hollywood Producers, and say we can get you (true numbers unknown) 10% – 20% of the take if you hand over legal rights to hunt down your photograph that was memed or used 10,000 times on the World Wide Web. The two photos found on our school website would have cost the school over $600.00 a piece. You do the math.
Please feel free to comment, research what was stated here. I spent a morning talking to lawyers and have a stack of legal documents to look through, yet I was told this was a losing battle.