If Google Images does it, is it legal?

If you pop down to the comments at an earlier post, you’ll find that a chap called Mark was very upset I used a thumbnail (100 pixels wide, 67 high) of one of his photos. In fact, I’ve done exactly the same in this post with another gentleman’s work (albeit this one is under Creative Commons), so you can get an idea of what happened. Mark is well within his legal rights to complain, though we thought it was rather funny and slightly hypocritical that he spent all that time investigating me and my company when he could have written a polite message.
   But this post isn’t about how short his fuse is or how he uses his time. I have written to people who have taken my work before, too, and have been far more effective, but they’re cases of entire duplication (a new copy on their server, no acknowledgement and no links back). I responded to him both privately and publicly, explaining that he was credited (though it could have been done better), and the thumbnail was hosted on and linked back to his Flickr account. I take with the non-response that he has conceded my point, but how do others feel in 2010 about thumbnail linking?
   The law basically says that even thumbnail linking is illegal. It is technically a copyright infringement in most jurisdictions (the claim of ‘theft’ is wrong) although one could easily use fair use as a defence. Mark, as any photographer, also has a moral right over his work over which he can determine how it is to be used.
   As I explained to him, my approach is to look at how I would feel (and I’m OK with a linked thumbnail, even without credit), and since his is the only complaint of this kind in four years of this blog, I’m going to have to take his position as a minority opinion in the days of Google Images and the like, which do even less with acknowledgement.
   But it raises a fascinating question. It’s probably not as major as the controversy over Google Books, and it has been covered elsewhere before, but evidently it’s an ongoing issue.
   How do people feel about thumbnail linking? Internally we are fine with it, but we are too small a sample to base a judgement on. Or, for that matter, what about the reproduction (and often uploading) of “found” items on Tumblr, where such behaviour is the norm?

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