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Archive for November, 2008

Picture Post

Friday, November 28th, 2008

Yesterday’s Technology Guardian led with an interesting article about picture agencies asking exorbitant fees from people whose web sites use their pictures without permission. The article makes it clear that in accusing the large agencies of bullying, it is not defending disregard of copyright. The objection is that the payments demanded are not proportionate to the fees that would be charged if the pictures were properly used, with permission; they are not even proportionate to the fines that might be imposed if the copyright breach went to court. The implication is that these are wild demands, issued in the hope that people will panic and pay up.

Part of the evidence for this is that in the majority of cases, the offending sites had been put together by small organisations with no real expertise, or even by volunteers. Most professional web designers – and that includes Cornwell Internet – know that copyright applies to the internet, and we take care to source our pictures legitimately. This can be frustrating: it isn’t always possible to find exactly what we need at a small fee or none, but professional fees can lift a site out of our customers’ budget.

We know about this from the other side of the coin, too, because the assumption that ‘if it’s on the web, it must be free’ does not just apply to pictures, and we sometimes have to contact people who have – sometimes with the best of intentions – reproduced one of a client’s (usually Julia Darling‘s) poems without permission. Yet copyright holders can be very generous if they are asked, and often agree to allow their words or pictures to be used for no more than an agreed acknowledgement. One project which really stretched Cornwell Internet’s skills was the adaptation of Valerie Laws’ poem Big Frocks which we commissioned for Durham Literature Festival in 2004: Valerie not only wrote us a wonderful poem, she also suggested accompanying visuals – and we were able to track down all the pictures we needed by asking permission of friends and strangers – and by rifling our own collection.

It is possible, then, to illustrate a web site without infringing anyone’s copyright; and I try to repay my debts indirectly, by making my own photographs available on Flickr under a Creative Commons licence which permits people to use them for non-commercial purposes, provided that I am properly credited, and that the pictures are not altered.

Which brings me to today’s conundrum. Coincidentally, while I was thinking about this, a request arrived in my in-box: would I allow one of my pictures to be used on the BBC’s GCSE Bitesize web site? Mostly I say ‘yes’ to these requests without a second thought: an organisation like The Folly Fellowship is very welcome to include my picture in its newsletter. But I was a little taken aback that the BBC doesn’t have the cash to pay for illustrations to its web site. I still want to abide by my existing Creative Commons licence, so, on reflection, what I will do is ask the BBC whether they think their proposal satisfies the terms of that licence.

And that’s what I will do right now…

PayPal problems

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

We have discovered that PayPal have updated their code and have introduced an error which could inconvenience people who use PayPal to collect credit card payments for things they have sold. This post tells you how to work around it until PayPal correct the fault.

The problem is this: until 11 November, the payment notification emails that were sent to the merchant by PayPal whenever a customer bought something from them would say what they had bought. They currently do not give this information. In order to find out what you have sold, you now have to log on to your merchant account on the PayPal web site to find out.

PayPal have (at least in the developer forums) acknowledged that this is an issue and say “We are working to resolve this issue as quickly as possible.” Obviously we regret this state of affairs but the solution is out of our control. I have tried to raise the issue in the specialist media in the hope that a little publicity might concentrate PayPal’s minds on this one.

I will keep you posted with developments.

Update: later that evening. The problem has now been resolved.

All shapes and sizes

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

Maintaining web sites has its own particular satisfaction, and one day I’ll write about that. But there’s a particular buzz that comes from completing a site.

In a sense, of course, no web site is ever complete, though some are abandoned. A live site is a site under construction (which brings me back to that thought about maintenance). But there is a moment where the client approves the work we’ve been doing behind the scenes, and we can raise the curtain on a new site, and start inviting the public in. I’ve recently done this for two sites, and they couldn’t be more different.

Daniel Fox is the author of a new fantasy series. The first volume, Dragon in Chains will be published in the US in January. Since ‘Daniel Fox’ is the pseudonym of a British author, he has no plans to visit the US to promote his book, so it’s doubly important to have a web site which will do that job for him – but at present the book is not yet avaulable, and it’s difficult to say anything about the pseudonymous author! So the site is a single page, with plenty of room to grow.

SixSix Design is a design consultancy with a substantial portfolio of past work to show off, and the site has a complex structure – a main page leads to a set of menu pages which in turn lead to examples of SixSix’s services. Working with a designer is always stimulating, too – we have such very different strengths! The client’s graphics have to be converted into material which will work on the web, and attract hits from the search engines – but the resultant page is distinctive and visually striking.

I couldn’t ask for a better demonstration that the web is no place for a ‘one size fits all’ approach!

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