Select Page

I intentionally did not call out either the artist or the sloppily sharing page by name because this situation is not really about them.  This just represents one skirmish in the constant ongoing struggle between artists of all types and those who think the Internet is giant unsupervised lost and found bin.  I dread the day when artists like this one, or photographers, or animators, feel compelled to hide their work behind pay-walls because a basic respect for the work of others is lacking in so many.

A very talented artist who shares her work in books she sells, as well as on her website and Facebook page, seems to have touched a nerve with an extremely polite and restrained suggestion to the operator of a Facebook page that shares, uncredited images from around the web on the general topic of history.

The artist noticed one of her pieces had been shared, uncredited, by the page operator and made this suggestion, verbatim, including the smiley at the end: “Would be great if you could credit the artist when using their work. :)

The page owner replied back with the oh so common response of: finders keepers and everyone does it… if an image is on the net it means anyone can use it and I’m sure lots of people are.”

That brief exchange seems to have weighed on the page operator because several hours later they posted:

IMAGES ON THE INTERNET – If you post an image on the internet on a public domain – whether it’s tumblr, twitter, instragram or facebook – anyone can legally use it. If you want credit for the photo or art – put your name on it (millions of artists through history can’t be wrong). If you don’t want anyone using it – then I suggest you put it in a private place, like a secret/private group or your own private Facebook place. If you do put it on the internet in a public domain such as Facebook etc. Other people are going to use it – whether you like it or not, and there’s going to people using it without your knowledge. If you don’t want to put your signature on it, use a water mark. If you don’t want anyone to use it. If you do put it on a public domain and you don’t want other people to share it or use it – than put above the image and asking them nicely not to use it. But if you do that you are still risking the chance that other people are going to use it (with or without your knowledge). Thank you.

Public Domain Errors

I see this misconception expressed in many ways and many places.  Ignoring the fact that this individual is using “public domain” as a location instead of a description of copyright state, you see this idea over and over.  It is the first line of defense when someone has attention called to the fact that they are playing fast and loose with the hard work of others. Anyone remember Cooks Source from back in 2010?

My most recent go to source for copyright questions regarding publishing is Professor Lolly Gasaway’s Pocket Copyright Guide for Publishers. I knew she defined Public Domain in her book but it turns out that on the very same page she notes a change in US Copyright law regarding material published without a copyright notice. <spoiler alert>It is still protected.</spoiler alert>.

From Laura N. Gasaway’s Pocket Copyright Guide for Publishers:

Works in the public domain are those in which there is no copyright. They include works on which the term has expired and those which were never protected by copyright because of the failure to comply with statutory requirements in existence at the time, such as notice of copyright.

Notice of copyright was mandatory earlier, but it is no longer. (See 17 U.S.C. § 401(a).)

This means that failure to include a notice on a work today does not result in a loss of copyright for the owner, nor does it mean that the owner does not claim copyright. It simply means that the owner has chosen not to include a notice.  Most copyright owners still include a notice of copyright since it alerts the world that someone is claiming rights, and it also tells anyone interested in seeking permission to use the work whom to contact. Moreover, inclusion of the notice on the work deters those individuals who, in good faith, do not want to infringe the copyright by alerting them that it is protected. It has an important legal benefit, too: inclusion of notice on the work cuts off a defendant’s ability to mitigate damages by claiming innocent infringement.

From 17 U.S.C. § 401(a). – It should be noted that, under the definition of ‘‘publication’’ in section 101, there would no longer be any basis for holding, as a few court decisions have done in the past, that the public display of a work of art under some conditions (e.g., without restriction against its reproduction) would constitute publication of the work. And, as indicated above, the public display of a work of art would not require that a copyright notice be placed on the copy displayed.

  • Featured Image: Captain Copyright was a propaganda cartoon character created by Canada’s Access Copyright agency to educate children about the agency’s stance on copyright and copyright infringement. As of August 18, 2006, the Captain Copyright initiative had been canceled.