Saturday, July 23, 2011

Oh What A Tangled World Wide Web We Weave

Now that I've been doing this for a couple of months, and am starting to get more comfortable with the front end of blogging -- how to write down my thoughts, add photos and videos to make it pretty, link to some interesting sites to make it informative, and then put it all out there into the world -- I am beginning to explore the backside of the internet as well.

I use that term quite intentionally because if there ever was an entity that felt like a great big enormous, stinky, . . .  well, backside,  it is the world wide web.

Before you get the wrong idea, I am impressed with what the web can do and the way it links people. It means I can write my thoughts and someone in, say, Croatia, might conceivably read them. I can post something on some obscure version of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey (which I plan to do later this week (stay tuned)), and anyone else who is interested in it can conceivably find my review, read it and tell me I'm an idiot. Others who didn't know that version existed might see my webpage and then go watch that program. It is a beautiful thing!

The down side to all this is that because the internet has become so insanely user friendly, it is being taken over by . . . users. Some of whom are simultaneously proficient in HTML programming, world business dynamics, social and behavioral science and media law. The other 99% of us are not. Yet we are out there everyday stumbling through this by the seat of our pants and hoping we're getting it right.

After writing about the latest Harry Potter movie, I saw my number of hits explode and that has caused me to think more about my traffic. I wonder how, exactly, out there in the crazy milieu that is webcrawling, folks get led to my blog.

One way is I think they are seeing the pretty pictures I am using to illustrate my entries, and somehow through a combination of search terms and kismet are coming here. I have posted pictures that I've found online through Google, easily accessible and easily linked to. The same user-friendly tool that allows me to link to other websites and Youtube videos also makes it easy for me to link to a photo someone else has posted.

Here's the backside quagmire. At what point am I taking someone else's picture? I have literally no idea. Now if I were to copy and paste an image, represent an image as my own and attempt to make money off of it, I can see someone making a good case that I'd taken it. And if it was copyrighted that would be a no no. But, if I said: "oh, I found a great picture you should look at," and then inserted a link that would take you to the picture, I can't see that ever being a problem. Even if the photo was copyrighted. No more than if I told someone to go to the museum and see the great Calder exhibit, then gave them a map.

So, with the these extremes out of the way, the hard question, as always, lies in the middle. What happens when you open a public non proprietary link, find a photo and use Blogger templates to help you link it into your online journal. Is that "taking" it?

The answer (which is "I don't know but I don't think so??") is embedded in the kind of technology that most of us have no conceptualization for. Does it matter if I disclaim ownership? Does it matter whether the picture or just the link shows up on my site? Does it matter how search engines view that picture? Or if someone can find the rightful "owner" by clicking on it? Does it matter that "everybody does it?" Does anyone who attempts to provide guidance on this issue speak any words I can recognize as English? haha.

I noticed this morning when I got online that Firefox was inviting me to dress up my browser with an image from Harry Potter. If my browser is inviting me to display proprietary images, it is no wonder indeed that lines are blurred.

It reminds me of murky issues I have with music -- for instance, if I own a CD, I think I own the rights to listen to the music in any way I want, including making an electronic copy of it to put on my iPod. But if I check out the CD from the library, I'm not so sure I legally can. What if I, and 5 of my friends, chipped in to buy the CD; can we put it on all 6 of our iPods? If the answer is "yes," does the fact that my tax dollars went in (along with a few hundred thousand friends') to buying the library's copy?

You don't need to answer that. 

Back to the backside. Legislating the proper use of images on the internet seems to me like outlawing the ingredients for making nuclear bombs but then living in a world where it is difficult to walk down the street without encountering all of the ingredients for nuclear bombs and where most people's homes are filled with at least some of those ingredients.

With this in mind, I've developed a new standard for my behavior. I want to be at least as scrupulous as most other reasonable bloggers in how I treat possibly copyrighted photos. How's that for a good legal measuring stick? I am going to try to do what I think is right and hope in the end it is. And I promise not to make any nuclear bombs.

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