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Hey, That's My Picture On Your Blog!

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It seems as if we all do it.

We embed pictures, illustrations, charts, graphs, videos, text, and other stuff from the internet into our blog posts. I see it every day, and I do it myself. I have always tried to give credit to the creator, author, photographer, or illustrator by listing his or her name and the link to the original item. For example, I have taken photographs from flickr.com and added them to a blog post. I also have included who posted the picture on flickr to give proper credit.

Based on an email I recently received, I am now wondering if that is enough.

Here is what happened to me. Last month I wrote a blog post for my blog and for LeaderTalk in which I included an illustration that I found when doing some research for the post. I pasted the illustration into the post, and I gave credit to the illustrator (by writing "Illustration by ...). I assumed that that was enough.

Well, I received an angry email about a week later that was titled "Unauthorized Use of Illustration." Here is the text from that email (edited to protect anonymity):

Mr. Sherman: It has come to my attention that you have made an unauthorized use of my copyrighted work entitled "XXXXX" (the "Work"), found at this web page:http://theprincipalandinterest.wordpress.com/ . I have reserved all rights to the Work, first published in YYYY Magazine, August, 2008. As you have neither asked for nor received permission to use the Work on your website (nor paid me for use of my illustration), nor to make or distribute copies, including electronic, I believe you have willfully infringed my rights under 17 U.S.C. Section 101 et seq. and could be liable for statutory damages as high as $150,000 as set forth in Section 504(c) (2) therein.

I demand that you immediately cease the use and distribution of all
infringing works making use of my illustration, and that you desist from
this or any other infringement of my rights in the future. If I have not
received an affirmative response from you by Friday, September 25, 2009
indicating that you have fully complied with these requirements, I shall
take further action against you.
Very truly yours,
Arthur Artist

Yikes! Too much "Legal-ese" for my liking. I had no intention of stealing anything from this person, and I certainly can't afford $150,000 at the moment (or ever). Of course, I pulled the picture immediately, and let the artist know I had done so. I received a very friendly reply: "Thanks, and have a nice day!"

I have spent a few weeks wondering about internet copyright laws. I understand that people have a right to protect their work. But, does this change when they post on the internet? If I have pictures on a site like flickr, and I make them public, can anyone use them? Do they have to give me credit by including my name? If I find out about it, can I sue them for $150,000?

Finally, Is there really a difference between a photograph on flickr or a video on YouTube and someone's artwork that is part of an article in an online magazine?

These are important questions because we have students pulling images off the internet all the time for their schoolwork. What should we be teaching kids about copyright infringement and plagiarism?

Dave Sherman
The Principal and Interest

3 Comments

Copyright is a slippery slope. We need to always err on the side of conservative-ness (word?).

A suggestion if you are going to use Flickr photos is to use photos that are posted under the Creative Commons agreements. These specifically indicate the artist's desire for distribution.

Go to http://flickr.com/creativecommons and you will find millions of photos that you will be able to use legally as long as you cite the creator.

Keep up the good work.

Leigh Zeitz
http://drzreflects.com

Hi Dave,

Although I'm not perfect at this, I try my best to use Creative Commons-licensed images at Flickr. That way I know up front I have permission to use them.

http://flickrcc.bluemountains.net
and
http://compfight.com

are two easy ways to quickly find Creative Commons images on Flickr.

I wish more people licensed their work this way!

One of the easiest ways to search for images that you can redistribute is just using Flickr's advanced search. Scroll down and check the box next to "Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content". Every image on Flickr is clearly marked as "all rights reserved" or "some rights reserved". This is displayed along the right side under "Additional Information". Clicking on "some rights reserved" will display the creative commons license for that work.

Comments are now closed for this post.

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