Right click, save. Done.

Permission Free Clip Art Image from Dover Books publication 120 Great Impressionist Paintings Clip Art of an original painting by artist Pierre August-Renoir

I had another post slated for today, but something happened last night and I've decided to post again on the topic of Copyright Infringement. The internet is a fascinating beast, it's created a virtual free for all for intellectual property theft. It is like The Wild West. Right click, save, bingo...you own it. Right? It didn't have a watermark...so it's in the public domain, right?


If someone scans a picture of say Mickey Mouse or Spongebob Squarepants from a book or a cartoon it definitely won't have a watermark. If you download that image and duplicate it and sell it for profit, you've participated in copyright theft. So now there are two cases of copyright infringement. It is no different from walking into someone's home and slipping a vase you like into your purse. It's theft.

If you buy a pirated copy of a designer bag or shoes or hat, you've participated in copyright theft. Yeah, it's so much cheaper and you could never afford the real thing and shouldn't you have a right to own it? Nope.

Lots of people are doing it. They do it on eBay. They do it in Etsy. They do it on uBid. They do it at craft fairs and flea markets. So chances are, with the massive amounts of copyright infringement occurring on a daily basis on the internet and beyond, if you steal an image and copy it and use it in your art or sell it as a component to be used in someone elses art, you probably won't get caught. If you copy someone's work and sell it, you probably won't get caught. Though I can tell you that bigger companies like Disney and Nickelodeon and estates of celebrities like Elvis and Marilyn Monroe are diligent in seeking out this kind of stuff and prosecuting. If you do get caught, you could be in for an expensive lawsuit. No matter how you justify it, I can guarantee you the court will decide in their favor.

So just for clarity's sake I'm going to again explain the difference between recycling and stealing. If you physically cut out a printed image from a magazine, book, record cover or other printed form and you use it in your collage work...that's recycling. That being said, if you do you are still potentially infringing on copyrights, but there are fair use cases that have argued that these derivative works are acceptable. So it's a tricky situation that bears serious consideration and reflection and one I need to visit myself. If you copy or scan that image and use it or even manipulate it in Photoshop and sell that for profit or post it on the internet without proper attribution, you have stolen intellectual property.

Copyright protection in the United States lasts for 100 years or the artist's life plus 70 years unless the copyright is renewed. So unless you're using a public domain image from 1910 or earlier or an image that has been officially placed in the public domain or is sold by a reputable source as permission free (Dover Books has a huge selection of fabulous permission free images) then you are breaking copyright law. Copyright protection in Europe lasts for 70 years, so you can use European images from 1930 and earlier. Just because you can't find the copyright holder through a Google search, doesn't make it legal. Things are only in the public domain if the copyright holder has allowed them to be. That's why I use a lot of Victorian images in my work. That's why I collect ephemera from 1930s and before in Europe and from the Victorian era in the US. If it's protected by copyright, I will only use the original cut out printed page in a design, if not, I can scan and copy it and reuse it.

It's a fine line.

When I was working on my first book I contacted the estates of Frida Kahlo and Georgia O'Keefe about using tiny scanned images from their artworks in a bracelet I created as a tribute to them. I really didn't fully understand copyright law back then, but I did know I needed permission to use their art in my design. They contacted me back with a resounding no. So for those of you who use Frida's work in your designs, her estate is not okay with that. They have and they will prosecute.

People download music, buy pirated music and videos, take ideas, blog posts and images from the internet and resell them or repost them or repurpose them. I do not buy pirated music or videos or feel it's okay to download music illegally. That's my personal feeling, but let me state that I am guilty of the right click, save and the use of copyrighted images in work I've created for personal use. That's not illegal. Personal use is different from resale, redistribution...but still. I'm not fully without sin myself and I'm thinking deeply about these things today.

The reason I'm writing this post is because I stumbled on to someone on eBay selling images of some famous attractive diminutive cartoon horses that she'd copied and printed and cut out into circles to sell for mixed media use. I figured she didn't know and since it was a fairly well known set of images, I shot her a quick message both to offer her a warning and also to see what goes on inside the head of someone who does this sort of thing. Oh, she knew. She was very defensive and upset that I'd singled her out because millions of other people were doing it. This is her justification...which blew my mind by the way...she is selling the physical scanning, formatting, printing and cutting of the images and not the images themselves.


Uh, people are buying the images. We can all cut out circles from paper and if we're really craft savvy we know that there are fabulous circle punches that make very quick work of cutting out circles. She also told me that lots of folks were doing it online and elsewhere and she removes anything if she is contacted by the company that owns the images. Uh, so if she gets caught she takes things down? Nice.

So does she steal stuff from her local shopping mall or from her friend's houses? Does she say to herself, "Lots of folks shoplift. If I get caught I'll give it back." Does she understand that if she gets caught she'll give it back and possibly go to jail?

Intellectual property is property. Think deeply about that fact. Ask yourself if you'd steal a physical object from someone's home or a store. If not, why is it okay to steal someone's creative output? Is it okay to profit from someone else's creativity? It's not.

It's not okay.

Justify it all you want. Good luck with that. But know that you might get caught and if you do it could be a very unfortunate situation.



MB Shaw said...

Can't believe the story about the girl with the horse images. Pitiful. Thanks for posting.

Jenny said...

Madge, you should just title this post, "People Who Steal Suck." You are right on!

However, I would have included a small clause about PERSONAL art making...and you CAN use images from magazines, etc, just for your own use- but certainly not to sell, publish, etc.

Thanks for the rant, keep on!-Jenny from CraftTestDummies.com

Jane said...

Good post. I have been very angry lately over theft of my content. It seems like our society is losing any sense of ethics. Just because some things are given away free doesn't mean that everything should be free. We're developing an "I'm entitled to have it and not pay for it" mentality that, ultimately will bite us all in the bum. Ultimately someone pays for everything because it takes time and effort to write posts, make art and produce music.
I don't think that people who steal stuff are thinking about the process and that, if they become musicians or artists or bloggers that they, in turn, are going to have their stuff stolen too. They'd complain if someone walked into their house and stole their stuff but somehow the internet is perceived as having different rules, it doesn't!
Either way, it's theft and if we don't start niggling away at each and every person who steals stuff from us and from others we're complicit in the process. We're saying it's ok to do this, and it's not.

jafabrit said...

wow, I wonder if she accepts that kind of excuse from her kids (if she has any), you know, "everyone else is doing it so it's okay" philosophy.

Robin Beam said...

Nothing amazes me anymore regarding what people justify to themselves...you go girl!

Inky Hugs, Beady

susanc said...

Thank you for this post. I've always wondered about people who use obvious copyrighted images in their jewelry. I've seen it done dozens of times by one particular "artist" who sells both on Ebay and on Etsy. It blows my mind. She must know it's wrong, but continues to do it and her items sell. Amazing. All I can say is shame on her.

Sharon said...

Thanks for this post. This reminded me of people taking software home from work and copying it onto their computers. They had no problem stealing it! There is a strange mindset that because you can put it on a computer it's public domain.

By the way, Flickr: The Commons has a nice selection of copyright free images as well as the sources you mentioned.

Ricë said...

excellent post, indeed. i come at copyright from another angle, though: if someone is using someone else's images, how can they feel as if they've really created anything? oh, they can argue that it's collage or whatever and that that's a valid art form, yada, yada, yada, but you know good and well they haven't studied collage, haven't really thought about what collage IS. what they're doing is taking the quick-and-easy way to acquiring images. i can't draw or paint, but i can take not-so-great photographs and then put them in photoshop and alter them to look as if maybe i'd drawn them, rather than just using my little point-and-shoot. sure, it's a lot more work than scouring the internet and finding a photo or a painting that is Just Perfect, but when i take my own photo and alter it and work with it, it's MINE. all mine. and boy, there's a lot to be said for that.

Margot Potter said...

So many great points here! Fascinating. grblog...yes! That's true, thanks for the caveat reminder. Helen I think you really get the gist of this because of the nature of what you do.

Yes, Rice, I make mixed media collages and I have to think further about the images I've used in the past. I only use permission free images or the actual physical printed material now unless I'm making something for personal use. Things I've made for myself are one thing, things I've sold are another. As I've been learning, I've been changing my approach to my work.

These are good discussions to have and to keep having. We all benefit from them.


Unknown said...

In a country and an era where the grossly unethical get bailed out by the government instead of sent to prison, I guess that this is small-time crime. Where DID morality go?

The most appalling excuse I've heard computer-program and music- and video-thieves give is "it's OK to steal from big corporations; they can afford it". Seriously.

I ask you.

Margot Potter said...

Nona yes! The thing is, if you're stealing those things you're stealing from the artist who created it who gets a small royalty on the sale of their work. That's important for people to remember.

The Sick Chick said...

You can't even use a simple 100 or 70 year rule. Copyright is usually the life of the author plus 70 years, unless it's made by a corporation. Not owned by a corporation. So unless you know that someone like Disney made it, and it's more than 100 years, stay away!

Unknown said...

It never ceases to amaze me the entitlement that is rampant in our society. "Everybody's doing it, it must be ok."

Great article, Thanks!!!

Waterrose said...

Such a great article and puts it in terms that just about anyone can understand. A lot of people plead ignorance or that they just don't understand, but deep down I'm sure they do. I use to manage an IP practice and we always told people if there was any doubt don't do it. And, then we told them that we knew that they had creative brains and to come up with something of their own. Thanks for writing about this important subject.

Chris said...

I have to admit, I am still not exactly sure how "recycling" is different than stealing. If one cuts out an image from a magazine, aren't they indeed stealing from the magazine who bought the rights to that photo from the photographer?

Margot Potter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Margot Potter said...

Sick Chick, that is true. It's a slippery slope as I said.

I have inquired about these things with publishers, so I'm making statements based on what I've discovered. I think though...even the Beatles are having issues with music that might become public domain. There is a lot to investigate here.


Margot Potter said...

Chris I did some further research and it may be infringement to use cut out images. There are some cases where collage artists have been allowed to do this citing 'fair use'...but it's a complicated issue legally.

I have changed this post to reflect my newly acquired knowledge!

Thank you for posting!


Jan said...

Thank you for taking the time to write this!! You've provided very clear, thorough information.

Unknown said...

Love, Love LOVE this blog post. I've also contacted people who were do the same thing on eBay using Disney and Warner-Bros. images. She gave me same answer...everyone does it. The reason I LOVE Victorian and Edwardian images are that they are mostly copyright free...Beatrix Potter is a huge NO NO however. But some folks use them anyway. I'll have to re-think all of those 'copyright free' image cds I own. Are they really all in the 'safe zone'? Thanks so much for posting this...anyone who is an artisan NEEDS to be aware of copyright infingement...it is NOT a joke, it is theft! Ask anyone who has had to shell out thousands of $$$ to a lawyer to protect themselves from Disney or the WB. Thanks for that tip on European art...broadens my Vintage ephemera quest by at least 10 years :)
Carolyn, the_wild_gypsy on Twitter

Anonymous said...

Ha! Does that mean it's not theft if she doesn't get caught??? Not surprised, though. Greed seems to be the word of the day. Sad, really.

Thanks for saying what needs to be said!

AdrieneJ said...

What an important post! I'm glad you got it out there and straightened out. Theft is theft, 'nuff said.

jenni s-g said...

Hear hear! It's pretty amazing and appalling the excuses some of these people come up with.

What's even more jaw-dropping is how prevalent this is in the arts and crafts community--writers understand this, filmmakers understand this, musicians understand this, but for some reason, artisans and crafters still aren't getting it.

I hope that with constant education and community awareness, fewer instances of stealing and infringement will happen.

Margaret McCarthy Hunt said...

As the former copyright guru at school...yes schools where copyright theft is rampant by TEACHERS i would like to point out that resale of an image in your artwork possibly could get you in trouble for copyright infringement. Only the creator has a right to make money off their work...not you...UNLESS you get written permission from the creator and I MEAN WRITTEN! Not she said i could not well i asked and her husband said ok...WRITTEN...only legal thing that works...you will never get it from Disney or any of the big cartoon companies...NEVER...and they will sue you in a second...and worse you never know WHO works for them. I have a 1-800 number where I COULD turn an infringer in and receive a reward...have I NO...BUT that does not meant that someone else might not...hmm it could buy that new back door i think i need...lol..

ALL that aside...until i think it was either 86 or 89 you could make a copy as long as it was hand drawn and be ok ...you could do alot of these things and it was not considered copyright infringement. Then the BIG corporations got involved...aka DISNEY and other big companies and changed the law so they could rack up profits forever. You realize that Van Gogh's brothers descendants also zealously protect the VanGogh copyright. Do you think that Van Gogh intended for his brothers children to profit from his work in perpetuity? Thats what the new copyright laws do. Copyright laws were originally designed to allow the creator to make a profit from his work for a set period of time not to protect it forever...leave it to big corporations to make it so they could make the big bucks forever...and did you know they arranged so that Software copyright infringement fines are $250000 while other infringement fines are only $10000...follow the money....

As for copyright DONT do it its not worth it...only the big corporations can afford the lawyers fees and they can outlast even a millionaire in court said she whose family is littered with lawyers.

Margot Potter said...

SC Quilt Addict thank you for your insightful and wise comment. I'm loving this dialogue!

Thanks to all who are participating, this is good stuff.


Barb Smith said...

Margot, you know I respect you so much and I am so happy to see such a wonderful post from you.

Commenting from a different angle than any of the other commenters thusfar, this is a lesson that I, as a rather new artist, have had to learn. Admission time: In the beginning as I was creating jewelry and different art pieces, I admit that I "stole" from various places on the internet. It was flagrant "theft" but in my head I didn't think of it as stealing, I was using an image here or there, altering it and thinking that was okay.

As I have grown in my art and in my knowledge, I realize the error of my ways and don't do that kind of thing anymore...but I did. Yet when I was doing that, I sure didn't have the attitude of the "everybody's doing it" woman...I did it out of being thoughtless and uninformed.

We live and we learn.

Peace, Love & Art,

Cyndi L said...

Part of the reason that copyright is so complicated and people have so much wrong information, is because as the creator of a piece, I get to say what can and can't be done with it. Just because someone nice says you can go ahead and use their work doesn't mean the next person will. Basically, unless it is old enough to have fallen out of copyright, no one has the right to use anyone else's work in any way unless that person says it's ok. That actually goes for personal use as well, although the vast majority of people ignore that.

Gabrielle of Design Mom said...

Smart, well written post. I'm putting together the programming and panels for Altitude Design Summit and one panel is specifically about this sort of thing: Blogging Etiquette and Credit Where Credit is Due.

We have a lawyer and photo credit expert and possibly an FTC rep coming to talk about these issue and take questions from the audience. It's such a hot topic!

Shai Williams said...

I really appreciate the heads up on Dover. One of my resolutions for this year is to work on my blog and it is great to find free images.

Eileen The Artful Crafter said...

Great post! I can't tell you how many questions I get at my website about copyright issues.

I take that as a good sign. There are some people out there who care enough to check first.

To quote myself (can I do that? lol) ...

"I find a good rule of thumb is the tried and true 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.'"

Tammy said...

We all need to considering carrying around a digital camera (or using the ones in our phones). There are images out there that you don't have to draw yourself or steal.

EMR said...

This was very interesting for me. I am very aware of treading on other people's toes as far as copyright goes. I buy notebooks and decorate them, and then sell them. I stay as far away as I can from stickers like Disney etc. There are so many resources out there that are free of copyright. Surely crafters can expend a little effort and find them rather than "steal" from other creative crafters. I am not an artist as such, so cannot really draw for myself, but I can still create without stealing from others.

Unknown said...

This is an awesome post...and being new to the mixed media world - but NOT new to the publishing world, I've often wondered how artists sold their things - with other people's work in them.

I have lots of items from DOVER, but I use these as guides on how to draw - and print outs for my son to color. I don't even use their images in my artwork.

For me - if I can't draw it myself, I won't use it.

evision said...