Some people just don’t learn…

9 minute read

February 7, 2021, 10:20 PM

Do you remember Marilyn Armstrong, whom I wrote about a few weeks ago regarding a case of copyright infringement?  She came back for a second round.  Apparently, she found my Journal entry, and just couldn’t leave well enough alone, going on another rant in the comments:

First of all, NO ONE intentionally took anything.  This appeared in a pile of pictures listed by Google as “free for public use.”  No name or other information was attached.  I didn’t write the piece, I didn’t post the picture and if I want a picture, I use my own since I am also a photographer.  One of the people who writes on this blog was just looking for a picture of a building with an orange roof and it came up in that Google collection.  I don’t know how ANYONE can figure out whose picture it is when there’s no attached information AND it did not come from your site.  I already said I was sorry, that it was accidental, unintentional, non-commercial.  Beyond that, you really might consider embedding copyright information in your pictures so people have some way of knowing that the picture is NOT — as Google said — free for public use.

Since I didn’t select OR use the picture personally, and since GOOGLE was the organization that pulled it off your blog and stuck it in a pile of “free for public use” pictures, maybe you should consider going after them.  Someone ought to, but they have a lot of money and a lot of lawyers and if the U.S. government can’t get them, I’m pretty sure you can’t and I can’t, so they’ll just keep doing what they do and people like me will get blamed for assuming that they aren’t lying.

I repeat: NO ONE FROM THIS SITE WENT ANYWHERE NEAR YOUR SITE OR TOOK ANYTHING FROM YOUR SITE.  I’m sorry it happened.  If you want to protect your pictures, spend a few dollars and get a copyright application — and you also might ponder that publishing everything on Facebook is probably not the best way to protect anything.

Once again: NEITHER I NOR RICH (WHOSE ARTICLE IT WAS) went anywhere near your site.  I have an archive of more than 100,000 photographs and I let other people use them non-commercially as long as they don’t cut off the signature of the photographer (usually me or my husband).  Even if they do, I pretty much shrug and move on.  I make the photographs small so they don’t reproduce well and I sign everything I publish.  If it’s a friend’s photo, inscribe THEIR name.  That seems to me to be the absolutely minimum protection.

If Rich knew it was copyrighted, he wouldn’t have used it.  If you want to protect your pictures, do something about it. GOOGLE collected it and dumped it in a pile of “free for public use” photographs.  Given that Google steals EVERYONE’S pictures, I’m not sure it would make a difference, but if the information is embedded in the picture, at least it’s possible to discover who “owns” it.  As it stands now, if it didn’t come from your site, no one can find out anything.  Copyright apps aren’t terribly expensive and many of them make you pictures unusable by anyone except you or those to whom you have given permission.

I didn’t take the picture.  GOOGLE took it.  And you know, if you don’t do something to protect your work, it’s going to keep happening because Google steals ev erything — photos, text, comments — you name it, they steal it — from absolutely EVERYONE. It’s their thing.

Clearly, Armstrong learned nothing from my earlier remarks, and has taken the stance that the person who shouts the loudest wins.  In any case, I was happy to participate in this verbal sparring match via a response to her comment – especially since I already knew all of her stances:

I find it interesting that you continue to (A) blame Google for your theft, and (B) throw your contributing author under the bus for it rather than take responsibility for it like an adult.  Google didn’t place the image on your website.  Either you, or people affiliated with your website, did.  And it really doesn’t matter whether it was you directly or a guest contributor, because ultimately, it’s your website, and thus the buck stops with you.  It is therefore your responsibility to determine authorship of third-party content that you want to use on your website, as well as secure permission to use it.  As I demonstrated above, it was not difficult to determine authorship of the Howard Johnson’s image.  If you had wanted to ensure that your usage was legal, you could have done that in seconds.

I am also not surprised that you brought no new arguments to the discussion, but instead have simply rehashed your original arguments that have already been refuted above.  It has become quite clear that you have learned nothing from this incident.  In any case, just remember that if you do your research up front and make sure that you have permission to use any content that you don’t directly own, you won’t have any problems in the future.

Her response was largely a retread of her earlier arguments:

I DIDN’T take the photograph. I never heard of you OR your site.  Google didn’t place it on my site, but they DID steal it from yours and put it in a pile of photographs labeled as “free for public use.”  Was I “in the wrong?”  Technically, absolutely.  But doing a Google search for a random picture is common practice and sometimes, people need an illustration.  You seem to be convinced we could have detected it was yours.  HOW?  I DIDN’T STEAL ANYTHING NOR DID RICH.  I’m sorry it happened.  That’s the truth.  That’s what happened.  Google picked it up, dumped it into their image file and a guy looking for a building with an orange roof used it.  I’m sorry.  It was unintentional.  How about fixing the problem?  Buy a copyright application.  No more accidental problems ever again.

So with this response, I feel as though she is taking one step forward, and then two steps back.  She admits that she is wrong (technical correctness is the best kind of correctness, after all), but then proceeds to deny it in all-caps, because clearly, the loudest person wins.  She then responded again without my prompting it:

I have deleted the post.  This is the second time I’ve deleted it.  Presumably it won’t pop up again.  I can’t bring any new argument.  What happened is really what happened.  Would you prefer I make up another story?  I do not check every picture everyone who writes for me posts.  I can’t.  I don’t have enough hours in the day to do it.  I have to assume that everyone is a mature adult and knows the rules.  Most of my day is taken up taking pictures, processing them, writing, editing, and trying to find time to read what other people have written.  I’m sorry I write so much.  I’m a writer.  I write.  Photography is my hobby; writing is my profession, or was until I retired.

I still think if you are that concerned with copyrights, you should make sure that people don’t need to track you down.  Why make it so difficult?  You don’t have to splash your information all over the photograph.  You can — at this point (they’ve come a long way in making these programs less intrusive) — embed your website information so it “pops out” of the photo.  That makes it easy to use and non-intrusive.  I intentionally DON’T identify the contents of pictures because I use them in a lot of different ways.  When I need ID, I use the caption or it is part of the text.  All that I have ever bothered to embed, back when I thought it might make a difference, was my name and website.  I also don’t include details of the camera or lens or f-stop or date.  I consider that private.  I think you really should check out the newer programs.  You might like them AND you can use them on big batches of photographs at the same time.  Whole folders at a time.

By the way, let the record show that the reason that she had to make multiple attempts to remove her initial comment was because it was flagged as spam.  I reapproved it, since it wasn’t spam.  I had suspected that the flagging as spam was her doing, and apparently, I was right.

It’s also funny the way that Armstrong goes on about the validity of the facts of the case.  No one disputes the facts.  The guest contributor used a photo and failed to provide proper attribution as per the terms of the license, and they got nailed for it.  That Armstrong claims not to have enough time to vet the information that her contributors post speaks more to her capability to properly manage her website.  I suppose that with this lack of oversight, she should consider herself lucky that copyright infringement is the only issue that she has had (at least that I know of) with her contributors.  Someone could totally go rogue and post some really disgusting and/or offensive stuff on her site, and she would never know about it unless someone told her about it because she doesn’t exercise proper oversight over her contributors.  The same thing happened with Barbiturate back in 2017.  In that case, the band hired someone to design their graphics for them, but didn’t bother to verify the copyrights on the image that their designer chose in order to ensure that it was being used properly.  It wasn’t being used properly due to lack of attribution, and so they lost their graphic.  At this point, their graphic has spent more time on my website as a testament to their lack of oversight than it ever did on theirs as way to promote their work.

I also got the sense that Armstrong was desperately trying to project a bit here, likely to prevent bruised egos on her part.  In her mind, it wasn’t her problem for committing copyright infringement.  Rather, it was my problem for not doing enough to stop her people from committing copyright infringement.  Clearly, “don’t use photos that you didn’t take yourself without verifiable permission” is too much.  So it’s my problem for not plastering ugly watermarks all over my work in order to stop bad actors like her from taking my work.  Sure, that makes sense.  It’s like when people say, “Look what you made me do,” after something goes wrong.  The person saying it is not taking any responsibility for their own actions, but rather, blaming the other person for the stuff that they did.  Classy.

She also sent me an email continuing this stance that it’s my problem:

Check these out.

There’s also a copyright function that’s part of Photoshop, or at least it was when I was using a more recent version of it.  There’s no logic to fight about copyright while failing to do anything to protect them.  Why not make it easy for everyone to know there IS a copyright rather than having an ongoing battle over it?  All the professionals I know use a copyright embedder.

Protect your work.  I didn’t go to your site.  I didn’t take something, nor did Rich.  Google took it, dumped it in a pile of pictures they declared were free for public use.  I’m not sure what lesson to take away from this except to never ever use any photograph I didn’t personally shoot and never trust Google or any other form of social media.

I’m not a press photographer.  If I’m writing about anything outside my realm of experience, I have to use publicly available photos.  Publicity shots of old movie stars, photos of museum pictures, or government pictures OR news shots where information tells you how to include copyright information.  When there’s no information and supposedly it’s free for public use, it’s impossible to untangle it.  Usually copyrighted pictures have SOME indication of copyright somewhere.  A signature, an embedded code, a link to the original site.  SOMETHING.

What lesson should I learn?  Never trust Google?  That’s a good lesson.  ONLY use PR shots or other shots intended for general distribution?  Sure.  But he just wanted a picture of a building with an orange roof.  I would probably have found a picture I took and manipulated it so it appeared to have an orange roof, but he’s not a photographer and doesn’t have the tools to do that.

Do you have a better idea?

Since this is an ongoing problem, why not fix it?  Get a copyright app and use it.  Your photos will BE protected and EVERYONE wins.

Funny how her tone changes a bit when she’s not writing in public.  She’s screaming at me in her public comments, but this email through my comment form takes on a calmer tone, even though she still has no clue.  In this, she said exactly one thing that indicates to me that she knows exactly what she did, even if she doesn’t want to admit it openly.  She said, “I’m not sure what lesson to take away from this except to never ever use any photograph I didn’t personally shoot and never trust Google or any other form of social media.”  Thank you!  That’s what I’ve been saying this whole time.  If you want to use a third party’s image, great, but first make sure that you have permission to use it before you publish it.  That means doing your own research and trusting no one else to do the proper research for you, because in her case, it’s clear that her people aren’t doing it.

Otherwise, she assumes a lot about how I handle my “problem”, as well as what exactly constitutes my “problem”.  After all, I’ve done my due diligence in making sure that people know who shot an image.  Making sure that people know exactly who owns my images is part of promoting my work, and so I’m going to make sure that my name is on my work everywhere that I publish it.  But I suppose that this sort of projection fits the character for someone who is trying very hard to deflect all responsibility for their own actions after they’ve gotten caught doing something wrong.   They don’t seem to realize that I’m not going to think less of someone when they admit a mistake.  I can respect an admission of an error.  I might think more about someone if they’re willing to admit an error because it shows that they’re not so prideful that they always have to be right.  What I can’t stand are people who make excuse after excuse after excuse for what happened, and never take any responsibility for it, even after they’ve been caught red-handed.  Continuing to deny it at that point just makes you look foolish.

And finally, after deleting all of her previous comments, she took one final parting shot that demonstrates that despite everything, no lessons were ever actually learned:

I’m done with this. You can keep plugging away at it if you like, but I’m finished.

And, if all goes well, may our paths never cross again.  In any case, I suspect that if Armstrong does not do her research in the future, she will have to be taught this lesson many times again in the future.