Category: Chocolate teapots

Organisations and people that pretend to be effective, but aren’t

Why Ryanair will not implement – or will withdraw – its toilet charge: because it will cut profits

It is annoying to see the annoying company Ryanair – whose motto I imagine to be “if they’re stupid enough to fly with us, they’re on a mental level with sheep and should be treated as such” – given occasional credibility over ludicrous ideas without anyone asking the straightforward question.

Such as: would implementing that idea actually cost Ryanarse money, or profits?

When Michael O’Leary makes a stupid pronouncement, the media seems happy to repeat it. None seems happy to examine it and throw it back at O’Leary to ask whether he has lost his mind and is trying to annoy his shareholders as well.

For instance: charging people to use the toilet. (That’s a Google search link: the top link at the moment is to an April 2010 story saying that Ryanair is going ahead with it… and the third link is from February 2009, with “pilots aghast at proposal to bring in £1 charge”, which shows you how long this story has been bing-bonging around the mediasphere.

Let’s examine this the way it should be examined: from a business standpoint. If Ryanarse starts charging for access to the toilet, I think it will lose money. Here’s why.

1) emptying the toilet reservoirs (known, charmingly, as the “honey tanks”) is a fixed cost. It’s done at the end of every flight. And the toilets are on aircraft are never in a wonderful state.

If Ryanarse starts charging for the toilet, fewer people will use it. Obviously. It may also have to do more cleanups from parents of young children who run out of money. It’ll also have to get staff to watch over the toilet to make sure people don’t hold doors open for each other – which will be unpopular with the aircrew, since nobody like to be toilet cop.

So it will get a bit of money from people paying to use the toilet, though there will be fewer visits – meaning that the fixed cost, cleaning the toilet reservoir, will only be slightly offset by the takings. And aircrew will have two new grievances: cleanup and toilet cop rota.

But while Ryanarse makes some money from selling toilet access, it will lose money from sales of coffee, tea and other liquids. This is stupid, because it already has the highest prices for coffee and tea and food according to a 2008 survey by Which? Holiday:

The Irish airline charges £2.50 for a bottle of water and £2.50 for a cup of coffee while a small bottle of red wine costs £5.00.

Why will it lose there? Because people will think “Hmm, if I drink this coffee I’ll have to pay for letting it out too.” So the passengers won’t buy the coffee or use the toilet. Ryanarse is suddenly losing money: the profit it used to make on coffee/tea sales. And that is pure profit: apart from heating the water, pretty much everything that it buys for coffee/tea – instant coffee, teabags – can be reused on another flight if it isn’t used. Whereas the toilet reservoirs have to be emptied every time; it is actually more efficient to encourage their use – that way, you get your money’s worth for the cleaning services.

Michael O’Leary – who I think is despicable; if you want to think of the future driven by his credo, imagine Adam Smith’s invisible hand slapping the human face forever – ought to be able to see that charging for access to the toilet is a stupid move, economically. It would actually make better business sense to announce that the “toilet charge” will be rescinded – and raise the price on coffee and tea. In fact, expect it.

And if O’Leary is too stupid to see it, then perhaps his shareholders could show him this blogpost.

And finally, to the business press: next time O’Leary puts forward a stupid idea like this, ask whether it can make business sense. Think about fixed costs and operating costs. And quiz him. When he can see he’s going to lose, he caves in. I think if this is implemented, it will be a money-loser. But you’d need to ask the hard questions – how many drinks are sold per flight before, how many after, what’s the take – to know whether, when Ryanarse announces it’s not implementing (or is withdrawing) these charges, precisely why it’s doing it.

My suggestion: it won’t be because of an outbreak of warmth in O’Leary’s heart, which I imagine as a coal-black thing that would make Lord Voldemort shudder.

Just run that past me again, Professor Negroponte, about the talking doorknobs

From The Independent, November 13 1999:

See, I love it when you can come back to things after ten years. Count the things that have come true.

Technology Editor

Doorknobs that talk, computers that you swallow and phones that don’t ring if there’s nobody to answer them will all be reality within 10 years, according to Professor Nicholas Negroponte, director of the world-famous MIT Media Laboratory, and one of the best-known of Internet gurus.
Addressing the theme of how computing will pervade our lives, Professor Negroponte said: “You may wonder about how computing could possibly affect something like a doorknob. But if you think about it, an intelligent doorknob would be a really useful thing.
“You would not need keys: it could identify you by your fingerprints, and perhaps confirm your identity by asking a question – ‘What’s your mother’s maiden name?’ for example. Why would you need keys anymore?”
The smart doorknob could also accept parcel deliveries – and perhaps sign digitally for them; “and maybe it could let the dog out, and then let it back in while keeping out the other nine dogs following it.”
The technology required to do that is already sufficiently miniaturised, he said: such “embedded” systems could surround us. “We will have thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of embedded chips around us, all intercommunicating,” he predicted to an audience in London.
Professor Negroponte, author of the book “Being Digital”, espouses the view that anything which can be expressed as computer “bits” – such as words, images, video, designs, music – will eventually be transmitted in that form across the world, speeding up transactions and cutting costs. Human activity consists either of manipulating “atoms” – irreducibly physical objects – or “bits”, which contain ideas or symbols. His forecasts have been largely confirmed, especially by the move of music to new digital formats such as MP3 and the rise of electronic commerce.
As computers shrink and become pervasive over the next decade, the sort of information they can access will grow, he forecast. “I you want a really futuristic product for 10 years hence – you’ll have computers that you eat, one per day. It will contain devices and sensors which will record all your anatomical measurements, what’s going on inside you, and relay them to a black box that you wear on your belt. If it passes through you, no problem – swallow another.”
The value of such systems is evident if you consider the problems presently faced by doctors, he said: “Today, you go and say something is wrong, and you tell the doctor a story about how you felt perhaps 12 hours ago, which you can only imprecisely recall. From that, a doctor is meant to make a careful diagnosis and recommend a solution. This may be unfortunate timing after the Egypt Air crash, but I have wondered for a long time: why don’t we have black boxes? Then we could take them to the doctor, and they could read them to see what was wrong with us.”
Professor Negroponte also foresees telephone handsets becoming smarter. “Why do phones ring?” he wondered. “If there’s nobody there, no one will answer. Phones should be built smart enough to know if there’s nobody there. And if there is someone there, they should be able to answer them, like a good butler, and find out who is calling and why, and only then decide whether to get our attention.”
But there are still some giant steps to be made for the average user of computers, he admitted. “Who would have believed, ten years ago, that big segments of the population would spend between £1,000 and £2,000 on their own computers – and that those machines would reduce people to tears once or twice a week?”

Cat and mouse with a hacker

Clifford Stoll once noticed a hacker breaking into a system he was working on because of a fractional difference in the totals for the timesharing accounts – something like 0.13cents, if memory serves.

Well, there’s a hacker attacking the Free Our Data site (not, apparently, blog), but we’re not on timesharing yet. Detecting what they’ve done is a lot easier: they stuff loads of pharma spam into the bottom of the front page (not, to repeat, the blog front page, nor any of the links).

The spam, which comes after the closing /html bracket, hides itself using “font style=’position: absolute;overflow: hidden;height: 0;width: 0” and then points to a slew of links at (I’ve nofollowed the link so search engines won’t go there.) However, if you try to access that directory, it’s blank. (Blank via curl too, so there isn’t anything at all.)

But if you try to access one of the links, especially via curl, you find a page that includes the text “Home Page of Eduardo Dueñez” with a load of guff generated by CMS Made Simple version 1.3.1. Hello, CMS Made Simple! Your stuff is used by spammers and scammers! Do you feel happier now?

(The real Eduado Dueñez lives here, by the way – he’s an assistant maths professor at UTSA. Might email him, actually.)

However, closer examination shows that it loads a Javascript (at that then redirects you to its pharma if you are not a search engine.

I’ve found this spam in there and killed it a couple of times, and it’s come back. That’s worrying of course – it suggests that this is drive-by, automated hacking that is done when the links are found to have been removed from Free Our Data, or against some schedule.

So I still have some way to go in discovering what’s going on. There seem to be plenty of other sites out there which have also been hit – so it must be an automated drive-by, at a guess.

But what? There’s a faint possibility that it’s a PHP hack – my own site (here) is unaffected, and uses a bit less.

Imagine the regulation stink if British banks hadn’t been allowed to deal in toxic loans

So, the Bush neo-conservative government is buying all those toxic loans with more than $100bn of the American peoples’ money. Near enough. Actually, the numbers don’t matter. It’s the principle of the thing: the banks screw it up, and the government bails them out completely, giving them a get-out-of-jail free card, swapping their rubbish assets – which in many cases they can’t actually put a concrete value on – for real money.

Amazing. The nationalisation of banking risk, no matter how you try to spin it.

What I’d really like to see is some analysis of quite how much economic growth was enabled by all those toxic loans. I mean, that’s the thing, isn’t it? These were about making money, and spinning up some very dubious debt into what were effectively bonds. Everyone’s paying for it now, in terms of the housing market falls (and consequent retail falloff, and thus-consequent economic falloff).

The real question is, what would economic growth have looked like if we hadn’t had those loans? A lot slower? A little slower? Someone needs to do the reckoning on this, I think.

As for the people wondering how Britain got into this position: I think it’s pretty easy to imagine. US investment banks start generating these amazing financial instruments which seem to generate money out of the air. In Britain, investment banks see them and are envious as hell: they want to have some.

Imagine now that the Financial Services Authority had told those banks that no, they couldn’t have or buy or deal in those instruments. (We’re talking about CDOs and CDSs here.)

And imagine the howl and stink that the banks would have put up about being denied that. You’re regulating us too much! they would have cried. You’re stifling our business! Look, in the US they can offer lower interest rates because these things, which we’re assured are copper-bottomed, generate the sort of returns that mean we can offer cheaper mortgages. Are you sure, Mr (or Ms) MP, that you want us to tell your constituents – via the newspapers – that we can’t offer them cheaper mortgages because you’re regulating us too much. Imagine it.

Faced with that, and the prospect of cheaper loans, which of course will lead to more house purchases, which will lead to a growing economy, which will lead to more tax receipts and less unemployment… would you, as a government minister listening to these bankers who have been lobbying the FSA, turn them down?

You can see how it all unfurled. Everyone honestly believed it would be all right. Or at least, that by the time the music stopped they’d have made their pile and got off.

Silly season? Yes, I may have heard of it

You may have heard that, now Parliament has risen, that it is what newspapers refer to as the “silly season”, meaning that any old bollocks will find space awaiting it in the paper. Or so some people hope, it would seem.

But can it be so? Let’s look at some email titles culled from my inbox at work:

  • “Rage Against the Machine – PC rage overtakes road rage”
  • “Text Message Injuries (TMI) – The Solution – Interview Opportunity”
  • “Wireless broadband to exceed two billion customers by 2015, says Analysys Mason” (OK, not particularly silly, but completely fits the standard analyst prediction: far enough away that nobody will call them on it, large enough that people say “Oooh, 2 billion!”)
  • “Northeast Blackout Anniversary Pending – Experts Available for Comment” (an anniversary of a blackout? Now that’s desperation)
  • “Bebo tries to beam messages to Earth-like planet” (transparently pointless. Sigh.)

Update: ooh, another one: “Research published today shows that men are becoming more domesticated than technical and find it more difficult to set up a PC than follow a recipe or assemble flat packed furniture.” I so completely believe you. (Except when was there ever a time when setting up a PC was more complicated than today? It’s a complete pain – home networking, user vs admin accounts, secure passwords, and all the rest.)

And that’s before we get onto “makeup for men” ( every paper, courtesy of some PR agency for some cosmetics firm which is trying, as it does about every, oh, December and July, to persuade us that guys will wear slap). Uh-uh. Ain’t gonna happen (reason being: women wear makeup to look young, which is an evolutionarily determined attractant; for men to look young isn’t attractive in evolutionary terms). Sorry, but the cosmetics industry is not going to double its turnover overnight. Or at all.

So, got a favourite silly season story so far? C’mon, share. At least I didn’t name the PR firms involved here..

The Lotus Notes hating just goes on… and on: it’s the Marmite of the IT world

I’ve written before (here and of course in the Gdn Tech section) about the amazing outpouring of hate that comes from users whenever you mention Lotus Notes. And here it is again..

We’ve been pretty much told that when the Guardian moves to King’s Place, as it will from September or so, that we’ll be moving to a more collaborative system.

We were definitely told that there won’t be limits on email (presently, officially, 50MB – beyond which you are told by the system that you cannot send email.)

This would be good, because Notes’s web interface has a brilliant trick for those of the Max Mosley persuasion: you write an email – composing it carefully, putting links and careful arguments in – and click Send.

It throws back a screen saying “You have exceeded your storage allowance. Your email was NOT sent. Please delete some messages from your inbox so you can send mail.”

Now, apart from the fact that it’s stupid that you can’t send mail when it’s your inbox that’s full, there’s another wrinkle: if you go off and empty out some emails (a pretty dire thought in these days, though often I’ll find that the offending item that’s pushed me over the limit is a 3MB attachment of some company’s new laptop bag that they could have perfectly easily hosted on their website), and then hit the “back” button on the webmail to recover that long involved message… it’s disappeared.


So anyway, we’re all hoping very much that Notes will not be in evidence at King’s Place.

But there’s always that nagging feeling it might. But I still haven’t come across such a hated end-user product. Here’s the Twitter search such as “Benefits of leaving TW: no frickin Notes!”

And I’ve just come across a new (to me) site: I Hate Lotus Notes which, um, does pretty much what it says on the tin.

What’s always interesting though is that pro-Notes people who will leap into these pits of hating and try, vainly, to tell people that the fact they’re hating Notes is because (1) they haven’t had enough training (2) it’s not an email program, it’s an application development platform (3) they’re using an old version – the latest version, v. [What you’re using +2] solves all those problems (4) it’s better than Outlook, anyway (5) all of the above.

I think it’s still telling that Notes 6.5.5, which dates from December 2005, still doesn’t support the scroll wheel on the mouse on OSX – which has done so from its start, a mere four and a half years earlier.

But you have to admire the determination of the pro-Notes brigade. They’re like people defending the right to smoke in crowded spaces: everyone else is wrong, it’s just them who can see the right way to run the world.

(Later: I’ve added the “Marmite of the IT world” to the title, since I realised – when I wrote the comment below – that that’s what it is: you love it or hate it. No in-between. No “It’s OK, you know..”

And John Naughton adds his insight:

To me, the product seems so dated and kludgy: it’s the epitome of 1980s, DOS-inspired software. And yet the True Believers are deeply attached to it in the way that Jehovah’s Witnesses are to the Watchtower. They are unfailingly courteous and willing as they patiently explain that Notes can be made to do virtually anything you want; but when one explains that a teaspoon can also be used to dig one’s garden they look blank: they don’t get it.

There, that’s a nice circular bit of referral for Google to chew over..)

If newspapers were written by astrologers and psychics…

One of the enduring tales about “what readers want” in newspapers is that they want the astrology columns – take them out and people will either complain, or silently switch to another paper – and that they do respond to the “psychic help line” adverts (otherwise, why are there so many of them in papers?).

Building on the excellent work of the Churner Prize in running to ground precisely what the self-proclaimed psychic Patrick Hutchinson actually did in helping secure the conviction of an alleged paedophile (it turns out that Hutchinson, by his account… well, here’s what he told Churner Prize:

Suffice to say, when I gave the girl in question the reading at the demonstration it was directly to her, personally, giving the name of her grandmother and details of the abusive situation etc. There is, obviously, no way my conversation with the grandmother in spirit can be used as evidence because, even if everyone believed in the Spirit World, it would still be in the third person which is inadmissible in court. Having said that, the demonstration was referred to all though the trial as being the reason why the girl had been forced to tell her mum and in turn decided to report it and also why the other girls had felt able to speak up and come forward as well. Therefore, in the trial it was pointed out that if I hadn’t given her the message from her grandmother and in front of her mum then it would never have come to trial..

So, translated to what someone who doesn’t call themself a psychic might describe it as, he said something equivalent to “You know, you really have to tell these police about it.”

Yes, well. The Churner Prize (it’s about churnalism – geddit?) points to the papers that lapped up the tale of “psychic reading convicts paedophile” (is Mr Hutchinson in a hurry to correct their errors of fact?).

But I wonder: if this is so popular with readers, why not write the papers that way? And so here we go…

By R. Psychic
A senior politician whose name begins with M, or possibly G, or knows someone like that, will face serious problem arising from abuse – perhaps of their expenses?
By Ann Astrologer
You may feel that this MP’s bad behaviour has affected you seriously. But a chance encounter at work, or before or after it, will show that you were right all along.
by Gimeda Munny
Economics figures that will come out tomorrow show that your grandfather, who is watching this over your shoulder – look, just there – see? – was right when he warned that it’s all going.. it’s fading.. no, he says it’s bad, and Doris wants her tea. Was his wife not called Doris? Ah, perhaps it’s someone he took up with on the spirit side..
By Gimeall Yumuny
Your great-grandmother on your father’s side says you’re better off than ever she saw, the likes of it – does her name begin with a P? – they didn’t have the internet. No, I don’t know how she knows that it’s called the internet, given that she died in 1921. If you’d like to call my consultancy number on 0901 0901 0901 then I can explain fully, though.
A celebrity who is a Pisces [find a pretty one for cutout pic – Ed.] will suffer a shock in her [make that a female one – Ed.] life, and money troubles will add to the problems – a baby may be involved. [Just make sure it’s someone like Britney Spears and not somenoe who might sue – Ed.]

I don’t know why nobody’s thought of it before. Is it because psychics and astronomers astrologers (oops, ta, G) actually cost more than journalists? And if it is, why is that?

I agree with Jeff Jarvis: let bloggers link to AP, and let AP link to journalism

Something of a disturbance in the force, with AP (Associated Press) putting out DMCA takedown notices against the Drudge Retort (that’s Retort, not Report) and Rogers Cadenhead.

Jarvis makes the point very well that what’s needed is an understanding of how bloggers want to work, and how news organisations need to work.

The trouble with the AP, as Jarvis points out, is that it takes original journalism – and then cuts it loose from the original, local source and reuses it, without any acknowledgement. This, as Jarvis points out, denigrates the hardworking local journalists who come up with the stories in the first place. Sure, all the local papers in the US contribute to and draw from the AP; but they need to understand where their mutual interests lie. These days, it’s in letting people know where the story came from. (Hell, it might have been written by someone like Meranda.)

Note though that Jarvis says

Bloggers should not quote excessively from others’ content and when they quote it should be for a reason — to agree, disagree, comment on, recommend, correct (there can be many reasons). This is fair use and fair comment. There can be no word-count limit because it depends on the use. If I want to fisk a story, I may well quote the whole thing because I am commenting on it all. The test is reasonableness: a fuzzy test, but life is fuzzy.

(Sally Whittle describes it as a one-man fight on copyright theft. Hey, you mean one-person..)

Jarvis adds:

he AP, for its part, should recognize that they and their members now live in a new media ecology constructed of links, one they do not and cannot control any longer. To be good citizens in this new economy, the AP should respect the rights of readers who write and recognize the benefits of receiving links and credit, as the bloggers give it. They should further extend this ethic to their own work. And if there is conflict or questions, their reflex should not be to send their lawyers to write letters. Remember that you are dealing with individuals, not corporations. This was a hostile act and that is why it was met in return with hostility, deservedly so.

Yup, I think we’re all very aware (at least we are at the Gdn) that this is a world of links now. As I keep pointing out to people, we’re happy for the links. We give them back when we print the letters, and we do reprint the letters and blog pingbacks on the Technology blog every week, which means people get the linkjuice from us, just for linking to us. That’s got to be good. Except when they take the whole damn thing. That’s not right. As Sally says,

I don’t agree that the Internet has somehow magically made copyright theft legal. It’s just made it easier.

Dear Coldplay, if you act like twunts people will dislike you (more than they do)

On Thursday night I heard Coldplay being interviewed on Radio 4’s arts programme Front Row. (I was making the school lunches.) The interview was conducted by John Wilson, one of the three presenters, and the two Coldplayers present – “frontman Chris Martin” (as we must know him) and drummer Will Champion.

They got the drummer along to do an interview about the music. Says it all really.

But the thing was that they acted like complete and utter twunts. From start to finish. Champion sounded like a sixth-former who thinks he’s funny. Martin made Andy Murray, the tennis player being lampooned on ITV’s Headcases as the misery phone line (“I saw a cat being run over.. it was horrible” delivered in a gloomy Scots voice), sound like a shaft of bright, helpful sunlight.

Let’s remember: this is an interview to publicise their new album, the one which has been called “the most important of the year”. By Guy Hands of EMI. Not by anyone else. Because listening to the single, it sounds like more of the boring same that they slipped into with their third album.

Now, Wilson may not be the most penetrating interviewer, but he can get people to talk when they’re prepared to talk. Compare and contrast his interview with Kate Bush, who was prepared to talk about things, even through Wilson’s puppyish enthusiasms, and engage.

Instead, it seems that Martin walked out of the interview after nine minutes.

Why? Because Wilson had the temerity to ask him some questions.

When asked about a speech he made at a music awards ceremony in 2005 where he said the band would be away “for a very long time”, Martin said: “I always say stupid things and I think Radio 4 is the place that will most remind me of that.”

Seems a reasonable enough question. But no, what does Martin want?

Presenter Wilson questioned whether the new album – full title, Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends – was a morbid reflection of the band’s lyrical obsession with death.

“I wouldn’t agree with you there at all, no,” said Martin.

“I’d say you’re journalistically twisting me into saying something I don’t really mean.”

No he’s not, you self-important git. He’s asking you a question about something you said very publicly. You’re free to disagree. It’s called conversation.

A few minutes later, Martin said he was “not really enjoying this” and that he did not really like “having to talk about things”.

That’s kind of a problem if you’re publicising your album. So tempting to ask “Well, by this stage – the fourth album – Radiohead was making OK Computer Kid A (thanks Paul Waite), Led Zeppelin made Led Zeppelin IV, Muse made Black Holes and Revelations, all pretty strong albums. (Well, you could quibble about the Muse one. Actually, point out that the Muse one is weaker than the two that preceded it.) Do you think this measures up?” (OK, that might be a touch provocative. Feel free to add stonking fourth albums in the comments!)

Or even “Did you go about the writing process in a different way? Were you trying to write a different kind of music? [Because you completely failed – CA]” But no, Wilson didn’t get the chance.

Hearing this, though, one has to think: there’s no chance I’d ever buy another Coldplay anything. I bought their first album (after sampling it on the original Napster – ah, memories) and thought Rush Of Blood to the Head was great. The next one, though, complete aural stodge. And I’m sure this one is too. But after hearing their unperformance when they should be trying to inform, if not please, their (potential) listeners, I’m certain: even if they were giving £5 notes away with every track, I wouldn’t have it in the house. Sod off and FAIL. Maybe it’ll teach you humility.

You’ll notice the interview isn’t in the Editor’s Pick at the Front Row page. Colour me unsurprised.

At the Guardian, Elizabeth Mahoney weighs in:

First, how much I’d like to see Martin – if a weird mingling of existential realms were possible – in Surallun’s boardroom, telling him instead of Front Row presenter John Wilson, that he really doesn’t like “having to talk about things”. Second, how none of us is ever going to love a fragile celebrity buckling under the pressure of nothing more than a pre-recorded interview, especially one as mild as the Front Row encounter. Third, how much I’ve always winced, listening to Martin in interviews, thanks to his lame attempts at kooky humour, and that it was a relief in some ways that he’d walked out. And fourth, more positively, what a fine show Front Row is.

And on John Wilson… Ian Shuttleworth comments on that blog post:

Back in the days of Kaleidoscope, John Wilson once mistook me for Athol Fugard. More precisely, he called Fugard “Ian” and spoke to him about my segment, and since we were the only two guests in the studio, then by implication surely I *must* have been the legendary South African playwright… I cherish that moment.

Other comments? “Phew – Coldplay are rock and roll after all,” says Mark Mulligan of Jupiter (ironically, methinks).

Oh, and do feel free to tell me about great fourth albums of our time. (Update: durr – how remiss of me to forget Queens Of The Stone Age, whose amazing Era Vulgaris is still them but expands what they do in all sorts of sonic, tonis and rhythmic areas. Josh Homme = genius in my book: listen to any of the songs and then imagine yourself sitting down with a blank sheet and coming up with any of those riffs (particularly I’m Designer). Compare and contrast with Coldplay. End of.)

Update: John Harris reviewing it on Newsnight. He really, really hates it.

The irony. The idiocy. Photographers ripping off Guardian content..

Every week I run a Technorati and Icerocket search against the links of the stories from the Guardian’s Technology supplement to see what people have been saying about our articles. And pretty much every week I find at least one blog where they’ve taken all the content, lock stock and barrel, and simply reposted it on their blog.

This never fails to annoy me, I’m afraid. The point I make is that by doing this they’re contributing to a spiral which goes thusly: people read the content away from the Guardian; people don’t come to the Guardian pages to read it; Guardian reading figures fall; advertisers pay less and less to be on Guardian site; Guardian has less money to pay contributors; less is on site; nothing to rip off from Guardian site. So by nicking our content, these folk are cutting off their own source of stuff. (Sure, they’ll just move on to the next paper, but the idea that they’ve liked the stuff enough to take it from us is an indication that they think we’re worth something, surely.)

When I point out that this is theft and that they could be done for copyright infringement, most react by taking it down fast. Some apologise and say they weren’t aware. (This is I guess excusable; most people don’t get schooled in copyright law for everyday use.)

Some sites keep doing this; generally they’re in the US and use forum software.

But what’s remarkable is when you have a group of people who I’d always thought were very protective of copyright – photographers – who then go and do the same to not only the text but also the picture from a story.

Thus it was with Bruce Schneier’s latest piece, about the imagined threat that people taking photos of buildings poses to our safety. Because we’ve seen dastardly tururists taking photos of their intended target in films and TV, we assume that’s how it works in real life. Not so: it’s there for dramatic effect, so we’ll know what the target is and feel the unease at the people not knowing that they’re a target. When in fact all the terrorist attacks of the last however long haven’t had photographic reconnaissance.

Lots of people linked to this piece (unsurprising: it’s a very good piece, like his previous one about how border guards may take a copy of your hard drive; Schneier has had a galvanic effect on readers). Including photographers. Who in some cases copied the photo from our site and stuck it on theirs – no credit, no nothing. What is with these people? (One was here, another here, another here, another here.)

Update: the last of those four sites, who didn’t take all the copy but did (in the first version) copy the photo, belongs to a professional photographer from Manchester who in his comments is insisting “Good god do you people not know how the internet is changing and raising all kinds of questions about ownership etc. Wake Up”. Obviously, he’ll want you all to use his photos for free without crediting him if this chain of logic is followed through…

One person (not the Manchester photographer) wrote back and said:

Thanks for your note. Stealing is a harsh word when it could just be a misunderstanding first and foremost. (Also, we’re not a site about copyrights, it’s a site about photographers’ rights. There’s a difference.) Every picture we link to we will credit that site. We’re not in the business of stealing images. It’s a simple personal blog, so there’s really no need to get so hostile.

I did use the photo from the Guardian, with a link. There was no photo credit on the Guardian’s site. It looks to us like a still from the movie. Check out the post again. What more would you like?

A photographers’ rights site that doesn’t understand copyright. My irony meter just exploded. What would I like? Well, for you not to have copied the image and stuck it on your site, and left the credit to the very end of the blog post.

I know one thing: I could never work in the music or film industries. I’d simply spontaneously combust at all the expectations of people that because you’ve made something, they can get it absolutely gratis. Some people have the attitude that they’re being forced to acquire the music industry’s output, and that it puts Evil Price Barriers in their way. Uh-uh. Nobody’s forcing you to buy these things. people.

Bonus link: Wendy Grossman’s story from the Technology section from last year: A picture paints a thousand invoices:

Copyright owners are cracking down on the unlicensed use of images. A sample case: Geoff Cox runs Quest Cars, a small cab company in Taunton. In 2001, he hired a small local web developer (since gone bust) who decorated the resulting website with a few small photographs. Then in July, Cox received a letter from the legal firm Baker and Mackenzie saying that one of those photographs used on the website was copyright to the large picture agency Corbis and asking for £1,300 for a one-year licence to use that photograph (to expire a month later) plus administrative fees. The letter quoted copyright law and stated that there would be no negotiations.