When Becoming Almost Famous Means You’ve Been Actually Robbed

Over at MSNBC.com, Bob Sullivan has one of the best pieces on copyright and how it has affected average people who make extraordinary images. He highlights the case of Stephanie Gordon, the woman who made the image of the space shuttle launching through the clouds a few weeks ago.

You’ve all seen the image by now – did you know only five news organizations paid her for the rights to publish the image? (MSNBC was one of them, for the record.)

As more people are capable of being there when news happens, maybe the copyright law needs to change. Sullivan, in talking with Janis Krum, who made the iconic image of the plaine that crash landed on the Hudson River, suggests that the laws need to be reworked so that the burden of proof isn’t on the victim, but on the violator. That would seemingly move copyright violations out of civil courts and into criminal courts. And I think I would support that.

This quote, from Gordon, sums up nicely part of the issue – that most people don’t understand the value of an image:

“I never even thought about what could happen,” she said. “To me, it’s just a picture. I tweeted and put my phone away. … I had four hours of sleep and wasn’t thinking. I was trying to spend time with my dad. I’ve never been a person who feels like I need to make money off of everything. I just put it out there for people to see.”

“… it’s just a picture …” is a really simple but scary line.

Mark E. Johnson

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