Q: Am I allowed to copy images from newspapers, etc? What are my copyright obligations here?

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A:  I would not copy images from websites, although I’ve seen some people use smaller degraded thumbnails (of charts, for instance) that point back to the originals.   In any case, proper attribution of any content is the defacto norm for most ‘professional’ bloggers.  

Fair use is tricky to navigate (or not) – especially when comparing the perspective of industry versus activists.  For example, Shephard Fairey is going to get his ass sued-off by the AP for his interpretation of a photo of Obama which became the iconic “Change” poster.  The problem is – in my opinion – that this may be considered a derivative work [wiki], and is possibly covered under fair use.  AP’s actions could be interpreted as  akin to Campbell Soup or the estate of Marilyn Monroe suing Andy Warhol).

Stanford University – home to Creative Commons founder Larry Lessig, has this video which humorously describes fair use:

YouTube Preview Image

Expect to see much more discussion over this, especially regarding quotes and excerpts, particularly as the Cold War between print (led by the AP) and Google ‘heats up’.

The essence of the answer to your question is NO.  The newspaper industry is a wounded, frightened animal.  I would caution you to avoid anything that could expose yourself to financial or reputational liability now or in the future. In any case, proper attribution of any content is the defacto norm for most ‘professional’ bloggers.  BlogHerald details some of the common practices of attribution:

  1. Quoting: If the original work is part of a larger work, for example block quoting part of another article, an inline link is usually all that is required. Typically, when inline linking, you mention the person’s name and/or the site they write for and link to the original article. This can be done very easily in any blogging application and takes only seconds to do.
  2. Images: If you are using a image in your blog, it is usually best to get permission before copying and pasting. Once you have permission, either through a license or direct contact, the best way to provide attribution is usually a standard photo credit, something to the effect of “Photo/Image By: John Doe” with the name linked to the photographer or artist’s site. Ideally, this should be done under the photo but is often done at the end of the work itself just to save time. If multiple photos are used, either locate the attribution next to the photo or briefly describe the photo you are crediting.
  3. Full Work: If you are using a full work, it is also best to get permission. However, doing so requires more attribution than just an inline link. Most times, a full byline is strongly recommended “Article By: John Doe” with the person’s name. Many other times, a brief profile of the author and/or their site is added to the footer of such articles. This is typically worked out on a case-by-case basis with the author or the license they provide the work under.
  4. Embedded Media: Video clips and other embedded media such as YouTube clips, typically don’t require any formal attribution since the media itself usually links back to the original source. That being said, some inline links pointing to the creator’s site or profile is usually considered polite and is well-advised. There are very few norms here as much of this is still fairly new, but it is almost always better to give more attribution than less.
  5. Content Inside Video and Audio: If you, like the Richter Scales, are embedding content into an audio or video work, the best approach is typically to follow established guidelines for that industry, crediting the works you use in the credits at the end of the work in the format the medium requires. Also, generally speaking, most artists appreciate a link if possible on your site itself or in the notes that come with the file, such as with YouTube.

What I would recommend doing is sticking with the Tagaroo* images (which are sourced from the Creative Commons via Flickr) as well as searching the larger CC repository (Google is a good search source).  CC is a free, open-source licensing framework – I’d recommend reviewing the different types of licenses.

*Note: This WordPress blog has a pluginOpen Calais – sourced from Thompson Rueters which scans the text of posts as they are being written and suggests appropriate tags for names, places, events, products, corporations, subjects, and the like.  The plugin (via Tagaroo) also gives the author the ability to view Creative-Commons licensed photos related to those key words for insertion into the post.