Dealing With Copyright in WordPress

Copyright NoticeAs many of you know (or have noticed), over the past two years, I’ve gotten very serious about copyright on this site. It’s not just a question of the law. I want to do right by people. I don’t like them taking my stuff and I don’t want to take their stuff. The whole issue was very big to me, but it became very personally one year ago when I got some email from the great photojournalist Leif Skoogfors. The moral and legal aspects of using other people’s work are very clear. The practical aspects are, well, a nightmare.

The biggest problem that I have is that there are almost 8,000 articles on Frankly Curious — the vast majority of them with images. And of those, at last 6,500 of them were published before I had my copyright awakening. Now even in those early days, I did my best to use what I thought were public domain images. And when using images that I knew were commercial, I did my best to do so in a way that would fall under the vague notion of Fair Use.

But it turns out that I was badly mistaken about what represented public domain. I think I was better on the Fair Use issue. But regardless, I have several thousand images that really need to be inventoried and dealt with. And I’m doing this: slowly and in a totally haphazard way. But I’ve come up with some ways to avoid these problems in the future.

Image Copyright

Most of the images that I use on this site are licensed under one of the Creative Commons licenses. In these cases, it’s fine to use the images, but I have to provide attribution. As a result, at the bottom of new pages, there is a horizontal rule with small, italicized text explaining what I’ve done. A good example is what I did for Conservative Mum: Portrait of a Serial Troll:

That’s just what’s required. But what I’m doing to make my life easier in the future is using WordPress’ Description field in the ATTACHMENT DETAILS form. For this image, I added “PD,” for public domain, to the field. (Given that I altered it, the image may not technically be in the public domain. But from my perspective it is.) I then copy all the licensing text above, so that if I use the image again, I can just copy and paste it into any article where I use it.

Copyright Display

In order to get the licensing information to display in this way, I’ve created a CSS class called copyright. I then attach it to a div tag and the rest works like magic.

The CSS is very simple:

  margin-top: 1em;
  border-top: 1px #999 solid;
  font-style: italic;
  font-size: 0.8em;
  margin-bottom: 1em;

That all makes my life a lot easier. Normally, I add the copyright text before I add the image itself. It’s something I enjoy doing. This may be because of all my misdeeds in the past. I feel good doing what is right. This is doubtless why I document public domain images, even though I am not legally required.

Video Copyright

With video, things are different. I don’t actually publish video; I just embed it. But copyright still plays a major role. I am constantly dealing with pages that include some bit of embedded video that disappears — usually because of a copyright issue. Sometimes, I have to replace them — or, in rare cases, delete them altogether. (See, for example, A Pair of Pliers and a Blowtorch.)

A problem I run into a lot, however, is figuring out what the video was. Generally, I don’t want to read the whole article. And that’s often what’s required so I can conjure what I was thinking when I wrote it. And sometimes I can’t even manage that. So I’ve decided to provide captions for my videos. Like this:

From DailyMotion: Porky’s Duck Hunt.

Documenting Videos

When I first used that video, it was in Anniversary Post: Daffy Duck Is Born! And there is really nothing to go on regarding what the video is except for, “Daffy Duck V 1.0: Anyway, here is the short that started it all…” Okay, so I would know to find the first Daffy Duck cartoon. But you get the idea.

This is accomplished in much the same way:

  margin-top: 1em;
  text-align: center;
  font-style: italic;
  font-size: 0.8em;
  margin-bottom: 1em;

The only problem with this is that if the text is long enough, it won’t wrap at the same width as the video. This would be trivial if all the videos were the same width. But they aren’t. I’m sure I could work this out, but I don’t feel up to spending the time on it. Plus, because of server-side caching, I’m having enough problems. And I don’t think this is going to be an issue in the vast majority of circumstances.

So there you have it: my solutions to the practical problems that result from trying to do copyright correctly. It’s all a bit of a pain. But images add so much to the experience of visiting the website. I know that I’d be bored looking at the site if it didn’t have the images that it does.


Because of server-side caching and my content delivery network, it is possible that the video above will be display incorrectly. I’m still trying to figure out how to do caching correctly. Maybe when I do, I’ll write about it here. I do know that I don’t have my caching set up properly here. It’s just a question of time.

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