I got home from Indiana to find a very familiar sounding fracas rising on the web. Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal received an attorney-generated nastygram for daring to complain about his work being posted without permission on Funnyjunk.com. He called Funnyjunk.com a bunch of thieves. They had their lawyer demand $20,000 from him for calling them a bunch of thieves.
You see, according to Funnyjunk.com and their attorney, they aren’t thieves. They are merely businesspeople who host a website and collect the ad revenue from that website. The content–the “funny junk” as it were–is all uploaded by third parties. Hundreds of thousands of people see a funny picture, say “that’s pretty funny” to themselves and then upload those photos onto Funnyjunk.com
Or a thousand other “reblog” sites with business models similar to those three.
As a person who generates content for others’ amusement, entertainment, edification and disdain I bristle at all of this. I’m not a great artist and I long ago tired of monkeying around in Photoshop, so I just stick to the words. But I have had the displeasure of finding my words on someone else’s aggregator site. The things I wrote were cached along with the writings of other Nashville bloggers on a website that made money off that work. I was an unpaid content generator until I complained. (Their initial response to my complaint was “but you should be happy for the publicity!”)
This past weekend I was at a party and I was getting a glass of soda for myself. The ice in the bag had melted just enough to all stick together once someone put it back in the freezer. I had to spend a good five minutes hacking away with the handle of a butcher knife to free up enough for my glass. Just as I finished I set the glass down to put the knife away and somebody else came along, grabbed the cup and filled it with their soda. That reminds me very much of what is going on with all of these Content Dispersal sites. One person puts in all the work and another reaps the enjoyment from it.
Call it what you want, but in my book it’s all stealing. Making money off of someone else’s labour and creativity is a basic form of exploitation which has been around for pretty much the entire history of mankind. I’m honestly both befuddled and frustrated because I see it happening and have no idea what to do to stop it. The only things I seem to be able to do personally are to stop using Pinterest, never use Tumblr and never repost photos or images to Facebook that have been created by another person. Because this is a plague and if I can’t kill all the rats I can at least wear a flea collar.
Next time you see something clever on FB or Pinterest and think about reposting it, take a few seconds to think about who made it and whether or not they’re going to even get credit for the thing being passed around.