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Copyrights, The Web, & Visual Arts

copyrightsI answered a question about copyrights.

Of course, I was talking mostly about text, but I got a couple of questions about copyrights and the visual art found on the web that leads me to add some things about photos and other visual arts.

First of all, ideas can’t be copyrighted. So if you take a picture of say, La Jolla Cove, unless you give me permission I can’t use your picture. But I can take my own picture of the cove from the same spot because the idea of the Cove can’t be protected.

The same thing is true of a drawing you make, a painting, etc. Just because it’s on the web doesn’t mean you are free to copy it for your website. The artist holds a copyright on it, even if they didn’t file for official protection.

Think about it…

A painting or photo takes as much creativity as a story or article does – in some cases much more. When you use someone’s work without permission you’re stealing it, no matter what media its in.

Now, most of the photos I use here are from a site called Stock.Xchange. That site allows artists to upload their work and choose the kind of license they will accept. Many of them require no more than the credit you see at the bottom of most of my posts. Some require the name of the artist be spelled out and some cost money. When I use photos from there I have permission because that’s how the site is set up.


When you go to Flickr.com, you don’t have permission to use anything there. Some of the photos have a Creative Commons Licence; most do not. Unless the license is spelled out and you conform to those requirements you can assume you’re not allowed to use the photos on your site or elsewhere.

It’s also worth noting that if I had taken a picture of the Cove at La Jolla I could use it here. I could use it even if it looked a whole lot like the one I linked to above. The idea of taking a picture of the Cove can’t be protected, just the image the artist generates.

What other questions about copyright do you have? (Always remembering I’m grateful not to be a lawyer.)

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Image from http://www.sxc.hu

{ 9 comments… add one }
  • Anne, you mentioned Stock Xchange as a good source for blog images. One service that I use at my soccer blog is PicApp.com. They have a professional inventory of current images for a variety of genres. All of their images may be used legally. When you mouse over the embedded image, the proper credits appear.

    http://picapp.com/
    .-= Steve Amoia´s last blog ..2009-2010 UEFA Champions League Quarterfinal Round Draw =-.

  • jorgekafkazar

    I seem to recall there is an exception to trademark / copyright in the area of ‘thumbnails.’ I’m not sure if it was appealed, but I think a judge ruled that you could use a copyrighted picture, as long as it had been reduced to a thumbnail (i.e., a low quality reduced image.) The thumbnails in question were used to link to another site where the photos were resident and not in violation of copyright. Any recent info on that, Anne?

    • Anne

      arghhhhh… do you want to find out and do a guest post for me… I don’t want to play lawyer…. I’m thrashed on this Friday.

      • jorgekafkazar

        Heh heh heh. I’d already looked, Anne, and it was a quagmire, since every comment in a lot of blogs has “Got a gravatar?” imbedded in it. I’ve only found that one relevant court case, so far, and there the thumnails were links to a kosher instance of the picture. I’ll be done with taxes Monday, then I’ll do a little more research and send you something Wednesdayish. Okay?

        • Anne

          Hey, considering how much I’m paying I’d say it’s your choice when you get it done… Wednesday is more than fine.

  • jorgekafkazar

    There seems to be something missing in your post: “First of all, ideas can’t be copyrighted. So if you take a picture of say, La Jolla Cove, unless you give me permission I can’t use your picture.” The ‘so’ makes the second sentence a non-sequitur. It looks like something was moved or deleted…

    • Anne

      huh? (time passes) Okay, I added a sentence… does that clear it up Jorge?

  • I had to deal with this not long ago. I was editing blog posts for a client — posts put together by another one of their bloggers. The blogger was in a country with lax copyright laws, so they didn’t care that the images they were using (just ripped off Flickr and similar sites) were violating copyrights where the client themselves was located. I believe that writer’s no longer blogging for the client because of the repeated problems, but I haven’t looked into it again so I might be mistaken. It was a real pain in the ass to try to clean some of those up. I don’t understand what’s wrong with people when they think a credit line or a link means they can legally take and use anything they want without permission. It’s absolutely frustrating.
    .-= Jenn Mattern´s last blog ..The Case for Blogging for Clients (and not Only Yourself) =-.

    • Anne

      Great example Jenn, thanks.

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