Lane Hartwell, Reputation Management and Your Google Permanent Record

There’s a big debate in the blogosphere right now involving a parody video from Richter Scales and photographer Lane Hartwell. A photograph Lane took was used without her permission, she was not credited and not compensated. Richter Scales feels this falls under the fair usage act. I’m not going to take sides in the copyright issue, however what I do want to look at is the reputation management angle.

Let’s look at the best case scenario for Lane Hartwell, let’s say the issue goes to trial and Lane is victorious. The court decides in her favor and award damages in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. According to Richter Scales they are a non profit group and to date have sold a total of 8 CD’s. Even if you want to say they are under reporting their sales by a factor of 100 it’s unlikely there will be any assets left after any legal expenses. Lane Hartwell’s victory will be an empty one, but then she and her friends will probably say it was never about the money anyway, it was really the principal that was important, and this is a moral victory which brings important attention to the issue of image theft on the internet. She’ll be right and her friends will congratulate her on the victory, but at the end of the day she’ll be left holding the bag, and that bag is the permanent record that is your Google SERP.

When we were all children in school we were told not to do bad things because they would follow us around on our “permanent record”. In reality usually by the time we reached high school we figured out there really was no such thing as a permanent record, and it was just some bogey man used to scare us into compliance. However in the digital age of vanishing privacy there is a permanent record and it’s what the internet has to say about you.

Lane Hartwell - Google Search

Right now things aren’t too bad, they don’t start to turn dicey until the wired results and she holds a respectable 2 indented listings. However in few days I expect to see this article from techcrunch, this article from CNet, along with a host of other articles linked to from Techmeme. In short Lane Hartwell will have created her own reputation management nightmare.

One of the consulting services I offer is reputation management and one of the first questions I have for potential clients is, Have you picked up the phone and tried to work this out with the people in question? The simple truth is if more people did this there would be less billable work for me. Not that I don’t want the work, but as a professional consultant if I don’t recommend the solution that’s best for the client, whether it’s the best option for me, I am doing this clients a disservice. I’d rather have a happy person who never turns into a reputation management client than an upset one who does.

What’s the downside, when Lane is talking with prospective clients about new work in the future, more and more of them are going to “Google” her to see what they see. When you research a person you are potentially going to do business with, having a disproportionate number of litigious SERP’s (good or bad) is probably not something most people want to see. It’s no different than if you were hiring a potential employee and you learned they had “issues” and “drama” at her last job.

My recommendation to Lane Hartwell and her lawyer Terry Gross. Get in touch with Richter Scales. Agree to drop all charges if they produce a short PSA style video about how stealing images on the internet is not only wrong but illegal. They seem like a creative bunch of funny guys so let them have a little fun with it. Lane Hartwell comes off not looking like a villan, Richter Scales comes out looking OK and they get more press, and the issue of image copyrights on the internet gets attention, in short everybody wins, except the lawyers who get less billable hours.

In the immortal words of Rosie Perez, “sometimes when you win you really lose, and sometimes when you lose you really win”.

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