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Thursday, September 7

Fair Enough

Texts to have read:

Work to have done:

  • Post reflections and questions about readings, especially ethical sourcing
  • Update or change contributions to the media library to respect copyright and fair use, and to cite sufficiently that someone could locate their sources

Key Questions and Considerations (20-30 min)

On copyright

Does all of my work technically have a copyright? (Caleb)

Yes, unless you signed your rights to it away (e.g. to a company like Turnitin). You don't need to register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office; rather, "Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device" (

On Google Images and the Public Domain

If I can find something on Google Images, it must be available for public use, right? (Abby)

Alas, no – it's in a public space, but you're no more guaranteed the right to reproduce or modify the image than you are to take and eat a cookie from a bake sale without paying, even if the bake sale is set up outside the public library. In both cases, there's a good chance someone is putting those items there to attract your attention for the purposes of some other transaction. Google Images will turn up commercial sites, professional photography portfolios, and things like this, for which the artists and photographers have a reasonable right to expect compensation (which may be based on page hits that your reproduction of the image will take away).

But luckily, Google Images does provide some tools to filter its results to works you can use:
Search for a copyleft image of a kid eating spaghetti, demonstrating process to filter Google Image search by usage rights

Note that this took us to Pixabay, one of several good permissive (or "copyleft") image repositories. You can access several of them by starting your search at

Screenshot of, showing the services it can access, such as Flickr, Pixabay, and Google Images

But note that even this is not a guarantee; it's just here for convenience:
Detail from previous image, highlighting CC's clarification that you should verify the actual license of the works returned.

On Fair Use

How is it fair that "fair use involves subjective judgments, often affected by factors such as a judge or jury’s personal sense of right or wrong," or that "a morally offended judge or jury may rationalize its decision against fair use?" The fact that a fair use trial is in the hands of potentially biased individuals does not seem, well, fair. (Abby)

Fair point (pun acknowledged) – but the thing is, there's no way to make a standard that will function with pure objectivity, and no person (or even algorithm) that can be entirely free of bias. So we need humans, fallible though they are, to adjudicate questions like these:

What is officially considered a small portion of the whole work? (Gwen)

I've heard that any artist/creator has an unofficial copyright on their work, and if someone else tries to use it, the original creator (if there is no official copyright) must provide proof that they created it first. However, I have also heard that as long as a user modifies found images, they are free to use them for whatever purpose. [...] where is the line drawn for what is modified enough and what isn't? (Alyssa)

There seems to be a fine line as to what constitutes fair use based on the purpose and character of use. I remember in art class in high school our teacher never let us use reference pictures that we hadn't taken ourselves for paintings. Where is the line drawn for what is fair to use when creating a new work? (Taylor)

All of these questions are answered on a case-by-case basis, by weighing the four factors: purpose of use, nature of the copyrighted work, amount of work cited, and market effect of the use. Sometimes those factors point in different directions; what you choose to do as a creator in that situation depends on your estimation of the risk that you'll either do harm or be harmed (e.g. by a lawsuit), and your tolerance level for the risk you've calculated.

For a very partial list of some cases and how they were decided, see

For a fun video about how so much of current copyright law is based on Disney's refusal to let go of Mickey Mouse, see A Fair(y) Use Tale.

On Citation and Credibility

The book has a rule that if you cite something, a reader must be able to find it themselves. What if it's not something that is easily accessible? Like a copyright of a recording on someone's iPhone? A reader wouldn't be able to find that, so how would the reader know it's a credible source? (Alyssa)

The image in question is of an old woman's eyes, and it's a thumbnail from a video from a website that looked sort of shady. Since the photo is not a central aspect of the video, and the website itself doesn't seem to have any actual merit, do I still have to credit the original uploader? (Jeff)

As with fair use, how much of a citation is required, and whether it helps or hurts your case, is going to be very context-dependent. Credibility is rhetorical: you build your ethos, your projected authorial self, through the way you incorporate source material. If you're pulling from "shady" sites, does that make you a great scavenger of overlooked found material – or does it make you, yourself, seem shady? If you're drawing on a video you took yourself, does that make you isolated from the public conversation – or does it make you an independent filmmaker? Depends on who's reading, and what you're doing with the material.

In general, though, it's not necessary to cite something unpublished, especially if it's work you prepared yourself. And it's generally a right friendly gesture to offer credit for work you didn't yourself prepare.

On Privacy

The pictures I chose were ones of my family friends for their wedding. While I know these are considered fair use, I wonder if I need to get their permission to publish them in any way on the internet, even if they are part of a school project. [...] Perhaps just checking with the subjects of my photo will be enough to at least ensure that their privacy is not violated. (Jappman)

I know we're getting a little long into this run of questions, but this one seems important, and related to my last comment above: even when something isn't required or prohibited by law, it's just good ethics to think about the people who might be affected by your actions. That includes, yes, all the commercial impact stuff that comes up with fair use; but it also includes people's reasonable expectations of privacy. If it's not hard to get in touch with the person whose photograph you want to use, why not do so? The worst they can say is no.

One final, related note: this site is public and searchable on the open web, as I mentioned on the first day of class. Even though the site is for educational purposes, if you're not transforming the image by commenting on it or changing its meaning, it's probably better to find an image you feel more solid defending as a fair or licensed use.

Visual Unit Project, introduced

There's a handout, but here are the basics:

  • The goal is to produce a single composite image that draws attention to something of your choice.
  • Related genres include posters, fliers, album covers, book covers, infographics, maybe even bookmarks.
    • There's no need to print these out, since full-bleed printing and stock paper get expensive.
  • The first draft is due in one week (Th 9/14), when we'll have workshop. (Between now and then, I'll ask for volunteers to go first; maybe people with a lot of experience doing this kind of thing?) The final draft is due in 2.5 weeks (Tu 9/26).
  • The content is up to your interests: what do you want to direct the rest of the class's attention to?
    • Parachute prompt: If you can't think of anything else, make an infographic about one of the reading assignments, i.e. on the Five Principles of New Media, or on the Lo-Fi Manifesto, or on Fair Use. For some examples of academic infographics, see the Thinker/Thought tumblr, showcasing work by Nathaniel Rivers, a professor at St. Louis University.
    • ALT: You may, if you wish, do a major redesign of an existing visual appeal; if you want to take this option, though, please run it by me first.

As for the criteria, we'll be talking next week about what you think should be the minimum baselines – the hurdles you hope everyone can achieve, even given limited time – and a range of aspirational goals that will be optional, but can offer ways to earn above a B (even if you try them and they don't work out).


If time allows, I'd asked Annie to give a little mini-lesson on designing and the Rule of Threes. Thanks, Annie!

Studio Time / Planning and Sketching

I'm going to give you the rest of the day to work on your projects, and to call me over with questions that Google can't help you with.

Recommended starting points; either pick one or do them in sequence:

  • Take a few minutes to make a list of the possibilities for your content. What are you interested in or excited about right now, that you might want to share with others?
  • If you know you want to work in a particular genre, take a few minutes to think over examples of that genre that struck you as excellent. What were they doing that caught your eye? What's happening or appealing in your life right now that their designs remind you of?
  • Make 2-4 different design sketches on paper, then try to make them happen in software.

Homework for Next Time

  • Administrative
    1. If you haven't yet, please fill out the Tech Comfort Survey.
    2. If you have filled out the survey, please schedule a conference with me at your convenience.
    3. Install git on a machine that you're likely to use at home
  • Inputs
    1. Read Writer/Designer chapters 1 ("What are Multimodal Projects?") and 2 ("Analyzing Multimodal Projects"), including especially the online definitions.
    2. Watch or read tutorials and walkthroughs for the particular things you want to do in GIMP or git.
    3. Notice visual appeals to your attention in the world around you. What draws your eye? What do you think makes that happen?
  • Outputs
    1. If you haven't yet done so, sketch some ideas for your project
    2. Begin drafting in GIMP to get a sense of what's easily doable for you, and what's starting to look like a reach.
    3. Track your progress: at least once per working session, save a new commit to git and give it a descriptive message about the state of the project or what you were trying to do. (Note that you can add any number of any type of files to this commit, so feel free to include text-based planning documents or take photos of your design sketches and throw those in there, too.)
    4. Be ready to share in small groups one thing you've figured out how to do in GIMP.