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Let The Blogger Beware!

February 7, 2013

[Image Deleted]

Recently Kelley did a post warning bloggers against using photos found on the Internet to illustrate their posts.  She was prompted to do so after reading Roni Loren’s blog.  Writer / blogger Roni was recently sued for using a photo.  Her argument that she had removed the photo in question immediately when asked to do so, that she had not fully understood the law, and that she had made no financial gain from using the image didn’t sway the Court: Roni was landed with costs as well as a hefty compensation payment to the photographer.  Legally, of course, the judgement was right, although I think the outcome was harsh.  Roni admits she was in the wrong, and in her post she outlines the events and the legal situation, and gives excellent advice that we would all do well to follow.

I’m drawing this to all your attention now because Roni has been generous enough to allow us all to learn from her expensive mistake.  Although all the photos I use here are my own, since reading Roni’s post I’ve thought more carefully about the issue of copyright infringement and made a few changes, both in terms of what I include that could possibly be construed as copyright infringement, and what I’m prepared to allow others to use.

This issue of digital image theft, more properly called copyright infringement, has been a cause of concern for me since the early days of blogging.  For those who don’t know, we bloggers receive a daily overview of blog statistics: how many visitors, what posts they looked at, and so on.  If we care to follow these stats, we can even see the search terms visitors used if they reached us via a search engine.  Consequently, I know that far more people come to my blog to swipe photos than come actually to connect with me, and this can be disheartening.  I even know which photos are most likely to be taken.

Armed with this knowledge I’ve done several things.  I learned how to put a watermark on my images, and I’ve been doing this for every photo since November 2009.  I’ve placed a copyright notice in a prominent position on my sidebar, and additional copyright notices within the posts where I know theft of my photos is most likely.  The My Photos page and the Contact Me page in the upper menu bar provide quick and easy ways for people to get in touch if they want permission to use a photo.  And sometimes people do this.  I truly love the ‘collaborations’ that come about when someone asks if they can use a photo for a particular reason, or when someone tells me something I did has inspired them to do a piece of artwork, and they’d like my permission to use it.  I’ve never yet refused – and it’s great when they send me a copy of what they did afterwards.  It’s just that I want to retain control over who uses my work.  And if someone wants to use one of my photos for commercial (website, advertising, packaging) purposes, then it’s only right that I should benefit from this too, so I’ve also posted a list of terms and very reasonable fees for their use.

As a matter of fact I have a law degree and I used to teach the law, so although the impact of the Internet on copyright was not even a footnote on the agenda when I was active in the field, I do understand the broad issues and the legal context.  The problem is, of course, that the law is playing catch-up.  Technology changes far faster than the law can; the Internet is by definition international, requiring a cross-border response to copyright issues; and any legislation will inevitably have loopholes which in the normal course of the workings of the law are closed – as Roni Loren has found to her cost – by legal actions in the courts.  My copyright notice, for example, used to give permission for non-commercial use of my photos provided that full and clear credit was given to me, and with a link back to this blog.  So anyone could take them for their blog without asking, right?  Right … but what, exactly, is a blog?  I recently came across the image at the top of this post, photographed by me in 2009, used on a ‘blog’ that’s actually part of a commercial website for a home inspection company in Canada.  In other words, it’s being used to promote their services…  And I have changed my copyright notice!

As Kelley points out, Pinterest is a particular problem.  I joined just so I could keep track of what was happening to the photos ‘pinned’ from my blog.  Strictly speaking, my copyright notice now forbids ‘pinning’ my photos without my permission, but once a photo is on Pinterest my copyright notice might just as well not exist.  When I first realised my work had been posted on Pinterest I thought it would be a good way of attracting possible new readers to my blog.  But the stats don’t lie – and it’s a rare day that I receive a visitor via one of my images on Pinterest.  I have, however, seen comments congratulating the person who ‘pinned’ my photo for the great image!  Other needle artists report they have seen their original designs and painstaking work ‘pinned’ with comments like ‘Copy this’ and ‘Even I could do that!’ Logically, Pinterest would seem to fly in the face of everything we know about copyright infringement.

And even without the complicating factor of Pinterest, I have actually seen my work used for commercial purposes (for a digital download music track) with the watermark cropped off!

The problem is that as bloggers we have no teeth!  Roni was sued by a professional photographer who had the time to surf the Internet looking for his photos – which most of us don’t; and the finances to bring the legal action – which, again, since blogging is a hobby for most of us, we can’t back what we do with that kind of investment.

So I’d love to know –  Have you come across your work in unauthorised places?  What actions have you taken against theft of your stuff?  And how do you all feel about this? In my next post I’m going to continue this theme with a look at what this digital age means for the value of our work.  And after that, hopefully I’ll feel like I’ve got it all off my chest!

25 Comments leave one →
  1. February 7, 2013 12:54 pm

    Thanks for this post. It is an issue I need to “bone up on” and ensure I enact. I post a lot of my own photos on line and in the beginning of my blogging efforts they were more “artsy” but for the most part I have never put a watermark on them. I have not come across any of my work elsewhere but I’m sure it is out there. It depends on the purpose for which the photos are being used as to how I would feel. For example, I support missions work in Kenya and through friends there have posted numerous photos of the needs there and letting people know they can blog about it. However, the idea is that they should give credit back. A few times I stumbled on a post or two raising awareness (as we wanted) and proper links but sometimes I did not know this was done as the bloggers don’t always come back and say so. If these same photos were used to raise funds for some other completely different work, I would be very upset. But it is difficullt to control things once they are out there.

    • February 7, 2013 1:57 pm

      Thanks for this reply, Joyful. I agree – if the purpose of posting your photos is to spread the word and raise awareness, you would want them to be disseminated as widely as possible. Even then, they should be credited to you and with a link to your original post, but if on occasion someone forgot to do that, in those circumstances I wouldn’t mind. Although I haven’t published photos specifically with a view to raising awareness or in support of a cause, my photos have been used by others for this reason, and I’m absolutely happy about that and about them being blogged and reblogged without me knowing where.

      What I’m talking about here, though, is something more than that, when work – which in my case is often not just a pretty photo but actually a photo of my original artwork, that has taken hours and hours of my time – is taken without our knowledge and against the express copyright restrictions as posted on our blogs.

      If you want to start putting watermarks on your photos but don’t know how to do it, and if you have access to Photoshop or Elements, let me know and I’ll explain how to do it.

  2. February 7, 2013 1:30 pm

    Dear Janice,

    I understand what you are talking about (with the help of the traducteur). I never saw a blog using my photos, but they are not so beautiful as yours. Now, I tried to clic over a photo of yours and the advise is not there. Are you sure that’s not possible to copy it?
    I never use a photo that is not mine (except in Pinterest, but there it is the name or the link to the author) , but I often see persons who do so.
    What can we do? When I see it, i write somethig ironic!!!
    Kisses, kisses.

    • February 7, 2013 1:52 pm

      Thanks Helena, You’re right. It IS possible to copy my photos. I have asked WordPress if it’s possible to use html text so that copying is not possible. I’ve seen this on other websites – a little note appears saying ‘Please don’t take my photos’. But this is not allowed on WordPress. I also tried to insert the html text preventing use of the Pinterest ‘pin it’ widget, but it didn’t work on my WordPress pages. Unlike Blogger, WordPress don’t allow java script. This is for security reasons apparently – I don’t understand the technicalities of it all. Over my four years of blogging it’s the only disadvantage I’ve ever found of WordPress in comparison with Blogger.

      • February 8, 2013 11:59 am

        I have a plugin on my WordPress blog which blocks Pinterest, or rather gives you the option to choose which posts get blocked and which don’t.

        As I understand it, Javascript runs within the browser, not on the server, and it’s perfectly possible to add malicious elements to Javascript as well as having what you want it to do. Since WordPress can’t control the people writing the javascript, they don’t want to be responsible for what they may choose to do!

        • February 8, 2013 5:06 pm

          Yes, I knew it was something along those lines, although it’s beyond my grasp of the technical stuff. I do appreciate the reasons for it, but it’s a pain because I’ve often seen really nice widgets and the like, that I haven’t been able to put in my sidebar because they use javascript.

          Plugins are available for blogs, but not for, which is what I have. I have often idly thought about changing, because I suspect the .org blogs are more flexible, but generally I’m really very happy with the service provided by Some of the plugins would be very handy, though – the two that you mention being a case in point.

          Do you pay to use a blog? The .com is a free service, although I pay an annual fee to be able to use audio clips.

  3. February 7, 2013 2:43 pm

    Recently I saw some Aussie bloggers rant about how someone copied their style of writing and USP from their blog and even used her photos. It’s actually pretty bad not giving credit.
    I found 2 websites use my entire post, but of course with backlinking so I guess that was okay. Im anyway way too lazy to sue them :P
    That is one beautiful photograph Janice! In my dreams, that’s my house.

    • February 7, 2013 2:52 pm

      Isn’t that what ‘reblogging’ means? When you just use the ‘Reblog’ button to pass on the entire post…? I’ve never really been sure what that’s about, but I wouldn’t do it. I have seen a blog that ONLY HAD ‘reblogged’ posts, and I really can’t see why anyone would want to have such a blog.
      I can take you to this house, Rukmini. It’s about 4 miles from here. Of course, I can’t take you inside it, I mean, someone lives there…!

      • February 10, 2013 4:07 pm

        Oh!!! I don’t care if they don’t allow me inside. I’d settle comfy outside looking at that dream house and sip tea with you. **someday**
        By the way, my posts were also in a blog that only had reblogged stuff. Really, why would someone do that?

        • February 10, 2013 4:13 pm

          Beats me!
          Well actually, I think I do know the answer – something to do with getting ‘hits’ which mean you can attract advertising. isn’t it something like that?

        • February 10, 2013 4:15 pm

          Incidentally – you might like to know that it’s painfully cold here, and raining heavily. :(

  4. February 7, 2013 4:52 pm

    I found someone using one of my images once and when I asked her to take it down she did, but I know my stuff is on pinterest even though my sidebar asks people not to pin. I do get the occaisional hit from pinterest, but not many – medieval types tend to link back cos they want to know the source, but it still irritates me as I’m really careful never to use other people’s images

    • February 8, 2013 10:32 am

      Hi Tanya, Thanks for commenting. There are 19 of your images on Pinterest. Well, 17 – two of them are ‘pinned’ twice. I just checked. It was because I found that my images were on Pinterest that I joined – so I could keep an eye on the page and comment if necessary – you have to be a member to comment, even if only to ask a person to take your image down!

  5. February 7, 2013 6:23 pm

    I have often wondered about all this. The lawsuit seems extreme.

    I am guessing my photographs have been used. once did a woman take my photography put it into her program crop off my watermark and turn it into a piece of art/ just clicking on a button and making it look like a painting. I told her i was not comfortable with that, she insisted that it was her right to do so because she was changing it into her own art. She was very rude about it. I think she stopped doing it, but it is hard to keep up with these things.

    your photo is beautiful, a lovely house on a gorgeous day.

    lovely day and beyond to you Janice.

    • February 8, 2013 10:16 am

      Possibly she stopped doing it because you were not the only person to tell her it was wrong…! There are people who do such things because they don’t understand the law, don’t realise doing this is wrong. One man contacted me after using my image (for commercial purposes) because a friend had said to him that he shouldn’t have used it without my permission. It must have been hard to come clean like that, and we sorted it out very easily. Other people are less easy to understand. I can imagine if I were to meet this woman who took your photos and thought she had the right to do it, we would have no points of connection at all.

      Of course, you’re right, it is difficult to keep up with these things.

  6. Erica Marsden permalink
    February 7, 2013 9:04 pm

    This is a timely reminder Janice. I did not join Pinterest when I realised what it was about. It just did not sit comfortably with me. I don’t have my own blog and seldom put photos on Facebook. I used to be a librarian and we had to keep an eye on what people were photocopying – sometimes whole books and couldn’t see why we would confiscate it. I do sometimes download photos of needlework into a folder for inspiration but would never just copy the embroidery/textile art. What satisfaction and pleasure would there be in doing that? I don’t blame anyone for being upset when others copy their work. Keep spreading the word.

    • February 8, 2013 10:06 am

      Thanks Erica. In fact I use Pinterest just that way. I hardly have any images up there, but most of them are actually ‘how-to’s’ or tutorials on people’s blogs, and the accompanying text I’ve written makes it clear that I’m linking to this person’s blogpost, rather than just posting an image, and I’m doing it because the tutorial is so good / has inspired me – and I recommend others to go visit. That way my focus is on promoting that blog – since, after all, I could bookmark the tutorials on my own computer and just keep them for later reference. I also specifically turned off the ‘shows up in google search’ facility – because these are not my images to spread around the world, and I can take no credit whatsoever for them.

  7. February 8, 2013 3:33 am

    Well said. I know Pinterest offers a code for bloggers to put on their web site that prohibits pinning.

    • February 8, 2013 9:47 am

      Hi Kelley, Yes I tried that but it didn’t work on my WordPress blog.

      • February 8, 2013 4:24 pm

        oh that’s too bad, I hope you can find a way to protect your images. I know it is a big problem. I don’t even know how you find out if my work has been lifted. But I haven’t worried about it to much, I worry about the opposite, getting into trouble for using other people’s images. I’ve been going through my blog a little bit at a time deleting images that don’t belong to me or are not from a public or free source.

        • February 8, 2013 4:58 pm

          Yes, I know from your original blog post about this that you’re taking it very seriously. And I have too – we all make little slip-ups from time to time. Blogging is supposed to be fun, not a reason for financial ruin!

  8. February 8, 2013 7:20 am

    How in the world do you ever find your photos on the web? Do you go to every single website and blog just to check? If they are stealing it they would not have your name connected to it so you can’t even google your name to find your photos. Loved the post and it is always a good reminder.

    • February 8, 2013 9:56 am

      You can try searching for your name, or you can try searching for a particular topic. Probably if we were actually looking for one of our own photos we wouldn’t find any – I’ve usually found mine by accident. I was at a friend’s house explaining to him how he might increase his online presence. When I got to the part about using tags I used ‘Hungarian embroidery’ as an example, so he could see how many of my own photos would come up with that one search term. One photo that came up was mine – my photo, my embroidery, my hard work – but was on another blog. Underneath was the caption ‘found on the Internet’. It wasn’t ‘found on the Internet’, because that would assume that I had lost it – and I always knew where it was!

  9. March 26, 2013 8:53 pm

    I find it almost funny that some ‘big name” artists who use pinhercrap(my name for it) have copyright notices coming out the wazoo on their *own* sites–but then in a very laissez faire manner, pin *other* artists images. And while some may find it flattering to have their art erroneously attributed by other pinners to that artist, it does the actual artist no good.

    Another way to search for your images is to google image search with your name, then drag the image into the search box–you might be astounded where you find your own work! I’ve seen mine on russian “brain training” sites, car links and unmentionable places. I watermark *everything* i think important now right in the middle —could still be edited i suppose by anyone skilled at photo manipulation, but not by the average image scraper/pinner.

    • March 27, 2013 6:58 am

      Thanks Arlee. I just tried the Google image search and it worked. I’ve not previously had much success with those things – most of my online finds have been by accident – and I don’t have the time to search the Internet looking for my images!

      Like you, I watermark everything and I have now started to embed my copyright into the image, using Elements (File: File info). I’m not sure if this always shows up or if it’s stripped out by WordPress, but it’s another layer of protection and another definite statement by the photographer of their ownership.

      I have asked WordPress to allow us to prevent pinning, but no action so far, and I’m considering either giving up blogging or maybe moving to another platform where the Pinterest code will work.

Thank you so much for your visit. Your comments are much appreciated.

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