Wiki Images and Copyright Law

While working on my finals I tried to relax a little bit by working on the Gurutama Wiki.

I’ve been tackling the behemoth that is the Slavery article on Gurutama. There’s a lot of ground to cover. Different types of slavery, how slavery is practiced in different locations, and the morality of slavery in a world with an absolute set of moral rules (for example, is temporary enslavement of convicts in exchange for a reduced sentence acceptable?).

I’ve been trawling the internet for images to post alongside what I write.

I want good images, but I also want to use them legally. I could just pick up any old image and plop it on the Wiki, but there’s a risk if the owner of that image gets mad at me and decides to take legal action.

In most cases that would just be a cease and desist letter. I’d take the image off the site and no one is hurt. But since my friends and I have a passing interest in eventually releasing the Gurutama campaign setting as a Kickstarter, we need to cover our legal butts before something bad happens.

So instead of taking whatever images I want (like this sexy image of Gibraltar) I have to use ones that the owners have approved for use by people like me.

There’s three basic ways the owner of an image can give permission for me to use their property.
1. An established license like the Wikimedia license or the Creative Commons license. The Wikimedia license is awesome. Essentially everything on Wikipedia is free to use in other projects as long as the attribution to the original author stays with the image.
2. Asking the owner of the image if you can use it. I unfortunately haven’t gotten responses from any of the cool images I want to use. And a lack of response counts as a “No.”
3. Implied consent. If an artist allows their image to be used by a bunch of places without taking action against them, then I can assume that I don’t need to ask their permission.

I got access to the following image due to a round-about application of implied consent.

Made by John Wigley. Props to him!
Made by John Wigley. Props to him!

This image is actually owned Games Workshop as part of their Warhammer card game.

Games Workshop allows their images to be used by anyone for any purpose as long as the original artist gives permission.

Andddd… John Wigley has allowed tons of people to use his image with no indication that he requires people to ask him for permission. Therefore, implied consent. I get to use it.

I did still ask him if I could use it, but got no response. Unlike when I asked to use the Gibraltar photo, there’s enough evidence that this one is okay to use, as long as I’m not profiting from the use.

There is a fourth source for images to use on the Gurutama Wiki, things that are out of copyright.

The length of a copyright is a little difficult to determine. You can thank Disney’s lobbyists for that. Everytime Mickey Mouse gets close to being out of copyright Disney throws more money at Congress until the maximum lifetime of a copyright is extended.

Here’s the basics on how copyright lifetimes work:
An artist can renew their copyright whenever they want while they’re alive.
After an artist dies, the copyright can only exist for a set number of years after their death. This is so the artist’s heirs can continue to profit and live off the artist’s work. It makes sense. The motive behind the original law is good.
So what’s a good amount of time for that law? I would think 20 years. By then, even if the artist had infant children they would be adults who completed college if they attended right after high school.
Not so! 50-70 years after death is the current law in most countries. Long enough for the artist’s grandchildren to be dead before the copyright expires in most cases.
It’s a little different for properties owned by corporations (like Mickey Mouse). Since there’s no individual artist that owns the intellectual property the countdown starts right away instead of waiting for the company to “die.” In exchange, the company gets a longer lifetime to exercise their copyright. The current lifetime is 95 years after publication in the United States.

What this essentially means is any art made prior to the 1900s is free for me to use. If I want to put the Mona Lisa on my Gurutama Wiki, I can do that. No problem. Leonardo de Vinci isn’t going to sue me because he’s been dead for centuries.

Which brings me to this image:

Bandit Attack
Lawlessness of Middle Ages. – Attack of Italian Bandits

I found this image on a website called Look and Learn while searching for a good picture of a slave raid that didn’t involve guns. I got a bandit attack instead, but it worked for the Slavery article.

Look and Learn claims their copyright on this image started in 2010.

Seems okay at first glance, right? Until you remember your art history and realize that the style of this drawing places it in the 1700s.

That got me suspicious of Look and Learn’s supposed copyright. I reverse image searched the drawing and found it in a scanned book (out of copyright) on Google’s book database.

The book was published in 1894 by John Clark Ridpath and is titled History of the World.

It’s likely that Ridpath found this illustration in a museum and used it in his book as it was already out of copyright when he was writing.

Lets assume he didn’t. Let’s assumed that Ridpath was the owner of this image, either by purchasing it from an artist or drawing it himself in an old style to match his subject material. Ridpath passed away in 1900. The copyright on the image would only extend to 1970, making it 45 years out of copyright.

So how exactly does Look and Learn claim to own and sell this image? They even cite the source (erroneously citing a reprint of the original book, but a citation), making it clear to the astute observer that they couldn’t possibly own this image.

Well, Look and Learn is actually selling a high quality scan of this image, which they do own.

I just took a lower quality scan from Google’s database and used that.

This is all part of the Slavery article on Gurutama. It’s shaping into something I’m proud of. Check it out!



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