Some Changes and a Warning

When going through the list of blogs I follow, I came upon this post by Morgan over at The First Gates.  He relates the story of a blogger who was sued for use of an image on her blog.  This leads to a very big question and gets into some questionable copyright lingo.  The biggest question as it relates to this blog is what qualifies as fair use when posting an image to a blog?  The answer is tricky.

The basic ideas behind the fair use exemption to copyright law can be found here at Wikipedia.  The problem with this is that it’s very fuzzy as to what qualifies as fair use.  But the most troubling problem from what I’ve read is that there is no set standard for any particular type of media, each case can be looked at individually.

Here’s where that becomes a problem, and how it relates to this blog.  I post pictures of the covers for every book I review.  I’ve obtained all of these images by doing a simple Google search.  When I first started the blog, it was a fairly minor issue.  I only had a couple of reviews up, and very few images.  The problem now comes from the fact that I’ve got somewhere around 160 different book reviews up – all of them with images of the book attached to the post.

My very vague understanding of the copyright and fair use laws means that this could end up being a problem.  If you figure there are 160 book reviews, that amounts to quite a few different authors, artists, publishing companies, graphic designers, etc. who could possibly raise a fuss about the images being on my blog.  Now, my blog has a fairly small audience, and the thought of it getting notice from a major publisher and then being pursued by them beyond a simple DMCA notice and being asked to remove the image is admittedly quite small.  However, the odds of it occurring increase with each review that I post and each image that I attach to those reviews.

So what does that mean?  Well, for starters it means I’m going to go through and remove every image that I have attached to my blog at the moment.  I’ve received no warning about this, but the last thing I need is some new lawyer who just passed the Bar trying to win an easy case by going after my blog.  All of the content of my blog other than the pictures will remain unchanged as I spend the next several days going through my history and editing out the pictures.

One thing that I learned fairly early on in the creation of my blog is that posts look better with an image included.  It’s gives you something to look at as opposed to just staring at a wall of text, and displaces some of the monotony of constantly looking through a series of posts.  I’ll continue to try and include images, but in the future I’ll make sure that they’re all either in the public domain or they have a Creative Commons license that allows them to be shared.

I understand that the actions that I’m taking are a little extreme (just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not after you), and I’m not suggesting that everyone follow the same course of action.  I am however suggesting that you read Morgan’s post as well as those he links to and take what they say into consideration.  I know that personally I do this because I enjoy talking about the books that I read (or whatever else crosses my mind) and I like the interaction that I get with people through this blog.  However, the potential (however unlikely) legal and financial ramifications of this is something that I can’t overlook.  I’ll still be blogging, but as regards to using images in my posts I’ll be a lot more careful about what I use.

Leave a comment


  1. I’d be willing to bet that you won’t get sued for using a book cover image–they’re provided by the publishers for reviews, anyway. If you’re using them for reviews, no publisher or author is going to sue you–you’re giving them revenue by promoting their book.

    • It’s a bit of a knee jerk reaction I know, and I’m probably going to do a little more looking into it, but it’s a troubling idea.

      • I’m definitely not discounting your nervousness over this situation–it is a troubling idea and one that we should all (as bloggers) pay attention to.

      • Part of the reason for my wariness is that I can’t find a direct answer online as to what can and can’t be used in regards to using a book cover in the context of a review. Other than being a headache for me to go through my backlog of posts, it’s not going to be that big of a change for my blog.

  2. I’ve seen this on a couple of blogs and it’s an idea that’s really concerned me. I was wondering if you got the book covers from goodreads if that would be ok as it’s sort of a public domain, but I don’t know, like you I haven’t been able to find anything specific to do with book covers for review. I haven’t 100% decided what to do about this yet, it’s one to think hard about, I certainly don’t want it to become an issue so my blog may soon go through the same change as yours.

    • The changes I made were a paranoid overreaction, but until I can figure out exactly what is or isn’t allowed, I’m going to side with being paranoid.

  3. I think that book covers on a book review count as fair use. If anything, it’s free advertising for the book in question.

    The idea of copyrighted images came up in my library school classes and the general conclusion that even the professors had was that it’s a gray area and nobody really knows. The laws are rather fuzzy and operate on a case-by-case basis. For web projects we had to use public domain images, but they weren’t the type of projects that were image-heavy. You can find images that are public domain through Wikimedia. I think there’s a big difference though between using an image photographed by a professional photographer (who would otherwise be making money from each use of said photo) and posting a book cover as a part of a book review, and the guy who sued was a real a-hole for not sending a “please take down my image” e-mail and leaving it at that.

    • I’ll start using public domain images, but the case-by-case basis is problematic to me. The biggest problem that I had is that I couldn’t find anything that definitively said whether or not using images of the book cover in a review qualifies as fair use. It’s paranoia, but I’ll keep looking for a definitive answer as to what qualifies as fair use.


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