Can we get an official action of some sort to deal with photos uploaded to stack.imgur where the poster clearly does not own the copyright? As discussed before with no response, the ease with which photos are uploaded makes it unclear that this is happening, and there's no discussion of terms or anything at that point.

When the image is hotlinked rather than uploaded, it's a legal gray area I won't get into. (When it's hotlinked from another hosting service that the user doesn't have legal permission to upload to, for example, the veil is pretty thin.) But it's practically a problem for Creative Commons licensing of the site when the photo is integral to the question or answer, because reuse is impossible.

It's not my job to enforce this, and it feels really unfriendly to harp on other users about this. Right now, mods enforce it selectively (because it'd be a lot of work to deal with every instance), sometimes resulting in unreasonably angry (but perhaps justifiably confused) users. But it's also really problematic and something the site should care about. If I edit a post with a problematic image without doing anything about it, am I contributing to the infringement? As an editor of a collective work, I might be! (What if I just vote it up, or accept an answer?)

I would be perfectly fine with an official statement that all photos uploaded are automatically limited to a small size (they are) and that Stack Exchange considers the small-size representations to be fair use for educational purposes and commentary and criticism. That may or may not hold up in court in particular instances (I'm not a lawyer, obviously), but it'd put the users off the hook, which is where you've got us now.

Or as stated in my earlier post, some summary of or even link to the copyright policy in the upload form would be a good.

Basically, what I'm saying is: Stack Exchange employees, please handle the legal responsibilities here so the user community and moderators don't have to.

  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ Couldn't agree more. I still have a bit of a backlog of clear copyright violations to take care of, however I keep losing the links to the questions that have the embedded images. It would be extremely handy to have some kind of tool to convert an embedded image into a link to its original source when necessary. \$\endgroup\$
    – jrista
    Commented Jan 1, 2012 at 21:02
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ +1 Any official stance at all would make this matter easier to handle. Whatever gets decided we should add to the FAQ that way that we can point users and say its at least there in writing. \$\endgroup\$
    – rfusca
    Commented Jan 2, 2012 at 1:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ It seems to me the images are not actually scaled when uploading, but displayed with CSS style max-width=630 (example). \$\endgroup\$
    – Imre
    Commented Jan 2, 2012 at 21:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Imre: good catch! I coulda sworn imgur was scaling them down. Sheesh. That makes me want to upload super-large images all the time to counteract their aggressive JPEG re-compression. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Jan 3, 2012 at 2:29

1 Answer 1



The upload form now notes the applicability of - and links to - both the CC license and our network-wide content policy:

image upload dialog

original response follows

It's not my job to enforce this, and it feels really unfriendly to harp on other users about this.

You're right, it's not.

That may or may not hold up in court in particular instances (I'm not a lawyer, obviously), but it'd put the users off the hook, which is where you've got us now.

No it wouldn't.

Oh, it might be enough to defend yourself in court. I can't say - I'm not a lawyer either, and even if I was I couldn't be providing you with legal advice or guaranteeing you immunity from anything.

But by a similar token, me or anyone else from SE saying, "We believe that using scaled images you don't own is fair use" doesn't mean jack if whoever owns the image decides to go after you for posting it. And by the time you have to hire a lawyer to defend yourself, you're already in for more of a headache than you ever want.

In fact, saying something like that is worse than useless - it'd give folks the idea that there's an "easy out" when they want to use copyrighted images, sorta like the old "It's fair use if you limit your quotes to 300 words or less" myth.

Unfortunately, copyright law is not a simple matter. There's absolutely no way for us to guarantee that the text you type doesn't infringe, much less the image you upload. Therefore, our content policy is as follows:

Copyright. Using copyrighted material does not constitute infringement in all cases. In general, however, users should be careful when using copyrighted content without the permission of those who created it. It is our policy to respond to notices of alleged infringement that comply with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act ("DMCA").

If we get a take-down notice (with all the "t"s crossed and "i"s dotted and a signature at the end), we'll remove the content. Simple as that. But this protects us - SE - the company hosting the content. As an author here, you retain ownership of your work - and any potential liability that goes with it.

The not my job game

Now, back to the "it's not your job to enforce this" bit...

It's not your job to enforce anyone else's copyright. And in most cases, you probably shouldn't try...

...But that's not to say we can't establish and enforce some policies here on Photography.SE that serve to discourage copyright violation, encourage quality content, and stand as clear, easy-to-interpret guidelines for both authors and reviewers.

For example:

  1. All images posted here must be either owned by the person posting them, or have their source clearly cited in the surrounding text.

  2. A post consisting solely of an image or images not owned by the author or authors of the post must be removed.

  3. Images containing photographic or artistic renditions of the duck-billed platypus will result in immediate suspension.

  4. ...

In other words, it's your site - if you collectively decide to collectively enforce a set of rules governing the content posted here, that's your prerogative - you don't need (or particularly want) to lean on something as hairy as copyright law for your standards of quality - there are plenty of better reasons (ethical and practical) for excluding misrepresented, plagiarized or lazy content.

  • \$\begingroup\$ To be clear, I'm not concerned about users being protected against their own uploading of unauthorized images. It's the other users of the site who need more protection. A particular case I'm concerned about is posts with infringing content which have been edited in good faith by another user for an unrelated reason. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Jan 2, 2012 at 20:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm okay with your #1 example. #2 isn't really an issue here. #3 we already do, of course. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Jan 2, 2012 at 20:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Generally, the problem is not plagiarism, by the way. The most common case is "how do I take pictures like this", where this is easy to show but hard to describe. The second most common is famous (or less famous) photographs used as examples in answers. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Jan 2, 2012 at 21:00
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm: I wouldn't worry so much about those, provided they're coupled with text that adds value. I really think you should consider enforcing a source though - not only is it polite, it might also stand to make answering the first type of question easier. \$\endgroup\$
    – Shog9
    Commented Jan 2, 2012 at 21:34
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ I agree. Can we get something on the upload form pointing to a FAQ entry about this? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Jan 2, 2012 at 21:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ — See meta.photo.stackexchange.com/questions/1695/… for my earlier feature request for what I'd actually like to see. The comments above about claiming fair use are only what I came up with since that got zero response. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Jan 3, 2012 at 0:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ Its been slightly more than a year that mattdm has commented, "can we get something....". Just bumped on this question today. @Shog9 we are waiting for your response. ;) \$\endgroup\$
    – Regmi
    Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 19:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Regmi: See the updated answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Shog9
    Commented May 24, 2013 at 21:37

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