Copyright (c) Marc Dacey/Dark Star Media unless otherwise indicated. Above photo (c) Marc Dacey. Powered by Blogger.

2013-02-11

Hatch snatch?

In the 21st century, questions of copyright and plagiarism are often answered by random chance.

On the very good Attainable Adventure Cruising site, which I recommend if you aren't busy actually restoring a boat, as it is impressively dense with practical information for cruisers, a recent post on companionway hatch construction bemoaned the sliding variety's inability to be properly secured against the forces of a knockdown.

So far, so good. I have an interest in the topic, dating back some time, and while the actual fabrication of a new companionway doors for Alchemy has been delayed (mainly because the firms that do this sort of work consider me small fry indeed), I'm still quite fond of my basic premise of a "drop-leaf" door.

Now with more detail. Image and design copyright 2013 Dark Star Productions, alas.

Although arrived at independently, it bears a strong resemblance to Beth Leonard and Evans Starzinger's cabin door, built by Pacific Yacht Systems back when they were willing to deal with small fry. This is no longer the case. I'll need to have whatever I decide is good enough made privately;

Now, that is a proper piece of work.

Whatever gets bent and welded up in the end, it must mate properly with my Atkins & Hoyle XR 360 Cast Offshore Companionway Hatch, which can be seen in one of my earliest blog entries from 2007, and which dogs down with compression washers and sturdy handles, and slides on robust aluminum rails. 
The hatch stays. The dropboard is going.

Like most A&H products, it's well-made, it doesn't leak, and while I didn't have a part in picking it, I'm happy to use it as an example of What Works, which is one of the highlights of the categorical AAC website.

So when I went to link to a product shot of this heavy-duty hatch on the A&H website, something seemed a little familiar...

Yep, there's my pilothouse roof shot, with no attribution, renamed (probably by the web design monkeys who may have glommed it directly or via the ubiquitous Google Image Search). Now, while I do not harbour illusions about my photographic talents (although photography courses taken in university mean I rarely take crappy shots), I do have some experience with copyright infringement and the concepts of fair use. Note the notice to the right of this post that reads "Author's text and most images other than product shots copyright 2006-2013 M. Dacey/Dark Star Productions." That's me not only covering my own backside for the images I use here, a non-commercial blog where nothing is sold, to illustrate certain sections of text, but is also me staking a claim to my own authorship. You may cut and paste my work, text and images, with proper attribution or with permission, in your own non-commercial blog. Given the nature of hyperlinks, "fair use" must extend to this premise. And I'm OK with that. I'm not the Widow Zappa, but on the other hand, A&H is making money from their site that I am not. I haven't even "monetized" this site via Google's plan to baste the place in ads. All it costs me is time, same as the nearly 35,000 visitors have spent reading this tripe.

Where it gets dodgy, from my point of view, is if you run a commercial site, selling, say, expensive boat hardware, and you poach an image I shot in 2006 to given visual oomph to the item you are selling now, in 2013. Picture opening up a typical department store catalogue of yesteryear, and instead of seeing an idiotically grinning model floating in white space wearing fabulous purple gingham flare pants, you saw a Kodak of your own eighth birthday party, and your Mum in the same lurid trousers. The (false) impression is that the pants-selling moment was staged by the department store's advertising wing, and not snapped by one's Dad to be buried in an album as a seed of future kitsch.

Back before boats, in the dying days of the last century in a time called "the Nineties", I was for a couple of years the co-owner of a small, but nationally distributed, "alternative music" magazine called Chart. Still extant in the form of a website, the paper version lasted from 1991-2009, a respectable run for any Canadian specialty magazine.
Damn, we sure liked Sloan.
One of the less-fun aspects of a minimal editorial crew dealing with unpaid or barely paid writers looking to "break into journalism" was that it was difficult to fact-check their work, a job I had done at the Globe and Mail organization prior to joining the couple who produced Chart magazine. One over-eager writer, who shall remain nameless, submitted plagiarized material from another, better-known (and more talented) writer working in the same small pond of Canadian music journalism. We printed it in good faith ("faith" being the operative word here, the plagiarist was caught, money changed hands and apologies were printed. The notable writer whose work had been poached took it in good humour, and the plagiarist vanished into well-deserved obscurity.

I relate this to give Atkins & Hoyle the benefit of the doubt: A&H should know better, but I suspect they just plugged in their numbers into templates made by their web designers, who have been perhaps Very Naughty, or perhaps just Very Lazy. Given that the designers' home page claims they "consider each project as a custom work of art", I have to consider they've been Very Ironic in incorporating my photo into their clients' website without permission or compensation. 

I intend to find out. If anything of interest emerges, I will post an update.

In the meantime, it is of value to consider how our current age of blogging and posting and commenting, we are all now publishers of a sort. Blogging from a boat or a distant lagoon might make it less likely one will ever discover an incident of content poaching, but that does not mean abnegation of copyright, nor should that ever be implied.  Ripping off a photo from a blog isn't "creative appropriation" or "a mash-up". It's just old, familiar theft.

While the vast majority of what we collectively write is for our private amusement and may be valued at precisely zero, some put a lot of effort into their work, and, reasonably, I think, would expect compensation or at least a request should that work be deemed worthy of being used elsewhere. I've lived from my writing in some form or another since the mid-'80s and clearly have strong opinions on copyright. By contrast, I'm pretty sure if I fabricated a precise A&H hatch copy and branded it "Alchemy hatches" and sold them at a 30% discount, I would be hearing from some Napanee-based lawyers pretty damned quickly. Those who blog may think they are small fry, but small fry constitutes bait, and even bait isn't free.

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