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Opinion Editorials

Redbook rips off blogger’s idea, fans demand attribution

When traditional and digital media collide, their solutions look quite different, but are equally harsh, and when attribution is not given to either, both quarrel.

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Attribution: the growing divide between traditional and digital media

While internet quarrels are nothing new, nor are arguments over giving attribution, nor is the idea that there is no such thing as an original idea, there is a tiff going on right now that highlights the chasm between the digital world and traditional media.

According to the Consumerist, in 2011, blogger Jenn Yates posted a tutorial on how to turn wire hangers into flip flop shoe storage, and in a recent printing of Redbook, a hand drawn image appeared in the magazine of her idea, but did not feature any attribution or credit, despite the similarity being so close to the original image, that the same color flip flop and placement of the buckle is featured in the Redbook sketch (see comparisons in the image above).

The recipe for bloggers is to come to the other blogger’s defense, denouncing the traditional medium and calling for apologies or corrections. Sometimes the old school publications cave, other times they choose to take the hit, whether small or large. Parallel to that is the old school move of using lawyers to send cease and desist letters to bloggers with legal threats. Both are harsh, and both have proven to be equally effective and ineffective.

How did we get here, why does it matter?

So why does this particular quarrel matter? Why now? Because the web is changing, and copyright laws and ethics are being convoluted as more gray area is established with the increasing popularity of the visual web, as more web users flock to social networks and blogs that feature images rather than walls of words, not only as a novelty but as a time saver.

Yates’ idea has been shared across social networks, and the image has been used on Pinterest and other services, many times without attribution. It has entered the public consciousness, which points to the curse of the visual web – image piracy without consequence because the “problem” is so widespread that it truly is impossible to monitor 100% of all sites at all times, even with technologies allowing for image tracking and use.

Despite that curse, the visual web has given rise to many blessings, as information is disseminated, people are inspired and informed, and improved, both personally and professionally, and beyond that, sites like Pinterest are proven to drive substantial traffic to blogs.

But the twist with the visual web and how it ties into Yates’ flip flop storage idea, is that at what point does an idea become public domain? After it’s been featured 200 times on Pinterest? Or maybe 300 times? Or maybe after 12 months? There is no formula for it, that would be ridiculous, but anyone who has spent time on any visual site or even Facebook for that matter, has seen Yates’ brilliant idea without being aware that she was the originator.

And do people care when they see a neat idea online that it wasn’t attributed to the true, original source? No, they just want to bend up wires and make flip flop hangers. It’s not like the idea was patented, trademarked, or even sold, so the dilemma lies in attribution.

What can traditional media do to suck less?

The crux of why digital and traditional media are clashing on this particular issue is that the digital content creator may or may not make money from their original ideas, but traditional content creators make money whether their ideas are pirated or not, and traditional media have harsh lawyers and deep pockets, whereas bloggers usually only have each other.

So what can traditional media do? Obviously, traditional media must look at their attribution policies. Is it realistic to expect that a magazine like Redbook would look so deeply beyond the web of hundreds of links to the flip flop storage idea, many of which are not attributed themselves, to discover the original source? No, but they should, given their resources to do so. Should bloggers be expected to research deeply enough to know the original source? Sure, but their resources are limited, so it is reasonable to expect attribution to the last known source.

Turn on cable news on any given night, or local news, and I guarantee, you’ll see a video that is attributed to YouTube, as if YouTube shot a video of a tornado themselves, not an actual person. You’ll see images lifted from Twitter, simply attributed to Twitter, as if a Twitter robot went to the Rolling Stones concert and shot pictures and posted them online.

The takeaway

Traditional media refuses to acknowledge, or hell, even understand that the internet and social networks are made up of people, not faceless robots, and just as their lawyers expect and enforce attribution of their content, they must play nicely too. No more “video courtesy of YouTube,” rather print and television need to step up and say “video courtesy of YouTube.com/username,” because if you ever wrote a blog and said, “image courtesy of a tv news channel,” they could, and probably would sue.

While the debate continues as to what attribution of ideas should look like as copyright notions erode under the weight of the visual web, the first step is for traditional media to be fair, as they have always expected bloggers to do the same.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius - she has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. AmyVernon

    December 31, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    Yes! It bugs the heck out of me when images/videos are attributed to the site and not the person. At the very least, the medium should say, “from @AGBeat on Twitter” or whoever tweeted.

    I would argue that perhaps traditional media doesn’t have the same level of resources they once had and might not really have the resources to deeply research through hundreds of links to find the originator. That said, I often will go back a few links to see if I can easily find the originator, or at least who seems to be the originator.

    I say “seems to be,” because many times those ripoffs seem like they’re the originator and it can be hard to go past there. But at the very least, they can *try.* Which they aren’t yet doing.

  2. Bryan Chaney

    December 31, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    I just posted an image I found on flickr, for my job. Posted flicker credit and the username. Because it’s the right thing to do…and didn’t take away the like-ability of the post one bit.

  3. Chrissy Morin

    December 31, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    I just found a whole tutorial for how to find the originator of an image on Google.. I’m certain with a huge staff they could have figured it out.. They probably didn’t think the owner of the idea would find it or figure it out! big #FAIL for Redbook!

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Opinion Editorials

How strong leaders use times of crises to improve their company’s future

(EDITORIAL) We’re months into the COVID-19 crisis, and some leaders are still fumbling through it, while others are quietly safeguarding their company’s future.

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Anthony J. Algmin is the Founder and CEO of Algmin Data Leadership, a company helping business and technology leaders transform their future with data, and author of a new book on data leadership. We asked for his insights on how a strong leader can see their teams, their companies, their people through this global pandemic (and other crises in the future). The following are his own words:

Managers sometimes forget that the people we lead have lives outside of the office. This is true always, but is amplified when a crisis like COVID-19 occurs. We need to remember that our job is to serve our teams, to help them be as aligned and productive as possible in the short and long terms.

Crises are exactly when we need to think about what they might be going through, and realize that the partnership we have with our employees is more than a transaction. If we’ve ever asked our people to make sacrifices, like working over a weekend without extra pay, we should be thinking first about how we can support them through the tough times. When we do right by people when they really need it, they will run through walls again for our organizations when things return to normal.

Let them know it’s okay to breathe and talk about it. In a situation like COVID-19 where everything is disrupted and people are now adjusting to things like working from home, it is naturally going to be difficult and frustrating.

The best advice is to encourage people to turn off the TV and stop frequently checking the news websites. As fast as news is happening, it will not make a difference in what we can control ourselves. Right now most of us know what our day will look like, and nothing that comes out in the news is going to materially change it. If we avoid the noisy inputs, we’ll be much better able to focus and get our brains to stop spinning on things we can’t control.

And this may be the only time I would advocate for more meetings. If you don’t have at least a daily standup with your team, you should. And encourage everyone to have a video-enabled setup if at all possible. We may not be able to be in the same room, but the sense of engagement with video is much greater than audio-only calls.

We also risk spiraling if we think too much about how our companies are struggling, or if our teams cannot achieve what our organizations need to be successful. It’s like the difference in sports between practice and the big game. Normal times are when we game plan, we strategize, and work on our fundamentals. Crises are the time to focus and leave it all on the field.

That said, do not fail to observe and note what works well and where you struggle. If you had problems with data quality or inefficient processes before the crisis, you are not fixing them now. Pull out the duct tape and find a way through it. But later, when the crisis subsides, learn from the experience and get better for next time.

Find a hobby. Anything you can do to clear your head and separate work from the other considerations in your life. We may feel like the weight of the world is on our shoulders, and without a pressure release we will not be able to sustain this level of stress and remain as productive as our teams, businesses, and families need us.

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Opinion Editorials

Declutter your quarantine workspace (and brain)

(EDITORIAL) Can’t focus? Decluttering your workspace can help you increase productivity, save money, and reduce stress.

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It’s safe to say that we’ve all been spending a lot more time in our homes these last few months. This leads us to fixate on the things we didn’t have time for before – like a loose doorknob or an un-alphabetized bookshelf.

The same goes for our workspaces. Many of us have had to designate a spot at home to use for work purposes. For those of you who still need to remain on-site, you’ve likely been too busy to focus on your surroundings.

Cleaning and organizing your workspace every so often is important, regardless of the state of the world, and with so much out of our control right now, this is one of the few things we can control.

Whether you’re working from a home office or an on-site office, take some time for quarantine decluttering. According to The Washington Post, decluttering can increase your productivity, lower stress, and save money (I don’t know about you, but just reading those three things makes me feel better already).

Clutter can cause us to feel overwhelmed and make us feel a bit frazzled. Having an office space filled with piles of paper containing irrelevant memos from five years ago or 50 different types of pens, has got to go – recycle that mess and reduce your stress. The same goes with clearing files from your computer; everything will run faster.

Speaking of running faster, decluttering and creating a cleaner workspace will also help you be more efficient and productive. Build this habit by starting small: try tidying up a bit at the end of every workday, setting yourself up for a ready-to-roll morning.

Cleaning also helps you take stock of stuff that you have so that you don’t end up buying more of it. Create a designated spot for your tools and supplies so that they’re more visible – this way, you’ll always know what you have and what needs to be replenished. This will help you stop buying more of the same product that you already have and save you money.

So, if you’ve been looking to improve your focus and clearing a little bit of that ‘quarantine brain’, start by getting your workspace in order. You’ll be amazed at how good it feels to declutter and be “out with the old”; you may even be inspired to do the same for your whole house. Regardless, doing this consistently will create a positive shift in your life, increasing productivity, reducing stress, and saving you money.

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Opinion Editorials

How to ask your manager for better work equipment

(EDITORIAL) Old computer slowing you down? Does it make a simple job harder? Here’s how to make a case to your manager for new equipment to improve your productivity.

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What is an employee to do when the work equipment bites.

Let’s be frank, working on old, crappy computers with inefficient applications can make the easiest tasks a chore. Yet, what do you do? You know you need better equipment to do your job efficiently, but how to ask the boss without looking like a whiner who wants to blow the department budget.

In her “Ask A Manager” column, Alison Green says an employee should ask for better equipment if it is needed. For example, the employee in her column has to attend meetings, but has no laptop and has to take a ton of notes and then transcribe them. Green says, it’s important to make the case for the benefits of having newer or updated equipment.

The key is showing a ROI. If you know a specific computer would be a decent upgrade, give your supervisor the specific model and cost, along with the expected outcomes.

In addition, it may be worth talking to someone from the IT department to see what options might be available – if you’re in a larger company.

IT professionals who commented on Green’s column made a few suggestions. Often because organizations have contracts with specific computer companies or suppliers, talking with IT about what is needed to get the job done and what options are available might make it easier to ask a manager, by saying, “I need a new computer and IT says there are a few options. Here are my three preferences.” A boss is more likely to be receptive and discuss options.

If the budget doesn’t allow for brand new equipment, there might be the option to upgrade the RAM, for example. In a “Workplace” discussion on StackExchange.com an employee explained the boss thinks if you keep a computer clean – no added applications – and maintained it will perform for years. Respondents said, it’s important to make clear the cost-benefit of purchasing updated equipment. Completing a ROI analysis to show how much more efficiently with the work be done may also be useful. Also, explaining to a boss how much might be saved in repair costs could also help an employee get the point across.

Managers may want to take note because, according to results of a Gallup survey, when employees are asked to meet a goal but not given the necessary equipment, credibility is lost.

Gallup says that workgroups that have the most effectively managed materials and equipment tend to have better customer engagement, higher productivity, better safety records and employees that are less likely to jump ship than their peers.

And, no surprise, if a boss presents equipment and says: “Here’s what you get. Deal with it,” employees are less likely to be engaged and pleased than those employees who have a supervisor who provides some improvements and goes to bat to get better equipment when needed.

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