All Rights Reserved*

    Newer Older

    Today the 'Flickrsphere' is up in arms over a blog post by New York Times writer Sonia Zjawinski which encourages people to use Flickr photos to decorate their house. The post has caused a massive amount of feedback, mostly bashing Sonia, the New York Times, and anyone who opposes the angry mob of online photographers. The claim is, printing an image file which is publicly visible online without asking the photographer's permission or purchasing a license is violating copyright law. Even if the image in question is a low-resolution preview of the actual photo. Even if the image is not being sold, modified, or redistributed and no claim of ownership is being made by the user. Even if the intended audience for the printed image is only the user and the other inhabitants of their home.

    Most images posted to Flickr are uploaded with an 'All Rights Reserved' state (a user has the ability to choose a Creative Commons license if they desire). Some Flickr users rely on sales of their photos as income, so that 'All Rights Reserved' option is very important to them. To prevent just anyone from being able to have a perfect copy of the photo, Flickr provides the option to hide larger sized images from the general public. Not to mention the fact that photographers can upload their photos at any reduced resolution they choose. No photographer that has hopes of selling prints makes their full-resolution images public, unless they have no business sense whatsoever...

    Still with me? Good, because here is where it gets ugly. Under this 'All Rights Reserved' option, you have the right to view the image at the highest resolution available to you, on the photographer's photostream. You have the right to view it on your Flickr contacts page. Thanks to Flickr's community-friendly API, you have the right to view the available RSS feeds of a individual user's photostream or of all your contacts' photos in a number of photo-viewing applications and readers. (This sounds like a lot of rights for a license that gives you no rights to the image, right?) You have the right to use those RSS feeds to view images on any number of devices; be it desktop, laptop, phone, television, or *gasp* digital photo frame. These devices might be in your hand, on your desk, or hanging on your wall at home. But these devices usually display images only temporarily, which may suggest the user is only 'viewing' the image instead of claiming some kind of ownership. So how long can I display a photographer's photo on my digital photo frame before I need the photographer's permission? How many people need to walk by my desk at work before I've created a public art installation?

    And for the grand finale: What difference does it make if the image is digital or printed if both came from the same source file? Printing the image does not magically make it higher quality. Thanks to the Flickr API, it's possible for any user to get up to a 1024px-square image, which can create a passable 4x6" print, unless the photographer has limited the size of their uploads. But somehow printing the image is looked upon as the deadliest sin. If I set the image as my desktop background, and I see it five days a week for eight hours a day, is that more acceptable than printing out the same image and throwing it in a drawer where it will never be seen?

    I don't advocate stealing artist's work. I don't believe all art should be free. I do believe that Flickr is primarily a photo sharing website, as outlined in their meta description displayed on every Google search result ("Flickr is almost certainly the best online photo management and sharing application in the world. Show off your favorite photos and videos to the world"). Anyone uploading photos to Flickr thinking they can control where and how those photos are being viewed... is wrong. My advice to you is to reduce the size of the images you upload. Limit the original size image to people you trust (Designate them as 'friends and family' instead of 'contacts' and then change your permissions accordingly.) Or consider a different method of displaying your portfolio.

    Because I know the nature of the Internet, I'll end with this: Please go ahead and print my images and put them up on your wall. Hopefully, someday when you're in the market to buy artwork (and I'm eventually selling prints), you'll remember me thanks to the longer time you've already enjoyed with one of my photos. Just to be clear, I'm not giving you permission to use them commercially, modify them, or claim you created them, that's a whole other story. I do believe in copyright laws, I just think the majority of Flickr users voicing their opinion today have a different opinion on what constitutes fair use.

    And, in the comments (if anyone even reads this), try not to make too many 'If I saw your car on the street and it was unlocked and I stole the car it would be cool, right?' comparisons - they aren't helping your argument. No, you can't take my car. But you can take a photo of it.

    City Eyes, sebastien.barre, veruus, and 41 other people added this photo to their favorites.

    View 7 more comments

    1. army.arch 70 months ago | reply

      Here, here! Love this post, and so well written. Such a brouhaha over nothing. She never stated that she told all her friends that she took the photos, just that she liked them and printed them out and framed them. Seems to meet the standards set out by the Supreme Court in Sony Corp. v. Universal City Studios, Inc.

    2. Kathy Montgomery 70 months ago | reply

      I admit, I lean to the side of the pro photographer on this one.

      Because artistic creations in digital form (whether photos, music, writing, videos, etc.) are so easy to transfer, some people have forgotten that these creations still have value. Worse, accessibility on the Internet has created a sense of entitlement in some people, as if they shouldn't have to pay. Unfortunately, it's more complicated for an artist to preserve their rights online than in "hard" copy. But the alternative is to abandon the Internet and lose an potentially useful marketing tool.

      By the way, in terms of the blog post I think the key word is "copy." If a Flickr user has not authorized someone to make a copy of their work, then I would think the blog author's suggested use is illegal. But is the author's use "fair?" The follow-up suggests this is a gray area, but if I were trying to sell prints I wouldn't think that fair in the least. Not to mention it's very likely the person downloading won't remember me at all without attribution.

      Still, I am sometimes ambivalent about copyright law in the digital world. The DMCA requires service providers to do some policing of digital content. Companies lock down content with copy protection that prevents the purchaser from even creating a backup copy. The law is sometimes a stumbling block to people with perfectly good intentions. Perhaps copyright needs revamping for the digital age.

      Sure, some artists are happy to give their work away, but others are not. Those creators will have to educate consumers on copyright. And where it applies, I hope consumers will respect it.

      Thanks for your post, very interesting.

    3. _barb_ 70 months ago | reply

      The lady who wrote the blog post made a mistake in suggesting that private printing was a good thing to do, but it's a very innocent mistake that came from enjoyment of photos and there was nothing sinister in her motives and actions.
      She followed her post up with a well informed second post that looked at the legal ins and outs of the issue which shows that she researched the issue and took all the criticism in.

      That's good enough for me and I wish the community would show some more grace and goodwill and not go on about it with all that self righteous indignation and barely concealed hate. The call for an apology seems to just want to humiliate her and the big name publication associated with her blog, it's all very petty and embarrassing for me as a flickr member.

    4. Seluma 70 months ago | reply

      If I saw your car on the street and it was unlocked and I stole the car, would I still be able to download and print your ARR images from jail? (?)

    5. no3rdw 70 months ago | reply

      @Seluma - LOL, sure... as long as you use the prints to decorate your cell and not as currency to trade for smokes ;)

    6. Fenn-o-rama! 70 months ago | reply

      I think the most interesting aspect of this ridiculous debacle is how entitled these photographers are when it comes to work they freely posted in an impossible-to-secure online space.

      The bottom line is that the creator has to protect his own work. No one else has a responsibility to do the right thing for someone else's art.

      Furthermore, the lack of education on the laws is amazing to me. This is not the first time I have seen someone attacked for supposed copyright violation. More than once I have thrown my hat in the ring and engaged in intellectual name-calling or downright nastiness to protect some poor soul who was not in any way harming another artist with their perfectly legal actions. I think that if an artist wants to get all indignant, then he should be educated about the laws. Pipe dreams, I suppose.

      Also, the purpose of Flickr is not now, nor will it ever be, to showcase professional artists. Does no one remember the video scandal? All of these "pros" were so angry about Flickr introducing video. Then the Flickr Big Wigs had to say, "Look, this site is about sharing with friends and family, which is what the vast majority of our users do. Video is an extension of that." Is it wrong that I hope someone, someday will be educated about the site they are using and the laws regarding the material they are posting?

      The bottom line is, a real, actual, working, fine art photographer would never, ever, ever post their images on this site for others to download. Portraitists...that's another story. I have my own stream for my professional work, because Flickr is so easy to use and so cheap for that. But gallery artists are not posting their work here in hopes of gaining one or two sales. And Flickr users who grow into professionals will abandon this space when they realize what they have to do to protect their work and remain a professional in the biz.

      It's all just inane.

    7. SmackNally 70 months ago | reply

      My comment on the Flickr Central board:

      From Sonia's last comment on this thread:
      "As for an apology. I'm not sorry for the idea I presented (using Flickr to decorate), though I do apologize for the way copyright issues were handled."

      Personally, that is all I was looking for.

      Whether it be on a blog or the front page, what's written in the New York Times carries a lot of weight with its readers. As evinced by the pages and pages of comments, both here and on the two articles, this is not settled law and a lot of grey area exists. My concern was that, not only were these issues not addressed in the original blog, but that Sonia seemed to settle the controversy for her readers and gave them both the rationale and green light to "download, print, frame".

      Sonia, I thank you for posting a follow-up article and for chiming in here...and the apology.

    8. army.arch 70 months ago | reply

      True, but what she wrote was in no way wrong (although kind of strangely written). Printing out a photo for personal use is clearly in the realm of Fair Use as a result of Sony Corp. v. Universal City Studios, Inc. in that something provided to the public for free can be time shifted or shape shifted for further private viewing.

      Fair Use is what gives us the right to copy a recipe at the library and use it later. Print out an article off the web and read it years down the road. Copy a television show and watch it 20 years later. She wasn't dowloading photos and selling them in a gallery. She wasn't downloading photos and telling people they were hers. She was printing out a photo and framing it and hanging it on her wall.

      Everyone jumping on that writer is just a sad symptom of hysteria here at Flickr regarding copyright and use of photos. If you don't want people to use your photos don't put them up on the web.

      What's interesting to me and which no one has brought up is that it's Flickr that allows the download in the first place. It's Flickr that changes the one photo we upload into many different sizes. And then it's Flickr that puts a download button on each one of those different sizes. It's us that needs to control that and not the people on the viewing end.

    9. Fenn-o-rama! 70 months ago | reply

      If Sonia jumped off a bridge, would all her readers do it to? Are they really such mindless lemmings that they can't decide for themselves whatever they want to do? I don't think the New York Times carries any more weight than anything else, and I don't think she has a responsibility to write differently because some idiot out there might follow her every word and action.

    10. SmackNally 70 months ago | reply

      @Fenn - with 150 million annual visitors to their site, i'm quite sure the Times carries with it more weight than just about anything else out there. if you asked anyone at the paper, i'm sure they would say they try to hold themselves to a higher standard than most, as well.

      both Sonia and the paper's assisting managing editor (the woman in charge of photos for the paper) have apologized for how the copyright issue was (or wasn't) handled in the blog, so you'll have to excuse me for thinking my point somewhat valid.

      @army.arch - the more research i do, the more i'm inclined to agree with you about flickrs role in all of this. all the recent cases have pointed to the enabling site as a culpable party.

    11. chuha 70 months ago | reply

      Were one to believe that the enabling site were really to blame, it would fall, as others have mentioned quite squarely on the person uploading the photo. There is no (or at least almost no) way to show a person a high resolution image and not also allow them to download it.

      If I've learned nothing from this, its that these laws are not yet clear enough and that some thought and compromise will have to occur. I don't think it's unreasonable for a photographer to expect that if someone makes a print of his or her work, that they should be compensated. Isn't that exactly part of what you're buying when you purchase a photo? (You're also buying the quality paper, one presumes, but it's still the same as say, buying an image from Getty.)

      On the other hand, I can't deny the similarities to VHS and enjoying this website at a later date. Still, wouldn't most people sitting on some jury agree that decorating your house is different than entertaining yourself with a movie (that you purchased, or at least saw the advertisements that paid for it?) Strikes me, personally, that when this finally gets settled, the courts may err a bit more in defense of the creator of the work. That is, after all, certainly the trend in copyright and patent law these days. (More protection for IP not less, extending the rights of copyright holders, not users...)

      Finally, reusing pictures in collages does have some well established legal precedent, for example with rap music. I think you're fine to remix stuff, you just have to actually do some mixing before it isn't stealing.

      I am glad the NYT apologized, because, even if this is a gray area, and it surely is, that hardly justifies making it black and white and asking people to do what clearly many, many people, hysterical or otherwise, interpret as stealing.

    12. simplyAS77 70 months ago | reply

      Can I print a poem and hang it on my wall?

    13. photo2c 62 months ago | reply

      I'm glad I came across your point on ALL RIGHTS RESERVED I also have had this problem when I found out The Daily Show with Jon Stewart took one of my photos and used it for 23 secounds. Now I went to the TOP of MTV Networks and they have agreed to pay me for my stolen photo. I have for the most part locked down my flickr site changing just about everything at best I had hundreds of hits a day now I'm down too under 70 and even lower. Photo2c

    14. Daniel Crompton 54 months ago | reply

      This is actually why my friends and I started Snypher ( so it's possible to have your images or videos publicly available, and they can't be used for personal or commercial purposes due to the resolution and watermarking.

    15. dbiatch 49 months ago | reply

      can i share "all rights reserved" photos in my blog?(with specifying the source)

    16. pauliamhot 48 months ago | reply

      Thank you for sharing this photo. I liked it. I even used it for my blog with the link going to your Flickr photo stream. In case you have time this is the link

    17. Dinnages 45 months ago | reply

      Come to this post by Flickr suggesting I read this.
      Our query was, with them that we use All Rights Reserved, NOT Creative Commons, and not wanting anyone to be able to download the image library files. I am quite happy users add as favorites or them being added to groups. Also happy to share the views anywhere else online, or paper based newsletters, used more as a taster of what our library is about, collated from negatives that we have obtained along with paying for the assignment of all commercial rights to them. Hence watermarks are on all images around the internet, while laser prints sold are all reverse labelled giving lots of details about each view.
      The photographers (some no longer with us) made great efforts at cost often during the war with transport photos, why do people consider it is thier right to use them wherever they think, taking off the internet or scanning the hard copy prints.
      Have gone after those who have been found selling them, nicely first, most stop, then those that dont listen, we take a bigger step. The investment in both money and time is ours. So if you did not take the view, just ask first, its better than getting caught out after using or selling copies. The UK has a 70 years rule on artists work, be that photos, drawings or paintings.

    18. Scotty McAdam! 42 months ago | reply

      So you want people to look at your photos. But you dont want people to look at the printed version of it, Even tho they can still see it every day in your flickr stream.
      Oh here view a photo, but not print the same photo that is just wrong omg.

    19. Dinnages 41 months ago | reply

      Whats wrong about allowing selected views of my library on Flickr, as another avenue of publicity. I have invested in the negatives and slides so I decide who can make use of them. If I take them all down from Flickr, all the linked favorites and sets should in theory disapear too, as a friend has closed his account for example and all of his have now gone.
      I do watermark them and disallow the external API, this stops other sites using them from Flickr, owning these views outright legally, so if anyone really wants a view in hard copy, they are encouraged to buy a print off me. The prices are quite low, nothing like museum prices! Nothing is sold for publishing elsewhere without permission ( to ensure correct name credits). I therefore share the views, just to look, so want one for something, compensate me for my efforts in scanning, the original purchases made and a credit to the person whose effort it was to take it in the first place. Who had film during the war to take views of trams for example, is that fair to just take those views for your wall ?

    20. sandilands villa 9 months ago | reply

      good grief charlie brown! if you leave your car on the street unlocked and it gets stolen you won,t get a penny from the insurance company......anyway if you,re that bothered about all the tea-leaves quit uploading.

    keyboard shortcuts: previous photo next photo L view in light box F favorite < scroll film strip left > scroll film strip right ? show all shortcuts