A Primer on Copyright for Those Living in the 21st-century Wild West

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.


The office and book store are located in this fantastical 1928 garage, one of the most potent antidotes to grumpiness I’ve ever encountered.

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 The staff person said yes, and yes to posting on Instagram, but not for publication.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


All content images within our website are images that we take from various sources that we believe as “public domain”. Therefore all content images we display pure just to complement information from the picture we uploaded without any intent to we sell-buy, in violation of copyright or intellectual property rights, and a valid artistic. For those of you who feel as the legitimate owners of one of the images we display and didn’t want us displaying images valid belongs to you, please contact us through the Contact page and send us an email to follow up, be it delete images belong to you, or maybe you’ll give us maturity date where we can display content images. All content images that we display we only use properly without any intention of us to gain financially from one image or as a whole.

Thank you.

About nrhiller

cabinetmaker and author
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25 Responses to A Primer on Copyright for Those Living in the 21st-century Wild West

  1. Richard Mahler says:

    That “disclaimer” is a vital clue to why the “blogger/poster” does not write his/her own content if it is intended for an English-reading audience. Like the assembly “instructions” and ‘descriptions” for products manufactured or listed for sale from otherworldly places, it requires some mental translation gymnastics. One may think one understands what is intended but it is subject to interpretations. Authorship and ownership are liberally interpreted by an opportunistic internet population, but dishonesty is universally recognized even if it is not practiced.

  2. Finn Koefoed-Nielsen says:

    To be fair, choosing the pseudonym “Brandon Hamilton” does demonstrate a degree of literary talent…break free from your copy/paste drudgery and express your true self, Brandon!

  3. Giles Cutler says:

    As someone who hopes to be a blogger in the future I found this funny, worrying and informative all at the same time.

  4. rons54 says:

    I once worked with an engineering co-op student from an “otherworldly place”. His concept of ownership was different. I don’t think he would have taken a dollar bill off of someone’s desk but pirating a few thousand dollars worth of software was just expected.

    • Smith says:

      That raises an interesting question. How can one handle cultural variation? Should one attempt to block visitors from countries who do not share our opinions or laws, or should we try and share our knowledge with them? I don’t have an answer, but I suppose it has to be handled on an individual basis.

      • nrhiller says:

        Interesting point. I am not a legal scholar, let alone a scholar of international law, but I see two things at work here. First, if you didn’t actually author or make something, claiming that you did (as “Brandon Hamilton” has) suggests that facts do not matter to you, which should call into question everything you say, period. (I would prefer not to get into a debate about epistemology here. “Mr. Hamilton” is not the author of these posts, but he is claiming to be. Simple.) Second, notwithstanding the legality of copyright vis-a-vis international law, this matter boils down to a basic level of respect. If a website has a copyright notice, why would someone blatantly flout it? As someone with a graduate degree in ethics, I appreciate that there’s a universe of differing perspectives on what is right, as distinct from what is or is not legal. I don’t want this to turn into a big discussion of casuistry or relativism (though feel free to turn it into such, if you like; I just won’t take part beyond a certain level). If anyone reading is an expert in international copyright law, please enlighten us.

  5. kaunfried says:

    IHave an electronic note book with copies of posts from other people, some links to post and retypes of articals. It’s a quick refrence to my mistakes and other people success. Is this a copy right violation? All authors are referenced. Mostly so I can look them up when I run into a problem.

    • Nope. You have to publish it for it to violate a copyright.

    • Jeff Faulk says:

      *In general* (I am not a lawyer) my understanding is that personal use is almost always okay. If you purchase a book, it’s fine to photocopy pages from it for reference, for example. Electronic stuff gets a bit more murky– some countries permit you to, for example, copy a DVD of a film and edit it selectively onto a new DVD for your children’s viewing, while in others you cannot copy the DVD to start with. And that’s not even getting into the sometimes arcane world of cosplay…

      Overall though the rule of thumb is that if you are doing it for your own use, and you are not planning to make any profit whatsoever off it, it’s probably okay. When in doubt, it never hurts to ask.

  6. Timothy Snider says:

    My son publishes an online comic/illustration, http://www.incidentalcomics.com, and has this problem on a regular basis. People claim his illustrations for their oven or reference them without credit/recognition. He has about 50% success in getting them to remove his material after he contacts them (assuming he can). He doesn’t care that they use them he just wants acknowledgement in their post

    • Richard Mahler says:

      The unfortunate thing about copyright is that it is up to the copyright owner to prosecute violators. Copyright means nothing more than that you may prove you are owner/author, but to do more than demand that a violater desist means taking legal action and that means making a judgement about whether the cost is worth the action. Sometimes paying your lawyer to send a letter has greater impact than doing it yourself. In cases where a violater is financially benefitting from the theft, it may take more than a letter, but court action is also more likely to be successful. The greatest problem is with nations where copyright or patent law is not recognized, or where enforcement is nonexistent. China is one country where dishonesty in international business is pervasive from individual entreprenuers (i.e., ebay sellers) all the way to major corporations and manufacturers; there seems to be no compelling reason for fairness, and less to do with cultural differences.

      • nrhiller says:

        “[T]here seems to be no compelling reason for fairness” is a fascinating statement. I am not disagreeing with you; I’m just expressing my awe, if “awe” is the right word.

        • Richard Mahler says:

          We have a close friend fluent in Chinese languages who worked in various capacities for a number of years, and loved the place, the food and the culture, who gave it up because of the lack of morality in both business and interpersonal relations, saying that any non-Chinese who expected to benefit in any dealings or agreements were deluding themselves. There are just no rules or respect in play in such cases (he was involved in translation and language education, not business); it is all about winners and losers. I believe in international cooperation and relations, – business, government, arts and culture – yet I have no evidence to question his analysis.

      • Tim Snider says:

        He knows that but it’s not realistic with limited resources and young family to support. He can only email or snail mail occasionally, if possible, and hope for the best.

  7. Tim Snider says:

    Their own — not oven 🙂

  8. This stuff is rampant on Instagram. There’s one account that keeps stealing photos of other craftspeople’s work and posting it as their own. As soon as it gets reported and the account taken down, five more sprout up in its place.

  9. The internet is the wild west on a global scale. I can’t count how many times my content has been ripped off, and I don’t know a single writer or content creator of note that doesn’t have to fight it on a regular basis. (I get a Google alert about someone re-posting my content at least once a day.) There is little if any recourse because the perpetrator is rarely just one dude in his basement. It’s often part of a larger fraud being perpetrated overseas where it is difficult, or impossible to identify the real culprits, let alone hold them accountable. They usually ignore requests to remove the pirated material and even if you can get a web host to shut them down, a dozen more will quickly pop up in their place. The “Ted’s Woodworking” scam is a perfect example. It’s a front for a larger cartel that farms for clicks online. This is a multi-million dollar parasitic industry that is still only in its infancy. Five years from now we’ll be calling these the good old days. God help us all.

    • M. Nubs,

      You might be right and it will get worse. Or technology will fix it, like it did with satellite and cable technology. These were easy to rip off in the 1980s – it was the Wild West of television. But then encoding technology took hold and the number of people who get free entertainment like that have to be pretty technical bit torrent users. There will always be intellectual theft, and it has come in waves since movable type was invented.

      Just trying to be optimistic on a Friday afternoon.

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