Bugging out: How rampant online piracy squashed one insect photographer

26 September 2014

From Ars Technica:

Here is a true story about how copyright infringement costs my small photography business thousands of dollars every year.

Or, maybe it isn’t. It could also be a true story of how copyright infringement earns me thousands of dollars every year. I can’t be sure. Either way, this is definitely the story of how copyright infringement takes up more of my time than I wish to devote to it. Copyright infringement drains my productivity to the point where I create hundreds fewer images each year. And it’s why, in part, I am leaving professional photography for an academic position less prone to the frustrations of a floundering copyright system.

I have an unusual, and an unusually fun, job: I photograph insects for a living. I love what I do in no small part because the difference between my profession and getting paid to be an overgrown kid, is… not that much, really. I collect ants and beetles, I play with camera gadgets, I run around in the woods. Meanwhile, publishers, museums, and the pest control industry send me enough in licensing fees that I haven’t starved to death. By nature photographer standards, business is booming. I cover a modest mortgage in a working class neighborhood. I even afford a new lens or two every year.

I only have one complaint about photography as a career: copyright law is broken. This clichéd refrain should not be news to anyone reading Ars Technica, of course. Copyright met the Internet, and the Internet won.

. . . .

It’s true that every once in a while Hollywood twists together enough tattered legal threads to hang some poor schlub for torrenting Scary Movie 12 or whatever. But such cases are statistical anomalies. A great deal of content on the Internet, perhaps even most content, is uploaded in violation of copyright law. Nothing bad happens to the infringers most of the time. People determined to watch Scary Movie 12 for free will find just the right offshore service to help them, and their odds of getting caught, while perhaps higher than sharkbite, are somewhat less than those of getting struck by lightning. For practical purposes, the Internet has become a copyright-free zone.

While the stereotypical copyright story pits private users against large corporate rights-holders, real-world cases are often more complex. After all, most content creators are private, and many content users—as well as content infringers—are corporate. The corporate infringements are the most frustrating, as I live off photo licenses issued to corporations in the same sectors.

Licensing only works in a world where commercial content users like these must obtain permission from content creators. As long as I have the right to dispense permission, I am in a position to earn back the roughly $50 I spend to create each photograph. Money is time; I use my time to invest in more images, and the cycle continues. This is how copyright is supposed to work, and most of my photographs could not exist without it.

. . . .

For a concise idea of what could go wrong, let me indulge in a list of recent venues where commercial interests have used my work without permission, payment, or even a simple credit:

Billboards, YouTube commercials, pesticide spray labels, website banners, exterminator trucks, t-shirts, iPhone cases, stickers, company logos, eBook covers, trading cards, board games, video game graphics, children’s books, novel covers, app graphics, alt-med dietary supplement labels, press releases, pest control advertisements, crowdfunding promo videos, coupons, fliers, newspaper articles, postage stamps, advertisements for pet ants (yes, that’s a thing), canned food packaging, ant bait product labels, stock photography libraries, and greeting cards.

Link to the rest at Ars Technica and thanks to Chris for the tip.

Open letter to Tiffanie Rushton AKA Sam Taylor Mullens

24 September 2014

PG has previously blogged about the allegations author Rachel Nunes has made that Tiffanie Rushton AKA Sam Taylor Mullens has plagiarized Rachel’s work and the lawsuit Rachel has filed against Ms. Rushton.

Here’s another chapter in that story.

From Rachel Ann Nunes:

Yesterday I received a sobering email from Lilah Weston, wife of Chase Weston, author of Terror in a Cloud of Dust. She and her husband had just learned that his story had been plagiarized by the same author who copied my story, A Bid For Love. Subsequently I talked to Lilah on the phone, with her husband by her side. They are going through many of the emotions I did when I discovered the plagiarism of my novel.

. . . .

This is an open letter to Tiffanie Rushton, aka Sam Taylor Mullens: Author of Hasty Resolution.

My name is Lilah Weston; I am the wife of Spc. Chase Weston, US ARMY-Retired.

I want to start by stating that this letter is in regards to the obvious theft and plagiarism of other authors’ original work that Tiffanie Rushton/ Sam Taylor Mullens took and published and sold as her own. I apologize if my sentences run on, or if I miss any punctuation as this is an original draft that nobody else had previously written for my convenience to copy, play around with and put my name on—and this is just coming out of my brain as I type.

Here’s a little background to catch any other readers up . . .

September 9th, 2014 My husband received an email of a John Doppler Blog showing a side by side comparison of Terror in a Cloud of Dust by Chase Weston, and the opening pages of Hasty Resolution by Sam Taylor Mullens (which is a pen name for Tiffanie Rushton) It was absolutely mind blowing; other than the omissions of the profanity my husband originally wrote they were nearly identical.

. . . .

My husband is amazing as he has been through hell and back, and is a wonderful husband and father. Chase served in Iraq in 2005 with the 3rd Infantry Division. Chase was a Gunner on a Humvee for his companies First Sergeant. His average day included 1-3 IED attacks and small arms fire. In 2005 Chase woke up from a normal day’s patrol in Germany after his Humvee ran over an IED, and he was immediately medically retired from the military due to injuries.

The story that Sam Taylor Mullens/ Tiffanie Rushton copied was an account of one of the worst days of Chase’s life. The original draft of Terror in a Cloud of Dust was written by Chase during a trauma workshop at “Pathway Home” which is a residential rehabilitation program for returning Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans who suffer from clinically diagnosed and progressive PTSD. It took a lot for Chase to put his story down on paper, he did however want to heal from the events and felt that he might help some of the other Soldiers who were trying to do the same. It has always been hard for him to share this story, and to have it shared with everyone on the Internet has always upset him a little in the first place, but to have someone take it and use it and claim it to be their own has him just disgusted.

My husband feels this to be a personal attack on his character, his service, and to the Military—every soldier and family member affected by these events. Sam Taylor Mullens has no idea what her actions have done to him, my husband has not slept well since he found out. Veterans are very tough people to treat, so much trauma at such a young age changes any person; my husband who was in some of the more deadly areas in Iraq and has lost many of his friends.

. . . .

Although I have not read Hasty Resolution I did read all the reviews. Once we realized that it was of an erotic genre we became even more upset. I’m not trying to bash on authors or readers of these kinds of books, but that is not anything that Chase would have ever allowed his writing to be used in, as he is the proud father of 3 young kids and someday down the road when our descendants use the Internet to learn about us this will come up, because the Internet is FOREVER and this is not what he would like to be remembered as a part of. My husband got help for himself and worked so hard to get better, years of therapy, ups and downs, and that writing of his was something he was actually proud of, and now he feels that is something cheap and ruined. Ruined by a complete stranger with no consideration for the soldiers who were there that day.

Link to the rest at Rachel Ann Nunes and thanks to J.A. for the tip.

Here’s a link to Terror in a Cloud of Dust by Chase Weston.

And here’s another update from Dave Farland:

In the last three weeks, things have gotten ugly. A second victim of Rushton’s plagiarism has been discovered. This time it was a wounded army veteran who had written a report on how he had gotten PTSD after his Humvee hit a landmine.

It was also discovered that the names of the sock puppets that Rushton used were taken from the third-grade children in her classroom.

As a result, she has been placed on administrative leave from her job as a teacher. But wait, there’s more!

I received two letters from angry parents who wanted the names of their children taken down in my blog posts, and I asked my assistant to take care of this. Then, on Nunes’s blog yesterday, Nunes got this note, addressed from one of the children’s parents, demanding that her blog be taken down and threatening legal action if it wasn’t: “This blog post needs to be taken down. My child’s name has popped up on other blogs because of this. Google Tiffanie Rushton and things are still popping up. ‘Redacting’ is not enough. I will report you and discredit your investigation. God help you, especially if you are LDS and held to a higher standard.”

Interestingly enough, though, this didn’t actually come from an angry parent. It turns out that it came from the computer of Tiffanie Rushton, the perpetrator, who has gone from using schoolchildren as sock puppets to impersonating their parents.

Link to the rest at David Farland

Regarding Rachel’s litigation, the deadline for Rushton to file her response was yesterday.

When PG checked yesterday, nothing had been filed. However, it is possible that there may be a delay between the time a document is filed and its appearance on publicly-available court records.

Rachel has disclosed on her blog that her attorneys fees are about $14,000 at this point. If you want to help her with these expenses, you can do so at Go Fund Me

Apple and Amazon Take Baby Steps Toward Digital Sharing

19 September 2014

From The New York Times Bits blog:

Quietly nestled in Apple’s new iOS 8 mobile operating system is a feature called Family Sharing.

It lets you share books, movies, music and apps that you’ve bought at iTunes, iBooks and the App Store with up to six members of your family who are logged in using their own iTunes accounts.

So if you bought a song, app or book you really like, and you want to share it with your spouse or child or maybe a sister, you can register their email addresses with Apple and enable limited sharing of digital media.

Amazon announced a similar feature on Wednesday called Family Library, although it applies only to digital books, apps, movies and TV, and audiobooks bought through Amazon or its Prime Instant Video service — not music. And the sharing is restricted to the accounts of two adults and four children.

In theory, these services sound like a great benefit because if you’re an Apple user you don’t have to let your family log in with your iTunes account.

. . . .

But this seemingly generous allowance could also be viewed as a limit that’s a result of rigid copyright laws and licensing restrictions.

In the physical world, you can share a book or DVD or CD that you bought with as many friends and family as you like. You can even sell those items if you want, thanks to the first sale doctrine.

But digital media has been excluded from that doctrine, because, essentially, when you buy a digital song or movie or book, you’re being granted a license to use that media, but you don’t actually own it.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

EU’s Highest Court Allows Libraries To Digitize Books Without Rightholder’s Permission

19 September 2014

From Techdirt:

The [EU Court of Justice]case concerned a university library in Germany that wanted to digitize a book that it had purchased so as to be able to make it available electronically to its visitors. The publishing house tried to sell it an e-book of the work concerned that could be used for this purpose, but the library refused. Because it involved the EU Copyright Directive, the case was referred by the Federal Court of Justice in Germany to the EUCJ, which has now released the following decision:

the Court holds, first of all, that, even if the rightholder offers to a library the possibility of concluding licencing agreements for the use of his works on appropriate terms, the library may avail itself of the exception [permitted by the EU Copyright Directive] provided for in favour of dedicated terminals; otherwise, the library could not realise its core mission or promote the public interest in promoting research and private study.


the Court finds that the directive does not prevent Member States from granting libraries the right to digitise the books from their collections, if it becomes necessary, for the purpose of research or private study, to make those works available to individuals by dedicated terminals. The right of libraries to communicate, by dedicated terminals, the works they hold in their collections would risk being rendered largely meaningless, or indeed ineffective, if they did not have an ancillary right to digitise the works in question.


Link to the rest at Techdirt

Setting Your Own Standards of Excellence

7 September 2014

From NYT bestseller and former writing professor Dave Farland:

This past few weeks I’ve been looking at the business practices of many of our authors and felt pretty overwhelmed by just how nasty things have gotten. As a reader, I’ve always been careful about what I buy, but so many authors are misrepresenting their own works, that lately I’ve been considering whether I should stop reading or promoting indie works at all.

. . . .

But there are still some huge problems with the way that some authors are promoting themselves. The problem hit the spotlight with the nastiest case of plagiarism that I’ve ever seen. The author Rachel Ann Nunes, whom I’ve known for at least a dozen years, had her work plagiarized by an indie author who then proceeded to try to bully her and attack her reputation online, using fake identities to leave a string of negative reviews not only of Rachel’s work, but attacking her personally as someone who was “self-righteous,” saying that all of her books were trash.

. . . .

1) Thou shalt not plagiarize. It used to be that I would see a case of plagiarism every couple of years. Now it seems to be happening online every day. If we’re going to stem the tide, we need to hold plagiarists accountable. That means that when they put things for sale online, then try to slink away when caught, we need to uncover their identities and hit them with the full penalties of the law.

Don’t just report plagiarized works online—attack the thieves who are doing it.

The worst of the plagiarists are creating “Frankensteins,” books cobbled together from one chapter here, another chapter there, so that technically the author can’t be held accountable for breaking copyright laws. The reader doesn’t know that he has been swindled until he gets a few chapters into the book.

. . . .

5) Thou shalt not disparage the work of other writers for gain. A few years ago, we heard about a mainstream author who had gone online and attacked well over a hundred other writers, giving their novels lukewarm reviews, then telling the readers that the books were nowhere near as great as his own. I see this happening in reviews on Goodreads and You don’t need to do it.
Now, if a book really is a piece of crap, you can be honest about it, just don’t sing your own praises at the same time.

Link to the rest at David Farland and thanks to Christine for the tip.

The Heir’s Not Apparent

7 September 2014

From The New York Times:

The story of the street photographer Vivian Maier has always been tangled — she worked much of her life as a nanny, keeping her artistic life a secret, and only after she died in 2009, at the age of 83, nearly penniless and with no family, were her pictures declared to be among the most remarkable of the 20th century. Now a court case in Chicago seeking to name a previously unknown heir is threatening to tie her legacy in knots and could prevent her work from being seen again for years.

The case was filed in June by a former commercial photographer and lawyer, David C. Deal, who said he became fascinated with Maier’s life in law school and took it upon himself to try to track down an heir. He did so, he said, because he was upset that prints of her work — from more than 100,000 negatives found in a storage locker at an auction, containing images now possibly worth millions of dollars — were being sold by people who came to own the negatives but had no family connection to Maier, who spent most of her childhood in France and worked in Chicago, where she died.

. . . .

Chief among the owners of Maier’s work is John Maloof, a former real estate agent in Chicago who bought tens of thousands of the negatives for less than $400 in 2007 and has spent years tending and promoting her work through commercial galleries, museum exhibitions, books and a recent documentary,“Finding Vivian Maier,” that he helped direct. Mr. Maloof hired genealogists to find heirs to Maier in France and eventually paid an undisclosed amount for the rights to her work to a man named Sylvain Jaussaud, whom experts identified as her closest relative, a first cousin once removed.

But Mr. Deal hired his own genealogists and last year traveled to Gap, an alpine town in southeastern France, home of Francis Baille, a retired civil servant whom he believes to be another first cousin once removed.

Mr. Baille, who had no idea he was related to Maier, agreed with Mr. Deal to seek to be recognized as her heir under American law. Reached on Friday by phone in France, Mr. Baille said, “For now, I just do not want to talk about this.” But his French lawyer, Denis Compigne, said: “It’s an extraordinary situation. You can imagine what it’s like to get a telephone call about someone who died that he never knew, with this precious legacy. He is very, very surprised.”

The legal case to determine whether Mr. Baille is Maier’s closest relative has now set in motion a process that Chicago officials say could take years and could result in Maier’s works’ being pulled from gallery inventories and museum shows until a determination is made.

. . . .

The Stephen Bulger Gallery, in Toronto, which lists dozens of Maier prints on its website, received a letter on Aug. 19 from a Chicago law firm, Marshall, Gerstein & Borun, representing the estate, asking it to preserve all documents related to her work and its sale.

“We are investigating the potential misuse and infringement of copyrighted works whose rights are held by the estate,” the letter said, adding that the firm anticipated “filing litigation against the responsible parties upon completion of our investigation.” An exhibition of her work is on view at the Toronto gallery.

. . . .

Under federal copyright law, owning a photograph’s negative or a print is distinct from owning the copyright itself. The copyright owner controls whether images can be reproduced and sold.

Mr. Maloof said that he had been working for more than a year to register copyright to the images on the negatives he owns, based on his agreement with the man he believes to be Maier’s rightful heir, but that the copyright applications were still pending. (In his own research, he said, he too found the name of Mr. Baille, but he came to believe, based on the advice of his genealogists and lawyers, that Mr. Jaussaud was legally the closest heir.)

“I’ve been obsessed since the beginning with trying to find out who Vivian Maier was and whether she had heirs,” Mr. Maloof said. “I was always trying to do what was as legally and ethically aboveboard as possible.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

PG says this story is another reminder that all creative artists, including authors, need to properly plan for what happens to their work after they die.

In the US, the people who can help are called estate planning attorneys. (PG is not one of those)

I’ve been plagiarized!

4 September 2014

From author Aubrey Rose:

Well, somebody stole my book. A kind fan pointed out that Clarissa Black’s book City Girl, Mountain Bear was similar to my novella City Girl, Country Wolf. Too similar. This “author” has taken my storyline and rewritten my book scene for scene, changing just enough to be able to get through Amazon’s plagiarism filters. Not a single sentence is the same, but the story is exactly the same. Check it out…

First scene overview: A high-powered executive woman is in her highrise building, on the phone with someone who is sending her away for a corporate merger. I’ll go through and point out the similarities.

The first sentence illustrates exactly the kind of plagiarism Clarissa Black has committed – rewritten sentence-for-sentence. There’s no reason for a motorcycle to be riding by in the street outside her office – it’s just a detail that they copied because it was there in the original.

  • mine: “a motorcycle rode by her office window, its motor revving loudly.”
  • ripoff: “A motorcycle blared through the City Street.”

Then while still on the phone with corporate, she’s interrupted by her receptionist:

  • mine: “The receptionist poked his head inside her office.”
  • ripoff: “Antonio’s head popped in the office”

Which irritates her.

  • mine: “She gestured at Seth to leave”
  • ripoff: “I gestured for Antonio to enter”

. . . .

So it goes, for the rest of the book.

This is my book, scene for scene, rewritten in the first person and paraphrased so that it doesn’t look like plagiarism. Every single scene is like this. This is a substantial paraphrasing of my book, and as such is plagiarism.

. . . .

[I]f you see a plagiarized book, please REPORT IT to Amazon and to the author who’s being ripped off. I wouldn’t have known if it hadn’t been for a fan letting me know I was being plagiarized. I’m trying to get Amazon to take down the ripoff book right now, will update once I know if they’ll listen to me…

update: Clarissa Black’s account is down; it took Amazon about a week to respond. Good work, Amazon!

Link to the rest at Aubrey Rose

Here’s a link to Aubrey Rose’s books

Standing Against Plagiarism – Part 2

2 September 2014

PG previously had a post about author Rachel Nunes and her claims that another author had plagiarized one of her books.

Rachel has now filed suit against the alleged plagiarist. A copy of her complaint follows:


Nunes (Text)

Thanks to Marc for the tip.

Here’s a link to Rachel Nunes’ books

Millions of historical images posted to Flickr

1 September 2014

From BBC News:

An American academic is creating a searchable database of 12 million historical copyright-free images.

Kalev Leetaru has already uploaded 2.6 million pictures to Flickr, which are searchable thanks to tags that have been automatically added.

The photos and drawings are sourced from more than 600 million library book pages scanned in by the Internet Archive organisation.

The images have been difficult to access until now.

Mr Leetaru said digitisation projects had so far focused on words and ignored pictures.

“For all these years all the libraries have been digitising their books, but they have been putting them up as PDFs or text searchable works,” he told the BBC.

“They have been focusing on the books as a collection of words. This inverts that.

“Stretching half a millennium, it’s amazing to see the total range of images and how the portrayals of things have changed over time.

. . . .

“Most of the images that are in the books are not in any of the art galleries of the world – the original copies have long ago been lost.”

The pictures range from 1500 to 1922, when copyright restrictions kick in.

. . . .

The Internet Archive had used an optical character recognition (OCR) program to analyse each of its 600 million scanned pages in order to convert the image of each word into searchable text.

As part of the process, the software recognised which parts of a page were pictures in order to discard them.

Mr Leetaru’s code used this information to go back to the original scans, extract the regions the OCR program had ignored, and then save each one as a separate file in the Jpeg picture format.

Link to the rest at BBC News and thanks to Tony for the tip.

And here’s a link to the Internet Archive Book Images on Flickr

A service that boils popular non-fiction books down to their most formative and salient points

30 August 2014

From Android Police:

Let’s be honest, busy people don’t have time to trudge through long books made of mostly filler. Unfortunately, publishers know they can’t put a high price on a 40-page book. In the end, authors are stuck building a lavish sea of meaningless words around the simple concepts they want to convey. That’s where Blinkist comes in. It’s a service that boils popular non-fiction books down to their most formative and salient points. Think of it like Cliffs Notes, but even shorter and not funded entirely by high school students.

. . . .

Blinkist suggests you can fly through Guy Kawasaki’s The Art of the Start in 18 minutes and Phil Rosenzweig’s The Halo Effect in just 13. Each book has a brief description and hints about who might want to read it, and all of the content is laid out in simple sections with just enough text to get the point without a bunch of repetition or unnecessary examples. There are currently over 400 books in the catalog, with about 40 new books added each month.

Link to the rest at Android Police

To answer an obvious question, copyright protects the expression of ideas, not the ideas themselves.

17 U.S. Code s102 (b) states:

In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.

The distinction between an idea and the expression of an idea may not always be clear but, for example, the idea of a young man going off to a boarding school where magic is taught and magical creatures are kept is not protected by copyright law while Harry, Hermione, Hogwarts and the particular world created by Rowling is protected..

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