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Hey, Isn't That . . .

Says Lawrence Lessig, the Stanford legal scholar who created Creative Commons, when asked about the issue of corporations borrowing photos: "There's really no excuse for [these companies] except that they think it's not important to protect the rights of the amateur."

Brandon Stone, a Web designer in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was as flattered as he was peeved when he saw his photographs of a dirty alley appear as background in a "Real Time With Bill Maher" skit on HBO.

Still, the amateur photographer didn't want to undersell himself, and solicited advice online. While still debating a course of action, he received a call from an apologetic show producer who had been forwarded Stone's advice request.

They negotiated a price of $500 for the images used, "plus a little more for pain and suffering," Stone says. "They know the business. They have to be held to a higher standard. The average Joe doesn't have a team of lawyers telling him what's legal and what's not."

The producer's explanation? An intern, a lowly intern who didn't know any better, had grabbed the screen shots for the last-minute sketch.

Low-level employees were also the forces cited when stay-at-home dad Jim Griffioen's daughter appeared on Babble, an online parenting magazine. The story, about lead paint, featured a photo from Flickr of Juniper playing in front of a paint-peeling wall.

"It implied that I expose my daughter to all kinds of evils," says Griffioen, who hadn't agreed to licensing. "I'm just glad it wasn't an article about smoking pot [in front of] your kids," the subject of another Babble story.

Griffioen, as it happens, was once an intellectual property lawyer. When he unleashed his legalese, he says, staffers removed the photo.

Griffioen accepted their untrained-employee explanation -- until, he says, he started hearing from other bloggers who said they'd been wronged by the site. One woman said a photo of hers was improperly used for the magazine's inaugural issue. When she complained, the editor blamed . . . an intern.

"That is one very active intern," says Griffioen.

Babble, for its part, immediately admits wrongdoing, but says that the cases were not nearly as widespread as Griffioen implies. "There was a period of a few weeks where it happened as a pattern," says Rufus Griscom, Babble publisher. He says that one photo assistant did not understand permissible use, but that when the problem came to light, the offending photos were immediately removed and replaced with stock photography or with images from Flickr that Babble had permission to use. The photo assistant was fired, and the magazine reviewed all of its published images to make sure it had the photo rights.

What's noteworthy in each of these cases, Lessig says, "is that bloggers, a community typically associated with piracy, are rallying in support of copyright."


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