Saturday, 9 March 2013

About Silly Hats (And how NOT to get sued for using 'free' images)

Some months ago, a blog post by Roni Loren put my brain into a seriously painful twist. She tells her story of a nasty run-in with the reality that is 'fair use' for images on the internet. After using an image found via a Google image search, the photographer later sued her for compensation for using the image without permission. The photographer won. Albeit, her particular tale related to the images she used to illustrate her blog, but the principle applies across our use of images on any internet and social-media platform (Tumblr, Flickr, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, etc etc).

The bottom line is - just because someone doesn't stop you from taking/copying/using an image you find on the internet, it doesn't mean it's free to use. The implications for us non-millionaire writers is rather huge, particularly if you get caught out, as Roni experienced.

I've done a lot of thinking since reading the article, and realised that clearly, I was an offender, and opening myself up to the risk of being sued or at the very least, upsetting an artist/photographer, by using something that wasn't mine. How would I feel if someone ripped off something I'd written and posted it somewhere on the internet without my permission? Not great. It was pretty simple really - I had to find a way to stop.

As you can imagine, no matter how good the intentions, figuring out what exactly to do about it has been a slightly harder task! I didn't want to go with a knee-jerk reaction and destroy all the carefully curated Pinterest boards I was using as visual inspiration. Neither did I want to ignore the advice and carry on regardless. Added to that, watching everyone else continue to re-blog and re-pin with (apparent) impunity and great enjoyment has the ability to make one a little...miserable. I LOVE ALL THE PRETTY PICTURES. I want them ALL. *sigh*

Now, I'm not 100% there with my 'Un-Pinteresting' Project (please do NOT look to me as a fine example just yet), but I've made a start, and wanted to share any tips I've come across if anyone else is starting out or struggling with the same issue. Here are a few of the things I've started doing:

  • PAUSING all Pinterest activity
  • Going through my cannot-let-go-of Pinterest images, and tracing them back to the original artist. Then, following that artist as best I can wherever they keep their work instead of re-posting it.
  • Finding alternative sources of pictures for my blog
  • Reviewing past blog posts and replacing any 'unsafe' pictures with carefully sourced ones

I can't lie. It's been a bit of a drag - some of the fun of Pinterest and Google Image Search has faded slightly. But I feel like I'm on a better, more honest track. One that is more respectful of other artists, and more likely to lead to forming relationships with them that might pay off someday! After all, don't we all need amazing images for our book covers?

But...where can I find great pictures?

Breathe...relax. There are royalty-free and free-of-charge photographs available out there to use. It takes a little more digging, but it's more than possible to find them. 

  • Stock photo websites - many of these sites give away free downloads of the smallest versions of their stock photos as a way of enticing you to pay for downloading large ones. I find that small photos are more than sufficient for blogging with.
IMPORTANT: Always read the small print. 

  • Wiki Commons - "Wikimedia Commons is a media file repository making available public domain and freely-licensed educational media content (images, sound and video clips) to everyone." Based on the same platform as Wikipedia, this database holds all sorts of imagery from institutions, artists and individuals.
IMPORTANT: I found this site slightly more tricky to navigate due to varying levels of copyright status. Just because an image or file is available on the site, it doesn't mean it's free to use. ALWAYS check the copyright tags, and have a good read through the 'Reusing Content' guide.

  • The Commons on Flickr - honestly? This is my new addiction. Forget Pinterest! Peruse, instead, turn-of-the-century mug-shots, magic lantern images of the far East, Civil War portraits, and the moon landing. You won't go back.
IMPORTANT: Always double-check the information on the source institution/collection. They may have specific requests on how and where you provide credit and reference to the images when you use them.

  • Just...ask. Sometimes you just HAVE to have an image. It's perfect. Nothing else will do. Guess what, if you ask nicely, a photographer or artist might just let you use their image - either for a price, or free with a credit. It happens! The little white horse on my profile is just such an image. I loved it. I asked, and she said - yes.

But what about the HATS?!

By now you may be wondering if I will EVER get to the promised silly hats. Fear not, good reader, for here is your reward for wading fearlessly through my long lecture on image use! A small sampling of the curious, hilarious and insane images available through the wonderful Commons on Flickr:

Happy photo hunting!

Hat Photo References:
  1. "Whitman Chocolates, Easter Hat", George Eastman House, 1945.
  2. "Elisha Pope Fearing Gardner", Nantucket Historical Association, [date unknown].
  3. "Nina Farrington"George Eastman House, c. 1900.
  4. "Radio Hat"Nationaal Archief, 1931.
  5. "The Coy-boy Girl"Southern Methodist University, Central University Libraries, DeGolyer Library , 1903.
  6. "Portrait of unidentified man wearing unusual hat"George Eastman House, 1855.
  7. "Portrait of General Daniel D. Minier, New York State Militia"George Eastman House, 1855.
  8. "Portrait of Mrs. Gertrude Steindl and baby" State Library of Queensland, Australia, [date unknown].
  9. "Woman wearing dress and blue hat with feathers and pinecones"George Eastman House, 1910.
  10. "Young woman portrait", Bergen Public Library, [date unknown].
  11. "Group portrait of three young men", Fylkesarkivet i Sogn og Fjordane, ca. 1856-1900.
  12. "Two women in national dress (Jones)", Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru / The National Library of Wales, ca. 1875.
  13. "Hat with satin flowers and ostrich feathers"Nationaal Archief, 1969.
  14. "Conrad of Bavaria", The Library of Congress, ca. 1910-15.
  15. "Mrs Hughes, in cuirass bodice suit with shelf bustle and flower pot hat"State Library of New South Wales, ca. 1887.
  16. "McCall's Magazine, Woman in Flowered Hat Holding a Compact"George Eastman House, 1937.

Other photo Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos

(PLEASE NOTE: The contents of this blog article do NOT constitute legal advice. If you are ever unsure about the legal implications of using an image, please consult a qualified legal professional.)

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