Using other artists’ images on your blog

In a comment on Shine the Spotlight on Someone Else–which mentions using another artist’s image along with complete credit on your blog–Lesley Atlansky wrote:

So an artist wouldn’t mind if I posted an image of their work on my blog (in a post about their work) as long as I credit them and note the copyright of the work is theirs? It seems like a legal gray area, like I wouldn’t be able to put an mp3 of a Depeche Mode song on my blog when talking about how much they inspire me if I simply add a copyright symbol by it.

I think this is a great question and a legitimate analogy to music. Please keep in mind that I’m not an attorney, so I will not address the “legal gray area.” I do think, though, that using the entire mp3 of a song (a complete work that is fairly easy to download and copy) is quite different from using a small, low-resolution image of an artwork.

 

©2009 Lesley Atlansky, <i>Like Petals On the Earth</i>

What I’m talking about here is giving someone free publicity. Put aside the law part for a minute.

IF you write something nice about someone . . .

And IF you have a decent blog that doesn’t contain objectionable content
(sexual, political, or something else that might offend) . . . any artist in his or her right mind SHOULD be thrilled with the mention.

Newly added: Clarification since I was apparently not making myself clear: This post was written with regard to using an image to go along with something nice you’ve written about an artist’s work. It is not intended to refer to art used to decorate someone else’s post. I also made it very clear in the previous post that the work should carry complete credit–including the © notice. I apologize for misunderstandings.

You are taking an image that is already available on the Internet (presumably you got it from the other artist’s blog or website) and sharing it with your readers.

Reread some of what I wrote above. If your art appears on a site that has objectionable (to you!) content, you’re not going to be happy even if full credit is given. The reverse is also true (if you feature the art of someone who objects to your content). I’m thinking of the recent suit that Jackson Browne won against the John McCain campaign, which used his song without permission. Since Browne is a liberal activist, he might not have sued had Obama done the same thing, although I certainly won’t speak for him.

If your site is a fairly innocuous artist site and all you’re trying to do is promote the art of another artist, there is no reason in the world that you should worry about using an image along with your post. If you think there is reason for anyone to object to your content, it’s probably best to get permission ahead of time. And always remove something if requested. The fight isn’t worth it.

Some years ago, I found that artists were a little touchy about allowing use of their images. Today it’s different. Only the uninformed would feel that way. Every artist whose work I feature is THRILLED beyond belief. They recognize the value of free publicity.

By the way, because of the nature of this question, I asked Lesley for permission to use her work here. I don’t usually ask! But I do send an email informing an artist that I’ve used one of their images–just so they can do the happy dance. More clarification is needed here, too. I have a prior relationship with the artists whose images I use. It was irresponsible of me to suggest that I use random art to “decorate” my newsletter and blog posts. I know the people whose art I am using and I send them an email telling them that their art will appear.

If someone uses your art without credit

If someone uses your art without credit let them know you are displeased without threatening them. Send them an email saying “Hey, I see you liked my work. I sure would be happy to thank you for featuring it if you would just give me credit. Please provide this credit line and link and we’ll be cool: . . . “

(As an aside, about 5 or more years ago I made the gigantic–ha!–mistake of using someone’s image in a newsletter without getting permission ahead of time. I got a nasty note from that person as if I had done them irreparable damage. They demanded that I should have asked permission. I apologized profusely and then quickly removed the image from the online version. I’ll be darned if I was ever going to feature that person’s art in any way, shape or form. Please see my clarification above. It applies here, too. I had met this person face to face. But it was the single time that I forgot to email someone and tell them that their work would appear.)

Make sure you’re giving credit to yourself

Incidentally, I think you should also be crediting your own work whenever you post it. This is a huge failure of most artists. Sure, it’s your blog and most people will correctly assume that the work is yours. But if it’s their first visit to your blog, having your name under all of your images will help establish name recognition. I like the way Brian Kliewer does it.

Picture 22

Incidentally, Brian’s use of the © notation is correction. It’s © followed by the date, followed by your name.

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24 comments to Using other artists’ images on your blog

  • Good post, Alyson! While it’s always good to get backlinks from others, use of any image or copyrighted material ought to be preceded by asking permission of the copyright holder. If nothing else, it’s good manners. As you point out, favorable use of material is generally looked upon kindly, but it never hurts to ask first. And it will avoid nasty confrontations later.

    Like the new WordPress version!

  • Walter Hawn

    Alyson, usually, I’m in agreement with what you say. Here, though, I’m not. I would NOT be ‘thrilled’ nor even mildly pleased if someone used my work for decorative purposes on a web-site (or any publication) without permission.

    To do so is in violation of my copyright.

    It is not a ‘gray area.’

    However, asking permission is not hard, and should be done IN EVERY CASE. That way, you can be granted a proper license to use the work and the maker of the work can show defense of the copyright.

    Carolyn Wright has much good information on copyright at her web-site: http://www.photoattorney.com

    A mis-appropriated work almost certainly will not carry a proper copyright notice, which should include the phrase ‘used by permission.’ I was just yesterday asked, by a fellow in Maine, if I would choose four or five works he could show on his site. You bet I will, and I’m very glad he asked, because I can specify the credit line, know where my work is shown, and have a good relationship with the fellow.

    But, if I see my work anywhere I have not given permission for it to be shown, the site owner will be asked to take it down.

  • Alyson Stanfield

    Walter: Please see my additions and clarifications above. I’m afraid I was the one who was being gray and fuzzy. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to set things straight.

  • I just put a copyright notice on my blog sidebar that reads:

    USING MY STUFF
    I retain copyright on my work at all times. However, you may use my words and photos on your blog without asking for permission, as long as the following conditions apply:

    1) It’s not a commercial use
    2) The work is attributed to me
    3) You link to this site

    If you wish to use my words or images for anything that might be commercial in nature, then please ask.

    I feel this covers it nicely.

    I have a deliberate policy generosity towards other artists and often feature other people’s work on my site. I’ve seen artists who have a copyright notice on their site that requests people to ask for permission before using any of their words or images.

    What happens when I read that? Well, obviously I don’t use their work because that would be wrong. But do I email them and ask? No, nine times out of ten, I don’t. I can’t be bothered and I’m usually in the flow of writing a blog post and want the image right then, not whenever they may or may not get round to giving me permission.

    I know that artists intend it as a way of protecting their work but really, anyone who’s going to steal their image for nefarious purposes is going to do so despite a strict copyright notice. All it does is stop people like me giving them free publicity.

  • Oh, and obviously I always attribute people’s work to them. I always put my own name under all my own photos too. It stops confusion and if you’re going to the bother of putting the title underneath, you might as well put your name on too. That way if people do want to use your image, they can easily cut and paste and they won’t inadvertently leave your name off. Always make it easy for people, that’s my rule! I think that most people will do the right thing if you make it easy for them to do so.

  • Walter Hawn

    Thanks, Alyson, for your corrections and emendations. You’re correct that a work may be used without permission when the use is of a critical or educational nature. This requires that the work be discussed as a work, or as part of a body of work, not as an illustration. It is courteous to inform the maker of that sort of use, and it is mandatory that proper attribution, including a copyright notice, be made.

    Kirsty makes the point that nefarious people will be nefarious, but misses the point that a copyright must be defended to be effective. Non-defense of a copyright is a legitimate issue in an infringement dispute, and has been known to lose the deal for the copyright holder. Her ‘permissions’ language does defend but is weak, since she may not know where or when a permitted use take place. In addition, the permissions should include the requirement that the use carry a proper copyright notice.

  • Thanks Walter, I take your point. I may start doing what Brian Kliewer does and adding the actual copyright notice to my images, although it would mean adding a border and adding the notice in the editing process. But it would ensure that my images aren’t accidentally orphaned, which is something that does concern me.

  • Generally I think that other artists are pretty decent about links and attribution. What I have seen a lot of though is news blogs like Digg, Fark and non-art blogs using artists’ images without any attribution whatsoever. Sometimes they’ll be doing a list of ‘top ten pictures of X’ or they’ll link to some art project they think is cool but they’ll do so without any mention of the artist’s name and often no link to their site. Sometimes there’s a link to a news story that mentions the artist’s name but not always.

    It makes me crazy!

  • Alyson, I appreciate your post – copyright and permissions aside, I’ve seen quite a few tweets and blogs lately talking about artistic jealousy. I’ve been running a series called Artists I Admire (link below) on my blog for quite a while where I put up the artist’s image, connect it with a link to their web site, and write a post completely about them and their work. If I know the artist well, I do not ask permission first, but if they are only an “acquaintance,” I ask permission first. In every case, the artist has been absolutely thrilled. It is good, though, to provide all the disclaimer info they require, and you can use what they place on their own site as a sample of what to write. Thanks for the positive message! Here is a link to one of my Artists I Admire posts.
    http://nancymedinaart.blogspot.com/2009/05/artists-i-admire-karine-swenson.html
    Nancy Medina

  • One time, I followed a Google Alert for my name and discovered that another artist had taken a picture from my website, posted it on her blog and written about my work in glowing terms. As much as I was flattered, she took the image of an artwork that I planned to enter into Quilt National, a prestigious show which forbids entries that have appeared on someone else’s website or blog before the show submission is made. In other words, she seriously jeopardized my own use of my own artwork by posting that quilt on her site.

    When I wrote to her and kindly explained the situation, I offered another image for her to use and she replaced it within hours. However, I had to relate what happened in a note on my show entry and I will never know if that prevented that particular work from being accepted into the exhibit.

    It’s always better to ask.

  • I may be missing something, but I, frankly, don’t see how it’s any different for a blogger to use an artist’s image without permission (with proper credit) than it is for Google to index those images in their “image search” product. Frankly, I’m not even sure I get the only ok for “non commercial” use idea. Google is indexing images for commercial use. For that matter, Google takes all your text content without your permission too and runs ads against it and makes money. I rarely hear ANYONE complain about that. Exposure is a good thing.

    I realize you can remove your images and text from Google’s index, but I don’t think most artists would want to do that. Most artists contact us asking how to get MORE exposure in Google’s index. Why not allow more exposure everywhere else too?

  • I write about my favorite artists from time to time, and always ask permission of the living ones before writing a post about them. I think this is mandatory, and not optional. The artist may tell you to buzz off, and you have no right to post images of their work.

    When I wrtoe a post about WJ Phillips, I asked the permission of his grandson, and it was granted. It is important to consider that the works of a deceased artist might be owned by the estate of that artist.

    For artists that have been deceased for over 50 years, you have more options if you use an image that is considered in the Public Domain, and permission is not normally required.

  • I found this post through Twitter, and just have to recommend this link: http://www.faqs.org/faqs/law/copyright/myths/part1/ (10 Big Myths of Copyright Explained). I find the biggest problems on this issue are the confusion over trademarks and copyrights (trademarks need active defending, copyrights do not–a violation is a violation) and that non-profit or publicity-for-the-artist use always means it’s OK–not true either! The best practice really is to ask the artist (armed with titles of works you want to feature), especially since some pieces of the artist’s work may be subject to rules/concerns one may not be aware about.

    I can think of one exception where using an image without asking an artist is OK–if he/she has already anticipated that need and provides the conditions on how to do so! I’ve taken to displaying the “Creative Commons” logos on my own site alongside pictures I’m fine with people using, at the same time the logos and links specify what they can/must do with them. This works for me very well (http://wiki.creativecommons.org/FAQ), because it becomes clear I’m asserting my copyright, AND defining the terms of use for my images under a particular license (nicely outlined by Creative Commons) that’s generous to them as well.

  • I’m with Walter who wrote, “You’re correct that a work may be used without permission when the use is of a critical or educational nature.” I frequently write brief reviews of other artists’ work in my newsletters and blog. I only do this in my newsletters if I have something nice to say. In my blog I write more about issues in art, such as privacy, “pornography,” etc., and I have written reviews of artists that are not flattering, and included samples of their work for support.

  • Amanda G

    Flattered? Pleased? Only too thrilled because you’re being nice about it? I’m never pleased to have my copyrighted material posted elsewhere without asking permission. If someone likes something so much, then direct your readers to my site, don’t decorate your blog with my hard work. It’s a violation of basic copyright to use images without permission and flattery doesn’t come into it. It also takes away hits from my site and revenue opportunities. Not everyone’s blog is a hobby, many are part of someone’s career building and marketing strategy. Why do bloggers feel compelled to put things on their blog when they could point their readers to the original?

    • christine

      …well, don’t put it out there if you don’t want it shared, then.

      Your words are so bitter and you come across as completely unpleasant. (blech!)

  • This is a post I have been wanting info on for some time. Every Monday I post on mosaic dog art and I usually always write to the artist after the fact letting them know I am promoting them with abundant back-links however if they prefer not to be included I will happily remove the post. Recently an artist wrote saying that it was ok however I should have asked “first”. The reason I typically do not ask first is the very nature of e-mail and blogging. I have found that many people do not check their e-mail every day and that my e-mails can sometimes hide in people’s junk folders. Like Kirsty, frequent bloggers usually feel an urgency in their posting, and do not want to wait around for permissions. After reading the mixed comments here I think my best approach will be to stick with Flickr artists that have their preferences set to allow blogging. Better safe than sorry.

  • Rebecca: Interesting to know about Flickr–that you can set preferences to allow blogging. I didn’t know that. I really wish artists wouldn’t be so short-sighted. Wonder if it’s the non-bloggers. I do agree that asking first is always best (just in case), but being too focused on rules is losing sight of long-term benefits. You’re right to focus on your goals and how you can best accomplish those.

  • Alyson-
    Yes as you are searching art images over at Flickr, above the image there is often a link that says “blog this” if they have set their preferences up that way. I will stick with Flickr and Etsy from now on when searching for artists to promote. Nothing feels more hollow than trying to support someone and ending up feeling like you may have offended them instead:(
    Live and Learn I guess.

  • Good post, and good debate – it’s something I think about a lot. My blog is basically a showcase of artists and designers work that inspires me; however, I generally don’t ask permission to use an image or two along with a post.

    The reason for this is that in the increasingly fast moving world of design blogs, if I contact the person first to get permission they will either never answer because they are completely buried under email, or by the time they do respond the work will have already been featured on twenty or thirty other blogs, therefore there isn’t really any point in me posting it again.

    I realise that this doesn’t make it ‘right’ in a technical sense, but as I am also actively promoting the artist, attributing the work to them and also linking to their web site, I don’t feel it’s unreasonable to include an image of their work alongside my post.

    Having said that, I would always quickly remove the image (and post) if requested to do so, but this has never happened yet; in fact, several of the artists I’ve featured have actually contacted me to say thanks, which is nice!

  • Mark: Thanks for your insight. I agree! I just wish all artists would understand the benefit of a feature–given proper credit, of course. I think photographers have the most at stake and are more guarded than most.

  • Sure – and being one myself, I can totally understand photographers not wanting their images spread around the net without credit – I wonder if there’s a good way to stop that happening?

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