Monday, March 10, 2008

Asking Permission

This post is a sequel to Begging Forgiveness.

I like a little visual interest on my blog posts. I usually add at least one graphic just to interrupt the huge block of my babbling underneath the title. I also like to use my own work if possible. If I have a photo even remotely related to the topic, I will use that. My Times Square Flag Still Flies post was mostly inspired by the fact that I did have a picture of the building that got bombed and it creeped me out a little bit that you never know when and where news will occur. For my Gary Gygax eulogy, I went and took a picture of my own D&D dice rather than find a stock image and I wove the distressing condition of the dice into the story.

Other posts of mine like where I mock celebrities I use commonly available publicity shots of my objects of scorn. I really have no qualms about using these photos which, while not in the public domain, are clearly in the public sphere. Since I’m usually snarking about something, I feel I can mount a pretty decent “review and comment” or “satire” defense. At least in my own mind. Nobody’s ever called me on it and Ces is actually impressed with my signs of creepily obsessive devoted fandom.

But some topics need a visual clue that I don’t have, so I go Googling. For my follow-up D&D post where, according to the quiz, I’m an elf wizard. I did a Google Image search and in the first page of results, was this terrific image (click on the link, it really is just perfect) which came from the blog of DPI Studios. I downloaded the image to my hard drive and then uploaded it to Since Blogger (which is owned by Google) has nearly unlimited storage, I feel better and safer doing that rather than deep-linking to the original image. I have some scruples.

When you do that, the link on the image in the post goes to the full size source stored on the Blogger server. This can be easily edited to redirect wherever I want. What I did with the elf was link the image to the source blogpost of DPI. At the bottom of the post I also included a link to their main homepage. I don’t usually include explicit image credits, but I thought these guys merited it.

Having just been burned on the Rock Album Meme photo guy going ballistic, I decided to do the decent thing and send one of the image owners an alert that I had used their illustration that they had posted on the web where anybody could find it. I phrased the e-mail so that if they never responded, I could assume it was okay with them:
I have a blog and wrote about Dungeons and Dragons and needed an image of an elf wizard. I found your site through a Google search and downloaded to my own server (actually's) an image you recently created. I have credited DPI Studios and linked the image to your blog.

Please let me know if this is not an acceptable use of your artwork. Thanks for your cooperation.
But they did reply. And they seemed a little puzzled that I even bothered to ask, but they didn’t like the idea.
Yeah, I really wish you would have contacted us before you put that up. Since that piece was done for Green Ronin Publishing we can't give you permission to use it. I feel bad having put it up with out a Green Ronin copyright notice, I'll have to change that.

Thanks for your interest in our work and thanks for asking permission.
They were kind enough to suggest some other images, and I did replace the original one with one of the “permission granted” alternatives, but it wasn’t quite as perfect a match.

Most of the time when I “steal’ an image it’s from a website that clearly didn’t create it but got it from someplace else themselves (like the Google Search image I put on this post for purely prurient purposes). When, like the fine folks at DPI Studios, it’s clearly original artwork, I think it’s only right to link back to the source and credit the heck out of it.

I’m still not sure about the whole issue of whether it’s easier to beg forgiveness or ask permission. I do a blog post a day somewhere and to wait around for a reply granting permission for an image when I don’t even have an example of what I intend to do with it seems like a prescription for rejection. I think I will continue to figure this out on a case by case basis. And if I’ve used something of yours on my blog, just let me know and we can discuss it reasonably.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Do you put images on your blog, and if you do, where do you get them?


Unknown said...

It sounds like your argument boils down to thinking that the proper thing to do is to ask for permission, but that doing so is a lot of work and might even prevent you from doing a blog post. But it's not like people actually have a right "to do a blog post a day" that would serve as an ethical trump here. And you're not obligated to add a "little visual interest" to a post anyway. Given your previous concerns with plagiarism, wouldn't you be better off just avoiding stealing images completely?

yellojkt said...


That summarizes the dilemma pretty well. It's more than the frequency of blog writing, it's the short deadlines. If I write about a certain topic, it's got a very short shelf life before it's stale old news.

When I use something I know doesn't belong to me, I try to be very generous with the credit. A lot of people don't mind sharing and enjoy the attention. It's tough sorting out which ones are going to object in advance. And truthfully, if I didn't credit and link, they would never know.

Personally, I love people using my stuff as long as they link back to me.

Sue T. said...

I don't use images on my blog unless I'm directly responsible for them, or it's something like an album cover that is obviously OK to use. Have you considered using a low-cost stock photo service like or buying a CD of stock images?

Mooselet said...

I use a lot of images, especially with the Skinfest (by its very nature, it doesn't lend itself to a lot of words). I use a combination of Google images, news outlets that have watermarks all over them, other websites that also use photos or those from my own files or friends. When I use photos of the kids footy, I often use cartoon images to block out opposition teams faces so as not to identify anyone for whom I don't have permission to photograph.

I think that as long as your not trying to pass off an image as your own, or use it maliciously, then the use of images can add a visual element that makes a post fun. I would only call it "stealing" if you pass it off as your own. That being said, if someone contacted me and protested at my use of their image, I'd take it out. I'd probably wonder what all the fuss is about, and I'd likely blog about it and possibly give them a brief uptick in traffic, but I'd do it.

yellojkt said...

That's pretty much my attitude. As long as I'm not lying or taking food from someone's mouth, I'll sleep at night.

iStockphoto looks cool and very reasonably priced. I'd upload some of my pictures, but their very restrictive IP rules are byzantine. Their selection of "elf wizard"s was pretty lame, but it's good to have iron-clad legal options.

2fs said...

First, what's up with your RSS thingy that it keeps putting old posts as new...ahead of actual new posts, so that (for example) I didn't notice these two related new posts until today?

Anyway: I think the "elf" thing is deeply amusing...essentially, your correspondent said, sorry, can't give you permission to use that image cuz, uh, we didn't exactly have permission to use it ourselves (the smokescreen about "forgot to credit it" sounds kinda bovinely excremental to me).

In some senses, except for obviously creative work where a credit is deserved, it seems odd to credit generic images taken from another site - because often, they're not original with that site anyway. Fact is, when you access the site you're already (or rather, your browser is already) copying the image and storing it (temporarily) on your computer. That is, I would argue that posting an image on the web without an explicit notice regarding copyright, permissions, or credits amounts to tacit permission to re-post it: that's the way the web works. I'm sure this isn't what the law would say - although it seems odd, since the image is being multiply reproduced every time anyone accesses it, why someone's further reproduction (again, we're talking about non-creative, generic images...) causes a problem.

My own practice is if I use an image that's recognizably derived from an existing image, I try to credit that source. If it's embedded rather deeply in my own work - like, say, a handful of clouds I've composited to make a generic "sky" backdrop - I don't bother. (In other words, take that "recognizably" literally.) Note that I'm not trying to make money from any work I do here: if I were, obviously things would change, and I would have to pay attention to what the law actually says rather than some idealized version thereof. Essentially, I proceed from a variation of "fair use," satire, or common culture. Copyright was originally intended to protect, for a short period of time, the creator's interest in creative work. Past that time, and for other parties than the creator, there was no copyright. We've come to such an intensively property-oriented moment that things as absurd as your YouTube video for your kid, taken at the local Chuck E. Cheese, might technically violate copyright several different ways (logos, background artwork, the "birthday" song which is still under copyright, etc.). John Tehranian has an interesting essay on this very point (which is where I stole it from).

(The CAPTCHA is "megazuqi" - I like that.)