Let’s turn the clock back to yesterday when we read a series of readers’ comments at FoxNews.com about swine flu that were so paranoid we had to say something. (Click here for the Fox News link, then click on “Join the Discussion” to see comments.) Not that the people responding are necessarily wrong; it is possible that the government is turning the flu into a hoax, that no one will die from a pandemic, and that flu hysteria is a communist plot to give government control over your money. Luckily we are wearing a tin-foil hat so the radio waves from the space aliens now managing our government will not corrupt our minds.
Based on such drivel, our initial blog thesis was to explain how all consumers, including us and you, start with biased points of view, that no one is right or wrong but simply viewing reality from different entry points of perception … and how marketers must take this into consideration as they craft their own messages. But as we researched photos for this post, we came across the one at top by The New York Times photographer James Estrin that stunned us into silence.
Copyrights were meant to teach, yet have led to ignorance.
The image is wonderful. It’s heartbreakingly real. It conjures pending loss, a parental figure (mother? off-duty nurse?) coaxing life back into a young child’s lungs, a cloak of leather hinting at darkness to come. Alas, the photo is also copyrighted by The New York Times and not available under Creative Commons license, meaning we shouldn’t be sharing it with you since no revenue passes from our blog directly to NYT. Most bloggers, including us, are careful to share only images marked under Creative Commons, in which the authors of the content allow it to be passed to others as long as we provide attribution. In contrast, copyright laws block the unasked-for retransmission of images, because they hearken back to a 1710 statute in Britain meant to help writers make a living. The original logic behind copyrights was that publishers were unfairly mining the works of authors without paying them, leading to their ruin. By “copyrighting” work and ensuring authors would get paid, humans would have an incentive to create new knowledge, more people would right, and both authors and publishers and readers would win in a cornucopia of intellectual prosperity. Protection of ideas and payment to creators would lead to the betterment of humankind. In an age where it cost money to print a book, the only way to encourage the hard risks of penning words and setting type was to make sure every individual got paid.
However, the world has turned a step beyond simple protection. Now, in this age of consumers sharing everything, copyrights kill viral transmission before it starts; and today, viral success is everything. If you don’t let the masses play with your ideas, your ideas will die in the cradle. Consider the above flu image: If we did not share this New York Times’ image with you, you wouldn’t be rethinking your lack of subscription to the paper. The few thousand readers of this blog might not consider signing up and driving revenue to NYT. Hundreds of people wouldn’t rebroadcast this message, and NYT and James Estrin miss the opportunity to be seen among the masses.
Such a dilemma. We could contact NYT, try to get permission, and perhaps spend a few hundred dollars for the privilege of sharing the photo. By the time we figured out the paperwork the flu issue would be over, and no one would care (or reshare the image). So we’re testing the concept by breaking the law. The NYT lawyers likely did not read our column in BusinessWeek arguing that all content already is free, and if you don’t admit it’s free, you’re walling yourself off from your own success.
All we can say is information wants to be free. Mr. Estrin, we apologize for taking your photo, but to argue the case that swine flu is in fact viral, we want to make sure your image goes viral too.