[This is one of a series of posts on resources for digital art journalers and collage artists.]
Today I'm going to talk about digital image freebies: The 4 C's: Caution, Consideration, Credit, & Copyright. I'm aware that there are different takes on these topics; please add yours in comments and perhaps we'll get a good discussion going.
In later posts I'll provide links to sources; there are tons of them. My tentative topic list includes vintage freebies; designer freebies; public domain images; free stock images (which I've never used; pointers would be helpful); blog trains & facebook hops; and museums & libraries.
Freebies aren't entirely free. It takes time and effort to find, download, unzip and organize them. It takes hard drive space to store them. They don't always turn out to be what you expected. And really, even for the most prolific user of digital images, there is a limit to how many flowers and ribbons you can use. Or so I remind myself.
Not everyone who offers digital freebies is experienced at making and using them. You may discover – too late – that an image isn't high enough resolution to print well. Or that, though appealing on screen, it's badly scanned or poorly made, with stray pixels and bald spots. Or it might carry some malware that your virus scanner catches, or doesn't. Even well-meaning and experienced folks can make these mistakes.
Also, some freebie sites are based in countries with different copyright laws than your own. Some individuals just aren't knowledgeable or careful about this. If it looks to you like this might not be legit, go with your instinct.
Less distressing to you, perhaps, unless like me you're compulsive about credits, is the failure of some generous people to put their names on the files they offer (or to use a code used by so many people it's difficult to keep track: I have four "DD"'s on my credits list.) Actually, I've encountered this problem with items I've purchased as well.
You might spend a morning downloading and unarchiving files only to discover that you have no idea where some of these came from. Unless you're willing to take the time to backtrack through your browser history, you'll have no way to appropriately credit what you just took the trouble to save.
Take a moment, as you are downloading, to notice and change or add to the filename if needed so that you can find the original again.
I speak from experience. And I still occasionally miss some.
Information wants to be free, they say; and if information were a sentient being it well might want just that. But it isn't. At least, not yet.
In the meantime, I prefer the philosophy that the originator of information, be it words or images or sound, should be free to decide just how free her creations will be. Art, in any of these forms, does not magically appear out of nowhere. Someone put work into making it, and they have every right to set some limits on how their labor is used. So I believe.
And yes, that applies to vintage, out-of-copyright images as well. Anyone who has taken on the task of scanning old family photos knows that this is a tedious and time-consuming exercise. Doing it well, at high resolution, carefully straightened and cleaned-up and made the best it can be while maintaining its orignal patina, is exacting indeed. It is labor, and the same considerations apply.
Pay attention to what the person offering the freebies says about how they may be used. Some are for Personal Use only (PU); some may be used for commercial projects as well (CU). Use care here; if you plan to post to your blog that has advertisements, an income-generating site, that might be considered Commercial Use even if you are not directly earning income from the use of the free images. All this, of course, applies to images you purchase as well. (Disclaimer: I Am Not A Lawyer)
Some people ask that you leave a little love if you download their work, and here I fail the standard myself. And I'm not good at the please link to let me know how you use it request, either. So I encourage you to do as they ask, and not as I do.
Here is where I try to make up for my failings in the softer, fuzzier leaving love part of my obligations. When I use someone's work, I credit it as well as I can manage; you can see how I do that on my flickrstream. There are other, less intensive ways to do this well.
Credit is the only payment these generous people get for their work, so I try to make it as useful as possible. I try to remember the purpose(s) of credits: to acknowledge the originator of the image for her work and to help viewers find her and her work as easily as possible. With some experience, I have decided to follow the spirit of this, which sometimes presses up against common practice.
For instance, I rarely link to shops anymore, having discovered that designers frequently switch shops, or they do a guest spot at another shop, or they have work at several shops. Or shops, even big, established ones, vanish overnight. So I link to blogs, or, recently, Facebook pages. Both seem more persistent, and provide links to the person's shop(s) and/or freebie resources.
But do link, if you can possibly manage it. Of course, if you name the artist/designer, interested people can Google to find them, but this doesn't always work. Or at least, isn't always clear.
I don't provide an entire list of credits everywhere I post a page, but I always provide a link to the flickr image, so a viewer is never more than one click away from the credits. This makes it feasible for me to do this responsibly (at least I think so) without exhausting myself.
Simply put: just because it's on the internet doesn't mean you can use it. And: if it's on the internet, someone is likely to use it. Keep both of these in mind and you'll probably be fine.
If it's yours, and you don't want it used, don't post it online. If it's yours, and you want to put it online but contain its use, upload only at 72 dpi, which will not print well. And remember that other folks are likely doing the same.
If it's there, and you want it, look for the owner and see if it might be available. Ask. The worst that can happen is the owner of the image will say no. Or ignore you. Same thing.
There is a concept called Fair Use, but I'm not going to go into that because, as I said earlier, IANAL. If you are playing, making art for yourself, then my non-lawyerly advice is simply to avoid any possibility of copyright battles. Even if you are right, and even if (as is likely) you never get caught, getting caught can be exhausting both financially and emotionally.
If this is a professional (or ethical, or spiritual) issue for you, my non-lawyerly advice is to consult an expert.
Have I ever taken this risk? I have. Sometimes the artist within insists. Or makes a mistake, discovers it, and goes with it anyway.
But I still advise against it.
In summary, be careful, be considerate, give credit, and respect copyright. Freebie does not mean abandon all fair play. It means: Here's a present! Have fun! Help others find the present, too.
The drop caps that decorate this post are freebies from DAILY DROP CAP.