digtialcontent Flickr, The Independent and the dangers of digital contentThere was a minor storm online this weekend as a photographer complained to The Independent newspaper over unauthorised use of one of his images.

The paper had used an embedded Flickr slideshow of photos showing snow-covered Britain on its site. Unfortunately, someone at The Indy forgot to filter the search to only allow photos with Creative Commons settings that allow commercial use.

Of course, it’s probably not that they ‘forgot’ to set up their search properly, probably more that they didn’t know what they were doing. Let’s face it – most people, even in creative industries, won’t have a clue what Creative Commons is all about. They probably thought “Flickr’s great for getting images for free, let’s use that!”.

Whoever made the mistake, they learned the hard way when photographer Pete Zabulis discovered the misuse and complained. Zabulis detailed his complaint and its responses on Flickr. The Independent’s repsonse that:

We took a stream from Flickr which is, as you know, a photo-sharing website. The legal assumption, therefore, is that you were not asserting your copyright in that arena. We did not take the photo from Flickr, nor present it as anything other than as it is shown there.
I do no consider, therefore, that any copyright has been breached or any payment due. “

…shows that they were clueless as to Creative Commons. Eventually, The Independent apologised and paid Zab for use of his image. It’s fair to say that they will probably never misuse Creative Commons licensed images again, but what about everyone else?

With budgets tight and social media the hot trend, a virtually endless stream of businesses large and small are turning to crowdsourcing to generate digital content on the cheap. The result? The likelihood that unimaginable numbers of copyrights are being infringed on daily basis without the copyright holder or the person using the images realising that there’s a problem.

What can be done?

  • Education about Creative Commons is urgently needed. Flickr should make clear the risks of using ‘All Rights Reserved’ images in embedded slideshows. The Creative Commons organisation itself could do with some kind of promotional campaign too to raise awareness of what it does in an easy-to-understand way.
  • Photographers need to be on the look-out. Unless they invoice infringers for use, they’ll never learn.

[Image credit: Creative Commons]