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September 6, 2010

i am not a gadget

Have you ever felt the chill? You're fact-checking online like you do when you want to corroborate a cryptic fact or two, googling for a match so you don't have to change that sentence or, worse, fudge it. You click on a site you wouldn't normally visit, and then land on a sentence with a familiar ring. Then another. And another.

Wait a minute: This whole graf sounds like me, the next one too. Even the punctuation.

Turns out the entry for trombonist Glen David Andrews on the Last.fm site was stolen from a piece I did for the September 2008 issue of Jazziz. It wasn't the opening section or the closing part, just 266 words cut and pasted, hanging like a body part with no head, not to mention a byline or acknowledgement to me or to the magazine.

I'm sure many of you reading this have experienced this; I'm pretty sure more of my uncredited and stolen copy is out there in the digital clouds.

Now, I, like you, have come across uncredited quotes of my criticism, small details from my stories that were doubtful to have come from someone else punched into someone else's piece, even strings of word choices I'd agonized over, so I recognized them right off when I saw them.

I'd just never seen a sizeable piece of a story of mine, like a chunk of Gouda, up there with nothing else around it as cover, just stolen and offered up, before. Maybe I was just blind, lucky, or not that rich a source. 

If you click through lastfm.com's screens far enough to get to the "terms of use" and then scroll down enough to find the part about copyrights, you'll get all this:

At Last.fm, we aim to respect the intellectual property rights of others. If you believe that your work (or the work of a third party on whose behalf you are entitled to act) has been copied, used, or made available on or through the Last.fm Website in a way that constitutes copyright infringement of your intellectual property, please provide our copyright agent with a copyright infringement notice ("Notice") which should include the following written information:
            --a statement that you have identified material on the Website which infringes your copyright (or infringes the copyright of a third party on whose behalf you are entitled to act, if applicable);
            --identification of the copyrighted work claimed to have been infringed, or, if multiple copyrighted works at a single online site are covered by a single Notice, a representative list of such works at that site;
            --identification of the material that is claimed to be infringing or to be the subject of infringing activity and that is to be removed or access to which is to be disabled, and information reasonably sufficient to permit Last.fm to locate the material (including, for example, a URL and/or screen shot);
            --your full name, email address, postal address and telephone number on which you can be contacted;
            --a statement by you that you have a good-faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorised by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law;
            --a statement by you that the information in the Notice is accurate, and under penalty of perjury, that the complaining party is authorized to act on behalf of the owner of the exclusive right that is allegedly infringed; and
a physical or electronic signature (which may be a scanned copy) of a person authorized to act on behalf of owner of the work that is allegedly infringed.

That sounded like an awful lot of work. So I sent the following email to Wayne Hutchinson, the guy with a name that sounded like it corresponded to a human being who was listed as the appropriate contact, and copied it, mostly for effect, to my old college roommate Pete, who has his own law firm:

The 266-word description found on Last.fm's page for trombonist Glen David Andrews was lifted word-for-word from my article in the September 2008 issue of Jazziz magazine. It appears with no author credit and without permission from me or from the magazine. (I hold the copyright for this work.)

I have neither the time nor the interest to read through the lengthy "Terms of Use" found under the listing for copyright infringement under "legal" on your home page. But I found your contacts buried at the end of all that. If by "using" in your terms, you mean "stealing," I'm interested in just what goes on. I wish both to act and to research just how my words ended up, uncredited, on your site.
 
As a legal inquiry, I ask that you remove this material immediately. If you can't do this, please refer me to someone who can. As an editorial inquiry, please tell me the staff person with responsibilities over this matter. If you don't know who that is, please refer me to someone who does.

I quickly got an email that sounded computer-generated, acknowledging receipt of my inquiry. And then another, still with no sign at all of a human handprint, that said:

Further to your email request, we have removed the content in question from the Last.fm website, on the basis of your submissions.
This email is not a statement of the legal position of Last.fm. Last.fm expressly reserves all of its rights and defences in relation to this matter, and nothing herein, nor any conduct by Last.fm may be construed as admission of wrongdoing by Last.fm.

I wasn't done with Wayne (or the computer that stands in for him). And those cute little Brit touches --"defences" (It's a UK-based company)--didn't charm me any. I explained that I was interested in writing a piece about social-media crowd-sourced material that is used as content for profit-making aggregation-and-delivery sites, and, thus, wanted to speak with the editorial contact who oversees (or doesn't) the process by which my words end up on their page.

To which I got this disembodied reply:

Thank you for your email.
At Last.fm, we aim to respect the intellectual property rights of others and we are happy to remove infringing material from user pages when it is brought to our attention.
All biographies found on the Last.fm website are user generated and in accordance with our Terms of Use, information provided by users must be created or licensed to Last.fm by that user. In common with other Web 2.0 websites, we remove any content where ownership is disputed.
This email is not a statement of the legal position of Last.fm. Nothing in this letter is a waiver or release of any rights, remedies, and/or defences of Last.fm in relation to this matter, all of which are expressly reserved. Nothing herein, nor any conduct by Last.fm may be construed as admissions by Last.fm.

Maybe you think I'm being overly dramatic or, worse, a Luddite about all this. The stolen copy was brief and far from my strongest work. When I saw it up there I realized that it needed another edit, frankly. And I've written more effectively about Andrews in the Journal and other publications during the past two years. But the faceless, nameless nature of the theft got to me. As did the bigger picture.

Yet, having better things to do (and gratefully so) I dropped it there. But I was still thinking about it when reading Jaron Lanier's essential book "You Are Not a Gadget" --which is, among other things, a stinging indictment of Web 2.0 and social-media from an Internet pioneer--especially when I got to page 44, which contains this:

"...Maybe if people pretend they are not conscious or do not have free will--or that the cloud of online people is a person; if they pretend there is nothing special about the perspective of the individual--then perhaps we have the power to make it so. We might be able to collectively achieve antimagic.... We can make culture and journalism into second-rate activities..."

We all know these dangers and putfalls by now. But when you've just pulled a wiki thread out of your ass, the sting is real.

September 6, 2010 11:45 AM | | Comments (0)

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