Monday, January 16, 2012

Permission and the Blog

I have a feeling this little post may make me a little un-popular. . .But, just know that no matter your opinion, I still respect YOU.

First, a story:
About four months after I began this blog, I featured some ceramic jewelry that one of my students created (the post has been removed; you don't need to go look for it). In that post I had pictures of her work, other students' work, and a picture of me wearing the work (because I don't post images of my students on the internet). The images were a result of the interests of one of my students. This student, let's call her Ann, came to me with an image she found on the internet of ceramic jewelry; she wanted to make it. So, together, we broke down how to create this piece and then she created her own design based on the aesthetic of that first piece.

I was proud of Ann's work and celebrated it here. The following week, I received an email that was copied to all of my then professors (I was in graduate school at the time) and the Dean of my college. The email contained a formal cease and desist order and a letter my academic institution stating that I was turning in copied artwork for grades. The person who sent this email was the artist whose jewelry my student had copied. Somehow, this person became confused and thought that since I was in school, I must be turning in copies of her artwork for a grade. She had pictorial diagrams with arrows demonstrating how the work was similar.

I replied back to her, and copied my professors and my Dean, and stated that I was a teacher, that the artwork was created by an under-18 student, and that I had not aided the student for any personal profit or monetary gain, and that the artwork had nothing to do with my graduate studies. Furthermore, as the images were used in academic, K-12 setting for educational purposes, I was protected from copyright infringement (which is true; I check with a lawyer and an scholastic librarian). I concluded that I wished the artist had simply emailed with a polite request to remove the images as I wanted to promote positive relationships online, and would have done so immediately. In any event, I told the artist that I would remove any and all images pertaining to her artwork ASAP. And, I did.

I had to have a very uncomfortable meeting with my entire graduate department. They agreed I had done no wrong, and handled the situation correctly. But still, it was very embarrassing to have at all.

So, when we begin talking about permission and the blog, I have some real life experience.

Second, some thoughts:
In the DIY world there is a whole dialogue devoted to the "evils of the copiers." Some go so far as to say "Do-it-Yourself" does not stand for "Duplicate-it-Yourself." The point being that many cottage industry craft persons sell their wares online and that they lose money when their images are used to copy work. And, while they -for the most part- emphasize that they are not talking about people who copy for personal use, many would argue otherwise. Those in the wedding industry especially don't want brides copying crafts instead of purchasing. I empathize. At the same time, I would counsel some common sense. If you are a crafter, selling work online, and you have a blog, I would be very careful about what was posted. After all, if you are so foolish as to post "how-to" steps on your blog, you have freely given away the "recipe" for your craft.

Yet, it is rude to take. My mother is a professional photographer and in the days before digital she would give customers proofs with her copyright embossed. At that time, most photographers made money off of the number of prints ordered by customers. I can't tell you how many customers would just clip off her copyright and run down to Kinko's or wherever and have prints made. So, I do feel for people.

It is wrong to take images from anyone's internet site and post them onto your site without providing a source. If the images are copyrighted (and most are) then you are doing something illegal. But, once you get into the territory of posting your own images/ideas that are slightly altered from another online source, the water gets more murky.

Good manners (and ethics) would say that if you use someone else's idea whether written or visual, you should provide access to the source. The internet, at this stage, is like the Wild West, and you can't truly expect all people to do that. Unfortunate? Yes. Realistic? Yes. I would exercise caution. If you don't want your ideas taken (in every sense of the word), then I would not post them on the internet. Instead, write them up, edit them well and submit them to magazines and other, more scholarly and professional, sources.

If you find someone is using your ideas without permission and it upsets you, then I would contact that person. In my experience, most people are not deliberating taking, they just lack tech manners, experience, or foresight to list/link to a source Or, they may have simply forgotten they got the idea from you. If you are concerned about your images being re-used without permission, then put a watermark on them before you upload.

I know of one blogger who began watermarking images for a truly excellent reason (I'm not going to use her name out of respect). This blogger has fantastic ideas, some of which I have used (and always cited her as a source). People would see work inspired by her work on my blog and pin it to Pinterest. This blogger was the true source of inspiration, and that was important to her. So, she went in and under all of the images pinned from my site that were inspired by her work, she cited that and put a link to her site. Which I thought was cool; that gave the pinner 2 places to check out the project. Then, she began watermarking her images, which ultimately saved her a lot of time!

Closing Thoughts:
I try really hard to always cite my inspiration sources on both this blog and on all the presentations I upload to slideshare. But, I am human and I miss sources. I'm not treating every blog post as a graduate paper and combing over it to see if I've missed a source. I'm sorry for it, but I'm not a professional blogger, and this is something I do in the very limited time I have.

I know I have posted inspired items without a source, albeit unintentionally. In fact, just this week, I posted an image of a project I'm doing about Frank Big Bear and I know I saw something similar online but I can't find the source written anywhere or on my Pinterest board. Normally, when writing about lesson plans, I would list that the source was online and if anyone knew of it to let me know. But, since I only posted one image, not a how-to, I didn't stress overmuch.

My underlying point is that we have a really great little Art Education community here online. I know y'all are all good folks looking for great ideas and lesson plans and some of you are willing to share both in return. I don't think any of you would intentionally use a project without citing a source. . .But, we probably all should try harder to make sure we do. At the same time, I encourage you to remember that this is the internet, and it is likely that people will take your ideas and re-post them. If it bothers you to the point of distraction, I encourage you to be very careful about what you share.

7 comments:

  1. Well said and I do my best to also site any inspiration I find.
    I would add one thing though. Some of these awesome ideas have been done for years. When I started as an art teacher in 1990 I did some of the very same lessons that I now see on the internet as "new" ideas. You just can't help it.
    We are sharing and giving but truly didn't we kind of do the same thing as before we just call it a different name. Case in point zentangles.
    thanks for your open opinion on this....

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  2. Very well said. I agree with you completely! I try hard to site sources, but the Zentangle thing is an excellent example. Now if I do a doodle lesson (which I taught 10 years ago) do I need to site Zentangles? Anyways.. I think overall we are all just trying to share and make our jobs easier, right?

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  3. Amy, nicely written piggy-back to my post, which was inspired by an email from a reader. You are way more informed and eloquent about this than me; I was mostly just passing on a query from a reader. So thanks for an intelligent informative post.

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  4. You have very good points Amy. It's interesting because I have been on the side of a crafts-person who had their images taken by someone -else who wanted to profit from the images. However, in that case she was taking my photos and calling them her photos. I contacted her saying really she could copy my designs all she wanted because I don't have a copyright on them but she needed to make them herself and then take photos of her handiwork... not use photos of my work and claim it was hers and try to make sales off those photos. That really annoyed me and seemed really unethical (and my friend who is a lawyer agreed).

    I think it is a lot fuzzier with many art lessons. Yes we should ALWAYS credit and link back to images we got and lessons if they are original but the posters above are also right there are a lot of lessons that we do that have been done for many many many years and I don't think any of us can really try to take credit for them.

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  5. Ms. Art Teacher - I SO agree with you. Taking someone else's photos and attempting to pass them of as your own is wrong. . .And in certain circumstances, illegal. And, it does get fuzzy with regards to "sourcing ideas of projects." So many of them have been around for so long and many of us have similar ideas. I know of one art teacher who published a book of projects and her email listserv community got very angry because they felt she was profiting off of their ideas. . . Talk about an intricate argument!

    Marcia and kzswhal- I agree with both of you whole-heartedly. The best we can do is attempt to credit the inspiration when we know the source.

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  6. The internet makes everything so much easier when it comes to lesson planning but also foggier when it comes to intellectual property. When I was in college, there were no art sites giving out lesson plans, we had to write them all ourself! I wonder how many college kids use these ideas and turn them in for grades, lol. I just know though that if I had all these websites when I was just starting out, it would have been so much easier! That's why I blog now, and I'm sure most of you do to.. to help out other teachers who need ideas and hopefully inspires some classroom teachers to put more art in their class. I totally agree with you about using someone else's photographs as your own... that's just absurd! I also agree with someone who said there are very few new ideas under the sun, everything is a spin on something else. If I copy a lesson directly from someone else, I will do my best to credit them. If I teach a lesson about African masks (which I am doing now) I probably will not source anyone, since it's a very common art project, right?

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  7. I agree with what a lot of people are saying about lessons not being new. I try to source all of my borrowed lessons, too, though sometimes it is more along the lines of "I saw this in a magazine more than 10 years ago, and no longer know the source."

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