Let The Blogger Beware!
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!