Crossroads, revised

Published: September 28, 2011

By Jim Lichtman
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On August 5th, I posted a commentary entitled, America at a Crossroads. The original image used (below) is a photograph entitled “Crossroads after a night of rain” photographed and copyrighted by Martin Liebemann.

I had originally believed the use of the photo to fall under the “fair use” category of U.S. copyright law whereby I could use such a photo as a metaphor. However, I was wrong. While commenting on national or international figures (i.e. Michele Bachmann, President Obama, etc.) allows for such use, it doesnot permit me to use photos such as Mr. Liebemann’s in a similar fashion, unless I were writing an opinion specifically about his photo or the location in question.

As soon as Martin notified me by e-mail, I replaced the photo with one of the U.S. Capitol building – a photo that has been used many times in the past to symbolically represent the United States of America – clearly a more specific and appropriate image for the August 5th commentary.

The use of copyrighted images by bloggers on the internet is a widespread and growing problem.  As Martin points out in a follow-up e-mail, “The current copyright law system, and also the traditional business model (not only in photography) have been broken by the evolution of [a] ‘copy-paste’ internet culture.

“Using the work of others has never been easier,” Martin reminds me. “We are all prone to temptation. Also, until very recently, it was very difficult for image authors to trace the use of their works; thus, nobody complained.”

In using Martin’s “Crossroads” image I fell prey to one of the most common of ethical rationalizations: the “everybody does it” defense.

However, what struck me further in Martin’s message was re-thinking his approach to the problem.

“Complaining about this does not help…I am currently switching many of my image licenses to Creative Commons – Attribution – Non Commercial – Share Alike. This is a licensing model that takes into account the idea of sharing – allowing the private/non-commercial use of my work, while also giving me something back by proper attribution, and asking fees for commercial use. Using this means giving up the assumption of control traditional copyright has promised to authors; it gives others the freedom to enjoy, use and share my work, and it encourages a culture based on mutual respect, fairness and sharing.”

Hopefully, there will be others out there that will read this and begin to re-think their own use of such images.


I’ve been to Martin’s Web site, and his photos are worth more exposure… in the right way, of course.


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