Monday 1 June 2015

Finders Keepers (losers weepers) and intellectual property

By Kayleen West

Fair game or war?

In preschool, I’d sometime hear a child yelling, “finders keepers (losers weepers)!” as another stood weeping. “Finders-keepers” is a phrase meaning; if you found something lost to a previous owner, by verbalising this phrase to a witness, one could claim ownership. When the owner didn’t manifest it was harmless. However, often the owner would step in claiming temporary displacement and conflict would arise. A reasonable child would see the mistake and return the lost property. Not all were reasonable. The finders keepers law totally disregarded the feelings or principals of the ownership. It enabled bullies or selfish children to claim what was not rightfully theirs. Losers were weepers! Children understood sacred possession and a rightful transfer usually involved a gift, a purchase, or revoked privilege from a legitimate authority like a teacher or parent.

Today—in the internet playground—our creative works are stumble upon and claimed based on a finders keepers (losers weepers) mentality. Mythical rules have been created to justify claims on art, ideas and literature. Like in the school years the owners are not happy!

Exploring image usage and copyright as I understand it...

Online writings or images are not free. You cannot and should not assume ownership.

Copyright laws vary internationally. In Australia an artist owns automatic Copyright on all creations from the moment it is created. This includes photography. It is against Australian copyright law to use any images without appropriate permission. This means on your Facebook header and avatar too people! Always assume unlawful use unless you discover otherwise. Ensure rights or permissions are obtained directly from the artist where possible.

Most legitimate stock sites are not free. Licences can vary so read carefully. What may be permissible to use on a website may not necessarily be for a logo or on a product. Some stock sites like Lightstock offer free images if you sign up to their e-news. Places like Pixabay offer images for a volunteer donation.

There is no percentage rule, whereby if you alter a certain percentage of an image you are free to copy or use. Even using a tiny part of an image (if substantial to the idea or design) can be in breach. For example: A painting’s key element is the tiny black-and-white striped apple. It is a tiny element of a large canvas full of other imagery. Replicating the apple may be in breach and liable in a court of law.

Derivative work...

Derivative work needs to be very different from the original. You need to create something unique enough, that no one recognises the original source. When gathering online reference, use as many images as possible to study only. Use them to explore a subject well enough to create something new. There are copyright free resource and reference books that you can purchase should you want to copy too closely.

Social media...Don't creatives want to be shared and seen?

Most artists are somewhat lenient with image sharing. They want their portfolio to be noticed appropriately. Always contact them for permission and link to their website with credits. I like to know how my images are used. No one wants their work representing something unethical or used for profit without some remuneration but are often delighted when others admire, share and link back. I brand all my images so others can find my website at least when shared. Use common sense when sharing Facebooks statuses etc. Social media is copyright breach city! Try and search the original source and add credits to help artists, quote writers appropriately, and share links. Don’t use any social media in your work publically though. You can find sources often by dropping the image into Google’s image search box—easy! You can track breaches this way too.


Regardless of copyright law, it’s important to remember fairness. Be mindful of the creator’s time and vision. When influenced and excited by other creatives, ask yourself, am I creating something completely original? If not, you may need to revisit your process. Creatives want to share but need to know it’s safe. They deserve to be respected by their community. Finally, don’t cheat yourself. To quote John Manson - “We were born an original, don't die a copy.”


I am not a legal professional and do not claim to be. I need the assistance of an IP lawyer in this area of expertise. You will need to do the same for any and all legal advice and actions. You will also need to check current laws appropriate to you. This article is not a legal document

Kayleen is an award winning children's author, illustrator, designer and creative educator. Her works hang in private and corporate collections around the world including the Australian Embassy in Ireland. Since late 2009 she has authored picture books, Adoptive Father and Without Me? and illustrated, Better Than A Superhero, Celia and Nonna and the soon to be released, We Worship God by Xist Publishing.

You can view her portfolio and blog at


  1. So very helpful, Kayleen! Too easy to innocently do the wrong thing.
    Q: What about the pics everyone shares on Facebook? I have copied them and shared on my timeline and also send to friends? Is that OK?

  2. Hi Rita, yes many people are not informed about the ethics of copyright. As far as I understand copyright laws apply to Facebook too but look at their user agreement. I hear that Facebook covered themselves in their user agreement. Individuals are responsible for what they post and agree to Facebook sharing of their images when posting. This still doesn't give permission to do anything else with the images or take them outside Facebook. It is up to each person to ensure they are posting what is legal. I believe most people are happy for sharing if their work is being promoted in some way or credited. Not all though. I don't think it is advisable to use art for headers, avatars or in a quote like I did above though. When businesses and artist created quotes like I did above it us usually for sharing. In my panda one above I have the web address on it intentionally. As long as it stayed as I created it, I wouldn't mind sharing on the internet. That is what they are for. I don't want anyone selling it as a product or making cards from it. Using this image like that would rob someone who sells cards of their earnings and a potential card company from licensing mine. I wouldn't pull an image quote from a website to share without permission. This is no different to grabbing art for your website without paying for it. I have shared things before myself forgetting to check and wondering later if it was okay. I try to ensure that the artist is credited though.

  3. Thanks Kayleen. Some great tips there. I try to use my own photos for blog posts, but it's always tempting to find just the right photo online. Thanks for the reminder that we need to be careful how we use images.

    1. You are most welcome Nola. I'm glad you enjoyed the article.

  4. Kayleen, great post.

    It is worth noting, if you are looking for a particular image, you can go to and do your search, then click on Search Tools, Usage Rights and you get the following options:

    * Not filtered by license
    * Labeled for reuse with modification
    * Labeled for reuse
    * Labeled for noncommercial reuse with modification
    * Labeled for noncommercial reuse


    1. Mark thank for that! This is great information. I didn't know that. This would be worth adding to the article.

  5. Kayleen, great post! Social media is a minefield in regards to copyright and appropriate use of intellectual property. Like Nola, I use my own photos and images for blog posts. Thanks for visiting ACW :)

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  6. You are most welcome Narelle. Thanks for inviting me to share with my fellow creatives.

    Do you think Mark's comment could be added to the bottom of my article please?


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