Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Power of the Internet

For the last couple of days I have been following the drama on my favorite blog, "Chickens in the Road" (see sidebar for link).  This blog is written by a single mom who moved with her three children to a remote farm in the middle of West Virginia.  Her name is Suzanne McMinn.  As you know, many of the recipes I use came from her or contributors to her blog.  But it isn't all about just recipes.  It is about life in rural West Virginia, about her children, about her assorted animals.  I can, here in the city, read about a life I would much prefer.  And because the writer has such a delicious sense of humor, I feel good reading her blog, no matter how depressing my day has been.  She makes me laugh.  Out loud.

But Suzanne's blog is more than just a daily diary.  She is an accomplished writer and photographer.  As one who loves taking pictures, I understand how much work goes into getting just one good photo.  Suzanne's photos are phenomenal.  She has much more patience with photography than I do.  She does not sell her work with the exception of producing a yearly calendar, and her photos are used only on her blog.

Enter the bad guy.  His name is Dave Belanger.  He owns Countryside Publications which publishes four magazines geared toward farm life.  It was in the latest edition of one of those magazines that one of Suzanne's photos appeared.  In both printed and online editions.  Without her knowledge.  Without her approval.  Without credit to the photographer.  Without compensation to the photographer.  They stole the photo from her blog.  This is not a mom and pop operation.  Countryside Publications is a 5 million dollar business.  I'm pretty sure that Mr. Belanger understands something about copyrights.  I understand about copyrights, and I am just a retired grandma.

Now enter the followers of the "Chickens in the Road" blog.  We are many.  We were outraged that Mr. Belanger refused to acknowledge wrongdoing, that he not only was rude when Suzanne called him to protest the use of her photo, but had the brass to hang up on her.  When he finally decided to talk with Suzanne, then would have been the time to be a man, step up to the plate, admit he was wrong, apologize, promise never to steal again, and put a check in the mail.  He did not.  He blamed an editor who, he said, got the photo while browsing the internet looking for a cover photo for the magazine.  (Now that is scary.  I wonder how many others have been stolen from by these people.  How many of the photos you all post on Facebook or I post on my blog will wind up being used for purposes other than those for which they were intended.)  Suzanne said that had they requested the use of the photo in question, she would have let them use it - free of charge - with only credit and a link to her blog appearing with the photo.  So we made phone calls to Mr. Belanger's office.  And we sent emails as well, expressing our outrage.  A few calls were made to the Better Business Bureau complaining about the unethical practices of this company.  The story was picked up by other bloggers and appeared on Facebook pages.  There was talk among "Chickens in the Road" followers about putting together a list of the advertisers in Countryside Publications and starting an email campaign to inform these companies about the lack of ethics of said  photo thieves.

This morning we saw the power of the Internet.  Suzanne reported on her blog that Mr. Belanger had called her, apologized and had mailed her a check for the full amount she requested.  It seems that he had read the blog with the many comments that were not favorable to him or to his company, which included the intention of some to cancel subscriptions.  He also saw in one of the posts that Suzanne fully intended to sue him and his company for unauthorized use of her photo.  It wasn't about the money, but about just plain honesty and integrity.  And the fact that it seems to be a common thought that in a David and Goliath situation like this one, the Goliaths of the world seem to think that the Davids don't possess the courage or resources to fight them.  Or they believe that it is OK to steal from a blog.  Or from any resource maintained by the "little guys" of the world.  It isn't.  Stealing is stealing.

I do believe that this time, again, David won the skirmish.

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