C Tann-Starr's Outside Blog


Wordy C on Fair Use: A Case Study In Accidental Copyright Violations Part 2 of 5

Carolyn Tann-Starr 2009

Wordy C on Fair Use: A Case Study In Accidental Copyright Violations Part 2 of 5

What drives your blog? The need for speed or do you have a slow, careful writing hand?

The cut and paste function is a very useful but sometimes tempting tool. Used wisely (e.g. to get a small snippet of information to showcase a specific quote you are attributing to another source) you can save time assembling an article. Used incorrectly (e.g. plagiarism, copyright violation), one may find oneself in a very sticky situation when caught. Here's a unexpected, scary thought: what if you get set up?

When was the last time you read Yahoo's Copyright and Intellectual Property Policy regarding Flickr accounts? Have you seen this?  It is very brief so if you have not please take the time to read it. Most people I chatted with didn't even realize the two cyber-entities were interwoven.

I noticed an interesting gap in the conversation yesterday regarding protecting users from other user manipulation. I kept thinking someone would start that thread. Hmm... Oh well... feel free to open the door here. After having spent a lot of time in their (Yahoo/Flickr) forum reading yesterday here is what I discovered:

Users change their digital permissions all the time. They own the copyrights, they own the accounts, they can check a box or click a radio button at whim and create situations you had no idea could get you caught up in potential litigation down the road if you have nothing in writing to protect yourself. For example: One user had taken some great shots that were used by a website he objected to (competition?). He changed the creative commons license and made the photographs private after the fact to deliberately break the links. He checked back a few days later and was miffed that the targeted website showed the missing photographs as being temporarily unavailbe. He openly complained in the forum about what he did and the fact that that their page rankings was still higher because of his Flickr photograph links even though the photographs were no longer visible. His discussion talking points in sum and substance? Was this link back and photograph usage (after he changed the rights after the fact) considered fair use... He thought it was unfair the other site was still benefiting from his free no longer free or visible photographs. I bet you Flickr users didn't see that mind set developing did you? It made me pause, then scrap my original draft of this post because I suddenly found myself wondering exactly what I had accidentally stumbled into while writing a completely different article.

According to Wikipedia: "Fair Use is a doctrine in United States Copyright Law that allows limited use of copyrighted material without requiring permission from the rights holders, such as use for scholarship or review. It provides for the legal, non-licensed citation or incorporation of copyrighted material in another author's work under a four-factor balancing test. The term "fair use" originated in the United States, but has been added to Israeli law as well; a similar principle, fair dealing, exists in some other common law jurisdictions. Civil law jurisdictions have other limitations and exceptions to copyright." You can read the full article here.

BTW, a balancing test may be described as any judicial test in which the jurists weigh the importance of multiple factors in a legal case... That leaves the door pretty wide open for a spectrum of conclusions, don't you think? I find the notion of being fast and fickle with copyright permissions very disturbing because there is a lot at stake for anyone who gets caught out there. How does one pass the balancing test for that type of situation if you take a photograph and use it but have no documentation because it is, or was, a social media convenience? Is that trend growing in the forum discussions a potential hint some hypothetical people may be trolling for litigation if the lightbulb goes off and they start playing with the creative commons radio button for use, no use, use, no use situations if they don't like your Google juice and suffer from traffic envy? What mechanisms are available to stop them from creative financial havoc on some poor, unsuspecting blogger if its done quietly with no Internet chatter to tip one off? Is this the beginning of the hypothetical, "Poor blogger, I wont sue you, rich blogger, you had no right to steal my work?" syndrome? Inquiring minds want to know... While we are figuring this out and trolling through more research you may want to stick with taking your own pictures, buying rights from a reputable company and getting your friends and family to help you so you can avoid the possible drama of a cease and desist notice with a damages request.

It's not just an issue of photographs. It's an issue of everything that doesn't belong to you.

Lets go to Wikipedia to quote what Plagiarism is and contrast it to a Copyright Violation. It is vital you understnd these concepts in order to understand what Fair Use is and isn't.  "Plagiarism, as defined in the 1995 Random House Compact Unabridged Dictionary, is the "use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own original work." Within academia, plagiarism by students, professors, or researchers is considered academic dishonesty or academic fraud and offenders are subject to academic censure, up to and including expulsion. In journalism, plagiarism is considered a breach of journalistic ethics, and reporters caught plagiarizing typically face disciplinary measures ranging from suspension to termination. Some individuals caught plagiarizing in academic or journalistic contexts claim that they plagiarized unintentionally, by failing to include quotations or give the appropriate citation. While plagiarism in scholarship and journalism has a centuries-old history, the development of the Internet, where articles appear as electronic text, has made the physical act of copying the work of others much easier. Plagiarism is not copyright infringement. While both terms may apply to a particular act, they are different transgressions. Copyright infringement is a violation of the rights of a copyright holder, when material protected by copyright is used without consent. On the other hand, plagiarism is concerned with the unearned increment to the plagiarizing author's reputation that is achieved through false claims of authorship." You can read the full Wiki article here.

Bloggers are a nebulous group comprising people from all walks of life and every profession inmagined. A blogger may or may not be a student or journalist. What ever your station and status in cyber-life one point must be made very clear: your station and status does not absolve you from engaging in or being accused of plagiarism and/or copyright violations. If you like what someone says quote them. Doing so brings clarity to the discussion at hand and helps to facilitate a meeting of the minds regarding talking points. If you like a picture, get permission to use it in writing. How hard is it to shoot off a two line e-mail?

Revisit The ActiveRain Community Guidelines:

(1) Respect copyrights. Only upload content/images that you have the right to use (what you have paid for or own), and whose copyright rules allow for commercial use. 

(2) Do not plagiarize (copy and paste) content from another source, and publish it as your own. You must obtain expressed permission from the original source to republish, and give reference to such within the body of your post. Permission to re-print is NOT the same as permission to re-publish. This also applies to publishing other real estate listings that are not your own.

Here is a third guideline quote I would like to share with you that I believe is very important but frequently gets overlooked: "Please take these rules seriously. Don't try to look for loopholes or ways around them; please take them to heart and try to respect the spirit in which they were created. We administrate this community using logic and common sense, and we will give greatest regard to the intention of the rule. If we decide to terminate your account as a result of a violation of these Community Guidelines, you will be prohibited from ever signing up for another account!"

Last talking point: Don't hide behind the mantra of Fair Use to swipe things that do not belong to you... It can get very expensive...

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Comment balloon 20 commentsC Tann-Starr • September 17 2009 06:20AM


"Permission to re-print is NOT the same as permission to re-publish."

I think that is one that most folks do not grasp! I have seen many excellent articles out in cyber land, but would not dare share them with others except for a link. Err on the side of caution is my policy. Excellent post- Excellent research- Thank you. You, I am sure have saved someone an expensive attorney bill if they will listen!


Posted by Dick and Dixie Sells, Realtors, Tampa Bay Florida Homes For Sale (Sells Real Estate, LLC) about 11 years ago

Good morning C, I read part one, and now this. Great series. Here is the thing. I never ask people to do what I can't or won't do. OK, wait, let me say that is not entirely true. I can't do certain things anymore because of my back, so I do ask people to do what I can no longer do. Such as... shoveling in the barn. However, as far as writing my own content, I do it all the time. Good, bad or indifferent, I write it. And I take my own photos. The ONLY time I use other stuff is from the clip art that comes with Microsoft. And, I used members photos with their permission only, for a few specific posts.

I said I struggle, and I do. Right now there is not one interesting post inside of me, I had to take a few days off to take care of some personal things, and the magic has left my fingers. So, I am not posting anything until I can think of something. I have read posts that I just KNEW came from somewhere else. I copied and pasted into Google, and there it was. Yikes! And it was people I like, people I subscribe to. I was very upset by this revelation.

Just write your own damn stuff. Take your own pictures, or buy a clip art program that allows the work to be used. Whatever. How hard is that?

When I was a senior in high school one class was writing a term paper. That was really the extent of the class. I love to write, always have, so it was fun for me. To fill in time we went over grammar each day, and at the end of the week had a test on it, with no effect on our grade as the grade was the term paper. Now I will admit that most of the time my grammar is correct, I am a lousy speller however. (I always was a voracious reader). I can't pass a grammar test to save my life, grammar in a classroom setting looks like numbers to me, and that spells disaster. Give me a sentence to write, it will be correct (ok, maybe I am more sloppy now, but I was always spot on then). When my term paper came back it had a big fat F on it, and I was accused of paying someone to write it for me, or plagiarizing. My father (who was a journalist and English major) went to school with me, and tore the teacher a new one. I had worked hard on the paper, I wrote a damn good paper, after all was said and done I got an A. (The teacher also spoke to my other English teachers who told them I could write very well, and they didn't doubt the paper was my own work.)

Just write your own damn posts and use your own damn pictures. I have much more respect for those that do!

Posted by Andrea Swiedler, Realtor, Southern Litchfield County CT (Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties) about 11 years ago

I see a lot of stuff out there and on here from time to time that is copied from another source word for word. Some may not realize what they are doing, but I think that some of them do.

Posted by JL Boney, III, Columbia, SC Real Estate (Coldwell Banker) about 11 years ago

Bgpic11142008103101_lFeatured in M.A.N.C.R.O.W. CONGRATS!

Posted by JL Boney, III, Columbia, SC Real Estate (Coldwell Banker) about 11 years ago

Dick and Dixie, thank you for the kind words.

Andrea, I love when you get WORDY. They lead to such great conversations (LOL). I was an art major so I obsessed over literature, music and art. The classes I liked I did very well in and the others classes I didn't care for I was jut a bored body taking up space in a wooden seat (ROTFL).

A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool... William Shakespeare ;-)


Posted by C Tann-Starr (Tann Starr & Associates, Inc.) about 11 years ago

JL, thank you for the feature. It is very much appreciated. Working on the next installment right now. Time to go find a good spot for today's outside office so I can get my blog on.

Hmm... Looks like rain. I shall shoot more clouds for my YouTube backdrops (LOL). :-)

Posted by C Tann-Starr (Tann Starr & Associates, Inc.) about 11 years ago

C, Thank you again for the advice, I just left a rather lengthy comment on your last post.  This gets confusing (at best) and I never use anyone's work EVER but am SO tired of people using mine--especially to promote a book I had nothing to do with!  I called several attorney's yesterday but didn't find anyone who handled this at ALL---and I'll continue my search today.  Lunch is just FINE with me anytime, I would love it!

I was in Flushing just last week for a little while....Main Street :)  I loved the FS shops I found!

Posted by Laura Cerrano, Certified Feng Shui Expert, Speaker & Researcher (Feng Shui Manhattan Long Island) about 11 years ago

Main Street is amazing! There is so much you can find to buy there. Saw your other comments and we are definitely getting together, Carole. :-)

Posted by C Tann-Starr (Tann Starr & Associates, Inc.) about 11 years ago
C, I can get carried away with words, LOL. Please forgive me. When I saw how long it was I just laughed at myself. BUT the words are all mine!!
Posted by Andrea Swiedler, Realtor, Southern Litchfield County CT (Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties) about 11 years ago

Andrea, I write long comments too. Nothing to forgive, sweetie pie. :-)

Posted by C Tann-Starr (Tann Starr & Associates, Inc.) about 11 years ago


To sum up what I read:  "research you may want to stick with taking your own pictures, buying rights from a reputable company and getting your friends and family to help you so you can avoid the possible drama of a cease and desist notice with a damages request."

GOT IT!  Thanks.. Like the Monkees sing.. I'm a Believer

Posted by Carra Riley & Declan Kenyon, Helping people Transition at all ages! (Brokers Guild Cherry Creek Ltd) about 11 years ago

Carra, you taking notes again? (LOL) ;-)

Posted by C Tann-Starr (Tann Starr & Associates, Inc.) about 11 years ago

Thanks, I needed that reminder.

Posted by Carol Hanson Sheehy (Prudential Florida Realty) about 11 years ago

Carol, you are very welcome. :-)

Posted by C Tann-Starr (Tann Starr & Associates, Inc.) about 11 years ago

If something is important to you, copyright it or trademark it. If you don't, it's out there in the public domain. If someone had the opportunity to trademark but did not, they cannot complain that what they feel is "theirs" has been stolen!

Posted by Leslie Helm, Real Estate For Trail Riders (Tennessee Recreational Properties) about 11 years ago

Leslie, that would make a very interesting discussion... I may have to play with that thought down the road. Thank you. :-)

Posted by C Tann-Starr (Tann Starr & Associates, Inc.) about 11 years ago

What an interesting concept, that someone can uncheck their permissions - the thought never occured to me.  All the more reason to not use other people's pictures.  I imagine this will be evolving to safeguard users in the future.

Posted by Georgie Hunter R(S) 58089, Maui Real Estate sales and lifestyle info (Hawai'i Life Real Estate Brokers) about 11 years ago

Georgia, I imagine when other social media sites find themselves dragged into enough disputes they will make some sort of tracking mechanism that is cost effective and useful. Right now, there doesn't seem to be a historical transcript regarding permissions in place. We're poking around trying to find out all we can about the best way to safeguard against this but there doesn't seem to be - other than use your own stuff...

Posted by C Tann-Starr (Tann Starr & Associates, Inc.) about 11 years ago

GREAT continuation! I usually have a fairly good 'legal mind' but I see that there are MANY intricacies and shades of gray and better to stay off the line. Been deleting YT videos for DAYS! (BOOHOO)

Posted by Candice A. Donofrio, 928-201-4BHC (4242) call/text (Next Wave RE Investments LLC Bullhead City AZ Commercial RE Broker) about 11 years ago

Candice, working on part three in my outside office right now. Parody is on my radar (LOL) ;-)

Posted by C Tann-Starr (Tann Starr & Associates, Inc.) about 11 years ago

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