Writing Quotes On Photos That Are Not Yours
Published June 9, 2014
by Rachael O'Halloran
Same photo with different logo claiming ownershipClick thumbnail to view full-size
Example of a webpage claiming copyright
Proper Use of Pictures With Added Text
The artist of above public domain painting died in 1924 and his painting became public domain in 1994.
Besides my use, this picture has three additional thumbnails that I'd like you to click on before you continue reading and notice the source URL for each. Enlarge your screen zoom, if you can, when you get to the one showing the Flickr thumbnail.
Okay, assuming you viewed them, I wanted you to notice that each one had a different source and each one took liberties with the painting. Besides my use, one imprinted their logo onto it, one used it on their website with no altering, and one was from a Flickr site where the account holder claimed "all rights reserved."
There was fair usage and abuse depicted in the four examples.
The second thumbnail was abuse (not a legal or fair use) because they imprinted their logo onto the painting, implying their ownership or copyright.
- Even though they left the artist's name intact in the upper right corner, they renamed the artist's painting "The Letter" and only gave his name in the "sale" portion of their website "art.com." Their website claims copyright and all rights reserved on the artwork shown on their site. The photo in the sidebar to this text has a screenshot of art.com website rights statement.
The third thumbnail shows the same painting on their website, with no altering or added text. It is attributed using the correct title of the painting as given by the artist and the artist's name.
- This is considered correct and fair use.
The fourth thumbnail is from a Flickr site.
- If you weren't able to see my arrows on it, please enlarge the frame so you can see. The Flickr account holder properly attributed the picture with the artist's name, but blew it when they wrote "All rights reserved" on the picture on their Flickr account.
- "All Rights Reserved" means no one can use the picture without their permission.
- This is abuse (not a legal or fair use) because it is not within their purview to state the copyright of this painting because they do not have rights to it. In other words, they did not paint the painting, therefore they are not the copyright holder and have no rights to reserve.
- Flickr is partnered with Getty Images who approaches account holders to ask if they would like to license "their" photos so that Getty will procure fees for the usage. This is on condition that the account holder actually owns the photograph they posted. After research, I am convinced that Getty Images does not own the licensing rights to this painting.
The first thumbnail is my usage.
- If the painting were NOT public domain and the artist were still living, then of course, he would still have his copyright and I wouldn't be permitted to just take his painting to do with as I wished.
- If I went ahead and did it anyway, then typed a quote on it, even though I gave him credit in the source or if left the artist's name on the picture (instead of using some type of text removal program), he could sue me for copyright infringement. And he would win.
But because the painting is public domain and there does not appear to be any licensing company overseeing the use or the copyright (from my research), I am not required to seek permission and the way I used it is considered a legal and fair use.
- I properly attributed the picture with the correct title of the painting, I put the artist's name in a caption, and only for your edification, I showed his birth and death dates. It is not necessary to show it this way; I only did it to show you the origin of the painting.
- The only reasons you would ever have to "know" where you found a photograph is 1) to show it as a source URL (as many sites require) and 2) if you were ever called on it for copyright infringement. It would behoove you to know where you found it so you could prove it was public domain.
- Sometimes the artist's name is pretty lightly written like it is in the upper right corner of this painting. If for some reason a painting is not signed or is lightly imprinted with a signature, by not making note of where you found the photograph, you might even forget who the artist actually was.
- I added a frame and I typed a quote onto the painting, while still not obscuring the artist's name. Typing text on a public domain picture is considered fair use. In good conscience, anyone using a painting or photograph that has a watermark, signature or imprinted copyright would not obscure it with text or color shading, or remove it with a text removal tool.
- If I changed the colors of the subject matter or shaded it differently, for example, it would be considered "transformative art" and it still falls within the realm of fair use, not copyright infringement.
- Lastly, DO NOT type your website logo or your name on a painting, whether it is public domain or not. It just isn't right to do.
A good rule of thumb about any usage: If a photograph (or print, painting, sketch, clip art, etc) is not yours - if you yourself did not snap it (or design it, draw it or paint it) - don't put your name on it.
Special Interest Facebook Pages
awordlover's pages weren't Facebook pages she paid for, nor were they money-making opportunities, although many Facebook pages are for profit.
awordlover's pages were considered novelty or special interest pages, where she just posted cute sayings, quotes or jokes, etc.
How can every one of these websites claim ownership of the same photo?Click thumbnail to view full-size
Free Facebook Pages
Anyone can create a business or novelty Facebook page (as opposed to a personal timeline) for almost any reason (hobby, special interests, Quote of the Day, product sales, self-promotion, etc.) free of charge.
The reason they are free is because Facebook runs ads on the sidebars so they make money off your page as free space.
If you want to make money off your own page, you can buy an advertisement package from Facebook where you get a cut of every sale, click, or view, depending on the type of advertising program you signed up for and length of term purchased.
These photos have been circulating on Facebook and other sites for years and now no one questions their use. But that doesn't mean they were originally legal to
Facebook Photo and Quote Usage
Are all those Facebook photos with quotes typed on them legal? Can anyone put their website or blog name on any photo they want?
Do you remember the 1960s hair dye commercial for Clairol? Does she or doesn't she? Only her hairdresser knows for sure. It implied your secret of dying your hair was safe.
Well on the world wide web, there is not much that is secret, no matter how much you try to keep to keep it under wraps.
And the misuse of photos are the biggest non-secret of all!
If you use, copy/paste, take, steal, or borrow someone's photo - call it whatever term you want to call it - someone may holler "copyright infringement" just because they can.
However, if you post it to your personal Facebook timeline, you are likely to be ignored. But if you are a big fish -- well, read on further to see what happens to bigger websites.
All anyone has to do when they question the use of any photo is right click it and search. Within seconds they will know:
- if the photo has been used on any other websites
- if it could be a public domain photo
- if someone watermarked it previously (and it might have been removed)
- if there are some variations of the photo (enhanced, added or subtracted objects)
- if anyone changed the color scheme in any way
- if anyone typed text, then all the results will also show the photos with various text uses
- if the photo had been manipulated to integrate it into another scene (taking the objects and placing them within another scene or background)
Facebook is by far the largest sharing site of photographs, clipart, and manipulated pictures, with Pinterest as a runner-up. People share photos on their personal Facebook timelines all the time.
Do they all use legal photographs?
Unless someone calls a user's bluff, chances are copyright infringement will be overlooked because most uses are personal use, as opposed to on a revenue sharing blog or individual Facebook pages for a business, which make money from advertisements, or a Quote of the Day type of page, where some page owners of similar pages are in competition with each other.
Next in line for high volume uses comes business and special interest Facebook Pages. Some Facebook page owners or Facebook account holders have as many as 50 Facebook pages of varying topics - anything from Sales Product Presentations to Current Events to Opinion Pages to Investment Opportunities to Joke of the Day to Work At Home scheme types of pages. You can see there is diversity in the topics of Facebook pages just from viewing your timeline sidebar advertisements.
You'll see website logos all the time on pictures that you know you've seen somewhere else before. Take a look at the thumbnails in the sidebar of the Good Morning photos. Same photo, all different websites putting their logo on the photo, thereby claiming to own it. The real owner probably isn't among those listed.
Many Opinion and Current Event Facebook pages and blogs rely on news media websites like CNN or MSNBC for their posts and they just copy that website's photo to put on their Facebook page or blog, maybe with a link, comment or blurb about the story that went with the photo.
When the media sites post a photograph, in the bottom corner or running lateral to the frame, you will see a photographer's name, who likely works for the news agency or as a stringer (work-for-hire) providing photographs for a fee. Almost always you will see the news media station's name with a copyright symbol, implying ownership.
That's because they DO own it!
But people take those photos all the time to repost on their Facebook Pages, Pinterest, blogs or websites and no one questions it.
It is really not a legal use, however, news media have reciprocity between other media sites in the United States, but that doesn't hold true for other countries. Reciprocity means if one site runs a "Breaking News" story, for example, any other news media agency can copy it to run the story on their website. Who broke the news story first is all that counts in their world, verified by the website's time stamp.
So, for that reason, in the case of news media, copyright infringement for run of the mill news stories is often overlooked. After all, how can they prove copyright infringement on your little blog if there were a thousand news media outlets who already posted the exact same story?
They can't. And they probably won't waste time bothering to chase your site down.
However, there are some blogs, websites and Facebook pages that will take a photograph, picture or painting from a sale catalog, a magazine photograph, or maybe an art sales site, type a quote on it, and even go so far as to type their website name (logo) on it, implying their ownership.
You and I really know that all they are doing is claiming they own the quote and their rendering of the picture, not the original picture. But in the eyes of the legal system, they are copyright infringers, because they took a picture that was not theirs, then claimed it by putting their name on it.
The original owner can claim "defacement" when they file for copyright infringement, but the infringer can claim "fair use."
Both will end up in court if no one backs down to give in, because it will take a judge to decide who is in the right.
So who will win?
It's anyone's guess, but you really don't want to let it get to the point of going before a judge. A judge's decision will be the final answer and for sure, there will be always be one party who won't be happy with the verdict.
If the infringer can prove no malice aforethought, and that he did not profit from his use (or detract from the profit-making of the copyright owner), then chances are the slap on the wrist will not hurt that much.
But if the copyright holder can prove that the infringer caused him to lose not only revenue, but his whole website went down considerably in search engine ranking, then the infringer will most likely lose this case in court and have to pay damages, court costs and all attorney fees.
It is not worth it. So the lesson to be learned here is not "Be careful who you steal from," but rather "Make sure the photo is legal for you to use."
Many Deviant Art pictures are ripe for the picking because they are beautiful, unique and eye-catching. Consequently, Deviant Art artists are filing DMCA notices all the time. They really have their work cut out for them in trying to stay on top of where their work appears on the internet.
If someone has a Facebook page dedicated to Inspirational Angel quotes, they might see a Deviant Art rendering of an angel that they think is just awesome. So they'll save it to their computer, then put it through a photo editing program to add an inspirational text to it.
In turn, they may feel - let's say "entitled" - to put their own name or their Facebook page name on the newly "transformed" picture to claim it as their own.
It's not okay, it's copyright infringement.
Is Deviant Art considered a legal use or fair use?
No. Chances are the artist has not been dead for 70 years yet, so they still retain their copyright. Fair and legal use is usually when one asks permission first to reuse the picture in its present state or before rendering any "transformative" changes to the original.
But if the artist did not post a copyright, does that mean there isn't one?
No. If someone created it, they own a copyright on it.
If the picture appears on a thousand websites, does that mean the artist put the picture out on the internet for general use?
Not always. Sometimes it just means that a thousand websites stole it and the artist just gave up going after all of them for copyright infringement.
In other cases, a Facebook page owner may assume since they can't see an obvious copyright on it, that the picture is free to use.
Especially when it comes to Deviant Art works, you really have to investigate to determine legality because the creators of Deviant Art will file copyright infringement charges.
Remember: Just because it is on the internet, doesn't mean it is free (or legal) to use.
If you right click a photo to search and nothing comes up in the search except for that one photo, chances are very good that the posting person actually does own it as their intellectual property.
That means they have the copyright to it and it is not yours for the taking.
But sometimes nothing comes up in a search because the photo has been so manipulated that it doesn't even resemble the original photo anymore. That is called "transformative art" and in most court cases, it can be considered fair use.
Pictures have to start somewhere; somebody owned them once before they were manipulated to look like something else, either in a different scene, background, or with added text. So never assume photos are free. Always assume someone owns them.
Nine times out of ten, no one will question where an original photo came from before it went through some transformative changes, unless you happened to have chosen a photo of a famous person, or a photo which still has a copyright logo or watermark embedded somewhere that the naked eye can or cannot see.
It is when you choose to use these types of photos on a website (other than Facebook), where you can get tripped up and be accused of copyright infringement. Your blog may not get many visitors, but use a photo improperly just once and within a short period of time, you will have drawn the attention of someone who cares about its use on your blog.
If you use it on a website that gets a lot of traffic, you will attract the attention of the "real" owner sooner rather than later, because they may see their website views reduce in number. Usually the copyright holder will just ask you to take it down. However, some copyright owners are out for blood and want monetary damages because you deflected traffic from their site, and they want to recover lost revenue.
Is it all worth it?
No. Only use proper legal photos, so you won't have to watch your back end.
True or False - Anonymous Poll Question
I don't care if I use a photo legally or not, as long as I have a photo that I matches my content.
awordlover's Facebook Page
Nearing awordlover's one year anniversary, I decided to go through her files to see what I could throw out and what could be salvaged. On several flash drives, I found more than 1000 folders full of photos with quotes or sayings on them that pertained to Facebook pages which she had owned on her Facebook account for over five years.
Altogether, awordlover had four special interest (or novelty) Facebook pages using various photo topics (flowers, angels, quotes, signs, get well, Christmas, good mornings, and good nights) where readers would visit daily and share the Facebook page's posts with their Facebook friends. These were not pages she paid for nor were they revenue producing pages. awordlover (as well as more than 100,000 other Facebook page owners) would take photos they found on the internet that pertained to the theme of their page and type sayings or quotes on them. Some page owners were more careful than others in selecting free to use or legally proper photographs. Others just picked any photo that struck their fancy.
Toward the end of her life, awordlover reduced her online time considerably but kept one page going because it was uplifting, had a good number of followers, and from what I can see, she got very good feedback in reader comments. The page title was "Good Morning & Good Night." Choosing a page name (title) should be reflective of the page's subject matter and her titles told readers exactly what types of photos and messages they would find on her pages.
"Good Morning & Good Night" was awordlover's first and oldest Facebook page. When she first started, she was trying to build an audience - getting people to click "like" to follow her page. On Facebook, it is all about the "likes."
Usually other Facebook page owners would see a new page show up and in order to help it along, they would often "share" posts with their followers to help send traffic to the new page. awordlover had a few page owners who were very helpful in that way.
Unlike many other pages, awordlover created many of her own photos. For the most part, she used desktop screensavers and wallpapers which were free to use. Other photos in her files were public domain or from free photo sites. A sample of her usage appears below.
As happens with human nature, someone cried copyright infringement and had awordlover's Good Morning & Good Night page shut down about three months before she died.
The infringer was a rival page owner who was not happy that her readership was sharing awordlover's pictures to their timelines and those of their friends even more than they were sharing from her own Facebook page. She went through the Good Morning & Good Night page, picked out a photo to report the page to Facebook for copyright infringement. The one photo she clicked to report proved to be awordlover's original - it is the purple one that says WELCOME which depicts a medieval village background that she found on a free desktop wallpaper site.
Facebook does not investigate any copyright infringement claims; they simply shut off the person's account. Reporting in rampant on Facebook, and whether the report is true or not doesn't really matter. Facebook must act or risk a lawsuit, which they will avoid at all costs.
awordlover filed a rebuttal to the infringement notice, showing the steps she took to create the picture and her page was reinstated about two weeks before she died. By then they had stolen her joy because she was nearly blind from her brain tumor and not able to be online for more than 3 to 4 hours per day.
Just because someone claims copyright infringement on Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube or a blog doesn't mean it is a true claim. However, unless the website host chooses to investigate it, the claim will stand and the infringer will be forever labeled as a copyright infringer.
No, it is not a fair system. But until someone legally pursues the flagrant misuse of our copyright infringement laws, it will continue to go on, no matter if it is Facebook, YouTube, a blog or a well-known website.
Samples of awordlover's workClick thumbnail to view full-size
Are there any Facebook Pages you visit that use quotes on photographs?
Public domain photo of a painting with text added
After Facebook, you can bet Pinterest pictures follow closely behind with misuse. Although Pinterest has had a recent policy change regarding proper use and reposting of pictures to guard against copyright infringement, you'll never know when someone might cry out "copyright infringement."
Because of the repinning function on Pinterest, you can literally be tracing the origin of a photo for hours and still not find the original posting party.
Because Pinterest has a copyright policy, does that mean all pictures on Pinterest are fair game to use?
It means that Pinterest users found a good thing, categorized it by putting the pictures in neatly labeled albums for easier reference, and most times showed the source URL where they found it, but it doesn't mean their repost was legal.
It just means they properly attributed the picture to the site where they found it, which - on Pinterest - doesn't necessarily have to be the real owner of the picture.
Pinterest pictures are a sticky wicket. You don't know if when you use them in your story, blog or webpage that your use will be legal because you don't know if the person who pinned them in the first place did so legally. Chances are they don't know either.
Does legality really matter with Pinterest photos, especially on sites like HubPages?
No. All HubPages is concerned with is that you properly show where YOU found the photo. I'm sure other sites have the same concern.
Does that mean I'm going to take (waste) an hour or more tracing the origin of every pin I find on Pinterest that I want to use?
Not a chance. I waste enough time finding photos to use on my hubs through regular channels. I will attempt it, but after the 15th repost, I pretty much have given up. I take the first post in the results and that becomes my source URL.
Take this pin about Robert Downey Jr. for example. Try the following exercise to see what kind of results you get. Right click in the center of the photo and then select "search on Google."
Trace this Pinterest Photo
How likely are you to use photos you find on Pinterest?
These Are My Search Results
How many did you get? I got back 986 results. Over 850 of them are pins on Pinterest.
So how do you know what source URL to use? You can choose any from the list.
After I made sure the link was good (not a broken link), I selected the first one on the list and used it as my source URL.
What are the chances of the real owner of a Pinterest photograph calling you out for "copyright infringement?"
Slim to none. Because on Pinterest where users "repin" each other's pictures, chances are the picture you used has been repinned a dozen times already, so that tracing where the original corruption occurred will be almost impossible.
The internet is ripe for infringement of photographs, even more so than text documents and creative writing stories.
Sites that have a repin or reblog function like Pinterest or Tumblr make copyright infringement almost impossible to enforce.
Proper Use Question
Has this article helped you understand proper usage of text on photos?
Do Not Copy
© Rachael O'Halloran
© 2014 Rachael O'Halloran