Last November, I wrote a post about my mother's final days on this earth. Mom had battled Alzheimer's for more than eight years, and her sad, drawn-out journey was almost at an end.
The image I chose for my post was a beautiful Tree of Life creation, which fit perfectly with the subject matter of my post. At the time, I remember hesitating for just a moment. Was it an image I had purchased from a service? Had I found it in Creative Commons? Was it OK to use?
My mind was hazy, and I was certainly distracted. However, I did believe I had permission to use the image. After all, why else would I have it in my image library? In haste, I uploaded the image and clicked the Publish button.
After that, I didn't give it another thought. I had so much more on my mind.
My mother died a few days later and immediately I was deluged with email messages from friends, family, hospice, the cremation society, online connections and more.
One of these missed emails was from Marian Osher, the talented artist who was the creator of the Tree of Life image. Marian asked me to remove the image since she held the copyright and I had posted her image without permission, attribution and/or compensation.
However, with all that was happening following my mother's death, I missed seeing this initial email. When she didn't receive a response from me, Marian referred the matter to the legal team of my website host and within days they followed up with a cease and desist email. This email got my full attention.
How could I be so stupid?
Immediately, I removed the image. I knew using a copyrighted image without permission was illegal and it could mean a boatload of trouble -- as well as a hefty financial price tag. It had happened to bloggers I know and even to my own former spouse (who hired someone to build a website and didn't know the designer used copyrighted images without obtaining approvals).
Not only that, I was mortified.
When I first started blogging, I had used images willy-nilly, mainly plucking what I liked from Google Images and uploading them to my blog posts.
Then, I attended a blogger conference and wandered into a session I had not even planned on attending. The woman at the podium was talking about copyright laws and how many bloggers unknowingly use images -- images not in the public domain -- without permission. She was describing me. Then, the speaker warned this practice was not only unacceptable, it was illegal.
Illegal? It's a hard word. I wanted no part of illegal.
Following the conference, I spent an entire day purging my blog of images I had unwittingly used for free and without permission. Moving forward, I began purchasing images through stock photo sites or opting for public domain images.
I was vigilant about the images on my blog. Until that day back in November.
After I removed the Tree of Life image, I contacted its creator, Marian Osher, a talented painter and printmaker, who is based in Maryland.
In an email, I apologized and explained what was happening in my life at the time. While this was not an excuse, I hoped it might provide some perspective. I told Marian I knew better and would do better. I asked her not to take further legal action, instead requesting we work out the situation between ourselves.
To my relief, she graciously agreed.
Then something unexpected began happening. Marian and I continued to exchange emails and we spoke by phone. We had made a connection.
I shared with Marian that my writing -- my creative work -- had been re-posted on websites without my permission. I had even come across my writing changed just a little and then attributed to someone else. This left me feeling angry and hurt. Indeed, Marian and I could relate to each others experiences.
During our back-and-forth conversations, we hatched a plan. Why not work together and use this situation to pass the word on to others? That way, some good could result from my error. We could each express our feelings and perspective.
Here's my advice: To bloggers and website owners everywhere: Think before you click.
If you find an image you like, contact the creator to seek permission and negotiate permission, any fee and learn how the image creator should be listed on your blog or website. As mentioned above, I now use stock-photo services, such as istockphoto.com, where you can buy credits and find lots of great images.
Not interested in the paying route? Then, take your own photos, create your own art or search for work that is in the creative commons public domain. However, be sure the images you choose are indeed free to use and always include a credit exactly as the creator has listed it.
Remember, the burden is on the user. If you are unsure, then err on the side of caution.
These are my suggestions, and I encourage readers to leave comments with their own experiences as well as links to acquiring legal images.
Now, here is what Marian wants to share:
"Nancy is a sensitive person who has learned from her experience. She has graciously offered to help educate internet users about copyright issues and to spread the word about the damage and hurt that creative infringement causes, even if it is unintentional. Users, please think before you take an image from the internet. Remember, SOMEONE created that artwork, and if you can't find the source to ask permission, DON'T USE IT! It is not flattering when someone takes your artwork and posts it without credit and without your permission. It is painful, and you will wake up in the middle of the night knowing that the integrity of your artwork, your creation has been compromised. Thank you, Nancy, for caring." Marian Osher
The happy news in all of this is that I now have a new friend, and her name is Marian Osher. My story had a good ending. However, I'm well aware the situation could have taken a much different turn.
My final admonishment to bloggers and others: Don't do what I did. The next time you get ready to hit the publish button, make sure you know where the images came from and that you are using them legally.