Sunday, January 24, 2010

A tale of two websites

Take a look at this website, belonging to the GM DX Group. Now take a look at this one, the website of the Guernsey Amateur Radio Society. Surprisingly similar, aren't they? In fact, if you look at the HTML code that produces these pages, the similarities are more than skin deep. A friend of mine, who is a bit of a stickler for such issues and drew this to my attention, tells me that the Scottish group was the original designer and that they are a bit unhappy about the Guernsey club having ripped off their layout.

There are laws about using other people's material on a website, and some of us hams either don't know the rules or think they don't apply to us. I have had a website for a long time and I have encountered all extremes. On the one hand there are people who ask permission simply to link to an article on a site. That really isn't necessary. I have never met a webmaster who didn't want links to pages on his site as links are what bring visitors, which every site owner wants.

At the other extreme there are people who lift content willy-nilly and put it on their site without asking permission at all. One of the worst offenders right now is an Elecraft K3 owner from Florida who recently started a download site containing copies of equipment manuals and other articles. I'm pretty sure he doesn't have permission to host this material because this same friend of mine found a PDF file containing his review of the Elecraft K3 which had been lifted from his site, along with photos and other material, and his permission had never been asked at all. Indeed, this friend tells me there are even Celine Dion MP3 files on the site. Not only are US copyright laws being flouted but the terms and conditions of his hosting service as well.

I think bloggers sometimes sail a bit close to the wind too. It used to amaze me that some bloggers managed to get a picture of a guy they worked that morning to illustrate their blog, until I realized that the picture had been copied from the contact's page. Google Images is another easy way to find relevant pictures to illustrate blog posts about places you have worked or are writing about, but if you copy images found in this way you almost certainly don't have permission to use them on your own site.

If you have to seek permission before using an image of someone's station, by the time you receive it the topicality of the posting will have been lost. And no ham blogger is going to pay for permission to use a copyright image from a library to illustrate a post, because no-one is making money out of ham radio blogging.

Not using pictures would make many blogs rather dull. But there isn't really any difference between copying someone's website template and copying their pictures. Just because they are fellow hobbyists doesn't mean they don't deserve the courtesy of asking permission before we use material they have created.


Jay Dighsx said...

I've run into this a number of times over the years doing programing. People see something they like and say "make it like that". When I point out it might infringe on copyrights 9 out of 10 say "who's ever going to notice"

Copying the look and feel is a gray area. Copying code and just changing text is pretty cut and dry. Taking content created by the site also a no no.

This is worth a read about websites and copyright laws (at least here in the US)

Jay aka KD8EUR

PE4BAS, Bas said...

Hello Julian, I think most of what you find on the internet is copied or stolen. I don't mind if my original pictures are being used on other websites. If I don't want them to copy I just don't upload it to the internet. If someone is telling me I use his/her picture on my site and they want it off, no problem. It's the same for code. If they can copy it, it is not well protected. Law or no law, I think there is not much we can do to prevent these kind of actions as it would be against the freedom we all have on the internet. 73 Bas, PE4BAS

Paul Stam PAØK said...

Hello Julian, a copyright issue. There is a lot of discussion about it. I use pictures from to brighten up my site. I wonder sometimes if it is right to do so. But pictures which are not protected for copying can easily be used. If someone don't want his picture to be copied he must not place the picture on the Internet. It is the same if you put your furniture outside unprotected and then complain that it has been stolen. This two HTML templates are very common in use. There are millions of them on the Internet. Blogger or Wordpress are using also standard templates. I don't see the fuss about it. The two templates are very similar and for me there is no copyright violation. 73 Paul

Dick said...

I'm not a lawyer/barrister and I could be entirely wrong on this subject. It occurs to me that if a photograph such as an amateur radio shack is copied, then used to accompany a blog entry after a QSO, there has been no abuse. If no actionable comment accompanies the photo and if the photo is not used for profit or ridicule, I see nothing actionable. If you browse the web, you will see many photographs that have been legally protected with a copyright and written reproduction authorization required. Should you print those without proper authorization, you could be in on legally thin ice. But then, I'm no legal scholar. And, tend to agree with PC4T. 73 Dick

Unknown said...

Dick, I personally agree with you about images. I would have no objection to one of my photos being used in a blog post or article that mentions me. My gut feeling tells me no harm is done taking an amateur (in the broadest sense) image and using it not for profit or ridicule, as no loss has occurred to the author. The problem is I don't think copyright law makes such a distinction. The link provided by Jay talks about a "fair use" exception but that only applies to text, not images.

There is a fine line between acceptable use and theft which I think different people draw in different places. My friend was unhappy that someone else was providing a PDF of his K3 review without permission. I would not be happy with someone else offering my programs for download. Partly that is because I want to ensure that people always get the latest version. But also it is because I put this stuff on the web to encourage people to visit my website not someone else's.

I'm not particularly bothered about images because I don't think people visit my site just to see my photos. But as I said, I don't think copyright law makes a distinction between copying images and other materials. Regardless of how we justify it to ourselves and however unlikely it is that any of us will be prosecuted for it, I don't think there is a legal loophole that allows us to do it.

But I am not a lawyer either and would be delighted to be told otherwise.

MØYKS Simon said...

Hi Julian, it always makes laugh when I see the CQ Santa appear on numerous sites which of course I originally photo-shopped Santa and his reindeer about 3 years ago. I was a bit naughty in the first place getting an image from a google search but I keep seeing the same picture every year on various sites. The best laugh is that it has always remained the same but the jpg title gets changed to suit the person who has re posted it. I don't get upset but would prefer to see more effort from the people that like to "rob" others hard work. Maybe I could pinch something off of them next time hi hi.

Always enjoy reading your blog, best 73 from the Yorkshire Moors.

Paul Lannuier said...

I suppose I'm sometimes guilty of "stealing" images that I find on the web, usually a product photo if I'm posting something about that product. But I will always use a photo of my own whenever possible. I've yet to be asked to remove a graphic for copyright reasons so I guess Elecraft or whoever doesn't mind and understands the free publicity outweighs any possible copyright infringement on my part.

Lifting someone's site design, however, is something I would never do. I design web sites for a living and hand-code everything in HTML and ColdFusion (except for blogs - I will dig into Blogger CSS templates and modify them to my liking, but this is not a copyright issue and is actually encouraged by Blogger/Google). This is hard work, and unless you're paying me for it you have no right to use it.

Same for content -- I might blather on about things on my blog for no monetary gain, but I consider that which I write to be my property. If someone asks or at least gives credit and a link back to my site, I will gladly share. But to help one's self to my work without permission or attribution...? Not good.

To wit: I have a lot of my photography on Flickr and most of it is marked as a copyrighted material. A couple of years ago I received an email from someone asking permission to use some of my Formula 1 photos on Wikipedia. I agreed, and changed the copyright info on those photos to an appropriate Creative Commons designation to allow the images to be used for non-commercial purposes. I felt honored, actually, to have my photos appear on Wikipedia entries for Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Michael Schumacher, Canadian Grand Prix, etc. If I found someone selling my F1 photos on eBay, though, I'd sue the bastard.

73 de Paul WW2PT