Hey, Isn't That . . .

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By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The pug in the corner of the Saints-Eagles football telecast on Fox looked familiar to Tracey Gaughran-Perez.

Not in the slobber-smile way that all pugs look familiar, but in the who else but me would dress their pug up in a bleeping Santa suit kind of familiar.

Gaughran-Perez logged on to http://www.sweetney.com, the personal blog where she'd uploaded a snapshot of her dog, then waited for the Fox pug -- a sort of "Merry Christmas" icon -- to appear again on TV.

Argh.

The pug was definitely Truman; the photo was definitely one she'd marked as "all rights reserved."

"It's not like the picture was some golden chalice of Internet wonder. It's a picture of a stupid dog," says the Baltimore mom. "But it's my dog and it's my photo!"

Supreme irony: "Every commercial break there would be a warning from Fox saying, 'This telecast may not be reproduced,' " she says. "I guess copyright pertains only to them."

Under the banner of "intellectual property," record labels warn you not to bootleg their songs. Hollywood studios warn you not to download their movies. Intellectual property has lately seemed the concern of corporations trying to protect the artist from the grabby public.

But in an increasingly user-generated world where the public is the artist, sometimes it's the big boys who get grabby. And the questions that arise are about ownership, but they are also about fairness, and changing culture, and ultimately, the search for authenticity.

* * *

The (literal) poster child for corporate photonapping: Dallas 15-year-old Alison Chang, who paused in the middle of a church-sponsored carwash last summer to flash a goofy grin and a peace sign to her friend Justin Ho-Wee Wong. Click! Wong posted his pictures from the event on the photo-sharing Web site Flickr. A couple months later, the one of Alison resurfaced -- as part of a national ad campaign for Virgin Mobile in Australia. "Dump Your Pen Friend," the billboards read. "Free text virgin to virgin." Alison was the chump to dump.

The Chang family lawyered up.


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