I have a confession to make.
I cut a corner a few months ago, and it’s coming back to haunt me.
You see, I wrote a blog post called Mountain Top (https://robpetkau.wordpress.com/2011/05/04/mountain-top/) about a great experience I’d had recently while on a Christian retreat weekend, and I wanted a really nifty photo to accompany the story. So I went to Google Images, typed in the words ‘mountain top,’ grabbed the coolest picture I could find and posted it in my blog. I didn’t credit the photographer or even acknowledge that the photo wasn’t taken by me. (I honestly didn’t think it was necessary; all of my readers know me, and anyone who knows me knows I’m not that good of a photographer.)
But because of that photo, Mountain Top is my most often viewed post – as of today, it’s been visited 1,053 times; probably more than all of my other 62 posts put together. (It’s no longer true that all of my readers know me, it seems.) When people repeat my Google Images search, and apparently a lot of them do, the image I chose is the first thing they see. I’m grateful for the traffic, and until yesterday it never occurred to me that there was anything wrong with this picture.
However, someone else who writes a Christian blog decided he wanted to use the photo too. But unlike me, he decided to credit the source. Since he found it on my blog, he credited me. (Here’s a link to his blog, by the way: http://www.thehousestudio.com/wp/2011/08/24/why-i-wrote-college-ministry-in-a-post-christian-culture/.) At the bottom of his post, Steve Lutz simply wrote, ‘Photo source: robpetkau,’ and linked to my Mountain Top blog.
Gulp. Now, why didn’t I think of that?
Oh well, better late than never, right? Determined to set things straight, I went looking for the original source of the photo yesterday, bent on following Lutz’s lead. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it. I looked through 71 pages of Google Images hits on the phrase ‘mountain top,’ and it wasn’t there. Therefore, I went back to my original post and confessed my failure to give credit where it’s due.
But I’m not taking the photo down. I’m not making any money from it, and the shooter isn’t losing any, so in practical terms, what’s the harm? And this great shot, right where it is, is doing some good: it’s driving people to my blog, the sole purpose of which is to help point people toward God. I’m not going to let something as trivial as the earthly ethics of attribution get in the way of that.
But from now on, when I swipe other people’s pictures from the Net and use them on my blog, I’ll be sure to acknowledge the source when I can.
How did I get into this ethical quicksand in the first place? Because it’s so easy to commit ‘little white piracy’ (like little white lies, only with piracy), and everyone’s doing it! Sticking to rules that predate the publishing free-for-all that is the Internet when few others are seems pedantic and unnecessary – especially since the impact of breaking these rules is slim to none. Simply put, the copyright and ownership of digital images on the Internet is a pretty grey area in my eyes.
But does God even see grey areas? Or when it comes to sin, is everything either white or not-white (and therefore, for practical purposes, black) to Him?
And if the answer to that is yes – everything is either perfect or sin – how are we to begin to navigate the choppy, muddy waters we find ourselves in? I’ve already talked about digital images in the 21st century; now let’s look at digital music in the 21st century.
In the ‘80s, was it a sin for a high school kid to make a mixed tape of his favorite heavy metal ballads for his girlfriend? I sure wouldn’t have thought so at the time. But to do the same thing now with digital music is described as piracy. Why was it OK then, but not now? Is it because it’s way easier these days and the sound quality is much better? Seems like a pretty arbitrary reason to me.
Also in the ‘80s, people regularly loaned their records to their buddies; surely this is still kosher, isn’t it? But if I legally download an album on iTunes on my computer, upload it to my iPod and burn a legal copy of the CD to play in my car, am I allowed to loan that CD to a friend? And while he has it, am I still allowed to listen to the album on my computer and iPod? If so, when he doesn’t bother to give it back and I don’t bother to ask for it back, have I effectively engaged in music piracy? If so, I guess it’s a crime; is it also a sin? If so, at what point in the chain of events did it become a sin?
“Only one thing is impossible for God: To find any sense in any copyright law on the planet.” – Mark Twain
Peace be with you.
Coming Soon: Grey Areas Part 2 – Good Lies?