Source Cops


A tutorial: Why, what is, when and how to source (with sourcing tools)


  • Posting things without a source can be considered art stealing, and even against the law

Let’s talk about something called “intellectual property”. Ever heard of that term? If you’re not up to date with some recent debates over the protection of intellectual property, it’s possible you don’t know what it is. 

In a non-formal definition, “intellectual property” is any original element created by someone that isn’t exactly concrete, aka literary and artistic works. In our case, art in general. When someone creates a piece of art, they automatically gain certain rights over that piece (copyright - remember this word), which protect them from having their ideas stolen or used for third parties’ profit or any other kind of advantage.

If you want to read further into intellectual property, here is a handy link to the pages of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) itself over this topic.

Remember that word, copyright? That one I bolded. Yeah. Copyright, as the name suggests, is a concept of law that can be defined, as the name says, as “the right to copy”. It’s that little “c” symbol you see on a bunch of stuff. Intellectual property basically guarantees instant copyright for artwork in most (if not all, I’m not a law genius) legal conventions, and copyright guarantees (or should) the right for an author to be credited for their work.

Although the laws for copyright aren’t exactly the strongest ones around, or our ipods would be empty at this point, they are still there. If me repeating the words “law” over and over again wasn’t enough to get the obvious point across, I’ll sum it up: Posting artwork of others without a source can be considered art stealing, which is illegal.

  • Sourcing is polite

Now that the scary law part is down, let’s move to more moral issues. If we stop to think for a moment, every piece of artwork that ever existed was made by someone; it doesn’t matter, to break some excuses I have seen tossed around multiple times, if it’s “fanart” or if “the art is unoriginal” or “it’s bad art anyway”, they were still created by someone.

Yes, even fanart doesn’t appear out of thin air for the fans to enjoy, as some seem to think. A living, breathing being is behind that work, and hell, put yourself in their shoes for a moment. If you were making artwork for a bunch of people that you don’t even know to enjoy, specially when it’s absolutely for free, wouldn’t you want at least to be recognized? For someone to say “hey, your work is really good”, as a minimal retribution for all your time and effort spent on that work? I don’t know about you, but I can say for myself that I do think I would like recognition for my work.

Just as any kind of worker, freelancer or etc expects retribution (in their case, as money), artists who do their stuff for free not only for theirs, but for other people’s entertainment as well, expect retribution. By merely sourcing without saying anything else when reuploading fanart, you are basically saying indirectly “hey, go check out this artist’s stuff, because if I’m uploading it, it obviously means that I liked it and you are probably going to like it too”.

It’s only polite to do that for the people who give us free entertainment, right? Recognize their talent and show them to other people. Giving support is a fan’s way of saying “thank you”, and if your mother didn’t teach you that you should always thank people and be polite to them for doing things for you, she really should have. Or at least you should have listened a little better.

  • Not sourcing is really impolite and has the potential of being really harmful

"What, you just said sourcing is polite, why are you saying not sourcing is impolite?"

Because I want to be more specific with some points over just how impolite this is. Actually, pretty specific, since this applies mostly to a certain kind of reaction from groups of artists that escalated to dangerous levels some time ago, and still has the potential of doing great harm to the art community as a whole.

Being straight to the point here, artists don’t like when you repost their stuff without sourcing. To be honest, a lot of artists already dislike when people repost their stuff WITH sources! But it’s the internet, and almost no one respects the “don’t reupload without permission” moral rule anymore. Even I’m guilty of that. But that’s a completely different, much more philosophical discussion.

Anyway. I have personally seen, and I can say a lot of my friends and other acquaintances have seen artists get absolutely pissed off with their art being passed around with very little recognition for them. As I have said before, more recognition is the bare minimal one who really appreciates a work of art should give to an artist. But just HOW pissed off can they get from that?

Let’s get to the main point of this little section: Many artists (particularly on pixiv, one of the main fanart sites) constantly contemplate closing down their accounts, deleting artwork from the internet itself or shutting out their sites (specially pixiv) so only a select group can see each other’s work.

This is bad. As in, REALLY bad. By not sourcing fanart, people are not only being impolite, they are making the entire art and art-appreciating community risk losing artists, and/or making those artists even stop liking making art, or having depression or all of that other bad stuff. This point alone should be enough to conclude why people should source.

And to make it worse, specifically for pixiv? Japanese laws are very harsh over art stealing. It’s not tolerated, and that’s exactly why they don’t do it a whole lot, if ever. So it’s not just impolite and possibly harmful, but it’s also an outright disrespect to the laws pixiv artists fall under because of their nationality.


This is going to be a short one. A source is any kind of link or reference that can directly lead someone to the original upload/publication and/or author of something, which in this case the something is art.

These sources generally come in the form of links to a deviantart page, or an artist’s blog, or a pixiv page, etc. Basically any site where the author has an account or is owned by the authors themselves, or a specific name you can slap on google and find their stuff out in a matter of seconds.


Alright, this is the kind of thing I shouldn’t even be bothering to say, but it happens way too much to not care about.

People generally get their images either from artist sites (deviantart, pixiv, etc) or, as the overwhelming majority, from image-hosting sites: zerochan, gelbooru, danbooru, only to say a few of the most famous ones. These image-hosting sites are notorious for not having sources for the uploaded art, and that’s a problem that’s probably not going to get fixed soon, simply because the communities are either unexistant, don’t talk about the source issue enough or can’t have a good enough link with it’s visitors.

Most visitors aren’t part of the community, they’re just there for the images (and apparently a lot of them just hog through the images instead of appreciating artists and etc), and the lack of conversation about this issue makes them ignorant of why sources are important, obviously. Therefore, they grab the images that most of the time are already without sources, and go post them elsewhere still without the source.

This has been leading to a problem that is people thinking that using the gelbooru page of that image, or zerochan page of that image, in other words pages that don’t have the original uploads of the images as sources. Something else has been happening as well: Maybe in order to try and seem “smarter” than the people who post using a non-original upload as a source, they link towards the site where the upload is from, but not the proper page. As in, shit like “” or “”, literally, in the source box. This is unnaceptable and needs to stop, obviously.


Well, basically 90% of the time, damnit!

The only, literally only thing that can get a free pass from sourcing is official art. Sometimes because it comes from a source intangible through the internet (a CD, a poster, a book cover, etc), sometimes because you can’t really stablish where the ORIGINAL ORIGINAL SUPER ORIGINAL upload was from, but mostly because people don’t really fucking care. It’s official art already, it’s already used in the official thing of whatever it is you’re appreciating, the artist is obviously being recognized. Or at least their wallet is.


Humble padawan, let me teach you on how to provide a proper source through these easy steps, in the form of an example.

Yes, with PICTURES.

See that box right there? That’s the content source box. That’s the preferred place to put the link source, although you could always put it in a link in the caption itself, anywhere is fine as long as it’s visible and it works.

Say we’re going to upload this pic.

Great fanart! But oh, woe is me, how will we find the source?

A few years ago, doing this would actually be fucking HELL to do. If you didn’t have people around who actually knew who made what and where, you basically wouldn’t find the picture again. But nowadays? We have some immensely handy tools: reverse image searches.

These sites basically take your image and run it around a huge database of images, not only trying to find the exact same file but also using a bunch of those complicated algorhythrhtym-math-thingies to compare it to all those other images in terms of colors used and a bunch of other stuff. In the end, they give you a small list of the images that have the highest percentage of comparison to the uploaded image, and there we have it - a source to a pixiv page!

Here we go! The original upload of the image. Well, at least I’m 99.8% sure that this is the author’s page and the original upload, I can’t really read moonspeak japanese and I have no idea if art stealing happens on pixiv, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t. Now we slap the link to the pixiv page on the content source box and we’re good to go. Actually it’s better if you ask for permission first, but oh well, you know how it goes.

As for the sourcing tools? Saucenao, Google Reverse Image Search (go to google image search and click the blue camera icon), IQDB and tinEye are only some of them, but the best and most used ones. 

- ADDENDUM: I am aware that sometimes sources are hard to find, even with sourcing tools. This can happen because the artist deleted the original picture, or it’s posted in a site that isn’t reached by the reverse searchers, among other possible reasons. In those cases, what should you do? Well, either post asking for a source or just… not post it, because really, when it comes down to it it’s really questionable if you REALLY desperately need to post non-sourced fanart.

So, that’s basically it. Sourcing is actually really simple, and really quick, with the proper sourcing tools! This basically ends this small presentation over “Why, what is, when and how to source”. If this didn’t convince you of why you should make posting non-sourced the exception instead of the rule, you… probably have some issues.