When I first started editing our church newsletter and finally figured out how to get clip art into the newsletter, (I know, it seems simple, but I struggled with it), I thought all clip art that turned up when I asked Google Images to find “whatever kind of clip art free” would be, well, free. Silly me! I found out later that if I clicked on a piece of clip art, often it came up saying the image might be copyrighted and too often, in the background, would be the site telling me I needed to pay. “Free” clip art evidently also means “royalty free”, which still means that I would have to pay for a license or a one-time fee. Now I try to check every image I’d like to use, which not only takes time, it keeps me from using a lot of images.
When I started blogging, I didn’t use any pictures but soon I wanted to enhance what I was writing, so I wondered what sort of sharing was legal and what wasn’t. I asked one blogger who posts lots of pictures and she said she makes sure that the information a reader gets when clicking on the picture links the reader to the web site where she got the picture. OK, I could do that.
But I still feel there must be more to it than that. If I see that a picture is copyrighted, I email the photographer to ask permission to use it. If I don’t hear from him/her, I don’t use the picture. If I can’t tell about the copyright, I use the “Search for image” and if I see that a number of places are using the picture, I assume (although you know what they saw about assume!!), that I might be able to use it as well, but now I always make sure to put the link in the information. When it comes to something like a recipe, I email to ask for permission or I search for the recipe online to see if it’s on the author’s blog or somewhere similar. If so, I use it, because it’s already out there, but I link to the site. If it’s from a cookbook, I always email to ask for permission. I’ve only done this a few times and I’ve had several requests that went unanswered. But I was surprised at the reaction of the people who’ve responded to my request to use a recipe or picture. They were so grateful that I asked. Evidently many people think it’s fine to put anything on the internet, even if it’s under copyright. I think that’s sad as well as wrong. It’s not respecting the person who created the work. I can understand why, for instance, if a person’s recipes are all in books, they wouldn’t want them all out on the internet. If they were, why would people buy the book? And publishers don’t want that, either, for the same obvious reason.
Of course I’d like everything to be free. But people put their time, talents and energy into whatever it is they produce, and using it without permission or attribution is theft. Whether it’s students plagiarizing or buying papers, downloading music that’s available to buy (but not buying it), or copying my daughter’s drawing for your website without permission or attribution, it’s theft. I think each of us might feel a bit differently about it if the situation were reversed; if it were our material being used. I faced this dilemma as a parent home schooling our two daughters—was it OK to copy material instead of buying it? I’m not blameless. I did copy things but I did try to buy as much as I could. When I was in college, my best friend copied hundreds of records to tape. (I know—some of you probably don’t even remember tapes, let alone records!) As far as I know, though, he owned all the records from which he recorded and I think that was OK, (legally, I mean.) I have a musician friend who has to decide whether or not to make music available to students (who will then just copy the entire CD) or to copy musical scores for an opera performance instead of buying them. Is it cheaper to copy music, (scores or on CD); to use pictures or other information without permission or attribution; to copy information you don’t want to buy? Cheaper? Yes. Ethical? I don’t think so.