When the Cow Hits the Fan

10 03 2009

When is being too protective or too out there too much?

I was recently reading a blog post written by my good friend and fellow activist, Martha Jean Schindler at her blog.

She recently wrote an article about a cow having violently attacked a biker – which show she’s a good writer, because as an animal activist she didn’t jump the biker for biking, she basically said “wow. kinda almost funny. but bad. very bad.” Everyone got the point and took it in due course.

Well, most people did.

Some didn’t.

She used a photo from the article to repost to her site and gave due credit through hyperlink for the news source and picture. Then the madness ensued. Instead of appreciating that they were linked back to, the photographer complained that “proper” citation was not followed. So she talked with him and then replaced the photo, and a new photographer got on to complain about her using the photo the new commenter had taken.

Now there’s an argument on this side-note article and the point of the original story has been lost.

Now, as I understand it… the internet is a big place. And as I pointed out:

  • If I can Google it, you aren’t trying hard enough to protect it.
  • She’s not pulling down any money from this, so who cares?
  • They are getting free attention… the way most people want it given.

Also, as Martha Jean points out:

The CC license draft (a link to it is embedded within this page – http://creativecommons.org/weblog/entry/5447) says:

“If you distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, or publicly digitally perform the Work or any Derivative Works or Collective Works, You must keep intact all copyright notices for the Work and give credit, <strong>reasonable to the medium or means You are utilizing</strong>, to the: (i) Original Author (his, her or its name or pseudonym if applicable) if supplied; and/or (ii) if the Original Author and/or Licensor designate another party or parties (e.g., a sponsor institution, publishing entity, journal) for attribution in Licensor’s copyright notice or terms of service or by other reasonable means […]”

I interpret this to mean (and could not find a reliable source that directly contradicted this interpretation) that as long as I credit the photographer in a way that is reasonable to the medium I am using, I will not be in violation of the CC license. The medium I am using is the internet – a web of interactive, interconnected pages of information.  In my opinion, the most reasonable way to credit someone on the internet is by linking back to them (think about the innumerable times you’ve seen credit given to someone through a link to their homepage or blog post on the internet – in fact, think about the results of Google’s image search, which lists only the web page hosting the image, not the author of the image).  If I were using this image in a printed document or any other medium that did not allow me to direct viewers directly to you, I would credit you by listing your name, because then that would be the most reasonable form of credit.

I honestly believe that a direct link benefits you and other photographers much more than listing your name or Flickr name.  If someone sees your photo and likes it, he or she can click on it and be directed to your photo, your name, a way to contact you, and links to your other works on Flickr.  I’ve even had some photographers express appreciation for my attempt to share their work with a wider audience in this manner. However, I am also aware that the attribution license says, “[I] must attribute the work in the manner <strong>specified</strong> by the author or licensor.”  That is why I remove and replace the photos as quickly as possible if a photographer lets me know that he or she does not think I am attributing it in the way he or she specified.  I am doing what I believe is best for both parties with the time and tools we have at hand.

I am now in the process of consulting with a lawyer to ensure that my interpretation of the CC license is valid.  If I learn that my interpretation is wrong, I will immediately change my approach.  For now, I am going to continue attributing the images on my site via direct links and replace the images upon learning that a photographer disapproves of this technique.

I hope that no ill will arises from this discussion.  🙂

I see Ms. Schindler as being in the clear. In the future, boys, protect your  creative rights, and don’t complain when a talented individual tries to help you spread your work.





12 responses

10 03 2009
Jonathan Bailey

Ok, here’s a few thoughts.

First, copyright law does not make any major distinction between attributed and unattributed use when decided what is and is not an infringement. If the photographer didn’t want you to copy their image and put it on another site, that is their right. Many are fine with copying, including myself, and that is why Creative Commons Licenses were created and why they are so widely used.

Really there’s two separate issues here. One of law and one of ethics. The law is clear. If the person did not give permission for their work to be copied, then doing so is almost certainly an infringement. They have the right to request removal.

If they provided a CC license, which appears to be the case here, you have to follow the terms of the license (non-commercial, no derivatives, etc.) and be sure to provide attribution in a manner specified by the licensor (which usually just a name and a link unless specified) and a link to the license itself to indicate under what terms the work is available for reuse (the last part being what most people forget).

The question of ethics is more complicated. I don’t personally feel that your friend did anything ‘wrong” though it might have accidentally run afoul of the law depending on whether it met the criteria.

Do I agree that copying and linking, in most cases, is good for business? Yes, but that’s also a decision for the copyright holder to make, not for any of us.

Honestly, in these cases, it is usually best to comply and be done. However, if you ever do switch to a self-hosted WordPress install, I recommend the PhotoDropper plugin at it not only automatically pulls in CC licensed images, but handles all of the attribution within the bounds of the license, no chance of forgetting anything.

Anyway, this is just a few minor points I wanted to go over, I hope that this helps and definitely drop me a line if you have any questions.

10 03 2009

Thank you so much, Jonathan. This is why I wanted you to look at it. I will be more careful in the future, as I want to respect the creative rights of the authors… but this struck me as odd as I have done this many many times and the authors usually let me know they appreciate me using their work.

10 03 2009
Jonathan Bailey

And that does seem to be the general attitude. If you do that 100 times, 99 of them you’ll likely get a positive response. Most people are interested in the ethics and not the strictest interpretation of the law, which is how I think it should be.

I only become a stickler when I think I’m dealing with a spam blog or something to the like, usually I’m a pretty laid back guy so long as attribution is offered, and I think that has served me well overall.

Still, it is important to be aware of where the legal lines are drawn, not just because some people are sticklers for it, but because should a dispute rise out of misunderstanding, it’s important to know you’re on the right side of the law.

Just my humble opinion.

10 03 2009
Richard Becker


It’s easy enough to agree with Jonathan. He hits all the right notes.

While I am not an attorney, it’s always best to ask permission when you are in doubt. In this case, it was easy enough to remove to the photo on request. However, the photographer could have asked for compensation for the time it was up without adhering to copyright stipulations.

It’s something to think about.

Something else to think about, not all photos are the property of the author to give. For example, many of the graphics I use to accompany posts are stock or altered stock images that I have paid for, but that does not give me right to allow someone else to distribute them.

Beyond that, minimizing how often an image appears may sometimes have a direct impact on the fees the photographer can negotiate later. If it suddenly appeared on several blogs, any rights they have would be greatly diminished.


10 03 2009
Damien Basile

All valid points have already been hit upon so there is no need for me to expound upon them.

What I do have to add is this- I look to minimize any issues that may come by sourcing photographs and images in general (as well as other media) from http://creativecommons.org. It’s easy to customize and easy to search. You are sure to never run afoul of a creator’s license because their specific CC license is listed with their work of art.

If something isn’t specifically CC licensed I would always get in touch with the creator to make sure how you are using it is acceptable. How can you know if the artist has an exclusive agreement with the original displayer or that how it was being used is the only way that is acceptable to them? As the old axiom goes, when you assume you make an ass out of you and me.

10 03 2009

Personally, I use sxc.hu . Their rules simply state that if any direct profit is made… then I pay up. But that is that one site.

I will begin using some of these that you all have listed.

11 03 2009
Rick Harrison


I’m the second photographer in the above story.

I feel i should make a few points about this.

I have (until recently) released all my photography under a creative commons attribution+non-commercial license. Like most photographers who do this, i’m doing it as i find standard copyright laws too restrictive and want to offer people a more free-er way of doing things. People shouldnt have to break copyright if they want a nice photo for their desktop wallpaper or to furnish their personal blog – i’m more than pleased for them to want to do that with my photos. I choose/chose to do this as i like to think i’m a nice laid back person. I don’t *have* to release my images this way, i just makes me happy doing it, and if someone can afford to compensate me for my time and effort then they should (hence non-commercial).

In the case of the comments on the affore mentioned website, we were just pointing out we would like to have our copyright maintained with our images – there was no ill will about that – as artists we’d just like our ownership properly asserted – its not like we’re asking for money or anything, and we’ve had to take on board a fair bit of expense in creating the image in the first place.
There’s nothing hard in doing this (i build websites for a living so i know how easy it is to just add (c) Some Person below an image), so i’m unsure why she feels the need to just change the image should someone ask for what is effectively “nice” thing to do, if not a moral right.

She linked to the flickr page (which in my experience is a lot more than a lot of bloggers do!) – which is fantastic, but its not obvious it’s a link unless you hover over it. nor is there any indication what the link is for. People can see the image on that page, right click and download without any understanding of the license or ownership associated with that image. One of the points in the license is that the license must remain intact with the image – which plainly isn’t happening. I’m not wanting to victimize her – it would be nice to just have a bit more credit for what is effectively my property.

Lets look at the untold story…. For the photo she used of a cow that i took, i had a 3 hours round trip drive to the location, about 6 hours walking across moors before we found the cows (much of it in the rain), and then probably an hour taking photos of the cows to get some decent characterful ones without getting skewered by their horns and steering well clear of the terrifyingly *huge* bull.
Then once home, i had to sort through all the photos and pick out which ones looked promising (about an hour including copying off the memory card), probably 30-45 mins processing on each photo in photoshop, only to upload maybe 4 or 5 photos from the day to flickr.
So pretty much a full days worth of my time, with added expenses for fuel, parking, wear and tear of my camera kit. Which i then effectively gave away for free for non profit purposes. Is it really too much to ask to get a bit of proper credit for all that effort i had to put in to making it?

As for her not making money out of it – there are plainly paid advertising and google advertising on that page. I don’t particularly have a problem with that as i’m sure she’s only just making enough to cover her hosting costs, but that’s still non-the-less another violation of the license agreement.

“If I can Google it, you aren’t trying hard enough to protect it.” – It seems to me that you feel you have some kind of right to take stuff artists have put up on the internet? The entire point of art is it’s something to be enjoyed by others – but – it’s unsustainable if *everyone* rips it off. I’m putting my work out there mainly cos i enjoy making it, with a small hope that someone might eventually pay for it, at least enough to cover some of my expense of producing the work in the first place (which it in no way does at the moment, and with the advent of very cheap stock libraries such as istockphoto and sxc.hu possibly never will).

Do you feel the same about photocopying books/copying cd’s that have been made available in a library? Am i within my right to take the content of your website and republish it given it’s in google?
See the thing is, If i did take the content, normally i’d be sure to provide a link and /name the author or source/ – which is all we’re really asking for!

11 03 2009
Paul Cocker (the bad guy ;)


Thanks for your thoughts/comments on this. I have no issue with my photo’s being used, which is why I have them available under an appropriate CC license, however, all I ask is that my work is credited accordingly, which in this case, it was not.

I have no ill-will, or indeed would ever contemplate a legal stance over a misunderstanding of this nature and I can see the blog in question is created with good and intentions and no commercial gain, however, I do believe asking to be credited for the effort I put in is an unreasonable request.

This is always going to be a can of worms and the CC licenses, though making it better, do not solve the whole issue.

Once again, I am happy for images to be use, though I would ask for a credit in return, after all it’s a not a big deal and I would also consider it good manners.


11 03 2009
Paul Cocker (the bad guy ;)

I meant not an unreasonable request but the omission of that just made the post even funnier – teach me to proof read first!

11 03 2009

See I didn’t even realize that she had linked to the post when I first saw it, cause there was no additional link in the post. Technically I think she covered the bare bones that was required of her for attributing the work to the owner. But since this guy is letting her use his work for free, why not give the guy an explicit link in the post itself? And I’m not saying she should promote his blog/site/business, just give him a link back to his Flickr account. That’s what I do for any Flickr image I get that’s been licensed by CC for sharing.

Her blog is made a bit better by someone else sharing free images with her. Why skimp on attribution in that case?

11 03 2009

Rick and Paul,

I really appreciate you commenting on here… because it has actually helped me out. I got more than a little annoyed when I first read the comments on her post because, coming from someone who has labored over articles and photos, I know the pain of getting it done… but I also know the joy of seeing someone use it. Rest assured that if I use photos in my articles, they are stock or credited. That said, I might just have to use your photos for some future articles of my own.

This has been a real eye-opener for me, guys. Thanks. I will put it to good use in the future.


11 03 2009

PS – Look forward to a more appropriate, less tenacious follow up article where I will credit your insight.

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