Saturday, November 06, 2010

Lab ghosts and copyright theft.

The lab ghost remains camera shy and uncommunicative. I've taken to leaving video cameras running overnight, so we'll see if that catches him out. His most active areas are in parts of the building I can't access at night but now that the clocks have gone back and the winter approaches, it will soon be dark enough within normal working hours.

The new boss of that part of the building scoffs at the idea of ghosts but I noticed that on the Monday following the end of summer time, she was out of there along with the rest of the staff at 5pm, when darkness fell. Usually there are a few hanging around until after 6 pm. So maybe he's been busy spooking the new girl.

It's getting darker and colder and according to the long-standing residents, that's when the ghost gets most active. That's most likely to be because in the summer, it doesn't get dark until well after everyone has gone home and it's full daylight again before they come back in the morning. It's not so much that he's more active, it's more that there are still people there when it's dark. If he has more to play with, it's going to make him harder to catch but then I'll stay later than the rest will so if he wants someone to spook, I'll be the only one available.

Anyway, in the absence of anything to report, I did a little browsing and came across an interesting tale of Internet retribution.

This writer claims that a magazine lifted an article she wrote and republished it without telling her. When she complained, the magazine claimed that 'everything on the internet was public domain' so there was no copyright issue (they are very, very wrong) and that the writer should thank them for editing the work they stole before publishing it.

Well, the magazine has a Facebook page which is now likely to collapse under the weight of comments. In fact they seem to have two, although one might be a spoof. The magazine is unrepentant and if they keep up that attitude, I don't expect them to last very long.

Every word on the Internet is copyrighted, in the same way that every word on paper or chiselled into stone is copyrighted. Whoever tapped the keys that put those words into the machine - that's the copyright holder. It doesn't have to be registered anywhere and it doesn't need to have that little 'c in a circle' symbol attached.

Some things matter more than others. I'm not going to engage a lawyer if someone takes stuff from this blog. It's just ramblings, it costs nothing and earns nothing and I have no intention of making it into a book. The photos I occasionally post are not as good as the originals because I have to reduce their size to make them fit here. I would like to see anything copied from here credited back to me (as I would credit anything I find back to its source) but it's just not important enough to chase.

Articles and the like are not blog posts. They take much more thought and effort than the stream-of-consciousness babble that appears here. They involve work and taking someone else's work to sell for profit is theft. Even if the thief leaves the owner's name on it. It's no different to selling a stolen jacket with someone else's name tag inside - sure, their name is on it but the thief is getting the profit from that stolen property.

I don't think those running that magazine have appreciated how copyright on the Internet works. They took someone's article and published it without contacting the author at all. They then used that article in a magazine which makes them money. The author received no payment of any kind and only patronising condescension when she complained. That was a very bad idea.

In real life, if you act like a dick, only a few people are likely to see it or hear about it. As long as you stop, it's soon forgotten.

On the internet, it's global. The whole world sees, and it's immediate. Computers all over the world record and cache your idiotic behaviour and Internet users can message each other in seconds on things like Twitter or those instant message-link things like MSN that I've never managed to cope with. Within hours, it's everywhere, and it will leak into the real world through Emails and iPhones and Blackberries soon after that.

Yet the magazine in question still refuses to issue a simple apology and a small donation to an organisation - which is all the original author wants. Huge compensation lawsuits have been built on less than this. Sooner or later, an unscrupulous lawyer will find this author, note that it's an open-and-shut case backed up by the snide response of the magazine, and persuade that author that he can get her enough compensation to retire. He probably can, too, and he'll leave the entire staff of that magazine in the poorhouse when he's done.

We call such lawyers 'ambulance chasers' because they are on the lookout for easy cases where someone has been wronged and someone else is clearly and definitely to blame. Everything on the internet has a date stamp. Proving which copy was first is no problem. Compounding this, the magazine have admitted by Email that they care not a jot for copyright and that they did, indeed, lift the entire article without attempting to contact the author.

Someone once copied 'Ghosthunting for the Sensible Investigator' by taking a download, printing it and selling the copies on eBay. I would never have known, had a kindly commenter not spotted it and pointed it out. I didn't sue, the book is hardly an important (or even noticeable) source of income, but I did write to eBay and the plagiarist vanished. It wasn't about the money because the book doesn't make enough in a year for half a bottle of Christmas whisky, it was the principle. It was theft.

Don't rush to buy that version. I'm working on a much longer and more detailed version. It'll take a while.

When you copy a computer file, the original file remains intact. This is the justification for 'it's not really stealing' because nothing physical has gone missing. However, the principle of theft still applies. It's still taking something without the owner's permission. Something they created through their own efforts and are entitled to profit from, should they so choose. Even if they don't intend to profit from it, that does not justify someone else taking it and profiting from it.

The magazine has admitted taking the writer's article and using it in their for-profit publication. That news is now on the Internet, and it should come as no surprise to find that the Internet is stuffed full of people who write or create art and who don't want their work stolen. Logically, then, you can expect the internet to react to the identification of such a thief in their midst in much the same way as cows with calves will react to the presence of a dog. By stamping on it until the bloodied pulp presents no further threat. They will not stop until the threat is extinguished.

It might have been a good magazine. I doubt I'll ever get the chance to read it now.

Update: Looks like this cookery magazine is toast.


Regina Richards said...

There has been much discussion on the net as to whether people are over reacting to this copyright theft. But as someone who writes, I have to say that until the woman recognizes that what she did was wrong and why, I have a hard time feeling an sympathy for her position. My sympathies are with those she victimized.

Romulus Crowe said...

Unfortunately, these days, over-reaction is the normal reaction.

Recently in the UK, a councillor made a sick and tasteless joke about stoning someone. Yes, he acted stupidly by putting it on Twitter and yes, as a public official he should be rebuked, but there are calls for prosecution and questions raised in parliament.

Another man was prosecuted for a twitter joke. His crime was to say that if the local airport (which had closed) didn't get its act together in time for his flight, he'd blow it up. Obviously not serious and yet he now has a criminal record for telling a joke.

In the copyright case, the overreaction could have been defused by an apology. Instead, the editor chose to be condescending to the writers and photographers concerned.

She's fuelled her own fire here.

Southern Writer said...

That woman is despicable. I hope she gets exactly what is coming to her!

I didn't know someone stole Ghosthunting for the Sensible Investigator. You never mentioned it. That's despicable, too. Maybe I should start looking around to see what may have been stolen from me.

ver: remed

I'd say that author was reamed!

Romulus Crowe said...

SW - I only found out about it when someone left a comment here to say it was on eBay. I'd probably never have found out otherwise.

It's likely to be an increasing problem with electronic format books.

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