Is it theft? Yeah, it is.
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Is it theft? Yeah, it is.

Computer criminal - Hacker with laptop computerRecently, I had the unpleasant experience of discovering that one of my custom graphics was appearing, without permission, on a library’s website.  It appeared that the library had simply copied the graphic from the original site for which it was created and placed it on its own site.  I was disturbed by this.  It’s 2012.  Shouldn’t libraries know by now that taking graphics without permission is outright  theft?  The answer, obviously, is that the message is not getting out there.

My employer sent a “cease & desist” email, and the library, thankfully, promptly removed the graphic.  Not all such cases end quietly, without issue.  Last year, I became aware of a situation where a library had taken a stock photo from a very large photography distribution site without permission.  That theft cost the library several hundred dollars in fines.

It’s very, very easy to take a graphic from another site.  However, it’s also probably very easy to break the law in other ways (speeding, anyone?); that doesn’t mean that one should do it.

What does this mean to me, Laura?

  • In short:  taking anything from ANY site without permission is theft.  Plain and simple.
  • There is another kind of image theft that is not often discussed; bandwidth theft.  If you think that if you just link to the image, rather than uploading it to your own server, you’re safe, you’re not.  You’re still stealing the image and, to make matters worse, you’re also stealing the original site’s bandwidth.  That’s because, every time someone opens the page that image appears on, it has to call the original site to actually fetch it.  So, you’re stealing the image AND their resources.  Not nice.  Want to see an example of how a victimized site responded?
  • Read this post from an agency that messed up and admitted it:  Legal Lesson Learned:  Copywrighter Pays $4000 for $10 Photo.  The moral? “Consequently, we urge others to recognize and yield to a simple fact: If it’s on the Internet and others wrote or created it, do not use it without their permission.


UPDATES:  Get more information about Internet image theft from

There are 3 comments

  1. What about images and media where the original creator is not apparent, distribution is widespread, and there is no way to contact the creator to ask for permission? Just wondering…

    1. If you’re a library, it’s surely a case of “better off safe than sorry.” I wouldn’t recommend using it if you can’t get permission. I suppose you could give attribution to the site from which it came as a last-ditch scenario if the image is only for personal use (and that’s not any kind of legal guarantee). But, a library is a public institution and responsible for public monies; definitely better to avoid an issue whenever possible.

  2. copyright infringement = theft ? *strokes beard*

    The Linda Richards post made me chuckle.

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