Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Freedom of Information, Part 2: Rights To Privacy And Copyright

Many people suffer from a little learning and that is a dangerous thing. In the Internet age, we also suffer from people having no education at all, thinking that the Internet is an open playground, in which one can do as one pleases. They think that they are allowed to take liberties. In some senses they are, because laws and rules cannot keep up with technology and gaps develop that need new thinking and new regulation. In the meantime, a lot of damage can be done.

One of my concerns has been how some see freedom of information as meaning freedom to invade privacy. The area is complex and I think that lawyers would take a different view from me on some matters.

One of the tricky areas is about ‘ownership’ and what is truly private and what is public. One aspect of this is copyright.

Google has a clear warning when it shows pictures: "Image may be subject to copyright". Why would Google place that notice on the information? It is meant to protect them and warn other users that there may be a ‘cost’ to using images: it is property and someone may be expecting a return (not necessarily monetary, maybe reputational).

If you type "dennis jones barbados" into a Google search, what do you find? Not a unique piece of information, but several that fit this crude search. When you look at images, one sees similar results. There is a picture of a "Dennis Jones" who appears to be a policeman in Nassau, NY. Is he the same as any other, or this, 'Dennis Jones'? Well, he is black, so he could be the same as another black one; maybe at a different time and different place. The simple message is that one needs to be careful—very careful.

Privacy is defined in law, and is not the same as public notions would assume. So, in almost every instance it is good to think whether or not what one is doing with information about another person could fall under some legal provision. That is a burden. But guess what? It is not meant to be that laziness is an excuse for abusing other people’s rights. Yes. You have an obligation to do due diligence.

A good place to go is the US Copyright Office website. It explains copyright and who and what it protects. You do not need to register to be protected. Also, ignorance of copyright is no defence.

When I first drafted this piece about a month ago, I had my own concerns about whether some things that I had done had infringed copyrights. I was ready for someone to make that claim and I was ready to correct my usage. So, it was really funny when I got a message from Tarik Browne this week. He pointed out that the image used was licensed under a Creative Commons licence (see link) that makes it easy for people to use images for non profit enterprises. However he did stipulate in the same licence he get credit for said image and a link back to the source page would be nice. He had found the image in a blog post of mine this February (see I Spy Strangers), and also spotted the photo used again without permission in the Nation's Friends Barbados magazine.

He was impressed with the way the Nation dealt with the issue, almost complete opposite to the Advocate, who seemed to scoff at my seeking some sort of recompense on principle. Mr. Browne reports that he got a call back from a head of department, who having been satisfied I was the original photographer, made amends and offered me payment at their standard rate and apologized. She also indicated to him that they are in the process of bringing processes up to date to avoid issues like this in the future, including external trainers coming in to brief the staff. All in all he was very impressed with the speed and caliber of response: he rang and left a message at just past 8am and had resolution before 12 noon.

For my part, I amended the post today to give him his credit and a link back to the source, as he had requested.


A Supporter said...

Good Morning Lib, On the issue of Rights to Privacy and Copyright, have you read the Privacy Statement of Wordpress.com? If you haven't already read it and have the time to, could you please express your thoughts on this subject, particularly the issue of non-identifying information and identifying information. I think you may have some notion of why I am asking.

Dennis Jones said...

A Supporter,

I have read the WordPress.com privacy statement. It seems clear regarding the commitment of the blog host (WordPress and Automattic). It is not so clear if those same obligations flow down to the blogger and anyone else with whom information could be shared. If there is an adminstrative body that deals with the blog then the boundary for sharing is expanded. However, I would argue that if private information is being shared that should be made explicit on the blog.

Bajan said...

About three months ago I looked at google's images of Dennis Jones. The first one listed there was a Dennis Jones @ Facebook. It was not a very clear picture. What I could make was a black balded man wearing glasses, and a tan coloured polo shirt hugging a child. A recent check does not show it any longer.


Dennis Jones said...


Google images (like many digital sources) are not a static sources, and pictures can come and go depending on access rights given to the images, or the removal of the images as time goes on. However, the best way to determine who someone is is to know them.

Like 'handles' and blog names, which can change frequently, though a person does not.

Bajan said...

What prompted you to write this article? Did someone "publish" a photo of themselves,and at the sametime intended for it to be private? Does the first two sentences your article apply to such a person?


Dennis Jones said...

'Bajan', the issue has always been there since I have been using the Internet as a provider of content. In fact, it was more of an issue when I hosted a website. However, bloggers have responsibilities that are there whether or not they acknowledge them. Some feel that by not addressing the issues they will disappear. Also, my use of both WordPress and Blogger altered me to some important differences in how each sees similar issues.

Life is no tea party. We are no longer there sitting waiting for someone to guide us. "Massa choose it" may suit some but for me it is is a worn out concept!

Bajan said...

I thought I understood the general direction of your article, but I must admit that your responses so far hasn't shed further light, and may have now brought doubt to bare on what I thought I understood. What I thought I understood your article to be addressing is, invasion of ones privacy of which possible examples are photos of persons via Google. You also said these images are available to that medium via access rights, and I assume you meant from the original source. Therefore, this is publishing is it not? Is it Google that engages in privacy invasions? does the first two sentences of your article apply to Google?


Dennis Jones said...

'Bajan', if you understood the general direction of the article, then there is not much more enlightenment to have. More discussion does not mean more enlightenment: there are diminishing returns, especially if all or most is said at the outset.

On the matter of privacy, though, the notion of privacy is not that complicated but its application is, and has become more so with the Internet. The best thing is to look at the laws that cover privacy where you are, knowing that other countries have different laws and if you cross borders, at least two sets may apply. One of the tenets in the US, for instance is 'reasonableness' and whether what is done can be seen as intrusive.

But, hypothesising (like more discussion) is not so useful with Internet instances, given of their relative novelty. Cases that test existing laws will determine application.

Peppermint Patty said...

Reading recent posts on the other Bajan blogs like BFP and BU you can see that they have a poor understanding of the issues, but huff and puff about things. A lot of back patting goes on there too, so if enough people say 'jump' they all say 'how high?'. But that's what you get with those who feel a need for interactive blogging or really online chatting. I think you are right to highlight that actual incidents need to happen so that testing of principles can go on.