Google+ and the copyright issues of sharing images

 

Introduction

shutterstock_106011071

One month ago, I set myself a challenge.

It was a bit like Lent but without the binge on pancakes prior, not quite as long, not quite as successful and far from being religious in any traditional sense of the word. No, this challenge was not to download images I find on any old site and instead acquire the rights to high quality images that I could download and use on Google+, and my blog.

You would have thought it was easy, right? Wrong! (See here for cultural reference!)

I will point out at the start of what will inevitably be a long blog post, I have a Law Degree. Yes, yes, I know, I write more on my Post Grad subject of Psychology and sneak in a bit of comedy from that training as well, but I still have that Degree. So, why am I telling you this? If I have had to go through and explore this whole area then anyone without legal training will most probably be find it just as challenging, if not more so. So, back to the diet…

The nature of the ‘diet’

This strict ‘diet’ meant this: for a period of time, I didn’t download images from websites, onto my computer and then upload them to Google+. In the past I would attempt to credit the person, the site etc, with a link in the Google+ post. For the duration of this test, however, I aimed to refrain from such activity. I should point out, I lapsed about 3 times out of probably 70 posts on Pages and my Profile. Hey, what’s a nibble on a Mars bar when you get straight back down the gym the next day?

There is, however, there was an unforeseen consequence during this arduous period that is worth pointing out…

“Why you no meme, no more?”
http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/y-u-no-guy

My dear friend Linda Dee has been on this journey with me. Suffering daily as I attempt to keep to this strict regime and the process I undertook (just in case you don’t know me…please note, I am being a little tongue in cheek). She once even commented that, for me, “a day without memes is a day without sunshine” (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norepinephrine)

The reason being, to create a meme image on Google+ (instructions HERE i.e. how to add text to an image) one very often uploads an image found on the Internet and adds text using the tool in Google+. You can use other online programs as well, of course, but one way or another you upload it to a post.

So, all good, yes? Well, when you look at the ‘meme generator’ sites, they ask whether ‘you’ own the image you are going to upload. If you don’t, well, you may be infringing on copyright.

Except that your meme image could fall into being a ‘derivative work': http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Derivative_work, certainly in the USA.

What then is copyright infringement?

I will let you explore this one yourself: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright

In essence, it is a claim of intellectual property by an owner. If they own it and want to state a claim of ownership they can.

What about Google’s position on this?

Here is some of the official information you will want to bear in mind…

The standard reference for the question of copyright infringement is Google’s Terms of Service.

The language there states:

“We respond to notices of alleged copyright infringement and terminate accounts of repeat infringers according to the process set out in the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act. We provide information to help copyright holders manage their intellectual property online. If you think somebody is violating your copyrights and want to notify us, you can find information about submitting notices and Google’s policy about responding to notices in our Help Center.”

The relevant Help Center article is here.

So, worth noting that if there are complaints about copyright infringement made against you, you could lose you Google+ account (I do not know whether specifics on the nature of infringement and whether warnings will be given, etc.)

Also worth noting one of the reasons I started this diet was that I noticed a change in how present the ‘notice of copyright infringement’ has been when I look at Google Images – suddenly it seemed a lot more ‘in my face'; combining this with a notice given in Google Docs, well I started to take note.

…but everyone else is doing it.

I know what you are thinking, “everyone is doing this! It can’t be ‘wrong’!” Wrong.

Don’t think that cultural norms override legality. And just because you don’t get given ‘notice’ when you post something, doesn’t mean that it is ‘ok’ here but not ok there (i.e. you could have downloaded straight from a site and not be given notice on Google images.)

A bit of history

This whole area reminds me of something from the earlier days of Google Adwords in the UK (about 2005, from memory). I recall on time I advertised using someone’s untrademarked name (totally legal in the UK) using Google Adwords ie. when people searched, by adverts came up; and also I included the name in the advert I created. No problem at that time.

This person then trademarked their name, making the ads no longer legal as it would probably have been ‘passing off’. As such, I removed the ads, and again, no problem. Google also at that time did not allow a person to advertise on a trademarked name, unless you owned the trademark.

Simple, I removed the ads. But then Google changed their terms and conditions to allow people to advertise on a Trademarked name i.e. a keyword, but you could not legally include the name in the advert under UK Law. Makes sense.

So, I put the ads back and excluded the person’s name. Let’s just say this: they were not delighted and their solicitors asked me to look into their eyes whilst they influenced me to remove the adverts. In my mind, I had the legal right to advertise using their name as Google allowed, but not to have him name in the ads.

I spoke to my father about all of this and he gave me this advise: “Martin, you don’t want to be the test case.”

I removed the ads.

What about licensing images for Google+ posts?

You remember the diet I was one, well, in order not to download anything to my computer from sites, especially Pinterest, I approach Shutterstock.com to engage in their £149 for 25 images a day for 30 days. That’s 750 images. Rocking! Or so you’d think.

I contacted shutterstock.com to check whether I could use the images on Google+ posts, as I know the ability for things to go seriously viral. On the phone, the delightful lady (really, she was lovely) was ‘no’ you cannot share them on Google+ posts, only on your blog (in the example I described). Um, this was an issue, especially as their sister company bigstockphoto.com said ‘no problem’. If you are interested, read the doc, but in short this is the response:

Bigstockphoto.com said ‘yes’ (but I don’t like their payment structure as much as shutterstock.com)

I can use them for Google+ as I am using them for a professional purpose, and I am an ‘artist’ – take that Mrs Hughes who told me at age 15 I should certain take another science exam and leave her glass to the more gifted. Yes, I am an artist – but why? Well, writing books and doing a bit of comedy seems to have it covered.
But I would not be allowed to use them on Google+ if not.

But there is more…

According to shutterstock.com you cannot add any text to the image unless it is more than 30% (then, I assume it becomes a ‘derivative work’.) That messes with the meme potential.

A solution?

Creative commons may help: http://search.creativecommons.org/

On many site and with many images, you are free to use. But there are different terms for different images, so you will want to check that out. I am not going to give you a blanket solution as I don’t believe I can. This is a complex area and I only have the intention of telling you the process which I have undertaken myself.

As such, here is one useful blog from Tech Radar with a load of site suggestions. Some links seem to allow downloads without an copyright issue.

Also, a journalist will tend to learn on ‘fair usage’ of an image when it relates to commentary.

And as such, if challenged, I will pull out a National Union of Journalists card as write for a film industry magazine. But this may not help you, in your position.

I’ve noticed some put people on posts: “Image from the Internet, but no idea whose it is!; Image from ‘X’ website, and here is the link; Image from ‘Y’ person, but not sure about the copyright status! (ok, they may not say that last bit). And the fact is, I really have no idea on whether any of that behaviour is appropriate and would save anyone from any attempt in law to e.g. obtain damages.

My general thoughts on the diet.

Put simply, the diet was not FUN.

Overnight I went from frolicking like a hippy abandon at Woodstock, to a place of monasterial renunciation.

Also, downloading 25 images a day, without a specific reason e.g an suitable image for article, was admin hell. Again, a First World Problem, but it was boring and I’ve end up with a load of images I can only describe as ‘desperate purchases’ as the clock ticked on the daily expiry.

The nature of the images on shutterstock.com are, however, beautiful for many purposes. This has worked out well on that front.

The images are not in general of the nature I often like to post in the morning and at night. As such, the diet will be relaxed to a place of common sense and memes are certainly back on the menu.

Conclusion

There is no real conclusion to this, except to say that I have stopped being on a strict diet but have shaped up my behaviours and now aim to stay away from downloading certain images.

In my view, making a meme counts as a derivative work and I will act accordingly – I like the sunshine.

In terms of some other pics that I would love to share as they are beautiful and want people to enjoy them, well that I will have to use my judgement on. If a person would feel upset about me sharing them, I don’t want that and if it ever happened and they approached me I would, of course, take them down. But the challenge on Google+ is the potentially hundreds or even thousands of shares that could have occurred.

I have a philosophical view on all this stemming from 13 years apprenticeship to a Buddhist Lama: instead of ownership, we should look at appreciation – the appreciation of an object does not diminish the quality of an object by it being shared. A sunset is not less a sunset by you and I both looking at it.

Very quickly, however, I will say this: that ain’t got anything to do with the law.

If you post a copyrighted image to which you don’t have ownership then be aware you may well be infringing copyright.

The law is the law and could well change, as it often does, due to test cases. New technology leads to new behaviours and new emergent viewpoints, and in term new laws.

If my Dad was still around, however, he would say this: “You don’t want to be the test case.”