Is Your Website Clean for Pesach?

pesach clean

During a recent Website cleaning spree, I found a giant glob of chametz. But getting rid of it wasn’t so simple!

Picture this: Seder night has arrived.

The whole house is spotless: the curtains have been dry-cleaned; the linen closet organized alphabetically; and the kids’ bikes doused with bleach.

The only problem is that in the dining room, right in the middle of the Seder table sits a big, freshly-baked pizza (with extra peperoni, to really drive home the hypocrisy!)

That imagine kind of describes the state of my conscience, during a recent Website cleaning spree. I was taking care of the details, while a giant glob of chametz sat there undisturbed.

Here’s the story:

Spring Cleaning for Google

Since attending SMX-Israel in January, I have been paying closer attention to Google’s advice in order to improve search engine rankings for my websites. For example, Google is saying that too much junk and clutter on your website could hurt your rankings. Therefore, two months ago I deleted about 100 low-value posts one of my sites. This led to a nice increase in traffic from search engines.

Inspired by this outcome, last week I decided to tackle the problem of broken links, which can also put you in Google’s bad books. Using the WordPress Broken Links Checker plugin, I was able to locate and unlink over 100 broken links on my site in a matter of minutes. We’ll see if this also has an impact on my rankings.

While I was at it, I fixed up the navigation and optimized my best-performing pages.

All of this gave me a bit of a spring-cleaning high. You know the feeling you get when you finally do an important-but-not-urgent task you have been procrastinating about for a year?

But as I went about this busy work, I must admit that I had a guilty conscience. Sure it is great to get rid of unnecessary clutter, but I knew that I was ignoring some real chametz that was lurking on one of my websites.

Could I really pass another Pesach without purging this giant pizza from my proverbial Seder table?

The Non-Kosher Four Questions

It was Pesach-time last year, about a week before Seder night. I was cleaning in the kitchen while listening to some of my children’s favorite Pesach music, Rebbe Alter’s Pesach tape. I was really enjoying his rendition of Mah Nishtana in Hebrew and Yiddish, with a really lively tune that I’ve never heard elsewhere, when suddenly I had a brilliant idea.

Wouldn’t it be a great if I took this tune and made it into a cute little video for my Yiddish translation site? I thought that it would attract visitors to my site and get me a little viral exposure on Facebook.

I decided to do it right then and there. I spent an hour creating a very simple video, published it and over the next few days it got close to 1,000 views and a few hundred new visitors to my site. Nice!

A year passed, and then I noticed that that blog post and the video were starting to get a lot of views again – for obvious reasons. Pesach is coming again, and lots of Jews are looking to connect to the Seder in whatever way speaks to them. For many people, Yiddish is a meaningful way for them to connect to their Jewish identity.

In the last week, over 300 people watched my video and it’s likely that many more will watch it over the next 2 weeks. You might think that I would be happy about that. But I was not… because I never got permission from the copyright holders to use that song.

I tried all the rationalizations in the world but none of them held up:

  1. I wasn’t making any money off the video (err… not directly, but I’m sure the free exposure wasn’t hurting my business)
  2. I was helping Rebbe Alter reach a new audience and make more sales, since I gave him credit (perhaps… and…?)
  3. I was using the song to help Jews connect to their Jewish heritage and surely Rebbe Alter wouldn’t mind that (umm… nice try!)
  4. It’s almost impossible to 100% avoid copyright infringement when working online – EVERYBODY DOES IT! (or at least I thought so until I heard Rabbi Michael Green speak about avoiding copyright violations when creating PowerPoint presentations)

There was nothing else to do. I knew I had to get permission to use that song, or take it down. And I had to do it now, before the Pesach rush, since it’s all going to be irrelevant next month!

I have to say that ringing up Rebbe Alter to ask his permission to keep using his music was not something I looked forward to. Reorganizing my linen closet 10 times overs much more appealing.

However, I swallowed my pride and dialed the number on the back of the CD case.

In the pursuit of permission, I spoke to his mother, his wife and his manager. They were all warm and helpful. After some long discussions, explanations, apologies and emails, the good news is that I got permission!

So I am proud to present to you this certified Kosher-for-Pesach video. The video is pretty simple and isn’t going to win any awards… but it’s cute, chametz-free – and has viral power!

A Happy and Kosher Pesach to everyone!

PS. If you are wondering why I told you this story, it’s to encourage us all to explore what it means to run a blog or web business without copyright violations. Have you found this difficult to do? Have you ever had your content used without permission?

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Comments

  1. Love your reference to closet cleaning. Times 2-10 would be easier I hope. :)
    I met a non-Jewish woman from Alsace the other day, and she sang “Ofen Propychyk” (sp.). She is interested in folk music and the song appeared in two collections she owns. It was surreal.

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  2. Naomi,

    Thank you so much for posting about a topic so close to my heart. I really appreciate your having the courage to share this personal experience so honestly. In the zechus of doing this, may you be very, very matzliach!

    Copyright violations unfortunately seem rampant in our world. It’s so easy to add your favorite music to a video, or a great photo to a blog post that many of us don’t even think twice about doing it. People don’t seem to understand that there is any problem with this. I’m sure they’d wouldn’t do it if they realized the issues involved (and the heavy legal punishments that could be incurred, chas vechalilah … )

    Music is a musician’s livelihood. More than once people have contacted some of Tof Miriam’s members as an afterthought – “oh and by the way, we used your CD in our video, or in our theater production, or we recorded one of your songs on our new CD,” If they’re really magnanimous, they’ll include the composer’s name in the liner notes. They think the songwriter should be flattered. They’re not.

    Some of us by this point are so shocked when someone actually asks for permission, we’ll grant it just out of relief that someone bothered to ask. But even then, the vast majority of people seem to assume that permission should be free.

    Morally and legally, using someone else’s song requires getting a license to do that and – paying for it. Depending on the circumstances, market rates could run to several hundred dollars or more. If an artist is gracious enough to grant you a license for free, please appreciate the valuable gift they’ve given you.

    Be aware,too, that while a song may be in the public domain because its copyright has expired – for example, Mozart’s works – specific recordings are still copyrighted unless released in the public domain by the performers.

    On the other hand, those of us with web-based business often look for music to use in videos. Unlike in Naomi’s case here, where the video was designed around the song – in most cases, it’s possible to find something that will do on websites that provide public domain music free for use in videos. It’s also possible to buy royalty-free songs or CDs for low prices online. Then at least you know you are safe in using it.

    Or, you could, of course, contact the musician and offer to pay for the song.

    Copyright is real because it’s impact on artists is real and painful. The penalties can be severe and in some countries (i.e. U.S.) can include up to 10 years’ inprisonment. Please, don’t take the risk just ’cause you like a song and “everyone does it.” Be legal rather than sorry … and feel good that you’re honestly supporting artists in their parnassa, just like you hope your web visitors and customers will support yours.

    As Naomi so brilliantly pointed out – may our businesses be as kosher as we hope our homes will be for Pesach.
    Chag same’ach!

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  3. Naomi:
    Thanks for sharing your experience. My wife is a librarian so that gives me an extra sensitivity to copyright issues.
    I’m interested in doing more with video on my website. In that regard I just came across an article from PC World. In the body of the article they list several sources for free audio and video clips with a Creative Commons license.
    http://www.pcworld.com/article/251822/how_to_make_and_publish_movies_for_free.html
    Hope this helps,
    Shlomo

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  4. Naomi,

    Thanks for sharing. I’m very impressed with – and inspired by – your dedication to emes. I recall a friend (who prepared shiurim often) telling me how she wrote to numerous Jewish publishing companies to get permission to photocopy pages of their sefarim – to make sourcesheets. Who does that? And there are heterim about usage for schools, etc. – and from big people (as I saw after learning a sefer about the halachos of copyright). But how many of us think about it, do the research, ask the sheilah – before deciding “it’s not a problem”?

    Kol hakavod – may all of us remember and use your example to make kashrus in business as much a part of who we are as kashrus in food – even if it’s “inconvenient” or “embarrassing.”

    Thanks, Naomi.

    Chag kasher v’sameyach,
    Aviva

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  5. You are so awesome!

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  6. I just have to ditto everything the folks said above. This post is wonderful, and not only is it enlightening, but says a lot about you as a person, Naomi.

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  7. Judy Montel says:

    I’ve posted some clips of my band playing on youtube and recently heard from them that there is an inexpensive licensing system now in place on youtube where people can use your recording for a small fee in their youtube video. The users pay a low fee, the artists are paid – it is neat how just putting an easy-to-use system in place can have a major impact.

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  8. Kol Hakavod. After seeing time and again how the outside world has no ethics in doing business, this will surely be an “ohr lagoyim,” including the Jews.

    Rabbi Adler

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    Naomi Reply:

    Thanks for all the feedback everyone!

    [Reply]

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