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A common question from pupils:

If you’re not allowed to use it, why is it online?

because they equate visibility with availability i.e. if they can see it, they can use it. And they’re not the only ones.

In his talk at the CILIPS Gathering 2013, Simon Finch pointed out that the digital world is existing within a legal framework put together with no concept of its future existence and that’s causing problems. Read more of Simon’s thoughts on copyright here.

So while the internet has provided a platform for hundreds of thousands of people to air their thoughts and share their creativity online, there are more who think it’s acceptable to use said work in whatever way they feel like. This is where the online scrapbook, micro-blogging or curating platforms come in, and where I get a bit uneasy. Firstly because because I’m not entirely sure about the legalities of embedding, secondly because I’m not sure where legality takes the place of decency, and last of all, because my own work has been taken without permission and it doesn’t feel good.

There’s some great stuff on Pinterest, Tumblr, Scoop It and their ilk, and I appreciate this visually attractive way of providing a collection of links to other websites. As a curation tool they are very appealing. But just because you like the look of someone else’s work, in no way does that entitle you to take it for yourself. If I walked into a shop and left with an armful of unpaid for books I would expect to be arrested. It’s not actually different because the image / sound / written piece is on the internet.

Bottom line:
people are entitled to be credited for their work.

Now, these sites are not the only culprits, and they all have detailed instructions about not infringing copyright, but I’m still left wondering why questions can’t be built into a platform’s posting process – specifically an acknowledgement that the poster has permission to use the image / sound etc, or that it has a Creative Commons (CC) licence, or is Public Domain. Something that has to be ticked or filled in, just to remind people that they are actually taking someone else’s work. And especially something to remind them that it’s their responsibility because in the terms and conditions, they’ve already absolved the platform from any responsibility.

Meanwhile, I’ve lost count of how often I’ve discovered my work in other places – once it was even translated into French which was rather startling when I realised what it was!

So am I flattered or outraged? Depends according to who’s taken it, and what they’ve done with it, and that’s where Pinterest and Tumblr in particular wind me up, because they are specifically designed to share work around in the simplest way possible, by repinning, reblogging and encouraging users to play pass the parcel with whatever they see. So when my work first ended up on Tumblr it appeared on over 1000 different pages before I became aware of it (ironically, it was discovered when a kind person contacted me on Flickr to pass on their appreciation).

Am I just out-of-date in my thinking? Well, Hubspot recorded a blogger removed from Tumblr for five copyright infringements. The article itself is less instructive than the comments that follow, which suggest a growing number of creative people getting fed up with their work being used without permission or credit, with a much smaller number suggesting that said Tumblrer had been hard done by.

I also spotted an article called Pinterest and copyright: how to use Pinterest legally. Lots of good advice from author cocopreme, but also the following:

most people on the internet don’t mind you sharing their content

Well, who knows how many people mind if their work is shared? Be good to have data on how many people mind versus how many people are aware and mind.

In the meantime, the only way to prevent something being nicked is not to put it online in the first place, but I’ll also continue to teach the people around me, including pupils and teaching staff, to be aware of others’ rights and act accordingly.

Regarding my ambivalence about certain platforms, common sense seems best: if it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.

And if someone can point me to an absolutely-guaranteed-correct, plain English guide to the legalities of embedding in the UK and around the world, I’d be extremely grateful.