While I’m Talking About Public Domain…

Never underestimate the value of the U.S. government when it comes to surreal and absurd images, many of which are in the public domain.

I mean it.  And, if you’re easily offended or the subject of VD bothers you, avert your eyes.

1940s poster from the U.S. government (Artist, "Christian")Seriously, this poster (at right) appears to be in the public domain.  (See notes at the U.S. National Library of Medicine.) You can download a 4MB copy of it at the gov’t website.

I can see so many very wrong uses for that image.  I’d like to put it on a tee shirt, except that I want to replace the VD words with… something else.  I’m not sure what, yet.

I look at her and think, “Really? I mean really? Is that what men found alluring in the 1940s?”

However, that’s not the only image of its kind. A search at the gov’t website using the phrase “venereal disease” turns up all kinds of strange posters of apparently dangerous women.

She may look clean...Check out the sweet girl in the poster on the left.  (Click on the image for the full, print-quality image at the NLM.)

Wasn’t she a famous movie star?  She looks really familiar… like someone I’ve seen in old movies.  Well, now we know about her history! *LOL*

I’m amused by the phrase “‘good time’ girls.”  It makes me wonder, were there “bad time” girls?

That poster is in the public domain.

1944 - beware waterThe next poster for your consideration (or amusement) is about clean water.  Gosh, it looks like our boys were dealing with all kinds of dangers in the 1940s… wasn’t war enough?

Because that was produced specifically for government use, I’m pretty sure it’s in the public domain.

Click the image to see a really large copy of it.  There may be even bigger versions in the NLM files.

(Of course, if you’re going to use it for a product, it’s smart to research the provenance at the NLM website.)

And, so it’s not all one-step-away-from-zombies, at left is an early poster that has a lot of possibilities if you’d like to alter it for a political statement.

This one is from 1917, so it’s almost certainly in the public domain.  (Most — but not all — American works from before 1923 are now in the public domain.)

If you have questions about copyright law and what’s in the public domain, one of my favorite resources is Cornell’s chart about copyright terms and limits.

If you’re really concerned about the details of copyright law and art, the following book is one of the most complete (and recent) to address this complex subject.

Copyright and Free, Royalty-Free Resources… again!

emu photo
Image courtesy of FreeImages.com

Many people — perhaps most people online today — don’t know how copyright laws work.

I know no one who deliberately breaks copyright laws.

But yes… some people believe that anything online is okay to borrow, at least for personal or one-time use.

After all, everyone else is doing that, so it must be legal… right?

Umm, no. Really. No.

I’M NOT A LAWYER

I’m not an attorney.  My interpretations of the law are my own opinions, not legal advice.

Also, 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.

WHY I CARE

I’m an artist.  Since the mid-1990s, when I created my first website — gosh, was that really over 20 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. But, the band asked permission.

I go directly to the webmaster when I find someone using one of my illustrations illegally.  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.

That’s when I contact the person’s website hosting service. Usually, 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 http://aisling.net/copyright-and-the-three-stroke-rule/ , 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.

Others use techniques such as digital watermarking: http://www.digitalwatermarkingalliance.org/default.asp

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

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

However, if you’re breaking the law, it’s only a matter of time until you’re caught.

Today, software can identify images being used illegally online.  Art museums use this technology to protect their images, online.

Just like Google Image Search, the specialized software recognizes distinctive elements in original graphics and 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.

You’re playing a dangerous game if you’re using photos or artwork without permission.

USE LEGAL IMAGES INSTEAD

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.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_William_Waterhouse

Many (but not all) works on the United States’ government website are in the public domain.  https://search.usa.gov/search/images

Some modern-day graphic artists & photographers have released some or all of their rights.  Some websites include modern, public domain photos, such as http://www.4freephotos.com/

You can also find great, legal images — with various licenses to use them — via Creative Commons: http://creativecommons.org/image/

And, here’s a mother lode of free image resources (or kinda-sorta free, so read the fine print): Almost 100 Free and Freemium Stock Image Websites.

Those are just some of 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 was one of my favorites.  No matter what the name of the site is now, if the option is offered: be sure to search with “Restricted OK” set to “NO.”  http://www.sxc.hu/

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.  http://www.morguefile.com/

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, it’s easy to double-check the owner (and the rights to that image).

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 iStockPhoto.com 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.

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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.