Monday, August 20, 2012

Wordcraft -- Don't let copyright string you up

One of the first things I noticed as a beginning blogger was that a post got more page views if it had a picture. The next question was, where to get enough pictures to run with posts several times a week. As a former print journalist I was wary of downloading images from the internet because, after all, they were almost all copyrighted, protected from public use as surely as if they were printed on paper in a newspaper or magazine.

I’d already bought a digital camera small enough to fit in my purse. Then I discovered wikimedia commons,, brimming with copyright free images. All was good. Until I began a love affair with Pinterest,, and suddenly wondered where all those wonderful pictures actually came from. My own images were okay, I was sure. And anyway, the photographer who took that forty-year-old postcard picture surely wouldn’t mind having it reprinted. I hoped.

And then I heard about Roni Loren. She’s a Dallas writer of erotic romances who loved using pictures off the internet on her website. Until one day, as she describes it, “I grabbed one random picture off of google and then a few weeks later I got contacted by the photographer who owned that photo. . . And I had to pay money that I didn’t have for a use of a photo I didn’t need.”

I won’t tell all everything Roni discusses, including the concept of “fair use,” which allows me to include a few quotes from her discussion in this post. For the bigger story, see read her own words, at She also links to Meghan Ward’s Writerland blog,, for a list of Creative Commons sites like wikimedia’s with information on use of the images.

Writer and editor Kristen Lamb, author of We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media, has another answer to the image problem -- forming an independent commons to share photos. See, for information about sharing your own photos, copyright free with fellow writers. And she’s still a fan of Pinterest, especially in a world that often encourages viral use of images and video.
Speaking of copyright and viral propagation of stories and images, if you’re a fan of fanfic, you’ll want to see the discussion by Jessica Grieser in the October 2012 edition of Writer’s Digest magazine of how and when a writer may appropriate someone else’s setting and characters without fear of reprisal. The magazine’s free online version, at, also lists a selection of fan fiction sites.

(Next Monday -- temperatures are moderating here in Texas which means it’s time for an update on fall writing conferences.)

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