Ali Matteini

a life creative

Copy, right?

What I’m writing about here – copyright and the use and misuse of others’ intellectual property – is nothing new. This post pertains to my experience from both sides of the fence, and at the footer I’ll post a few links to articles that explain with a little more clarity.

For around 2 years I’ve wondered whether I should bother writing this. In fact this post has been sitting in my draft folder of this blog since 26 October 2013. Every time I’d start, I’d get bogged down in the why and wherefore, was it even worth it… and subsequently wander off and live my life. Anyway, I’ve pinpointed it in an old blog that no longer exists that it was one of a handful of reasons I lost heart in my Italian blog.


In an age when it’s easy enough to snapshot something and even easier to ‘pin’ it, post it, reblog it, retweet it, or make a screenshot, what happens to all that artist’s copyright hanging over it? Where does it go? Nowhere. So if you attribute it to where you found it and credit it to the maker, the artist, the photographer…you should be perfectly covered. Right? Not according to this article.

And what if you’ve asked the permission of a photographer directly, and have been granted directly the use of their intellectual property? And then later they ask you to take them down?

This is what happened to me. Permission to use another’s photographs in my blog, which had been granted to me one year earlier, was suddenly revoked.
While I hadn’t used the images in every post it wasn’t a matter of just pulling a few, but it meant that I had to sift. The removing, replacing, editing work was enough to make ya cry. But the photographer had all rights reserved. The copyright. Punto.

I have to be honest and say that this wasn’t completely out of the blue, though it had to do with my dropping the ball and being more than a little ditzy in the technological sense and not at all that I wanted to pass off someone else’s work as my own.
This is what happened: I’d used an image in a Tumblr post that was accredited to the photographer, but when linked to my Facebook page feed, only an excerpt of the caption and none of the credit came through. The photographer picked up on this immediately and I explained what had happened. Then, a second time, another image, same thing, and this time I was onto it…as was the photographer, and, well, once bitten twice shy.
I must have looked like an arsehole.

What happened next was that the photographer then asked me to pull absolutely everything as they no longer wished to have anything photographic online, a request to which I complied and posted on that now-non-existent blog what I was doing. Without any further communication from the photographer she promptly unfriended me and I was left feeling lousy, not least of all because had she communicated with me rather than cutting me off completely, she might have realised we were pretty much swimming up the same creative stream, dodging the same snags and logs. And had I not been complacent and triple-checked the photos for the photographer’s credit across all platforms I might still be friends with a talented and sensitive fellow human being.

I understand how the photographer felt. I’ve had intellectual property – photographs, poetry, art, design – either used without prior permission or without attributing credit, and I once had an illustration passed off as someone else’s work entirely by a newspaper who had no excuse not to know the laws. It happens too often, across the board, and having your work used without permission and credit leaves a bitter taste on the tongue.

It’s not only users of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram but these social networks themselves who’ve created loopholes in the Terms and Conditions (we rarely ever read) that allow their commercial enterprising to be a free-for-all (unless you intend on posting a gratuitous nipple).
Social networks use our photos for free, for publicity, because we, the account holders, have given the OK for them to do so by signing up (see the links below for more details).

Let’s not forget, however, that we are not our social networks. Website-builders, bloggers, Facebook-ers, Twitter-ers, Instagram-ers, Pinterest-ers, etc: be mindful. No matter if we are professional or amateur the point is this: the human being holding that camera, that pen, that paintbrush, those ideas…well, they used their skills, time and energy for capturing something interesting, beautiful and useful to add to the world – it’s not a “likes” free-for-all.

While there remains a Universal Copyright Convention of which terms have been amended and updated since 1952 it’s difficult to police copyright laws on an international scale (below I’ve linked EU, Australian and US laws, which are reasonably well on par).  The long and the short of it all is that the rights and credit remain with the creator of the work, always, always, always, unless you have a copy of a signed a document that states the artist has revoked the rights to his or her intellectual property, or else the images are noted as being copyright-free and even then, that doesn’t quite mean what it says.

All artists across all platforms – online and offline – require you to request their permission and follow all present and future requests of the artist, photographer, writer, designer, or whoever makes things or dreams things up.
Communicate. Ask. If in doubt, make something of your own.  And know your own rights as an artist.

Here’s a few links:

EU copyright Laws
US Copyright Laws
Australian Copyright Laws
NYCounsel – Who Owns Photos and Videos Posted on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter?
Stock Photo  Rights – Using Images

Got anything to add?


2 comments on “Copy, right?

  1. Pecora Nera
    May 23, 2015

    Sorry you got bitten. But don’t be disheartened because we love your blog

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