Dealing with the photo copyright issue on blogs

As all bloggers know the use of images on your blog is tricky. At Weblogs, Inc. we ask our bloggers to use their judgement, and when using images always think about the “Good enough for Google” rule. That is, if Google is comfortable showing a thumbnail image for navigation purposes we are too.

In almost of a year of blogging (we start on January 1st 2004), we’ve had this issue come up three times (that I know of). Two times it was on autoblog.com, and recently another blog had an issue.

We resolved the issue the two other times, and we’ve resolved the most recent issue. All by talking to folks on the phone or via email, and explaining our position. In this case, the copy right holder doesn’t care about the traffic, so we took the post down. In the other two cases we discussed the size of the image and the percentage of the overall picture we would run.

I’m highly confident that the issue of copyright and images will be fine, except for those blogs out there that take huge images from the New York Times, New York Post, etc. and run them at 400×400 pixels ten times a day! This is not a good thing, because you actually keep the person from having to go the New York Times or New York Posts’ site. If you look at Nick Denton, he does a good job of doing a smaller, cropped thumbnail images that actually makes you want to click through to the New York Times. Thus the reason the New York Times has not had a problem with Gawker. In fact, the New York Times should pay Gawker!

Anyway, here is my latest response to a copyright holder, with the details left out feel free to use this as a template if it helps you when you have photo copyright issues.

Dear COPYRIGHT OWNER,

Forgive the long response but publisher to publisher I wanted to be as respectful as possible and explain the situation since I wasn’t aware we had used such a large image.

I was in magazine publishing myself (Silicon Alley Reporter and VentureReporter.net which I sold to Dow Jones). I too would hire people for photo shoots and artwork on a regular basis, so I totally understand where you are coming from. Seeing images you paid for on another site with ads is a bummer.

Copyright and fair use is evolving in the digital age as you well know given the number of sites you have (surfing them in ten Firefox Tabs right now wow, you guys are keeping busy)!

The blog space is certainly working out the details of copyright and fair use. You can easily debate the issues of fair use for the blogger or for the content owner. There is merit to both sides of the discussion.

In this case, I think we should have only shown 25-50% of the image and we would be ok under the fair use for navigation/commentary. Or, we could have asked you for permission as you said. Either way, even if we *could* do a smaller image and get by with fair use, we would take it down if that offended you we’re content creators as well, and at the end of the day we respect our fellow creatives.

For background, I think this is the third time we have had an issue come up regarding photos. We’ve got 65 blogs, thousand of blog posts, dozens of bloggers and hundreds of millions of page views across the network, so that isn’t so bad (I think I had more problems when I did the magazine in fact!!!).

In the other two cases I discussed it with the publishers, and they determined that the amount of traffic we sent them was so valuable that if we used an image once and a while they didn’t mind. We did agree to make the images no greater then a certain size (I think 250×250), and we agreed to use no more then 50% of the original image (i.e we cropped the images).

So, in those two cases both parties won blogger and traditional publisher. The publishers got thousands of free readers, and the blogger got a nice photo to go with their text. Win, win.

In your case, you don’t get any value from the traffic we are sending you from what you’re telling me (your Google Adsense isn’t making money?!?), so I guess there is no way to work this. So be it.

I promise we will never link to, write about or mention your site every again. If something does come up somehow let me know immediately and I will take care of it.

In terms of the value of blogs, well, time will tell. 🙂

all the best, Jason

BTW: BLOGGERNAME is a real stand-up guy and very talented. I’m sure he didn’t mean anything by it and I’ll talk to him tomorrow about everything. I’m sure he feels bad about it it seems he is just fan of your site.

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