I Am Famous*

I thought I recognized one of the photos in one of the presentations at TEDxEQChCh, and I was right. It turns out that I recognized it because it was my image. Kind of.

The photo

Bob Parker talking to a journalistBob Parker - It's munted

That’s my original photo on the left, which I posted on Flickr. The modified image on the right was used in the talk Tragedy Plus Distance (the other TEDxEQChCh talks are up on YouTube now too, and you should watch them). I’ve looked on Google, Flickr and Facebook and can’t find the modified image anywhere (if you see it let me know). Unfortunately free reverse image search engines like TinEye only index a relatively small number of images.

I don’t know if the site the modified image is on is making money or provided attribution to me. I’m not having a dig at the TEDx speaker—few if any speakers attributed the images used in their presentations and any attribution would likely point to the modified image, not my original one.

The stolen scream

Unlike mine, this is an extreme and interesting case of image plagiarism: Noam Galai‘s photo of himself screaming made it into 30+ countries, on book covers, in magazines and on t-shirts.

The case against watermarking

“[A] watermark breaks the image.”

Watermarking photographs is an option. But an ugly one. The lesser evil of watermarking on the edge of an image rather than in the middle presents the option to someone who is determined of just cropping it off. Is a casual sharer going to go out of their way to crop an image? Unlikely. Let’s assume they would provide attribution either way. Are they going to want to share the image at all? Unlikely. The comments on this post about watermarking  are worthwhile reading.

In a survey of professional photo buyers, PhotoShelter found that “an overwhelming majority of them stated that an image with a prominent watermark is less likely to be licensed than an image without any watermark at all.” Co-founder Grover Sanschagrin agrees that watermarks result in people being less likely to pass your images on to others and says that prominent watermarks send a subtle signal to buyers that you’re a difficult person to work with.

The Internet copyright conundrum

I think the interesting thing for me is that the person who modified and posted the image is probably a content creator too. They likely have at least some content they place usage restrictions on.

What does All Rights Reserved mean to an Internet user? Is personal and noncommercial use (like blogging, Tumblring etc.) of a reasonable amount of a person’s content with attribution accepted practice? Some Flickr users don’t want their photographs being shared at all. I disagree—the more people who see my photos the better. A large side goal of that is to promote my other content, which requires attribution.

Should I put my photos under a Creative Commons licence then? I’m hesitant. Among other things: some of my photos have made me money—would buyers be put off if the same photo was available for ‘free’ under a noncommercial licence? Creative Commons is essentially irrevocable and the format of the original content can be changed under any licence—attribution is not linkable offline.

I think I’m happy with the status quo. All Rights Reserved with the knowledge that because of the nature of the Internet the image will be shared noncommercially no matter the licence, but that hopefully a link back will be shared too.

If you share content off the Internet please link back to the original creator. It’s extremely easy to find good quality ‘free’ images on the Internet, I’ve posted before about finding images responsibly on Flickr. When I was trying to track down the modified image I saw that Google provides options for searching for Creative Commons labeled content too.

Even if imitation is the greatest form of flattery it can still leave a bad taste behind.

What does copyright in the context of the Internet mean to you?

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Blog posts are better with images. Posts look better and are easier to read when text is broken up by something. Posts with images catch the eye better in RSS readers too. It doesn’t have to be hard to find good and free images to use in posts.

Flickr Creative Commons

Searching Flickr is a great way to find Creative Commons (CC) licensed images which are suitable to use in blog posts.


Copyright Puzzle

Using Advanced Search, Flickr gives the option of only searching within Creative Commons-licensed content. If you make money off your blog or think you might try to in the future you should also tick the commercial use box. If the search term is popular you’ll likely get better quality results by clicking on the Interesting search filter, which is a magic algorithm that appears to take into account things like image views, clicks, comments, favorites and tags. If the search term isn’t popular, the Interesting filter will probably show up irrelevant images, in which case you can switch back to the Relevant filter.


The images that are returned by the above CC Commercial search need to be attributed back to the uploader; if you haven’t ticked the modify box, some licenses might require the image to be used as is, and not cropped or otherwise changed; other licenses allow modification but require the modified version to be released under the license the original image was under.

Flickr Thumbnail Crop

I use a WordPress plugin called LinkWithin, which along with similar plugins could be argued unintentionally violates No Derivative Works licenses by modifying images to create square cropped thumbnails which are displayed below related posts. However the thumbnail is effectively advertising the original image, which isn’t modified in the post, so I think it’s still in the spirit of the license. Flickr does the same sort of thing with their thumbnails and it doesn’t seem to be a problem, however it’s likely covered in their terms of service.

Questionably licensed images

The best candidates to be genuinely a Flickr user’s photos to upload are personal photos, pictures of landscapes, buildings, monuments, and other tourist type photos, and pictures of celebrities at public appearances, such as conventions, ceremonies, and book signings. –Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons has a great page on what to be wary of:

  • scans from magazines, books etc.
  • screenshots from movies, TV shows etc.
  • studio type photos and posed portraits that don’t look like they’ve been uploaded by a professional photographer, who usually say so in their profile and plug their website and social networking sites.
  • photos from red carpet type events.
  • uploaders that upload images from more than a few different cameras. However it wouldn’t be uncommon for uploaders to upgrade cameras regularly, but it’s likely they’ll show brand loyalty, especially for more expensive cameras.

Searching for images versus finding them by looking through a uploader’s photostream who generally uploads under a CC license introduces the possibility that some photos have been inadvertently licensed, either under the wrong CC license (eg. they typically upload under a different ‘flavour’ of CC license) or incorrectly licensed under CC altogether. It may pay to check the uploader’s other images. It’s also collegial to leave a comment letting them know where you’ve used their image, because it’s a nice thing to do, and because if they didn’t intend for the image to be CC licensed, they’ll let you know in a nice, non-lawyery way.

The Commons

The Commons on Flickr hosts some great old school photos contributed by 50+ worldwide cultural heritage institutions with the aim of increasing access to publicly-held collections.

The photos are “licensed” as having no known copyright restrictions. Wikimedia Commons points out that, the Smithsonian Institute, for example, states in their rights statement that images are for non-commercial use only. However they clarify that:

“If [advertising] is the only commercial aspect of your website or blog, you may post the Content on that site consistent with these Terms of Use… If you decide to use the Content for commercial or other purposes without undertaking to clear all rights, you will be responsible if someone else owns the rights and the owner objects to your use.”

So read the rights statement for the institution who uploaded the photo which is linked to in the right sidebar first.

Do you know of any other places to get quality images for blog posts from?

Image credit: Horia Varlan