Jim Colburn - Don't Ask

Dealing With Morons

Some people are naive. Some people lack education. Some are morons. One thing to come out of the tragedies of September 11th is the rise of the "memorial site." Some of these Internet web sites are beautiful tributes to loved ones, some are repositories of emotion and poetry. Most, however, appear to be hacked-together web pages containing photographs that the page's designer has stolen from other web sites or "acquired" from Usenet news groups.

There's usually a few pictures of the World Trade Center in flames, some shots of people covered in dust and many, many pictures of observers in tears. Over or under these stolen pictures you'll find a few quotes from Shakespeare or the Old Testament with some mawkish song from some obscure country singer playing in the background. Maybe they'll finish off the site with a column or article lifted from a newspaper or magazine's web site, if you're lucky.

The big problem with these things is that they use, for the most part, copyrighted photographs. Copyrighted photographs that they haven't asked permission to use. The Internet is becoming a copyright-free zone and photographers have to start standing up for themselves. Yell loudly. Yell long. And don't take any crap from anyone.

So what do you do if some idiot out there starts using your photos without permission or photos taken by someone you know? First of all a gentle note to the web site's designer may help. They've usually left their email address somewhere on the site. What you'll get back most times is a "Screw you. This is a national tragedy" in return. Maybe a second gentle note further explaining the current copyright laws is in order because we have to give people the benefit of the doubt and hope against hope that they're doing bad things out of ignorance.

After the second "screw you" note it may be time to play hardball. If there are some AP photos on the page (and there probably will be) you might want to drop a line to copyright@ap.org letting them know about the illegal use of their photographs. Similarly a few quick notes to Reuters, AFP or the NY Times (or whoever) might bring the site's owners a few short threatening letters from people that know how to sound legal.

Go to the Network Solutions web site (http://www.netsol.com) and do a "whois" search on the domain name of the site. This will tell you the registered "owner" of the site and his or her email address. If it' different from the offending site's designer bring the copyright violation to the owner's attention. A lot of time they'll shut down the site because most of them understand that using copyrighted material without permission is a bad thing.

If that doesn't work do down the "whois" listing to the Technical Contact. This is usually the company that's actually hosting the site and most of them know about copyright, blah, blah, blah. And if all else fails go right to the bottom of the "whois" listing to the Domain Server listing. That's the name of the company who's computers the files are actually on and they usually know about copyright, blah, blah, blah.

Sometimes it'll take a little research to find the correct person to write to. You can usually find out by going to the company's web site (http://www.whateverthecompany'snameis.com) and looking around. You might also want to find their "terms of service" and quote the passage telling the world that its customers are not supposed to use copyrighted material without permission, blah, blah, blah.

Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn't. I've seen offending sites taken down in an hour and I've seen them taken down in a few days. I've also seen offending sits moved off shore to get around US copyright laws so it can be a crap shoot.

So if you've got a few free minutes and it's cold outside, spend some time at your computer fighting for the American way of life and its rule of law, specifically, in this case, the copyright laws.

Jim Colburn
Contributing Writer

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