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Posts from the Popular Culture Category

I think we have all done it, at least once, I know I have. Use an image on a website, blog, etc. without the permission or consent of the photographer. A quick search through this site shows an instance or two where I have done exactly that (they’re noted and will be dealt with). In my own experience it’s been about speed and ease of finding the images on search engines that make this such an attractive method of putting images on my blog. But, it’s wrong.

I’ve mulled over this post for the past few weeks and have actually rewritten it a number of times. My perspective is two-fold, as an (amateur) photographer I take pride in my photographs and want to see them well represented, but as a blogger I want an easy route to getting perfect images for my site. After a recent case of unauthorized image use, I thought it was appropriate to speak up on what I am beginning to see trend into a bigger and bigger issue.

Around January 19, 2011 I noticed this tweet by Twitter user Kyle Nielsen. I follow Kyle for his quick hits of Houston news and info and this particular tweet caught my eye because it involved Hubcap Grill, a local place I frequent. When I looked at the image, I immediately realized that it was the picture of Hubcap owner Ricky Craig that I had taken for a Loop Scoop article. At first, I was a little dumbfounded. The image had clearly been edited, as the original on The Loop Scoop has a green border. I contacted Paul at The Loop Scoop to ask if he knew anything about it, to which he replied that he did not. CultureMap had taken the picture without my consent or Paul’s.

My Image on CultureMap's Website

Maybe my immediate response on Twitter was a little over the top. I let loose, asking others why CultureMap would do such a thing. They have a team of photographers, writers, and editors, why would they need to take an image from another website? The responses I received were from a few people who had similar experiences with CultureMap. Some were more vocal than others. As the night drew on, I decided that per my friend Patrick’s advice, the next morning would see me drafting a DMCA takedown notice.

While I was sleeping I received a couple of messages from CultureMap. One asking if I wanted the image removed and another saying the image had been removed from the article. I also had an e-mail in my inbox from Clifford Pugh, Editor-in-Chief of CultureMap. It read as follows:

Dear Mr. Segraves,

Your Twitter thread from last night was forwarded to me, so I wanted to reply to you. I was a bit taken aback by the tone of the comments and hope if this ever happens in the future — which I sincerely hope it doesn’t — we can have a civil discussion on the subject.
Since CultureMap launched in 2009, we have posted 50,000 photos and I can honestly recall only two or three times  that a photographer asked us to remove a photo. So the comment that this happens all the time just isn’t true.
I’m proud of the fact that we make every effort to give credit where credit is due. We will continue to do our best to make sure we give credit and if we mess up, we will immediately address the situation.
Your photo was very nice. I wish you the best in your future photography endeavors.

Clifford Pugh
Editor-in-Chief

Since they had removed the photograph I decided to not send a DMCA take-down notice and just go about my day, but I could not help but dwell on the above e-mail. Mr. Pugh seems to think that my comments on Twitter were uncivil. I am sorry he feels that way, I thought my photograph  being used without my consent was uncivil and reacted accordingly. The two other paragraphs in his e-mail are very important as well. The second, stating that CultureMap has 50,000 photos and has only been asked to remove a photo a few times, is completely misleading. “Having” something means it’s yours. And the fact that only a few people have asked to have their photos removed could also mean a lot of people have no clue their photographs are on your website. The third paragraph is also unsettling. “We will continue to do our best to make sure we give credit …”, great, I am glad you are crediting photographers but what if the photo was sold to the original person using it? What if it was licensed (take a look around their website, there seem to be a lot of AP/Reuters images)? More than credit is necessary in those cases. As well as credit, is CultureMap paying the photographer for their work? Did they even ask if they could use an image? Had I not seen a tweet about the image, I would have never seen that CultureMap had used it. How many other photographers have not noticed their work being used on sites that had not requested permission?

The core problem in this entire situation is that it is implied that it’s the onus of the photographer to protect their work. That notion is utterly ridiculous. Sure, some responsibility of ownership does fall on the photographer but if every photographer completely protected their work then all you would see on the internet is pictures with giant watermarks through the middle of them. The key is for websites, bloggers, etc. to use images that they have either created themselves or those that they have permission to use. That allows photographers to focus on the image thieves.

Had CultureMap taken a few minutes to send a note to The Loop Scoop to ask who took the photograph and for that person’s e-mail, I could have denied permission and they could have moved on. Instead, they searched Google, got an image they liked, edited it, and used it. What this takes is honest people doing honest work. If we are going to stand up against things like SOPA and PIPA then we need to be willing to look at our own websites and say, “everything on here is what I’ve created or asked for permission to use”.

Just like I am sure CultureMap does not want their words used by someone else on a different publication, I do not want my images used places I have not explicitly given permission. Certain things do not fall under Fair Use, images is one. Looking at my tweets and thinking about my response, maybe it was not over the top what I did. Something was stolen from me. Sure, credit was given (though to the website I took the photo for), but I surely was not compensated and I’m guessing CultureMap makes money from the ads they serve on their website. My photograph had a cost associated to it. It took coordination with Ricky, time to take multiple shots and  more time to edit the photographs that would be used. CultureMap bypassed that. The work was already done for them.

Bottom line, let’s get back to creating and publishing our own content and then we can work together to take-out the spammers and image thieves that bottom feed. I should not have to worry about my work being used on a legitimate and well-staffed website, I should be able to focus on the places that are selling my images illegally and other shenanigans.

What’s your take?

I would like to thank Patrick O’Keefe and Jonathan Bailey for helping me during this fiasco. Their understanding of the DMCA, plagiarism, and Fair Use was a tremendous help.

[Addendum]

There have been some Tweets put out by the CultureMap team but these two caught my eye:

@jaylee @groovehouse @sensestorm @mikerastiello @reiswigphoto We apologize for any mistakes we’ve made in the past. We’re learning! – link to tweet

And then this gem:

@MikeRastiello @jaylee @groovehouse @sensestorm @reiswigphoto For some photogs, credit is enough. Clearly not for all. #lessonlearned – link to tweet

The notion that CultureMap is “learning” and that’s why these mistakes were made is a poor excuse. Even if they have only been “asked a few times to remove photographs” then that to me would be a red flag that maybe I should consult with an attorney and figure out what the correct way of going forward is.

Jay Lee, who takes some amazing photographs has a great commentary going on Twitter and he gave me permission to repost the tweets here. They are posted in reverse chronological order and each one is linked to the tweet itself.

It’s important to note that entities like @culturemap are businesses out to make money. When they profit from our labor, it’s offensive.

It should also be noted that more and more photographers are waking up to the realization that their work has value.

To be fair to @culturemap, they do credit the photogs on many or most occasions. But they are not licensing the photos. That is the issue

Photographers unite! Occupy @culturemap! We are the 99%! Sadly, @culturemap’s not the only offender. But they are a big player in Htown

@donjuanc I don’t want to live in an Internet filled with watermaked images. But it may be the only way.

@culturemap Your learning at OUR expense.

I recently used one of my own photos in a blog post on the @houstonchron. And yes, I asked myself for permission first.

Saying you’ll remove a photo after you have used it is like asking the tow truck driver to unhook your car after you have parked illegally

@culturemap @groovehouse @sensestorm @mikerastiello @reiswigphoto Removal is not the remedy. You have benefitted from our work commericially

Obviously this is my fault for taking so many pictures of Houston and Houstonians.

@Bitspitter @wynkoutloud Is there such a thing as a class action invoice? Or an invoice flash mob?

@wynkoutloud Your house wasn’t locked so I invited myself in. And I made a sandwhich and drank the last of your milk.

Providing a photo credit to the photographer is not the same thing as being granted license to use copyrighted material cc @culturemap

It seems that @culturemap makes an editorial habit of using photos without permission. I have found no less than 3 posts using my photos.

I write about this day almost every year, but it’s a day that deserves such an honor.

My post from 2006 is probably the best reminder of that day, so I am re-posting it here.

My Fellow Americans:

Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our Allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.

And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest — until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

And for us at home — fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them — help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.

Many people have urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.

Give us strength, too — strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keeness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment — let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace — a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God.

Amen.

Franklin D. Roosevelt – June 6, 1944

The uncertainty of the success of the invasion and the possible repercussions if the invasion was a failure is clearly on the mind of the President. 12,000 Allied soldiers gave their lives that day, and many more did the same until the Germans surrendered on May 8, 1945. Their sacrifice and the service of those who made it home can never be overstated.

Black Mother Jailed for Sending Kids to White School District

That link has been lighting up the internet today and I couldn’t help but address it. The gist of the article is that a black woman, Kelly Williams-Bolar, was convicted of fraud for claiming to live at a different address so that her children could go to a school in that address’s neighborhood. She was sentenced to 10 days in jail and 3 years of probation in this felony case.

Beyond that, the article goes into a diatribe of how this is an attack on blacks and that no white woman would ever be convicted of such a crime. It also makes the claim that “…it’s not like she stole $30,000 from the district…”. All of this is hyperbole with no factual basis. The woman tampered with court records. End of story. It does not matter if your reasons are noble, a crime was committed.

Since this was a felony conviction Williams-Bolar is no longer eligible to be a teacher, which is what she was in school to become. Some call this harsh and unfair but if a doctor committed a crime that affected one’s health, people would be screaming for his license.

Truth be told, I do believe the sentence was a bit harsh and I wish they had convicted her of a misdemeanor crime (or at least let her plead to one). It is tough to see someone who wants to better themselves dig the hole deeper, but we see it all of the time.

The most worrisome part in all of this is the language used by the writer of the article. It’s harsh, it’s hateful, and it’s vitriolic. The writer takes broad strokes to paint a picture of segregation still prevalent in this country without any negative regard for Williams-Bolar’s actions. Rather than admitting that what the woman did was wrong, Boyce Watkins immediately throws the blame at the courts, the country, and the educational system. The only good thing Mr. Watkins did in his write up is make sure to get his statistical terms correct, using correlation rather than causation.

*cue comments that I’m a racist*

Today is the last day of early voting in Texas. If you have early voting in your state today could also be the last day for it.

I don’t care who you vote for but get out there and vote. Read up on your state’s issues, candidates, and news and head to the polls to do your civic duty. November 2nd is election day and midterm elections are just as important as Presidential elections. Get out there and vote!

There is a new documentary coming out on Sky1 in the United Kingdom called “An Idiot Abroad”. Ricky Gervais has taken a non-traveler and sent him to explore the Seven Wonders of the World. Hilarity ensues.

In some of my travels I have encountered people like the subject of this show. They’re not really idiots, they just do not have the desire to travel or leave their comfort zone of their home country. I’m sure some of it has to do with self-preservation and not putting oneself in harm’s way. Going abroad is intimidating for a lot of people, so I don’t hold it against this guy. The show does look hilarious though.

[A warning – there is nudity and foul language in the previews below]

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aUTH1coLIWE
An Idiot Abroad – Preview Part 1

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TChZa-GfAtA
An Idiot Abroad – Preview Part 2

I’m burned out. Yep, utterly burned out. There is an incessant bickering that I thought was part of the process but it turns out it is just ignorance attempting to out-stupefy the opposite ignorance. In case you have not caught on yet, I’m talking about politics and all of the argumentative and condescending commentary that is out there right now.

There is a time for discourse and we need such discourse to keep things balanced, but as of late, the discourse has turned into a ruckus. Wait, ruckus is too nice of a word, full out brawl is better. We have Glenn Beck making some of the most random comments I’ve heard while on the left there is a general consensus that everyone on the right is a bigoted racist who wants to invade Mexico. All of the chatter is like a giant ray gun pointed at my brain. I just can’t take it anymore.

I thought I could away from it by avoiding television news. I wouldn’t have to listen to Katie Couric read us a page from her notebook or Glenn Beck ramble on about freedoms. I thought I would be able to manage my Twitter account well enough to somewhat block out the continual rants from both sides. It all still trickles in. My primary source of news has long been articles written by actual economists and political science writers but I’m relying on it even more now.

What really amazes me is that people are still ranting about Sarah Palin. Really? If she is as useless and unimportant as people claim she is then if you stop talking about her, maybe she’ll stop being so important. By ranting you’re just perpetuating the whole thing.

That brings me to the issues that currently face the country. A jobs report came out today and it was not good news. The national unemployment rate continues to stay in the 9.5-9.7% range. This is an issue that President Obama and the House and Senate should be discussing fervently. Not pushing agendas, not looking for the best opportunity to drop a sound bite, but simply talking about options. Of course, this is only one issue, there are many others and I think for all of them, realistic discussions in which political prowess does not come into the mix would be a good thing.

The other thing that has my raised my blood pressure significantly lately is all of this talk about the Constitution and people’s rights. There are two camps here, both claiming that their understanding of the Constitution is the right one. To be honest, I think they’re both wrong. One side wants you to believe that the Constitution is a completely living document, open to interpretation and meant to be applied as needed. The other believes the Constitution is a completely strict document that needs to be taken literally. Both of these views go to the extremes. The way I see it is that the Constitution is living, but not in the way most think of it. It was meant to be changed, but only by amending it. It was also meant to be interpreted but not to the extreme that we should break it down to minutia and apply to every single possible permutation of an issue. To do so would not only be time consuming, it would be next to impossible.

What we need is a true understanding of a Constitutional republic. As a nation we have become so much more complicated than when founded, it is making adaptation difficult. It makes me wonder if people still really believe in the concept of states making their own decisions when it comes to politics. If people do then a lot of the bickering seems mighty overblown. We can be positive and yet have discourse if we remember how to actually debate something rather than parrot what our favorite television personality says. We need more readers of history and less of Twitter. We need more action and less activism. We need to grow up a little.

It’s 6pm, you are just getting home from work. You immediately freshen up and head to a nearby restaurant. You arrive at the restaurant, take out your cell phone and “check in” to Foursquare or Gowalla. You are seated, you order your dinner, take out your phone and tweet something you heard or saw go by. You finish your dinner, tweet how amazing it was, pay the bill, and then tweet again about what bar or establishment you are going to next for after dinner entertainment.

This seems to be the evening of a lot of people, as evidenced by browsing Twitter and the location based services I noted. I’ll be the first to admit it has been one of my habits. But, after a great deal of thinking about it, I wonder what these services really add to anything we do in our day to day lives, particularly the location based services.

What’s the Matter With Us?

Twitter has its place, it is a communication tool. Different people use it in different ways that make sense to them. Foursquare and Gowalla do not share the same kind of necessity as Twitter, just a niche novelty that, honestly, is kind of cool. Do we need such tools? My guess is that we don’t; They are just a new form of entertainment. Maybe it is just me, but I feel as though I am pulled in a bunch of directions by these different things. Add on top of them Google Reader for keeping up with news and other blogs, e-mail, Facebook, and whatever else you can think of, and it seems to become more work than it is worth.

The few times I have been incommunicado, the more obvious it has become that I need these tools less and less. Sure, their novelty is nice, but at what cost? What else could I be devoting my time to rather than letting people on Foursquare (some whom I don’t even know) see where I am at?

Is there a bigger trend here? Have we created the beginning of a time when verbal communication is no longer completely necessary? A lot of people think that children who are homeschooled are socially inept, to which I disagree and point out that more kids text today than talk on the phone. Not only do they text, but they have created a subset, shorthand language to do so. Maybe they are not inept but they have certainly begun a move away from “normal” communication, making further moves even easier.

Sure, there are other time wasters out there, there always have been. The difference now is that the time eating opportunities are constantly with us, no matter where we go. For me, this seems to speed daily life up, like fast forwarding an old VCR Cassette. We’re having the information thrown in front of us so fast that we do not have the time to really consume it. In a way, this pushes us apart. We are listening to people, but not really hearing them because we are distracted.

Can We Fix This?

We already have started to try. There are a number of people who have abandoned Twitter, Gowalla, Foursquare, MySpace, and Facebook out of a need to slow down and get back to normal. I am not suggesting the tools are causing the problems, they are simply making it easier for us to go through the motions of less communication and less interaction.

For me, fixing this means moving away from the tools as my entertainment and instead using them when necessary and filtering them often. A mass delete of the applications is not going to help you and it certainly is not the answer. Understanding what kind of time you spend on the services and how it affects your day to day activities is the way to start. From there, it’s up to you on whether it’s too much and how to correct it.

This definitely is not a call to abandon ship, it is me looking at what I have noticed over the past couple of years and asking others to do the same. What are your thoughts? Is this a bad path we are following or am I completely crazy and paranoid?

Today’s question is simple in structure but unbelievably complex in application. Can we restore old neighborhoods without turning them into overpriced and underused parcels of land?

After walking and driving through a number of neighborhoods in Houston that are in dire need of restoration and in the end, residents who care about their community I pondered that question. My quick, off of the cuff answer, at least for Houston, is that it cannot be done. My long, thought out answer is that it can be done but would require numerous people and organizations working together to make it happen.

Just east of downtown there is an area that used to be a warehouse district, complete with a massive rail network. Over the years, as the need for freight in the downtown area has dropped, those warehouses have moved further out of town and left a swath of land with nothing on it. The land is walking distance from downtown, yet most of it stays empty. There has been some development, but for the most part it is just grass. The townhomes that have been built were done quickly and from the looks of it, very cheaply, leaving a lot of them empty. There are no grocery stores or even convenience stores, just warehouses next to grass lots.

The city has decided to build a light rail line through the area, connecting downtown to a slightly more populated neighborhood further east. One would think that this would spur development; It hasn’t. They have also built a bike trail; It’s hardly ridden on.

What’s my point in all of this? The City of Houston and developers have an opportunity to make this area a great example of what urban living could be like. This is a great chance to add to the urban population without making the costs completely unreasonable.

Developers, this is your chance to build capacity without sacrificing history or usability. How you ask? Row style housing at affordable prices, it’s that simple. Build a few blocks of row style houses with maybe a garage on the bottom and people will start to move in. Give the homes small backyards and decent spacing between the front door and the road and people will be happy.

City of Houston, setup the neighborhoods with decent parking markings for street parking, add a few bus stops, and repair the roads. The people will move in. These are large investments for predicted returns, but they’re worth it. Right now that land is barely generating anything as far as property taxes, there is nowhere for it to go but up.

Maybe I am a daydreamer or grasping at straws, but I do have hope that Houston sees the different run down neighborhoods around the city as potential, rather than lost causes. I talk about this subject with my wife pretty often, usually as we are driving through these neighborhoods. I’ll look at an old building and make some remark like, “Wouldn’t that be an awesome office?”, maybe someone with the time and wherewithal has the same feeling.