The web and the internet present us different media – text, graphics and images, video, audio, animation etc. These might be part of web pages or standalone digital files. Most of the information on the web can be viewed for free.
In fact, when you display a web page using a browser, all the information and contents downloads to your computer. There is no stopping you from saving web pages and their associated files (like images and other multimedia). However, commercial (and sometimes personal) use is generally not permitted.
Most, if not all, web sites have some kind of copyright statement which, typically, bars blatant copying and usage of information – text, images, video, audio etc. If you like to use the contents from a web site, I suggest you contact the web site owner and express clearly what you intent to do including the end result; they may grant your request.
There are ways to find out if text from a web page has been copied and used on another web site and the best place to start is Copyscape. I use this service a lot and have been able to find many “culprits” who have blatantly plagiarised text from my web sites. I follow up my hunt with a stern mail and ensure that the lifted content is deleted.
Copyscape works really well for web page text – images, graphics and photos are a different ball game. I don’t think there is an automated and quick service that helps you locate plagiarised images – and if you know of one, please do send me the link.
If an image has been used in its entirety, one can still develop a program to locate the copies. However it is virtually impossible to find out automatically if parts of an image have been used on another graphic. And this is what makes things a little complicated. For instance, if you come across an image that you really like, can you change it sufficiently to claim it your own? Can you use a part of the images in your creation? Is it OK to take this image and put it in a larger creation? Can you use the image to be “inspired”… you know what I mean?
Some say, copying is the greatest form of flattery. Well, that may hold true for some people. As for me, I do not appreciate people plagiarising the content on which I spent so much time… they could have at least asked me for permission.
A lot of trouble ensues when the people who’ve copied from the original end up making a good amount of money. A case in point is the recent Associated Press alleging copyright infringement of the Barrack Obama image used on the iconic Hope poster.
To read more about this, refer the Wikipedia article on Barrack Obama’s “Hope” poster.
As illustrated by the Obama “Hope” poster issue, even a good amount of change from the original does not guarantee ownership claims. The “Hope’ poster became an iconic symbol and, thus, came into the limelight, as it were. If a single or a small group of individuals who had used this image, Associated Press would probably not have known or even if they did, would have brushed it aside. It’s only the bigger fish that get fried.
So what can you conclude? I guess, being inspired by a creation is not incorrect -as someone told me once, there is no original creation, and everything has been inspired by something else. However, blatant copyright infringement or even marked changes to the original (if they can be successfully traced back) can land you in trouble.
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