July 2, 2020

Copyright and Suspicious Photo Sites

by Cowboy Bob Sorensen

A few years ago, I wrote an article with a passel of links to free images that claim to have no copyright restrictions. Although I targeted it toward Christians so we do not get a bad testimony for using stolen images (just because it is online does not make it up for grabs), any blogger can benefit. You can read that one at "Images on the Web: An Appeal to Caution".


Just because an image is on the web does not mean it is free for everyone. Here is a caution to bloggers and a warning about some dodgy graphics sites. I trust Pixabay.
Credit: Pixabay / Arek Socha
The safest way to use an image in your weblog is to take your own artwork or image, avoiding recognizable people and identifiable brands. I believe that the main point of that is to avoid showing them in a bad light, or that an article might reflect poorly on them. Identifiable children are, for me, right out. In addition, we must be careful to avoid making it appear that the person, brand, image supplier, and so on are not endorsing an article or site. Landscapes, wildlife, things like that are great, but some of us need something more.

Reputable free image sources insist that people who upload images certify that they are not infringing on copyrights. Let's focus (heh!) on Pixabay. They have Terms of Service and About Us sections. Pixabay and many others do not require attribution, but I give it anyway. One reason is courtesy to the provider and the artist or photographer. Another is to protect myself.

These companies are expecting people to act in good faith when uploading content, and users are also acting in good faith when using the images and other things that are available from them. I could be hit with a DMCA claim and, if valid, have to remove an image. Pixabay and other providers usually have a way of being contacted if some sidewinder lied about being the legitimate owner of an image and the real owner complains.

By the way, even if I used an image that I did not have a right to have, the owner may not want to go through the legal time and difficulties because images on my sites are low resolution, and file sizes seldom exceed 100kb. Legal considerations aside, I simply want to do what is right. Since I am uncomfortable with Fair Use doctrines, I seldom appeal to that concept. For an example of Fair Use, see the top image and the fine print at the bottom of this article by the Institute for Creation Research. My own cautions may be useful to others, but I admit to bending my own rules on widespread images and "memes".

That's a buckboard-full of background, I know, but it's important for the next part that may be a very important warning for some folks. So pay attention, pardner.

When searching for images, I came across Pikrepo, Pikist, and Pxfuel. Who are the people hiding behind the woodshed? The sites are almost identical and claim to provider copyright-free material. I found a picture of a woman that looked like it was taken by a professional, ran it through a reverse image search, and seriously doubt that it is public domain material. She's a model or something. A fourth is like the others, PickPik. It, too has substantially the same ToS and claimed to have the images sorted by artificial intelligence. Interesting that I saw some that were also on Pixabay.

What is missing or difficult to obtain?
  • Information about the company or companies. I could find nothing significant about them.
  • You can often find "about" or "terms of use" information at the top or bottom of a page on other graphics sites, but good luck actually reaching the bottom on these four. That's because the site keeps on loading more images; scroll more, see more. I had to use the browser function to view the page source so I could find a bland "Terms of Use" at Pxfuel.
  • Contact information. Using patience and trickery, the "contact us" links are available. The ones I clicked on launched my browser, not my email client! I didn't follow through because of inner alarm bells.
  • Membership. While not exactly dealing from the bottom of the deck by not having this, many image sites have an option to become a member. This is necessary if someone is going to contribute material. Why no contributors?
  • Information about the alleged photographers. Many sites that provider images have these, and if you click on the name under the picture near the top, you will be taken to Arek's section on Pixabay.
Too many factors made me think that those four sites listed above are dodgy. A dictum I follow, especially here: When in doubt, go without. Another is to not be in a hurry and do some investigation. I have doubts, so I'll leave those infernal sites on the dusty trail and ride with those I can trust.



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