Friday, 24 August 2012

Don't Feed the Troll

I was added to a group on Facebook a short while back.  A Pagan group combating plagiarism.  A subject dear to my heart as we know.  For the most part it was fairly quiet to begin with, except for frequent reminders that anyone who has the admins blocked will be removed from the group and that lurkers will be removed.

A bit strange on the lurker front, but okay.

Then someone posted about a new-old-recycled-but still with all the same errors book that had popped up on Amazon.  I very quickly learned about an interesting person or group of people (theories are varied) who have published a number of books.  When the first book was approaching publication, the publisher pulled it as the plagiarism content was too high.  They even blogged about it here and here.

If I’ve understood this correctly, the books were then self-published and up for sale on Amazon, where they met with resounding criticism.

Now identical books have been (self) published but this time by someone else who claims to have no knowledge or association with the previous author.
Read all about it here  or here it’s worth reading through the archives, it’s quite entertaining.

The Amazon reviews on the new books are certainly um, well, interesting, but it gets frightening when the author or friends of theirs start attacking the reviewers.  Claims are made about sock puppets and then private information (addresses and phone numbers I believe) are posted on these reviews and on facebook.  What’s even more frightening is that someone got a threatening phone call from one of this group, and they had gotten the wrong person.  Similarity of Amazon pseudonyms had caused the mistake, perhaps, but what started out as defending their dreadful work has become stalking and something a whole lot more sinister.

After all of this was documented and discussed on the facebook group, someone states that these people are the reason this group was created and the reason behind the lurker rule.  The whole reason is to keep an eye on these people? Really?

Now I do understand that these people are more than just a little unhinged, obviously out for the quickest buck they can and their books are cut and paste from google searches.  But to create a group purely for the purpose of keeping an eye on them and combating their crimes against paganism?  Strangely enough, a link was provided for the website Problematic Pagans and yet none of this problematic group seem to be mentioned on it.  Wouldn’t this be one of the most appropriate places for such information?

Maybe there is a reason that this “author/coven” are paranoid and now on the offensive – people are out to get them.  If they were ignored and allowed to sink into the obscurity that their work deserves they wouldn’t be quite so prominent or getting as much attention as they are.

Has the phrase “Don’t Feed The Troll” never occurred to this group? 

The more attention they get, the greater their notoriety, the more people wonder if perhaps they’re just being picked on by big bad meanies.  As my mother used to say, ignore them and they’ll go away.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Personal Responsibility

So the new law has our tobacco displays covered up and there is talk of there being a requirement for plain packaging as well.  I’ve heard oh so many people going on about how smoking will be (or should be) made illegal by a certain date.  Staff in shops where tobacco products are sold are not allowed to talk about it or even open the cupboard door very wide.  I remember when The Australian Rugby League competition was the Winfield Cup and we had the Benson and Hedges Fashion Awards.  Removing sponsorship and naming from these events has clearly not made any difference to the numbers of smokers, so what will hiding tobacco products altogether achieve?

There is no mistaking that smoking is bad for you.  The barrage of anti-smoking advertising on bus stops as well as throughout the media has made certain that there is absolutely no doubt about that.  I am aware of the dangers and I still exercise my right as a thinking free adult to smoke.  I am sensible about it, I do not smoke inside where I would be putting others at risk with second-hand smoke.  My partner is a non-smoker, and agrees with all the legislation that is being talked about, but I am concerned.  I’m concerned not from the point of view of being a smoker, I’m concerned about where this kind of thing will stop.

You see, over the years there has been a gradual shift to wrap us all in cotton wool.  We have to wear seatbelts, get minerals (whether we need them or want them) baked into our bread and I have to wonder what will be next.

My tattoo artist has his health department certificate displayed in his shop.  There are strict hygiene requirements that he has to adhere to and given the nature of his business, it’s quite understandable.  His complaint is that in several years of having this business he has yet to have a health inspector come out to check his shop and hygiene practices.  He got a certificate based on him telling them over the phone what he was doing.  Then he was pulled over and fined $150 for cycling without a helmet.  So in a situation where the only person who could get hurt was himself he was fined, but in a situation where he could be passing lethal diseases around the population no one seemed to care.

There is a lot of debate about whether fluoride is good for you.  It’s clear that a little is good for your teeth, but I’ve read articles about how too much is quite toxic.  When there is fluoride in our toothpaste, do we really need more in our water?  Do we have any choice?

There was a law passed that made all bread manufacturers put folic acid in the bread.  This is because some mothers don’t have enough in their system during pregnancy and don’t take it as a supplement. A lack of folic acid causes spina bifida in the unborn baby.  Apparently, everyone in the country who eats bread is a pregnant mother now.

My daughter’s preschool sent home a list of acceptable foods for lunches.  The staff had discussed what they considered to be acceptable and what was on the not acceptable list.  They said that they’d take the “bad” foods out of the kids’ lunchboxes and return them at the end of the day.  No nutrition training had gone into the list.  I wasn’t allowed to give my daughter a home-baked chocolate muffin, but pizza, luncheon meat and salami were ok.  I protested that as her parent, it was my choice what she ate and that I wouldn’t be adhering to their lists, I had to take it to head office, the Ministry of Education and also got the Heart Foundation involved before they backed down.

I don’t want to sound paranoid, but it seems that slowly and surely the small things in our lives are being regulated, we are losing our choices and at this point it seems like a good thing.  It’s being served up to as as being for our own good and to protect those who aren’t smart enough to know better.  Our benevolent kindly Nanny State is looking out for us.  We all know the saying about good intentions.

What happens when there are no more little things to regulate?  Do we then get to the big things?  At what point do we suddenly wake up and realise that we have no choices left, that they’re all made by someone else.
There is a poem about the Holocaust -

First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.
~Martin Niemoller 1946

I’m finding this going around and around my head a lot lately.  First they regulated for our safety (seatbelts and cycle helmets) and I said nothing because it was sensible and I used them anyway.

Maybe a little overdramatic, but my point remains.  Where are our choices going? Where is the personal responsibility?  When do we get to grow up and take control of our own lives?  And at what point do we wake up and say enough?

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Copyright and Fair Use

Copyright is an issue that I find myself constantly having to deal with.  So much so, that at times that I’ve considered giving up writing for the net.

I frequently have to do a check to see if any of my work has been stolen and used elsewhere on the net, and often enough, it is.  I’ve been criticised for my use of the word stolen, but under copyright law, that’s exactly what it is.

It doesn’t matter if you credit me, it doesn’t matter if you provide a link back to the original, if you have used an article of mine without my permission, you have breached copyright laws and I can file a takedown notice with your service provider.  Usually, I will contact you first however.

I struggle with it.  It is flattering that someone likes my work enough to copy it and put it up on their page.  Sometimes.  I started writing for the web to see if I could write in a way that people want to read, and this is how I find out that apparently , yes I do.  When I find blogs filled with stolen work (including but not limited to mine) and massive amounts of advertising on those blogs, I know someone is just out for a quick buck.  Not quite so flattering.

When I find my work on someone else’s blog and credited to them, that’s a whole different story.  And when their clixsense stats show that they’ve made 100 times more off it than I have, well that means war.

You see, when I’m writing on the web, on some sites (not this one however) I get paid for it.  That payment comes from page views, ad-clicks and a whole lot of other stuff that I don’t really understand.  So when someone rips off my article from one of those sites, they’re taking away my potential to earn.

That may sound grasping and a bit greedy to you but consider this.  I found that working for other people wasn’t working for me (pun intended).  I feel that women are expected to be men that look different.  That we are supposed to carry on every day and not need some time out when we have our periods – which is idiotic to say the least.  That we are supposed to just send sick kids to school and not take all that time off.

However, while I make and grow a lot of things that most people would buy, I still need money.  I can’t grow teabags or dish-washing liquid or laundry powder.  I still need to pay a mortgage, pay for my electricity and pay insurance.  So I still need a source of income.  Writing is something I enjoy, and writing about pagan-related concepts is a passion.  I thought I’d found a way to make a little bit (and it is only a little bit) of money doing something I enjoy and am passionate about.  So it hurts to have my meagre few cents a month stolen from me.

Anyway, back to the original point of this rant.

I’ve become extremely familiar with how copyright law works, that an excerpt can be used under ‘fair use’ but not taking the whole thing.  So when I recently come across someone explaining that ‘fair use’ means you can take anything you want from the net as long as it’s credited and no one is making a profit from it, I’m rightly a bit offended.

As it’s a common misconception, I was polite.  I explained that this wasn’t true, that depending on the license (it was a photo being discussed), you needed to contact the copyright owner and ask for permission first.  The response I got was interesting:

Debbie, I'm 52 and been blogging for years. Read this and then tell me I'm lying. Not true my foot.”

Firstly, what was the point in telling me his age?  Does being 52 automatically make you an expert on copyright law?

Secondly, I followed the link.  I read through the fact sheet on fair use of copyrighted materials.  Nowhere in there did it back his theory of “credited and not for profit”.  It said that they were factors that would be taken into consideration, but it didn’t make the leap that he had.

The 1961 Report of the Register of Copyrights on the General Revision of the U.S. Copyright Law cites examples of activities that courts have regarded as fair use: “quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment; quotation of short passages in a scholarly or technical work, for illustration or clarification of the author’s observations; use in a parody of some of the content of the work parodied; summary of an address or article, with brief quotations, in a news report; reproduction by a library of a portion of a work to replace part of a damaged copy; reproduction by a teacher or student of a small part of a work to illustrate a lesson; reproduction of a work in legislative or judicial proceedings or reports; incidental and fortuitous reproduction, in a newsreel or broadcast, of a work located in the scene of an event being reported.”

Here is fair use, directly from the source provided by this chap.  It also states:

The safest course is to get permission from the copyright owner before using copyrighted material. The Copyright Office cannot give this permission.
When it is impracticable to obtain permission, you should consider avoiding the use of copyrighted material unless you are confident that the doctrine of fair use would apply to the situation. The Copyright Office can neither determine whether a particular use may be considered fair nor advise on possible copyright violations. If there is any doubt, it is advisable to consult an attorney.

Which was my point.  If you don’t need permission, why would this be there?
I said to him that his proof didn’t back him up at all, but apparently, because he’s been blogging for years and uses photos all the time and never had a takedown notice, that’s further proof – these people obviously actually know the law.

So now, not getting caught is the same as doing it legally?

New Zealand copyright law is more specific.  And we are in New Zealand. 

“Fair dealing” exceptions to infringement
A “fair dealing” with copyright material does not infringe copyright if it is for the following purposes:
research or private study;
criticism or review; or
reporting current events.

I had a look over his blog and found it fascinating.  There’s hardly an original piece on it.  There are entire news articles copied and pasted with random interjections that say things like “Exactly!”  or a couple of sentences at the end expressing his opinion on the subject.  It is tempting to contact the copyright holders of these works and ask if they were aware of this, but why waste my time on him?

OOPS, it appears I had the wrong blog.  I googled some more and found his name come up in many varied and interesting places before I actually found his own blog.  This chap has issues, and copyright infringement is the least of them.  Death threats to MPs and internet based vigilante-ism is more his line. 

I thought about it some more.  If this was fair use, then why is there varying degrees of licenses for photographs on the internet?  If you go to Google Images, and click advanced search, you can filter by licence – the different licences are:

Free to use or share
Free to use or share, even commercially
Free to use, share or modify
Free to use, share or modify, even commercially

If you filter by any of these and a picture comes up, then you can use it.  If it doesn’t, then you need permission by the copyright holder.  It’s not rocket science, and I would have thought it’s quite clear but apparently it’s not.  If it was fair use in any application that wasn't commercial, why would there be a distinction?

So all the blogs that don’t have advertising and credit my work back to me are just fair use?  If that was also the case, then why are the takedown notices upheld?

But every now and then, you come across a disclaimer on a web page like this:

If you have a look through the rest of the website, you’ll find pages copied directly out of books and from websites.

Please try and have some respect for the copyright holders.  We’re not all complete money grubbing bastards.  And FFS, if you have a blog, write your own stuff.  If you really need to share mine, a paragraph and a link will suffice.