12 June, 2013

Beware of so-called copyright-free source material

Read an article that is important to anyone relying on stock image type sources for their art or illustrations. Blogged about it over here already: http://cindyschnackel.wordpress.com/2013/06/12/beware-of-licensing-organizations-offering-free-images/

The article I blogged about was in Plagiarism Today recently, and it really hit home, because though I don't use clip art, etc, an infringer offered some of my work up to one of those type org's, and I don't yet know what extra hassle or damage that's going to cost me.  I was able to get my image removed from his site with a DMCA takedown, but that may not fix any damage already done.  Anyone using my work without my permission is using it illegally; someone giving it away to Creative Commons does not change that.

The sad thing is, the guy who thought he could just give my artwork away was an ART TEACHER, of all people, someone who should respect and value art, including the copyrights of others.  You may suddenly think, "Oh, isn't that educational and ok?" No, it's not.  There are limits to what is legal under copyright law's fair use exceptions, even educational uses, and he overstepped it. I almost looked the other way on his infringement until I saw that he was offering everything on his site to Creative Commons! That was in no way allowable by law.

To make matters worse, the site host, Wikispaces, played games with me, implying it was beyond their powers to remove the infringement. This is just ludicrous, as a site host in the US is obligated to remove infringements upon getting a valid DMCA takedown, it's not optional. (And it was a valid takedown, they never disputed that.)  Instead, they jerked me around. Then gave my email to the teacher. I suspect they directed him to "apologize," because I got one of those disingenuous "I'm sorry but's" that goes on to accuse and insult.  He accused me of "strong arming education." Since he emailed me, I replied, with links to the US Copyright Office's FAQ page, and a Copyright Myths site, that I hoped would educate him.  I doubt he read it, but you never know. I never heard back.  Either he or the site did remove my image, and I can only hope I found it before anyone assumed wrongly that it was free thru Creative Commons.

It was this and so many related problems with infringement that made me stop selling reprints online.

The last straw for me was probably when Google and Bing both rolled out their new huge image model, that makes copying and infringing very easy, and going to the real site not so much necessary anymore. Bing even added a Pinit button, bypassing the no-pin code I use.  I began to find infringements credited to Google, (if credited at all)!  So did many other artists.  Probably not coincidentally, many artists noticed at this same time that they had a drop in traffic and sales.  Ironic, if the very search engines we worked to be found on, were taking traffic away from us, huh?  (I have not looked to see how many other search engines are doing the same, but last I did notice, Yahoo still displayed thumbnails that easily linked to the real site.  If that has changed then shame on them too, or any search engine doing this.)

Had it not been the many infringements that sap me of time and energy, the money losses, Pinterest hoarders who do not even credit you, or restaurants and coffee co's using my work as their ads...it would've been the proposed "orphan works" laws that will increase infringement problems for many visual artists online.

Because the site I display some of my art on is like most, it can't adequately protect images, I replaced all of my images there with really small, low resolution ones, that have my name and copyright notice prominently on them. Helpful regarding infringement, but no longer possible to make reprints that way. I know there is no 100% protection, but I had to do what I could, to stop the bleeding, as it was seriously cutting into my ability to do art as a profession.  I know so many artists now making the same decisions, because of rampant infringements that were often commercial and damaging, that they had no real choice but to spend time and even money on fighting it.

Everyone...what you see online or on search engines or even on so-called copyright free sources, is NOT in the public domain just because it is there.  Public Domain is something only the artist can make it available as, or if they have been dead long enough that their copyrights expired, and their heirs no longer claim it either.  Public Domain is not the same thing as public place!  If you rely on stock images, etc, do your research before using, much less selling, your work.  The site you got it from does not have your back! Their Terms cover them. Nothing covers you.  You could be liable for damages if sued for infringement even if you got it from a source that said it was free to use.  And obviously Google, etc, do not have the authority to give away anyone's work.