As a photographer, I now have to choose whether to prevent people from using my photos, or prevent Yahoo from selling them. I can’t have both.
I want people to use my photos. That’s why I take them. I want that usage to be unencumbered. That’s why I chose a Creative Commons license. Some of the publications and businesses that use my photos make no money at all. Others make a little something. I don’t care either way. That’s why I chose a Commercial Attribution license. The license makes my work available to all publications and products, whether commercial or non-commercial. Fine with me.
But Yahoo selling the stuff? Cheesy, desperate, and not at all fine with me. I pay for a Flickr Pro account, and am happy to do so. That’s how Yahoo is supposed to make money from my hobby.
I know the site’s founders (who left years ago). Other friends of mine still work there as designers & developers. They are great people. Talented, user-focused, righteous. None of them is for this.
I’ve had a Flickr Pro account for about ten years. I love Flickr. Sometimes, for years, it has been like loving a friend who is in a coma. Now it’s like helplessly watching a cocaine-addicted friend snort up their kid’s college fund.
Whether or not CC licenses would benefit from what Jen proposes, Yahoo, if it understood the spirit of the community it bought in Flickr—or even if it simply wanted to pretend to understand—could prevent a lot of bad feeling by writing to members whose work is covered by CC Attribution licenses; asking for feedback on its plan; making the plan opt-in; and offering some kind of revenue sharing for those members who don’t mind having Yahoo sell prints of their work. That Yahoo doesn’t think of this—and that some usually thoughtful people are defending Yahoo on the grounds that the CC license allows what they’re doing—I find profoundly depressing. We were a community. What happened?
HARD TO BELIEVE, but it was ten years ago that I first heard Lawrence Lessig give a talk at SXSWi about an idea he had to save content from death by copyright law.
At the time, copyright law and digital creativity were at odds, and tens of thousands of cultural artifacts were disappearing from the commons because of the Mickey Mouse Protection Act, a copyright extension pushed through congress by the late Sonny Bono at the behest of the Disney corporation. Corey Doctorow, one of Lessig’s partners on the SXSW panel, memorably likened the destruction to the slow motion burning of the Library of Alexandria.
But Lessig had a plan. And, remarkably, it worked: “For a decade now, Creative Commons has made legal sharing and remixing easier for everyone. After ten years, it has become the default third way.”
OUR LIBRARY IS BURNING. Copyright extension has banished millions of books to the scrapheap. Digital permanence is a tragically laughable ideal to anyone who remembers the VHS format wars or tries to view Joshua Davis’s 1990s masterpieces on a modern computer. Digital archiving is only as permanent as the next budget cycle—as when libraries switched from microfilm to digital subscriptions and then were forced to cancel the subscriptions during the pre-recession recession. And of course, my digital work vanishes the moment I die or lose the ability to keep hosting it. If you really want to protect your family photos, take them off Flickr and your hard drive, get them on paper, and store them in an airtight box.
Though bits are forever, our medium is mortal, as all but the most naive among us know. And we accept that some of what we hold digitally dear will perish before our eyes. But it irks most especially when people or companies with more money than judgement purchase a thriving online community only to trash it when they can’t figure out how to squeeze a buck out of it. Corporate black thumb is not new to our medium: MGM watered down the Marx Bros; the Saatchis sucked the creative life and half the billings out of the ad agencies they acquired during the 1980s and beyond. But outside the digital world, some corporate purchases and marriages have worked out (think: Disney/Pixar). And with the possible exception of Flickr (better now than the day Yahoo bought it), I can’t think of any online community or publication that has improved as a result of being purchased. Whereas we can all instantly call to mind dozens of wonderful web properties that died or crawled up their own asses as a direct result of new corporate ownership.
My colleague Mandy Brown has written a moving call to arms which, knowingly or unknowingly, invokes the LOCKSS method (“Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe”) of preserving digital content by making copies of it; she encourages us all to become archivists. Even a disorganized ground-level effort such as Mandy proposes will be beneficial—indeed, the less organized, the better. And this is certainly part of the answer. (It’s also what drives my friend Tantek’s own your data efforts; my beef with T is mainly aesthetic.) So, yes, we the people can do our part to help undo the harm uncaring companies cause to our e-ecosystem.
But there is another piece of this which no one is discussing and which I now address specifically to my colleagues who create great digital content and communities:
Stop selling your stuff to corporate jerks. It never works. They always wreck what you’ve spent years making.
Don’t go for the quick payoff. You can make money maintaining your content and serving your community. It won’t be a fat fistful of cash, but that’s okay. You can keep living, keep growing your community, and, over the years, you will earn enough to be safe and comfortable. Besides, most people who get a big payoff blow the money within two years (because it’s not real to them, and because there are always professionals ready to help the rich squander their money). By contrast, if you retain ownership of your community and keep plugging away, you’ll have financial stability and manageable success, and you’ll be able to turn the content over to your juniors when the time comes to retire.
Our library is burning. We didn’t start the fire but we sure don’t have to help fan the flames. You can’t sell out if you don’t sell. Owning your content starts with you.
As an experiment in new new media thinking, I recently crowdsourced a new new literature version of Charles Dickens’s musty old old old lit chestnut, Great Expectations—the familiar tale of Pip, Ms Havisham, the convict Magwitch, et al.
Creative excellence and spin-worthy results required a pool of 10,000 people who had never read Great Expectations. Fortunately, I had access to 10,000 recent American college graduates, so that was no problem.
To add a dab of pseudoscience and appeal obliquely to the copyleft crowd, I remixed the new work’s leading literary themes with the top 20 Google search queries, using an algorithm I found in the mens room at Penn Station.
The result was a work of pure modern genius, coming soon to an iPad near you. (Profits from the sale will be used to support Smashing Magazine’s footer and sidebar elements.)
Gone was the fusty old title. Gone were the cobwebbed wedding cake and other dare I say emo images. It was goodbye to outdated characters like Joe the blacksmith and the beautiful Estella, farewell to the love story and the whole careful parallel between that thing and that other thing.
Gone too was the tired old indictment of the Victorian class system, and by implication of all economic and social systems that separate man from his brothers in Christ, yada yada. As more than one of my young test subjects volunteered in a follow-up survey, “Heard it.”
In place of these obsolete narrative elements, the students and the prioritized Google searches created, or dare I say curated, a tale as fresh as today’s algorithmically generated headlines.
The results are summarized in the table below.
Old Great Expectations
New Great Expectations
On Christmas Eve, Pip, an orphan being raised by his sister, encounters the convict Magwitch on the marshes.
The convict compels Pip to steal food from his sister’s table, and a file from her husband the blacksmith’s shop. Pip thereby shares the convict’s guilt and sin—but his kindness warms the convict’s heart.
Guy on girl
Pip’s sister, Mrs. Joe, abuses him. Her husband loves Pip but is unable to protect him or offer him a future beyond blacksmithing.
Girl on girl (multiple entries)
Pip meets Miss Havisham, an old woman abandoned on her wedding day, who sits in her decrepit house, wearing a yellowing wedding gown, her only companion the beautiful and mysterious girl Estella. Pip falls in love with Estella, but Miss Havisham has trained the girl to break men’s hearts.
Guy on guy
Pip visits Miss Havisham until his apprenticeship with Joe the blacksmith begins. Pip hates being a blacksmith and worries that Estella will see him as common.
Two girls, one guy
Mrs Joe suffers a heart attack that leaves her mute. A kind girl named Biddy comes to take care of Mrs Joe. After Mrs Joe’s death, Biddy and Joe will marry. Meanwhile, Pip comes into an unexpected inheritance and moves to London, where he studies with a tutor and lives with his friend Herbert.
Pip believes Miss Havisham is his benefactor and that she intends him to marry Estella, whom he still adores. Day by day, Estella grows more cruel. Pip never tells her of his love for her.
One stormy night, Pip discovers that his benefactor is not Miss Havisham but the convict Magwitch. The news crushes Pip, but he dutifully allows Magwitch to live with him—worrying, all the while, because Magwitch is a wanted man who will be hanged if discovered.
Miss Havisham repents having wasted her life and perverted Estella. She is caught in a fire. Pip heroically saves her but she later dies from her burns. Soon afterwards, Pip and Herbert try to help Magwitch escape, but Magwitch’s old enemy Compeyson—who happens to be the man who abandoned Miss Havisham at the altar—betrays Magwitch to the authorities. Magwitch and Compeyson struggle. Compeyson dies and Magwitch is taken to prison.
Pip now realizes that Magwitch is a decent man and tries to make Magwitch’s last years happy ones. He also discovers that Magwitch is Estella’s father. Magwitch dies in prison shortly before he was to be executed. Pip tells the dying Magwitch of his love for Estella.
Pip becomes ill and is nursed back to health by Joe, whom Pip recognizes as a good man in spite of his lack of education and “class.” Pip goes into business overseas with Herbert. Eventually he returns to England and visits Joe, who has married Biddy. They have a child named Pip. As the book ends, the middle-aged Pip makes one last visit to Miss Havisham’s house, where he discovers an older and wiser Estella. There is the implication that Pip and Estella may finally be together.
You cannot copyright a Tweet
CONTRARY to popular belief and Twitter’s terms of service, you cannot copyright a Tweet. Under US law, copyright is granted on publication to “original works of authorship” finalized in “fixed forms of expression” but this does not extend to names, titles, or short phrases (PDF).
As messages sent via Twitter cannot be longer than 140 characters, they cannot be copyrighted. However original, witty, or profound they may be, nothing more than good manners protects your original expression of authorship. If you wish to let other people quote or use your Tweets, you need not “license” them; indeed, technically, you cannot license them, since they are in the public domain the instant you publish them.
If you write a clever Tweet and wish to assert ownership (and if money is no object), you may apply for a trademark. Good luck with that.
Otherwise, your Tweets are like the air. Anyone can do anything like to them, including quoting them with or without your permission. If an enterprising company wants to take something you said on Twitter and slap it on a tee shirt, they may do so. If a gent of the disturbed persuasion wants to engrave your tweet into a 600-foot swastika, he may do so.
If this disturbs you, suck it up, or stop using Twitter—or mark your Twitter feed as private. This will not copyright your Twitter mutterings but it will keep many people from seeing them.
If it deeply disturbs you (and money is no object), mount a case to change the law.
Me, I plan to use Twitter forever. And any party so inclined may make a whistle of my Tweets. But my saying so here is irrelevant because you cannot copyright a Tweet.
Update: Comments are now closed, but you may read what others had to say. Thanks to all for a lively and illuminating discussion.
The advantages of using fonts other than Times, Arial, Georgia, and Verdana have long been obvious to designers; it’s why web design in the 1990s was divided between pages done in Flash, and HTML pages containing pictures of fonts—a practice that still, bizarrely, continues even in occasionally otherwise advanced recent sites.
Using real fonts instead of pictures of fonts or outlines of fonts provides speed and accessibility advantages.
Currently the Webkit-based Apple Safari browser supports @font-face. The soon-to-be-released next versions of Opera Software’s Opera browser, Google’s Webkit-based Chrome, and Mozilla Firefox will do likewise. When I say “soon-to-be-released,” I mean any day now. When this occurs, all browsers except IE will support @font-face.
IE has, however, offered font embedding since IE4 via Embedded OpenType (.EOT), a font format that enables real fonts to be temporarily embedded in web pages. That is, the reader sees the font while reading the page, but cannot download (“steal”) the font afterwards. Microsoft has “grant[ed] to the W3C a perpetual, nonexclusive, royalty-free, world-wide right and license under any Microsoft copyrights on this contribution, to copy, publish and distribute the contribution under the W3C document licenses,” in hopes that EOT would thereby become a standard. But so far, only Microsoft’s own browsers support EOT.
Thus, as we consider integrating real fonts into our designs, we must navigate between browsers that support @font-face now (Safari), those that will do so soon (Opera, Chrome, Firefox), and the one that possibly never will (IE, with a dwindling but still overwhelming market share).
The person who figures out a designer-friendly solution to all this will either be hailed as a hero/heroine or get rich. Meanwhile, near-complete solutions of varying implementation difficulty exist. Read on:
“Instead of making pictures of fonts, the actual font files can be linked to and retrieved from the web. This way, designers can use TrueType fonts without having to freeze the text as background images.” An introduction to @font-face by Håkon Wium Lie, father of CSS.
Is there life after Georgia? To understand issues surrounding web fonts from the type designer’s perspective, I interview David Berlow, co-founder of The Font Bureau, Inc, and the ﬁrst TrueType type designer.
Kilian Valkhof: “Everyone wants @font-face to work everywhere, but as it stands, it only works in Safari and the upcoming versions of Firefox and Opera. In this article I’ll show you how to use Cufón only if we can’t load the font through other, faster methods.”
Update May 28, 2009: Working with Jason Santa Maria, Jeff Veen’s company Small Batch Inc. introduces Typekit:
We’ve been working with foundries to develop a consistent web-only font linking license. We’ve built a technology platform that lets us to host both free and commercial fonts in a way that is incredibly fast, smoothes out differences in how browsers handle type, and offers the level of protection that type designers need without resorting to annoying and ineffective DRM.
Web Fonts, HTML 5 Roundup: Worthwhile reading on the hot new web font proposals, and on HTML 5/CSS 3 basics, plus a demo of advanced HTML 5 trickery. — 20 July 2009
Web Fonts Now, for real: David Berlow of The Font Bureau has proposed a Permissions Table for OpenType that can be implemented immediately to turn raw fonts into web fonts without any wrappers or other nonsense. If adopted, it will enable type designers to license their work for web use, and web designers to create pages that use real fonts via the CSS @font-face standard. — 16 July 2009
A proposal for a fonts working group is under discussion at the W3C. The minutes of a small meeting held on Thursday 23 October include a condensed, corrected transcription of a discussion between Sampo Kaasila (Bitstream), Mike Champion (Microsoft), John Daggett (Mozilla), Håkon Wium Lie (Opera), Liam Quin (W3C), Bert Bos (W3C), Alex Mogilevsky (Microsoft), Josh Soref (Nokia), Vladimir Levantovsky (Monotype), Klaas Bals (Inventive Designers), and Richard Ishida (W3C).
The meeting started with a discussion of Microsoft’s EOT (Embedded OpenType) versus raw fonts. Bert Bos, style activity lead and co-creator of CSS, has beautifully summarized the relevant pros and cons discussed.
For those just catching up with the issue of real type on the web, here’s a bone-simple intro:
Microsoft’s EOT (based on the same standard CSS mechanism) works harder to avoid violating your licensing agreement, and has long worked in Internet Explorer, but is not supported in other browsers, is not foolproof vis-a-vis type foundry licensing rules, and may also cause PC security problems.
The proposed fonts working group hopes to navigate the technical and business problems of providing real fonts on the web, and in its first meeting came up with a potential compromise proposal before lunch.
Like everyone these days, the W3C is feeling a financial pinch, which means, if a real fonts working group is formed, its size and scope will necessarily be somewhat limited. That could be a good thing, since small groups work more efficiently than large groups. But a financial constraint on the number of invited experts could make for tough going where some details are concerned—and with typography, as with web technology, the details are everything.
I advise every web designer who cares about typography and web standards—that’s all of you, right?—to read the minutes of this remarkable first gathering, and to keep watching the skies.
The Orphan Works Bills will remove copyright from our works and works we’ve done on behalf of clients. If the bills pass, work that you copyrighted simply by publishing it will no longer be protected. To try to protect it, you will have to retroactively file copyright paperwork for everything you’ve published in all the years you’ve been working. Client projects, too. Salient summary:
The Orphan Works Act defines an “orphan work” as any copyrighted work whose author any infringer says he is unable to locate with what the infringer himself decides has been a “reasonably diligent search.” In a radical departure from existing copyright law and business practice, the U.S. Copyright Office has proposed that Congress grant such infringers freedom to ignore the rights of the author and use the work for any purpose, including commercial usage.
“Orphaned” works will be made legally available for use by commercial interests, even when the copyright holder is alive, in business, and licensing the work.
You think your work gets stolen now? Wait ’til infringement becomes the law of the land.
Fight back. For U.S. artists and writers, this site makes it easy to communicate with members of Congress. And I mean sign-your-name-and-click-send-easy. The site also provides help for international artists and colleagues overseas.