Last week I wrote a blog post about my visit to the Wharton Esherick House, my last stop on a two-week work trip to the East coast. It was a job to find the place (I have it on good authority that they’re working on better direction signs); I was so over everything by that point in the trip that I nearly gave up and turned around to head home. Fortunately a kind driver stopped to set me straight at the final intersection, as my GPS had already told me I’d arrived. (I clearly hadn’t.)
My grumpiness dissolved as soon as I entered the office to buy a ticket for the house tour. I’ve long been a fan of Esherick’s woodblock prints and furniture. Now I was surrounded by stunning prints for sale, informative posters about the artist’s life and books about the man and his work. The Esherick House, essentially a work of sculpture in which the artist lived, has been on my top 10 pilgrimage sites since I first saw pictures of the place.
We should all know by now that it’s essential to get permission before photographing anything in a museum – and this includes house museums. Different places have different rules. The Cheltenham Museum (now known as The Wilson) told me it was fine to take pictures but not to publish them on a blog without express permission and payment of a fee. The Harriet Beecher Stowe House Museum in Hartford, Conn., permits picture taking for Instagram posts, while the neighboring Mark Twain House does not. (Major downer.) So I dutifully asked whether it was permissible to take interior and exterior photos at the Esherick House. The staff person said yes, and yes to posting on Instagram, but not for publication.
“Publication” is a tricky word in our time, not least considering that Instagram is a publishing platform in its own right. I knew I wanted to write a blog post about the place. Blog sites, contrary to what many imagine in our laissez faire “sharing” age, are no less subject to copyright restrictions than traditional forms of publishing on paper. So before writing my post, I contacted Julie Siglin, the executive director of the museum, to request permission, which she granted.
Bottom line: Ask before taking.
Yesterday evening I came in from the shop to find a message from Julie who was puzzled that my post had appeared on another site – with no credit to the original publisher or author – AND under another “author’s” name. I looked up the site, wrote to the purported author, told him to remove the post from his site and told him I was going to report him. While there, I noticed other posts he had taken from Popular Woodworking, so I notified the editors there. Then I read his disclaimer, excerpted below. I’m guessing that the owner of the site is not a native English speaker and that “Brandon Hamilton” is not his real name.
This immediately had me picturing a guy sitting at a kitchen table trying to come up with the most plausible name for a woodworker. What name says flannel checks and three-day stubble?
For the record, Popular Woodworking blog posts do not fall into the legal category “public domain” any more than do those published here at Lost Art Press or on other blog sites that post explicit copyright notices. Even when something does fall into this category, it is illegal to put your name on it as the author when you did not create the content. It doesn’t matter whether you are selling the content or using it to generate any kind of gain (other than traffic to your site). You are breaking the law.
— Nancy Hiller, author of “Making Things Work“
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