Category Archives: Business (general)

Copyright, Flickr and Google Images

Gummy worms, photo by shinjaejun (USA), shinjaejun.comWell, my recents posts on the topic of copyright — especially related to Flickr and Google Images — seem to have opened a can of worms.

I did a little more research so I could refer people to the best resources & opinions I could find.

Here they are:

Flickr photos and images are not in the public domain. The photos and images are generally copyrighted.  Some members of Flickr choose to release some of their rights via Creative Commons licensing, and you can search the photos for pictures that are okay to use.

There are several copyright-related threads at the Flickr forum.  Click here to read one of the best replies, by joepphoto.

Combination lock - photo by Linusb4, AustraliaHere’s one of the clearest explanations of what’s what at Flickr:  Understanding Copyright on Flickr.

(Flickr itself, and its parent company, Yahoo, default to the normal rules of copyright as outlined by the U.S. government.  And frankly, that’s fine.  Flickr shouldn’t have to repeat the laws.)

Google Images are usually copyrighted, as well.  Google aggregates (or “scrapes” or collects) images from all over the Internet, the same as they post the titles of webpages, and summaries or excerpts of them.

  • Nobody’s webpage is automatically in the public domain because Google indexed it.
  • Nobody’s photos are automatically in the public domain because they’re among the visual indices at Google Images.

Bootleg video recording, photo by Piotr Ciuchta, ScotlandA copyright thread at Digitalpoint includes good answers and some stupid ones.  Correctly attributing ownership is not enough to meet copyright laws.

That’d be like someone copying a recent movie and thinking it’s okay because all the credits are intact in the copy they added to a torrent site.

(Oh. Wait.  People do that.)

Google explains the rights pretty clearly.  In a nutshell, you have permission to view the images in Google Images.  You don’t automatically have permission to copy and use them.

However, you can use some of the Advanced filters to find images — in Google Images — with Creative Commons licensing.

Highlighted in yellow on the page linked above, Google reminds people to verify the exact terms of using images that appear at Google Images, even when the images bear Creative Commons licensing.

Here’s what Google says:

Before reusing content that you’ve found, you should verify that its license is legitimate and check the exact terms of reuse stated in the license. For example, most licenses require that you give credit to the image creator when reusing an image. Google has no way of knowing whether the license is legitimate, so we aren’t making any representation that the content is actually or lawfully licensed. [Link]

I hope that helps explain what people can & can’t do with your images, and what’s okay (and not) if you’d like to use someone else’s images in your art or other products.

Personally, I’m rabidly enthusiastic about Creative Commons licensing.  I’ll talk about that in a later post.

For now, I’ve ordered the following book. I want to see suggestions about apparent conflicts between unbridled creativity and the copyrights of those who’ve created works of seminal (= strongly influencing later developments) importance.

Copyright and Free, Royalty-Free Resources… again!

Dripping data? (CD image by Matthew Bowden, UK)Many people — perhaps most people online today — aren’t aware of how copyright laws apply to what’s on the Internet.

I know no one who deliberately breaks copyright laws.  They’re just misinformed, or misguided by how they see copyright laws ignored online.

Often, people believe that anything online is okay to borrow, at least for personal or one-time use.  After all, everyone else is doing that… right?

I understand. Until you’re caught, there’s probably no reason to think twice about using someone else’s images, especially if those images aren’t clearly marked with a copyright symbol.

So, I don’t want anyone to feel as if I’m pointing a finger.  I’m not.  I deal with this subject constantly, and I’m very aware of how popular misunderstandings are when it comes to copyright law.


I’m not an attorney.  My interpretations of the law are my own opinions, not legal advice.  To get adequate legal advice, you’ll need to speak with an attorney that deals in trademark and copyright law.

However, even judges don’t seem to agree on copyright law.  How harshly you’re treated, if caught, can vary from one courtroom to the next.


I’m an artist.  Since the mid-1990s, when I created my first website — gosh, was that really over 15 years ago? — my own images have been stolen.  The tragedy is, I usually give permission when someone asks, first.  I was thrilled when one of my original photos was used for a record album cover; the band asked permission and I gave it freely.

When I find someone using one of my illustrations illegally, I approach them directly.  Most people quickly (and apologetically) remove the image from their websites.

However, a few balk.  They insist they bought the image from someone else, as part of a package, so they think the image is in the public domain now.  Or they found the image at Flickr.  Or something.

Then I have to contact the person’s website hosting service, and the usual result has been: The hosting service shuts down every website that person has.  They’re banned.  Nobody’s happy, and it didn’t have to conclude that way.

I’ve written several popular articles about copyright, the “three stroke” myth, and how copyright law affects artists.  Some of that information may apply to you.  My original article is at , along with several other copyright-related articles.

I also teach artists, including photographers, how to protect their images so they can prove they’re the original creators of the respective works.

It’s a simple technique: I remove about 1/2 inch on at least two sides of the original image, before I post it online.  When the hosting service asks me to prove it’s my original graphic, I can show them the larger version that has never appeared online. So far, that’s always worked for me and for my students.

Others use techniques such as digital watermarking:


Okay, maybe you shrug off copyright laws.  If you don’t know anyone who’s been caught “borrowing” images, and you don’t know the anguish of having your own work stolen, maybe it’s no big deal.

However, there is new software in production — I’ve heard that it’s in beta right now — and it’s designed to identify images being used illegally online.  Art museums facing budget crunches are especially interested in using this technology to protect their images, online.

As it was explained to me: The basic technology is similar to how cameras “know” where faces are in the photos, and always make sure they’re in focus.  Or, software that now replaces unattractive faces in family photos, and instantly fills in with a better face (from another photo) in the same size & location.  (I’m sure you’ve seen the ads on TV.)

Similar software recognizes distinctive elements in your original graphics and — through Google Images, Flickr, Facebook, etc. — scours the Internet looking for any matches.  Once you’re caught by someone who has deep pockets or an attorney with whiplash mentality… heaven help you.

We’re fast approaching a time when you’re playing a dangerous game if you’re using photos or other artwork without permission.


There is no reason to use illegal images in any product, including website design.

There are many great, public domain images online.  Pre-1923 images are generally (but not always) safe to use.  You can find them online; Wikipedia often features gorgeous public domain images by famous artists such as John William Waterhouse.

Many (but not all) works on the United States’ government website are in the public domain.

Some modern-day graphic artists & photographers have released some or all of their rights.  Some websites include modern, public domain photos, such as

You can also find great, legal images — with various licenses to use them — via Creative Commons:

There are many great resources for free, completely legal, royalty-free images.  (Remember: The images are still copyrighted. You’re simply given permission to use the images without paying a fee.)

Stock.xchng is one of my favorites.  Just be sure to search with “Restricted OK” set to “NO.”

Morgue File (not what it sounds like), also called MFile, is another great resource.  Like Stock.xchng, be sure to check the licensing terms for each image.

Most free, royalty-free websites also offer higher-quality images for a fee.  The fee can be as low as $1 with unlimited use rights, and that often depends on the size of the image you want (for online or print use) and whether you’ll be reproducing it on tee-shirts, coffee mugs, etc.

Or, if you found an image — like one of mine — through an image scraper or photo-sharing site, you can find the owner by doing an image search at Google.  Free browser plugins like Search by Image for Google make it right-click easy.  Then, ask the owner for permission to use the image in your project.  Many of us are happy to say yes.

The best idea of all?  Take your own photos.  Practice makes perfect (or at least good enough), you don’t need to get a photography degree… though you could.  And, once you’re comfortable with your camera, consider adding your photos to sites like and earn money from them.

Don’t feel bad if you’ve been using images without permission. 99% of the people I teach or consult for have no idea they’ve been doing anything wrong. This includes respected artists including photographers and illustrators.

What’s important is to use legal images as much as you can, starting right away.  The Internet is always changing, and copyright law is becoming a far greater issue across the online community.

Besides, there is no reason to copy others’ graphics without permission.  There are many wonderful, free resources for great images.  Use them instead.


Want to reprint this?  You can.  It’s free.  This work by Aisling D’Art is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Yahoo Groups – changing moderators

Do you need to change a Yahoo Group moderator or owner? Here are step-by-step instructions.

I’ve started around 20 (or more?) Yahoo Groups, including AJmarketing, wildartdolls, and ArtistsJournals2 (AJ2, now WAJ2).  When they become too popular for me to manage, I generally turn them over to new owners and moderators.

So, when people need to change Yahoo Groups moderators or ownership, they often ask me how to do this.  Here’s my reply:

Here’s how to switch moderators/owners at any Yahoo group:

1. The current moderator/owner goes into the list of members.  That’s accessed by clicking “Members” in the left column at the Yahoo Groups page.  See the long, tall graphic at right.

2. Click on “Edit membership” under the name of the person who will be the new moderator/owner.  (See the second illustration, below.)

3. Click on “Change to owner” … or “Change to moderator” if that’s more appropriate.

4. If the person is simply being appointed as a moderator, the owner will assign privileges in the next screen… how much the new moderator is allowed to do, that affects the entire group.  (For example, unless the moderator is trusted, the owner might not want to give him or her permission to delete the entire group.)

5. Click “Make moderator” or “Make owner” at the foot of the page.  At the next screen, if you’re back at the individual’s membership screen, click “Save changes”. (That’s important.)

6. The new moderator/owner will receive notice of the change, and may have to reply that it’s okay.

7. If the old moderator/owner is leaving, he or she will go to his (or her) own membership page in that group, and select “Make member.”  Be sure to save the changes similarly to what you did in step 5, above.

8. If the old moderator/owner is leaving the group, he or she will then choose “Leave  group” at the group’s homepage. (There may be a similar option at the membership page.  Either one will work.)

That should do it!

The importance of leverage

Today, I was reading a blog entry by Rick Sheffren, Leverage: Maximize your income in minimum time.

It reminded me of the potential leverage of past accomplishments.

As artists, we don’t always pause to update our resumes (CVs).  We participate in swaps, group shows, and see our works published in zines and magazines… and all we do is tell our friends.

Everything that you do as an artist holds the potential to move your career forward.

No matter how small the project, or how many other artists were involved, your participation is still news.

It doesn’t matter if you were part of the project because it was open to the public and you simply signed up for it.  Frankly, art collectors don’t always know which are invitational projects and which aren’t… and many don’t care.

It’s the quality of your work that matters, as well as the audience that see it.

Sign up for every project that you can, if you can participate with quality work.

Then, be sure to add your participation — and a photo or scan of the art — to your website and your CV.

Some of your most powerful leverage is what you create for fun.  That’s where the best energy can be, and it’s the energy — not necessarily the technical expertise — that separates mediocre art from art that soars!

Recommended: Annual meetings

Party balloonsIf you want to meet other artists and talk with them about local resources and outlets for your own art, here’s one great approach:  Join art associations and clubs, and — here’s the important part — go to their annual meetings.

Unlike some corporate annual meetings, art associations’ meetings can be very sociable and fun.  Frequently, the associations’ important issues are discussed and voted on, board members are elected, and then everyone stays to chat.

Often, refreshments are served. (Volunteer to help the refreshment committee, for extra networking opportunities.)

Invariably, everyone discusses his or her art career.  Here’s the most important thing that you can do: Listen!

You’re there to learn from others, and — given a chance — they will tell share valuable information.  They’ll talk about where they’re showing their art.  They’ll talk about the gallery or shop or fair that was a bad experience.  They may say where they found a great deal on frames, canvases, bulk orders for batting or fabric… and so on.

Oh, it’s fine to ask questions about how you can get into a specific gallery or shop.  You can inquire about a store or show that you’re not sure about.

Start by listening to everything others say.  Don’t interrupt with your questions or comments.  Let them talk.  Agree when your experiences have been similar.

Then, when they’ve said everything that they wanted to, ask a few — just a few — of your own questions.

You can form many wonderful, genuine friendships at these kinds of meetings.

In conversations like these, I’ve learned about other, useful groups.  I’ve connected with other artists working with similar media to mine, and we’ve put together orders to buy our supplies in wholesale volume.  That cut my production expenses by nearly 50%.  I’ve met members who were opening their own shops or galleries, and were looking for consigned artwork to sell.

Attending meetings has been incredibly beneficial.

Many art associations and groups hold their big, annual meeting around May or June.  Others schedule them near the end of the calendar year.

Those meetings are one way to meet a large number of active artists, and find ways that you can help each other.

And, in some groups, the annual meeting is when members sign up for major upcoming shows or other opportunities.

Join local art groups, no matter how humble or lofty.  Go to their meetings, especially the annual meeting.

You’ll learn a lot and share what you know with others.  Meetings are usually a wonderful, relaxed opportunity to meet other artists and network with them.

The Quadrants, revisited, by Robin Retallick

Let’s begin by understanding a couple of things here:1. If you’re reading this, then you may be among those looking for a “fix” to life. We see others that seem to have it all, and we can’t seem to get ourselves organized. If only we could find the secret to success. Well – read on.

2. All of our life is spent in the NOW. Yet how much of NOW do we spend being regretful or anguished about the past, or worried about the future? Answer (for most of us) – a lot!

So let’s think a little about what to do in the NOW that’s right now – what to do first.

Stephen Covey’s Quadrants

Let’s look at Stephen Covey’s quadrants from his best seller “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People“. As Covey himself admits, this is just common sense – but it sure helps to have it laid out logically. If we classify what we have to do in terms of both Urgency (X-axis) and Importance (Y-axis), then we get four quadrants:

1. Important & Urgent
2. Important & Not Urgent
3. Urgent & Not Important
4. Not Urgent & Not Important.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it means you’re spending a lot off time in Quad 1. What Covey shows us is

A. If we allow ourselves to be driven unconsciously by the “tyranny” of the urgent but (mostly) unimportant (Quad 3), then we’re condemning ourselves to more of Quad 1.

B. The more time we spend in Quad 2, the less we will spend later in Quad 1.

So for the overwhelmed, it’s good information – make a chart of your To-Do’s and plan differently.

But for most of us, it’s not the best model for organizing our lives because much of the time, we’re quite capable of putting off important stuff – be it urgent or non-urgent. In other words, we procrastinate.

Ken Blanchard’s Quadrants

Ken Blanchard (“The One Minute Manager”) in his latest (“The On-Time, On-Target Manager”) lays out his quadrants a little differently:

1. Have to Do, Want to Do
2. Have to Do, Don’t Want to Do
3. Don’t Have to Do, Want to Do
4. Don’t Have to Do, Don’t Want to Do.

Most of us don’t have a problem with Quads 1 and 4. If it’s Quad 1 we just go ahead and do it. If it’s Quad 4, we just never do it – no big deal. It’s Quads 2 and 3 where the issues arise because many of us gravitate to Quad 3 at the expense of Quad 2, meaning things that do have to be done don’t get done.

The Blanchard advice is to do them in the order Quad 2, Quad 1, and spend little or no time on Quad 3 items. To use this model, once again chart your To-Do’s and plan accordingly. You will be better “organized”.

Working With Quadrants – A Suggestion

My problem with both of these is that, in my experience, none of us will continue to do things we don’t want to do unless we’re forced to do them. We may be forced by a boss. But if the boss is us, then unless we can get pleasure from the very knowledge that we’re now “organized” (and some can), we’re still not going to stick with it.

If that sounds like you, then you’re normal and sane and you’re not weak and you’re not poorly disciplined – so get off that kick. And here’s the good news – you’re not condemned to have less in life than those mythical “other” “better organized” people out there!

If you’ve considered the Blanchard quadrants, think for a minute about what determines why you would ever “want to” do something. Answer – because it’s fun, because it brings you joy, lets you feel good. I’m going to suggest we substitute the words “inspired to” rather than “want to” because it implies what’s actually happening here – there’s a collaboration going on between you and your inner self – your inner being – that’s causing this feeling. And nothing nada, zilch, zip ? is more important than feeling good.

Now let’s look at the “have to” bit. I’m suggesting here you think about these as the “must” do’s and the “should” do’s. The rest are “could” do’s.

1. Should/Must Do, Inspired To Do
2. Should/Must Do, Not Inspired To Do
3. Could Do, Inspired To Do
4. Could Do, Not Inspired To Do

Now segment your To-Do items and look at how many lie in each box. Starting from the bottom, Quad 4 is sort of a catch-all bucket for all sorts of things. There’s not much energy involved so you can safely ignore these items.

Next let’s look at what’s in Quad 2. If you’re typical, you’ll have lots of entries here. You may find that this is where you hang out a lot.

Quads 1 & 3 are where you need to be. In other words, in order to be truly “organized”, the task is to get the stuff in Quad 2 into 1, 3 or 4. You can work in Covey mode, or you can work in Blanchard mode. But if you truly want to break out of the rut, your “work” is to change the way you think and get inspired.

First things first

True time management and personal development means that you need to spend some time each day in quiet mode – either meditating or visualizing what you want. If there’s no time in your busy day to do that – make time. This is your truly important task. And as you do, ideas will come.

You don’t have to take quantum leaps. You don’t have to put yourself into a tailspin by quitting your job, or your relationship. If you spend quiet time, ideas will come to you and opportunities to take advantage of those ideas will come to you. In an easy and relaxed manner, your life will become what you’re visualizing.

A few quotes

“Follow your bliss, and doors will open for you that you never knew existed” – Joseph Campbell

“What we ponder and what we think about sets the course of our life. Any day we wish; we can discipline ourselves to change it all. Any day we wish, we can open the book that will open our mind to new knowledge. Any day we wish, we can start a new activity. Any day we wish, we can start the process of life change. We can do it immediately, or next week, or next month, or next year.” – Jim Rohn

“Whatever your mind can conceive and can believe, it can achieve.” – Napoleon Hill

“Stop thinking trouble if you want to attract its opposite; stop thinking poverty if you wish to attract plenty. Refuse to have anything to do with the things you fear, the things you do not want.” – Orison Swett Marden

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you. Don’t go back to sleep. You must ask for what you really want. Don’t go back to sleep. People are going back and forth across the doorsill where the two worlds touch. The door is round and open. Don’t go back to sleep. – Rumi – a Sufi poet

Robin Retallick is a business owner and CEO who, like many of us, is on a journey of discovery seeking some of life’s answers and learning how to achieve abundance. From early involvement with Christianity, he’s moved to an understanding of the Law Of Attraction with all that that implies. As modern physics merges more into the world of the “supernatural”, he sees the potential reconciliation of the spiritual with the scientific. He shares his insights, and processes and resources that work.

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Trademarks, original ideas, and copycats

Copying is a regular topic of discussion among artists. Recently, someone suggested copyright and trademarks as ways to protect clever product or workshop names that we use, and so on.

I can’t give you legal advice. I’m not a lawyer. But, here are a few of my experiences and opinions:

I’ve trademarked “Aisling D’Art” in NH, but that was inexpensive, and it was the NH way of filing (and protecting) a DBA. I’m not putting TM after my name every time that I use it. That’d be silly.

(When we put a TM after a phrase when we’re writing online, it’s usually a joke, btw.)

I’m not convinced that it’s worth the time or trouble for a small business to trademark a zine, eBook, or workshop name.

My opinion is, unless you’re the first one to do something, or the first to do something WELL, you don’t have much protection when it comes to ideas, titles, or names. Ultimately, it has to be about you, personally, and the energy that shines through in everything that you do.

Of course, those of us with slightly neurotic Virgo tendencies, get caught up in the “if you can’t do something well, don’t do it at all” trap: We don’t follow-through with great ideas because we can’t do them perfectly.

Likewise, don’t hold yourself back from great ideas because you’re neither first nor the best to do them. Or, because you’re afraid you’ll be copied.

But, unless it’s the most blatant act of copying AND you’ve got deep pockets for a protracted legal battle, don’t get bogged down by fears that you’re “copying” someone else (even inadvertently), or that you might be copied, yourself.

Oh yes, a clever workshop name makes your class stand out from the rest, sometimes. But generally, students take a class because they want to study with YOU, first & foremost.

Quirky brand/business names–such as Yahoo, Google, and Amazon–are just funky enough that people tend to remember them. “Branding”, as it’s called, is an entire field of study in itself; Internet marketing expert Seth Godin has given his books such stand-out titles as “The Big Red Fez” and “Purple Cow.” That’s a good idea.

From there it becomes a PR game, so that you (and your project) are well enough known that anyone else who does the same thing, is labelled as a copycat.

Be the very best YOU that you can be. Don’t copy, of course. But also, don’t worry about the copycats, and don’t fret if it turns out that your original idea was–at the same time–being developed in someone else’s studio at the same time.

Do what you do, and do it as well as you can. And, as you approach the big leagues, get attorneys to sort out trademark issues for you. That’s my best advice on the subject.

Copyright and the ‘three stroke’ rule

The “three stroke” rule suggests that you can copy anyone’s art as long as at least three brush strokes are different.

This is NOT a law. In fact, even within clear copyright law, every legal case will return a different decision.

My background in copyright law

I’m not a lawyer, so this is opinion and based only on personal experience.

When I worked as an editor at M.I.T., I often helped professors rewrite portions of their own textbooks for publication elsewhere. And, since the textbook publisher (not the author/professor) often held the copyright, I had to be sure that the professor wasn’t plagiarizing his own work.

So, I spent several days with teams of attorneys, discussing just how many changes are necessary to avoid lawsuits. And, even in publishing, there are no clear rules. We settled on “three to five major changes, per page” as a cross-your-fingers guideline.

Since then, and for my own art, I’ve followed copyright cases closely.

Simplest answer: Use copyright-free materials

Working for M.I.T., with its own lawyers, is different from being an artist on a limited budget. You probably don’t have the resources to consult an attorney, much less hire one if you’re sued for copyright violation.

This is one reason why I produce copyright-free clipart on CDs, for artists to use without these headaches.

It’s also why I sometimes organize tours to popular (and picturesque) European destinations: So you can take copyright-free photos for use in your art.

Don’t make copies

Basically, you can’t copy someone else’s work (art, music, writing, etc.) in a way that deprives him or her of income that would otherwise go to that person. So, a “knockoff” is illegal.

Photocopying or otherwise reproducing someone else’s art/images to avoid buying a copy (or extra copies) is also illegal. (For personal use–for example if you want to photocopy part of a book that you own, to keep copies of those pages in a reference notebook for your own use–you can sometimes photocopy others’ work.)

Reproducing others’ art online (without permission) is very definitely a copyright violation, unless the art is old enough to be in public domain. (But, if you’re posting someone else’s photo of the art, the photo itself may still be protected by copyright. Again, the tours I’m scheduling will include museums, so you can take your own photos for use in your art.)

Additional opinions:

Copyright and collage

Collage is where the debates get heated.

If you use an item that you purchased in a collage that you sell, and there was a copyright notice on it, the copyright notice needs to remain visible, if possible. You may also choose to document the sources of the images in your collages, on the back of the work. (I generally don’t, but I may in the future, if only for my own reference.)

And, some artists will argue that you can’t use any copyrighted material in your collages, even an original item that you purchased. I’m not sure that I fully agree with this, but I recommend reading this and checking with an attorney if you are very concerned about this.

Every artist–especially those of us who aren’t lawyers–will interpret the law differently. Many attorneys (and even judges) will disagree with each other, too.

We’ve all seen collages in artists’ published journals and diaries, and some of them feature copyrighted materials. The days of Andy Warhol’s free use of the Campbell’s soup can… well, that’s ancient history. But, copyright can be less of an issue when the individual copyrighted image is a small part of a larger work. Nobody can give you a firm rule about this, not even attorneys; use common sense.

Also see Copyright law and art – Just my non-legal opinion for collage & assemblage artists.

Fabric in art that you sell

Likewise, fabric designs are copyrighted too… but I’m not going to hand-paint every piece of fabric that goes into my quilts and other fabric art that I sell. So, yes, my collages–paper and fabric art–include material copyrighted by others. I try to be careful about reproduction rights, but I’m less anxious about the original work, especially if I’m not creating it to sell.

Then again, if you make clothing, accessories, or even dolls from a commercial pattern and sell the finished item, you can sometimes get into trouble. Many pattern companies specifically state whether you can sell items made from their patterns.

Is this sounding confusing, murky, and just plain weird…? That’s because copyright laws ARE confusing, murky, inconsistent, vague… and sometimes weird!

Avoid the bulldogs!

Certain companies and estates are more watchful than others when it comes to copyright: The Elvis Presley estate, the Walt Disney company, National Geographic magazine, Sony and Star Trek are among the more well-known copyright watchdogs. There are many others.

But, National Geographic was also sued by its own photographers when it reprinted past issues on CD-ROM, and used photos from those issues without the specific okay of the original photographers.

And, when Barbie owner Mattel sued artist Tom Forsythe over his “Food Chain Barbie” art, Forsythe won.

That said, Mattel still tries to shut down websites and artists who parody Barbie using the original dolls. If you can use any other doll for your parody art, avoid using Barbies and you’ll avoid lawsuits.

“Fair use” is not always an excuse

Ahhh… “fair use” is a tangle. And, just because someone else gets away with “fair use”, doesn’t mean that you can use that same image without risks. The issue of willful intent and where the profits go, can make a big difference.


The hazards of derivative works

“Derivative works” are also considered “transformative” and enter a truly gray area. But, if you’re obviously making money off someone else’s work, you’re risking lawsuit.

If you take a unique-to-one-artist concept, color scheme, or mimic someone else’s general style AND subject matter, you’re generally in “derivative” territory. How closely it matches the original, and which state you and the original artist live in, will determine whether or not a lawsuit would be successful.


And, unless something is actually trademarked, you can copy the “look and feel” of someone else’s work with fewer worries.


“Stealing” ideas

On the other hand, ideas canNOT be copyrighted. So, yes, if I talk about a book idea online and, say, Somerset Studio takes it and announces their own version of the exact same idea… I can’t do anything about it. Ideas–and book titles–cannot be copyrighted. (Sometimes they can be trademarked, which is a different topic.)

Parody is a very limited field

Parody is another blurry area. Sometimes, it’s similar to a kid who taunts a sibling and, when caught, tells his mom, “I was just kidding.” But, in other cases it’s clearly intended as parody, not to be confused with the original.


There’s also the question of celebrity images, privacy, First Amendment, and so on, such as the Winters brothers’ case.

In summary

Copyright is a confusing field for artist. The “three stroke” rule is a guideline, not a law. You may need more changes–or less–to avoid copyright problems. And, don’t forget that you can win in court and still lose your shirt in attorneys’ fees.

Personally, I’m careful about art that I sell or commercially reproduce, and generally shrug off worries when the art is for my own journal or other personal use.

My own resources

Remember, you can use the images on my CDs of copyright-free images in your art, even art that you sell.

Some other artists offer similar copyright-free images, but be sure to read the fine print before you buy those images.  Be sure that there aren’t conditions on their use.

9 Ways to Communicate a Rock-Solid Identity

Aisling’s notes: Bob Baker, author of “Unleash the Artist Within” and “Branding Yourself Online” offers some very helpful advice about creating interesting and helpful websites. This is a reprint of one of his articles. I wish that I’d read some of this years ago.

9 Ways to Communicate a Rock-Solid Identity
by Bob Baker

Branding has been a business buzzword for many years. But the term has implications far beyond corporate logos, mission statements and theme songs. Effective branding is all about telling customers who you are, what you do and how you do it. Despite recent tragedies in the U.S. and the bad rap that the Internet has received over the past year, more people are spending time and money online than ever before. That’s why it’s vitally important for small businesses and solo entrepreneurs alike to use the Internet to make an impact. Here are nine tips to help you carve a focused identity online.

1. Define your brand up front. When visitors arrive at your web site, let them know immediately what you do and why they should care. Far too many web sites shroud their identity in flashy graphics and ambiguous slogans without telling people what the company or person actually does. View your Web site through the eyes of a new visitor. Does it spell out exactly what your brand stands for? If not, redesign it so your purpose and identity are unmistakable. For example, Terri Lonier’s Working Solo site at does a good job of establishing her as a resource for freelancers. The opening paragraph lets visitors know exactly who the site is for.

2. Lead with what you do, not who you are. It may defy logic, but making your company name the most visible element on your home page may not be the most effective way to reinforce your brand. A Web-based or e-mail marketing message should state a benefit right off the bat. Which of these paints a clearer identity: The business name “Dog Owner Central” displayed in large letters or the more specific description “Training tips for busy dog owners”?

3. Use a real person as a figure head. The online world can be a cold, mechanical place. Your branding efforts are more effective when you add a recognizable, consistent human element. Think of the way Dave Thomas promotes Wendy’s. If your company has a CEO or spokesperson who is closely identified with the company offline, make sure that connection carries to the cyberworld. If you run a business by yourself, by all means, put your name, photo and personal message on your web site. Nothing creates mystery and distrust more than a site that is void of a human contact and asks visitors to send e-mail to the “webmaster.”

4. Develop a fan-club mentality. Most online marketers try to generate readers, visitors or users. I encourage you to switch gears and create fans. “Users” are people who visit your web site, subscribe to your newsletter or buy your products and services. “Fans,” on the other hand, cheer you on, rave about you to their friends and eagerly follow everything you do. Which would you rather have?

5. Make good use of words. Verbal content is not only king, it’s the entire kingdom. Even though designers try to squeeze as much graphic impact as they can out of limited bandwidths, what matters most online are the words you use. I don’t buy into the less-is-more, bullet-point mentality of writing for the web. To create fans online, you must deliver useful brand-related information and speak to readers in a conversational tone. If it takes more than one or two scrolling screens to do that, so be it. As an example, illustrator Bob Staake has designed a web site that uses his personality effectively at

6. Make sure visual elements reinforce your identity. While words are important, the look of your Web site must also support your brand image. Is your brand best served by hard edges or softer, rounded shapes? Do primary colors capture your personality or would earth tones be a better match? Find the design scheme that best compliments your identity.

7. Become a one-stop destination. Let’s say your company sells unicorn-themed knick-knacks, posters and greeting cards. You might simply post an online catalog and a few profiles of your products. However, a far better approach would be to set up your site as a clearing house for all things unicorn-related — articles on the history of unicorns, personal stories from customers who have been touched by their unicorn possessions, unicorn-related photo galleries and message boards, etc. Your online presence should establish you as the primary resource in your field. For a great example of this concept in action, check out Hot Air Ballooning at

8. Publish an e-mail newsletter. Having a brand-centered web site is great, but you must rely on people taking it upon themselves to visit it. Offering a free e-mail newsletter allows you to build a database of subscribers who are specifically interested in what your brand represents. Best yet, being able to deliver your message by e-mail puts you in control of the frequency with which your audience is exposed to your brand. Repetition is crucial. To generate subscribers, place a newsletter sign-up form on every page of your site. Note how I’ve done this at my site.

9. Be visible through online forums. Small business owners should also regularly post to online forums, such as message boards and discussion lists widely read by people likely to be attracted to the brand. If your area of expertise caters to motorcycle enthusiasts, make sure you offer useful information — not just a sales pitch — in the places where motorcycle enthusiasts gather. Be sure to include a link to your web site in a signature file at the end of each message.

The Internet is still a gold mine of opportunity, especially for those who use it to create a recognizable brand identity. Use these tips to create your own indelible image online.

Bob Baker is the author of “Poor Richard’s Branding Yourself Online: How to Use the Internet to Become a Celebrity or Expert in Your Field.” Download two chapters and get free branding tips by e-mail at

Copying and coincidence in art

Many artists–especially new and/or tired ones–talk about being “copied” by others. Sometimes, it’s not clear who is doing the copying, if anyone is. And, artists–even established ones–are often influenced by the same things as others, and develop startlingly similar ideas as a result.


For example, awhile ago I visited Rice’s website,, and saw milagros-type dolls almost identical to the ones that I’d been quietly working on for several months.

(Mine didn’t turn out as well as hers did. I sold a few and then abandoned the idea. Rice shines in this area; I don’t.)

There is no way that Rice knew what I was doing, and vice versa. It was simply coincidence.


Likewise, in the early 1980s I made pieced and appliqued quilting squares for other artists to use in their fabric art vests, wall hangings, and other art. I sewed them on my favorite treadle sewing machine, using a variety of techniques including primitive image and text transfers. These squares sold quickly in shops along coastal Maine, but by the mid-1980s when I moved to Florida, I’d stopped making them.

Nevertheless, I was stunned when I saw Lesley Riley’s “Fragments“, which are almost identical to what I was making in the early 80s.

Was she “copying”? Of course not! I doubt that she ever saw one of my fabric art pieces. Nevertheless, after seeing Lesley’s pieces I delayed plans to make more of them myself. I’m a little phobic about being accused of “copying,” I guess.

(Note: Both Rice and Lesley are very good friends of mine. And, I’ve mentioned my dilemma to Lesley, who immediately laughed and told me to go ahead with my fabric art, and not worry how it looked to others.)


My point is, we’re working with similar materials, often similar inspirations… it’s impossible NOT to be on the same wavelength as other artists, whether you share contact or not. You really do have to just plunge ahead with your own projects, products, visions, and dreams. As your work evolves, your unique signature style will be there, and make the differences clear.

But, it’s vital to keep these kinds of coincidences in mind, when you think that someone has copied you, too. It could be simple coincidence then, as well, no matter how “just like mine” their art/workshop/project seems to be. And that’s difficult to detach from, sometimes, when the similarities are overwhelming… especially when you’ve invested a lot in an idea or project.

Yes, my visibility makes people think that I invented the techniques that I use. I didn’t. NObody “invented” them really… we’re all inspired by different resources, or at least in different ways.

Oh, people do research some techniques. I’m responsible for several in popular use, including one kind of gel image transfer. But, that’s still not “copying” as far as I’m concerned. I stumbled onto a few things that worked and cheerfully shared them with others. We all do this. Techniques generally aren’t proprietary.

What makes our art unique–not “copying”–is how true we are to that individual, internal voice that speaks from our respective souls.


Copyright issues come into play when someone is using your notes, or copying your art, line-for-line. But, you cannot copyright an idea, a trend, or a project, per se.

You can trademark a name or a slogan. You can patent a specific design, including the essential points that make it distinctive. But, to do this formally can be complex and expensive, and making it into a legal issue if someone copies is generally more expensive than it’s worth. And, nobody looks good when you sue. There are always hard feelings.

This is an area where we may always have confusion and problems. We must keep moving ahead and creating from our own visions, and take a chance that someone 100 or 1000 miles away isn’t acting on the same impulses and inspirations.


Stay true to your own voice. Always be yourself, and trust in that. Art has the most vitality when it is authentic.

When you’re expressing your deepest self, your message will be uniquely yours, but it will also have elements in common with what everyone else thinks and feels, because–underneath it all–we share more than people may realize.