Thursday, September 1, 2016

Miscellaneous Musings - On Labels and the Times We Are Living In

September 1, 2016

On Labels and the Times We Are Living In

Oh, the irony. You are now reading the words of a copyright infringer. Shocking, I know.

Some time ago, I posted a review of Zhang Yimou’s Coming Home, and then as I usually do, I went to Google Images to find the cover of the DVD. In truth, I didn’t put much thought into which picture I saved and placed to the left of my review, and posting the review would likely have been the last time I wrote about the film. But you know that saying about life and its annoying habit of throwing you curve balls? Little did I know that my little blog would soon be ensnared in a massive sweep of websites connected to that very image.

Perhaps a little elaboration is in order. Last weekend, I wrote a review of Disney’s Brother Bear and went to post it. No sooner had I logged in than I was greeted by an ominous box explaining that my post for Coming Home had been labeled draft and removed from view. Even more ominous was the announcement that I had violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and, according to Blogger, was in danger of having my blog suspended or deleted if such intrusions into other people’s rights continued. Two days later, I would receive a second notice from Google itself.

But wait, I thought. Surely there had been a misunderstanding. Can it really be a violation of copyright law to put the cover of a Blu-ray disc in a movie review that is on a blog intended to promote movies and has not been monetized? Apparently, it can be, but it gets a little more complicated than that.

The warning from Blogger and Google both referred me to a third-party website where I could view said violation and see exactly what the complaint was. So I went there, put in the complaint code, and was taken to a page with numerous listings of links to websites that had apparently received the same notice, one of which was IMDB. The list was long, in some cases over 300 items, but when I looked for the reason for my now criminal label, I was met with a curious word, unspecified. Unhelpful was more like it.

I learned I had one more option: I could contest the charge against me. Therefore, I clicked on a link to a form I would have to fill out in order to explain why, in my opinion, it had all been a misunderstanding. The form is long and, interestingly, requires you to give the party making the complaint against you much more information than I was interested in revealing to a group accusing me of intellectual theft. It also included some friendly advice about consulting a lawyer if I thought I could claim fair use of the material. Needless to say, I haven’t done that. I simply deleted the picture, and hopefully that puts an end to it.

It does make me wonder, though. Had an actual person looked at my blog and concluded that I did not have the right to use the image, or had a computer program found it through some complex algorithm and simply labeled it a violation? I suspect it was the latter. We are living in a rather impersonal world, one in which some companies make a lot of money, employ a small number of workers, and utilize complex formulas in their daily operations, What we write is scanned and analyzed for shopping habits, interests, key words, and possible violations of laws. Time was when someone actually had to read something to make the claim that it had copied someone’s ideas. Now it appears companies rely on computers for this. YouTube is even has a program that detects background music in a video and can label it “unpostable,” without ever considering the purpose of the video or whether it would qualify as fair use.

And so my review of Coming Home has no picture on it, and it’ll probably stay that way if only to serve as a reminder of this odd event, one which highlights the mechanical world we live in and the likelihood that it will become much more so. 

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