One of the most fascinating pictures that I have seen of an iceberg is this composition by photographer Ralph A. Clevenger -- this is a fully copyrighted picture, yet a quick search on Google Images will show that this picture has been used hundreds of times on the web (see Figure 1, below).
Figure 1: Search and you get hundreds of the same results
So have all these web sites licensed the picture? That doesn't appear to be true -- since this picture is sold at a very high price on Corbis -- they won't even publish the price on the Corbis site -- see Figure 2, below.
Figure 2: The same picture on Corbis
So why are we even discussing this picture? That's because the subject of picture copyrights is not always clear -- and how can you even know if the picture you are using is copyright free or not? Unless the picture is placed within a Creative Commons license on a reputed site such as Flickr, there is no way you can really trust any site that says that a picture is free to use! This picture is therefore a perfect case study -- let us start with a little history.
I first saw this picture used in a presentation slide -- and this was one of those slides that stayed in my memory. It stayed long enough that I wanted to use it in my own slide where I was using an iceberg as an analogy to explain a difficult concept to my audience. I searched for iceberg pictures on iStockphoto, Fotolia, Bigstock, and many other sites -- but could not find this picture anywhere. Of course, there were many similar pictures available on all these sites -- but none of them looked half as good as the original!
Imagine my surprise then -- when I found this picture freely available using Google's Image search options -- some results were actually fairly high resolution pictures! Most of these high res variations were freely downloadable from wallpaper sites. Now some of these wallpaper sites proclaim that these pictures are copyrighted by them -- you might actually end up believing that this picture belongs to them, and they are kind enough to allow you to use it! Fortunately, that thought did not satisfy me -- and I am so glad that I was not contented with that conclusion, as you will learn later in this post!
Most Google Image search results can span many pages -- or at least you need to use the "Page Down" key multiple times. One such instance of this picture actually led to a page with a story about this picture. Apparently, this picture was composed of four pictures (two icebergs, one sky, and one water) by photographer Ralph A. Clevenger -- there was also a nice video clip that had a small interview with the photographer on YouTube -- find this video clip embedded here.
This story and some more research led me to Corbis -- so now I know that this was not a copyright free picture -- in fact, this was a very expensive picture! That does mean I cannot use this picture in my presentation -- so I just had to select for the second best this time and use a Creative Commons licensed picture from Wikimedia Commons instead -- this picture was also a photo-montage composed of different pictures.
So what's the moral of this story? You need to be sure that anything you are using is within copyright limits -- sometimes you may not see the obvious, but be persistent and do your research well.
This picture is so familiar – therefore it makes a great topic to discuss copyrights. But then you also need to know about clichés – don’t go and use this iceberg picture in your next presentation! As my friend Carmen Simon points out:
Copyright or no copyright, that iceberg picture has been used so much in presentations for the past few years that it has become a cliché. I was working with someone just a few weeks ago and he said "Can we use the iceberg pic?" and my reaction was please, not the iceberg picture again! So the advice that I would have for people is that if they look for a picture on Google and they see so many references to it, then don't even bother to check copyright; better to search for another picture because the climax is gone, the concept is too beaten up, and the freshness is gone.
Excellent article, Geetesh.
Carmen, your counterpoint is spot on. The iceberg concept has been overused for at least 20 years!
This is an issue I wrestle with constantly as I seek images for presentations. What do you think about Google's Advanced Search whereby one can qualify the images that come up as "free to use" and "free to use, even commercially"? Based on your article it seems like even this qualification wouldn't be enough but I'd like to learn your thoughts.
Laura, I doubt if there's a complete solution to this problem since every image is a different case altogether. However, being curious and intuitive can help -- and that's where a human can score higher than a computer :)
April 2003 | May 2003 | December 2003 | January 2004 | February 2004 | March 2004 | April 2004 | May 2004 | June 2004 | July 2004 | August 2004 | September 2004 | October 2004 | November 2004 | December 2004 | January 2005 | February 2005 | March 2005 | April 2005 | May 2005 | June 2005 | July 2005 | August 2005 | September 2005 | October 2005 | November 2005 | December 2005 | January 2006 | February 2006 | March 2006 | April 2006 | May 2006 | June 2006 | July 2006 | August 2006 | September 2006 | October 2006 | November 2006 | December 2006 | January 2007 | February 2007 | March 2007 | April 2007 | May 2007 | June 2007 | July 2007 | August 2007 | September 2007 | October 2007 | November 2007 | December 2007 | January 2008 | February 2008 | March 2008 | April 2008 | May 2008 | June 2008 | July 2008 | August 2008 | September 2008 | October 2008 | November 2008 | December 2008 | January 2009 | February 2009 | March 2009 | April 2009 | May 2009 | June 2009 | July 2009 | August 2009 | September 2009 | October 2009 | November 2009 | December 2009 | January 2010 | February 2010 | March 2010 | April 2010 | May 2010 | June 2010 | July 2010 | August 2010 | September 2010 | October 2010 | November 2010 | December 2010 | January 2011 | February 2011 | March 2011 | April 2011 | May 2011 | June 2011 | July 2011 | August 2011 | September 2011 | October 2011 | November 2011 | December 2011 | January 2012 | February 2012 | March 2012 | April 2012 | May 2012 | June 2012 | July 2012 | August 2012 | September 2012 | October 2012 | November 2012 | December 2012 | January 2013 | February 2013 | March 2013 | April 2013 | May 2013 | June 2013 | July 2013 | August 2013 | September 2013 | October 2013 | November 2013 | December 2013 | January 2014 | February 2014 | March 2014 | April 2014 | May 2014 | June 2014 | July 2014 | August 2014 | September 2014 | October 2014 | November 2014 | December 2014 | January 2015 | February 2015 | March 2015 | April 2015 | May 2015 | June 2015 | July 2015 | August 2015 | September 2015 | October 2015 | November 2015 | December 2015 | January 2016 | February 2016 | March 2016 | April 2016 | May 2016 | June 2016 | July 2016 | August 2016 | September 2016 | October 2016 |
Microsoft and the Office logo are trademarks or registered trademarks of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other countries.