April 28, 2005

Digital Images and Copyrights

In researching the law (yes, U.S.) with regard to copyrights and digital images (photographs, drawings), I came across attorney Michael L. Baroni's article at Gigalaw.com entitled Photos and Fair Use Online: From Penthouse Pets to Kelly's Thumbnails, and mention it here because it's more plain-English than the 5,000-and-some documents that resulted from my search at copyright.gov. At any rate:

I sent more than 1,000 copyright infringement notices, asking people to remove all Penthouse-owned images from their web pages. Most of the perpetrators responded defiantly, claiming that the pictures were "public domain" since they "found" them on the Web, which was "without laws." The Web, they insisted, existed for the "free exchange of ideas", and nothing could stand in any Web-dweller's way.

The pervasive mindset was that if you found a picture on the Web, it was up for grabs, like a quarter on the sidewalk.

That makes it sound like the Web is somewhere you can "be" … a kind of alternate dimension of existence. Moreover, one that is untouched by such earthly things as governments and laws. And maybe other people's rights. Fact is that the Web is, among other things, a communications medium, and no more an alternate dimension than telephone, radio or film — even though people speak of being "on" the radio or "in" films. Fact is, copyright law applies to the Web, and likely always did.

After all, what were these folks saying? That because a new medium surfaces, suddenly all ownership ceases?

3 Comments to "Digital Images and Copyrights"

  1. teli says:

    I agree – Copyright law is copyright law – web or otherwise. People walk a fine line when they use another's work without express permission…

  2. DianeV says:

    You're right. Thing is, I'd prefer to ensure I'm on the "right" side of things. Among other things, it just feels better, and you're free to create when you know you've done the right thing. Just my thought.

  3. teli says:

    This may be kinda silly, but I also apply the "Golden Rule" when I think of design.

    I think "would I like it if someone did this to me (or use my hard work without permission or even notice)" and if the answer is no, then I decide against it.

    Plus, as you said, it's always a good idea to be on the "right side" – it does "just feel better". I just wish everyone who designed actually went by that rule of thumb…

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