Friday, February 1, 2013

Tumblr needs to fix its handling of alleged copyright violations

At Tumblr, you’re guilty until proven innocent of copyright violations.
If the blogging service gets a violation notice from a copyright holder, they will take down the entire post not just the copyrighted material in question. It happened to me recently.
Let me explain.
I’ve created a Tumblr blog that aggregates photos of LFL wardrobe malfunctions. The blog is meant to draw attention to the absurdity of the LFL’s skimpy uniforms.
For the uninitiated, the LFL is a women’s football league where players wear bikini tops and bottoms. Wardrobe malfunctions have occurred in many games. Last month, the LFL changed its formal name from the Lingerie Football League to the Legends Football League. They also modified their uniforms – hopefully to make them more functional. We’ll see about that.
When aggregating the LFL wardrobe malfunction photos from around the web, I’ve tried to be a good netizen. I credit the photographers whenever possible and provide links back to the websites where I found the photos.
Ironically this is the reason why I got flagged for copyright violations for two photos. (Although Tumblr actually took down three posts.) By trying to do right, I got busted for technically doing wrong.
I’ve often wondered why so many websites, especially user-generated content and meme sites, do such a poor job crediting the original photographers and artists. Now I know. They don’t want to get busted for copyright violations. It is much safer and easier to give no credit or weblinks when posting images. It’s harder to search for images than it is for names. And content owners also can track where web traffic is coming from.
Most photographers and artists don’t mind if you sample a photo or two from a large collection to draw attention to their work. But some don’t understand publicity in the digital age.
In my recent run-in with the copyright police at Tumblr, the photographer wanted none of his photos to be used on my blog. I had given him full credit for the photos, left his large logo on the photos and provided a link back to his website, which contained dozens more excellent photographs for web surfers to enjoy.
Anyway, he found out about the use of his LFL photos and contacted Tumblr to take them down. Tumblr staff members were happy to oblige.
But they not only took down the photos, they also deleted my research. That research included information about the players involved, the game, date and location, as well as weblinks back to the original photo sets and more. That information was mine and wasn’t subject to a copyright takedown. In fact, it was a violation of my free speech rights.
I don’t understand why Tumblr didn’t just block the photos. Better still, they should have given me an opportunity to state my case or at least save my other work first.
Given a choice, I would have let the posts run without the photos because I think the information alone is valuable.
I have contacted Tumblr and asked them to change their policy with regard to copyright violations to be more respectful of the Tumblr user. We’ll see where that gets us.

Photo: When Tumblr sends you a copyright violation notice, it includes a link to the offending blog post. Unfortunately there’s nothing to see, because they’ve already deleted it.

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