Too Much/Little for an Apology

No Time To Click the ‘Message’ Button

Last month, Portland Press Herald felt heat after publishing photos of Reverend Robert Carlson, copyrighted photos that were taken following his 2006 resignation as campus chaplain of Husson University-Bangor after being told by president William Beardsley to never step foot on campus again.  Carlson would continue attending events until his suicide in November, 2011 after learning he was under investigation for sexual abuse of a minor.  On August 6, 2012, the paper decided to use photos of him from a Flickr album after failing to get permission from the owner, Audrey Slade.  Slade was surprised to find one of her 2010 photos used as a crux to convey the story.  The online form of the story was published the next day.

Slade first e-mailed the paper to take the photo down, but she got no response.  The next day, she sent an e-mail demanding $100/day in damages/royalty.  On Thursday, Aug. 9, editor Steve Greenlee finally responded, claiming the paper, by deadline, could not determine who the photo belonged to, and that because the online photos were regarded as ‘public,’ getting permission wasn’t necessary because it was in the public’s interest to publish them.  Getting nowhere sending emails, she wrote a blog post of the ordealNo attempt to contact me, she writes of their handling.  No attempt to credit me. Just taking something I did and with no care or regard, dragged something I did to be kind into a sordid and disgusting story.

A ‘Final’ Explanation, and its Expiration

Slade’s blog generated online buzz, and Press Herald caught on after being forced to respond to comments.  So on Aug. 10, they published an explanation on their web site, but it would go on to expire twenty-four hours later, where even cached versions of it on other sites would be taken down.  In the article they admitted the reporter neglected to click the message button on Flickr, which presumably would have sent an email to the account holder. … The photo was viewable by the public with no privacy settings.  Despite adequately detailing the story in the published text, they defended their use of her photos, stating The image was central to a story of great public interest.

One-Way, Money Street

Failing to acknowledge the reality of the common “© All Rights Reserved” mark, which was used, they instead mark, with their history, another aspect of this story in matters of Copyright: the double-standard.  The paper has a long history of aggressively taking legal action against people for using their copyrighted content without authorization, from photos all the way down to brief quotes.  In their case, they would find a way to get some sort of payment, while in Slade’s case, photos were used without credit given to her.  Their other reason: “Naming the photographer without her permission would have pulled her into a controversy unnecessarily.”

When they finally took the photo down, they told her they’d pay $300.  Being as it was, a day later, she said it was $400.  She also wanted an apology.

No Clarification, No Apology

At around the time The Portland Phoenix was gathering material for this story, with Jeff Inglis writing (It’s An Online World Now), fellow writer Al Diamon contacted Slade by phone.  On Aug. 13, she told Diamon that the paper had agreed to pay her the $400.  It felt like shut-up money, she said.  All I wanted was for them to say ‘I’m sorry.’  Diamon also asked Greenlee for question, but the response was in the same line of execuses and zero clarification as to Portland Press Herald’s use policy, why the unsigned explanation was online-only, and why it was erased.  Greenlee said he was hindered in efforts to get permission by the fact that the owner had changed her name.

Unfair use — and abuse

For the September issue of The Bollard, Diamon gave his take on what constitutes fair use.  For quotes, most publications limit the number of words they ‘lift’ to 75, and always ask for permission on photos, generally giving attribution.  As for response time, one published veteran journalist, who asked not to be named, told Diamon that people would have been fired if it’d ever gotten to day four.

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