Think of this as Volume 14, Number 15 of A-Clue.com, the online newsletter I've written since 1997. Enjoy.
I downloaded her, and I sized her to fit on my virtual wall.
she is. Nice, huh.
Of course, you say, there's no copyright on the Mona Lisa. True, but that doesn't mean this image isn't subject to copyright. It doesn't mean people aren't trying to make money off her and trying to keep me from placing her here.
Take, for instance, Andrew Hall of Portland. He created a 300 pixel image of her hanging in the Louvre. It's got his copyright notice. He's selling prints of it. I don't think Leonardo da Vinci or the Louvre is getting a cut.
No matter your view on the law, or of me, there are important issues at stake here, which Mona and I would like to discuss with you.
The California Digital Library defines images of up to 200 pixels wide as thumbnails.. They are not the actual work. At the top of this post you will not find the actual Mona Lisa. That remains in the Louvre.
Thumbnails on the Web are protected by a U.S. Appeals court decision. When I use them, I try to go beyond the law's requirements. I try to link to the source, to cite the source, and in the case of art or posters offered for sale I give people a chance to buy. When someone objects I take the thumbnail down. Because my own actions on this policy are imperfect I try to be a nice guy, to err on the side of taking stuff down when asked.
But there are limits.
There is no difference between a thumbnail of an art work and an excerpt from my blog, or the clips sights like Amazon.com offer of songs. It's called fair use. Without fair use debates are stifled, new voices are stilled, and the market doesn't function. The whole idea of copyright is to encourage the new, not enslave us to the old. Fair use is a good thing, and fair use is what I practice.
We can disagree on the size of a thumbnail. I like this size. You may think smaller is better. But until courts rule definitively the question is open to interpretation. Anyone who thinks hanging a thumbnail on their wall makes them an art collector has deeper problems than I can solve.
Back at the dawn of the Web, Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle (YAHOO) used teams of people to troll the Web, indexing sites and pages. Even before the Google appeared this became impractical.
The directory was replaced with robots and spiders. These crawl the Web looking for changes, automatically cataloging them, creating links to their content, and their images. Without such links work can't be found.
There are ways to stop these spiders. If you write a robots.txt file , you can stop robots from indexing the page or elements in the page. If you use watermarking you can render even a thumbnail worthless. You can even prevent people from right-clicking and copying what you've created.
But without automation the Web could not be indexed. It's too big, it's growing all the time. Important pages and images would not be seen.
For images the robots follow the law noted above. They produce thumbnails and link people to them. There have been objections, but courts have sided with the robots.
I want the same rights as a robot.
The Web as we know it could not exist if human intervention were required for links or thumbnails. And if machines can do something, so can I. Do I not have the rights of a machine? Or is the machine Superman?
This is the most important and practical point. Artists benefit more from the Web as it is than from seeking to limit the publicity offered by thumbnails.
Before the 20th century, decisions on what was art, on what had merit, on which artists would thrive and which would starve, were made by elites. Small numbers of well-connected or wealthy art lovers could make or break artists. It drove many great artists, like Vincent Van Gogh here, crazy.
The whole thrust of 20th century art history lay in democratizing this, in bringing art to the market. Picasso and Dali were relentless self-promoters. Andy Warhol was a commercial artist whose point was to play with connections between the market and high art, and the whole idea of celebrity.
Art that is not seen makes no money. Artists make money from new art. The more their style is recognized the more they can make. A thumbnail of a piece of art, linked to and credited, is not the object itself, unless your art is 200 pixels wide or less. Nothing is being stolen. In fact, something important and valuable is being offered, free, something vital to the artist.
There are some artists who feel they don't need publicity. They think they should control the Web, prevent thumbnails, overrule the machines, and intimidate anyone they don't like who links to them, calling them a thief.
There's a word for such people. Vigilantes. There is another word for them. Fools. They may claim to be helping artists, to be protecting their work, but they are only trying to corner the market for themselves.
More important, the effort is self-defeating. I didn't really steal the Mona Lisa. I didn't steal Van Gogh's portrait. I can't display them on this virtual wall – it's too small. And the publicity I give new art is the lifeblood of art. Without it art in the 21st century will go backward, not forward, and artists whose work is truly new, shunned by the elites, won't be found by their audience.
The few artists who might profit from collecting on thumbnails, their agents and lawyers, want to neuter the Web, demanding human intervention before machines can do their work, all in the name of short-term gain.
In the name of all unknown artists (and I count myself among them) I don't plan on giving in to their demands. You shouldn't either.