I created this image in 2006 to illustrate a blog post I ended up not writing. I released the image on Flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike licence. That means anyone is free to use it, but they must credit me.
The dragon was created in early 2010, to look like the familiar Twitter bird, but with a unique Welsh dragon spin.
Both images have gone on to be pretty popular on the web, used for avatars in forums, on Twitter and so on. I deliberately licensed both as Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike. This means that people are welcome to use the images, for free, on condition that they provide a proper credit, and do not seek to profit directly or indirectly from use of my work. Also, they must make any derivative work available under the same terms.
These conditions seem more than reasonable to me, but I’ve spotted examples of people either not knowing or not caring that they are violating this very liberal licence, especially with the cartoon penguin design. There was a guy selling penguin t-shirt prints, and then only last month I found an iPhone game and a Mac software house using him. I ended up giving permission to the latter – they seemed nice enough.
The original Cartoon penguin post had actually become one of my most popular pages, bringing in 100+ hits per day via Google image search… until a few days ago I noticed this had stopped! Compare the following images:
Compare that with the result today:
Yup, now Google has removed the link to my original page, and instead sends searchers to this charming Tumblr page:
Clearly the guy is no designer or SEO expert, but he has managed to outrank me for my own image! I’m assuming he’s winning because the image is near the top of the page in the title area (that appears on every page), and he’s renamed the image ‘cartoon-penguin.jpg‘, whereas my original is the less useful ‘penguin_finished_012.png‘.
Last night I optimised my site a little in an attempt to win back favour. I also contacted Mr. Bowlofcarrots via his site and Tumblr support, though I don’t really expect any joy from either of them.
It’s surprised me how annoyed I am by this minor injustice. After all, this is an image I was happy enough to give away for free. It occurred to me that even though this Tumblr user isn’t attempting to ‘steal’ my work in the same way as some previous people have, he has nonetheless taken it from me in a more real sense. Quite innocently, he has robbed me of my sense of ownership of the image itself. It’s very frustrating.
My other ‘bird’, the Twitter dragon, has been on other adventures. In this saga, I found him being used as part of the branding for an official-looking Twitter account calling itself ‘this is Wales‘.
Official-looking it may be, but that’s simply because it imitates the look and feel of a BBC design, while appropriating the ‘This is X’ brand owned by Northcliffe Media (see This is South Wales / @thisisswales for examples). Not to mention, my Welsh dragon design.
I asked people on Twitter if I should be upset about this – after all, this is another of my ‘free’ designs, and @thisiswales didn’t actually seem to be for any kind of profit.
It turned out that most were more outraged on my behalf than I was! (Thanks everyone!)
In the process of complaining, I may have upset the account’s owner, but he did remove my design later that day as he promised he would. Well, kind of. As I write this I notice that the background image still contains my work, but I think I’ll declare victory anyway.
The owner denied any wrongdoing, claiming that he “recently took on @thisiswales with logo already in place.” This may be true, but I have actually been aware of the account since July, and at that time it linked to the same Mr. @uselessdesires. Depends how you define recent I suppose.
I do realise both of these cases are pretty trivial. It’s not like Paperchase or Urban Outfitters have stolen my work to be used to fuel their profit machine. In the worst case, a blogger has been denied 100 hits a day that weren’t really contributing anything of real value anyway.
But it’s frustrating to offer something for free, yet still have it taken without permission asked or credit given, especially when the casual theft can have a negative impact on me. It makes me want to use a more traditional full-copyright licence, and go after people who take the piss.
I wonder where they’ll turn up next?
UPDATE 2011.10.18: Tumblr got back to me; they have suspended the blog that was using my penguin image. A bit harsh perhaps, but I’m not going to complain. It will be interesting to see if I regain my ranking (or if Mr. Clipart manages to get his Tumblr blog reinstated).
If you do a Google search for ‘cartoon penguin‘, one of the top results will be an old Inkscape design of mine:
He’s pretty popular too, bringing a steady stream of traffic to the site. I licensed him as Creative Commons BY-NC-SA, meaning that it’s fine to use the image for forum avatars and stuff, but not for anything commercial.
Of course, people do. Last year someone pointed out some guy selling t-shirts with a slightly modified version of the penguin.
Today, out of curiosity, I did a reverse image search and found two other clipart criminals…
A group of classical music lovers have successfully appealed for funds to release copyright-free versions of symphonies by four famous composers. The money will pay for an orchestra to record the music on an “all rights basis”.
The project, Musopen, aims to deal with a problem caused by the way copyright laws work. Although the actual symphonies written by composers in, for example, the 19th century are long out of copyright, there is separate protection for every individual performance by an orchestra. That means that in most cases, the only recordings currently in the public domain are very old performances generally recorded with poor quality equipment and plagued with hiss and crackle.
This is such a brilliant project, and another fantastic example of Kickstarter helping people make great ideas become a reality.
Via codinghorror who says: “I suspect this backdooring (omglol) of humor into Wikipedia through song synopses won’t be tolerated for long.”
Probably, but I had to back this one up here! :D
This is the first example I’ve seen of someone ripping of my work and profiting from it (or at least selling it).
I think he’s actually made some pretty nice tweaks to it: The sketched look works really well, he’s improved the beak a bit and the positioning of the feet. The plaster is a nice touch too. It’s still clearly mine though.
I’ve spent this evening working on a cartoon penguin in Inkscape. I’ll release this with a liberal Creative Commons licence and as an SVG when I’m sure I’m happy with it. I’ve also attached my work in progress for those who may be curious. Any constructive criticism is welcomed. :)