How The Public Domain Coronavirus 'Beauty Shot' You Now See Everywhere Came To Be

from the public-domain-ftw dept

By now, you've probably seen this image of the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19 a million times:

It's freaking everywhere. And it's in the public domain. That's because it was created by employees at the CDC, and as a work of the US government it is exempt from copyright laws, meaning anyone can use it. Which is probably why everyone uses it. One of the many reasons why a public domain is so useful.

The NY Times has a nice story about how the image came to be that's well worth reading.

On Jan. 21, the day after the C.D.C. activated its emergency operations center for the new coronavirus, Ms. Eckert and her colleague Dan Higgins were asked to create “an identity” for the virus. “Something to grab the public’s attention,” she said. Ms. Eckert expected that whatever they came up with might appear on a few cable news programs, as their creations had in the past.

Instead, as the pandemic spread and intensified, their rendering’s reach did, too. “It started popping up around the world,” she said.

The story goes into a fair bit of detail about how it was created and also some of the design choices that Alissa Eckert and Dan Higgns made to make that design so memorable.

They chose a stony texture, wanting it to seem like “something that you could actually touch,” Ms. Eckert said. Other details — like the level of realism and the lighting, which has the spikes cast long shadows — were calibrated to “help display the gravity of the situation and to draw attention,” she said.

After reading about that, I discovered that there were a variety of other images of this particular coronavirus used around the globe. Here's just a few (there are so many more...):

Indeed, this is the image that the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has been using:

Not quite as nice as the CDC's... and thanks to more murky copyright laws in the EU, not as clear if it's in the public domain, so wasn't nearly as likely to catch on and become the symbol we all associate with COVID-19.

Filed Under: cdc, copyright, covid-19, illustration, public domain


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  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 3 Apr 2020 @ 5:51pm

    PR vs Reality

    Those are all nice depictions. I wonder, however, what an electron microscope shot of the actual virus looks like. In color and nicely lit would be nice, but beggars can't be choosers. Oh, and public domain of course.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2020 @ 8:51pm

      Re: PR vs Reality

      The CDC picture is an electron microscope shot. But you can't have nicely lit colour, as the wavelength of visible light is larger than the virus itelf. There is no colour at all in this size range, nor shadows. I think that's why the artist's choices are mentioned here - a flat, grey representation is less effective than a remodelled picture with two colours to show the difference between the lipid wall and the protein spikes, and shading to show the shape.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Crafty Coyote, 3 Apr 2020 @ 7:47pm

    Just another example of how the public domain is useful, nobody has to get sued over using government-produced images and information because our tax dollars helped make the image. Would be nice if the creators of images could be as generous, rather than seeking rent for every use. I'd bring up the namesake for my name on this site, but it wouldn't be the appropriate time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2020 @ 8:01pm

    Yeah, that can accurately represent the problem inside the body/nervous system that is the basis of the "coronavirus" issue.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 3 Apr 2020 @ 9:19pm

      Re:

      You're free to come up with an image that represents that if you don't think a picture of the actual virus is good enough.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2020 @ 11:13pm

        Re: Re:

        There are better ways to illustrate the issue but a depiction of what is happening in the nervous system is actually a good way to explain it to various audiences who have been made aware of different aspects of the problem.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 3 Apr 2020 @ 11:53pm

    A Quick Remix

    Something I threw together from this and another public-domain item. Spread it around.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2020 @ 1:29am

    Just don't tell Trump, as he will want to keep it for Americans, just like face masks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2020 @ 2:11am

    Considering the image is in the public domain and free, some news orgs have been paying Getty Images to a version watermarked with CDC logo. https://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/news-photo/this-illustration-created-at-the-centers-for-disease -news-photo/1203807634

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 4 Apr 2020 @ 6:29am

      'Public domain images for only $450!'

      Because of course that pack of parasites is trying to profit off of a pandemic by offering up licences to a public domain picture. Again.

      There really is no low they will not sink to.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 4 Apr 2020 @ 6:55am

        Re: 'Public domain images for only $450!'

        The really sad thing is that this stuff only happens because that mentality is so far ingrained into management types. I've seen on many occasions where a middle manager will insist on a proprietary solution over an open source solution that even they admit is far superior because paying for the crappy solution gives them plausible deniability when something goes wrong.

        I assume that's the case here - management insists on using Getty because that way they can't accidentally use an image that's copyrighted, and will insist on doing that even when there's no danger at all in using the public domain image.

        Getty and the like are often parasites, but they operate because of cowardly managers trying to justify their jobs in the laziest (yet most expensive) way possible.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
          identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2020 @ 8:04am

          Re: Re: 'Public domain images for only $450!'

          You want to see expensive? Look at open source. Millions of lines of garbage that no one understands, or wants to. For all but the large corporations, and the Chinese, open source is worth less than the price, which is free. Fun to play with and laugh about, but no small business gives a shit about it. It’s easier to buy a license and support than hire foul smelling badly mannered open source religious zealots, like you.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            PaulT (profile), 4 Apr 2020 @ 8:20am

            Re: Re: Re: 'Public domain images for only $450!'

            So, you're the type of middle manager I'm talking about, then?

            "no small business gives a shit about it"

            Lots do actually. The small business I work for largely host using Centos/Ubuntu, nginx, MariaDB, Docker, Kubernetes, manage using puppet, terraform and ansible, ELK stack and various other FOSS solutions.

            But, you knock yourself out with your high bills for inferior software.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            PaulT (profile), 4 Apr 2020 @ 8:24am

            Re: Re: Re: 'Public domain images for only $450!'

            Also, you most likely posted this comment using an open sourced browser, which is especially funny.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2020 @ 9:19am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: 'Public domain images for only $450!'

              Yes, and it was most likely posted via a server running Apache

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                PaulT (profile), 4 Apr 2020 @ 10:53am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: 'Public domain images for only $450!'

                Almost certainly. I believe Techdirt has been running on Apache in the past, but a current Netcraft lookup just shows Cloudfront as the facing service, but still registers as Linux.

                So, ignorant dick uses an open source browser to post on an open source website running an open source server and (I believe) open source database to state how useless open source is.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • icon
                  Samuel Abram (profile), 5 Apr 2020 @ 7:10pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: 'Public domain images for only $450!'

                  exactly. Open Source is pretty much the dominant standard nowadays, moreso than Wintel was in the 1990's.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2020 @ 9:20am

            Re: Re: Re: 'Public domain images for only $450!'

            you use firefox or chrome, right? those are open source. have fun with that knowledge

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              PaulT (profile), 4 Apr 2020 @ 10:47am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: 'Public domain images for only $450!'

              "you use firefox or chrome, right? those are open source. have fun with that knowledge"

              It gets better - all major browsers are open source or partially open source now. Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari. Even Microsoft rejigged Edge to use Chromium as the backend, then more popular second tier browsers like Vivaldi and Brave are built on a Chromium backend. In sort, unless the guy above deliberately uses an older version of Edge or Internet Explorer or otherwise went way out of his way to use a proprietary browser, he used FOSS to post his ignorant statement about it.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Samuel Abram (profile), 4 Apr 2020 @ 9:33am

            Re: Re: Re: 'Public domain images for only $450!'

            You know the OS Nintendo uses for their Switch? It's forked from Google's AndroidOS, which is based off of Linux.

            Also, I read the "intellectual property" section of my Nintendo Switch games, and so much open-source software is used that it's rare to find a completely proprietary game on the Nintendo Switch.

            So when even Nintendo–the Disney of Video Games–relies on open source software, maybe you should give it the respect it deserves.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2020 @ 9:59am

            Re: Re: Re: 'Public domain images for only $450!'

            Look at open source. Millions of lines of garbage that no one understands,

            Funny thing about open source, the APIs are well documented, and the code well modularised, as that is the only way that projects can be worked on by as many people spread across the globe.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              PaulT (profile), 4 Apr 2020 @ 10:54am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: 'Public domain images for only $450!'

              As with most of those people, when he says "nobody understands", he means "I don't understand" and is unwilling to educate himself.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2020 @ 6:03pm

            Re: Re: Re: 'Public domain images for only $450!'

            Hundreds of thousands of dollars spent to destroy this site and all you got to show for it was Shiva Ayyadurai embarrassing himself in front of a judge. Sucks to be you, Hamilton!

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2020 @ 3:16pm

      Re:

      So how do we as the "public" in public domain DMCA Getty into oblivion over this?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
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    Lock -Down Activities

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    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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