Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

A blog for PIs and writers/readers of the PI genre

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Copyright Violations and Public Domain Images

Posted by Writing PIs on November 12, 2014

fedora black and white

Post before last, we wrote about copyright trolls (how to recognize them, current litigation against them, and how to protect yourself so you don’t fall prey to their tactics). At the end of the article, we talked about copyrights in general and included a link to romance author Ronnie Loren’s story about being sued, as in for a lot of money, by a photographer when she copied and pasted one of his photos, without his permission, from the Internet to use in one of her blog posts. It cost her a lot of money, including legal fees, but eventually the case was settled. After learning that hard lesson, she only posts her own photos on her blog.

Here’s the link again to her story: Bloggers Beware: You CAN Get Sued For Using Pics on Your Blog – My Story

Like an Image? Contact the Copyright Owner

Years ago, one of the Writing PIs, Colleen, contacted a graphic artist and expressed interest in licensing one of his drawings. They worked out an agreement, and Colleen now uses the images occasionally in blog posts.

Soon after, she found a vintage pulp fiction cover by Robert A. Macguire that she wanted to use on a website. Macguire, well known to pulp fiction fans, created over 600 covers for such publishers as Penguin, Pocket, Dell, Avon, Bantam and many more. Colleen contacted R.A. Macguire’s estate and they worked out a licensing agreement for the image. The estate also removed the text on the image so Colleen could add her own.

Sure, it would be a lot easier, and certainly cheaper as in free, to just pluck a vintage pulp cover–or any other image–off the Internet, but unless a person has obtained the permission of the copyright owner, to “pluck” such an image is violating U.S. copyright and intellectual property laws. One might argue, “But…but…everybody plucks stuff!” Well, a lot of people certainly do, but then some, like Ronnie Loren, get caught and have expensive legal experiences.

Our Experience Protecting a Copyright

Previously, we mentioned how Colleen licensed a drawing from a graphic artist. She so admired his work that she contacted him again and asked if he were available to create a logo for her. This artist had worked professionally as an illustrator for video games, books and other media for years, but had since happily retired and didn’t want to take any contract work as an illustrator. A few days later he called back, said he’d changed his mind because he and Colleen had always gotten along well, plus the logo sounded like a fun project.

And it was. They experimented with several concepts before settling on one, which he drew in varying sizes for her to use. They signed an agreement, Colleen paid him for his artwork, and she is now the owner of the copyright.

A few years ago, we found that several private investigations businesses were using this image on their websites. Colleen contacted them and explained that she owned the copyright, and could they please take down the image, or credit the image. Their choice. Both chose to credit the image, and all was well.

This last weekend we were surprised to see an article by a P.I., posted on several sites, which prominently displayed this image. We contacted the P.I. and asked if he could please take down the image or credit it. He credited it, even adding a compliment or two for both Colleen and the illustrator. He was so nice about it, Shaun now has his name and contact information in case Shaun ever needs a defense investigator in that part of the country.

More Websites Had Illegally Copied the Image

We thought it might be a good idea to run a reverse check on the image and see if it had been copied elsewhere on the Internet.  Oh boy, had it. At least 15 sites were displaying it, a few being even more P.I. sites. So Shaun wrote a formal takedown notice and sent it to these sites, as well as to Google’s and YouTube’s legal departments who handled copyright violations for Blogger and YouTube.

Why not just let people copy and paste the image? Let’s not forget that Colleen paid a professional to create this image for her use. She worked with the artist on the concept and final image. She didn’t give her time and money so the image could be freely used by anyone on the Internet. Plus, Colleen’s not being heavy-handed about it — as long as the website credits the image, fine. Although when we saw a gamer forum member, whose unprintable profile name was high on the scum-o-meter, using the image as his avatar (which meant every time he posted, which was many times each day, that image displayed alongside his scum-o-meter name), we asked the site administrator to please remove the copyrighted image altogether.

Other website owners and site administrators have graciously abided with the takedown notice or they have credited the image.

What we found interesting were that some sites, which aggressively protected their own copyrights, thought nothing of violating Colleen’s copyrighted material. One site had all kinds of threats and copyright notices with trademark symbols around the guy’s graphic art…yet he’d copied and pasted Colleen’s copyrighted image to use on his blog without ever asking permission to do so.

Images Available via the Public Domain

Want some cool, free images? There’s sites out there that offer professionally created photos, illustrations, audio and video for free. Here’s a few:

iStockPhotos: This site offers a few free professional illustrations, audio, video and photos every week. Only a few — the rest of iStockPhoto’s items cost money, of course. Here’s a few examples of free images we got from iStockPhoto:

fedora on woman black and whitevintage writer at old typewriter

iStockPhoto requires a registration. Scroll to the bottom of the page to see their free images and other media for the week.

Getty Museum Public Domain Images: Getty Museum, via its Getty Search Gateway, offers hundreds of photos, paintings, illustrations and more for free via its public domain portal. Here are a few examples (feel free to copy and paste any of them for your own use — all the Getty asks is that you add the following credit: Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program):

Leonilla Princess of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn 1843 Franz Xaver Winterhalter Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program

Whelan's NY 1944 by Brett Weston Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program5 Men in Suits NY 1963 by Walker Evans Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program


Have a great week, Writing PIs

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