Using 3rd party art work

edited May 2011 in General Discussion
I noticed that many people have used what I suspect to be 3rd party (often semi-professional) artwork on Obsidian Portal. How free are we to use such artwork? If I find an image on a random artist's website, or on a fantasy art ring, etc, can I just use it, or do I need to cite where it came from (I've noticed most people don't do this), or do we have to obtain specific permission from the artist? Is it assumed that if an artist posts their work in a form that can be downloaded that it is open access?



  • Deadseid
    Posts: 14
    I need to preface my statement with the following: I am not a lawyer, and my knowledge of law is limited at best.
    There is this thing in US copyright law called the "Fair Use Act" that allows for the unlicensed use of copyrighted images. This act allows a 3rd party limited use of a copyright holder's work without their permission,consent, or even knowledge. But this is shaky territory. Basically, fair use applies as long as certain conditions are met. These conditions are detailed in full in sections 107 through 118 of the copyright law (title 17, U. S. Code).

    This is my interpretation of said code. If you are not reproducing/publishing the work, and you are not making money using the work, it's probably considered fair use. But there a few very important things to consider, first is this statement, taken from

    "The distinction between fair use and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission. "

    That being said, you are not going to go to jail just for posting someone else's copyrighted image. In order for a copyright holder to prosecute you, they need to first send you what is known as a 'cease and desist letter'. This is just a letter saying, "Hey that stuff is mine and you can't be using it." If you have already published 1,000 copies of your adventure with this image in it, you're in trouble. But in the case of Obsidian Portal, all you have to do is take the offending image down and steal someone else's and you'll be fine.

    All that said, it's still considered good etiquette to cite your sources and the authors of works. But given the nature of the internet, this info is often hard to come by. I hope this helps, but if you need more info, research the U.S. Copyright code. But personally, I have dozens of images on my pages, and i have never been contacted by an author. Good Luck!
  • Poutine_Paladin
    Posts: 285
    Deadseid nailed it. To be respectful of the artist, you should at least post an "artwork by..." tag or have an acknowledgments section or something. I think most people who put artwork up on the internet expect a certain level of "fair use" to come of it, and like Deadseid pointed out, they can always ask you to "please stop using my art," but more likely they would say, "glad you like my art, can you spread the word about it so maybe I can sell some?"
  • arsheesh
    Posts: 850
    Yeah I'll third what Deadseid has said. I have an art credits page within the acknowledgements section at my site where I list all the known artists whose work I have used, and then give a link to their websites.
  • Dungeon_Master_Loki
    Posts: 358
    I'll also advise a credits page, it is invaluable. Here is mine as an example:

    I also included individual credits for art / text on the wiki pages where it appears.

    Another thing, as someone who works with this stuff for a living, it only takes a moment to email the creator and ask permission. Often even those who would send a take down notice will allow you just because it is a novelty to ask permission. Make sure to ask what link and credit they would prefer if you are allowed to use it. Another upside to this is that it will sometimes generate additional traffic for your work where the image is placed.

    Game Designer, Pro GM, multiple ENnie Award winner

    GM of Planejammer: The Spelljoined (Pathfinder 1e) Campaign of the Year 2011 and still going strong!

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  • Goliath1989
    Posts: 2
    Here's a somewhat related question...What's the policy for using pictures of real-life people as character portraits? Me and my friends are constantly using NPCs that are based on real life people as NPCs in our campaigns. A perfect example would be the character of William Portals in my "Martial Solutions, Inc.": campaign. When my players first came up with their group name, I made a joke about it sounding like something you'd find on Microsoft Office, (MS Inc) and someone else made a joke that William Portals was their chief investor. We all got a laugh out of that so we decided to make it canon. Can I get in trouble for slapping a picture of Bill Gates up on here?
  • Dungeon_Master_Loki
    Posts: 358
    It all depends. Public figures don't really have any say in how their pictures are used, but the definition of public figure can sometimes fluctuate from state to state. One really good way to do it go to Flickr and enter the name of the person you're looking for. Then under advanced search all the way at the bottom you'll click the checkbox for searching Creative Commons licensed images.

    This will get use to images that are licensed for reuse and you can use it to sort through all kinds of images, not just people.

    This is the best way to stay within the letter of the law and avoid potential takedown notices.< ditches moderator cap>

    I've been teaching my clients to search CC licensed images or years, it is a brilliant resource.

    Game Designer, Pro GM, multiple ENnie Award winner

    GM of Planejammer: The Spelljoined (Pathfinder 1e) Campaign of the Year 2011 and still going strong!

    GM of The Planewalker's Guild (Pathfinder 1e) 

    Need a GM? Book me today!

  • Dyluth
    Posts: 92
    I think Deadseid has said it best, as long as proper credit is given and no attempts to claim ownership and or profit from 3rd party work is made, then I don't believe there will ever be any issues here on OP. I should look into these CC licensed images though that DungeonMasterLoki mentioned above, that seems like it could be an extra handy precaution to take:)!
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