The Internet, Explained

This has turned out as an uberpost! Read at your peril!

Recently I’ve noticed that a lot of people who use the internet don’t seem to get the entire concept of it. My understanding is that if you want to share something (be it photographs, stories, songs, movies, practically anything nowadays) with other people then you can use the internet to do so. If you want to get unparalleled worldwide exposure for whatever it is, then you can use the internet. There’s a vast number of technolgies and services which make it really fucking easy to share your stuff with the rest of the world. Wanna put your photos online? Use Flickr. Wanna voice your opinion? Give Blogger a try. Wanna let other people know what you’re looking at on the internet? can do just that. Everyone is doing it. And it’s easy. That’s the whole point, it’s easy to put your stuff on the internet, and it won’t take long before it starts circling the globe if you do.

Alas, some people seem to have got a little bit confused when it comes to that last bit.

Last week Flickr changed the way photos are displayed on each photo’s individual page. Prior to the change, Flash® was used to display the photo which meant several things could be done easily without you having to leave the page - for example you could add the photo to your Flickr favourites, add notes to the photo, or, if the photo was one of your own, you could rotate it or add it to a set, among other things. The downside to using Flash® is that it takes longer for the picture (and therefore the whole page) to load, as you have to wait for the entire picture to be downloaded before it’s displayed. This is especially noticable on a slower internet connection, and it also meant that people who didn’t have the Flash® plugin installed on their browser couldn’t see the picture at all.

Flickr have just solved this problem. They’re now displaying the pictures as regular, er, pictures, and they’ve got some spectacular DHTML to deal with all the functions I mentioned above. Everything which was done with Flash® just last week is now done with DHTML. Now, if you’re not hot on internet technologies, let me brainwash you just a little: DHTML is better than Flash® for every single application, with the exception of complex anti-aliased animation. It was unnecessary to use Flash® for what Flickr was using it for.

Here’s where I get to the point. Some members of Flickr* have realised that people browsing Flickr can now save photos they see on there much easier, just by right-clicking on the picture and clicking on "Save Image As…". Previously, if the owner of the picture had disabled the option for people to view all sizes of the picture, they would have needed to take a screenshot and then paste the picture into an image editing application in order to save it, as you cannot save images displayed in Flash® in the same way. The point is that a few members are pissed off that "just anyone" can steal their pictures with more ease than before. Note that I’m only really talking about the Flickr members who have their pictures copyrighted, as those who release them under a Creative Commons license don’t seem to be [as] bothered about this.

I have a counter-argument for this point of view (If you’re not fed up of reading this post by now then you may as well keep reading, because otherwise you’ll have just read the last five paragraphs for nothing). Although it is indeed easier for Joe Public and all his computer-savvy grandchildren to pinch pictures off Flickr, this is no great reason for concern. What is the average person going to do with a picture they lift from Flickr? They might save it as their PC’s desktop wallpaper, for example, or they could set it as their exciting new screensaver. They could even print it out and stick it up on the wall. This is not a reason for concern. Protecting your intellectual property (in this case, your copyrighted pictures) is about preventing other people from profiting (either financially or otherwise) from your work without your consent.

The kind of people who will be stealing copyrighted pictures off Flickr and using them unlawfully will not be stopped by embedded pictures in Flash®. If they decide they want to use that picture then it is very little work for them to get a screenshot and save that picture. For Flickr to now be using regular pictures makes it easier for these people to steal your pictures, but that is not the point. If they can see it on their screen and decide they want it, they will steal it no matter how it is displayed.

So these people who are now making a fuss about people being able to get at their pictures easier are missing the point of the internet (see where I’m going with this?). If you put something copyrighted on the internet, you cannot possibly expect it to be protected, and, unfortunately, you cannot expect people to respect your copyright notices. Why? Because it’s too fucking easy to lift stuff from the internet. There is a simple solution to this though. If you don’t want people to nick your stuff (particularly photographs), don’t put it on the fucking internet! There are plenty of ways to distribute your stuff using the internet, without actually putting up on the internet for all to see. An example of this would be email. Unfortunately, this is nowhere near as effective if you are trying to get your work noticed, or whatever reasons people have for putting copyrighted stuff on Flickr and the likes. You can’t have it all ways though - you either hand it out so you get exposure, or you don’t and you, er, don’t.

The internet’s whole notion is that whatever you put on there is accessible to a few billion people**. It’s just about the worst place to put something that you don’t want people to pinch. I mean, it’s like saying "Ok, I have this photo. I would quite like to show it to people, but I don’t want anyone to steal it. I know! I’ll put it up on an internationally publicly accessible network of computers where it is almost instantaneously redistributed to tens of thousands of computers right across the globe, in a universally used format which allows anyone who sees it to just keep it if they wish."

I suppose it’s a shame that there are so many people who don’t seem to realise that although the internet is now firmly a part of many people’s lives, it is still a relatively unlawful domain. This isn’t due to things not being policed on the net or anything like that, it is due to the format in which stuff is sent across the internet. The internet was never designed to do what people ask of it today. It is, for all intent and purpose, impossible to protect something which goes sailing across the high seas of the world wide web. And that’s the whole idea… that it’s superfuckingeasy and almost incomprehensibly quick to share data with people all over the planet.

* Please excuse the vagueness of this. I’m not sure of the number of people, but it seems to me (when browsing through the Flickr forums) that it’s the minority of users. Correct me if I’m wrong.

** Rough estimate.

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