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The internet is not for free

September 8, 2009

This post is a shout-out to Mary, who is currently suing big German publisher Burda because they grabbed nine pictures of her blog, used them in a photo spread without crediting her and then declined to pay her the appropriate reimbursement (a story Nadine alerted me to).

Mary writes:

“Die Summe, die ich noch einfordere, ist nicht sonderlich hoch. Geklagt habe ich natürlich, weil für mich eine kleine Summe trotzdem ziemlich viel Geld ist. Und weil ich im Recht bin: weil es nicht sein kann, dass ein Verlag, der derzeit wie kaum ein anderer darauf pocht, dass das Internet kein Umsonst-Laden ist, sich dann dort einfach bedient, wissend, dass sie im Unrecht sind.”

(“The amount I am asking for is not exceptionally large. I sued, of course, because even a small amount is a lot of money for me. And because I’m right: because it’s incredible that a publisher, who like no other stresses right now that the internet is not for free, can just help themselves [to my work] online knowing that they are wrong.”)

Mary shows the pictures Burda ripped off of her blog.

Mary shows some of the pictures Burda ripped off of her blog.

This tactic, unfortunately, seems rather wide-spread with large media companies. Even in our first few months of journalism school, the Chicago Tribune has already ripped off one of my classmates’ story. They published her article under the byline of one of the Tribune’s reporters, giving Eleanore a “submitted by” credit at the end of the story, even though he had reported and written the whole thing.

It’s schizophrenic: On one hand, media organizations are raising hell because “bloggers” are “stealing” their content online, and then they go and rip off bloggers and other journalists. Another thing that seems to be quite popular is translating articles from English-language publications such as the Washington Post or New York Times and selling them as own research (well, they did make that one call to get an “expert’s” opinion, so there you have it).

These events describe the media organizations’ problems online better than any 17 theses: They just don’t understand the internet culture. It’s not my information or your information. If you find something online that’s funny, interesting, spectacular, and you want to spread the word and use that – do it, but credit it, damn it!

Coming to think of it, this is similar to thesis no. 7: the net demands a network aka links. Online, we have a conversation, not a one-way-street. And if media organizations still think they can blatantly rip off other people’s work, they are in for a rough awakening, one that’s completely deserved.

PS: Mehr zu Mary’s Blog Stil in Berlin beispielsweise hier. Ah, I love Berlin’s special style.

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