Sunday, August 12, 2012

Dr. Who and the Phylopics Panic!!!

I had an unexpected surprise this morning while checking my Facebook. Someone had posted this digital poster on Dr. Thomas Holtz's wall for an upcoming Dr. Who episode.
By James Gray
Now for most people the excitement would be over everyone's favourite immortal time traveller taking on Dinosaurs (a second time, hopefully this time will be a lot better than the first time in the 70's :P).

However for me there was an immediate huge distraction about the poster. The Dinosaur shadow menacing the Doctor was one of the silhouettes I had created for Phylopic... Now I have no problem with its use here, as it is free domain on Phylopics (though I'd always only anticipated its use by researchers). The real question I had was this an official promotion by the BBC or not. As let's face it that would be some real boasting rights to be part of an official Dr. Who printed teaser (even if they had a legitimate reason not to pay me).

While it looked real enough, it turns out to fan art by artist James Gray. Oh well. It did the trick of getting that episode firmly entrenched in my head as one I have to see.

By myself (Craig Dylke)
It is freely avaliable copyright free at Phylopics here.
This very brief "incident" left me reflecting on my involvement in Phylopics for a couple minutes though. I've been very actively promoting and encouraging people to make images for the site. Yet this poster demonstrated it wasn't just scientists who might use the images freely available on the site. It is open to everyone.

When I initially got involved in Phylopics and promoted it, I'd only honestly envisioned researchers and science workers using the images. Yes that was dumb of me, but today I had a low level reality check. Anyone and everyone could use those images. Was this something I wanted or should be encouraging others to do?

Of course this was a dumb (but sadly predictable) knee jerk reaction. The whole point of Phylopics is that anyone who wants access to scientifically accurate (silhouetted) images can now have access to them for free. I'd rather non-science parties using and accessing these accurate free images rather than producing or acquiring inadequate material to further muddy the waters!

So yes, among these users might be TV/Movie producers, book publishers, and/or museums. Yes in an ideal world I would rather these sorts of parties have to pay and/or at least credit me. However at the end of the day the images in question are just a silhouettes. They really are not that hard to make for us or these various parties. I'd rather they take correct ones from a credible source, instead of them drawing up their own with (probably) less of an eye for accuracy.

Also as silhouettes they are of very limited use to most people. This Doctor Who poster demonstrates the one function this Albertosaur will be to an illustrator, as a shadow... James Gray couldn't ever extend this to show the Dinosaur itself. At least not without infringing on my other images copyrights (so in a sense this is a great means of encouraging people to get my other images and pay me. You know if the world worked like make belief :P... also you know if he wasn't infringing on the BBC's Doctor Who copyrights too...)

The only functional use these silhouettes is as a simplistic diagnostic diagram. Yes books, shows, and movies use these all the time. Yes they could use them from Phylopic. Yes they could do so without paying the artists who created them (though I think some of the licences do require them to at least credit them). Yet at the end of the day these aren't the money making images in any of these media. No one is going to buy the book because of the silhouette pictures comparing a human's size to a Dinosaur's in the corner of the article. No one is going to buy the movie because of the technical readout that pops up on the computer for a moment when Mr. Spock is briefing the crew on the carnivores of Dinosaur Planet.

So why freak out about it? (This question being addressed as much to my momentary paranoid self as to you the reader). Yes pick your battles, and fight them hard. Just make sure you know what the battles are about. Phylopics is a different battle than breaking out as an artist. It is about science outreach and empowerment. We can't hope to get more paying science art gigs if scientists can't communicate or getting their research out there.

Phylopics is a great way to quickly and easily contribute free art to scientists that doesn't take a lot of your time, and that would be of very limited commerical use by itself. Yes other non-science parties might use, but who cares. Really that is a bonus getting out correct visual information. I still stand by Phylopics and its mission. I still stick to it mostly benefiting science and researchers. I just have to acknowledge there could be some more use by nonexpected parties than what I was originally advertising to everyone.

So still please consider making some silhouettes for Phylopics today. Just keep in mind how they might get used in addition to science. I still think it is worth the trade off!