“Gin, where did you take this picture from?” the director’s voice was serious and worried. I looked at the picture shown on the screen, it was a photograph I took during the workshop referred to in the presentation, and so I declared.
“Are you 100% sure?” insisted the director; of course I was sure! That image was mine. I may not be a professional photographer, but I took some photography courses and invested in a high-quality camera, so I can produce some nice photographs every now and then.
“Good, make sure you write that in the report too” that comment made me wonder what exactly was going on there. I normally use my own photographs in the reports and presentations I produce, just adding the legend “all images by the author” in the acknowledgments section. When using someone else’s images, I add the name and source in the references or images list. The lingering question was: since when is the director so concerned about a photograph showing the boards with flipcharts from a workshop I delivered in China?
The mystery was solved a couple of days later. The company had been slapped with a copyright infringement lawsuit for the “wrongful” use of a pizza slice in a presentation slide. Someone (not from the organization) had uploaded the deck the director showed at a conference to a public slide-sharing platform. Now, the designer was claiming compensation for the unattributed, unlicensed use of the image.
I used “” because the image had been part of the company’s slide decks for several years, nobody knew where it came from or how long it had been there, and nobody cared until the day the director received that threatening letter. During the legal process, it was shown other organizations also used that image, which now was in an online catalog for which a license had to be paid. The image was added to the cataloge only in 2010; however, when it first appeared in the company’s slides deck (c.a. 2007), it was simply indicated “from flickr”. Apparently, back on the day, Flickr was the good to go image library for royalty free mages.
To make a long story short, the company had to fork out a total of 1800 Euro between license, fines, and legal fees. And, it was not more because it was proven that other organizations were also using the same icon and that the image was not used for commercial purposes.
Later that year, all employees had to attend a training on using online resources, copyright attributions, etc. to prevent the situation from happening again. I believe it was part of the legal agreement of pizzagate. It served its purpose as the lesson was well learned, and it soon became the story of the company’s most expensive pizza slice ever.
During that training, someone raised the issue of where and how to locate the attribution information; let’s face it, who wants to spoil the aesthetic of a slide with the long copyright text underneath a sad pizza slice? Sometimes, the text itself is bigger than the image!
The company solved the problem by having the in-house designer develop an entire catalog of icons. However, for smaller companies and students, people without the resources to create their own content, it is important to know what the different creative commons licenses are about and how to apply them.
That said, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the short CC New Zealand (creativecommons.nz) video left me craving pizza. It also made me wonder where such resources were 15 years ago, and if such important information is taught already at the elementary-school level. Maha’s cupcake story (19.10.22 webinar) is a good example of why it is important that kids learn about attribution as soon as they are able to produce and reproduce images / content by themselves or get them from other sources.
Various questions stem from the pizza situation, such as: how long does the copyright for a creative common last? Is it possible to change the license once the work is publicly available? What are the terms and conditions for that to happen?
The answers to these questions require some serious digging and knowlege in copyright laws. For example, the Creative Commons website (creativecommons.org) explained that the licenses last as long as applicable copyright lasts – and copyright really varies across products and locations.
The license modification policy is another maze of its own – whilst the creative commons website tries its best to provide examples about possible cases and how the licenses work (or won’t), it is important for authors to be aware that a Creative Commons license comes with a comprehensive, yet extensive, set of rules. Authors must be familiar with the small print of these rules as the implications of licensing one’s content range from protection to limitation of further using your own work for other purposes (i.e. commercializing it in the future, for example)
While most of the academic work, such as research papers, is supposed to have clear intellectual property right guidelines, more information about how to protect one’s intellectual output (such as presentation slides, diagrams, etc) is needed at all levels of education, whether the material is intended to go online or not.
This reflection is not a call to massive paranoia about what to do with our IPR, licenses and what nots, it’s more about the awareness one has to have before opening up to the wide, open space of online interactions. Cronin’s (2017) scale (nano, micro, meso, macro) is a good representation of the level of sharing one wants to get into. Although, sometimes one may mean to stay in the nano-sphere and, for a bunch of reasons, ends up catapulted into the macro-sphere… then what? what can we do? Being aware of the risk, is a first step.
After all, if knowledge is like water and air (quote from Taha Hussein cited at Maha Bali’s webinar) and openess is a personal, complex, contextual, continuously negotiated (Cronin, 2017), ever flowing decision-making process, the awareness of its existence is one thing, how we make the best of it, is another matter altogether.
Cronin, C. (2017). Open Education, Open Questions. EDUCAUSE Review 52, no. 6 (November/December 2017)
Creative commons guideline – Overview to to CC-licensing by Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand. (Video)
Maha Bali’s webinar “Towards openness that promotes social justice”. Delivered on October 19, 2022