Wednesday, April 17, 2013

What's mine is mine and what's yours is....

“The freedom of the city is not negotiable. We cannot negotiate with those who say, "What's mine is mine and what's yours is negotiable."” John F. Kennedy

  I was listening to the radio on my commute home last week when I heard the old Joan Jett song ‘I Love Rock ‘n Roll’. When I got home, I decided I wanted to hear it again so I used my Rhapsody application on my amazing iPod to bring up a Joan Jett song sampler. Joan Jett was an early 1980’s punk rock singer who was a favorite of my listeners when I had a punk rock/ new wave college radio show and a part time DJ business. I listened to a quite a few of her old songs in the last few days and don’t think her first big hit ‘Bad Reputation’ has stood the test of time but many of the others like ‘Do You Want To Touch Me (Oh Yeah)’ and ‘I Can’t Stand Myself For Loving You’ sound as primal and hard driving as they did 30 years ago.

  I hadn’t listened to the song ‘I Can’t Stand Myself For Loving You’ for many years and as I was listening to it I was struck by how much the song sounded like the Sunday Night Football Song that is currently being sung by an underdressed Faith Hill just before game time, presumably to make the men of America feel better about the fact that they are about watch three hours of sweaty oversized men in tight pants shove and grab on each other. In any event, I went trolling on the Internet to see if I was the only one who had noticed the similarity between the two songs and I found plenty of posts (like here and here) also noting the similarities and NBC and Jett's web site acknowledge as much so I assume that the rights to copy the song was purchased at some point.

  A big part of pop music’s popularity is being able to follow a beat or sing along so it isn’t very surprising that many artists are accused of stealing a melody for their own songs. The most famous lawsuit I remember was when George Harrison was accused of copying the Chiffon’s song ‘He’s So Fine’ for his number one single ‘My Sweet Lord’. Harrison was assessed a judgment of $587,000 and found guilty of ‘subconscious plagiarism’.

  As a programmer (or 'software developer' as the young people call themselves), I am especially sensitive to unauthorized use issues. I’ve had customers give copies of software I’ve written to their friends and then call me to help with their friend’s support issues (pretending that the problems were their own). I don't put copies of games or songs on my computer and I don’t give them out either. In fact, my most recent article for the Chess Journalists of America (CJA) magazine, The Chess Journalist, (you can see it here) was about the whys and hows of putting pictures in blog posts. In the article, I included the following:

“I want to close this discussion of pictures with a note of caution. It is easy and tempting to grab a picture off the internet and place it in your blog. Please remember that even if an Internet picture has no copyright notice you have no way of knowing if it was copied from another site where a notice was posted. Every picture is owned by someone who has copyright protection whether explicitly stated or not.”

  These are nice words and I was hoping they would be read and taken to heart by the members of the CJA who get the magazine, but I know at least one who paid no attention to it. The editor of En Passant, the IASCA’s (Iowa State Chess Association) quarterly magazine is named Mark Capron. Mark is an officer of the IASCA and a member of the Chess Journalists of America. The En Passant has won numerous CJA awards under Mark's stewardship and he is the most professional tournament director in the state. I received the most recent En Passant and there on the cover was a picture of 2012 Iowa Correspondence Champion George Eichhorn. You can imagine my surprise when I immediately recognized the picture as one I took at the 2011 Iowa State Fair speed chess tournament and posted on my blog over a year and a half ago.

  You might say it’s just one picture and what’s the big deal and normally I’d agree, but the IASCA board has lately shown a marked propensity for doing what they please without regard for anyone or anything. Jodene Kruse has run the Okoboji Open for the last 5 years in April. The tournament has been the first tournament of the IASCA qualifying cycle and this year’s date was set last October for April 19-21 of this year after Jodene got permission from the state clearing house director (an IASCA board member). The IASCA has scheduled their year ending state championships for the week after the Okoboji tournament just like last year. The last tournament of the IASCA cycle was on February 2nd and advertised as the “final Iowa State Chess Association Closed Championship Qualifier for the 2012-2013 year”. So with most of February and all of March and some of April to choose from, the IASCA has chosen to have their year ending tournament and the only other IASCA sactioned tournament from February 3rd to June 30th the week after Okoboji just like last year instead of giving the tournament (held on the date approved by the IASCA in the first place) a couple of weeks to have the state’s spotlight.

  There was 24 emails (YES!! 24) this past weekend regarding the advertisement on the IASCA web site of a blitz tournament in Iowa City on the Sunday night of the Okoboji tournament to honor the visit of chess writer J.C. Hallman to Iowa City. In the very first one of these dozens of emails I was asked whether I was OK with the website announcement. Why me? I don't know, maybe to see if I was going to express the same outrage that came my way when I posted announcements of my youth tournaments on the same day as IASCA events in days gone by. I pointed out that the Okoboji tournament was Jodene Kruse's and I just helped by directing and this might be an opportunity to open a dialog between the IASCA and the Northwest Iowa organizers (Jodene, John Flores, and Sam Smith). After eight more emails that all dodged the point about the state championships being so close to Okoboji that I wrote email #11 and asked why this was the case. One of the responses from a board member (whom I know is a great guy) was “It may not seem like it, but we do try to be very accommodating with Okoboji.“ I couldn’t stop laughing and might have had to go to the hospital with a laughing fit if it wasn’t such a condescending comment considering the only way they could be LESS accommodating was if they were to have their state championships on the same weekend as the Okoboji Open. I was overtaken by a sudden bout of impishness. I knew I shouldn't and I tried to hide my mouse, but in the end I couldn't resist and I hit the little ‘Reply All’ button to send my observation which was quite possibly the best one-liner ever written in a chain of chess emails. This prompted a reply that the original comment was the 'honest truth' and I know that it was which to me is a sad commentary on the current state of said organization.

  As I was looking through the En Passant magazine with the unauthorized photograph from my blog on the front cover, I noticed that the inside back cover had an absentee ballot for the upcoming IASCA elections that would be held during the state championship tournament. I haven’t voted in an IASCA election since the time my absentee ballot (among others) was disallowed because I gave it to a board member instead of mailing it to the IASCA secretary (I would note that this had been an accepted although illegal practice for many years). I did notice that the only people who were running for election were people who already held an IASCA office. This made me curious and I searched the IASCA websites and the previous state magazines for any call for nominations. There were none that I could find and while I’m sure there is no rule requiring a call for nominations not calling for them is certainly a way to promote a ‘lack of discourse’, although sometimes it is as easy to be elected to the board as showing up at the annual meeting and raising your hand. In any event, only a policy wonk would have been able to figure out how to get on the IASCA ballot that was printed in the magazine and it's hard enough to get volunteers without making it as easy as possible to get involved.

  I have a lot of respect for and enjoy the company of all but one of the IASCA board members and I understand that volunteer work is oftentimes a thankless task, but there is something about their decision making process that makes everyone who isn’t part of the ‘crowd’ get the short end of the stick. I've served on the board and I’m sure they feel like they are being unfairly criticized for being willing to serve and I regret that my comments might sting a bit but I also see a group whose idea of working together is having their own way and letting everyone else work around them. In the next half-dozen or so emails there was a serious discussion about cutting a little space out for Jodene's (IASCA sanctioned) tournament and the IASCA president made a sizable donation to her so maybe my time at the 'email firing range' was well spent.

  Last week (before all the emails hit the fan) I wrote to the three officers of the IASCA (including the editor of the En Passant) to let them know that the cover photo of the latest issue of their magazine was taken from my blog without permission or credit and I asked how we could resolve this situation of unauthorized use. I got an email the next day from the editor telling me that he was sorry but he didn’t get the picture from my blog and didn’t know the picture was from my blog. He did offer to give me credit for the picture in the next edition of the magazine. That sounded OK except credit is not the same as permission. The information of where the picture came from was not volunteered or asked for but George Eichhorn is a former state representative and a statewide figure. If you Google him you can get a lot of pictures (here are the pictures with the one that was used highlighted) including 2 from my blog and they all say ‘Images may be subject to copyright’ when you click on them.

  I didn't need a pound of flesh, but I felt I needed something for the use of my picture. When I made the decision last May to not advertise my youth tournaments on the IASCA website, the president of the organization wrote to me to ask that I put them back on so people in the Des Moines area who looked on the IASCA website would find my tournaments. I suggested that he put a link to my chess website on the IASCA site and my tournaments could be found that way. The President said he would take care of it as soon as he got access to the site. It never happened. Did the President forget about it, make a halfhearted effort, or was he just talking? Probably a little of all three and I'll never know for sure but this past week I told the IASCA officers that if they would put a link to my blog and chess website on the IASCA site, I’d consider the matter closed. The links were up the next day and I sent along an email giving my ‘permission’ to use my picture on the cover of the magazine. And to me the matter is closed except for my writing about it since it has a surrealness that makes for good storytelling in the cautionary vein of the shoe store customer of mine who always bragged that he was an IT professional because he worked for IBM while I was a small-company programming hack -- but he never backed up his data and lost his entire mailing list when his computer crashed.

  I mentioned how I handled the picture situation at the Marshalltown Chess Club. They were a great group of men and women to ask because their lack of dealings with the IASCA give them an an unbiased perspective. One person said I handled it just right, another said I should have sued or gotten money, and another said it was no big deal and I shouldn’t have wasted my time. Someone else said that my links would probably be taken off the website in a short time and everyone thought that the magazine editor grabbed the picture from my blog and never thought I would recognize a picture from over a year and a half ago. I admit that that feat is pretty impressive and am wondering if massive coconut juice consumption leads to enhanced memory capabilities. I’m pretty comfortable with how I handled the situation and if time shows that I was hoodwinked I’m sure time will also provide another opportunity and if nothing else I have a great topic for my next CJA column on blogging.

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