So the Los Angeles Times Thinks It’s OK to Rip Copyrighted Photos From Flickr?

So the Los Angeles Times Thinks It's OK to Rip Copyrighted Photos From Flickr?

Yesterday Anthony Citrano, over on FriendFeed, pointed out an interesting tidbit regarding the Los Angeles Times’ coverage of the fires that are currently burning out of control in Los Angeles. Apparently the L.A. Times built this cool new little widget that pulls photos in directly from Flickr. It’s cool to see authentic real life fire photos as they are being uploaded by the masses. Except that there’s only one problem. The Los Angeles Times is pulling in your copyrighted all-rights reserved and Creative Commons non-commercial licensed photos in violation of your license.

To make matters worse and rub a little salt in for good measure they’ve even added a little “Copyright 2009, Los Angeles Times” disclaimer right beneath your very own photo. Of course the Los Angeles Times has not gotten your permission to run these all rights reserved photos of yours. Nor have they entered into any sort of compensation agreement with you over their use — which means that if you are one of the lucky few who have had had your copyright ripped, you might want to consider sending an invoice in over to the Times. I’d suggest that probably about $1,000 per image sounds about right given the national scope of this fire and the news. Remember that when folks rip your photos illegally they have to pay more for them.

So why and how did this all happen? Well, fortunately a representative from the Times has responded over at Friendfeed. Sean Connelly from the L.A. Times claims to have created the widget that is currently pulling these photos into the Times’ website. According to Connelly, the fact that your copyrighted images are appearing on the Los Angeles Times website is the result of an unfortunate error. Connelly responded to Citrano’s complaints about the image grabs here:

“Anthony — my name is Sean Connelley. I am the one who created the Flickr widget used on the LA Times. I wanted to just explain what happened from my side, in hopes it clear some of this up for everyone. The CC issue was an honest mistake on my part and in know way was I just trying to hijack or steal anyone’s photo. When retrieving photos using the Flickr API, there is a parameter called “license” and it can accept 7 different values which can be found here. Well the mistake I made was that I used the “name” of the license instead of the “id” for the license. Big mistake on my part, caused it to pull in all the the images. Second issue, about links back to user pages, another mistake on my part. When I pull in the image information, I do a test to make sure the information is there before I display it, well I left out a character that caused it to fail everytime. I understand why everyone is upset but I just want to explain it from my side. In hindsight, I should of not tried to rush this out with really testing it further, which we normally do. So I’ll just have to take one on the chin for this one. Any other questions, please feel free to email at sean.connelley[at]”

Initially Connelley had neglected to include links back to images as is required per the Flickr Community Guidelines, but that part’s been fixed now.

Now normally I’d say that Connelly’s excuse is good one. Except that it seems like the problem is still happening. Connelly provided another more detailed response as to why this problem happened last night in more detail at the Friendfeed link, after his first apology, but this morning when I checked the first photo from Flickr on the L.A. Times’ page it was yet another all rights reserved photo. Now I have no idea how tricky of a thing this is to debug, but my recommendation to the L.A. Times is that they take the widget offline until they can get it working correctly. And when they *do* think they’ve got it working correctly, maybe they ought to try actually clicking through a photo on the widget just to make double extra sure for the third time.

The all rights reserved photo that *still* is currently being featured this morning as photo number one on the L.A. Times’ widget is this one, by truedeluxe.

By the way, hats off to the L.A. Times for using FriendFeed to actually discuss this issue. Big points for that part of this whole dilemma.

Update: Well the good news is that the Los Angeles Times appears to have fixed this problem now. An explanation in the form of a couple of friendfeed comments from Sean Connelley with the Times: “oh, my nightmare continues… I assumed the widget was taken down. I have now corrected it, with a version that should eliminate any of your photos from being grabbed please check in a few minutes, also might need to clear cache and reload page. I apologize for these series of mistakes.” – Sean Connelley and “ok, I just checked… it does not appear to be loading any “All Rights Reserved.”… Anthony to your question of why I didn’t just check. I should of and I didn’t, I wish I had a better answer. Can I ask this group a question. Seeing as you all seem to be passionate flickr user’s and photographers. Do you see any value and/or need in a widget like this? Of course, a widget that worked correctly and respected copyrights and provided links back to the owners” – Sean Connelley.

Update #2: Jim Goldstein seems to object to the fact that I’ve raised this issue, while in the past stating a more liberal view of personal use regarding copyrighted material. Jim offers up his own “black and white” interpretation of how copyright ought to be talked about which is ironic given that he previously was hosting copyrighted music on his own site prominently as a background track to his photos. Best I can tell, he seems to feel that if you host copyrighted material as a .mov file vs. a .mp3 file it’s somehow o.k. Why are the copyright zealots always the ones that are the most hypocritical?

In terms of my past comments on copyright, I believe that it is virtually impossible to work as a photographer respecting copyright in the pure black and white world as Goldstein views it. Maybe if you just stick to nature photography like he does that’s one thing. But if I go to Disneyland and shoot a Mickey Mouse character. Or if I shoot the giant Coca Cola neon sign in San Francisco. I’m personally not going to lose any sleep over this, even if I am breaking Coke or Disney’s copyrights. I’m still going to post these images on Flickr and Zooomr and my blog and am perfectly willing to suffer any consequences of my decision to do so. I’m also personally not going to lose any sleep if people use my own work for personal use. Want to print out one of my photos and hang it in your home, even though it’s all right’s reserved? Go for it. I even make it easier by hosting full high res files online.

But there is a big difference between my shooting Mickey Mouse and posting it to Flickr. Or someone printing out one of my shots out and hanging it in their kitchen vs. a major media company publicly and flagrantly posting protected content on a highly visible high profile public for profit website.

Anyways, glad to see that the times got this cleared up.

19 Replies to “So the Los Angeles Times Thinks It’s OK to Rip Copyrighted Photos From Flickr?”

  1. Maybe the Times wouldn’t have these problems if they hired programmers who actually went to college instead of basement-dwelling gamers. They “should of” checked his resume…

  2. This came to light on Sunday–a non work-day (at least for most programmers, probably even those at the LA Times)–and you’ve already had the developer confirm it and issue a partial fix? And yet your headline is “SO THE LOS ANGELES TIMES THINKS ITS OK TO RIP COPYRIGHTED PHOTOS FROM FLICKR?” Unless you think Connelly is lying, you’re link-baiting right here. This will probably get fixed today as the developer gets back to his job during normal business hours.

    It’s great to have pointed this out, but it really does not sound to me like the LA Times is trying to steal anything. In fact, I regard them as one of the most interesting papers in terms of experimenting with their web presence and including new media.

  3. Thomas, this is not exclusive to the LA Times. Locally, our Gannett papers have launched a site that pulls from YouTube and Flickr. If you look at our local domain,, you’ll note the Flickr photographs are all “All Rights Reserved”. The cute ones are mine. 😉

  4. Has Mr. Connelly ever heard of the concept called TESTING? I’m surprised that for a “mature” organization they allow their users to be able to post untested code to their public website.

  5. Maybe Flickr shouldn’t let rights reserved images leave so easily? Part of the problem is ease of access. And forcing the end user programmer to do the check (Or to even know to do the check) is a design flaw in Flickrs API.

    Afterall, what’s the point in allowing Right’s reserved images to even leave Flickr at all?

  6. Right on for the comments about “All Rights Reserved.” I suddenly feel an urge to start redistributing the full content of the LA TIMES and Gannett properties. Maybe they think so little of their own ‘all rights reserved’ as they seem to think of ours?

  7. I’ve always felt that “all rights reserved” images should never be available through the Flickr API, especially if you have the “Who can download your stuff” privacy option set to anything but “anyone”. The current API is too easy for a client to abuse.

  8. One of the major reasons I and some of my colleagues have left Flickr – ALL RIGHTS RESERVED images shouldn’t be available on the Flickr API, or at the very least should have a setting to Opt-In to the API.

  9. I recently had a similar situation with the website owned and operated by MSNBC.

    They have a system that rips images from Flickr regardless of copyright and licensing and then try to claim “Fair Use”.

    After I found a photograph of mine used without permission I sent the following email:

    The following photograph of mine was used without permission and is in breach of my copyright and Flickr community guidelines. “Just because an image is set to “public view” doesn’t mean it’s free to use on 3rd party sites (even when using a link back). You are a for-profit site and should know better. The copyright is clearly displayed in two different places on the page (one being directly below) and also on the image itself. The following image must be removed within 24hrs or result in legal action..

    my image:

    infringed usage:

    EveryBlock’s policy of using Flickr “public photos” is heavily flawed. Only public photos whose authors give permission or are listed under certain “creative commons license” can be used on 3rd party sites.

    If this is not quickly taken care of I will also be filing with yahoo’s copyright office as your usage breaks Yahoo’s “Copyright and Intellectual Property Policy”.

    -David Tribby Photography

    Their response:

    Hi there,

    Sorry for causing you concern! On EveryBlock, we link to Flickr photos on a neighborhood level, so visitors to our site can view photos (and
    a whole bunch of other stuff) near them. We use the small Flickr thumbnails under the doctrine of fair use — and do not publish the full-sized photos, or even medium-sized thumbnails.

    Still, we respect your wishes. We’ve removed the photo you mentioned, and we’ve made a note in our system not to link to any of your photos from our site ever again.

    By the way, your photos were made available to us because your Flickr account allows third-party sites to access them. You might consider following the steps on this page — — to ensure that no other third-party sites use your photos. As I said, EveryBlock won’t display your photos anymore, but you might want to take the extra precaution outlined in that link to ban other sites from using your photos, too. Hope this helps.

    Have a good one,


    Adrian Holovaty


    The defense that they “link to Flickr photos on a neighborhood level” and “We use the small Flickr thumbnails under the doctrine of fair use — and do not publish the full-sized photos, or even medium-sized thumbnails.” doesn’t change the fact that they are illegally grabbing images. A flawed system is no excuse! and it doesn’t matter what size you used. Copyright isn’t based off size!
    I don’t have to block third-party access to the API. They have to use the API responsibly!

    They removed my image but have not changed their policy and continue to use copyrighted (all rights reserved) images.

  10. “and do not publish the full-sized photos, or even medium-sized thumbnails. doesnt change the fact that they are illegally grabbing images.”

    Dude, they just wrote that they were using it under “fair use”. What part of “fair use” do you not understand?

  11. @Doug:
    I think you(and the owners of the everyblock site) need
    to go back and study fair use. The use of a thumbnail on a
    commercial site is not fair use. Fair use has a set
    of criteria that it must meet. This includes the purpose
    for which the use was made, the nature of the copyrighted
    work, amount and effect on value.

  12. Thank you Tom, I think you understand where I’m coming from 🙂 continued to use my image on another page even after they removed the first one. It took several more emails before it was removed. I have little doubt my images will show up in the future. I totally disagree with the sites policy and usage, it needs to be looked into.

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