A lesson in Google Image Search, Fair Use, Intellectual Property and Stealing

If you do an image search on Google you can use that image and reproduce it however you want to because that's what it's there for on Google, right? False! That is a misconception. I'm going to attempt to enlighten those who read this blog and hope that those who do will share this info to enlighten many others. My work is very often used without permission which is stealing—that's right—it's against the law. I created it, it's my intellectual property, and I own all of the rights to it. It's even registered with the U.S. Copyright office to protect me and my rights. Let's start with this argument: "If you don't want people to use it, then don't put it on Google." Sure, there are ways of keeping your images from being turned up by Google, but I don't PUT it on Google—Google finds the images, and I want it to. In this digital age artists want people to see their work and the world wide web makes that easier to do than ever before. It's the artist's way of marketing and promoting themselves—making people aware of their work—networking—so that people who buy art, whether it's for the original art or products or to be licensed, reproduction rights purchased and more, can find them to make those purchases or obtain permission. It's free advertising! From Google Image Search, I am approached by people who want to buy my paintings or print reproductions, or to do freelance work for them. It has made self-promotion so much easier.

But it has also made stealing a cinch! And, using that art without permission—using it on a blog, website, printing it in a newsletter, brochure, on a t-shirt and selling at their own—those are all examples of stealing. As Google states on their Usage Rights page, "Anyone can browse the Web, but usage rights come into play if you're looking for content that you can take and use above and beyond fair use. Site owners can use licenses to indicate if and how content on their sites can be reused." Wikipedia defines fair use as "commentary, criticism, news reporting, research, teaching, library archiving and scholarship." This does not include copying my image to your computer to print in a program or place on your website for illustration. That's why there are places you can buy clip art or stock illustration.

On my website at the bottom of every page you'll find this "All content © 2005-2013 Laura Bolter Design and may not be used without permission." It means that any art found on my website cannot be used without my permission. Period. So sometimes when doing a Google image search you find an image on a website, but the credit for the artist isn't found. It is incumbent upon you to find the owner of the intellectual property before using it. One way to do that is with the Google image search feature itself.

Google Image Search
Google Image Search

When you click the little camera icon in the search bar you get this:

Google Image Search 2
Google Image Search 2

From here you can click to upload a copy of the image to your computer or paste a URL in the search bar. Searching from there, Google will give you image results with links that may take you to the intellectual property owner's site, where you can then find out if they protect their images with a Creative Commons license or Copyright usage info, or contact information so you can ask for permission for your particular usage. But, if you can't track down the owner, my advice would be not to use it. It just doesn't belong to you.

Another way to do a search is with Google Advanced Image Search, which includes options for image searching with certain usage rights, including images marked specifically for reuse. However, Google also warns on their usage rights page, "Before reusing content that you've found, you should verify that its license is legitimate and check the exact terms of reuse stated in the license. For example, most licenses require that you give credit to the image creator when reusing an image. Google has no way of knowing whether the license is legitimate, so we aren't making any representation that the content is actually or lawfully licensed."

Now I'm not a lawyer, or even  (or close to being) an expert of this stuff. But, I continue to find unauthorized usages of my art—people even deliberately ripping me off by reproducing my art for sale and profit—and I just had to do a little something about it. So, please, if you're so inclined, help spread the word, help me from having my work and the work of other artists stolen. And, if you are a person, lawyer or otherwise, who has more knowledge of this issue, please share it with me, and even more important, share it with everyone you know!

For more information, here are a few other websites to check out:

Creative Commons

Link With Love

U.S. Copyright Office

One more thought:  Just as songwriters, singers, playwrights and other creatives are compensated each time their music is played on the radio or bought in the iTunes store, their play is produced, or movie played in a theater,etc., artists should be compensated for the use of their intellectual property. That is the way artists make their living and support their families. So often artists are asked to contribute their work to a cause, of have their art used for reproduction without compensation. And, just as others in the world chose their own causes to support or tzedekah to give, I and other artists do that too, with causes we choose or are dear to our hearts. We should not be expected to give our art away. Respect the work of artists as you would respect the work of anyone, whether they are the doctor you visit, the lawyer writes your will, the plumber who fixes your leaky pipes, and on and on... Our time and energy and art are no less valuable.

Okay. I'll get off my soapbox now. Thanks for reading. Please share your thoughts.