It's a good cautionary tale. In my other life as a graphic designer, I've always been well aware of the concept of copyright. The web has been a seething mass of illegal image use since Day One.
At first there wasn't much anyone could do about it: how would you even know if someone was pirating your images unless you just happened to see it somewhere? So people got away with it for so long that it just became standard practice—most people don't even realize they might be doing something wrong.
The problem is, it's still illegal.
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These days technology has caught up, and the owner of an image has a pretty good chance of discovering its unauthorized usage, and there can be serious consequences, as this writer discovered. I appreciate her writing about her experience and warning others.
The article prompted me to go through my blog and make sure I'm not using any one else's images. Fortunately, almost every image is my own—after all, that's what my blog is about: ME ME ME.
The idea of other people using images of my paintings is more complicated. After all, I'm selling the original painting, not the digital representation of it. I want my paintings spread around! It's good publicity for me.
But I don't want them misused or exploited. I can't control where the images are used, and that's one reason I started putting a copyright watermark on them (stay tuned for next Tuesday's Tip). If someone wants to use a painting on their blog and say "isn't this pretty?" then I just want credit for it (and a link!). Maybe it will lead to a sale for me. But ASK ME first. I don't want one of my images showing up on the cover of Southwest Art without credit. Or as the backdrop in a porn movie. Wait, no—in that case, maybe I don't want to be credited :-) Generally, I don't want someone else taking credit for my work, displaying my work without crediting me, or receiving a monetary (or intangible) benefit that should come to me.
The safest thing is to always ASK, and keep the email with their answer. When you see an image on someone else's website, don't assume they have the rights to it, either. Twice when I've written to ask someone if I could use their photo for painting reference and they replied "Sure!" it turned out they didn't own the photo; they themselves had scrounged it from somewhere! Fortunately in most cases when I've asked permission, the person had taken the photo themselves, so the provenance was firmly established.
Royalty-free versus Free: I know sometimes people think they mean the same thing. Au contraire. "Free" means what you think it does. "Royalty-free" means you purchase the rights to use an image multiple times in multiple products, with very few restrictions. It used to be standard practice with stock photography that you purchased the right to use the photo ONCE in a specific item, like a brochure. If you then wanted to use it in your annual report, you had to purchase another use. That is the "royalty." It's like a rental fee. Yes, it was very expensive. That's why people were able to make a living as photographers; they were paid for their work. The advent of digital photography made it much easier for non-professionals to create their own photos, so in order to remain competitive most stock photography companies moved to the royalty-free arrangement. But it's still necessary to purchase the use of the photo; they are not free of charge.
*On an unrelated subject: Evie Owens is a fantastically talented writer - I highly recommend both Exit Lines and Blood and Guilt.