The Baby And The Bathwater

On the road…again!

Afghanistan to Zambia

Chronicles of a Footloose Forester

By Dick Pellek

 

The Baby and the Bathwater

 

The continuously improving technologies of digital coding and wireless communications via computer have opened up opportunities for individuals that most of us do not fully appreciate.  As the innovators, techies, and software developers continue to forge ahead, we the consumers of their modern products are regularly treated to their blizzard of innovations. It becomes easier and easier to understand and to use; albeit with a pace dictated by our own personal learning curves. Nonetheless, the future of computer technology clearly strengthens the role of the average individual by facilitating communications in ways that have heretofore never been possible.

Writing a short story no longer will require the reader to put his/her imagination to work as hard, nor to the same extent that was required for the past thousand years.  Today it is possible to write, to describe, and to explain concepts with the aid of colorful photographs and graphics that are self explanatory.  A picture is worth a thousand words.

The clichéd image of the old expression, “the baby and the bathwater” used to conjure up the dilemma that exists when a nameless, speechless and helpless baby was thrown out after being bathed.  The moral point was that, unless the reader was careful, the central issue in the story (the baby) could easily be overlooked and thus discarded if a distracted individual was too impatient and too eager to throw out the smelly, contaminated bath water.  Without seeing the baby (one or more main points) in the narrative, far too many people are liable to upend the entire washtub of the story, baby and all.

A narrative without a photo or sketch nonetheless contains a baby that is the implicit objective; but can easily be misunderstood or dismissed if the reader doesn’t immediately see the point—the baby in the story.  Stories with photos, on the other hand, show us the baby. In effect, the sentences and paragraphs are relegated to secondary importance. They constitute the bathwater, prepared in advance with care, and perhaps perfumed with bubbly, fragrant soap; but are less important than the baby in the tub.  Nobody will miss seeing the baby (the photo).  It clearly makes the bathwater secondary in importance.

Finding and retrieving photos, sketches, maps, etc. from the Internet is almost instantaneous these days.  Choosing the right one to put into your story is the most important step you can make to describe your baby in the story you want to tell.  But beware!  Many, many photos and sketches found on the Internet are copyrighted items and may require permission from the copyright holder before they are used.  Unfortunately, copyright law is not as clear cut as it should be; and the legal ownership of Internet images is an open question.  As a result, it is easy to make a misstep.  Regrettably, it is maddeningly difficult to obtain permission when Internet sites give few clues where to look for permission, whereas capturing the photo itself takes only a few seconds.

On the one hand, for many years following the promulgation of copyright law, virtually anyone was free to photocopy and use a limited number of reprinted documents for their personal use. To my knowledge, personal use of otherwise copyrighted materials is still permissible. It is when there are commercial and profit-related objectives in mind, that the use of copyrighted material is restricted. 

Ominously, the current rules and guidelines are so obscure that most people don’t realize that they exist. Furthermore, the presumed comprehensiveness of copyright law has very seldom come to the forefront in the daily lives of Internet users who share computer files that contain memes, popular cartoons, shared photos, and other graphic depictions.

These chronicles were never envisioned as one-off entries, that; once published, would become static archives.  The world of photography is dynamic and so are the everyday "rules" that apply to the sharing of photographs and other graphics.  Accordingly, my serendipity for today, 29 November 2016 has to do with fresh dialogue regarding the photography of others.  Re-photography is one new term that describes the overall process.  But this update to the original chronicle is all about the implications of using the photography of others, as it relates to the pitfalls of sharing copyrighted material.  In the November 28/December 5, 2016 edition of TIME magazine, there is a pertinent story that explores one noted example.  The following paragraph explains things.

 

The ultimate appropriation

The idea for the project that would change everything sacred about ownership in photography came to Richard Prince when he was working in the tear-sheet department at Time, Inc.  While he literally deconstructed the pages of magazines for the archives, Prince's attention was drawn to the ads that appeared alongside articles.  One in particular caught his eye: the macho image of the Marlboro Man riding a horse under blue skies.  And so, in a process he came to call "rephotography," Prince took pictures of the ads and cropped out the type, leaving only the iconic cowboy and his surroundings.  That Prince didn't take the original picture meant little to collectors.  In 2005, Untitled (Cowboy) sold for $1.2 million at auction, then the highest publicly recorded price for the sale of a contemporary photograph.  Others were less enthusiastic.  Prince was sued by a photographer for using copyrighted images, but the courts ruled largely in Prince's favor.  That wasn't his only victory.  Prince's rephotography helped create a new art form--photography of photography--that foreshadowed the era of digital sharing and upended our understanding of a photo's authenticity and ownership.      

 

As a sometime researcher who learned the ABCs of copyright law and abided by them during the years of writing for publication, the Footloose Forester dutifully cited the reference(s) to the writings of others.  All that was required was a proper citation.  Even when your own research paper was published in journals that had national and international distribution, a simple but proper citation was all that was required to escape scrutiny, all around.  Copyrighted material in publications could also be used, if proper permission was obtained from the publisher. That is where the rub comes in.

These days, the inclusion of photos straight from the Internet is seldom questioned about their legitimate origins, but the issue should be put into its proper place.  Some book publishers won’t accept photos that are not the property of the author. But on the other hand, computer social sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, a self-acknowledged photo-sharing site, seldom question the source of shared graphics.  Photos, memes, and other graphics by the thousands that are posted daily without proper attribution or copyright clearances is the norm. Social media sites also facilitate the practice by offering free, largely open enrollment at their web sites, and by encouraging their members to share posts consisting of text, photos, videos, and graphics.

The object lesson of this particular chronicle is that a picture in a story is still worth a thousand words. Not exactly a revolutionary finding, but one which should be considered when contemplating your own next story.   Of the millions of photos, drawings, maps and other renderings found on the Internet, many have been copyrighted, but most probably have not. The challenge is in knowing which is which.

A most poignant example of why it matters can be taken from a recent chronicle that the Footloose Forester submitted.  Somewhat petulantly, the Footloose Forester acknowledges that he was recently denied the use of a particular photograph in a proposed story he wished to publish in a book. The reason given was because he did not take the photograph himself, and/or because the photograph of that mountain was obtained through a Google search of the Internet; and from an unspecified origin.  In this case, the photo of the mountain was the baby in the story.  Without the baby, the story and the bathwater were pointless. That particular mountain (Pyramid Peak in the California Sierra Nevada Mountains) was part of his past and the Footloose Forester feels compelled to fight to have it included in the story.

b2ap3_thumbnail_pyramid peak fron silver creek.jpg

He would gladly seek a waiver from the restriction of copyright law, if he could identify the putative owner of the photo.  Alas, all attempts to date have come up empty.  And he doesn’t feel justified including a photo of another—copyright-free photo—mountain, just because he can’t disprove that it is not copyrighted, nor claim that he has permission to use the photo of his baby.

Whereas the Footloose Forester was denied the use of several satellite photos proposed for inclusion in his 2015 book because their source was Google Earth and were presumed to be copyrighted, the game in 2016 is now changed.  Google, Inc. altered their copyright policy regarding the use of Google Earth satellite photos.  Since their policy change on 17 December 2015, it is now permissable to use Google Earth photos in books, without copyright restriction.  This is an important step forward in publishing; and is a major encouragement to people who think that photos with geospatial evidence would enhance any number of future stories. 

Another example about the baby being the story is contained in a recent Footloose Forester chronicle entitled “The Golok.”  Of the more than 300 pictures of goloks to be found in a Google search of images, only one of them resembled his baby.  Any reader could describe his golok by just looking at the picture of his baby.  None of the other 300+ goloks one finds by scrolling down resembled his baby closely enough to warrant a positive identification.  Since his subsequently stolen golok is now only a memory, the photo in his story is a facsimile.  Alas, the Footloose Forester cannot again locate it in the photo archives of the Internet, even when he went directly to the same page where he originally saw it.  And that is another problem in verifying sources potentially involving copyright laws.  It would seem that you are guilty of copyright infringement until proven innocent.

b2ap3_thumbnail_fighting-golok.jpg

His stolen golok with scabbard looked almost exactly like this

Getting all the expected permissions and publisher approvals may not always be possible, especially when most; yes most, of the sources are virtually impossible to trace. We as a society are on the verge of a quantum leap in the sophistication of storytelling. Using photos of mountains, at least, should be a public domain issue because all the mountains in the world are in the public domain, regardless of whether some faceless authority lays claims to the sole right to use photographs of them.

Arland LeRoy and Ilean Hazel
The Golok

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