[thelist] Ethical issues concerning re-use (and heavy modification) of images

Simon Willison simon at incutio.com
Wed May 8 22:37:01 CDT 2002

I recently discovered a fantastic tool for creating images for web sites -
the "Trace Bitmap..." option in Flash. For those who haven't experienced
this superb tool it can take a bitmap image (be it a gif, jpeg or whatever)
and convert it into a flash vector, with astonishingly high quality results.

Here's my dilemma. If I take a copyrighted image and apply this process to
it, then modify the image to a large extent, is it ethical (or legal) for
me to use the new image in my own work without express permission of the
copyright owner? Case in point - I recently found the following image of a
rose on the web (via google image search):


With the aid of "Trace Bitmap" I created the following - something I would
not have been able to do without the original image:


It is virtually impossible to tell that the one was derived from the other,
and although I am not at all worried about the legal implications of using
such an image I am held back by my ethical concerns (especially as I would
love to use this technique more in the future). A what point (if ever) does
a derivative work free itself from copyright restrictions of the original?


Simon W.

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