Recently I saw a notice from a fellow deviant about finding some of his photos online. Stolen from DA where he generously shares them to be used on a porn site. Obviously this is illegal, a violation of copyright law. DeviantART makes that perfectly clear in the terms and conditions when you sign up, and you are legally bound by them even if you just click "I Accept" without reading them. Small consolation to an artist who must now fight to have his work protected under the law. Another deviant, also a photographer, has a very serious discussion on his page about it. You can find that discussion here [link]
Why should we care about this? Well I'll give you two reasons. Any artist will never share their work if it will be stolen, so where will you go to find quality art like this for free hmm? Just as bad, the artists that do share their work are forced to watermark it in an attempt to prevent theft. Watermarks are like locks on a door, they are only there to keep honest people honest. A professional who wants to steal it can still do so, but why bother. There is so much else they can steal for free they don't bother. The watermark is a halfway decent means of protecting your rights and an effective means of making the art much less enjoyable to see. Copyright theft effects us all.
There is an alternative!
Before we get into that though, let's discuss just what a copyright is. In the case of any piece of Literature, Music, Art (of any definition), Movies, etc, etc, etc current copyright law defines the copyright of any piece created after 1976 as lasting the life of the creator plus 50 years. Registration is not important to establish the copyright, just the act of creation. If a company commissioned the piece or created it, the copyright is 100 years period. An exception is made in the case of Logos, etc which fall under Trademark law.
Fair use laws are a lot more limited than they used to be as well. At one time you could copy anything for use in a classroom no problem. Charging for copies along with using that to avoid buying textbooks put an end to those practices. Limits also had to be set on the ability to use something to parody it, etc, etc because of abuse. Even using part of a work inside a larger piece is dangerous. The only way to be completely safe is if the piece is changed in such a way as to be unrecognizable. When in doubt keep three things in mind for fair use. Did I make any profit from using it in any way form or fashion? Did my use defame or degrade the piece, the creator or subject in a way that is not easily recognizable as satire? Did I use more than 25% of the piece and did it make up more that 25% of my total work? If the answer to any of these three questions is yes, chances are you would loose a fair use case so you better have written permission.
Have I given people the idea that copyright laws are a lot stricter than they used to be? Good, because they are. Every time copyright laws have been re-written they've been strengthened and this is a long way from the days when a copyright lasted 7 years from the date of publication. Today's copyright laws don't have teeth, they have fangs!
The problem is the Internet. A digital medium with limited tracking ability and a wide open system of transmission. The solution is Myfreecopyright.com
a web based effort to eliminate copyright theft. This free service works in a three step process. First you upload a copy of your work that is logged and securely stored, A digital "fingerprint" of this work is made, logged, stored and emailed to you providing free proof of copyright for legal purposes. Your original creation is now registered and protected and you are allowed to display the provided copyright logo to announce that fact.
It's a sad fact of life that a lot of this theft occurs simply because someone doesn't see a copyright logo and assumes it must be public domain. The truth is exactly the opposite. Unless you see a statement that the work is public domain you MUST assume it isn't, that's the law. Take advantage of this special service. After all, we all know the true meaning of the word "assume."
Given the importance of this information, I am acknowledging here that the information I've written will be public domain. It may be freely distributed, copied, quoted and used by anyone. Please get the word out there.