Eileen Kern

Home / Copyright / Copyright & the Internet Age: Part 1

Copyright & the Internet Age: Part 1

When I laid out a plan for what kind of blog this would be, I envisioned one of the categories being poetry discussion and analysis. When planning my post on Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese,” I found myself wondering how much of a poem I am legally allowed to quote and analyse.
In my research, I found a clever NY Times op-ed piece (“When Quoting Verse, One Must Be Terse”), in which the author David Orr explores the lack of clarity regarding “fair use” and poetry. He suggests:

A much more reasonable standard would come from the actual custom and practice of poetry criticism as it exists in book reviews and critical articles. There, a far more liberal standard — even permitting quotation of entire poems — has been the norm for decades. (The Poetry Foundation and the Center for Social Media advocate for a similarly flexible approach.)
This is the standard book publishers should recognize. As things stand, poets and critics are at the mercy of an incoherent system. Unless you happen to be a lawyer with a sympathetic publisher (as I am), it’s difficult to negotiate your way to something reasonable.

I think about copyright and the internet age quite a lot, and not just in terms of poetry. A specific interest of mine is how copyright and internet discourses (or memes) can coexist respectfully (if they can at all.)

Consider the story of doge:

When 51-year-old Japanese kindergarten teacher Atsuko Sato started seeing strange pictures of her eight-year-old Shiba Inu dog Kabosu popping up on the internet this past August, she was a little freaked out. “I was taken aback,” Sato, an elegant, brown-haired woman given to wide smiles, recalled. “It felt very strange to see her face there. It was a Kabosu that I didn’t know.”

And, this image has taken on a life and discourse of its own, associated with a way of presenting information that now is clearly identifiable as “doge” without even requiring an image of a “doge.” You can check out the article “A Linguist Explains Grammar Doge Wow” by Gretchen McCulloch, which quotes a popular example of dogespeak–a collaborative retelling of Romeo and Juliet using the conventions of doge:

What light. So breaks. Such east. Very sun. Wow, Juliet.
What Romeo. Such why. Very rose. Still rose.

It continues on from there, and, as McCulloch states, “It’s recognizably doge, but there’s nary a shiba nor a fluorescent font in sight.”

But–although the Creative Commons provides simple ways for content creators to explain how they would like or not like their content to be shared, edited, or reimagined–most content creators are probably not there yet. Readers and fans end up trying to make guesses based upon sharing restrictions–they’ve enabled the “sharing” feature; they must not mind if the video is shared. Or, the artist provided a link that specifically states “for hotlinking/embedding,” so this must be okay.

And I think about this as someone interested in how brands often strive to create content that will spread like wildfire. However, one of the potential issues that comes with creating viral content is losing control over the spread of and reaction to that content.
What must it have been like for Sato to discover that her dog was a celebrity, and that she had no control over the spread of her photograph? Did she ever wish she had placed a watermark or signature on the picture? (Would that have made anyone feel more or less bad about sharing it?)