I’ve become aware in recent weeks – as have many of the local history community – of a series of connected groups appearing on Facebook, which invite users to submit old pictures of their area. This is a fine idea, which in principle, I support.
Sadly, these groups are full of content stripped from local websites, Flickr, blogs and other online sources like YouTube, posted without any accreditation to the original source.
This, to me, is morally wrong.
If a historian or blogger – like myself – takes time to research a subject, we do it out of interest, community spirit and desire to share the truth as we find it. Running this blog for three years has cost me hundreds of pounds in scanning, map purchases and other materials and software. Stripping pictures out of our work and posting them without context actually increases confusion and does nothing to help understanding of our subject. It’s also easy, lazy and morally bankrupt theft.
We may not charge for our work, but that doesn’t mean it’s free to copy, steal or distort.
So far I’ve seen pictures from a days-old Stafforshirebred post ripped out of context, a large amount of Walsall1955’s work posted without credit, the entirety of Walsall Lococal History Centre’s Brownhills content from ‘A click in time’ and other material stolen.
Whenever I feature work by another historian here, I clearly name the source, and where it can be found. When they have books published, I advertise them. This is the decent thing to do – it’s community spirit.
Any attempt to challenge the operator of these pages results in being banned. Last night, I posted links to help users of the Brownhills group and answered questions. Because I challenged the host to name sources politely, all of my content has been removed and I’ve been banned.
This saddens me. I personally have worked hard to bring the unpaid work of local historians to a wider audience, and challenge some of the misconceptions about local history that abound. These groups, as they stand, represent vandalism and are an insult to the people who generate the content they thieve.
All I’m asking is that the original sites these items come from are linked. I will allow anyone to use anything I post, providing the user is polite and gives me a credit. Such Facebook groups are a fine community spirited idea, but they need to be operated by moderators with the backbone and civility to name and link to those they lean upon.
Hell, I’d happily participate in such a group were it run properly. It’s all about the conversation, after all.
Such robbery is seriously making me wonder why I bother doing this at all.