Posted in Learning Things, Writing Stuff Down

Copyright Laws and Why My Head May Explode

You may have noticed a slight change in my blog as of late. One look at it and it’s easy to ask oneself…


Well, I’ll explain that.

The other day I read a horrifying article about copyright infringement in blogs, ie, taking other people’s photos and posting them into my blog. Turns out I’m totally breaking that law (along with millions of other people) without even realizing it. The person who wrote the article had the unfortunate instance where a photographer actually contacted her and not only told her to take the picture down (which she did right away), but that she has to pay him an obscene amount of money for the previous use of his photo. She didn’t have the money, lawyers got involved, and it was a big ol’ mess. All because of a single photo that she innocently posted on her own blog despite the fact that she credited it.

So you may be thinking that the odds of this happening to you or me are slim. Very slim. But there’s proof that it definitely does happen. Larger companies actually hire people called “infringement trolls” to scope the web looking for photos used without permission. And really, all those infringement trolls have to do is go to Pinterest, because that site is about 99% copyright infringement. That’s the point of Pinterest. You find a picture you like and you “pin” it so you can show everyone else how cool it is.

But most of those pictures you find are copyrighted, and most of us don’t get permission from the original source to pin them. Because that would take all the fun out of Pinterest.*

*Here’s an interesting article regarding the legality of Pinterest, if you’re interested in more info:

This really sucks for bloggers like me. I happen to think that certain photos add a lot to blogs and make them more readable. And like Alice once said, “How can one possibly pay attention to a book with no pictures in it?”*

*Damn, I’d better source that quote. Um…Lewis Carroll wrote the book…but the quote is from the Disney movie…so…um…I don’t f***ing know. Sorry.

But after reading this article and doing loads of brain-numbing research since then, the fear set in. I felt the same fear ten years ago when I got my first iPod and discovered how to get free songs from the internet (that quickly stopped after I heard about the first lawsuit).

Which brings me to another tangent…when does music fall into Fair Use or copyright infringement? Remember back in the day when you’d make mixed tapes (or CDS, whatever) for your friends? Those things were my go-tos for awesome birthday presents. They were free (except for the cost of the blank tape or CD), they were personal, and everyone loved them. But they can apparently also throw your ass in jail. All because you wanted to share your love of music with others.

I’m not making these tapes or CDs to sell on the black market. All my friend is going to do is listen to the CD in her car on her way to work. So where’s the harm?

What if I post a video of myself dancing to a Rihanna song (which I would never do…that’s something you never want to see…)? Can I be sued for using her song and publishing it without permission? I’m not commenting or reviewing it, but is it still Fair Use?

Where do we draw the line?

Anyway, last night I spent three hours going through this blog, all 104 posts, and removed any image that could get my ass in trouble.

Needless to say, my blog is fairly boring now.

I didn’t take everything out. I left in pictures I took myself (which aren’t very many), and I left in book covers and movie posters. According to the many articles I read, book covers and movie posters should be covered by the Fair Use Act, which means you can use a picture of something if it’s used for commentary or criticism. For example, many people like to write reviews for books and movies in their blogs. And the natural thing to want to do is post a picture of that book or movie to accompany the review. Apparently that’s okay.*

*Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer so don’t take any of this seriously without consulting a real one.

I understand if you’re an artist or photographer and you put your stuff out there and then someone tries to claim it as their own. Yeah, that would piss me off. But according to the law, that would only be plagiarism. There’s a different between plagiarism and copyright infringement, one being protected by the law, and one not. But if you post a photo of something you like, even go so far as to credit and link to the original source, how is that a bad thing? You’re not gaining anything from it, and I don’t think (re: I’m totally not sure) the artist is losing anything from it. If anything you’re helping promote their art, right?

Am I totally in the wrong here? Maybe I need to talk to actual photographers and artists about this. I’m sure they look at it from a completely different point of view, since that’s how they make their living. But in all honestly, bloggers and reviewers like me only have good intentions when we post something that “belongs” to someone else. I’m not trying to post a picture of Ryan Gosling on my site and saying, “Hey, look at this awesome picture I took!” Trust me, if I was able to take a picture of a half-naked Ryan Gosling with my own camera, YOU WOULD KNOW.

I talk a lot about books and movies in my blog posts, and I love to show the covers of things. Since I’m writing about them as commentary, that should be fair use.

But all the screen caps, all the pictures of celebrities and cute boys…GONE. Everything I love…GONE.


This isn’t to say that you can’t put any pictures on your blog. Obviously you can upload pictures you’ve taken yourself, which means that I’m going to have to start taking more pictures (I’m very lacking in that department). I still don’t have an iPhone (can I use that word? Is it copyrighted???????), so I don’t have the means to easily take pictures and upload them. I have an iPad (COPYRIGHT????), but people tend to make fun of other people who take pictures with their iPad. And it’s not the most convenient way to do it anyway.

There are also FREE pictures to use online from sites like Creative Commons, Flickr (though you have to check on Flickr to see if it’s copyrighted), and Morgue File, and you can also pay a small fee more access to thousands of stock (re: boring) photos.

It’s not the same, but in this day and age where people like to sue for anything, it’s the only safe way to do things. I still don’t know how the government and their little trolls are going to combat billions of people from doing this because EVERYONE does this without even knowing it – just look at Facebook. Those pictures you took the other night at the U2 concert? Totally illegal. It seems impossible to control, especially given how fast the internet has grown over the past ten years, but apparently they’re trying.


*Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer so don’t take any of this seriously without consulting a real one.**

**But they’re still probably watching what you’re doing RIGHT NOW.



I have way too much information floating around in my head, which is why I write things down. I find that books, movies, music, and television are much more interesting than my local news.

6 thoughts on “Copyright Laws and Why My Head May Explode

  1. Great post, and great points!

    From what I’ve read on fair use, it seems if you write a review on something like a book, you can use a photo related to that book. If you are issuing commentary on a photograph, that’s fair use too.

    Also, news reporting is covered under fair use.

    Frankly, I don’t see why it’s a huge beef considering that blogging is more of an expression of opinion than anything else.

  2. I totally get where you’re coming from and I don’t think you’re off base at all. As a photographer I would have absolutely no problem if someone used a photo of mine for a blog post or to share with friends as long as they gave me credit (in fact a friend of mine uses photos of mine weekly in her blog posts and I’ve actually made sales that way). I see it as good, not to mention, free publicity.

    Where the issue would come in would be if they passed it along as their photo or tried to print it. A photographer or any artist, writers included, make their money by selling their work. I would hope most people would have the decency to contact the artist to purchase a print or if they wanted to use the image for a book cover or something like that there is no way I would be okay with my images being used without my permission.

    I used to put my copyright signature on every image I posted online…I have since stopped doing that, I think it clutters up the image and detracts from it. But that is only my personal opinion, many photographers would think I’m insane, others, very famous ones, such as Trey Ratcliff, seem to fall into the same mindset as I do.

    However, I tend to post low resolution versions of my images when I put them online, including my website. If someone “steals” it and tries to make a print of it, it will look like complete s***. I do sacrifice some quality doing this, as FB totally screws up the quality of most images posted, they look all pixelated and crappy even when they’re not. Anyway, that’s one way to protect yourself as a photographer.

    Got a little off topic, but that’s just my opinion. Diane, you are free to use any of my photos if they ever work for your posts;) Just put the credit line in;)

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