Did Rachel Maddow Rip-Off Bilerico?

Not quite a man bites dog story, but close.  While large media organizations have long complained about new media and citizen journalists ripping off their intellectual property, there are growing cases where big media is accused of ripping off the intellectual property of citizen media.  Bil Browning at Bilerico Project has lodged such a complaint against MSNBC and the Rachel Maddow show:

We get lots of requests to use that picture. Just this week a documentary maker wrote and asked permission to include it in the film. We said yes. We’ve given permission to anyone who has written to ask and we’ve even offered to send publications or filmmakers the version of the photo that doesn’t include the watermark in exchange for a note that says where the photo originated or a line in the credits. 

But the Maddow Show didn’t even bother to write and ask permission from either Bilerico Project or the photographer. They just lifted it off the internet, cut off the watermark, and included it on the program.

Bil’s commenters are being protective of Rachel, but Bil raises an important point about appropriating the intellectual property and work of others. Just as there is a problem with copying someone’s story completely or running video without acknowledging the source, there is also a concern about using copyrighted art for commercial purposes, like an MSNBC show.

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4 Responses

  1. Browning’s complaint seems to be the name of his website was included in the graphic, so he’s invoking intellectual property, as if.

    No go. Browning can’t claim infringement because the photo was never his to begin with.

    All he can say is that Ms. Hoenigman leased the photo to him. Beyond that, if there’s a complaint to be made, it would have to come from Alice Hoenigman, not Bill Browing.

  2. This looks like another case of old-versus-new-media culture clash to me.

    It would have been nice of the show to credit the photographer and website. That’s just common practice online: share the love, share the pagerank. On the Internet, failure to link is generally regarded as a rude oversight, if not an act of hostility.

    But that same practice seems to be frowned upon in classic news formats like TV and print, where I’ve often had editors change my specific citations to a more general “according to media reports.”

    Ultimately, I think this is a David-an-Goliath situation where Goliath will win. What does a major news org like MSNBC get out of crediting Bilerico? Not very much, I’m afraid. It would be good karma, sure, but they’re not in the karma business.

  3. Perhaps the Maddow show isn’t necessarily legally bound to offer Bilerico a credit here (though to be honest I’m really not sure), but it certainly would have been good form and the morally correct thing to do.

    Indeed, you have to ask yourself what moral and perhaps legal ground MSNBC stands upon when they complain about the use of their own work when at the same time they’re making similar use of the work of others in exactly the same way.

  4. It seems a bit disingenuous for Bilerico to “lodge a complaint” in the blogosphere but not approach MSNBC or Maddow herself with the complaint directly.

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