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Lessons from the Richter Scales-Lane Hartwell imbroglio

I'm unsure what good will come out of this whole incident. The problem is that when emotions run high, as they did here, people tend to spend more time fortifying their own positions rather than exploring new ones.

The Richter Scales have reposted their "Here Comes Another Bubble" video sans the much-disputed Lane Hartwell photograph of Owen Thomas that they used in the original video without permission and without attribution. Lane has also made a statement:

As the Richter Scales stated in their blog, the video that used my image--without my permission--was viewed just under one million times on YouTube. In the end, the band opted not to work with me toward a fair resolution of the issue. I have to say that I'm very disappointed with the members of the band I negotiated with in good faith.

Lane goes on to say:

I will be sending the band an invoice for their use of my image in the first version of the video. I hope they pay it as I'll use the money to pay my lawyer and donate the rest to KidsWithCameras.org. Kids with Cameras is a nonprofit organization that teaches the art of photography to marginalized children in communities around the world. This was the offer I proposed to the Richter Scales that they chose to disregard.

Thus, it doesn't appear that, in this particular case, attribution in the original video would have put a stop to this controversy before it began. Perhaps if the band had asked in advance. I don't know. When people have requested to use my photographs in a book and, in one case, a PBS documentary I've always said yes for the price of a photo credit. But that's me. And I'm not a professional photographer with a history of having her photos and those of her friends ripped off.

Jonathan at Plagiarism Today has a great recap of the entire imbroglio. Among his lessons learned:

Attribute obsessively: If you use other people's content in any way, attribute, attribute well, and attribute graciously. It is best to follow industry standards here and to start out with the intention of doing so rather than having to go back and do it later, when it is much harder.


Remain calm: When emotions get involved, as they often do with content theft and plagiarism issues, it is easy to lose sight of how important a case really is. Some are more important than they seem, others are less. This case was the latter. It is important to focus less on feelings and more on legal issues and how a case of plagiarism can potentially help or hurt you.

As I noted yesterday, my own feelings were pretty conflicted about this tempest. Lane's DMCA takedown notice that bumped the original video off YouTube seemed somewhat disproportionate to me. On the other hand, the Richter Scales largely hid behind a Fair Use copyright defense. Leaving aside whether Fair Use applied here (it's at best a borderline case); it's just bad manners and bad practice to not give attribution to all the people whose work the group used--as they have now done in the revised video. This case--and many others like it--is far more about proper societal behavior than it is about the nuances of copyright law.

As "Miss Rogue" writes in "Tragedy of the Commons: Lane Hartwell vs Richter Scales:

Since the video was viewed hundreds of thousands of times (prior to takedown), there was a missed opportunity there for the many photographers whose photos were used to make this group famous. In a post titled Credit and "Here Comes Another Bubble", the author explains:

"We did make an effort to credit those people we actively worked with on the video, as well as Billy Joel, which we listed in the comments on YouTube and on our blog. But, given the large number of sources we used, the task of assigning credit for each source seemed impractical."

He goes on to mention Lane Hartwell...without linking to her photos or her Web site. As one commenter said, "Basically if I am reading your post correct, what I hear you saying is, 'Mea Culpa, but we're lazy.'" In actuality, the time one can take to list the photo credits is a fraction of the time it would take to go out and duplicate the work of those artists to make the same presentation.

I'm unsure what good will come out of this whole incident. The problem is that when emotions run high, as they did here, people tend to spend more time fortifying their own positions rather than exploring new ones. However, I can at least hope that it's at least raised a little bit the general awareness around giving proper credit for images and other material from the Web.