I know this isn’t the new. Since the dawn of the internet, people have been using the tubes to pipe stolen stuff. Music, software, whatever… I never bought the arguments for ripping off music in particular, because as a guy who made some music in the olden days, I think it’s contradictory to love something (a song, an album) and at the same time not feel like it’s worth enough to warrant paying for. I generally found the justification for such behavior to be nothing more than excuse-making.
Recently, a lot of my work has been getting ripped off. I run LaneSplittingIsLegal.com, where I work on awareness and education around lane splitting in California. It’s a part-time project on top of my day job but I do a lot of work covering legislation and other developments and it’s gained a fair amount of prominence over the past 10 months: I’ve been on TV, articles from the site occasionally get syndicated at RideApart, and my lane splitting advocacy work led to me writing for CityBike magazine. As the site has become a significant resource, folks have started ripping off the content somewhat regularly. Individuals and other organizations take the graphics and use them without permission, or steal whole articles. When I confront them, they often say things like “Oh, I thought it was ok since I linked back to you” or “Well, the design doesn’t say copyright on it.” The thing is, I’m happy to contribute articles to other organizations (and have done so) but I get frustrated when my work is just taken without asking. I also carefully manage the “brand” of the site—there are some groups I just don’t want associated with the project because I think they’ll damage its credibility.
A little over a week ago, an especially surprising example of my stuff getting stolen came to light. One of the motorbike pages I follow on Facebook shared a post by Roadrunner Magazine, a pretty high-profile motorcycle magazine ”dedicated to serving active motorcycle enthusiasts by providing them with a comprehensive resource of national and international tour.” The main image in the post looked awful familiar—it was a photo I took of my R1200R on the backside of Tioga Pass, taken from this road report I wrote a couple years ago after breaking that bike in on a four-day run around California. No credit, no link back, nothing—and on further inspection, they had actually taken two of my photos. Even more ridiculous was that the author of the piece, Jim Parks, has “photojournalist” in the title on his bio page. Anyone with photo-anything in their title should know better than to rip off images for an article on a major publications website, especially if you’re going to feature the piece on the home page.
Here are a couple screenshots of the piece on the Roadrunner site and their Facebook page:
Now let’s be clear—I’m not a professional photographer, and if Roadrunner had asked to use the pic (which comes up in in the first few results of a Google image search for “Tioga Pass motorcycle”) I’d have been glad to give them permission. But just as it frustrates me when someone rips off content from the lane splitting site, it pissed me off that they didn’t ask. So I sent them an email, commented on the post on Facebook and on their site. Here’s what I said:
Hello Roadrunner and Jim Parks. Regarding your recent bucket list feature on Tioga Pass—you’re using images apparently “borrowed” from my road report on my blog, here: http://surjgish.com/2011/motorbikes/ride-report-4-days-across-california-on-my-new-r1200r/
As a legitimate publication, you guys should really have a better understanding of copyright, and know that images you find in a Google image search aren’t just yours for the taking. I’m astounded that Jim Parks, whose title includes “photojournalist” would just rip off photos from a fellow rider rather than using his own, or another staff photographer’s work. Not cool—perhaps you should re-write your mission statement to something like “RoadRUNNER magazine is dedicated to ripping off active motorcycle enthusiasts…”
You must think the pic I shot of my Beemer on Tioga Pass is pretty sweet since you’re using it on your home page, the article, and here on Facebook. I’m assuming you’ll be contacting me ask where to send the check for usage of my images and to discuss a proper license agreement, and I’m also assuming you just slipped up in not asking for permission in working that all out before you published. Since you obviously have an advertising-based revenue model, I’ll be happy to discuss taking a cut of the advertising revenue from the pages you used my images on for some period, that I’m sure we can agree on.
The funny thing is, if you’d asked, I would have been happy to let you use the photos. Now I just have a bad taste in my mouth. Have you guys even ridden Tioga? If so, I’d expect you’d have your own photos. By the way, for real riding, Sonora, Monitor and Ebbetts passes are much better. I’ve got pictures of those too, if you need ‘em. ;)
The part about them sending a check is obviously tongue-in-cheek, but I did want to make the point that they make money (ad revenue, affiliate links, etc) off “their” content, which was in this case, partly my content.. I didn’t hear anything back for a couple days—it was the weekend and apparently (along with copyright) Roadrunner doesn’t understand social media is an always-on thing. On Monday, I got a message on Facebook from Roadrunner:
I just saw your comment and message this morning from a blog we posted over the weekend. We took the blog down this morning while waiting for a response from Jim.
Taking the post down stinks of Roadrunner covering their collective ass in public rather than actual regretting their mistake, especially given the lack of apology. But I was interested hearing an actual response from Jim. Instead, I got an email from Christa Neuhauser, Publisher & Editor-in-Chief later that day:
thank you very much for writing and catching the mishap. I agree, we have to respect the copy right. Not sure how that could slip our attention. We took down the text and photos of the Tioga Road from our website.
Feel free to submit your suggestion for a bucket list road. We like to hear from our readers and are happy to share preferred roads.
Wow—still no apology, and a super-pathetic excuse: ”we don’t know how this happened.” Seriously—a mishap? You don’t know how this could have happened? Here are two scenarios:
- Jim hasn’t ever ridden Tioga Pass—so even though he’s a “photojournalist” he didn’t have any photos of the topic at hand. He did an image search for photos of bikes on Tioga Pass, snagged a few of them, and took some publicly available resources about Tioga to create his “article.”
- Jim didn’t actually write the article, but rather some intern. The intern wasn’t given any guidelines, and basically did the steps detailed in step 1 above. Someone at Roadrunner gave it a cursory glance, didn’t bother to ask where the image came from, and published it.
Which one was it? I don’t know, and Roadrunner—and Jim Parks—aren’t saying. I responded to Neuhauser’s email, saying I was disappointed she couldn’t even apologize, and that “mishap” was inaccurate. Didn’t hear back—not really surprising given their weaksaucy responses.
So, to summarize, fellow motorcyclists at Roadrunner Magazine stole a couple of my pics and couldn’t even be bothered to apologize when caught and publicly called out. Awesome camaraderie amongst riders, guys. Oh wait, I mean embarrassingly bad behavior from a pretty good-sized publisher who should know better.