Thursday, 21 September 2017

Copy Right or Wrong (Thing 3)

Copyright research

As part of the Rudai23 course I am currently undertaking, I have researched copyright and common usage material.  The following blog contain my thoughts, (warped as they might be) experience & findings.

I am a budding artist and amateur photographer, so have always been acutely aware of the use of other people‘s images.  Outside of Dublin, Wexford has a lot of artists; regular exhibitions and festivals are a common thing.  This exposure to art & artists gives one an insight into an artist’s life.  They can’t all be Andy Warhol’s but they all need to try and make a living & pay the bills.   

My general rule of thumb has been; if it is a piece of work created by an individual I do not use it unless I have expressed permission and credit the artist.  I would never alter or change an original piece of work by an artist.  When dealing with an organisation or business, I would consider the fair-usage and non-commercial aspect of what I was doing.  But, I do have a bit of a rebellious streak and hate when (IMHO) huge companies overstep their boundaries in trying to impose their ownership and rights of a product.  Being a huge Scrabble enthusiast, I organise Scrabble tournaments around the country.  Mattel who “own” Scrabble attempt to ascertain complete control over the organisation of tournaments and events but around the World they are regularly ignored.  Every club, active retirement meeting, tournament, school club & LIBRARY CLUB is supposed to get written permission from Mattel to run events and weekly clubs/events.  Like this is practical!  When you have something as ubiquitous and popular as Scrabble, Scrabble itself and the geeks who play it takes on a life of their own

But most clubs and organisations ignore Mattel’s demands, sometimes because they are not aware of Mattel’s attempted complete control, or sometimes due to the fact they refuse to support or sponsor any events but still try to tell clubs what to do.  In Thailand, China & America there are now alternative names on clubs and organisation to circumvent Mattel’s authority (e.g.  International Thailand Crossword Games King's Cup is one of the biggest annual events). A perfect example of Mattel’s over reaching was their case against artist Tom Forsythe and his use of the Barbie doll in his work.  Just Google it for more information, I don’t want to link to it because there is some adult content.  Think of it this way...nobody owns Dominos (not the pizza), Chess, Poker or Go. 

Too often I see photographs from people I know used on the internet and print media that have basically been stolen.  On one occasion, after a community exhibition I had organised I saw a piece by a local artist altered and used on an event poster for a disco night.  In this case I contacted the creator of the poster and told them they had stolen the image and informed the artist also.    This misuse and stealing of work has led to photographers putting small resolution pictures on the internet to show a sample of their work.  Others have websites that lock the photos to stop it being saved (although, as like everything there are ways around this too) and have a watermark on the work also.   This is the cause and effect of stealing on the internet.  Let’s look at this sequence for example:

1.      1980’s & 1990’s - Public likes a song but doesn’t want to buy the whole album.  Solution; use a cassette tape to record the song off the radio.  Woowoo mix-tapes are born.
2.      Early 2000’s – Websites created to illegally distribute music on the internet (Napster being the most famous).
3.      2001 (Mac based) & 2003 (windows based). Apple iTunes Store opens to legally sell individual songs.
4.      Torrent File sharing – whilst in existence since the 1970’s really comes into its own with common formats of files. E.g. MP3 used for music. 
5.      Since the 2000’s there has been ongoing battles between illegal torrent sites and companies who create and control original work, in gaming, music, movie and TV.
6.      In the last couple of years there are legal providers of TV series and movies, e.g. Netflix & Sky Boxsets.

It’s really a shame that the distribution changes in the music, movie and TV industry have only happened due to the illegal activity by individuals and groups on the internet.  Whilst not in any way defending the actions of illegal groups it has meant that I can get access to my favourite Star Trek episodes for pennies instead of paying over £100 Irish punts per season “back in the day”. So in this case the “wrong” usage of copy “right” material has led to better access and better value for the consumer.  Do I agree with the method, no, but do I like the outcome, YES. 

There are of course extremes to every argument, from the industry side “Piracy destroys us, we employ lots of people and we will go out of business and not be able to create new original material”.  Show me any multimillion Hollywood company gone out of business because of piracy and I will consider this argument.  On the other side you have the anarchist that doesn’t believe in private ownership or copyright.  Ironically enough you will find they all own state-of-the-art computers & networks to hack (steal) and share what they want.  So I don’t agree with this argument either.  It all boils down to greed.  The company wants to make as much profit as possible, the anarchist wants to stop them (and maybe make money out of on-line advertising themselves or a manner of distributing their own viruses or bots).  The consumer is stuck in the middle, some happy to avail of everything they can on the internet whilst others abide by the law. 

A gripe I have is, as an avid reader I still buy a lot of books.  I’m a huge Stephen King fan and spend up to €30 on the hardback edition of every book that is released.  But, I also own a Kindle.  I think publishers/writers under a fair-usage deal should allow me a digital version for my Kindle rather than having to buy the digital copy of it when I am going on holidays.   Schlepping around the hard back, unabridged version of “The Stand” is your whole Ryanair hand luggage allowance  (Yes, my surname is Ryan, no I’m not related).

In the same way that Apple saw the changes in the music industry and designed a way for music lovers to buy a song separately from the album at a reasonable price, I think the publishing industry will have to do the same.  Again cause and effect is happening here too.  Books are expensive...e-books provide an alternative...there is now a common file type (MOBI)...illegal sharing and downloading will happen.  Even if Amazon come up with some way to “lock” a kindle from using illegally downloaded material, as always, people will find a way around it.  I can’t see any solution except for libraries to get more involved with digital material and to constantly provide material at a cheap or free rate to encourage readers to properly avail of the material they want.  This, of course means the library will have to provide more digital material, for example, Stephen Kings The Stand is not available on Borrowbox. 

Returning to Scrabble for a moment, a written piece of work can be copyright if it is a group of words in a unique order. Mattel produce a dictionary and word source for Scrabble players with Collins.  The argument can be made that Scrabble or Collins doesn’t own the words.  However, the dictionary and word source has a selection of words in a unique order and that is what is copyrightable (see ISBN 978-0007589081).  Simple really until you use a digital device to check your words played rather than buying the book.  Mattel or Collins will not sell the wordlist in a digital format so to get your digital device to check the correct lexicon of words one has to illegally get hold of the dictionary and add it to your device.

Screenprint of Scrabble Checker on phone

(Scrabble Checker Screen Print, Google Play App store, App developed by Pisanu Chaaloemrattanaporn)

And this brings us neatly back to the use of images (as I’ve used a couple under fair-usage).  At least the “image industry” is easier to navigate and understand what you can freely use under creative commons licence.

Initial study material provided for the course is fairly good but with so many options & so many websites it can be difficult to figure out what you can use.  After more research I found the following useful...a chart from TheVisualCommunicationsGuy (which, I later found in the Evernotes also) and a chart from Mason East Library website.

Can I use this image?

Can I use that picture by The VisualCommunicationsGuy here

Different types of Creative Commons

Now, as my understanding of the different types of creative commons is better, I’ve started searching for images.  And wow, what a choice, with over 70 sites listed for us, for a regular user of Google things get interesting.  Lots of websites and lots of choice with varying degrees of success & quality.  My favourite website is Foter.  Why, well go back to the rule of KISS.  This website is easy to navigate and

·       * Easy to download the image (Blue Circle)
·       * Easy to see more details of the image (green circle)
·       * Easy to understand how you can use the image (yellow circle)
·       * Easy to attribute the image as they have it done for you (red circle)


So, in the future I won’t be changing how I source my pictures much, but at least I now know how to find and attribute creative commons material.  I’m also going to make some of my images and photos creative commons material.

I’ve set-up a Flickr account & I’ve uploaded some material and given them a CC of BY NC SA here:

I’ve created a gallery & added a photo here:


John "The Captain" Ryan. 



  1. All I can say John is WELL DONE and that was a superb post. I love your writing style, not everyone would read all the way to the end but I did, and not just because I am the moderator looking after you and others registered on the Rudai23 course. Looking forward to the next instalment! Michelle.

    1. Thanks Michelle...will endeavour to make them shorter.

  2. Loved this blog post, thank you for taking the trouble to write such an informative post! Totally agree with the comment about having bought the book so why do you need to pay again for a digital copy?


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