Issues of Copyright & Pictures for Equestrian Bloggers

Most people understand copyright basics: if you create an original picture or content, you generally own the content.  Sometimes it is advisable to register your Copyright for the sake of protecting it.  Copyright law could fill up post after post on this blog, but I want to boil down to what is making some bloggers really steaming mad....

Someone took my photo from my blog and is sharing it all over Facebook/ Pinterest without my permission!

Many bloggers use their blog platform as a personal journal to share with the horse community as a whole, but feel a very personal connection to their photos.  Other bloggers sell their photos and feel a violation of their rights when the photo is circulated without any prior request.

On the other hand, a great photo can in fact draw enormous traffic to your site.  If you wish to gain more followers or page views, a photo that goes viral is the best free advertising you could do for your site.  To play devil's advocate, wouldn't I be doing you a favor to share your content on my blog if I post a link to your blog as the source?  Do I really have to seek permission first?
Plus, there are exceptions to copyright law, such as fair use (in general, using only a small part of a whole, such as a one sentence quote from an entire book), public domain (a copyright lasts for the creator's life plus 70 years), or new creation.

If you are a blogger and are worried about protecting your photos, consider:
1. Including a copyright policy on your blog.  Sometimes "(c) 2014" at the bottom of your site can be sufficient, but I would recommend a page or sidebar note that highlights your specific rules, and how someone can contact you to use your images.  Do as much as possible to help other bloggers figure out how they CAN use your photos.  For example, one blogger's policy says, "these are my copyrighted photos unless otherwise noted; if you wish to use them on your blog please include immediately below the photo the following sentence 'this photo is the property of [blog or blog owner] and can be found at the following link [website].'"  And then the blogger wants you to email her that you have so attributed her work.
I personally like this method because a blogger doesn't have to wait for a reply time before using the image, but the owner of the image both 1. receives traffic to her site from the link and 2. is notified of use, and reserves the right to request the removal of the image from the user's site.

2. Watermark your images.  While this doesn't prevent them from being taken from your site, it at least can establish ownership of the photo and, if it is something you desire, re-direct traffic back to your site.

3. Lock the images onto your blog so that they cannot be dragged and dropped onto someone's computer.  There are various online tools that will help you do this.  This doesn't prevent someone from taking a screen shot of the image, but it can affect the quality of the photo that someone is taking.

4. Compress the files so that the quality deteriorates if the photo is taken from your blog.  Run an online search for the tools that can help you do this.

If you are a blogger and want to use photos taken by someone else:
1. There may be restrictions against your derivative use of the work. You can certainly ask a lawyer knowledgable in the copyright world about your right to use particular material.  In general, when a derivative work is created, you own the copyright to ONLY the original part of the new work.  For example, if you write a "#237 Why I Love Horses" joke on top of someone's blog picture, you own the copyright only to your joke, but not to the picture, and may need a license to create and publish the derivative work in the first place.  Putting your blog address on top of someone else's photo, even if you create text on top of the photo, does not put you in safe copyright waters.

2. Ask the owner! I frequently ask if I can use a photo or for a blogger's policy on image use.  It's so much easier if the blogger provides an e-mail address for such questions, as opposed to leaving a blog comment, and trying to track down the response to that comment- or for the blogger not to miss the comment altogether.

3. If you cannot find the owner of the image, it can be a tough call.  If an image of a beautiful horse galloping in the snow has been re-pinned 600 times, the copyright isn't diluted, nor is there necessarily implied permissions of use- the owner of the photo may not know the photo is going viral.  Pinterest is a strange animal in and of itself: the site thrives on "re-pinning" and it is generally considered a positive if your images are re-pinned frequently.  Some lawyers have chosen not to have a Pinterest account due to the murkiness, or blatant violation, of copyright laws.  You can read a lot of articles online on the topic, and I don't have a clear answer for you on this one.
In general, I think treating other people's images in good faith, respectfully, and attempting to contact the owner prior to use is a safe path when you want to use a photo, particularly if you include in your copyright policy that you make every effort to ascertain the owner of the photo, and if someone finds their work not appropriately attributed on your site, you are happy to immediately remedy the situation by A) Removing the photo upon request or B) Providing appropriate sourcing information.

Some people will disagree with me, and I can understand that.  The most conservative route is that if you don't have express rights to use an image, don't use it at all.  But it is the Internet, and I think we need to be flexible and adapt.  If you never want the risk of your photo being shared online, I suggest never putting it in a format that can be published online, and if you sell your photos in electronic or physical copies, having very strict contracts about prohibitions on sharing and including a clear and aggressive remedy for any breach of the contract.  If you never want to risk facing claims of copyright violation, always use the conservative route.

The law and legislature is a slow-moving beast, and I am often frustrated with how archaic the laws are in relation to the speed of innovation on the Internet, or when lawmakers try to apply laws to a medium that was never even contemplated when the law was written.  The Internet has been called the new frontier (or the Wild West!) when it comes to some legal issues, and we just have to navigate the best we can with the knowledge and laws we currently have.

Personally, I think using a public platform such as a blog invites sharing, and I think that is a true beauty of the online horse community, we can re-tweet, share, re-post, link, and more to content we like and want to help promote.  This is typically appreciated.
We should all be careful, however, not to infringe on the copyright that does exist for other bloggers.  Clearly bad faith is utterly reprehensible: taking someone's exact content and pictures and putting it on your own blog as your own original content is completely wrong, and a blogger would rightly feel violated if this is done to him or her.

1. Receive permission or license to use a photo prior to published use
2. If you cannot contact the owner, clearly attribute the source or owner of the photo
3. Establish a copyright policy on your blog regarding use of your own photos, and regarding your use of other people's photos

I think this can be a tough topic with some major grey zones; have you been on one or the other side of the copyright fence?  Do you think that equestrian bloggers are a disrespectful or ignorant bunch of folk when it comes to taking liberties in sharing George Morris or Equestrian Ryan Gosling memes or pretty horse pictures?

P.S. One of the most fascinating recent copyright cases to me is the 2008 Obama Hope poster, which become hugely iconic of his campaign.  Well, the creator of the poster used a photographer's photograph, used without permission.  I apologize in advance for citing to Wikipedia, but the section "Origin and Copyright Issues" gives a great overview if you are so inclined to read about the drama behind the poster!