Let's talk sourcing!
When I say "sourcing" I mean giving proper credit to the creators of a work. This can seem difficult and time-consuming, but it's really not anymore and, let's face it, people who get no credit for their work may lose the time, interest, or income that allows them to create great things!
Granted it's best practice to source everything, but I'll be honest in saying that I don't always list the credits for well-known brands like Microsoft, gaming companies, major corporations, etc. Noone is going to have trouble knowing who you're talking about and they sure won't get confused and think that you are taking credit.
As for how you should treat official art, screenshots, and other works, sharing images or small video clips or creating fan art/fan works often falls under Fair Use and even if it didn't, most companies are very lenient. They know that attacking the fan base would be a public-relations disaster… especially when all the talk and publicity around their product is usually great free promotion!
On the left, you can see a mildly altered screenshot of two different shows (Avatar and Futurama) combined in an amusing way. The Internet is full of screenshot+caption pictures which generally just supports and promotes the fandom and does nothing to harm the brand. It's still best to source it to where you found it, but even I don't put much effort in beyond that.
The fans donate their time and talents to make more related art and videos than the companies ever could. This is great for the company in most cases, but it's definitely great for the fans! It expands the options for wallpapers, custom t-shirts or stickers, plush toys, or stories. For as long as the company who owns the brand doesn't create similar products that the fan ends up competing with, I doubt anyone could complain.
But while the companies have lawyers to handle issues where sharing or reuse goes too far, what do the artists have? Think about it from their point of view for a moment:
- You create a great design… someone steals it and prints it on t-shirts making good money in the process (This happens fairly frequently)
- You write a heart-felt poem to your loved one and post it on Facebook… it ends up on Hallmark cards then everyone blames you for stealing it even though you created it
- You like to take pictures… a porn company uses a (clothed) self portrait of yours for the cover of their new movie (This happened too).
Any grade-schooler knows it's bad to steal credit and yet doing so (negligently or maliciously) has become common on the Internet. But content stolen and abused will make that content disappear. If you're a fan of an artist, if you support what they do, if you want to see more, keep reading:
Why credit the artists?
One very good reason is that Artists can make money directly through commissions, sales, and product endorsement or indirectly through publicity and fame. All of these things require that the artist be properly credited. That means that every time you share a work without attribution or proper sourcing, you are reducing the amount of exposure that artist needs and deserves.
Another reason is that art is sometimes controversial and offensive when taken out of context. The description or explanation that the artist posted is never seen when you don't source it properly.
A recent piece of art on Deviantart was created for a project that explained how some people take fandom too far, even to the point of pushing away friends and family for the sake of their fantasy. It's a beautiful piece and a well-crafted commentary on fandom, extremism, and the social issues involved.
But when it was posted to Reddit.com, the submitter copied the artwork to a rehosting page and linked there (instead of linking to and giving credit to the actual artist) so the viewers saw it out of context. The top three comments complain how creepy it is that fans would be so obsessed and many others piled on the score and hurtful comments even though the reality of the work was the exact opposite of their interpretation.
Also, the artist themselves may have used copyrighted work and your lack of attribution now bypasses their attribution of the sources of that material.
But most importantly, there's almost never a good reason NOT to properly credit the artist
Ways to share (the right and the wrong)
Whether on sharing sites like Reddit or Memebase or when you're just chatting in a webforum, people like to share content. Done properly, everyone benefits:
Hotlinking refers to posting a link directly to an image that's hosted on someone's site. This is considered very rude because the owner of the website hosting the file has to pay for all the bandwidth, but the viewers don't see any text or promotional material surrounding the image. In other words, the person who posted the original file pays a lot of money, but without any possible benefit in return. Uncool, man. Uncool.
If you absolutely hate someone and want to harm them, hotlinking might be something you'd do, but if you like and support an artist, this is the online equivalent of a mugging.
Rehosting is taking someone's art and putting it on another site entirely. While it is certainly better and more honorable to ask first, let's assume you do it without author permission.
Good reasons to rehost
- If you plan to post the link on a very high-traffic site (like Reddit) which could result in hundreds of thousands of views in a very short time, rehosting might make sense. If you don't, the owner's site may crash or greatly exceed their bandwidth limit (costing them money).
- If the art is posted to a site that is covered in offensive or pornographic images or other content, it's understandable that you'd not want to link directly to the source.
- If there is no way to link directly to the art in question (some sites don't have specific links for a work of art, just for the whole page).
- The work you're posting is a derivative work such as a gif of a video, or a meme picture using artwork
- If you hate the poster's guts and definitely want to deny them any possible profit.
Bad (but commonly used) reasons to rehost
- You don't like the layout of the webpage the art is on
- You get more "upvotes" or Internet points on the site you post to if you use a rehoster
- It's "faster" to load from a rehoster than the source (because your slight convenience is so much more important that the people who create great art)
If you rehost for any reason, here are the steps you should take to do it honorably:
- Generally shrinking the image before uploading is better. First, it loads faster for everyone. Second, it gives people incentive to go see "the real thing" at the source. Third, when doing reverse source searching (explained below), it's easier to find the source if it's the only one that's full-sized while rehosted images are smaller).
- Make sure the art has source information (watermark/intro screen) before uploading it. If it doesn't, add it yourself.
- If you lack the skills to add source information, you shouldn't post it unless you very clearly state its source in comments on the rehosting site and on any other site you post it to or link to.
It's still not very good form to rehost without putting source ON the work since people can further share the work without your comments thus severing the source. Also, on sites like Reddit where comments are voted on, posting source in comments is no guarantee that anyone will find it. It's best to credit the author/artist in the title or do it on the art itself as I mentioned previously.
But even that's no substitute for directly linking to the source. Doing this not only helps the artist, but the viewers who may be interested in learning more about them or seeing what else they've done. The key is to follow the art to its source! Web authors (especially on larger and more established sites) will list the source of their pictures, video, or whatever it is that they're talking about. Unless they have additional related content or commentary you want people to see, by-pass them entirely and link directly to the original source.
How to find the source of art online
For speeches, poems, or other literary work, find a segment of the text that's original and do a quoted search on Google like so:
For images, Google has introduced a new feature that makes it trivially easy in many cases. It's called Google Search By Image and lets you do a search for the same or similar image to one you have on your computer or can point to online.
Let's say that I want to find out who made this custom fan art. The site I found it on doesn't have the source, but Google can probably help. The first thing you need to do is right-click on the image and choose the option to show the image by itself in a new window.
Now you have the direct link to the image itself. Take that and provide it as imput to the "Search By Image" feature and you'll get a list of results.
If you get a set of results, the picture (or similar pictures) was found elsewhere. Look through the list for the largest copies and then see what sites they're posted on. After you do this a few times, you learn the difference between source sites (like Flickr, Deviantart, etc) and rehosting/linking sites (Memebase, Reddit, etc).
If an obvious source doesn't jump out, try clicking one or two pages to see if they listed the source. You may also have to go to the second or third page of results before you find it.
In this case, I wasn't able to find it at all, but there are two pictures that aren't as cropped as the original so they're closer. By redoing the search with those pictures, I was able to find the actual source.
For even faster searching in this way, there's a Chrome plugin that lets you send any picture you see on a page to the Google Search By Image function (which can be found here)
Artists need and deserve credit for their work. If you like the work, support the artist by
Viewing the ads on their page
Because of the abusive system of Internet ads (called banner ads), I generally recommend against this and instead suggest people use Adblock. You can unblock ads for the artists page to help them get some ad views, but I wouldn't.
Buy or commission some of their work
I personally don't always have the money or even the desire to have a print, t-shirt, or knick-knack related to the art, but that's why I use #3…
Always link to and credit them for their work
If you're not looking at their ads and/or you're not buying from them, the very, very, very least you can do is make sure they get the credit so other people will. Especially if they have recommended products and services that wouldn't be blocked by adblocking.
In the end, it's not as fast and it's not as easy to credit artists versus just using their hard work for whatever you want freely, but it is easy enough that you have no real excuse not to in most cases. Just give credit where it's due. Link to artists, give them the credit.