This is a story of international intrigue, global law and of course, design. I’m sharing this story because it not only underscores the importance of adhering to copyright law, but also how doing the right thing can lead to positive experiences with folks from around the world. This tale begins with fondness for a photograph of kissing penguins.


antarctic penquins

Dr. Michael Ceo, a notable Therapist in Leesburg, Virginia, hired Wicked Design to create a new website for the practice he and his wife Niki built over many years. Dr. Ceo had an idea of what the new website should contain and wanted to include a favorite photo of two penguins apparently kissing. As I inform all of my clients, any photo that appears on your website must be owned by you, photographed by you,  licensed by the owner or permission gained to make use of it. It is never okay to obtain photos from web searches and plunk them onto your website, it is against the law. This holds true even if you provide credit to the copyright holder.

After stepping down off my copyright soap box, I informed the doctor that I would help him to track down the copyright holder and request the terms of use, if any. Put yourself in my shoes: How would you assist a client in locating the rightful owner of a photograph? There are several ways that this can be accomplished, but finding a needle in an endless haystack of online media is a foreboding task. The trek began with lengthy searches through stock photography sites. As one would have figured, there are a few million photos of penguins. None of them came close to the doctors beloved image.

I then recalled that Google Image search allows anyone  to drag a photo from their computer into the search bar. Doing so reveals pages of images that Google feels are matches to yours. Sometimes, it finds exact copies. Upon doing this with the kissing penguins photo, page after page appeared with exact matches. A sudden rush of satisfaction was strewn across my face. Feeling rather smart at this moment, I could hardly stand my obnoxious self (the writing of this post surely is an extension of that). Clicking upon the first link revealed nothing about the author’s name. It was an article from a notable magazine that provide no credit to the photo’s owner. The second, third and fourth links were much the same. Finally, a result pointing to the National Science Foundation webpage provided credit to a research scientist, Pen Guin (not real name). A brief sentence described the man as working in the Antarctic, a place less traveled for sure (you actually can’t travel there, sorry). NOTE: The NSF site remains closed due to the ongoing government shut down.

The detective process now shifted to locating a person. Applying the use of quotes around a search phrase in Google provides only exact match results, which is always useful when looking for people. Following this rule provided no concrete results for Mr. Guin’s email address. Being that he is a researcher, I thought that this would be an easy task. Alas, it was not. In the end, I was able to locate a thin profile for him on a networking site. There was no email included in that profile. However, the briefest mention possible listed a website address. Visiting this website revealed a single page that was likely coded using Notepad with the barest of HTML code. There was no name or detailed information. I wasn’t even sure this site belonged to Pen Guin. For kicks, I used the browser feature “view source” to inspect the code of the site. Like a Wonka golden ticket shining through the wrapper of a chocolate bar, the words mailto: jumped off the page! As fast as my fingers could construct a proper introduction, the bits were whisked away to unknown parts of the globe.

Within hours a reply was received, from Antarctica. Pen Guin thanked me for reaching out and requesting permission. He stated that very few have. His terms of licensing were simple and included an extremely reasonable fee for use. Dr. Ceo can now have his beloved photo in the new website design without any negative legal ramifications. Later in his reply, he noted that in the future he will conduct research to determine who is illegally using his photographs (as every copyright holder should do).

There are copyright infringement cases on the books that reveal fines costing tens of thousands of dollars because proper licenses were not obtained. Many businesses cannot remain solvent with the prospects of high fines such as these. Often, various types of content can be legally obtained for a small cost.

How would you feel if someone stole your work, and made money with it?  Be respectful. Be lawful. Be careful. License that content!

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