Over the weekend, millions of people changed their profile pics to cartoon characters. Some did it because they had heard it was to take a stand against child abuse. Some hadn’t heard anything about that, but did it because it was fun.
Now, I have children in my life whom I love more than I can say, and I am (of course) absolutely against children being abused in any way. Let me just make that clear up front. Because someone will surely think I am implying otherwise.
I didn’t change my profile pic “for the cause.”
It wasn’t because — on principle — I don’t change my status, profile pic, or anything else because “someone said so” even if I agree with them — although that is true too. It wasn’t because I didn’t think it would be cute and fun — I’m sure it was. It wasn’t even because I wasn’t entirely sure that doing so would actually help anything. (And yes, awareness is good but I’m not sure what everyone being aware that we’re all against child abuse actually does for the cause. Is there any chance that someone abuses children because they don’t know how many people are against it? Were donations or volunteerism for anti-abuse organizations boosted by this at all?)
It wasn’t for any of those reasons that I didn’t partake. It was because someone owns the rights to each of those images, and I have spent a lot of time over the last few years in my career explaining to people that just because you can find a given image in a Google search does not mean you have rights to use it.
Call it narrowness of vision, but I guess I just didn’t see how possible copyright infringement was the right course of action.
Now, I mentioned this issue in passing to someone on Facebook, and they jumped all over me. “May we call go to jail for a good cause!” added one. Another person “reassured” me with the statement that “I doubt anyone will care”.
Now, never did I say or imply that “jail” was involved. And I’m sure no one will get sued. In reality, it was a harmless, non-commercial use and even the most mean-spirited and legalistic copyright owner would probably decide it was not-worth-their-while to issue a cease-and-desist of unlicensed use to so many people, especially considering that most will cease-and-desist all on their own in a day or two.
In fact, it is entirely possible that the cartoonists or other copyright/trademark owners were pleased and honored to see their work used in such a way. I just didn’t think it was my place to decide that for them.
And like I said, I spend so much time telling people not to do this at work that it would have been hypocritical to do it on my personal page. I worry about misuse even when I use Zemanta to help identify properly licensed & accredited pictures for my blog.
If there had been some kind of concerted effort behind this “event” – a recognized organization sharing information on child abuse awareness and prevention, getting permissions and providing approved-for-use images, and pointing people to places to volunteer or donate, I might have felt differently.
Changing profile pictures was a nice statement – and people who did it can feel good about the story making the news — but there are better ways to make a difference, IMO.
But what do I know, anyway?