By now, you’ve probably heard of this week’s internet soap opera involving The Oatmeal and Funnyjunk. If not, here’s the original post, and an article from Ars Technica describing what happened next.

The story has provided plenty of fodder for discussion, especially concerning copyright. What’s interesting is the turn some of the conversation has taken. For over a decade, we’ve been told by copyright skeptics in academia and the tech sphere that copyright is irrelevant to creators, that people don’t respect copyright because they don’t believe in it, and that “it would be both unjust and impractical to hold companies whose systems happen to automatically transmit or store the content responsible for words they didn’t write, pictures they didn’t take, or videos they didn’t create.” The underlying premise adopts an either/or approach: you can have copyright or the Internet, but not both. It sets up a false dichotomy between established creative industries, who prefer the former, against digital natives, who prefer the latter.

But if there’s one encouraging aspect from this story (besides the generous donations made to two charities), it’s the growing awareness that copyright issues are not so reducible to such binary thinking. Consider the following popular comments on one of the Reddit posts for this story. The first is currently the top comment on the site:

banksey18182
I just wish Reddit would take more time to realize that rehosting images like this actually does hurt the original content creators.
Sure we go all out and harp about “Linking to the Source” . . . etc. etc. . . but the truth is that anything linking to a source will only get a fraction of the traffic that original submission will receive.

Next is a response to user Roflzilla, who wondered, “I am curious what Funnyjunk’s side of it [is] though.”

suddenly_ponies —
There IS no other side. Sites like Funnyjunk, memebase, and, yes, even Reddit profit greatly from the theft of art and other great things. Youtube managed to turn it around and share the profit thus making nice with everyone (users and content providers), but they too were built on theft while hiding behind the myth that it’s hard to police content.

The following includes two responses:

vitto2point0
You do know that imgur operates the same way that funnyjunk does right? And you all post deviant art, SMBC, XKCD etc on there then to reddit where imgur makes bazillions in profit and nothing for the artists… Yet you seem to give a shit now?

JoeMomma8008 —

Great point…  Maybe more people will realize what goes on and this is the straw that broke the camel’s back.  Hopefully people that do see that this happened + the comments and be a little bit more mindful about what they post online.

I’m guilty of putting stuff on DA but I’m glad I haven’t done it in awhile.  Even websites like shutterfly do the same thing.  You upload a photo, they make money on you buying shit from them.  Bastards.

throwawaylifad —

They give a shit when it’s someone they like but when it comes to piracy or other copyright infringement they make posts about excercising their natural right to download anything they like

Finally, an exchange that is short and to the point:

eatme547
Is having a user upload the Oatmeal’s material to FunnyJunk and FJ making money off of the advertisement different from having a user “upload” (insert content here) on to the PirateBay and PB making money off of the advertisement?

Peritract

No.

12 Comments

  1. When an actual creator like TheOatmeal asks that content be removed (or at least attributed and linked to the original site), that’s one thing.
    When a content owner (note, not content creator) like Vivendi mis-uses the DMCA (as all too often happens) by misidentifying (accidentally or deliberately) posts or downloads, that’s another matter entirely.
    (We’ll get into the fact that content owners are screwing content creators in another entry.)
    In addition, FunnyJunk doesn’t follow the DMCA (they’re not registered on the DMCA’s agent site), so they have no “safe harbor” immunity.

    If corporations actually followed the rules they try to impose on others, we’d be a lot better off.

    • Angle Invest0r

      The idea that content owners are screwing creators across the board is ridiculous. I’m a content creator and owner, and I also control rights to some music that’s not my creation. You know how that happens? I see a local band I really like, and I offer to finance and record a demo for them out of my pocket. I don’t get their songs, but I do own the specific recordings of those songs that I produced (the “masters”). If I didn’t own what I paid for, why would I fund unknown bands? I certainly don’t screw them, we split all profits evenly until I’m paid back, and then I take small royalties from that point forward. It’s a system few of my clients have ever complained about. I take even less than your typical Silly-con Valley angel investor does from a start-up.

      I never touch publishing royalties, and I never cross-collateralize against future recordings. It’s a long-term investment for me, because I don’t expect most of the bands to ever make a return (they almost always do not recoup even my modest investments), but I do expect the label that eventually signs them will have to buy out my control over the demo, or hire me to produce the label release. That doesn’t affect the band at all, provided their contract stipulates that the buy out price is not counted against royalties (which is not a hard point to win in negotiation).

      You know, if all the so-called liberators of artists on the internet would put their money where their mouth is and actually pay for content, this would be moot. Artists would not sign away their rights if they were being remunerated by consumers. Then I could simply work on spec with royalties to pay me back. Or, even better!, bands would have money to PAY me upfront to produce them and that would be the end of my financial involvement. What a concept, huh?! Consumers aren’t paying though, hence the continued existence of record labels and movie studios and book publishers; and people like me (producers who fund fledgling bands).

      I’ve said this to a thousand wrong-headed kids: if you want to destroy the labels, then you need to PAY artists for what they do and make it financially foolish to sign with a corporate entity. This notion that ‘the money is in touring’ is so misguided it has to be deliberate misinformation spewed by those who would take advantage of artists. In all my years, touring with multiple acts, and speaking with hundreds of them, the idea of ‘success’ in touring is breaking even, not profit. (actually it’s in not breaking down, as in “Our van broke down, tour cancelled. Can someone give us a ride back to mom’s house in Minnesota?”)

      Merch has slimmer margins than digital music; not to mention that it is bootlegged as much as the music, too! Let’s not even discuss that it perpetuates third world labor practices, promotes rampant consumerism, and ultimately damages the environment. (Can you imagine an infinitely renewable resource, that doesn’t damage the environment when used, which can provide a living to anyone with the talent, tenacity, and work ethic? That’s what music is. The future of economics must be held in non-destructive resources, like art.)

      As it stands now, well over 90% of my musician friends make no money, and the small percentage who do are signed to record deals. You do the math. And these are all talented hard-working indie type DIY musicians. They’re the ones who were supposed to be empowered by the net, yet all I’ve seen is talented kid after talented kid throw in the towel because they can’t make enough money to have their guitar properly set up by a luthier, while their iPod-clutching friends who work at Applebee’s are ‘living large’ relatively speaking. It’s sad.

  2. “The underlying premise adopts an either/or approach: you can have copyright or the Internet, but not both. It sets up a false dichotomy between established creative industries, who prefer the former, against digital natives, who prefer the latter.”

    That statement is just downright irresponsible. No librarian, no law faculty paper I’ve read, and certainly not Google (the three posts you link to) ever hinted at the dichotomy you state. They actually state over and over again support for reasonable copyright statutes that meet the goals of copyright from the constitution and that are easy to understand and thus respected by the populace. Unfortunately, those aren’t statutes or policies promoted by the leading content industries.

    • Angle Invest0r

      They actually state over and over again …

      Oh, I know all about pounding your fist on the table and repeating something enough to convince yourself that it’s true. No one cares what Google says. It’s about what they do. They look the other way regarding infringing uses of their services; and they actively profit from illegal activities by placing ads on pages selling illicit products, and they do this with full knowledge of the activities as the recent pharmaceuticals scandal has revealed.

      … support for reasonable copyright statutes that meet the goals of copyright from the constitution …

      “Reasonable” by whose definition? Google’s? Sorry, they don’t get to decide what laws are reasonable anymore than a conman is allowed to decide what is “deceitful.”

      “Meet the goals?” What does that mean? The ‘goal’ of the copyright clause is to secure the rights of authors in their own creations. The choice of the word “secure” is very important when reading that statute. It’s not “grant,” for instance.

      … and that are easy to understand and thus respected by the populace. …

      What? At what point did trying to run a society become something that should be “easy to understand?” (Cue the Thomas Pynchon quotes!) It’s a complicated world out here, and the laws reflect that. Would you rather simplistic laws that never take context into consideration? Do you work in IT? I notice programmer types hate the fact that people behave unpredictably.

      The whole reason we have a judicial system is to work out the complications in life. We ask judges and juries to sort out complications all the time. Am I to believe the average person can be trusted to work out manslaughter laws, but they can’t possibly comprehend copyright laws? Or is it maybe just that copyright laws conflict with the free-for-all looting mentality that most digital natives harbor, so they whine and claim it’s all too hard to understand and pointless?

      Reminds me of math class. Hey! Speaking of that, why can’t calculus be simpler and easy to understand so it will be more “respected” by the populace? Do we, as enlightened modern humans, desire it to be correct, or simple?

      … Unfortunately, those aren’t statutes or policies promoted by the leading content industries.

      What the hell is a “content industry?” It reminds me of talk of the “tech industry,” which is nothing more than a Wall Street stock designation. Facebook and Google aren’t technology companies; they’re advertising distributors. Bell Labs was a technology company. What is a content company? Oscar Meyer makes ‘content.’ Google delivers ‘content.’ Hershey’s Chocolate delivers both ‘content’ and ‘contentment.’

  3. “They give a shit when it’s someone they like but when it comes to piracy or other copyright infringement they make posts about excercising their natural
    right to download anything they like”

    Respectfully, this is a strawman. The natural right to copy for personal non-commercial use does not necessarily conflict with recognizing that it’s unethical to profit commercial of another’s creation.

    Most copyright minimalists including myself only object to copyright law restricting non-commercial copying. We accept that commercial copyright in a limited form is proper.

    • The natural right to copy for personal non-commercial use does not necessarily conflict with recognizing that it’s unethical to profit commercial of another’s creation.

      There is no natural right to copy for personal non-commercial use, nor can you point to one in the entirety of the history of copyright law.

      And because you are obtaining material that you would otherwise have to pay for, without doing so, you are by definition commercially benefiting from the copying.

      This argument is one of the many baseless and equally ridiculous ones in the stable of the so-called copyright minimalists, which in reality translates to no copyright at all-ists.

      • There is no natural right to copy for personal non-commercial use, nor can you point to one in the entirety of the history of copyright law.

        I don’t know about being a “natural right,” but it is well-settled that absent a law to the contrary there is a right to copy. Think about it. Unless someone has a copyright, I do have a right to copy. Absent the copyright, nothing prevents me from copying. The rule is that people can copy; the exception is copyright. This is recognized in the courts and commentary.

      • Jason Smith:

        “There is no natural right to copy for personal non-commercial use, nor can you point to one in the entirety of the history of copyright law.”

        I disagree. The natural state of liberty is the presumption that you have a right to do anything, unless there is an overriding reason for restricting your freedom of action.

        Your reasoning merely pointing to copyright law as justification for not recognizing the natural right to copy for non-commercial use is equivalent to the claim that that there is no right to speak profanely of God, because blasphemy law historically has always overriden the right.

        However, copyright is no constitutional right but only one of Congress’ enumerated powers. It’s on equal footing with regulation of interstate commerce – which Congress *may* regulate but is not required to do in the interest of anyone.

        “And because you are obtaining material that you would otherwise have to pay for, without doing so, you are by definition commercially benefiting from the”

        So if I decide not to subscribe to health care from a commercial monopoly favored by the state, I am commercially benefitting from my non-commercial activity and should be regulated by the government.

  4. “The underlying premise adopts an either/or approach: you can have copyright or the Internet, but not both. ”

    As Rick Falkvinge has stated it, if you desire to permit private and anonymous communication, you can’t enforce copyright.

    How would the state of copyright enforcement be if every home connection acted as an onion router?
    If I can send untraceable bits to my friend in Colorado, and he can forward my bits in another encrypted wrapper, and his friend sends the bits to the final destination in Canada, only the sender and the receiver knows if the contents violates copyright.

    If I don’t know what I am forwarding, should I be legally responsible for something I can’t know?

    If the answer is yes, because the reverse would render copyright a dead letter, copyright and privacy can’t coexist.

    • LMFAO!

      you think you have ANY privacy on the web? (you need to look at some recent laws… copyright is NOT the problem)

      And why the hell would you forward something if you didn’t know exactly what it was? Oh, i get it.. you’re one of those “spam bots”…

      Just a side note: Oatmeals’ response to the lawyer was soo funny, i actually spit coffee all over my screen! hehe

  5. “And why the hell would you forward something if you didn’t know exactly what it was? Oh, i get it.. you’re one of those “spam bots”…”

    Haven’t you ever heard of onion routing and anonymous proxying services like Tor, I2P and FreeNet?
    These services are built on the principle that you forward another’s communication without knowing the contents.

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