(Artist Chris Buzelli, in the center of this thumbnail, taken when he was judging an art competition in Houston, launched a jihad against me last week, calling me a thief. His friends did as well. They very nearly got me fired, although admittedly I did not handle myself well.)
Artists' bleating aside, I am no thief. Crediting and linking to the source of a thumbnail is just what Google does. It's legal. The "whole art" is not being "taken." A thumbnail is being displayed and linked-to. The artist is being credited. (I usually like to find a place where the art is being sold before using a thumbnail.)
Still, if an artist doesn't want their work to be circulated, if they don't really want to be part of the Web yet have a Web site at the same time, that should be their right.
I just want to know beforehand. I have a right to this. To say, "assume the answer is no" is not good enough. Because that not only censors writers regarding popular art, but art that wants to be publicized as well.
My biggest problem is this nonsense of requiring human interaction before another site owner can know what the deal is. The result is that known artists prevent the work of unknown artists from seeing the light of day, and determinations of artistic merit are made by agents, by elites, not by the people. In the end even good artists are victims in this system.
So how can we tell the status of a thumbnail, in such a way that those who think their thumbnails are art can "protect" them, while those who want their work publicized have a way to reach the market?
A Web permission engine is my modest proposal.
A permission engine (the concept comes from the database world) would consist of standard HTML meta tags, placed on a site's homepage, defining the status of all images within the site.
Any status could be defined by a simple code. Thumbnail with credit. An e-mail address through which to request permission. Even a price for reprint rights.
(Bizroof has a permission engine for user groups.)
A W3C committee would create, define, and maintain the codes. Site managers would get the codes through registrars. They wouldn't have to know how to code to get them. Just sign in to prove your identity as owner of the site, then answer a few questions on a standard Web form.
- Do you want search engines to index your images?
- Do you want your watermark on the resulting thumbnails? (Insert the text you want here.)
- What is the maximum size of your images you will allow to be displayed on another site, in pixels?
- Should visitors be allowed to download your images?
- Should links be allowed deep into your site or redirected to the home page?
- What credit line do you want placed when your images are used, and what address do you want that credit line to point to?
- Do you want to be notified if someone seeks to place a thumbnail of your images on their Web site? (Insert e-mail address.)
- Do you want to prevent screen grabs of your pages?
- Do you have a standard price for use of thumbnails?
If there are any other questions rights holders want to place in this script, we can have a process for that, and codes to match. When the script is done, the answers will be displayed, approval requested, and the code will be generated automatically on the site's entry page.
Since permissions will be HTML codes, search engines like Google will be able to respect them easily, with minimal overhead. Support for the code would also go into browsers, so users would not be able to override them. Screen capture programs would also have to use the codes, accessing Web pages before following user directions.
What artists have to do now is spend their own money on watermarking or copy prevention programs many say don't work. That is why so many reacted so violently to my use of Chris Buzelli's work last week. They feel they have no control.
A permission engine would give them control. Just as important, it would give those who want to have more permissive policies the same control. In time the market will determine what re-use policy is best.
HTML codes work well in helping content owners keep their videos off other Web sites, or in enabling it. A permission engine could also offer this power for text, so that if the AP did not want anyone quoting from or linking to their stories they could control that, while if blog authors wanted to encourage use of excerpts they could do that.
No one can control the Internet, relying mainly on human beings. Without computers, and computer coding that works without human intervention, the Internet could not be indexed, and little work could be found. (Image from Freespeech.org.)
The monopolies of Big Media would still exist if human intervention were needed for all re-use of all Web content. Artists are trying to maintain a monopoly for themselves that even the Associated Press can't. They want to keep writers from using their stuff, and more important keep them from using their competitors' stuff through a campaign of intimidation.
Again, I am not a thief. Any artist who claims I am is a liar. I am a writer, a blogger who has used this medium for a quarter century and understands something of its needs.
And what we both need, writers and artists and media companies, is the automation of permission. We all need a Web permission engine.