Writing Forums

Writing Forums is a privately-owned, community managed writing environment. We provide an unlimited opportunity for writers and poets of all abilities, to share their work and communicate with other writers and creative artists. We offer an experience that is safe, welcoming and friendly, regardless of your level of participation, knowledge or skill. There are several opportunities for writers to exchange tips, engage in discussions about techniques, and grow in your craft. You can also participate in forum competitions that are exciting and helpful in building your skill level. There's so much more for you to explore!

As a writer, how would you feel if someone stole your work and used it for self-promotion or to make money for themselves?

If you're like me, you'd be furious.

In my four decades working as a professional illustrator, photographer, and designer, that's the sort of stuff that happens to me and my colleagues all the time. Every time we post to the internet a custom image created by us, we risk having that image stolen and used by someone without our permission.

It's aggravating.

Most of the time the person doing the stealing does so out of ignorance, not knowing the implications of what they've done.

While I'm not a lawyer and this isn't legal advice, I AM a creator of visual content with an interest and a stake in promoting proper use of mine and others' intellectual property. This short article is an attempt to put my meager knowledge to good use in order to help fellow writers navigate these sometimes confusing waters.

Keeping It Simple

This topic – copyright – can get complicated very fast, so let's start with a real simple rule:

If you didn't create the image, you can't use it without permission of the creator.

That's pretty basic, and a good rule to go by for all of us. Normally this applies to any image that isn't yours that you may find in a general internet search. If it's not specifically noted that the image is free to use, you should assume it isn't.

Public Domain

The big exception to the above rule is for images designated as Public Domain. These are images in which the copyright has lapsed or been surrendered by the original creator. There are wrinkles to public domain images, and if you're interested here is an article that goes into it in some depth.

Additionally, see the end of this article for a list of sites featuring public domain imagery.

Royalty-Free is Not (Always) Free

There is some confusion as to the meaning of "Royalty-Free". Some image sites use it in the sense that "All our images are free to download and use". But this is, technically, NOT the traditional meaning of Royalty-Free, and anyone looking for images should be aware of the difference, because in many cases there are still costs involved in using Royalty-Free images.

Many image creators charge a variable fee, or royalty. The fee may depend on the number of times the image will be used, or a set length of time it may be used. The royalty is determined by whatever criteria the creator wishes. Sometimes the royalty is based on the number of printed brochures that use the image; the number of digital impressions in a social media campaign; the size the image will appear in an ad; or whatever else the creator decides. The thing to understand is that the user is paying for each specific usage right, and may pay more than once.

If royalties are essentially a Pay Per Play model of usage rights, then Royalty-Free is a Pay To Play model. In other words, Royalty-Free generally means there are no royalties charged, instead the creator may charge a one-time fee for the use of the image. Once the fee is paid, the purchaser is then free to use it as often as they wish, within the terms of the purchase agreement. Most stock art sites (like iStockPhoto, Shutterstock and others) charge for royalty-free images.

So royalty-free is not always "free". Before assuming the images are completely free to use, be sure to look for clear, unambiguous statements along the lines of "Our images are completely free to download and use", or something similar.

Watermarked images

Many creators, in an effort to protect their copyright, will include a watermark in their image. This is usually a transparent or "ghosted" image, text, icon or logo that partially obscures the image. This doesn't always prevent the image from being stolen and used illegally, but it does make such actions more difficult to accomplish and often easier to spot.

Use of a watermarked image is usually taken as a clear sign of copyright infringement. You should never use such an image. This is the copyright equivalent of a cartoon character tip-toeing in prison stripes and a black mask while holding a bag with dollar signs on it. It marks you as a thief.

If the image is licensed legitimately, the creator will provide you with non-watermarked images to use.

Fair Use

Sometimes you can use a copyrighted image if it's done for Fair Use. For us writers, fair use may come into play if we are critiquing a copyrighted work. Book reviews, movie and art critiques can often fall under a fair use. Parody is also a valid form of fair use as are memes. For those interested, here is an article on fair use.

Boromir-BORE-DOR.jpg

Yep. This is a meme that is covered under fair use.

Free Images Await!

Do not despair, fair writer! There exist sites where you can find images in which the creators have surrendered some or all usage rights. It's important to read the terms of use for each site and/or image just to be on the safe side.

Also, while not always required, I think it's a good practice to include a credit line to the site and/or creator whenever you use an image from these free sites. It shows you are cognizant of copyright, and it helps promote these sites to others.

Here is a list of some free image sites. IMPORTANT: Your due diligence is required, as not all images are free. Be sure to read the Terms of Use for each site as they can vary quite a bit, and sometimes the images themselves have use restrictions:


There is a lot to be said about copyrights and usage, far more than I have included here. But for your purpose as a writer, I hope I have given you the basic information necessary to respect and properly use the creative content of visual creators (like me!) in your work.

www.sigmadog.com
 
Last edited by a moderator:
As a writer, how would you feel if someone stole your work and used it for self-promotion or to make money for themselves?

Your fine article provides much great information about images and about rights to images and about seeking a free image.

All the same it is inevitable you might receive a writerly-type of response on a writer website. Your question - regarding plagiarism - tops the pops on writer forums: 'how do I stop folks stealing my book' generates sympathy & a great disdain usually, and a couple of jokes.

Some of us writers send articles and our stories to magazines.

If they can pay us they do pay us, if they could pay us they would pay us....and so many of us writers believe - we are playing a 'long game' - and we do call it the game actually, well I began that custom just back now - as in regards to your opening premise - sending our stories to the magazines - how would you feel if... ...well, well, [I inhale] you see, I would never ever bite the hand that did never never ever had fed me nothing, ehmm.

We, the baffled, the tearful and despondent crew, [the B crew, plus C through to Z crew, the writer crews] we remain stoic individuals as regards to photographers, and to graphic designers, and IN PARTICULAR - toward IT engineers and the actor enemies - how they make a living and we cannot and we never ever will make a living. The bad writers especially - we must struggle in our smoking jackets, in our ordinary and in our starving lives, that provide, at least, material, but not the burgers, for articles for which we are never paid, and we are never read.

Yours in the world writing lifetime career earnings of $90

Maff
 
Many writers use images to promote their work and without realising they are in breach the creator's copyright. A picture is worth a thousand words. :) It's sometimes hard to know if an image is free to use or not - Steve has provided WF with an overview including links to several free image sites, however, due diligence is still required. When using an image please also remember to credit its creator.
 
Last edited:
I'd be furious. And was furious a couple of years ago when some thief stole one of my essays and re-published it using the thief's name rather than mine. A friend notified me. She happened to be looking for markets and found my work with someone else's name on it. She informed me and lucky for me the essay had been published a few times so I got a couple of editors who'd previously published my essay to help me get the thief's name off my work.

That's as far as we took it (my name restored to my work) it but all involved (my friend, me, the editor where the thief published my work, two editors who'd published my essay already, and various others) we know the thief's name and to this day we keep watch.

So please do keep watch for each other too.
 
I'd be furious. And was furious a couple of years ago when some thief stole one of my essays and re-published it using the thief's name rather than mine. A friend notified me. She happened to be looking for markets and found my work with someone else's name on it. She informed me and lucky for me the essay had been published a few times so I got a couple of editors who'd previously published my essay to help me get the thief's name off my work.
You were lucky a friend spotted it. How can any writer build their reputation on theft? Surely they must realise (thanks to online plagiarism checkers) that they will at some point be discovered. You have not named and shamed this writer but we do have a section on WF called the 'The Good the Bad and the Ugly' where we encourage writers to highlight scams and vanity publishers etc.
 
Another area to be concerned with is photos of images with property rights. Apparently, you can use your own picture of the Eiffel Tower as the structure is part of the public domain. But, if you take a picture at night when the lighting is on, you cannot use that without a property release, or it is an infringement because the creative process for the lighting has a property right.

I have been planning on using a cityscape of New York City for the back of my cover. There are many of them on stock photo sites. But even for photos I purchase and use legally, how can I be certain there are no property rights infringements?
 
Last edited:
Another area to be concerned with is photos of images with property rights. Apparently you can use your own picture of the Eiffel as the structure is part of the public domain. But, if you take a picture at night when the lighting is on, you cannot use that without a property release, or it is an infringement because the creative process for the lighting has a property right.

I have been planning on using a cityscape of New York City for the back of my cover. There are many of them on stock photo sites. But even for photos I purchase and use legally, how can I be certain there are no property rights infringements?
Are your covers professionally done, or do you make them yourself?
 
Another area to be concerned with is photos of images with property rights. Apparently you can use your own picture of the Eiffel as the structure is part of the public domain. But, if you take a picture at night when the lighting is on, you cannot use that without a property release, or it is an infringement because the creative process for the lighting has a property right.

I have been planning on using a cityscape of New York City for the back of my cover. There are many of them on stock photo sites. But even for photos I purchase and use legally, how can I be certain there are no property rights infringements?
Interesting. With some buildings such as the Chrysler Building, you can use their likeness as long as they're not the primary subject of the image. Others, you need a release. I guess a way around that would be to alter the image so the buildings aren't recognizable, but even then, there might be a lawsuit.

Probably one of the most high-profile violations of property rights in photographs was the Eagles album Hotel California with the unauthorized use of a photo of the Beverly Hills Hotel on its cover. The hotel sued the Eagles but eventually dropped the lawsuit because the hotel's business had increased dramatically due to the album's popularity.
 
Interesting. With some buildings such as the Chrysler Building, you can use their likeness as long as they're not the primary subject of the image. Others, you need a release. I guess a way around that would be to alter the image so the buildings aren't recognizable, but even then, there might be a lawsuit.

Probably one of the most high-profile violations of property rights in photographs was the Eagles album Hotel California with the unauthorized use of a photo of the Beverly Hills Hotel on its cover. The hotel sued the Eagles but eventually dropped the lawsuit because the hotel's business had increased dramatically due to the album's popularity.
That's a great example Irwin, and exactly the type of thing I fear! Because of course, my first novel will become an international bestseller. :)

I notice Nora Roberts uses a similar New York Cityscape for Summer Desserts including an image of the World Trade Centre. Perhaps the landlord views that as free advertising, much the same as the Eagles album. But if there is something about your book they don't like, you could get a cease and desist and a lawsuit for damages.

I'm leaning towards staying away from this idea.
 
Last edited:
That's a great example Irwin, and exactly the type of thing I fear! Because of course, my first novel will become an international bestseller. :)

I notice Nora Roberts uses a similar New York Cityscape for Summer Desserts including an image of the World Trade Centre. Perhaps the landlord views that as free advertising, much the same as the Eagles album. But if there is something about your book they don't like, you could get a cease and desist and a lawsuit for damages.

I'm leaning towards staying away from this idea.
I would think there would be some fake cityscapes out there for a few bucks that might be useable. Or maybe a cityscape from another country that you could use without worrying about getting sued, although if your novel is an international bestseller, that could be a problem. :)

Is your novel set in NYC?
 
I would think there would be some fake cityscapes out there for a few bucks that might be useable. Or maybe a cityscape from another country that you could use without worrying about getting sued, although if your novel is an international bestseller, that could be a problem. :)

Is your novel set in NYC?
Yes. It's a Wall Street mystery, based on a real story. I was hoping for that wonderful nighttime view of the lit-up Brooklyn Bridge in the forefront and the financial district city lights and buildings reflecting in the East River. I'm also hoping to use the original New York Stock Exchange building for the front cover. It's pre-1900 so it should be public domain.
 
Last edited:
Top