Can There Be An Ethic For The Internet:
A Brief Rant
by Richard L. Howey, Wyoming, USA
I won’t keep you guessing. The answer is: Apparently Not! I was doing a Google search for the anchor roots of glass sponges, since I am back to puzzling over these extraordinary creatures again. Some of you may know that I have already published 4 articles here on Micscape with images of Euplectella, the Venus Flower Basket sponge. I came across an image that looked very familiar and followed it to the page. It was indeed my image and it was being used for a biological course at a college. There had never been a request to use the image nor was there any acknowledgment of its source. Several times, I have come across various Euplectella images of mine being used without permission or acknowledgment. The same has been true for some of my images of termite symbionts, Trichonympha in particular.
One young British academic, on his page, implicitly threatened anyone who cared to challenge him and suggested that he would be ruthless in making trouble for such a person. My favorite instance was an academic at an eastern U.S. university who brazenly used one of my images, and I suspect others from other researchers, and then had the colossal gall to copyright his syllabus page. Such hubris bothers me.
Recently, I came across an instance where a man in his 60s used an image of mine without acknowledgment. He had had a stroke and gets around with a cane but, in spite of that, is an activist trying to preserve and protect natural habitats. I applaud him and I don’t mind at all that he is using my image.
What deeply disturbs me is that there seems to be an increasing number of academics who have little respect for the work of others which sets a very bad example for the students whom they are teaching and I guess such instructors don’t experience any cognitive disjunction when they punish students for cheating or plagiarizing in their courses.
Clearly, there is a degree of egoism involved in wanting to have ones work recognized and to get credit for it, but academics are among the most ego-driven human beings of all, except for politicians, business executives, theologians, clergy, physicians, bureaucrats, lawyers, law enforcement officers, F.B.I., C.I.A., N.S.A., and other “intelligence” agents, bankers, administrators, actors, psychiatrists, artists, and entertainment and sports celebrities, who are even worse than academics. If one has integrity, then one tries to produce images that are good and writing that is informative and that requires time, effort, and patience. To discover then that parts of ones work have been expropriated without permission or acknowledgment can be quite irritating.
Since I started writing this, I’ve gotten curious again and this afternoon, I did some web browsing and found one of my Trichonympha images linked to a blog on termites. When I went to the relevant page, I discovered 11 of my images appear as well as the text I wrote about them, all of which was taken from my webpage. The only indication of an acknowledgment was in small print at the bottom: “http://rhowey.googlepages.com”. In my view, this constitutes copyright infringement and, with such minimal attribution, it also certainly flirts with plagiarism.
Since my webpage is hosted by Google, I could initiate an official complaint to have my work removed from the offending blog. However, that process is tedious and time-consuming and, at my age, I’m not sure it’s a very good use of my time. Besides, people do get to see some quite good images (in my humble opinion) of termite symbionts and, in the meantime, I’ll send a saber-rattling e-mail to the corporate type who so egregiously borrowed my work–always seize the chance to keep the executives on their toes!
When I was still teaching, I set a rigid standard and stated in my syllabi that any use from a source of more than 5 words in succession without attribution would be regarded as plagiarism and would result in a grade of “F” not only for the essay, but for the course.
These days, of course, you can go online and buy term papers on a wide variety of subjects. Don’t see anything you like? Well, then, you give them a topic and tell them what you want and they’ll craft it to your specifications–of course, it will cost you a considerable amount. If money’s not an object, you can get an M.A. thesis or even a doctoral dissertation written for you on an esoteric subject of your choosing.
Another fact of our tech-age is the “image agents”. These are people who scour the Internet looking for the images that their clients–textbook publishers–want, for free if possible, and for a minimal fee only if absolutely necessary. I was approached regarding the use of one of my images for a biochemistry textbook which was a seventh edition and was scheduled to sell for almost $200. Everyone who has taught knows the textbook game. Produce something dazzling with lots of pictures, colored charts, explanatory drawings and then, every couple of years, make minor revisions and the publisher jacks up the price and the author(s)’ royalties increase. I was appalled at the price of the textbooks and so, I asked for$800 for the use of the image. I never heard from that agent again.
Some years ago, an agent wanted permission to use an image of mine for a zoology textbook. The projected price was “only” around $100 and I told the agent that the publisher could have use of the image on the condition that they donate 10 copies to underprivileged students. They agreed, with the stipulations that I find 10 students here and give them the books which they would ship directly to me. That was 10 years ago and I still haven’t received them. I can’t raise hell with them because during a computer crash, I lost all that correspondence.
While I’m at it, let me update another of my pet peeves: book dealers who ask exorbitant prices for books at such rates that one cannot believe that they are serious or that anyone would be so foolish as to pay their asking price. I still suspect that this is some kind of inflationary tax dodge. I will provide you with just one recent example. There is series of volumes published by Wiley-Liss called the Microscopic Anatomy of Invertebrates which was published in 15 volumes. It is very nicely done, high quality paper and printing, many excellent photomicrographs–optical, SEM, TEM–and clearly geared toward specialists and institutional libraries. On Amazon, one can find a new copy of Volume 6A (Mollusca II) for $999.11 but in the used listing there is a copy listed in “Good” condition for $2,960.44. I wrote to this seller asking if the book was in stock and if the price listed was accurate. I got a reply saying that it was in stock and that the prices were determined by computer and thus whatever was listed was indeed the price. Incredible!!!
On the other hand, over the years, I have found that if one assiduously seeks, one can find real bargains on specialized books. Also, over the years, I have had a number of requests to use images of mine for non-profit projects and I have never hesitated to grant permission. I just wish that the new technologies were not so culturally exploitable in multiplying the possibilities of being manipulated for egregious greed.
All comments to the author Richard Howey are welcomed.
Editor's note: Visit Richard Howey's new website at http://rhowey.googlepages.com/home where he plans to share aspects of his wide interests.
Microscopy UK Front
Published in the April 2015 edition of Micscape Magazine.
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