David Stuart

Web Analyst and Consultant

Fair Use and Screenshots

Posted on | April 27, 2011 | No Comments

Somewhere during the process of agreeing to write a book, I seemingly inadvertently agreed to get all the copyright permissions for the images used in the book. As the images that were not available under an appropriate Creative Commons license were merely screenshots, I thought I would be excused the arduous chore under the banner of ‘fair use’ or ‘fair dealing’. Unfortunately as the law and common sense have very little in common, the publishers weren’t taking any chances. If the web site owners didn’t grant their permission the pictures weren’t going in!

It seems absurd to have to ask a web site’s permission to use screenshots, after all it in no way undermines the services that they offer; people aren’t going to stop visiting Google.com and start opening my book instead when they want to find a cheap hotel in London! Whilst permission has now been granted by virtually all the organizations I asked (I am just waiting for one more to respond), there were vast differences in the hoops I had to jump through to get the permission.

In most cases it was quite simple. Sites either have an explicit policy or they are happy to grant permission the moment you ask. A minority of organizations asked to see the relevant pages from the book, and in my case they were then happy to grant permission (although I balked slightly at the idea of being asked). One organization, however, did prove more difficult, and responded with a number of conditions:

First, be sure to include the following attribution under our image — © 2011 Company Name www.companywebsite.com. The attribution should incorporate notice of our copyrights. This is essential because it informs third parties of our rights, and prevents inadvertent infringement.

Second, your use of the image must not imply in any way that Company Name endorses the particular substance or general quality of your work.

Third, we request a copy of your book with permission to reproduce all or portions of it for marketing purposes.

Fourth, any use of the image that is available online or in electronic format should include a hyperlink to www.companywebsite.com. — and must not be downloadable at a resolution superior to 640 x 480 pixels at 72 dpi.

Just to reiterate, this is for the inclusion of a single screenshot in a book that is likely to sell a few hundred copies! Conditions 1, 2, and 4 may be seen as over-eagerness on the part of the company, although condition 3 is just taking the piss! For sake of highlighting their service in a positive light, in a manner that in no way undermined the value of their intellectual property, I was being asked fundamentally undermine the value of my own intellectual property! In response to pointing out that such a condition was unacceptable to both me and my publisher, and the attitude of sites such as Google the web site relented, and as such I have not shamed them here.

Attitudes to copyright tell a lot about an organization. The above company, despite their aspirations, look destined to be a small time player in the world of search; out of touch with the times. At the other end of the spectrum is Google, with its policy of “no need to ask“. And somewhere in between is the muddled world of Yahoo!; there’s no need to ask at Yahoo.com for screenshots, although Yahoo.co.uk requires you to send them all the details including a “mock-up of the book or website in which the Yahoo! materials will appear”!

I think my next book will have no images.

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Why a Blog?

This blog is for letting people know some of the things I am working on, although it is extremely infrequent. As my writing has expanded from blog posts to professional journal articles, and finally to books, the number of blog posts I write on my various blogs has inevitably tapered off.

Why blog? For me it turned out to be the first step on the road to a book deal!

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