March 2013 Archives

On releasing an image to the wilds...

(There are no image credits on this post because (much to my slight embarrassment) I made all of these. The eggs are all Creative Commons licensed over on Flickr; click any picture to go there.)

I have a long history of making slightly geeky easter eggs for friends and family. I grew up making silly eggs with family, and later learned some of the techniques of pysanky, traditional Polish egg-decorating. (Despite not being Polish. Or Christian, actually.)

The first seriously geeky one was actually inspired by a student who worked for me in a tech center at the University of Michigan Libraries, who said "You couldn't make a -Batman- egg, could you?"

Egg decorated with Batman logos and a utility beltThanks for setting me off down a lifetime of strange creative choices, Asif.

Egg decorated with polynomial functionsEgg decorated w picture of Aang from the Avatar animated seriesEgg decorated to look like Superman wearing a capeEgg decorated to look like a spaceship from the series Stargate Atlantis
To maintain plausible deniability about my own extreme geekiness, I'm not going to admit which of those were requests, which were done with specific friends in mind, and which were just for me...

Some time ago, I made a birthday present for a good friend who is a fan of Doctor Who. Although I am not, myself, a big fan of Doctor Who, I was -aware- that the internet likes Doctor Who. I just wasn't quite aware -how much- the internet REALLY LIKES DOCTOR WHO.

Egg decorated to look like a Dalek from Doctor WhoI documented the creation pretty carefully, because I'd referenced some lovingly detailed info from ProjectDalek, and they ask folks to document their builds. I honestly don't remember how it got there, but relatively shortly after I posted my photo series, it ended up on BoingBoing. It was also featured on Neatorama around the same time, and several photos were used on a site called Kuriositas.

This is all awesome, and from my perspective a bit hilarious. But also it's -100% totally legal for all those sites to copy my pictures- because they were published with a Creative Commons Attribution license. Anyone can use them for any purpose, without further permission from or payment to me, as long as they give me credit and say they're using it under a Creative Commons license. That's it, done!

Since 2010, the Dalek egg is still pretty consistently the most-visited image in my Flickr feed, and hits to it spike right around Easter every year. It shows up a lot of random places around the web. A co-worked spotted it on Buzzfeed fairly recently. The actual egg lives with its owner in Northeast Minneapolis (though it did make one public appearance at the Nerd Party Storefront-in-a-Box in summer 2010).

However, I was reminded of it this morning, when a friend sent me this Facebook message:

screenshot of a facebook message that asks Was this yours and links to a Reddit pageOn visiting the relevant Reddit page, I saw a link to my egg. And, as is common for Reddit, it's actually a link to an version of the file. This is actually the first time I've seen it anywhere remotely prominent where there wasn't even a vague stab at providing image credit. I don't feel outraged about it; I recognize that what happens once an image is on the internet is waaaaay out of the control of the original poster.

But the Reddit URL got me digging through my Flickr stats, and lo & behold, I found it shared on Reddit two weeks ago - with an argument about proper credit immediately after posting, even though that poster never made a copy of the image - but -did- link to my original version. (Reddit's does have ethics, folks.)

Amused, I dug even further through my Flickr stats, and ran a TinEye search. The picture is all over the place, sometimes with credit, and sometimes not. There's a post on a site called Loljam that is a direct copy of the Buzzfeed post, only it neglects to credit image sources. There's lots of copies of it shared on personal blogs that link or provide credit to bigger blogs (mostly Kuriositas) that shared it first. I have no doubt there's quite a few copies out there that I can't see from Flickr referrers or TinEye. The spread is kinda awesome.

If I were a professional photographer, I suspect I would not find the unattributed uses so funny.

Finally, what got me laughing hilariously and made me to decide to write this blog post - I noticed I had some "FlickrMail", and discovered two requests for permission to use my already-CC-Attribution licensed image - one FROM A BRANCH OF THE BBC. Who are the creators (though perhaps not the actual copyright owners) of the original TV series on which my unlicensed, no-permissions-sought, fair use derivative and/or arguably-transformative work was based!

I just...

Also, I hate it when people ask for permission to use things that already carry a CC-license sufficient to the purpose.

Anyway, I responded to both the BBC and the other person requesting permission to use my image with the following:

ITSALREADYCCBY.png --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Dear Nancy

BBC Wales online are planning a fun Easter feature on how to decorate eggs and would like permission to include your fantastic Dalek Easter Egg . We would, of course, credit you accordingly.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards

Melanie Lindsell
Producer, BBC Cymru Wales
Hi Melanie,

You don't need any additional permissions to use any of the images of the Dalek easter egg, as they are all already licensed for use with a Creative Commons Attribution license. All you need to do is provide credit, and state that you're using it under the Creative Commons license, and you're good to go.

I will not provide separate permissions to use it, even if that (sadly) would mean that you would not feel able to use it. I am a big fan of Creative Commons licenses, and would like to see them used more (when appropriate) by everyone!

I would -love- to have the egg featured on your site - up to you whether you think the Creative Commons license covers your use.

-Nancy Sims-)

Anyway, that's it. Put an image online, and if it captures the imagination, it'll get used. And used, and used. Sometimes legally, sometimes possibly-legally, and sometimes people will ask for permission when they don't need to. There are good and bad things about all of that.

Happy Easter, if that's your thing!
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Wikipedia as an image source

Wikipedia is increasingly an excellent source of images that are free for all kinds of uses. This recently came up in a discussion about resources for MOOC teaching, but it can also be a great source for a wide variety of projects. If an image is on Wikipedia, it is very, very often free for a -wide- variety of public uses!

But there should probably be one really quick step in the process between seeing an image on Wikipedia & downloading it for use. That is to take a quick look at the -image's- Wikipedia (or Wikimedia Commons) page to see if the reason Wikipedians think they can use it also sounds like it'd work in your use context.

Usually, all you need to do is click directly on the image (which is a good idea to do anyway, since it lets you download a higher-quality version of the image, and access full information for attribution or citation, if necessary) whereever it appears on Wikipedia.

The Wikipedia page for "Anatomy" provides a lot of great examples:
  • The_Anatomy_Lesson.jpgThe first image on the page is of this Rembrandt painting. Clicking on the painting takes us to - where we can see (towards the bottom) that it's in the public domain. Awesome - free for us to use.
  • Further down the page there's an animated .GIF of an MRI scan of a human head. The image page says that they're using it under a Creative Commons "Attribution-ShareAlike" license and/or a GNU Free Documentation license. The former means its free for anyone to use as long as they provide attribution, and the work in which it is used is itself Creative-Commons licensed. This is probably not a barrier to use in a course context, because when you use a ShareAlike-licensed work intact in a collection with other stuff, the collection doesn't have to be CC-licensed, just the individual image. But it may provide a barrier if you want to adapt the original image in a context where you can't Creative-Commons-license the result.
  • There is also a line-drawing illustration of pulmonary anatomy on the page. The image page states that it's public domain, from an old edition of Gray's Anatomy. Good to go for any use.

(Note: Wikipedians may not always be 100% correct about whether an image is in the public domain, but they are good at documentation, and good at self-correction. I'd say they're about as good a source of public domain information as any, these days. There's no perfect information.)

Most of the time, checking the image page is going to give you solid reasons why you -can- use the image, like public domain status, or Creative Commons licenses. Every once in a while, I've come across an image used on Wikipedia with a fair use justification, or because the image was originally distributed for promotional purposes (i.e., it was put out in public with the intent that it be used.) For example, check out this Monty Python image. If you understand why Wikipedia is using it, that may or may not -also- be good in your context - you'll want to consider the specifics.

I've also sometimes come across cases where the image page shows that Wikipedians are actively debating whether that image is appropriately used (for example, from today's featured article) Again, a time when you may well be able to use it, but you'd want to consider the specifics.

Also worth noting, if you want to systematically search, rather than just use an image you randomly stumbled on in Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons provides a searchable and browseable collection of media (more than just images) that includes tons of great, open or free, stuff.
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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from March 2013 listed from newest to oldest.

February 2013 is the previous archive.

May 2013 is the next archive.

I'm Nancy Sims, the Copyright Program Librarian at the University of Minnesota Libraries.

Though I am a lawyer as well as a librarian, no content on this blog constitutes legal advice; if you need direct advice on your legal rights or responsibilities, please consult your own attorney. This blog represents only my own opinions and not those of my employer.

I'm @CopyrightLibn on Twitter.

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