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Dear Author

How to do a Google image search (and why you might...

Jane had a great post about copyright issues for photographs and other images. As anyone who has visited blogs and review sites has probably noticed, people are much more cavalier about using copyrighted images to illustrate their posts than they are about appropriating text. For whatever reason, authors, reviewers, and readers who are outraged about the copyright infringement of books don’t always make the connection that appropriation without permission is wrong in other creative domains as well.

This issue was highlighted a couple of months when Roni Loren wrote about how the copyright holder of an image she’d used demanded a fee for use, even after she apologized and took it down. Jane lays out the ways you can find photos to use that are public domain, have Creative Commons licenses, or are available for a minimal fee. In addition to the sources she provides in her post, there are additional suggestions in the comments.

But sometimes you want to use a photo and you can’t easily find who controls the rights. For these cases, I thought it might be helpful to discuss how you can trace the provenance of a photo you see on the internet.

During the GR kerfuffle over the predatory author, questions emerged about his real age. Some of the numbers being thrown around made it clear that the photo he used in his GR avatar and elsewhere couldn’t possibly be a current photo and might not even be of him. I decided to see if I could trace the photo to another source. It took about 15 minutes to discover that the photo was of someone else and that the author’s use was probably infringing. This infringement was subsequently confirmed by the copyright holder.

Probably as a result of the copyright holder’s new awareness of this unauthorized and fraudulent use of his work, the search has changed since I first conducted it. It’s still clear that the photo is of someone other than the other and I can trace the portfolio whence the photo came to the actual copyright holder, but I can’t reproduce the original search for you. But fear not, I have other examples! People put up fake photos of themselves on the internet all the time! Here’s one of an (erstwhile) aspiring m/m author using someone else’s photos.

There was also a major kerfuffle during earlier this year in the m/m writer community. A new gay male writer with a fascinating personal history appeared on the scene and was welcomed into the community. But after a while he began to say extremely insulting things about women writing m/m. The level of abuse escalated, and people began to try and figure out who he was. Eventually his probable real identity was outed in a blog post. His blog and Facebook page were deleted, but there were still interviews with him floating around the web, and these were frequently illustrated with photos that were presumably of him. In one interview there were three photos. I was curious about how easy it would have been to check and see if the photos were authentic.

I downloaded the photos from the interview page (right-click or control-click and “save image as”). Then I went to Google’s search page for images. At the right side of the search bar there is a camera icon:

I dragged the first photo I had downloaded into the search bar. The photo uploaded and the search results gave me all the places Google could find where the photo appeared. Some of these were the ones I had already seen, i.e., the interview and some other sites. Others looked like unauthorized uses of the photos. And be careful clicking through if you don’t recognize the site, some of them are extremely NSFW.

When I repeated the upload-and-search procedure with all the photos, I found that they came from three different sites. One was a PSA-type site on addictions. The second was a stock photo site. And the third was a studio photo taken by a professional photographer. At least two of these were extremely unlikely to be authorized use, and probably all three were unauthorized. They also appeared to be of different people.

The search took me less than an hour. Moral: If someone seems too beautiful to be true, they may well be. In the GR author example, Michael, the model, is a beautiful man. But he is not the GR author. In the second example, none of the three different (!) men in the photographs is the author. But the author was claiming to be a 20-something, handsome man, and they all fit that bill.

One final point: if you are using photographs where there is a clear human subject, there are constraints on how that subject can be used. That’s why professional photographers get something called a model release. If you can’t determine the specific terms of the release, you don’t know for certain whether the model has approved the type of use you want even if the photographer has granted permission. So you have a double bind: find the copyright holder and get permission, and ensure that the release covers the type of use you’re going to make of it. This isn’t usually an issue if you’re using the photo for non-commercial purposes. But for authors using photos on their professional websites and author blogs, and maybe even for reviewers who generate revenue, the bar may be higher.

There are plenty of professional photographers who know exactly what kind of release to obtain and are going to sell their photographs in ways that comport with that release. Do business with a member of that group and you should be fine. For more information, here is the Stanford University Fair Use site’s discussion of releases, and here is a discussion of a 2010 court case at Rebecca Tushnet’s blog.

If all this makes you feel as if you can’t put a photo on your site unless you took it yourself, it’s not that bad. Really! There are plenty of CC-friendly and public domain photos out there. And if you or other members of your family take digital photos, you probably have some lovely ones available that you haven’t thought to use. The various header photos I’ve used at my VacuousMinx blog have been taken by me or TheHusband, and if I forget to take a photo for a recipe (which is most of the time), I can usually find a public-domain photo of the main ingredient in Wikipedia or somewhere comparable (Wikipedia photos tell you the copyright status of each photo if you click through to the info page).

UPDATE: Nate points out in comments that you can search for Creative Commons-licensed images in Google and Flickr, using their advanced search options. Here’s a link to the Google Image search page, and here’s one for Flickr. Thanks, Nate!

There are also some excellent suggestions in the comments to an earlier version of this post at my VacuousMinx blog.


#BloggerTip: Using GravityForms to automate formatting of blog posts

#BloggerTip: Using GravityForms to automate formatting of blog posts

gravity form iconIf you couldn’t tell by the last couple of weeks’ posts about Automator and Belvedere, I am a big fan of automating repetitive tasks in my life. This way I can spend more time creating content, reading or just laying about the house. I’ve been telling everyone how much I enjoyed Charles Duhigg’s book “The Power of Habit” ( A | BN | K | S ) because the book is essentially Automator for your life. (Seriously, this is one of the most fascinating books I’ve read in years. I guess I’ll have to do a proper review of it. For bloggers who went to BEA, this was in your Random House Power Reader swag bag. Yellow cover. Red circles. Stick figures).

Gravity Forms, a paid plugin, is essentially automator for blog posts. In almost every blog post there is a repetitive task that is time consuming and tedious. What if you could create a form that would generate all that formatting automatically?

For reviews, for example, every post has this format:

Dear {Author’s Last Name}:

Blah blah blah

{Cover Image Left Align} more bla bla


{Buy Links}

For debut author questionnaires, authors are asked a number of questions. The questions are bolded and the answers are not. How tedious, right?  Not with gravity forms.

For both reviews and for questionnaires and almost every blog post that is created, I use a gravity form.  The form then feeds the inputted information into the body of the post and creates a draft for editing. Take a look at the debut author questionnaire form here.  The form asks for things like the author’s name, book title, year of release, website along with images for the blog post as well as all the standard questions in the interview.

Now look at the back end.  (Click for the entire image)   Each question is either a single text line or a paragraph text. No magic here.  The magic ensues when you use the Post Fields.  The Post Fields match the post fields in wordpress.

Gravity Forms Post Fields


None of these fields contain content that I’ve created.  Instead it is based on a text entry made by the person filling out the form.  For example, title is based on the {book name} by {author name}.

Gravity Forms Title Example

The post body is this:

I’ve had some concerns by readers who are primarily print readers that the coverage at Dear Author has been too focused on ebooks. When I asked the readers what they were interested in seeing, they responded that they would like to know more about print debut authors. We developed a little questionnaire and every Wednesday at 10:00 AM CST (as long as we have content) we’ll post the questionnaire answers along with links to the author’s site and a buy link to her book. I hope this helps people discovery new books. Now, on to the answers.

{Upload a high resolution image of your book:18:medium:center}

<strong>Name of debut release:</strong> {Name of debut release:1}

<strong>Release date:</strong> {Release date::2}

<strong>Publisher:</strong> {Publisher::3}

<strong>2 sentence summary:</strong> {2 sentence summary::4}

<strong>Genre:</strong> {Genre::5}

<strong>Characters:</strong> {Characters::6}

<strong>What makes this story different:</strong> {What makes this story different::7}

<strong>Is this a series?:</strong> {Name of the Series:9}

<strong>Why you wrote this book:</strong> {Why you wrote this book::10}

<strong>Why is this your first published book? How many did you write before?</strong> {Why is this your first published book? How many did you write before?:11}

<strong>What’s your writing process?</strong> {What’s your writing process?:12}

<strong>Your next published book.</strong> {Your next published book.:13}

<strong>The last book you read that you loved.</strong> {The last book you read that you loved.:15}

<strong>The last book you read for research.</strong> {The last book you read for research.:16}

<strong>The romance book character you most identify with.</strong> {The romance book character you most identify with.:17}

{Author Image:19:medium:center}

You can check out more about {Author Name:23} and her books at <a href=”{Website:27}”>{Website:27}</a>

<p style=”text-align:center”>AmazonBNSonyKobo]</p>

Thus these debut author questionnaires are built by the inputs of the individuals filling out the form. I even have the images correctly placed and correctly sized in the post body so I don’t need to go back and do that later.

Look at this line here:

You can check out more about {Author Name:23} and her books at <a href=”{Website:27}”>{Website:27}</a>

 As you can see, you can really harness the power of Gravity Forms to create nearly any type of  blog post.  Let’s look at the Review Form.  There are a few things I am doing here.  The Author’s Name is being used several times. First in the title:
REVIEW:  {Book Title:4} by {Author Name:12}
And then in the custom taxonomy (or custom tag) “Book Authors”:
Book Author Gravity Form
Finally, in the buy links:

As you can see, I already have the short code button styling there as well.  The image has already been set to be a “featured image” and I’ve coded in what size of image I want (medium) and where I want it (left aligned).  The book title, like the author name, is reused several places as well. When it is time to publish the review, it’s a quick check to see that everything is in place and then “publish.”

The biggest drawback for Gravity Forms is that the paid support you supposedly get is kind of non existent. I posted a question on the forums and it was never answered. I’ve read a few other complaints about the slowness of the Gravity Form support system so don’t expect to get a great customer service experience when you buy the plugin.  However, I think the plugin itself is amazing and a huge time saver for me.

Why do I share this information? Because I like to think that the blogging community is about sharing great ideas. The content of Dear Author determines whether people want to visit, not what tools I use to make it easier to blog. However, if you use Gravity Forms, you can use my affiliate link.