Cooper and The Creative Commons – Using Google image search

Wet Yellow Lab head shot

Cooper, is a pretty typical lab, meaning he’s lazy unless there’s a walk to be taken or interesting work to be done. He loves everybody, is loyal to a fault and we haven’t yet discovered what he is afraid of. Like most labs, he loves the water and is a strong swimmer He’s the kind of dog that might very well save a life. But, unless he is living a secret life he never has.

Why then is Cooper, who lives in Montana full time, credited on the web site of this radio station and on this national news site for the rescue of a drowning swimmer in South Carolina?  Actually the story properly credits a Hilton Head area yellow lab named Woody with the heroics;  way to go, Woody!  But why is it a picture of my dog that accompanies the story?

I take a lot of pictures, of …. well of a lot of things, including Cooper, who is very photogenic. Some months ago I uploaded a few of my pictures – including the one shown of Cooper – to the picture sharing site   This site allows people to download the pictures, which contributors like me share, free of charge and applies for a Creative Commons license. I’ll talk more about Creative  Commons later and in other posts , but for now suffice it to say it means  the usage of my image by those news sites as well as that by others  – which include (he’s is number three), a dog care salon and others, including one Spanish language article about dog care – was perfectly legal.

What if it hadn’t been legal use?

I can’t tell you the number of times I have encountered web designers or writers who think they can just steal a photo that someone else created.  Yep, I said steal, because that is what they are doing, and I said created. Or, maybe you thought that picture just happened?  After all, anyone can take a picture, right?

Sure, almost anyone can point a phone or camera at something and push the button, then again almost anyone can put words on the page too.  That photo is no less an accident than your latest chapter. You find that photo appealing enough to use on your cover largely for the same reason the reader finds the opening of your novel intriguing enough to continue to chapter two.  Yes, it might have taken the photographer less time to make the picture than it takes you to write the blog post you want to use it on, but that’s doesn’t make it any less important.

Imagine you are reading the best selling novel and realize the author stole chapter one from you. Even if the lawsuit isn’t a nice payday for you, the bad publicity probably won’t be helpful to the writers’ career. People might turn a critical eye toward finding what else is stolen.  How is that any different than a person using a picture that doesn’t belong to them on the cover?   But, what if it’s not the best selling novel? What if it’s a blog or a web page for a hardware store?  How would you even know it was used?

Meet Google image search

It wasn’t by accident that I found out about the radio station, the dog salon or any of the other web sites which are using Cooper’s headshot. After I noticed that the image had been downloaded 148 times from Pixabay, I deliberately went looking. Thanks to Google image search I was able to do it quicker than Cooper can devour a treat.

Google image quickly search searches the web for images that match your’s and it is so easy to use even a photographer can do it.

First the caveats

1) As far as I can find this is only available in Google’s Chrome web browser which makes sense. This isn’t much of a caveat since you should be using Chrome anyway.

2)  The only real trick is that you’ll need to get the image someplace where you can open it in a web browser. The simplest way would be to upload the file to your Google Drive or another cloud drive.

Right click menu in the Chrome web browser
Chrome’s image right click menu

Once you have the image loaded into your web browser here are the steps:

1) Right-click on the image (CTRL-click on a Mac)
2) Choose Search Google for Image fro the popup menu.

That’s it!

Chrome will open a page of search results and include any sites that have used that image.  A clip from the page for my picture of Cooper is shown here.

Partial results from image search.
Search Results

All but one of the four images I shared on had been used at least once.

by the way there are several tools which can check to see if your written work has been stolen.  I will cover this in a later post.

Meet  The Creative Commons

Earlier in this post, I  said that the usage of my photos by others was legal. This is because Pixabay makes any images shared using their service available for others to download and use, according to the Creative Commons (CC) license.

I have already burned your eyeballs enough on this post so I’ll leave a full unwinding of the Creative Commons for another article.  Think of it as Philosophy that creative work should be shared according to the terms of the creator.  There are a number of licensing levels within the Creative Commons, each defines a different set of rights the end-user has to the work.  In the case of my photo of Copper the license that applied was Creative Commons zero (CC0)  which is the most open,  CC0  says the picture can be used personally of commercially and that no attribution is required.

There are many web services that allow you to buy images either one at a time or on an all you can take subscription service.  Depending on where you plan to use the work you may need to make sure that you are allowed commercial use.  The standard is that images are royalty-free, meaning you pay once for the rights. If it is free images that you are after, besides Pixabay there are a number of sites that offer free images. I mean free, not free to download, or free for non-commercial use but true free.

However, you go about getting images for your web site or writing project, make sure you know what rights you are getting to the image.  Just because an image is not marked as copyrighted doesn’t mean it isn’t. Just as written work is copyrighted as soon as it is put on paper, images are copyrighted as soon as they are processed, which in today’s digital world means as soon as you press the button  If you can’t find what the copyright allows, consider a different image. Also even when the site does not require an attribution, see if you can find out who took the picture and give them a photo credit or a link to their site.  Pixabay tells you the username of the person and allows you to buy that person a coffee. Alas, although my images have been downloaded over 200 times I have yet to have received any coffee.

I don’t have recourse against any of those who used the photo of Cooper, nor would I want it.  However, had any of these sites ‘just used’ any of the many photos I have shared on other services such as Facebook or gurushots, I would have the right to take legal action.  Thanks to Google image search finding out is easy.

Note: I have asked those who used my photo for photo credit and / or a link back to my site, according to the terms of the CC0 license they are under no obligation to do this and as of this writing none have responded.


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