Until technology makes it just as easy to track artists' rights, royalties and attributions (RRA), as it is for a mashup artist to Google and save, a lot more DMCA fights are going to be appearing on the news.
Recently, photographer Lane Hartwell noticed that one of her images was used in a video by the Richter Scales that went viral on YouTube. Lane was upset that it was being distributed without her permission, so she had her lawyer file a DMCA request to have the video taken down.
Until an easier way for artists to track their content, more conflicts like this are going to spring up. Here at Aviary, we are trying to provide exactly this type of capability to all kinds of artists. Whether you are a photographer or a videographer you should be able to work together, easily tracking RRA forever.
If it's On the Internet, it's Free!
The problem lies in the process itself. It is currently much easier to download images than it is to attribute and get permission to use them. Most people will retrieve content via a simple web search, click and Save, not thinking twice about whether the owner reserves any rights in how it's reused. They assume if it is online, it's free to use.
Sure, you can manually credit your sources in the notes of your Youtube videos or Flickr images , but that takes too much time and effort... especially if you are only producing a 5 minute video. People are inherently lazy and unless they fully understand and care about copyright they wont make the extra effort.
Creative Commons is Not Enough
Creative Commons is doing a great job addressing part of this problem by making it easier for artists to license out their work, but it's not enough on its own. What if a photographer decides to change their license once a mashup artist already (legally) used it? In retrospect it looks like the mashup artist used the work illegally!
What if I change my mind? Creative Commons licenses are non-revocable... You can stop distributing your work under a Creative Commons license at any time you wish; but this will not withdraw any copies of your work that already exist under a Creative Commons license from circulation...
That's great in theory. But in practice it's a different story. There is no visible permanence to a revocable license. For example, on Flickr, Creative Commons licenses are not permanent. A photographer can change his or her license at any time on Flickr does not keep track of the changes. If you already used their image you could get in trouble unless you took a snapshots of the license at the time you used the image.
That's really asking people to do a lot of work and also assumes that people would have the foresight to realize that the license is publicly revocable. Most people simply won't think about that possibility and there will eventually be a conflict.
The Solution is Relying on Technology
I propose that we develop a system that inherently tracks where files come from and stores that information directly in the file itself. We need to store meta data about the file's origins, along with the actual file itself.
An example of this in action would be Photoshop tracking where new files are coming from as you do a web search and paste in the copy data. The final jpg could contain a layer of metadata from which any future user could see where elements of it originated from, be it web urls or other forms of contact information. The technology would also need to warn users (but not prevent them), when they are using a file in a way that goes against what's been instructed by the original owners.
We are actually trying to build a system that does exactly that.
One of Aviary's main focuses has been to make sure that all RRAs are automatically tracked throughout the creative process using our suite of tools. We deal with copyright issues all the time at Worth1000.com, (a site that hosts "photoshopped" images) so we are pretty sensitive to finding the balance between ownership rights and encouraging creativity through remixing. While it is important to educate the masses to care about the content rights of others, there's no way to educate enough people to make self-government effective. An infrastructure for tracking creative content will be very helpful in protecting rights where education can't. It also needs to be easy as pie.
Aviary will help artists track their content forever by letting our servers do all the grunt work, so they don't have to worry about it and others can remix work legally. Everyone wins.