Copyright © 2022 by the John Dandola, Ltd. All rights reserved.
Enough is Finally Enough
After writing the history of West Orange Mountain High School, I am now distancing myself from that school.
My former high school is no more. It was done away with in 1984. I'm the one—the only one—who put the history of that high school in proper and accurate perspective in my book, Up the Hill, Down the Hill. Why did I expend two years researching and writing that book? As a favor to my high school graduating class. God help those of us who do favors. For our class reunion, I even went so far as to create (with the assistance of my wife) a full-sized replica of the lost school banner. The undertaking took weeks but we had the intention that the banner could be used (for only the shipping cost) by all class reunions. It has been used. But that generousity has also proven disastrous. Instead of accumulating praise and being given proper credit, the only formal image of the banner (photographed by me) is continually swiped. How would I know the image is mine? Because the recreation was made slightly and intentionally different in order to tell it apart from the original. The image was posted only on my class Facebook page and it was always labeled with a copyright notice for which it is registered. The same image also appears on the back cover of Up the Hill, Down the Hill and the book's copyright page also clearly states its protection.
Why take such a precaution to register a copyright? Because I am a professional in the arts and it's what professionals do. We protect our work with a copyright and in this case specifically because my hometown of West Orange, New Jersey, always steals from me. Unfortunately, the town never learns even after losing several copyright lawsuits due to such misbehavior.
Because people share a common hometown does not mean they can simply take intellectual or creative property and use it without permission. The photo of the new banner keeps showing up and conveniently, my ownership has always been cropped off thereby proving that the theft is intentional. Requests to add such a line to the image are greeted with snide tones that I have an ego problem. Of course, that conclusion is a very uneducated one. As my high school coach used to chastise, "If you don't know the rules; don't try to play the game." What is at stake is the image itself. What happens and what has happened in the past is that the image (it's even happened with my writings) will wind up being used in places I don't wish to be associated with or credited with someone else's name. The copyright law is simple: permission must be sought and granted and authorship must always be given. The owner of the copyright has the "right" where and by whom and on what terms it is to be "copied". It's a very simple concept. I learned it in fourth grade when we wrote our first research paper. What this boils down to is one simple word: courtesy. If something belongs to someone else, you ask in order to use it. Heck, that even applies if you want to use your neighbor's lawnmower! When this has happened in the past, an alumnus-turned-attorney among the offending group instructed that the image should either be labeled or removed because that was not only the legal thing to do but, more importantly, the proper thing to do.
Once again, that banner has shown up uncredited on what is called the Mountain High School Friends Facebook page. That page goes out of its way to cite (quite correctly) when photos are from a specific yearbook or an old newspaper article but my work receives no such label. My work is not only just as importatnt but its copyright is the only one which is current and active. Apparently, this group doesn't treat all alumni as friends. Members have been chided and even expelled for being impolite to one another but I guess theft of a member's work is accepted.
When contacted, the person who did the posting refused to reinstate the source and copyright credit as though she was entitled to the image because she had attended the same school and who was I to expect such credit for being the mere creator of both the banner and the photo? How obtuse is this woman? The photo and banner are my property. She stole from me but somehow she perceives that it is my fault for catching her at it. That's like being arrested for robbing a jewelry store and then blaming the store for selling jewelry in the first place. Still, I approached her politely and this could have been resolved very easily and very amicably. All she had to do was add the credit line. Instead, she chose to be difficult and refused; actually taunting, "What can Facebook even do to me?" The fact that my work was stolen and she either stole it or was using a stolen copy meant nothing to her. She couldn't grasp that it jeopardized the work and the concern was quite real and very legitimate. I am one of the administrators of the Facebook page for my class. If one of our members ever caused such a problem for someone else and such embarrassment for our class, that member would be booted from our roster.
I entered into discussions with Facebook. They immediately recognized the problem and removed the post. I guess the badgering woman has now found out what Facebook can do to her. Unfortunately, I doubt she's learned.
Courtesy always keeps one out of trouble. The usual response to such problems is to apologize and make amends. I'm easy-going. I can usually overlook infractions if the apology is sincere. In this case, it simply meant to either add the copyright information or remove the image so that it doesn't keep happening. There were no other strings attached. A more generous deal could not have been offered. But this person who perpetrated it all seems intentionally dense. She is a practitioner of the New Jersey mindset: bark back no matter how wrong you are and without using any introspection. The bottom line is that she takes exception at being called on her trespass rather than just adding the proper credit to the photo and settling things. Being caught was tantamount to her; not doing the right thing. This is indeed an ego problem: hers. The West Orange landscape is filled with such people who think they can just grab and not ask then call names as some sort of lopsided defense.
This time out, finally did it. I am sick and tired of being generous to my hometown at my own expense. As a result, use of that banner will not be offered to any more class reunions and this is the end of the line for my town histories. Even though two more history books are already completed, they will not see print. My publisher, too, has had it after thirty-plus years of this sort of West Orange nonsense.
After the first print run of the high school history book was sold out, a second print run will not be undertaken because, ultimately, the same illegal postings will occur. The book served its purpose to be placed in reference libraries where it can be used on-site by researchers but cannot be inter-loaned and possibly scanned. My attorneys and I will take immediate legal action if scanning or copying of any sort ever occurs. Copyright law is black-and-white. It cannot be skirted. For those who only see things in such perspective: the fines are pricey.
If there's any justice, the administrator of the Mountain High School Friends page will offer a public apology and caution about this incident. That might put a stop to further infringements by the page's members.
But I won't hold my breath and this has finally proven the end of any further generosity from me.