Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Smart About Money, Penny-Pinching Or Just Plain Stealing?

Being (somewhat) a journalist myself I'd rather celebrate a colleague than knock one. There's no shortage of outstanding reporters and I could write about the good ones all day long. In fact, my two previous posts to this blog laud the efforts of journalists doing good work.

There are, however, two sides to every coin. For every good journalist doing something worthy of praise there's a journalist doing damage with a pen (okay, word processor). My friend Mark Loundy writes a monthly column for The Digital Journalist (hmmm, that's come up a couple of times lately) called, "Common Cents," which serves as a monitor of business practices in the editorial industry; and within is always a feature entitled, "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly," in which he highlights, well... you can figure it out. I have my own nomination for, "The Ugly," part of next month's bit: Stacey Bradford.

Who is Stacey Bradford? Ms. Bradford is a journalist in the employ of a magazine called Smart Money, and in a recent article, appearing on their web site, smartmoney.com, she seems less concerned with being smart about money and goes off-track towards gratuitous penny-pinching. Her latest piece, "Top 5ive Annoying School Costs," is a dissatisfied parent's lament about being hit-up for money at every turn by her local public school.....

"Ever get the feeling your child's publicly funded education isn't exactly free," she asks? "First there's the annual fundraiser, then the class photo, and even a rental fee for a flute to play in the elementary school band. If that wasn't bad enough, teachers regularly hit up parents for basic supplies for their classroom....." Okay, I get the picture, she's feeling squeezed because, I can only presume, Smart Money doesn't pay their writers enough to cover the costs of sending their children to school.

Being a father of two boys, both in public school, I'm subject to the same hits as all parents. And whether it's a fundraiser for the school or for the soccer team or for the Boy Scouts, I gladly support my childrens' activities. In addition, my friends and neighbors have children too and my house generally has a year's supply of Girl Scout cookies, gift wrap, popcorn, etc, etc. I support their childrens' fundraising too... with a smile!

So why my animosity towards Ms. Bradford? Well, let's just say I'm not generally fond of penny-pinchers, I encounter too many of them in my normal day-to-day business life to (almost) turn me off to working. If you think penny-pincher is too harsh a criticism then let's go deeper.

I have a favorite aunt who recoils at the thought of talking long-distance on the phone. Every time I speak to her it seems it's enough for her to hear my voice and know that I'm okay, that the kids are well, and then she hustles me off the phone. She grew-up during the Great Depression and for years thereafter long-distance calling was very expensive. Perhaps she's simply stuck in the past, but she's such a generous woman that I'd never be inclined to call her a penny-pincher, rather I'd describe her as frugal. And while she views long-distance as expensive and would prefer I save the long-distance dollars to send my children to college, she never once advocated that I buy one of Woz's blue boxes, become a phone phreak and steal service from Ma Bell.

Contrast my aunt's frugal ways with Ms. Bradford's advice to her readers that they become infringers of legitimate copyrights, that they literally should become thieves....

"Ever wonder why the school takes so many darned pictures? Turns out those adorable snap shots are often yet another fundraiser. Only this one pulls at the heart strings... The bill rises to more than $50 if parents splurge for a package that includes a couple of 5-by-7s. Worried you won't have a spare to send to Grandma? Consider scanning your copy....."

In 1991 Olan Mills, operating more than 1000 portrait studios throughout the United States, sued Linn Photo, a local photofinisher, in U S District Court claiming copyright infringement. Linn Photo had repeatedly made copies of Olan Mills' portraits for their customers who wished to buy prints less expensively than Olan Mills would charge. Linn Photo reproduced the images despite the fact that they carried a copyright notice.

In 1987, Olan Mills took a number of photographs of its employees and their families. The studio registered its copyrights in four of these photographs with the Copyright Office and then hired a private investigator to look into Linn Photo's allegedly infringing activity. On four separate occasions the investigator ordered reproductions of the copyrighted photographs from Linn Photo. Despite the fact that the photographs were clearly marked with a copyright notice, Linn Photo made the reproductions and the investigator paid for them.

Hard evidence not withstanding, the court found for the defendant and Olan Mills appealed. In 1994, The U S Court Of Appeals For The Eighth Circuit overturned the decision of the lower court saying, "We reverse the entry of summary judgment for Linn Photo, direct the district court to enter summary judgment in favor of Olan Mills, and remand the questions of statutory damages, injunctive relief and attorney fees for Olan Mills."

Whether one goes into their local camera store to order copies of a photographer's work or simply scans the images for distribution on a home desktop unit, copyright infringement is a crime. According to my attorney, Mary Luria of Davis & Gilbert in New York, "The theft of intellectual property is as much a theft as the theft of cash." What's next, Ms. Bradford? If I run short of cash at the end of the month for buying school pictures would you advise that I hold-up a liquor store?

Curiously, an Amicus Curiae (friend of the court) brief supporting the Olan Mills appeal was filed by another interested party, The Association of American Publishers, Inc. I wonder if Smart Money is a member?


Blogger Harvey said...

I just want you to know that you're being read in the Philippines. Thank you for writing on photographers' concerns and other issues. I appreciate your point of view.

8:15 PM  

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