Political implications

When news broke of the Boston bombings, tweets were sent out by the thousands, the Boston Globe‘s paywall fell and all of the information spread about the attack was online. Somewhere, in some nook or cranny, was every bit of information gathered on the events. Some of that information may not have been accurate, but there was plenty to go around.

Once that is established, the question becomes, who owns all that content when it can be easily shared by anyone and everyone?

A simple Google image search of one of the most famous pictures taken after the attack (the one where a runner is on the ground and three cops are reacting) returns almost 36 million hits.

It’s fair to say that the photo, taken by John Tlumacki of The Boston Globe, has been well-circulated.

Current copyright law says that Tlumacki, the Globe or a wire service owns the copyright to that image. To approve a photo for use 36 million times is nearly impossible. Instead, it may be determined that fair use played a role in the image’s mass circulation.

Fair use allows for parody, commentary and criticism, and also for ‘decompilation’ of computer programs,” according to James Boyle in “The Second Enclosure Movement and the Construction of the Public Domain.

So where does Twitter fall into that? Maybe it’s not fair use at all. Maybe it’s that the Net is a peer-produced commons area and should be viewed as a public domain. In “Wealth of Networks” Benkler suggests that the Internet serves as a commons without regulation.

“The networked public sphere, as it is currently developing, suggests that it will have no obvious points of control or exertion of influence—either by fiat or by purchase” (Benkler 177).

If Benkler is correct, the Globe’s paywall will be ineffective and the Twitter users are free to copy and share any photo they want. This would include Tlumacki’s image, which has already been shared a few million times.

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