Credit where credit is due

Mock creative commons logoA fellow blogger, who regularly comments on this site, once asked me about the re-use of images on his blog. He’d published a logo or something similar from an organisation that does not grant re-use permission for such materials. So I advised him to remove it from his blog before they sent in the suits.

In the world of journalism, as opposed to the blogosphere, minor copyright infringement, such as the mistaken re-use of an image accompanying an article often results in a standard copyright infringement notice, removal of the offending image, and a notice of apology. Obviously, in print it is slightly different, but yesterday’s news is today’s fish and chips wrapper anyway (at least it was until they banned the use of old newspapers in chip shops).

Blogs fall into a slightly different camp. Not quite amateur, if they are getting big numbers of visitors and running ads, for instance, but certainly not in the same journalistic league as the NYT or the BBC news sites.

Anyway, a quick legal refresher: Unless it states somewhere that you can use an image without limitations, you must assume that the publisher and/or the authors reserve all rights, this means you usually cannot re-publish an image without express permission of the copyright holder, regardless of the benefits wider dissemination of the image and its associated context might bring.

The exception is a press release, unless it says you must seek permission. Usually the whole of a press release is intended for free publication with or without editorial attention at the discretion of the editor. Of course, press releases do not always include images, so an intrepid journalist or blogger must look elsewhere for illustrations.

There are exceptions to the copyright rules that might be used in this regard. Images produced by the US government or its employees are copyright free. So anything from NASA, for instance. Other public domain images, and images with a creative commons or other openaccess or copyleft statement are essentially free for use with credit and conditions as outlined in their respective terms and licensing document.

To search flickr for creative commons images you can use this link – http://www.flickr.com/search/?l=commderiv&w=all&q=photo&m=text – substitute the word “photo” in the link for an appropriate keyword, but be sure to check the CC license of the flickr’er in question.

Indeed, don’t take my word for any of this. You need to check each specific image and if in doubt, request permission for re-use, whether you are a blogger, journalist or publisher. There are other exceptions, but usually those who create images or other intellectual property want, at the very least, credit for their efforts. That, of course, includes images from other publications that have added value to an author’s image.

The current interpretation of copyright law is aimed at protecting those who produce creative works, but this often seems to be to the detriment of the individual when publishers have adopted the copyright. Publishers, however, it can be argued, do add significant value to the material they publish. I have seen it from the inside. They do so, not only from the point of view of validating the information to be published, but also to the point of rendering the words and pictures in a form that is intelligible to the target readership. Whether or not the author or reader should pay for that added value is a different matter. Publishing is currently in a state of flux in that regard with new experimental business models in place that seek to invert the traditional approach of reader pays.

Regardless, with the copyright law as it currently stands: assume you cannot, unless you know you can, and if you are unsure, seek permission, add a credit, and carry on blogging.

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