Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Copyright in the Digital Age

A common problem in the digital age is copyright and copyright infringement. It's so easy to find images, music, text that we want to use. We just need to be very aware that other people do still own their creative works, even when those works are digital.

For example, I have a Creative Commons copyright on all work on this website. What that means is that anyone is allowed to use my work as long as they credit me. I'm an academic at heart; my work is out there to inform others. All I want in return is a attribution. Furthermore, if anyone does use my work and publishes some variation of it, they need to also have a similar license so that other people can use their work, and so on.

This all seems based on an honor system, doesn't it? Someone could easily use someone else's work and not give credit, if the original work is not well known. Sadly, that is true.

However, there is a legal system in place for copyright protection (Wikipedia article here).
Copyright infringement is the use of works protected by copyright law without permission, infringing certain exclusive rights granted to the copyright holder, such as the right to reproduce, distribute, display or perform the protected work, or to make derivative works. The copyright holder is typically the work's creator, or a publisher or other business to whom copyright has been assigned. Copyright holders routinely invoke legal and technological measures to prevent and penalize copyright infringement.

Copyright law goes far more into detail and legal-speak than I'd like to get into here. If you're interested in the legal side, please see Copyright Law of the United States.

Now, the reason I decided to delve into copyright information today is because I came across the following flyer:

Flyer for SteampunkCon (
This is a flyer for a Steampunk convention happening in 2019. As you can see, there is no accreditation, no artist signature. 

The header they are using is simply a cropped version with a green logo: 

As a for-profit company, VampireFreaks, is using this image commercially.  

This makes is very interesting that they are using an image that is clearly based upon a photograph of the character of Lady Clankington, model Sarah Hunter, photographer Julie Ray, leather and metal work by Thomas Willeford of Brute Force Studios.

Lady Clankington
Photo from
Model is Sarah Hunter.
Photographer is Julie Ray.
Leather and metal work by Thomas Willeford.

I suppose it is possible that VampireFreaks reached out to any of the three people involved in the original work and came to some sort of agreement. However, the image they are using on their promotional materials should be credited somehow to the photographer at the very least. They would be using this license (or similar) to allow for commercial use of a derivative work 

What happens if I offer my material under a Creative Commons license and someone misuses them?
A CC license terminates automatically when its conditions are violated. For example, if a reuser of CC-licensed material does not provide the attribution required when sharing the work, then the user no longer has the right to continue using the material and may be liable for copyright infringement. The license is terminated for the user who violated the license. However, all other users still have a valid license, so long as they are in compliance.
Under the 4.0 licenses, a licensee automatically gets these rights back if she fixes the violation within 30 days of discovering it.
If you apply a Creative Commons license and a user violates the license conditions, you may opt to contact the person directly to ask them to rectify the situation or consult a lawyer to act on your behalf. Creative Commons is not a law firm and cannot represent you or give you legal advice, but there are lawyers who have identified themselves as interested in representing people in CC-related matters.

Does the use of an image on your blog require permission?
Certainly, if the image is part of the design of your blog and/or repetitively used or adapted for your use, you will need permission to use the image. If the image is part of a particular posting in a blog, you will need to apply the fair use factors and determine on a case-by-case basis whether your use requires permission. 

When in doubt, cite your sources.  

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