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]latimes.com”
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.