Today in LinkedIn I saw this question which went on to query what use could be made of images found in Google images:
"What's the appropriate legal and ethical practice for using as clip art images from non-clip art databases, where the artist isn’t identified and the copyright and creative commons rights aren't clear?" [Rest of question deleted for brevity.]
I replied with an answer as follows (edited again for brevity here):
Predrag Mitrovic - Notes the anomaly that seems at heart of the issue of the difference between traditional ethics/law approaches VERSUS contemporary internet user "content sharing or mashup" practices. This tussle or shift in what's right is fueling the emerging tension/confusion as to what is best from a law + ethics perspective.
I like the cheeky response of Predrag Mitrovic. (Mitrovic floated a balloon about why it is that Google itself never asks permission to reproduce images in its image search facility, even if it is just a link to an image.] He underlines why the [above] question is such a good one. Of course Google has fought at law on the point about its reproductions of images in particular, and won battles (in the U.S., eg the Perfect 10 cases) or settled battles (in Europe, eg the Netherlands newspaper cases).
We live in interesting copyright times. Reflecting on copyright law in Australia (very similar to U.S. law), in 1993 I wrote an article titled How Much Can You Copy? - http://tinyurl.com/ks4ptb. I keep going back to it as the law has moved little [except to expand the rights of copyright owners] but internet user practices are several generations ahead. Locally there are signs [eg the IceTV April, 2009 High Court decision] that even the judges in our highest courts are getting the message that it's time to not reward minimal creativity.