Ron Abler submitted these thoughts on image copyrights, a useful cautionary tale for numismatic authors.
I know that there have already been several discussions about copyright law in The E-Sylum, but recent events compel me to share an unpleasant personal experience with copyright that initially threw me for a loop but ultimately resulted in three positive outcomes:
1) I learned more about copyright law and its application in real life.
2) I learned a lesson the hard way.
3) I met a tactful and generous gentleman who almost made me glad that I had made the mistake in the first place. I offer this confession in sincere apology.
It all started innocently enough. In the October 17, 2010, issue of the E-Sylum, Dave Ginsburg asked readers if there were other refiners in California that might have received and then exported Nevada bullion, which therefore might have escaped the Mint records entirely.
In the following issue, I offered some information about the Nevada exhibit at the Centennial Exhibition held in Philadelphia in 1876, where ore from the Comstock Lode was crushed and smelted into bullion onsite. Our editor, Wayne, asked me if I had any images with which to illustrate the contribution. I followed up with three images and an accompanying auction citation.
Not long after the item was published, I received an email from Wayne informing me that one of his readers, Fred Holabird, had notified him that at least three of the images had been taken from his website. Wayne offered me an out by asking if I might perhaps have obtained them from another legitimate source.
No big deal, I thought. I checked my notes and discovered that I had received the images and the citation, along with permission to use them, from an eBay dealer. He had once offered similar material, and I asked him if he had anything that was related to the Nevada exhibit at the Centennial Exhibition for use in my book. He was very cooperative and emailed the subject items and told me to feel free to use them. The trap was baited with my own carelessness and lack of follow-through.
Wanting to be completely certain of my ground before I sprang to my own knee-jerk defense, I then went to Fred's website where, much to my chagrin, I found one of the photos. It was obviously his because he had been the first to research and describe that particular bullion bar. Though I didn't find the other images, it was moot to me, because, whether once or thrice, I had violated someone else's right to his intellectual property.
After a truly sleepless night, I ‘fessed up to Wayne and asked his advice as to what I should do. He was, thankfully, very understanding and recommended that I call Fred and discuss it with him.
I did so, and almost immediately my dark horizons began to clear. Not only was I forgiven my trespass, but he gave me formal permission to use the images as long as I included appropriate acknowledgement, something which I vowed to myself then and there to do religiously from now on. I had learned that the convenience and accessibility of the Internet and email easily and quickly combine to obscure actual ownership of intellectual property.
Ignorance is no excuse. I now know that it is incumbent upon me to be both vigilant and diligent in researching and respecting the copyrights of others. I also learned that it must be a proactive undertaking, because the right to intellectual property is intrinsic to the property itself, and the onus is on me both to respect it and to make whatever effort may be necessary to secure permission to use. I have made that an early New Year's resolution.
I was equally mortified to learn I'd also been guilty of publishing unattributed photos. While I certainly lean heavily on "Fair use" doctrine, I do try to attribute all images. All are stored on our Flickr archive and there the description points to the original web page where each was found, or credits the person who contributed the image.
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
THE NEVADA EXHIBIT AT THE 1876 PHILADELPHIA CENTENNIAL EXHIBITION
Wayne Homren, Editor
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