Stellar Chariot

By Arun Neelakandan

Copyright, Intellectual Property, Virality and the Internet

'Little Fatty' Original Image
The picture that started it all.

You’re at a family gathering, you take a heap of happy snaps and put them on Flickr. Several months later, you’re walking down a street and see a gangly guy wearing a t-shirt with your father’s face on it. Taken aback, you immediately stop the stranger and ask him where he got this t-shirt. He says he got it from an online novelty t-shirt store and gives you the link. After some online investigation, you realise the t-shirt must’ve based a photo you uploaded to Flickr. Shock horror!

This sort of thing happens all the time.

If you’re lucky, the store owners might be good enough to remove the t-shirt and related materials. But by then, there’s probably already a large enough residue on the Internet that, needless to say, can’t be easily removed.

Sure, you can use claim copyright (if you released it under such terms), but once you publish anything on the Internet, you’re essentially submitting it to an enigmatic space where you are no longer in direct control. And content needn’t necessarily become viral like Rebecca Black’s Friday) to affect you. Photographers on Flickr, for example, are getting shafted by (sometimes misguided or inadvertently by) individuals of the Internet.

What preventative measures can help stop this from happening to you? Bluntly, there isn’t really much you can do.

Some options:

  • You could try digital watermarking might provide some attribution, but spoils the actual content.
  • Implementing hotlink prevention is also another option. But this is easily defeated beginning with a simple ‘Save as…’ command.
  • The only substantial measure you could take is to limit exposure to trusted parties like friends. But who’s to say what they might do?

Of course, don’t let the fact there isn’t much you can do after publishing stop you from using the appropriate licence for your content e.g. Creative Commons, MIT Licence. There are still many decent people on the Internet who respect such things.

The Internet is a double-edged sword. You and your publishings are at its awesome mercy. You can gain exposure almost instantly meaning and when you do, you gain exposure almost instantly.