Creative Commons Surprise

Back in the early 90’s I wrote a few programs and released them to the nascent Internet via services like CompuServe and Usenet. I was not looking to make money for them. I “copyrighted” them and made them available for free. A few years later, I found some of these programs on a CD-ROM of shareware that someone was selling. They were clearly violating my copyright — right? I could probably have taken them to court but what would my damages be since I was giving the software away for free? They could just claim as some did that they did not charge for the software but for the service of making the CD. Not worth the fight. It still felt like a betrayal.

When I post pictures and video on the Internet, I recognize that it could end up getting stolen. Copyright law is quite a mess so I am a proponent of Creative Commons (CC). The basic idea of CC from my point of view is that I can share my creation and other people can use it so long as they give me credit. There’s nothing in CC that says they have to notify me that they have used my work. Most everything I post to YouTube is under the license “Creative Commons Attribution license (reuse allowed)” or the CC BY license.

All that being said, I was surprised to find –thanks to Google– my name associated with the National Science Foundation on August 24, 2016 in an article called Flood forecasting gets major upgrade by Aaron Dubrow.

There’s my picture at the head of the article. Below the image is a link for attribution information.

There’s my name — properly attributed. The only problem is that I could not remember where I had posted said picture. I looked in my journal and found the Tweet where I published the picture — in 2010. It had been raining — a lot. I found myself unable to get home as all the roads were flooded. I joked that I now lived on an island. This was not the first time this had happened. We had several 100-year floods that decade.

So the Twitter post led me back to YouTube where I had posted a video under CC. The article author in 2016 had found my video, grabbed a single frame, and used it in his article. Remember — this is the purpose of Creative Commons. Actually the purpose was to allow derivative works. A single frame is arguably derivative. Since the attribution does not reference where it came from, it did not help my YouTube traffic hits. I would a preferred it if the attribution would have linked back to the source video but that is not a requirement of CC.

When I look at my video, I can see that a Russian YouTuber included my video entirely in Russian Video Spam. Either they or YouTube recognized this use and added the attribution. I can only assume that this is some attempt to post spam on YouTube to generate traffic to get advertising money.

Walgreens Unsubscribe Fail

I’m usually fastidious giving my email address to anyone. If I need to give my email address to someone, I will give them an email address that is unique to them. That way if it gets out in the wild I can track it back to the source or block it. This method once exposed a PTA member who was selling parent email addresses to a local business. In the case of Walgreens, I use them for printing pictures. In my user profile I have intentionally turned off all the options for them to send me email. Aside from the receipt for an online purchase, I expect to receive no email from them. Sadly, they do not have the same view of their communication preferences.

Today I got this email from Walgreens. I recently used their photolab so I assumed that I must have forgotten to turn off some communication preference. I scrolled to the bottom of the email and found the unsubscribe link. Its not always safe to click on this link. Spammers will put unsubscribe links in their messages to get you or your email program to activate them so they can verify that the email was delivered. In this case, I verified the email was really from Walgreens and was sent to the email address that I had given them. When I click on the unsubscribe link, all I want is a message saying “you have been unsubscribed”.

That’s not what happened. When I clicked on the link, I got this message saying that I was not subscribed to any mailing lists — which I already knew. So what you have here is a marketing department that is ignoring the specific requests of their customers and sending advertising anyway. It must be easier to not have to check the opt-out settings and just send email to every email address on file.

I double checked my communication settings on their web site and verified that I had everything unchecked. This is not a matter of having to wait a few days for the unsubscribe request. My account has been setup this way for years. I call that a failure.

This problem is not unique to Walgreens. They just happen to be the email of the day. Many vendors pretend to respect customer wishes. Customers are so bombarded with message that they cannot tell the difference between spam, phishing mail, junk mail and legitimate email. This message falls in the category of junk because I have a customer relationship with Walgreens but I don’t want to get any email from them. If a vendor uses a mailing service like Constant Contact or MailChimp, then at least you can complain to them. Those companies are really good an making sure their customers behave. This email was sent from b.e.walgreens.com. Short of complaining to their ISP, there’s not recourse for this complaint. It’s not covered under the CAN-SPAM act because I’m a customer. So there we are. The junk mail continues — just like a real mailbox.