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Copyright and Sutro Stewards

February 2, 2011

As some of you already know, I received a letter from a major law firm on behalf of Sutro Stewards whose  Executive Director  is Craig Dawson. (It was actually for San Francisco Parks Trust and Sutro Stewards.) It said two things: First, that I had defamed Craig Dawson and the Sutro Stewards; second, that I had violated copyright on two maps.  Most the of the allegations pertained to another website, www.sutroforest.com, which is a website fighting for Sutro Forest.

(Anyone who is interested can find my discussion of their allegations here.)

However, the copyright issue touches this website via a map I published in my post on hiking in the forest.  I believe the map I used was based on one that was non-copyright. Nevertheless, I have taken down the map. For now, I’ve provided a link to a trail map; later I’ll add back a map for readers of the post to reference. [ETA: I’d also used it to explain what UCSF plans to do with the forest. That’s also been removed for now and will be replaced later.]

WHAT WAS THE ISSUE, ANYWAY?

The Letter said I had violated a Sutro Steward copyright.

This was confusing on several levels.

1.  The map I used was distributed at a meeting called by Rec & Park. Rec & Park circulated it as Exhibit B of a memo for an agenda item before the Parks Commission, cropped exactly as described above. It carried no copyright information or attribution. [ETA: This memo can be obtained from Rec & Park under the Sunshine law. Anyone can get a copy.]

Did Rec & Park steal the map without the Sutro Stewards’ knowledge? No. The minutes show that both Craig Dawson and Ben Pease were at the hearing and were thus fully aware of how it was being used. In fact, Craig Dawson is mentioned in the memo under “People to Contact.” (Maybe one of them actually provided the map to Rec & Park?)

In my understanding, this has the effect of making it non-copyright: It is part of a memo prepared by a Rec & Park employee, whose (official) work cannot generally be copyright; and it wasn’t attributed to any other source. That’s why I felt free to use and make derivative maps as the Letter described.

2. How was it ever owned by Sutro Stewards? The copyright of even the original map is owned by Ben Pease and Pease Press. (That’s what the Letter says, I don’t know because the map I’ve been using has no copyright info.) While I believe Ben is a member of the Sutro Stewards, he is an independent entity.  Did Ben Pease assign his copyright to Sutro Stewards? If so, shouldn’t the Letter mention it? If not, why isn’t it Ben Pease writing to me through his lawyer (or directly), instead of the Sutro Stewards through their lawyer?

3. So why did I take down the map? Well, I enjoy a discussion of copyright issues, but honestly, this is trivial. If it makes them happy, I’m okay with removing it. The map made the post easier to understand, and so I’ll look to replace it; but it wasn’t crucial to its value. The idea of that post was to share how to visit the forest, and I think it still does that.

And — I’d like to put in a plug for Pease Press Cartography.  The Sutro Trail map (a PDF file) isn’t the only map he has on his site. If you’re a hiker, check out his trail map of the whole city. It’s the kind of amazing, a local business based on one person’s cartographic skills. Even the name is cool, and he has a really delightful logo… look out for it.

[I’d welcome comments here — just bear in mind they’re moderated and won’t show for a few hours or even a day. Or of course by e-mail at fk94131 at yahoo dot com.]

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