Friend Friday: Copying isn’t a form of flattery, it’s stealing

ModlyChic’s Friend Friday series is quickly becoming an invaluable source of information for both new and seasoned fashion bloggers. Each week the posts contain valuable – and often varied – opinions and thoughts on important subjects.  The past few weeks a number of the posts written by contributors have even made it into IFB’s Links à la Mode.

copyright infringement
Image via Excruciating Minutiae

This week’s subject is one of significant importance – copyright. We’ve discussed copying in the fashion industry, but this post deals with copyright infringement in the blogging world. Katy came up with the topic for a number of different reasons, including photoshoots clearly inspired by other bloggers, and a DIY recipe reprinted by another blogger with few changes.  This led to the question of what is – and is not – acceptable “copying” in the blogosphere. When is it “fair use,” and when does it become copyright infringement?

This topic reminded me of something I had recently read about.  Fashion Gone Rogue is one of those websites that every fashion blogger is aware of. Even if it isn’t a daily read, at some point in time something has likely drawn you to its pages. It is evident that the site’s curator, Joanna Gillespie, receives her content directly from industry insiders because she is generally the first to post editorial images from any given publication.  If anyone has it, chances are it is her.  She attributes her images and always, without fail, links back to the appropriate source.  And she doesn’t just reprint editorial images.  Each post includes some type of commentary on the shoot.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that she had received a cease and desist email from Trunk Archive earlier this year due to one of the images she was using on her site. One of the original photographers had taken issue with an image of Lily Donaldson being using in the header of the site and a representative of the company sent her this message:

“I was very disheartened to see the Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin photograph of Lily Donaldson incorporated into the design of your website. Clearly you never asked for permission nor received permission to use this image from either the artists, their agent or their licensing agency…It surprises me that a site that purports to support and admire fashion photography would engage in such blatant copyright infringement. How do you expect this industry to survive if sites such as yours do not respect the basic premise of artist copyright?

We ask that you remove this image from your website immediately. In addition, we require payment of a $2,000 copyright infringement fee. Please remit payment today to Trunk Archive, at the address below. If the image remains as part of your logo by this time tomorrow, and if we have not received a check from you by July 6th, 2010, our lawyers will be in immediate contact.”

Joanna immediately removed the image and put the site on hiatus while she dealt with the issue at hand. According to this blog post on the fashionista.com, she happily removed the image – it was the request for $2,000 that left her baffled.  Ultimately the situation was resolved, but, in my opinion, if this could happen to Joanna, it could happen to anyone.

It could easily have happened to me when I first began blogging. My original site header incorporated images of Daria Werbowy along with some of my own nature photography. It was striking, and I loved the way it looked.  The last thing on my mind at the time was copyright infringement.  It never even crossed my mind that Mario Testino could, if he wanted, sue me for incorporating his work into the design of my site.  But he could have done exactly that had he desired.

My original header, with images of Daria Werbowy

I think this was also the main issue that Fashion Gone Rogue had to deal with – the fact that she was posting editorials wasn’t what caught the attention of the photographer in question.  It was the fact that a particular image was incorporated into the design of her site. According to copyright law, that is not fair use.  And the same thing could have happened to me.  Look at your site.  Have you incorporated any copyrighted images into your design?  If so, you may want to rethink that.  Stat.

This was a very long introduction into this week’s Friend Friday questions, but let’s get to it!

1. What are the ‘unwritten rules’ about copying content that we bloggers should all abide by? Unwritten? How about written? Most bloggers have some sort of copyright or creative commons license indicated on their blog (and if they don’t, they should).  First, abide by the requirements of that license.  Second, even if no copyright is indicated, the work of that blogger is still covered by copyright law.

It’s simple really:

  • Don’t copy content (be it written or photographic) and claim it as your own. End of story. No one likes that. Ever.
  • If you refer to someone’s work, credit and link back to them. Not only will it give you more credibility,you will also gain the respect of that other blogger.
  • If something you do was inspired by another blogger, be it an outfit post, a new blog series, or a recipe, credit that person for the inspiration. V from Grit and Glamour did this just recently in one of her outfit posts. She was wearing something that was inspired by Kristy Eléna from Vogue Gone Rogue.Would V have worn that outfit even if she had never set eyes on Kristy Eléna’s blog? Maybe. Probably. But the fact of the matter is the outfit reminded HER of Kristy Eléna, so she was respectful enough to indicate that.  Respect, people. That is what this is all about – respecting the other blogger.

Image via Vogue Gone Rogue

Image via grit and glamour

2. They say imitation is the highest form of flattery. But when it a post imitation and when is it copying? A post is copying when it is a replica of the original post. If you can’t contribute any original content to the post and if you can’t add your own voice to the post it is copying. If you claim it as your own, but it is clearly imitation, that is copying.

In the United States, “fair use” is an exemption of copyright law that allows people to provide commentary on, parody, satire, report on, etc. something without getting permission from the author. If you are doing any of these things, and attributing your original source, you are providing some type of original content, and fair use dictates you can legally use that content.

This is why I am able to post images of editorials I love – I am protected by the fair use clause. I don’t claim any of the images as my own, they aren’t incorporated into the design of my site, and I don’t profit from them.

In my opinion, imitation = inspiration. Anything more than that and you are copying.

3. Taking another blogger’s idea (perhaps for an outfit, or DIY tutorial) is pretty common in the blogging world. Do you think it is necessary to credit the original source? Absolutely. See answers 1 and 2 above.

Image via Cartoon Stock

4. How have you improved your blog by comparing it to other bloggers? Have you made changes due to something you have seen others doing? Others bloggers certainly influence my own blog.

  • I take note of elements on other blogs that are aesthetically pleasing to me (white space, social networking buttons, etc.) and apply them to my own blog.  Yet my blog is MY blog. It doesn’t look like anyone else’s.

Image via Profresh Style

Image via grit and glamour

Image via The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower

Image via Fabulous Life of the Not-So-Rich Infamous

Those are just a few of the ways other bloggers have influenced me.  There is nothing wrong with getting an idea from another blogger, be it for an outfit post, editorial post, photographic settings, blog series, etc.  But don’t just copy what they do. Run with it and make it your own.

5. Have you ever had one of your posts copied by another blogger or publication? How did you handle the situation? Not as far as I know. If that did happen I would start by contacting the blogger/publication and go from there.

What I have had done to me involves my personal photography. Specifically my concert photography. I have had images I posted in a member-only forum stolen and sold for profit on EBAY. Learning that was devastating to me. All I can do now is monitor ebay and, if I catch someone, report the incident so that the images are removed. I can’t do anything about the images that have already been sold because I don’t have the resources I’d need to do that.

Respect everyone’s content – be it written, visual, or auditory.  Flat out copying is just a form of stealing.

What about you – has anyone ever copied your content?  If so, what did you do?

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Independent Fashion Bloggers has some great resources on this topic:

  • For information on Fair Use, check out this great post.
  • For information on the types of photography you can use with no copyright concerns, click here.

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To see what other bloggers are saying about this topic, click here;

For more info on ModlyChic’s Friend Friday series, click here.

{ 25 comments… add one }

Leave a Comment

  • Beautifully Invisible November 30, 2010, 6:50 PM

    My pleasure, thank you!

    Reply
  • Dusk November 26, 2010, 1:04 AM

    A very very informative post and your answers are brilliant.

    (I do want to say so much more about each question and your answer to it but… I am experiencing some form of commenting/written communication lethargy. I know that sounds weird but it’s the best way I can describe it! I am just too tired to type my opinion, an email or a text message!!… currently publishing a post on my blog is mindblowingly hard!)

    Um… I had not heard of Fashion Gone Rogue but I am not surprised that she got hit with that email. I am constantly surprised at the amount of celebrity/model images that get used ‘freely’. Considering that the media has to pay and pay royalties for the use of these images.

    One other thing… I have tried to comment on your posts before but I have experienced a few problems. 🙁
    My comment won’t get accepted or the browser window freezes. What am I doing wrong??

    Reply
  • Beautifully Invisible November 30, 2010, 7:08 PM

    Thank you!

    If it is an consolation, I know what you mean about the commenting/written communication lethargy. I have experienced that myself a few times. I have even considered quitting the blog a few times because of it, but I always manage to find my footing again. You will too! 🙂

    I think the only reason FGR had a problem was because the image in question had been used in her site’s branding. She (and others bloggers, myself included) is able to post editorial images due to the fair use clause in US copyright law. As I said, many publications actually send Joanna their images directly, because it is a way of garnering publicity for themselves. There is definitely a line that needs to be followed though in using these types of images – they always have to be credited properly!

    As for your comments, I am sorry you are having problems with the commenting system. I wonder if anyone else is experiencing these. What browser do you use? All I can think is perhaps it isn’t compatible with Disqus? If I have some more information I may be able to do some checking for you.

    Reply
  • Monique November 24, 2010, 3:39 PM

    wow really great post!!! Your answers are spot on!

    Reply
  • Beautifully Invisible November 30, 2010, 7:03 PM

    Thanks Monique!

    Reply
  • MJ November 22, 2010, 5:56 PM

    Love your answers to this! You are soo right on soo many points, I could go on all day! Bottom line, like you said, if you use something that isn’t yours, give it the proper credit. I always do that with every image I have on my blog that isn’t from my own personal camera!

    Reply
  • Beautifully Invisible November 30, 2010, 7:03 PM

    Thanks MJ. Ultimately it isn’t a difficult thing to do – giving credit where credit is due SHOULD be second nature to a blogger, right?

    Reply
  • Anonymous November 21, 2010, 4:39 PM

    Very informative, LOVE this post!!!

    XOXO
    J

    Reply
  • Beautifully Invisible November 30, 2010, 7:02 PM

    Thank you!

    Reply
  • Citizen Rosebud November 20, 2010, 4:11 PM

    Dare I say it? Another FF post that needs to be in next weeks Links Ala Mode? Not only did you bite off a a timely subject, but this is so perfectly written, concisely, cleanly and interestingly. Serious. This need to be added to my fantasy Blogging 101 kit that I want to send to new bloggers.

    Copyright courtesies are very important if one intends to be an ethical blogger. You highlight some points people frequently overlook (that branding of another image) and remind of us solutions. I could ramble on a bit, because you’ve opened a wide door for discourse, but I’ll refrain. Bottom line: excellent post.

    Reply
  • Beautifully Invisible November 30, 2010, 7:02 PM

    Aww, thanks doll. That was very nice of you to say!

    I think most of this is common sense, but its easy to overlook at times, especially for inexperienced bloggers!

    Reply
  • Anonymous November 20, 2010, 7:38 AM

    Brilliant post B. I think the intro just kinda put some perspective on things… yikes. I had no idea Joanna had to go through all that… I also don’t claim that all images are my own and certainly don’t profit from my blog! It’s where I share & spread the love!

    Love your answers too B, can you imagine how bloggers out there who are not aware of the Creative Commons licensing? I just haven’t put that on my blog, yet! Not entirely sure people want to copy anything from my blog but thank you for pointing it out that we all should though.
    Have a sparkly weekend.
    x.o.x.o

    Reply
  • Beautifully Invisible November 30, 2010, 7:01 PM

    Thank you! I was really surprised to learn that had happened to Joanna as well. Just goes to show it can happen to any of us if we aren’t careful!

    I doubt people would copy anything from my blog either, but you never know… its better to have some sort of creative commons license in place that covers your bases IF it happens, than having nothing at all and be scrambling WHEN it does.

    Reply
  • devilishly pleasurable November 20, 2010, 1:15 AM

    Loved your answers here. . I think most of the bloggers I’ve read so far agree re the line between imitation and copying. . but I never really thought when it came to having a picture by some big-shot photographer causing potential trouble.

    Reply
  • Beautifully Invisible November 30, 2010, 6:59 PM

    If the image is someone else’s property, regardless of whether they are a big shot or small town blogger, copying without crediting can definitely lead to problems. Branding yourself with someone else’s image is a whole other problem on top of that.

    Reply
  • Elle November 20, 2010, 12:08 AM

    Very informative post. I came across your blog today after seeing it cross referenced on a few blogs I read including Grit and Glamour. I love your honesty and I had to take a look at my site to see if I’d been unintentionally copying anyone in terms of video or images- luckily I hadn’t- I always always cite pictures unless they include me (then I thank the photographer), or are from my own polyvore set. Great reminder though, sometimes people infringe without even realizing it.

    Reply
  • Beautifully Invisible November 30, 2010, 6:58 PM

    Thank you Elle! I am sorry I wasn’t able to respond sooner, just catching up on comments today.

    It’s always good to check ourselves when it comes to the images/video we use. It sounds like you have all of your bases covered with citing/linking sources. Great job!

    Reply
  • Tanvi November 19, 2010, 10:10 PM

    Agree with everything you have said. Giving credit where it is due and behaving ‘fairly’ sounds pretty much like common sense yet it is so rare … Couldn’t have said it better … Also, I appreciate the amount of research and time you put in to your posts! Thank You for referring it back to me. That was very thoughtful of you! Wishing you a wonderful weekend.

    Reply
  • Beautifully Invisible November 30, 2010, 6:52 PM

    Thanks Tanvi!

    I do agree that al lot of it is just common sense (and common courtesy). It is unfortunate those can be so rare nowadays!

    It was my pleasure to link back – I love your blog, and you were the inspiration behind my own guest post series, so THANK YOU 🙂

    Reply
  • Casee Marie November 19, 2010, 9:32 PM

    This was such a fantastic read, and quite motivating. Perfect timing, too, as I was just considering making a new header and was going through editorials for an image to use. That won’t be happening now! And thank you so much for the mention – I was shocked to see my wee blog up there with so many other fabulous ones!

    I have had my graphics taken, years ago, and posted on other sites where people claimed them as their own. (Rating websites, no less! The nerve.) I remember reading a post somewhere about Flickr and how people do/should credit; the article introduced me to a great site, TinEye.com, which works as a reverse image search. You type in an image url or upload one from your computer and it searches the internet for that image. It’s been quite useful for me in finding Flick accounts to properly credit (sites like WeHeartIt and Tumblr tend to host beautiful images without accurate sources). It might be helpful for you to keep track of where your personal photography is being used online.

    Reply
  • Beautifully Invisible November 30, 2010, 6:50 PM

    It was my pleasure, Casee. You know I love your blog 🙂

    I’ve tried using TinEye before but it generally doesn’t work for me. I think (and I could be wrong) that in order to find an image, the files still have to have the same name. Mine always end up renamed from something like IMG_1364 to “Jon Bon Jovi – hot blue shirt” or something like that. 🙂 I’ve tried searching for images I KNOW are on other sites, and it has never found them. Great idea to use it as a tool for crediting images properly…. I’ll have to check that out.

    Reply
  • Cynthia November 19, 2010, 8:22 PM

    Cool post. I didn’t really spend any time on copyright per se in my post, or on defining what a “public domain” image was, so it’s good that other FBFF posters are going more deeply into those issues.

    Reply
  • Beautifully Invisible November 19, 2010, 8:57 PM

    Thank you! This seemed like a good opportunity to discuss copyright in more detail, so I figured why not.

    Reply
  • Grit and Glamour November 19, 2010, 8:13 PM

    Well, honey, you have done it again. Thank you for the references and for sharing your thoughts on this subject so eloquently—and in a visually appealing manner. You are a force to be reckoned with! So many good points here. You are a star.

    ♥ V
    http://www.gritandglamour.com
    twitter: @gritandglamour

    Reply
  • Beautifully Invisible November 19, 2010, 8:56 PM

    Thanks, doll! I appreciate the kind words. I know a lot of the FBFF participants took a different approach to this topic and wrote about personal style and how bloggers influence one another in that way. I thought I’d go a different route with it and talk about copyright. I hope people will find it interesting and useful to read!

    Reply