Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Are We In For a Wave Of Viral Copyright Theft?

Are We In For a Wave Of Viral Copyright Theft?

I know how much everyone who labours over creating their intellectual property loves hearing about the new ways the world is trying to rip us off, but I just couldn't leave this one to pasture.

I've always been aware and concerned about how, to many, many people, Flickr is nothing more but the internet's biggest "free" stock library. It's the first stop for many upstart and amateur graphic designers, photoshop artists, bloggers and the teeming masses (who seek "pretty pictures") looking for quality, quick and penniless imagery to use in their projects. It's been a persistent problem for years and one that really hasn't shown any sign of going away.

I have a sneaking suspicion that copyright theft on Flickr may have just gone viral.

I logged into Facebook this afternoon to find one of my acquantainces had posted a new note. It didn't appear to be one of those stupid "25 Random Things" so I had a look. This is what I was greeted with (without the infringed upon photo because that would be perpetuating the problem):

The infringed upon image is HERE .

Personally, I am far more worried about this than the "Facebook TOS Scandal". I know Facebook aren't actually trying to use my images. I know that they're only trying to protect themselves from sue-happy cretins.

What makes this so terrifying, is that the vast majority of Facebook users, many of whom will jump at this new "craze" have little understanding of copyright law nor do many of them care. A million blog posts and bulletins and tweets and what not can be sent out about this, but the people who will perpetuate the "note" are the exact ones who will not be reading any of those. It does not apply to them insofar as they know, so why should they? Much in the same fashion that the daily politics of Mozambique don't apply to me, so I don't read about them.

What can be done?

I, personally, don't have the slightest clue.

I do honestly believe that the "mimic everything" culture of Facebook might just spiral this out of control and I do honestly believe that us creators of photographic imagery, particularly those of us who use Flickr, will very soon witness a case of VIRAL copyright theft.



So the "anything on the internet is free for the taking" culture is alive and well on Flickr. That was well proven today. Yes, of course someone will always try and argue non-truths and utter fallacies if they think it saves them face. But the real shocker of the day came from Flickr itself. When I reported a group specifically made for collecting these illegal images, I got a fairly concise response.

In short, the Flickr team told me "We don't care unless we're being threatened."

The question that will be at the forefront of my mind the next few days will ultimately be "Am I paying Yahoo my money for a substandard service?"

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  1. I just got tagged in the same meme yesterday and I brought up these same concerns with the person who tagged me (another photographer!).

    My take was:

    "While these are pretty humorous, I don't dig the part of the directions where they tell you to go grab some random photo from Flickr. What they *should* tell you to do is go to Flickr's Explore/CreativeCommons and pick a photo there that has been licensed for free-use. The photos on the main Explore page are most likely copyright restricted use by their owners.


    I would be even more offended if people were snagging photos and using them for profit. Tho, if you look hard enough, this "album cover" thing is just more viral marketing for FB and FB is reaping the rewards of increased membership and advertising dollars. So if you reach far enough, FB is actually making money from other people's photos."

    So, a fix would be to simply have the directions telling people to use CC-licensed photos. Sadly, I think it's a little too late for that. The original copyright-stealing instructions have too big a foothold.

  2. I completely agree on the Creative Commons notion; however, my main concern there would be that the vast majority of Facebook users aren't the sort of people who would even know what that is and how many of them would bother taking the time to find out?

    Yes, one could argue that far into it. A thought I had was that if, say, one million of Facebook's 175,000,000 users were to take part in this game and then the "Orphan Works Bill" were to get passed, there would then be 1,000,000 orpahan works from Flickr's "elite" floating around Facebook. Hmmm.

    Sadly, I think this is already a lost battle.