The Breakdown of the Meltdown

Bill Schmalfeldt, playing the part of the brick wall, had a meltdown here at Running Wolf Blog, and now it is time to dissect it.

Schmalfeldt was in rare form on twitter ranting on and on about how WJJ Hoge was destined for a orange jumpsuit for copyrighting NASA photographs.  It is important to note that Schmalfeldt had been harping for days about the NASA photographs, and how the attribution Hoge gives isn’t proper.  But this was more than his regular harping, this was a Feldtdown.

To illustrate his nuttiness, Running Wolf Blog posted a simple little post that show’d just how nutty his opinion was.  And from there, it went into overdrive.  Schmalfeldt was vindicated by the LAW, even though no one ever questioned the law.  He was vindicated by NASA, even though there is plenty of reason to doubt he ever called.  He was vindicated by THE PHOTO EDITOR OF NASA, but since he admitted to lying to her I’m not sure how important that is.  Or any of his other lies that accidentally escaped during his rants.

The simple facts are these.  It is illegal to copyright NASA photos as your own work.  No one, at no time in the comment discussion disagreed with that simple fact.  Schmalfeldt quoted law after law after agonizingly pointless law that backed up the very idea everyone in the comment thread already agreed with.  You can not copyright NASA photos as your own.  Period.  Stop.  The end.

But despite his claims to the contrary, Bill seems to have serious reading comprehension problems.  Either that, or he is smart enough to know his limitations and therefore purposefully ignores people who ask inconvenient questions.  Evidence suggests that it is the second, since Schmalfeldt only ignores specific questions that he can’t quickly refute.  Or at least he thinks he can refute.  That thinking got him into a bit of trouble in the thread.

First off, I used a book from DK Publishing that is a common core approved textbook about space.  It uses hundreds if not thousands of NASA images and the book is copyrighted.  The question was simple, how come DK Publishing gets to do this, but Hoge doesn’t?  The answer is the same for both, they both credit the photos to NASA and neither DK Publishing nor Hoge exerts copyright claims for the work.  Publishers do it all the time.  Newspapers do it every day.  When a PAO at the Army or NASA or anywhere in the government releases a photograph to the public, they aren’t expecting that they will get anything more than credit.

But Schmalfeldt insists that everyone else who has ever published a copyrighted work that contains NASA images has a “special arrangement” with NASA.  And they do.  That Special Arrangement is this.

NASA still images; audio files; video; and computer files used in the rendition of 3-dimensional models, such as texture maps and polygon data in any format, generally are not copyrighted. You may use NASA imagery, video, audio, and data files used for the rendition of 3-dimensional models for educational or informational purposes, including photo collections, textbooks, public exhibits, computer graphical simulations and Internet Web pages. This general permission extends to personal Web pages.

A quote on images from NASA’s website

It doesn’t get more black and white than that.  Notice that almost all of the examples cited are copyrighted things.  Textbooks and Newspapers really stand out.  That’s the “special arrangement” NASA has with the entire world.  It isn’t limited to U.S. Citizens, NASA’s charter orders them to benefit all mankind.

So, if NASA is giving permission to use their imagery, which themselves aren’t copyrighted, to textbooks and newspapers which are copyrighted, how do these copyright holders keep from infringing on the NASA photos?  There must be some standard, common method to keep Newspapers from being felonious bastards, shouldn’t there?  And there is, it’s called attribution.

This isn’t hard to grasp, and most people have never had any trouble understanding it.  Why do you think that movies list all the music they used at the end of the movie?  Because they are acknowledging they used someone else’s intellectual property and did so with permission.  The whole point is to show that they are not claiming the copyright to that song, because to do so would be illegally infringing on that song.  Newspapers do it all the time, but tend to do it shorthand.  “Photo Credit:NASA”  Or if it makes sense “Photo Credit:JPL/NASA”  Hoge does it the same way.  He clearly labels that the NASA photographs are not his.

Even the Copyright Office recognizes this is a normal behavior in the world today.  Take a look at Circular 62A from the Copyright Office.

H/T Stephen Sheiko

See that important little phrase up there?  The Registration does not include any independently authored contributions in which all rights have not been transferred to the claimant.  Why not?  Because that’s how the system is supposed to work, whether it is a newspaper, or blog, or textbook.  You don’t steal other peoples things, you attribute them properly and get permission to use them.  But when it comes to NASA, we already have permission.  NASA gave it to the world.

Schmalfeldt ignored all of this simple to find information, because it didn’t make Hoge a felonious blogger.  But despite what some critics will say, Bill didn’t ignore every question thrown at him.  Instead, he did the same thing he always does.  Ignore the comments that hurt his case, scream louder about the comments that really hurt his case, and belittle the comments that he thinks he can just toss away and quickly prove wrong.  Often with hilarious circumstance.

For instance, during the feldtdown, Schmalfeldt was asked to explain the special relationship between a book by a couple of Moon Hoax Conspiracy Theory and NASA.  The book in questions was Dark Moon and it claimed to tell the story of how the moon landing was hoaxed.  Schmalfeldt took a look and immediately saw something he could use to make the poster look bad.  The version of Dark Moon linked to was the UK versions.  So Schmalfeldt felt safe ridiculing it.

None. The book was printed in England and therefore not subject to US Copyright Laws.

– Bill Schmalfeldt in an approved comment on this site.

Here is the surprising thing, Bill Schmalfeldt has spent weeks crowing about being so much smarter on matters of copyright than the rest of the world, in all his intensive copyright study, failed to ever hear of the Berne Convention?  A book printed in England absolutely has to follow US Copyright Laws, because both the United States and the UK belong to the Berne Convention.  And that’s because, a member countries, the UK and the US have such strongly similar copyright laws, and being a citizen of a member country is enough to enforce your copyright in the country that an infringement occurs.  So NASA could walk into a UK courtroom and sue the pants off the suckers who stole their stuff.

All that is moot, since the exact same book was available from an American publisher as well.  That was ignored, and was probably the better option after that gaff.

 

 

 

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6 thoughts on “The Breakdown of the Meltdown

  1. Bill would further have everyone believe that since Form G/DN has no place to exclude material owned by others, the claimant is therefore attempting to register copyright on EVERY SINGLE THING contained in the works listed on the form.

    Were that the case, newspapers across the fruited plain would regularly be claiming copyright in innumerable wire service photos and stories to which they had no such copyright, since Form G/DN is also the form for registering newspapers.

    • Just so. It’s a silly position to hold, but in Schmalfeldt’s mind, Hoge is felonious. So he latches onto whatever he can to prove it.

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