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.

w00t! The New York Times Finally Advocates Stealing Intellectual Property

Sonia Zjawinski has an interesting article out over at the NY Times’ Gadgetwise blog entitled “Flickr as an Interior Decorating Tool,” where she basically advocates stealing other people’s photographs off of Flickr.

From Zjawinski:

“And if you’re wondering about copyright issues (after all, these aren’t my photos), the photos are being used by me for my own, private, noncommercial use. I’m not selling these things and not charging admission to my apartment, so I think I’m in the clear.

Obviously, photographers and others may feel quite differently about this, but it’s a thorny issue: If printing out an image on Flickr isn’t ok, what about Wi-Fi picture frames that stream images from Flickr and display them in your living room? What about Tivoing an episode of Lost and watching it later with friends? (I’ll be following up this post with another post, chock full of answers from legal experts, in the coming days.)

Of all the artwork I have in my studio apartment (there isn’t a bare wall in the house), my Flickr finds get the most attention. Best of all, they were practically free! I use a Kodak ESP7 AIO printer to ink my finds on various sizes of photo paper and frame them in inexpensive frames found at Urban Outfitters or Ikea. The only thing I pay for is ink, paper and frames — peanuts, in my opinion.”

Heh heh. It’s nice to see the NY Times *finally* come out advocating a moral position that intellectual property theft is alright as long as you don’t get caught. Zajawinski gets beat up pretty hard in the comments section of her post from a bunch of photographers who think she is stealing their work. Typical cry babies.

Do I personally have a problem with what Zajawinski’s advocating here? No way. I think it’s great. And I guarantee you that most of the photographers crying about “image theft,” in the comments section of the post have all illegally copied music themselves. That’s the hypocrisy with too many photographers these days. I used to have a friend who was constantly pulling down tracks off of Hype Machine and saving them for their own use (and resending them to me) and then bitching all the time about people stealing images. It’s like it’s ok to rip off music, but God forbid someone dare download my precious photograph that I took of a seal last month — even though in both cases the material is being used purely for personal use.

I’m sure I’ll take a lot of heat for sticking up for Zajawinski here. But I say if you want to rip off Thomas Hawk images and print them out for yourself go for it. I put high res photos up on Flickr and feel free to help yourself, just click on the magnifying glass above any of my images and you can get a large high res version. I hope it makes your new kitchen or den a more interesting place.

And to the photographers who are bitching about this sort of personal use. If you don’t like it, take this little bit of advice. Don’t put your photos on the internet. Nobody is forcing you to put your images up on the internet. Maybe the best thing for you to do is to keep them only to yourself. Make prints and lock them in a little safe in your house where only you have the key. Late at night you can pull down the shades so that nobody can see in and take them out and look at them all you want, privately, securely. It’s a beautiful thing.

As for the photographers who don’t like this that *still* put your photos up on the internet, well, my advice to you is to simply get over what the NY Times is advocating here. Seriously. Life is too short. Stressing about internet thieves stealing your work will get you nothing. It will bring you no joy in the end. It only leads to bitterness. Learn to let it go. Forget about it and go take more pictures. Trust me on this one. In the end you’ll be dead and it won’t matter one iota who printed out one of your photos to hang above their kitchen sink.

I’ve said this before and I’ll reprint it here again. I look at my photography like this. When I make an image it belongs to me. It belongs to me while I take the photo. It belongs to me while it sits in my camera. It belongs to me while I process it on my Mac. It belongs to me while I let it sit in an archive folder waiting to be uploaded to the internet. Then I upload it to the internet and it’s like I’m taking a bird and opening my window and letting it go. Off she goes. Her song to be enjoyed by the entire world — certainly no longer mine.

It’s a liberating thing.

Thanks for the heads up, Roger!