A few days ago I posted the Deadline Demon, as I am occasionally wont to do, and I got a few comments from some readers saying how they like and use the image as chat icons. I posted the following comment of my own:
I don’t know what to say to that, gentlemen. I’m flattered, but you do realize that you shouldn’t just take any image you want to from the internet and use it for whatever you want to use it for? You should at the very least ask permission of the creator, be it myself or anyone.
I got two responses, one a gracious “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize”. Thanks for that, and my immediate response was: “No Problem. You most certainly have my permission to use it”.
The other was this:
hmm… not sure you realize what I’m using it for. it’s just a little icon that my mother and a few friends see when I show up on their chat. I’ve already pointed a few of them to your site when they asked what it is.
I must say I’m a little shocked and a little offended by your reaction. Let’s just say I’ve removed it from my batch of chat icons just like I’ve removed your site from my bookmarks, which should prevent any further impropriety.
This last is a perfect example of what is the pervasive attitude among internet travellers. They have this magic box at home that brings all these images and text onto their desktop at the clack of a few keys, and they feel they can use these items for whatever purpose they want. In fact, as evidenced by that reply, they feel it’s their right to be able to use them. They get offended if someone has the tenacity to tell them “hey, you have to ask the copyright holder for permission to use that.”
The fact is the internet is like one big, published periodical. The things posted on it are copyrighted by those who create them, and using any of them without permission is copyright infringement. It happens all the time and without a single thought, but that doesn’t make it okay. It’s odd, but the pictures and text posted on CNN.com are seen as no different in the eyes of copyright laws as the pictures of little Billy and the story of how he ate 16 ears of corn at the family picnic posted on Aunty June’s blog. People have a hard time understanding that. The current culture says it’s okay to take an image and make it into your avatar, or your IM chat icon, or use it on your own blog to illustrate your own story. In essence, you are publishing that image when you place it on the web, and representing it as your own. Even if you give the original creator credit, you are supposed to ask for permission first and more importantly, honor the decision of the creator should they choose to withhold permission.
I know all that sounds like an ego ride. The “Deadline Demon” image is a little doodle I did when bored at the theme park one rainy day, and it has no real value. I would never refuse permission to use it for any non-commercial use to anyone who asks, and my response would be both to say I am flattered they like it so much to want to use it, and thanks very much for asking. I didn’t respond as I did in the comments because I was mad some folks were using my Demon image… I just want to try and do my part to educate people about responsible use of the internet and the intellectual property on it. If I don’t get angry when I walk down Times Square and see a dozen caricaturists with my artwork on their displays, copped from the internet, why would I care about some IM icon? It’s important for everyone to learn to respect the rights of creators, because it’s not always okay with them to use their images (BTW, just to clarify it’s NOT okay with me to use my caricatures as samples as display samples on a caricature stand… if I could have gotten any of those Times Square artists to understand any of my English I would have ‘educated’ them as well.)
There are circumstances where the use of an image is okay without asking permission. Using the analogy about the internet being “one big periodicals”, a blog post or web page is essentially a published ‘article’. As such, it’s considered “fair use” to use an image representing a subject or theme of a story or article written. For example, my post yesterday was a movie review of “The Bourne Ultimatum”. I posted an image of the movie’s poster. That’s fair use. I wrote an article about the movie and used an official image for it. Using pictures of the iPhone, the HD-DVD player and other gadgets I have also talked about is also fair use, as long as the image comes from the source of the article. If I were to go to someone’s website and take their portrait of Matt Damon, I’d be infringing on their copyright as that image is not from Universal but from a separate creator. Even that is a little dicey, as the source of the poster image might have been undisclosed from where I got it.
These people who freely use copyrighted images aren’t evil, they are just following the internet mentality and don’t realize what they are doing is wrong… or don’t think their use of it is the same as ‘real’ infringement. I think the fact they they are sometimes offended when the facts are pointed out is that they feel they are honoring the creator of whatever image they are using because they chose that one over the other billion or so to use. They get mad when the creator asks them to remove it or ask for permission first because they see it as being ungrateful. That’s not usually the case, and certainly not for me. I’d just like people to understand the rights of others and respect them.
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