The ease with which we can copy and use stuff found on the Internet, particularly photographs and other images, leads to some delicious ironies when some of the major corporate interests that rail against file-sharing are caught infringing other peoples’ copyrights. The Washington Post published an interesting story on Wednesday that looked at some of these cases where snapshots on the Web were misappropriated for commercial use. Often the unauthorized use is dismissed as accidental — it is amazing how many unsupervised interns appear to doing significant work for these companies — but whether they are the result of inattention or conscious laziness, these lapses suggest that some of the major commercial content owners have little concern for copyrights not their own property. Makes all the rhetoric about theft and the moral claims of creators that is thrown around by these big media companies seem rather disingenuous.
The best thing about this article, however, is the discussion of it, with the wonderful title “Good Artists Copy, Great Artists Steal” on the Info/Law blog. I don’t think I have the chance to point to Info/Law before, but it is an excellent place for information and analysis about the “convergence of intellectual property doctrine, communications regulation, First Amendment norms, and new technology.” This post, which also reports on a recent infringement action filed against Jerry Seinfeld and his wife, is an nice example of a careful yet entertaining dissection of the legal principles at stake in each of the two reported stories.
The point, of course, is that the Internet has fostered a culture of easy borrowing and creative remixing that is at odds with much of our current law. There is a great deal in that culture that is valuable, with its emphasis on user creativity and sharing, and its conflict with much of the prevailing rhetoric about intellectual property is becoming too obvious, and too ubiquitous, to ignore.