| We've covered "red flags," "green lights" and how plastering disclaimers and the Fair Use Act all over one's site affords absolutely no protection. Now we're going to talk about web sets. First of all, nobody should ever offer a set (or pieces of sets) they haven't made themselves. I can't tell you the number of times I've seen bits and pieces of Pat's sets, Moon & Back and Outlaw by Design (among others) scattered through albums &/or slapped, willy-nilly, onto pages and offered for download as snags (especially Pat's stuff). I've also seen entire sets loaded into albums and offered (although some DO give you link back info, it's still a no-no).
Take a look at each of the above sites – with Moon & Back and Outlaw by Design, it won't take you long to get a feel of what their web sets look like. At Pat's site, you will be surprised at the number of items that you've probably seen all over the place with no credit given her (her stuff is very popular with illegal snaggers).
I will attempt to offer a brief overview from two directions – how to tell if:
Pieces of web sets being offered as independent snags – Welcome's, buttons, and dividers as well as background tiles and strips.
Whole sets are being offered by someone who hasn't made them.
I think the biggest give away that something being offered is a web set piece is that it will be on a textured/colored background of some sort, it probably won't have a border around it (like, say, a calling card does) and there most likely won't be any sort of watermark. One exception is Pat's stuff – she likes to use white backgrounds so familiarizing yourself with her work would be extremely useful.
If a site/group are offering background tiles/metallic strips (ie. a whole album called "backgrounds") and say they got them from the net, do NOT use them. I know very few people that offer this sort of work who would allow someone else to redistribute them. They may offer them for you to use with no link back but we all know by now that offering them for download elsewhere is a big, fat no-no.
If folks are actually offering their own work, is it then safe to use? Well, if you see no red flags, some green lights and they don't have obnoxious disclaimers/fair use all over the place, probably. Do they tell you how they created/where they got the image(s)? Is it an artists work? If so, do they offer permission letters* and state you must link back to the artists site, too? For example, I get most of my web set images from DMAT's Midnight Special board and Beyond the Horizon's Web Works and I say so on the set. I also try to acknowledge what I used to make the set. When in doubt, what do you do? Yes, that's right, you ask.
Again, snoop through the site/albums – does each set come complete with a logo button? Does the logo match the site you're browsing at? Are you finding bits and pieces of sets being offered? Are you finding stray logo buttons? Does the site/group ask that you link back to them if you use their stuff? Most places that offer things they "found" don't usually require a link back (I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing, lol). They may even be up front about it and say, "I don't claim to have made.." whatever it is they are offering.
I have touched briefly on several thing that I want to go further into later – one is how to use backgrounds and web sets properly and the other is the artists permission thing.
Recap: Determine that the person offering the web sets is the one who created them; check that they acknowledge where they got/how they made their images; try to be sure that, if an artist's work is being used, that the person acquired permission for exactly what they intended to do with the work; link backs requested/required (especially for an artist's work); check the ToU/CoC of your website host.