'The Dress' A Year Later: The Meme Has Faded, But The Copyright Will Last Forever

from the oh-come-on dept

Have you heard? Today is the anniversary of “the dress.” You know the one. It was all over the internet exactly a year ago. White and gold or blue and black. It was a phenomenon. And, yes, I know a bunch of you are snidely mocking it as you read this, but shut up. It was a fun way to kill an afternoon a year ago and it made a bunch of people happy, so don’t be “that person.” A year ago, we wrote a short piece about it, noting that you had fair use to thank for it, because the dress was being shared widely, and that was possible due to fair use. And the timing was great, because it was fair use week — as it is again.

One of the points I made in that post was that it was awesome that no one even seemed to bring up the copyright question, because it was so obviously fair use that no one even bothered. Except… in an article about the anniversary, at the Guardian, it mentions that there actually was a copyright dispute about the dress. The woman who took it, Cecilia Bleasdale (who also bought and wore the dress at her daughter’s wedding), apparently got upset that everyone else was getting so much attention from the dress and hired lawyers to go around demanding money for it.

It was and still is difficult for Bleasdale, who is 57, and Jinks, 47, to understand what happened, still less what they should do about it. Obviously, they had created something of immense value ? though they did not know how they had created it, nor how valuable it was. As the photographer, Bleasdale owned the copyright, but at first she was neither consulted nor credited by McNeill or Buzzfeed….


… Eventually, they engaged solicitors to chase up royalty payments, but the money so far collected (including from the Guardian) has not yet paid off the solicitors? fees….


… Legal conversations are continuing with Buzzfeed. Perhaps something good may yet emerge from them.

The article also notes that the company that made the dress, Roman Originals, that sold many, many, many, many more of them than it originally expected, offered her a free dress, but she asked them for more, and they stopped responding.

That was in mid-December — and the story also noted that the original Buzzfeed Tumblr post that made the whole thing so viral had been taken down. But I looked as I was writing this and it’s back up. And then, buried deep, deep, deep in this insane oral history of the dress (and the llamas, and a few other big events from that day), Buzzfeed admits that it bought the copyright off of Bleasdale:

Cecilia Bleasdale, the original copyright owner of the photo of The Dress, had the photo taken down over a copyright issue. Earlier this year, BuzzFeed reached an agreement with Bleasdale to acquire the rights to the photo.

But this is the fallacy of copyright in action. The idea that merely taking the picture “creates value.” Note that line “they had created something of immense value.” But that’s wrong. It wasn’t the act of photographing it that created the value. There was a happy accident in the lighting that really made the optical illusion work, and what created the value was the ability of the internet to make it viral. Taking credit for the viralness because she took the photo completely misses the point. Copyright assumes that it’s solely the act of creation (a quick click of a cellphone camera button in this case) that creates all of the value. But it’s not. It’s the actions of so many other things, including the growth of the internet and sites like Buzzfeed, combined with social media like Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter — and the power of all of you internet users that made the photo valuable. To go back after the fact and argue that there’s a copyright issue here seems not just petty, but a perfect example of the kind of ridiculousness and “ownership” mentality that copyright creates.

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Companies: buzzfeed

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Comments on “'The Dress' A Year Later: The Meme Has Faded, But The Copyright Will Last Forever”

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Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Oh look. Mike thinks photographers don’t create value. Shocker. I guess Mike doesn’t create value. In fact, anyone who creates anything doesn’t create value. TD logic at it’s finest.

Not what I said, but you’re very good at lying about what I said.

Lots of photographers create something of value. Lots of content creators create things of value. But THIS particular photograph was a quick one off with a cameraphone. It was not designed to be a piece of art, but just to show someone what a dress looked like.

Tell me, honestly, do you think copyright was necessary incentive to create this photo?

Anonymous Coward says:

Mourn the Golden Goose

Roman Originals … offered her a free dress, but she asked them for more, and they stopped responding.

… Eventually, they engaged solicitors to chase up royalty payments, but the money so far collected (including from the Guardian) has not yet paid off the solicitors’ fees….

Not satisfied with the fame of the meme, they grasp for more. And like the fairy tale, they did not capitalize upon that fame.

At least in a different fairy tale Hans at least got a laugh out of his goose-related efforts.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Ah schadenfreude...

… Eventually, they engaged solicitors to chase up royalty payments, but the money so far collected (including from the Guardian) has not yet paid off the solicitors’ fees….

The pic goes viral, they see dollar signs, hire lawyers to try to squeeze some money out of anyone they can find and end up worse off thanks to the lawyers charging more money than they’ve managed to attain.

Glad the shop that made the dress made out well from the whole thing, even if the one who owned the pic tried to demand extra from them too beyond the free dress that they offered. Some people just do not handle their 15-minutes of fame well I guess.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Copyright it can do anything...

it makes even little people so delusional that they think they can demand the insane fees they see bandied about in the media.

I did a thing, I deserve millions!

Everyone with deep pockets needs to pay me because I took a cellphone pic of a dress that went around the world. Who cares that people were discussing the fact that people see the dress as different colors, my bank account didn’t get fat. Ignore the company who made the dress, and their totally reasonable offer of a free dress they owe me because I took a photo. Ignore that if no one had reported on my photo, no one would have offered me anything.

Copyright breeds entitlement which leads to even more contempt for it. Perhaps this should be yet another example of why we need to reign copyright in.

Anonymous Coward says:

There would have been no value if people had to pay

^^^^that’s it exactly. -maybe they could have sold it as a textbook image, or an illusion image; but most of the value created was due to the viral popularity and attention. It’s certainly not ‘inherent’ value, and that’s an important distinction, which is not thought out very well in copyright law.

This is a really good article Mike.

Personally- I saw white and gold- then when I read other people saw it and though it was black and blue, when I looked again it seamed like it had changed colors- which was kinda shocking. By suggesting the color or the amount of shading in the room to myself I could see it either way. The fun of the picture, wasn’t really the picture at all, but the psychological, physiological, and even sociological aspects of it’s affect.

DB (profile) says:

Remember the history...

At one point there was a claim that the copyright on movies and audio recordings belong to the inventors of the equipment. On that basis Edison calculated that he should be the richest man in the world, and that the lawless land of California let people steal what was rightfully his.

There is a much stronger claim that the people that wrote the firmware for the camera had far more creative input to the photo than the technician that merely crudely positioned the equipment and pressed a button. That view is especially relevant because the sole interesting aspect of this picture is how the color and contrast creates a convincing illusion.

Peter (profile) says:

>>But this is the fallacy of copyright in action. The idea that merely taking the picture “creates value.”

The fallacy goes further – who does actually create value? Copyright awards seem to rise with the value creation falling:
– the person who created the dress gets nothing
– the person wearing it (and inspiring the photographer) gets nothing
– the photographer may or may not get a small reward
– the journalist writing the story may or may not get a small reward, depending on the wording of their contract
– the publisher Buzzfeed makes tons of money
– every other news publisher makes tons of money (as long as they re-word the Buzzfeed story rather than copying 1:1.

Anonymous Coward says:

inherent vs realized value; tangible vs intangible

While I agree most of the value was not created by the taking of the photograph, I don’t think it’s fair at all to say that it created no value at all- it’s value was in fact a prerequisite to the value later added.

Copyright awards raise with the intangible, realized value, which overshadows prerequisite tangible, inherent value.

Prerequisite, Inherent, Tangible values:
Creating camera & software.
Creating dress.
Modelling dress.
Creating photo.

Intangible, Realized value:
Each person that notices and talks or writes about the original creation then adds intangible, realized value with their attention and the spreading of awareness of the original work. While the work may have inspired the original attention, the attention itself inspires further attention.

…honestly not sure where I’m going with this, but it’s an interesting way to think about it.

Wendy Cockcroft says:

That ownership mentality is the end result of referring to copyright, etc., as “intellectual property.” This is why I’m always harping on about not calling it that because every time you do so, people think, “If it’s property, it’s owned. If I made it I own it, I alone may decide what is done with it.”

The more we work to remind people that constitutionally speaking, it’s a temporary monopoly privilege, the less of this rent-seeking entitlement mentality we’ll see.

naarr says:

Like most (2/3) people I see the dress white and gold on this picture. Why? My brain? Am I color deficient?
No, because on the romanoriginals.co.uk I see it as it is, black and blue.

Conclusion: the picture is overexposed and those who see it blue and black are actually the one who have color deficience (somehow). And now I’m wondering if it wasn’t done on purpose from the beginning.

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