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On one of the Stack Exchanges I frequent, an Asker included a link in the Question to a photo on the web site of a newspaper. Later, someone else (with the best of intentions, I am sure) edited the Q to convert that hyperlink to an Imgur uploaded image.

I flagged this as possible violation of copyright on a protected image. A couple days later, the flag was closed as "helpful" but the image still displays in the Q.

I have found two prior "related" posts, Clarifying fair use regarding a Stack Exchange site and an imgur hosted image and imgur, copyrighted images from the web, and imgur accounts, but neither answers my question.

If, as I strongly suspect, the photo is subject to copyright protection, then changing the hyperlink pointing to the image, to an embed of the copied and uploaded (to Imgur) image, may violate that copyright. If so, is it o.k. for Stackexchange to allow such a violation?

And a follow-up question: Would it perhaps be simpler to switch SE's image hoster to Wikimedia Commons, which has a very strict policy on copyright and many volunteers combing through the site every day to weed out violating uploads?

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    Commons has a relatively narrow scope for its content. I'm pretty sure it doesn't allow e.g. screenshots of someone random person's IDE problems. – JJJ Jun 26 '13 at 5:19
  • Most of the violations that take place on Stack Overflow are likely to be Fair Use. I guess that's why there is such a laissez-faire policy on these things – Pëkka Jun 26 '13 at 7:43
  • If I'm not mistaken, it is not accurate to characterize a violation as "Fair Use". Rather, Fair Use is a (legitimate) exemption, allowing to -- for example -- quote excerpts from a text for the purpose of discussion. I have my doubts that copying a photograph, uploading it to an image hosting service, and embedding the image in a SE posting falls under the Fair Use exemption. In addition, Fair Use is U.S. legal doctrine and will not necessarily apply in other parts of the world. – Eugene Seidel Jun 26 '13 at 7:46
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    Fair Use relies entirely on the context the resource is used in; whether it's copied to an image hosting service or not doesn't matter. Fair Use is indeed limited to the US, but similar concepts exist in most jurisdictions around the world, and for Stack Exchange, U.S. law is probably the most important as the servers are in the U.S. There are safeguards against copyright violations in place (DMCA takedown); SE would probably even get in trouble if they did any more than that – Pëkka Jun 26 '13 at 8:04
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    It would be nice to get an "official" answer from Stackexchange sometime (there is no rush). I have skimmed the Wikipedia article on Fair Use and find it inconclusive regarding this particular case (but I'm not a lawyer). – Eugene Seidel Jun 26 '13 at 8:18
  • Just as a note: Hotlinking without consent of the website/space owner is absolutely not acceptable. – Time Traveling Bobby Jun 26 '13 at 8:38
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    @M. Night Why not? – Eugene Seidel Jun 26 '13 at 8:50
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    In addition to it being a dick move to leech someone's bandwidth, there's no telling when the original website owner decides to remove the images or replace them with goatse. – JJJ Jun 28 '13 at 11:22
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    @Juhana The World Wide Web is a web of hyperlinks. If I publish on the Web then I expect that people will visit my page. Even better if they tell others so that they, too, come visit. That is not "leeching someone's bandwidth". However, it is possible to prevent images on one's webpages from being hyperlinked by others, although I don't know the technical details. Link rot is a risk, but that can't be helped. In any case this has nothing to do with this question, which is about copyright. – Eugene Seidel Jun 28 '13 at 11:33
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    Hotlinking != visiting web page. – JJJ Jun 28 '13 at 11:45
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    @Juhana Exactly, that's why it is preferable to give the link to the page on which an image resides, rather than linking to the image only. (I may have been guilty of doing the latter myself a few times ... but nobody's perfect.) – Eugene Seidel Jun 28 '13 at 11:48
  • I don't think the "fair use" argument holds any ground on StackExchange. While it might count for the users, you upload an image to SE (or their imgur to be correct) and make it their responsibility, in turn SE makes a profit by having good answers and displaying advertisements. Profit excludes fair use as far as I understand. – Baarn Aug 8 '13 at 9:47
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If the photo is subject to copyright protection, then changing the hyperlink pointing to the image, to an embed of the copied and uploaded (to Imgur) image, may violate that copyright. If so, is it o.k. for Stackexchange to allow such a violation?

Stack Exchange is not going to police copyright violations by their users. If there is a violation that the copyright owner makes them aware of, they will react according to their policy.

You, not being the copyright owner, are not party to the copyright, the user who made the change, Stack Exchange who hosts the change, or imgur who hosts the image. Bringing up a possible copyright violation, in other words "white knighting" for some third party wholly unrelated to you, isn't particularly helpful. Stack Exchange doesn't investigate possible copyright violations, and you, not owning the copyright and not knowing what permissions the user received, cannot hope to settle the matter. For that matter, Stack Exchange can't easily resolve the question either.

So it's generally best to do nothing but wait for the copyright holder to produce a cease and desist.

And a follow-up question: Would it perhaps be simpler to switch SE's image hoster to Wikimedia Commons, which has a very strict policy on copyright and many volunteers combing through the site every day to weed out violating uploads?

No, because wikimedia's policy doesn't match Stack Exchange's policy. Stack Exchange has a specific contract with imgur, and when you upload an image it's per the Stack Exchange policy. Wikimedia isn't likely to change their policy to match Stack Exchange, nor create a special repository with different terms. Imgur is already set up to work with such contracts.

  • Does this answer reflect Stack Exchange's official view? – hippietrail Oct 8 '14 at 23:42
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    @hippietrail I'm not a Stack Exchange valued associate, nor representative of Stack Exchange in any manner. – Adam Davis Oct 9 '14 at 4:00

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