Blogging Tip: Using images without authorization
I wrote about the whole experience in “A star for a day. What I learned“, but basically I grabbed an image off Flickr and threw it into my post. I really had no idea what copyright law pertained to these files, or Creative Commons and attributions meant. I just saw a picture that fit well and used it, thinking “no one will find out. Only a few dozen people even read my site each week, and they’re mostly family and friends!”. Well I didn’t figure on a major site picking up the article, much less reposting that same photo I used in their own article!
So while the owner of the content probably would never have found my use of her image, Lifehacker and other Gawker sites (like Consumerist.com) were taking heat from the Flickr community for using their images without proper attribution (hence why Consumerist eventually created their own Flickr photo pool). Since Flickr users were on the lookout, they spotted that photo and traced it back to me.
While the owner was pleasant and understanding of my n00biness, I felt awful. I was caught and I escaped with just a warning. Whether the artist would or could have sued me is a question I don’t care to ask, but I’d like you, fellow bloggers, to be aware of what you’re doing with images. It may be a big pain in the butt to make sure the license on the image allows you to use it, plus link back to the owner appropriately or even email them for approval, but it’s your butt on the line if you don’t. Heck, there’s a number of online photo communities that sell their photos for $1 or less (chime in if you use them and can recommend any).
If you recall, I posted 50 tips for New Bloggers a while back. All those tips still apply as I tried to write it as a “timeless piece”. If you look at tip #38, you’ll see this piece of advice again.
A New Personal Experience with Copyright Infringement
And don’t think that just painting the picture a different color will make it “your own”. I originally had a different lightbulb in my logo, but with different colors than the original (I painted it the blue and green). However, after this crisis with Flickr, I created my own lightbulb to avoid ANY conflict of rights.
Why is this coming up now? Well a fellow blogger (who I met in person) had his artwork stolen by another PF blogger. The owner notified the blogger and said he can use it, but he wants a link back. Instead of removing or attributing the graphic properly, the blogger just changed the colors. I don’t think that’s fair to my friend, but I’m considerate enough not to “out” the violating blogger here. You know who you are, and the issue is between you two to resolve.
Personally, if someone stole my lightbulb and used it to make money on their site (e.g. improving the look of the site to draw more traffic), then I would be extremely upset. While I’m against using the law needlessly, I wouldn’t be against filing a DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) infringement notice with that site’s host, if the site owner refused to cooperate. I’ve done this with various scrapers and have successfully taken down a half-dozen sites to-date.
So be careful with the images and content you use on your sites. Don’t think that just because you only get a few hits a day that no one will find out. And put yourself in the shoes of the artist. If you spent hours or days putting together an amazing photo or graphic, wouldn’t you want some credit, or at least someone asking if they can use your stuff?