Spitfires, Hurricanes and Copyright Theft

Air Transport Auxiliary pilot WW2

Mary Guthrie with a Spitfire MkV

I received a phone yesterday from a lady.

She said, “Hallo, you don’t know me but I found you on the internet. I’ve been looking at your Flickr site and see that you know something about Mary Guthrie. Is she still alive? I am trying to write a book about the Air Transport Auxiliary from the Second World War, and think she’s still alive. I’ve found your photos. How can I find her, please?”

“Yes. I think you’re right, but you’ll need to talk to my mother, Myra, ” I replied.

ATA pilot in the cockpit of a Hawker Hurricane Mk 11C

Mary Guthrie, Air Transport Auxiliary pilot, WW2

Talking to my mother is tough stuff. She was in the Royal Canadian Air Force in the Second World War, and still thinks that we’re fighting Hitler. The lady who rang me has been commissioned to write a book about the Air Transport Auxiliary of WW2. This was the cadre of pilots, a third of whom were women, who flew aircraft from the factories to frontline squadrons. Mary Guthrie was one of them. Myra met Mary when they were both air hostesses working for Skyways immediately after the war.

The lady author and I discussed things. Yes, she could definitely use my photos of Guthrie with a Spitfire and with a Hurricane. Yes, they were free of copyright. Well, yes, I suppose I do own the copyright, but I am happy for anyone to use the photos providing the user does not then go on to claim copyright.

This illegal assertion of  copyright has happened to me fairly recently.

If someone uses a photo of mine in a book, and then claims copyright over all the contents of that book including my photo, I take a very dim view of things, as do my professional advisers.

Copyright is in a complete mess. File sharing is almost completely out of control. Megaupload is now out of business, but Piratebay sails on. I raid stuff from YouTube to show students what makes great advertising. Recording artists have given up hoping that their compositions will make them any money unless they go on a world tour.

Some years ago at Leo Burnett, I worked on the repositioning of a health brand, Lucozade, in the UK. After several attempts, we got it right, using Daley Thompson, and the brand took off. The creative team comprised Bob Stanners and Norman Icke.

A Leo Burnett idea

Daley Thompson repositions Lucozade for Leo Burnett

I then subsequently discovered that everyone in UK marketing thought that Ogilvy and Mather, as it was then, was responsible for the repositioning from sickness to health. The brand had become a huge sports brand.

Leo Burnett was actually the agency in London, but the jolly folk in Burnett, Chicago, took on P&G, so we had to resign Beecham’s Lucozade. The brand moved to Ogilvy, and so did the Burnett account director. Later, I discovered that Watford College was teaching that the turn-around in Lucozade’s fortunes was initially due to Ogilvy’s brilliance. This was nonsense.

People in advertising and in any other creative business make their living by having ideas which generate income. The Beatles were, and remain, a perfect example of people with great creative ideas. If you let someone steal your ideas, you must take action lest they take your reputation and your livelihood, too.

Finally, I wonder what now will happen about idea theft. Governments seem incapable to tackle the issue apart from the US Government, which seems to want to control everything in cyberspace. Copyright there now extends to defending US Government and Security websites. Since when was a government website a creative idea?

So, here are five rules to keep you out of the talons of the Feds:

  1. If you download text, photos, videos and anything which might earn you money but is based on someone else’s intellectual property which you have lifted from the web, ask permission first. This could save you an awful lot of grief later on.
  2. Don’t hack into US Government websites. They really do not have a sense of humour, as Gary Mckinnon is finding out.
  3. Make sure that you set out the rules clearly on your website concerning what is and what is not copyright.
  4. Keep well away from filesharing sites.
  5. Read Heather Brookes’ book, The Revolution Will Be Digitised.

Other than that, sleep well.

My Flickr site address is http://www.flickr.com/photos/7691137@N06/