Copyright and Google

500px-Control_copyright_icon.svgGoogle is a great tool.  With it, you can look up virtually any information and find it rapidly.  Thanks to Google Image Search, you can easily look through millions of photos, drawings, and more.  Unfortunately, this also means that copyright infringement is all too easy and people get confused as to what constitutes fair use.

You might not know the story of Cora.  Cora was only five days old when she died in her mother’s arms.  Cora’s mother, Kristine, has tirelessly worked to raise awareness of congenital heart disease.  There are many children alive today because of Kristine’s efforts.

In another corner of the Internet, there was a person who wanted to bring to light stories of babies who died due to child abuse.  A laudable goal, I must admit.  However, this person couldn’t find photos of all of the babies.  Instead of making a generic "no photo available" image, she took some photos of babies from the Internet and used those.  One of those photos was Cora’s.

Obviously, when Kristine found out she was upset.  She asked the page owner to take the images down, pointing out that they are copyrighted.  The page owner replied that images that appear in Google listings are free for anyone to use.  While, she took Cora’s image down, she is still using other babies’ photos.  In addition, she is calling Kristine and her supporters (including parents whose babies’ photos appear on the page) trolls for pressuring her to take down the photos..

Sadly, this isn’t the first time and likely won’t be the last time that someone mistakes "uploaded to the Internet" with "free for anyone to use."  Unless otherwise noted, items uploaded to the Internet are copyrighted.  This includes results from Google Images.  Google indexes the images (unless the site specifies for Google not to) and presents them in an easy to find manner, but it doesn’t grant permission to use them.  This is similar to how Google can let you search for a blog post, but it doesn’t grant you the right to take the text and put it on your website.

Now, there are some exceptions.  There are some times when you can use an image and be safe from copyright infringement.  The first of these is news reporting.  If I was putting together a news report about Cora, I could legitimately use an image from the site.  It would be better to ask for permission first, of course, but it wouldn’t be required.  The other instance is parody.  When Weird Al Yankovic takes a song and makes his own version, he doesn’t need to ask permission.  He does (just like with news reporting, asking is nicer), but he isn’t required to.

However, using an image from a site just because that happens to match up with a blog post you’re making or because the website you’re putting together would look a little nicer if you grabbed that graphic?  Not allowed.  That’s copyright infringement.

Perhaps you are thinking that copyright infringement isn’t that big of a deal.  After all, you can just grab the image, use it, and take it down if someone complains.  The problem with this is that the penalties for copyright infringement are $750 to $150,000 per infringement.  Taking the image down isn’t a protection.  You still infringed when you used the image without permission.

I don’t know how many times Cora’s image was used on the infringing site.  Kristina used the term "several", so let’s say it was used five times.  In that case, the page owner could be sued for anywhere from $3,750 to $750,000.  Add in time and money spent defending a court case and you need to ask yourself if grabbing that image worth a few thousand dollars’ risk.

So where should you get images if not from Google?  After all, you can’t be expected to go out and photograph every possible scenario, right?  Well, photographing your own is the best option, of course.  Failing that, there are plenty of outlets, such as, where you can buy images to use on your websites.  (NOTE: I have no relationship with ShutterStock.  They were merely the first listing in my Google search for "Royalty Free Stock Images.")

If your budget is $0, though, there are still options.  You might have noticed that my blog posts often credit OpenClipArt or Wikimedia Commons.  Both provide public domain images that you can use or copyrighted images that grant you the right to reuse them freely.  With these, though, make sure you credit the author/source.  Even if it isn’t required, it is nice.  In the case of the page owner who used Cora’s image, this image of a crying baby by labc and available for free from would have been appropriate and free of any copyright entanglements.

So the next time you see an image in a Google Images search and think "that would go great on my blog post or website", please stop and think again.  Don’t use copyrighted images unless you have the permission of the copyright owners.  Use your own photos, paid stock images, or free images from sites like OpenClipArt or Wikimedia Commons that specifically allow usage.  If you absolutely must use the copyrighted photo, ask for permission first.  Depending on the purpose of your usage, the owner may grant permission.  This is one time when it is better to ask permission than to seek forgiveness.

NOTE: The "copyright search" image above was created by Xander and comes from Wikimedia Commons under the GNU Free Documentation License.

Aloha Friday: Apologies and NickMom

burglarOn Tuesday, after Rosh Hashana services, NHL and I began having a discussion.  As our talk wandered from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur, I told NHL that the purpose of Yom Kippur was to apologize for our transgressions.  However, I informed him that saying you are sorry wasn’t enough.  If you were truly sorry, you wouldn’t repeat your misdeeds.

I gave him the example of a bully I had back in middle school.  This bully claimed to be my best friend.  He even acted the part much of the time.  Then, he would begin to mock me, stab me in the back (literally, he used a sharpened pencil), and would torment me in various ways.  After awhile, he apologized.  He claimed that someone had told him that I had said nasty things about him.

Being extremely naïve, I took him back as a friend and everything was fine for awhile until he tormented me again.  The pattern repeated itself over and over.  Tormenting, apology, naive-younger-me refusing to believe that his one friend was really not a friend at all.  Finally, I couldn’t deny it any longer and I refused to accept any more apologies from him.  I finally realized how worthless his apologies were.

Recently, NickMom has raised some folks’ ire.  Amy, aka ResourcefulMommy, has a good summary of what happened.  Short version: NickMom rips off HowToBeADad. NickMom is caught and apologizes.  Then, NickMom is found to be stealing more content.  Including photos of peoples’ kids.  Including photos of peoples’ kids with the watermarks covered over by NickMom.  They apologize again and take it down.  They even issue a blanket statement that they’ll take down any content that the creators complain about.

Here’s the problem, though.  Their apology means nothing.  Of course, they’ll take down the stolen content when people complain about it.  If they don’t, they face copyright infringement fees of $750 – $150,000 per incident.  However, they have shown absolutely no willingness to stop the copying in the first place.  They know that their editors are lifting content and yet they just stay the course.  Without even the slightest bit of effort to change their ways, their apologies mean nothing at all.

My Aloha Friday question for today is: How do you handle an insincere apology?

P.S. If you haven’t already, try out my Twitter applications: FollowerHQ and Rout.

Disclaimer: The "burglar" image above is by tzunghaor and is available through

Thanks to Kailani at An Island Life for starting this fun for Friday. Please be sure to head over to her blog to say hello and sign the linky there if you are participating.

Aloha Friday by Kailani at An Island Life

Aloha #157

Year Zero – An Addictive Tale of Galactic Intrigue and Copyright Infringement

covershotI recently read a review that Phil Plait, aka Bad Astronomer, posted about Year Zero by Rob Reid.  (If the name sounds familiar, it’s because he founded which created the Rhapsody music service.  If it doesn’t sound familiar, then never mind.)  In it, there are countless alien civilizations in the Universe.  Most tend to self-destruct, but a few don’t.  These precious few (well, "few" percentage-wise is still many, many civilizations numbers-wise) get to join the Refined League.  By doing so, they gain access to the technological and, more importantly, the art that all of the other civilizations have.

For the longest time, Earth seemed to be a nothing world.  We were primitive nobodies, barely even worthy to be paid attention to.  Until, that is, Welcome Back Kotter aired.  Even this, however, was laughable to the aliens until the closing credits theme song played.

There’s this funny thing about aliens.  They are leaps and bounds ahead of us in every area known to man… er, sentient species, except for one: Music.  Here, we soar beyond any of their wildest aspirations.  In fact, our music is more than just "good" to them.  It has a certain drug-like effect on them.  Human music is like LSD on crack to aliens.  They shuffle wildly, approximating dancing – aliens stink at rhythm, and can even go into a trance-like state where they are aware of nothing but the wondrous sensation of the heavenly tones coming from those otherwise hopelessly backwards Homo Sapiens.

Now, like many music fans, they decided they needed to have copies of the songs.  Since landing in flying saucers en masse was out of the question (for one, they don’t interfere in non-Refined civilizations and secondly they don’t travel in flying saucers), they took the route that many human music fans take: they "downloaded" the music.  Every alien has a copy of every song released since about 1978.

Unfortunately, the aliens are also sticklers for the rules.  They have a law that they need to follow the laws of whatever planet the art form comes from.  And Earth (specifically, the United States) has this pesky copyright law.  When you add up the fines that would result from every alien pirating every song released since 1978, you get more money than the entire Universe.  Yes, thanks to copyright law, the entire Earth (except for North Korea) is now fabulously wealthy and the Universe is bankrupt.  And that’s a problem.  Especially since some aliens would like to see the debt wiped out by any means necessary.  Even if it means humanity is wiped out.  (Hard to collect on your debt when you’re kaput.)

Rob Reid takes this setup and runs with it in a way that alternates between hilarious and insightful.  (Often being both at once.)  His characters struggle against impossible odds to find a way out of this situation.  Their travels take them from New York City to the other side of the Universe and back again.

I found this book as addictive as the aliens in it found humanity’s music.  I couldn’t put it down for more than a few minutes.  When I did, I found myself finding excuses to sneak off with the book just to read a few more pages.  A few times, I thought I had figured out how they would solve the problem.  I was even close once, but not close enough.  The actual resolution makes perfect sense and is one of those "why didn’t *I* think of that" situations.

The entire book is told from the main character’s point of view and, just to add to the fun of the book, there are footnotes scattered here where he adds background to sections, terms, or statements that characters make.  I was drawn into this world and it would not let go until I finished the very last page.  (Yes, I read all 357 pages in 2 days!)  The story was just too engrossing not to keep reading.  And even when you think everything is tied up in a nice little package, the author tosses a new wrinkle (albeit one he mentions earlier in the book but then gets conveniently "forgotten" about until the end) that not only adds an interesting twist, but also possibly sets up a sequel.

However, whether there is a sequel or not, Year Zero is a very interesting read and I would recommend it to any music or science fiction fan.  I would doubly recommend it to people who are fans of both music *and* science fiction.

How To Deal With A Content Thief

It is almost inevitable if you put content online.  At one point or another, someone will steal it.  Sometimes, it is someone stealing your words and claiming they are your own.  Sometimes, it is a company taking the photo you posted, stripping any watermark off of it, and using it for their brochure.  Usually these people will claim "the web is considered ‘public domain’" – a total falsehood.

In my mind, though, the most annoying content thieves are the spammer/scrappers.  These people troll the Internet looking for content to grab.  They gobble it up and repost it on their own sites/blogs with varying levels of attribution.  They use this content to gain Google ranking so that either 1) they get more money from ads, 2) their links to other sites get better ranking, and/or 3) their domain name becomes more valuable when they sell it.

While they are grabbing your content, they are doing much more damage than simple copyright infringement.  The duplicate text could not only help the thieves raise their Google ranking, but could also drag yours down.  In most of these cases, you are powerless to actually get the content removed.  You can send a cease and desist notice, mentioning that the copying is a DMCA violation that can result in a $750 – $150,000 fine per infringement.

Sadly, there are some content thieves who are stationed overseas and either ignore or laugh off any legal threats.  When you encounter a situation like this, you can’t do anything.

Well, unless they hotlink your photos.

Like the thieves we discovered on Sunday who stole B’s entire blog post.

Then, you can replace the photos with something "fun."

It’s a simple matter of editing your ".htaccess" file.  This file is very powerful and can tell the web server just who to allow to access content and who not to allow.  You can prevent hot-linking altogether, but I wouldn’t recommend this.  Blocking all hot-linking might make your posts show incorrect images when they are linked to on Pinterest, Facebook, and/or Google+.

However, if you know that has put your post online, you can put this code in your .htaccess file:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} ^http://(www\.)? [NC]
RewriteRule \.(jpg|jpeg|gif|bmp|png)$ [NC,R,L]

This basically says that any images being requested by will be replaced with "do-not-steal.jpe".  (Note: It isn’t ".jpg" because all jpg files will be blocked.)  With this code in place, the following image, when linked to from


will look like this:


Of course, that link could contain anything, not just a bunch of text.  You could put a shot of an angry face, someone collating papers, or even something highly crude.

Will this get your content taken down?  No, it won’t.  But at least you will get the satisfaction of seeing the thief’s site "defaced" with your message proclaiming to all that stumble upon them that this site is a dirty, rotten content thief.

Stop SOPA, Prevent PIPA

StopSOPA_PostPerhaps you’ve heard that there’s a threat looming on the horizon.  A pair of dark clouds hanging over our favorite websites.  The dark clouds are called SOPA and PIPA.

If you haven’t heard about them, allow me to bring you up to speed.  You see, content providers are scared that their content is being copied online.  There are laws in place to deal with this, but they want more laws.  Tougher laws.

Under SOPA and PIPA, not only would copying copyrighted content be a crime, but linking to it would be a crime too.  It doesn’t even have to be you posting a link.  If you own a blog and a commenter leaves a link to a site that contains a copyrighted image, your blog can be shut down.  Not only that, but any ad network or Paypal accounts can be shut down too.

You might think that your site would be immune to this shut down because you would defend yourself in court or take down the offending link and/or content when you are notified about it.  However, the shut down provisions can take place BEFORE any court hearing.  Yes, you are guilty before being proven innocent.  After your site is taken down, then you can defend yourself against the charges and *maybe* get your site brought back online.  (Think of the “fun” that a malicious individual could have faking copyright infringement claims to take down blogs he/she doesn’t like.)

To imagine the effect of this, picture every blog having to police every link that they and their commenters post lest one lead to a site with a single infringing image.  Now, picture Twitter or Facebook having to do this.  Imagine Google needing to not only filter out Google+ but their normal search results as well.  After all, one of the links they index might have an image that someone else claims was wrongly posted.  Google and dozens of other Internet companies will need to make these decisions on the fly.  If they make one wrong move, you could say goodbye to services such as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube.

Speaking of which, YouTube is always a source of entertainment: Animals acting cute, people acting out strange stunts, and kids singing pop songs.  Well, strike that last one.  If you post a video of your kid singing a copyrighted song, you could end up behind bars for 5 years.  You read that right.  Five years of jail-time for a YouTube posting.

Now, you may have heard that SOPA was killed.  When people heard the news, they began to celebrate.  This celebration was, sadly, premature.  SOPA hasn’t been killed or even shelved.  Instead, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith plans on continuing work on SOPA next month.  The claim is that this break is due to “Republican and Democratic retreats taking place over the next two weeks.”  Personally, though, I think this was a delay tactic to try to get the outcry to die down.  Even if it is killed, though, we will need to remain vigilant.  Legislators love taking controversial bills, breaking them apart into different pieces, and sneaking them in attached to other pieces of legislation (the more “must pass”, the better).

Lest you think that all of this will, at least, somehow stop piracy, it won’t.  The site takedown only keeps the domain name from pointing to the site.  If you know the IP Address, you can still get to the site.  This will hurt you and me as normal users won’t remember your site’s IP address.  Pirates, however, will still be able to connect to their destinations just fine.

Maybe you are wondering how the tech companies allowed these bills to get this far.  Simple: They were not only not consulted, but actively excluded from the discussions.  Only pro-SOPA companies were allowed in.  Meanwhile, during hearings, Congressfolk seemed to reveal in their ignorance of how the Internet worked.  They said that they aren’t “nerds” and that discussions of Internet security were a “waste of time.”  They ignored experts saying that this would break the Internet.  Apparently, not knowing how something works isn’t a barrier to passing a giant legislation package regulating it into oblivion.  Is it any wonder that the bill wound up so one-sided?

So what can you do?  Contact your state Senators and Representatives and tell them to vote NO on SOPA/PIPA.  Make your voice heard now or you might not be able to make your voice heard online later.  (This site is a useful tool to see where your Senators/Representatives stand on SOPA/PIPA.)

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