How do you handle Copyright on your blog?

Copyright notice by Open Source

Copyright (Courtesy: Joshua Gajownik,, using CC-BY-SA-2.0)

Since the beginning of this blog I have been concerned about Copyright, and have worked through it in stages. I’m not a copyright expert and have no legal training, but I thought I’d share – in case it helps others – some of my thought processes over the last two years or so of my blog:

  1. I worried, in the beginning, about using other content on this blog, specifically images. I am careful about clearing the use of book cover images with publishers, and I check copyright statements for any other images I use on the blog. I attribute as best I can the creator of these images, and have found that creators (or copyright owners) are usually pretty easy to identify on sites such as Wikipedia and Flickr. But, there are many images that I have not used because I could not clarify their copyright situation.
  2. I then realised that I hadn’t made the situation clear about my own images and so, many months into the blog, I added a Text Widget for Copyright on Images. In this I stated my policy regarding my use of images from other sources, and I applied a rather loose Creative Commons licence statement for my own images.
  3. And then it occurred to me that I hadn’t properly clarified copyright on the rest of my content. Under Australian Copyright, anything I publish is automatically copyrighted to me, that is, I do not need to register for copyright in order for my content to be protected under copyright. However, as a (retired) librarian/archivist, I know how frustrating copyright can be  – in terms of knowing who owns copyright and how the copyrighted material can be used – and so today I have added a formal Creative Commons license to my blog (in the permanent sidebar) by using the Creative-Commons-Configurator and then adding the resultant html code to a WordPress Text Widget.

My Creative Commons Licence

Because I believe in collaboration, in sharing thoughts and ideas, my goal in choosing a licence was to make it easy for people to use my work without going through major hoops but to retain some rights for myself. The  licence I’ve chosen allows others to use my work (text and images in the case of this blog) under the following conditions:

  • Attribution. My work can be copied, distributed, displayed, adapted as long as it is attributed to Whispering Gums, with a link, where possible, to this blog.
  • NonCommercial. My work can be copied, distributed, displayed, adapted for non-commercial purposes only. Those who wish to use my work for commercial purposes must contact me for permission (wg1775[at]gmail[dot]com)
  • ShareAlike. Others may use my work in theirs, as long as they only distribute them under the same Creative Commons license that I’ve used for my work.

Note: None of these conditions overwrite rights protected under relevant copyright laws, such as fair use rights and moral rights. It is simply a licence by which I make clear how I, as a copyright owner, allow my work to be used.


I thank the Creative Commons people for the work they’ve done over the last 10 years in trying to both simplify and free up copyright for those of us who just want to create and share. May their work continue … as the world of creation, repurposing and distribution becomes more diverse and complex.

Rudyard Kipling, An interview with Mark Twain

Rudyard Kipling

Kipling, somewhat older than 23! (Presumed Public Domain, via Wikipedia)

How could I resist reading this offering from the Library of America, featuring as it does two giants of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries? Both are writers I know well in a superficial way: I’ve really read only a little of their works. This essay, I thought, presented an interesting opportunity to get to know them from a different perspective.

“An interview with Mark Twain” was published in 1890, the year after Kipling, then 23 years old and on his overseas tour to Europe and the USA, interviewed the great man. Twain was 54, and staying in Elmira, NY, at the time. We know from the opening lines that Kipling idolises Twain:

You are a contemptible lot, over yonder. Some of you are Commissioners, and some Lieutenant-Governors, and some have the V.C., and a few are privileged to walk about the Mall arm in arm with the Viceroy; but I have seen Mark Twain … Understand clearly that I do not despise you, indeed I don’t. I am only very sorry for you, from the Viceroy downward …

Clearly this is going to be a positively reported interview! The essay starts though, rather humorously, with the challenges Kipling faced in locating Clemens (as he was known) but, one-third of the way into the essay, we finally meet Twain who, despite his grey hair (that “was an accident of the most trivial”) looked “quite young”.

Kipling’s next comment rather continues his hero-worship – and reflects the way many of we readers think when we think of our favourite writers:

Reading his books, I had striven to get an idea of his personality, and all my preconceived notions were wrong and beneath the reality. Blessed is the man who finds no disillusion when he is brought face to face with a revered writer.

You might think, from all this, that the rest of the interview will be rather hagiographic, with Kipling hanging on Twain’s every words. But, while there is an element of that, Kipling is delightfully self-conscious and there is a lovely sense of like minds engaging. Kipling reports on a conversation that ranges over a number of issues, including copyright, about which Twain has strong feelings, believing that a writer (and his heirs) should maintain control over “the work of his brains” (Kipling’s words) in much the same way as you might own “real estate” (Twain’s analogy). If you search the Internet, you will find a number of references to Mark Twain and copyright. As an (ex) librarian/archivist, I have a complicated relationship with copyright. I believe in abiding by it, I believe that creators need recompense for their work and that copyright is one way they can ensure that, but I also like people to be able to access the works they wish. According to my Internet research, Twain did not seek perpetual copyright, but enough to protect/provide for his immediate heirs. That sounds fair enough to me. And, it sounded fair enough to Kipling, though he was a little tongue-in-cheek in reporting that he saw Twain’s point, because he follows it up with “When the old lion roars, the young whelps growl. I growled assentingly”.

[If you are interested in copyright in the USA, check this timeline prepared by the Association of Research Libraries.]

Anyhow, they move on to discuss Twain’s books, and the possibility of a sequel to Tom Sawyer. Twain, teasingly, suggests that he hasn’t decided, that he could “make him rise to great honour and go to Congress” or he could “hang him”! This was too much for Kipling who says “I lost my reverence completely” arguing that Sawyer “was real”. Ah, fiction and reality I thought! This essay is speaking to me again.

Twain replies that Sawyer “is real … he’s all the boys that I have known or recollect” but then goes on to say that:

Suppose we took the next four and twenty years of Tom Sawyer’s life, and gave a little joggle to the circumstances that controlled him. He would, logically, according to the joggle, turn out a rip of an angel.

He calls this Kismet, and asks whether Kipling agrees. Kipling does to a degree, but suggests that Sawyer isn’t Twain’s property any more, “he belongs to us”. Hmmm…I’m not sure that this is the aspect of “reality” in fiction that interests me, but the discussion (which is not reported further) is interesting, if only because it reflects topics that engaged these two writers.

They they go on to discuss “truth and the like in literature” but the discussion focuses more on autobiography and Twain’s view that no matter how much an autobiographer may lie about him/herself, the “truth” will out. Ain’t that the truth! All of us writing blogs give ourselves away, regardless, I think, of how we may try to “present” ourselves… But, I think I’ll move on from this possibly murky mire!

And then, in a fascinating little discussion of novel-reading comes this point which may interest we bloggers. It’s about assessing novels. Twain says:

You see … every man has his private opinion about a book. But that is my private opinion. If I had lived in the beginning of things, I should have looked around the township to see what popular opinion thought of the murder of Abel before I openly condemned Cain. I should have had my private opinion, of course, but I shouldn’t have expressed it until I had felt the way.

Is he saying what I think he’s saying? A little later in the essay, and on a slightly different topic, Kipling says “and I am still wondering if he meant what he said”! Knowing a little of Twain, I must admit I’m wondering what was “true” in his comments, and what wasn’t … so much of his “truth” is behind rather than in his words.

Twain goes on to talk about fiction and fact, implying that he prefers the latter, that he doesn’t “care for fiction”. He then gives this advice which I love:

“Get your facts first, and” – the voice dies away to an almost inaudible drone – “then you can distort ’em as much as you please”.

I can’t think of a better point upon which to close this post … but, by way of conclusion, I found at The Huffington Post this comment made by Twain, many years later, about the meeting:

I believed that he knew more than any person I had met before, and I knew that he knew that I knew less than any person he had met before–though he did not say it, and I was not expecting that he would. . . . He was a stranger to me and to all the world, and remained so for twelve months, then he became suddenly known, and universally known.

More on blogging, images and copyright

Courtesy of Uncommon Depth at flickr (using Creative Commons Licence)

Courtesy of Uncommon Depth at flickr (using Creative Commons Licence)

Those of you who have read my very early posts will know that copyright on images is an important issue for me – it’s why I often don’t have a lot of images on my posts, much as I’d like to. I’m sure that it won’t be long before the whole copyright situation is blown sky high but, until it does, I’m erring on the side of caution.

Today I was sent two links concerning a controversy at Wikipedia regarding the uploading there of images from the National Portrait Gallery in London. Apparently the Gallery has threatened legal action on a Wikipedian who uploaded onto Wikipedia over 3000 public domain images from the Gallery. The Gallery claims that while the original images are in public domain, their scans are protected by copyright. This is just one of their claims. It is all explained in an edition of Wikipedia’s magazine Signpost.

Another Signpost edition comprises an open letter written by three administrators to the Wikipedia community. It explains the reasoning behind Wikipedia’s philosophy while also recognising where institutions like the Gallery are coming from. It gives examples of other more positively negotiated solutions to the problem. A basic issue is that cultural institutions spend a lot of money preserving and storing their collections, and never have enough funding to do all they need to do. Many supplement their incomes by charging fees for commercial use of their images. Often, in the case of public domain images, they call this fee a “preservation” or “handling” fee. In our new digital world, many institutions are starting to free up non-commercial use of low-resolution images and I have myself obtained permission to upload low resolution images onto Wikipedia. However, the Wikipedian in question downloaded high resolution images from the National Portrait Gallery…a whole new ball-game.

You can see the challenge. The world is full of institutions holding immense and rich collections of material that the rest of us would like to access. These institutions are caught in a bind – the digital world exponentially increases their ability to provide access to their collections but it also hugely increases the risk of non-approved or even illegal use of their collections. And, the rights issue is a complex one. We users are not always aware, when looking at an image, what is in copyright and what isn’t. The issue is further complicated by the fact that we live in a global world but we do not have global copyright laws … I am regularly frustrated in my hunt for images by there being no statement anywhere concerning rights.

They might be juggernauts, but it is organisations like Wikipedia, Google and Flickr which are likely to push the issue to a conclusion. We all know a picture tells a thousand words … and we now have the technology to achieve it. All we need is for our rules and laws to catch up with the technology.

Book blogs and book covers

Courtesy: Uncommon Depth at flickr (Creative Commons)

Courtesy: Uncommon Depth at flickr (Creative Commons)

Clearly it would be in publishers’ interests to allow the free uploading of book covers by book bloggers, and clearly most book bloggers do upload book covers. But, having worked for many years in a profession (librarian/archivist) where copyright has been an everyday concern, I have been seeking some clarity on this issue. While I don’t expect to be sued by a publisher – in my experience most copyright owners will politely ask you to remove a misuse than fire their big guns to start with – I would like to understand the parameters within which I can comfortably work.

Consequently, I started by emailing 3 publishers for books I’ve reviewed (elsewhere). One publisher responded immediately stating that their terms and conditions allowing use of covers by “media, the book trade, libraries and others for appropriate purposes related to the books without any need to clear permission” included book blogs. Another responded cautiously at first stating that covers are complex (and they are, I suppose, as there are designers, there can be images sourced elsewhere incorporated into the design, and so on) and that people can be touchy about “negative portrayals”(!), but to their credit came back to me a few days later with blanket approval for use of their covers in my blog. Two down, one to go … and still, some 14 days later, waiting.

In the meantime, LibraryThing provides covers for free downloading and Amazon too has a service. Another source is OpenLibrary. But the copyright issue is not fully canvassed on these sites as far as I can tell. And that’s understandable – after all copyright law is different from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

So where does that leave book bloggers – alone with their commonsense, I reckon!