My asshole footprint

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, September 26, 2007 |

I can be one hell of an asshole. There's no hiding from it. My wife keeps a binder on the bookshelf with the words "feuds" on the spine. Inside it she's three-hole punched pages of nasty e-mails between 21-year-old me and the Washtenaw County District Attorney arguing about whether he should have brought indecent exposure charges against a girl who rode naked on a horse through downtown Chelsea, Michigan (it got to the point where I openly mocked him for the night law school he attended---while I was a 1L at Michigan; God, I am an asshole). The binder also holds all my notes from the time I took a former landlord to court just because he was such a dick to me and my college roommates all year. The verdict was not in our favor, but I still considered it a victory because I got to cross examine that bastard all afternoon. The binder contains vitriolic e-mails between member-of-the-bar me and some eBay buyer who wanted a refund for a Burberry suit I'd found at a thrift store a few years ago. This guy was a lawyer too. There are pages and pages of e-mails escalating to threats of litigation (we were arguing back and forth for hours over $7 in shipping charges). Assholes like me don't see forests, but we get all bent out of shape over injustices done to single trees. Leaves, even. Whenever I slip in my neverending quest to "reduce my asshole footprint," Wood sighs and pulls out the old binder. She knows it embarrasses me. I found it this morning sitting out on the daybed downstairs. I think she just added a whole new chapter.

See, last week I learned from some people who read this site that a certain corporate "hipster" online parenting magazine had a picture of Juniper on its front page. Problem was, I'd never been asked if anyone could use the photo, and nothing on the site gave me credit or attributed the photo to me. My little girl was just sitting there, on a corporate site I couldn't control, with some text creeping towards her from the left talking about the dangers of lead-based paint.

Looking back, I realize that the passion and anger that were aroused when I saw that photo were the same emotions that made me a good attorney. I have never really written about it, but I was a really good attorney. For years I worked as the only associate defending a $300 million class action brought by a group of multi-millionaire investors. They were such colossal jerks, their claims against my client so unjust, I channeled my indignation to dig up so much dirt to use in a countersuit that they ended up running away with their tails between their legs, settling for fractions of pennies on the dollar. It was a huge victory. The problem was, even though exploiting these kinds of emotions made me a good lawyer, I didn't like myself as a good lawyer. I was such an asshole. That's one of the many reasons I walked away from a life in the law.

The other day, I wasted hours conjuring legitimate legal threats against the website to get them to take down the photo of my daughter, responding to their eventual response with further bombastic, angry tirades. I was in full asshole mode, though eventually I accepted their apology and moved on. After a few days, I started thinking about what this all meant. A certain sense of security had been shattered, and I removed nearly a thousand photos from our Flickr account. Eventually, I wrote something about the infringement, hoping I could use the story as a warning to other parents about what can happen when we naively make images of our children public on sites like Flickr. I have definitely lost some sleep in the past thinking about what perverted creeps might want to do with my photos, but I had never before considered what the corporations were capable of doing. Just when I'd made my peace with everything, other people started coming forward with their stories about what this very same online magazine had done with photos of their kids, and things escalated again. I don't appreciate being lied to, even though Nerve Media/Babble's lies were always very polite and reassuring. The asshole in me came out once more. When something like this happens, it consumes me. I can't think anything nice. I can't write anything nice. I hate it.

So that's where a lot of my free time has gone the last few days. If you haven't already, you can read more about what happened here. I am hoping now to put this all to rest, to move on to the kinds of things you have come to expect to read about here. I want to put the "feud" binder back on the shelf. In some ways, I am glad I stood up to them. I'm glad I left my asshole footprint across Babble's scrawny hipster ass. I hope by bringing this to the attention of so many people that they will finally stop, that this reaction might act as a deterrent to others who might now think twice about doing the same thing. But I still want to use this experience to remind everyone to be careful with what they share online. If you share photos on Flickr and want to reduce the likelihood of corporations using your intellectual property as free stock photography, I have the following suggestions:

1. Make sure your Flickr settings are set to restrict downloads and keep the license "all rights reserved." You can also add more specific copyright language in the "description" area of every Flickr photograph, and I would encourage you to do so.

2. I know it's against the fundamental spirit of Web 2.0, but if you want to reduce the number of random people looking at your photos, don't use descriptive tags or titles. Most of the photos that Nerve Media stole from Flickr users were discovered because the images' tags and text descriptions showed up in simple searches related to the subjects of the articles they were stolen to illustrate. You can also easily hide your photos from public searching in Flickr's settings.

3. Don't support commercial sites that repeatedly and cavalierly rip off copyrighted material.