Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Of Listservs and Facebook

A long time ago on a big network, a few Wisconsin birders got together and created a Facebook group to share their state bird sightings. The group was without form and ultimately failed to flourish. Subsequently, along with thousands of other non-active old format Facebook groups, it was scheduled to be archived and faded away into obscurity.

After a couple of server outages on the Wisconsin Birding Network listserv last month, I decided to create a brand new group of the same name on Facebook and invited a bunch of my birder friends from Wisconsin. For a profile picture, I lifted the listserv image (a drawing of a Western Sandpiper found only here) on the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology's website. At the time I thought of the group as a possible adjunct or maybe even a potential replacement down the road. Naturally, as a nature photographer, I'm sensitive to copyright issues but assumed the image belonged to WSO. Since I'm a member and there was no credit or copyright mark on the image, I didn't think it would be a big deal to use as a group profile image.

Today the new Facebook birding group has nearly 100 users with almost daily activity; even the first photograph of the Horicon Neotropic Cormorant was posted to it before it was on the listserv. Though the popularity of Facebook cannot be denied, there are lots of old timers who will never use it; the listserv still has ten times the user base and activity. Though somewhat experimental, I find the new Facebook group to be a more convenient way to share eBird reports, Pheasant Branch sightings, bird images, blog posts, etc., to Wisconsin birders. Others agree.

Why use Facebook? There are clear advantages:
  • Easy to share multimedia.
  • Virtually no downtime or lag time.
  • Virtually no administrator maintenance.
  • Members can add their friends.
  • Members can approve new users.
  • Email reports can be sent to the group, just like a listserv.
  • Convenient discussion threads.
  • Photo albums.
  • Document archives.
  • You don't have to sign your posts!
  • Charter won't block you!
There are probably others not coming to mind.

Anyway, yesterday I received a rather alarming email from Jim Williams in MN:

"It's come to my attention that you are using one of my photographs without my permission. The sandpiper image used with WisBirdNet is mine. Only that network has my permission to use it. Please remove it from the Facebook page. Use is available for $250, which would cover one-time use for that purpose."

Gack! Well, even before responding to Jim I immediately removed the image and put up a crude replacement of my own creation. But I still desired something nicer for the group's profile picture. I wanted a drawing so I began searching the web for royalty-free stock images. To my surprise, I found the very same Western Sandpiper image available on various stock photo websites between $2.00 and $9.00. I contacted one of them to see if I could discover who actually owned the image. After talking to a representative at fotosearch, I learned that the creator of the image was someone other than Jim. After emailing the real artist with my story, he wrote back:

"Can you give me the name or business that is trying to sell my image for $250? All of my drawings are on a commercial web site and I believe that Fotosearch is associated with that site ... I do not know how much CanStockPhoto charges for images - but less than $250 and less than $9 in most cases as I only get a few $$ for each image sold. I would like to inform Fotosearch and CanStockPhoto about this event as it constitutes stealing of copyrighted material and profiting from the theft."

Since the sandpiper drawing didn't belong to Jim, I emailed him again and asked what exactly his objection was. After a few missives and letting him know I knew who the real artist was, the true reason for his email was revealed:

"Yes, widely available [the sandpiper image]. It's the idea here. Use of that image implies that your Facebook site is somehow affiliated with WisBirdNet, which is not true. You misrepresent the situation by use of that image."

Well, I guess that's sort of true. Perhaps it's like how Jim misrepresented himself as the owner the sandpiper image in the form of a threat to get his way. There's nothing like pointing out alleged mistakes of others by employing dishonest tactics in the process. Anyway, I the more I thought about it the more put off I was at Jim's phony $250 "offer." I bought the sandpiper image from fotosearch, renamed the group by dropping "network" from it, and gave the image a slightly different look from the listserv one.

Link: Wisconsin Birding on Facebook

© 2011 Mike McDowell