2/05/2009

in the commons

I'm a fan of Creative Commons. I share my photos, my web content and my podcasts with CC licensing, which means that you're free to use my stuff, but you've got to give me credit if you do so. Sure I know that people 'steal' my pics sometimes--it happens most often with pics of me that are reposted by these folks (which, btw, I find fairly disturbing but I try not to think about it too often).

Recently I discovered that a picture of me was lifted from John's flickr feed and was used to illustrate a misogynistic blog article. I learned this because a friend had seen the article and recognized me in the photo. This made me feel incredibly uncomfortable--primarily because I felt that my picture being affiliated with the post implied that I had endorsed the writing or was somehow involved with it (FWIW, because the article detailed the sexual exploits of the author, I felt it was possible some people might assume that I'd had a relationship with him). Now in this case the blog author didn't use appropriate CC attribution, so I dropped a comment on his post suggesting that he review the rules for the Commons and also made it clear that I had no connection to the author's words despite my image being on display. Within 48 hours my pic was gone, replaced by that of another nameless woman.

I tend to assume when I license something for Creative Commons, that my generosity will be mirrored with responsibility on the part of those who use my work. Surely I am naive. And there's little that I can do when my images are connected with content that's antithetical to my values, especially if the user has followed the rules of the Commons by giving appropriate attribution (which, in some cases might be even more discomfiting than if the image was used anonymously because my flickr identity links directly to my various websites).

I'm not going to stop sharing via Creative Commons and if anything I think I've got a bit thicker skin now--so when this happens again (and I'm just assuming it will) I won't take it so personally. However, I'd like to know if any of you are wary of the Commons or have been burned by the unattributed use of your work? Many of my friends add a copyright watermark to their photos to discourage theft, and while I've considered this, I figured it not worth the time investment on my part. Perhaps I should reconsider?

10 comments:

JohnR said...

In the interest of clarity for this particular incident, I should note that even though it was both of our images in the photo (and in the original, I'm the one most easily and clearly identifiable), I owned the license. The only terms they violated were the attribution, but depending on where they lifted the image, they may not have any way to know about the license, if they were several uses downstream.

I bring this up because I freely give people the right to create derivative works, I am willing to accept that people will create things I don't agree with.

The reason I'm willing to take these kinds of risks are because of what we collectively can gain when we're allowed to work with freely available digital material--overall: we move away from most information and art being in the hands of a few corporate owners and one in which, theoretically, creativity can blossom among the masses. Instead of paying exorbitant prices to license images from Corbis or Getty or AP (that only corporations can afford), we can find free images of comparable quality on flickr. I think that that's worth the risk of the occasional disagreeable usage.

JohnR said...

One more thing--I think there may be two issues here: ownership and control of one's own image, and licensing of intellectual property.

Isaac said...

This is the bane and boon of freedom, really. You have to build in abuse into your expectations. If people have the freedom to think on their own, some of them are going to think thoughts that one does not agree with. If people have the freedom to use your photos, some of them are going to use them in ways one does not agree with. But, to me, that is really the beauty of it, even if it has problems.

jana said...

Yes, John, thanks for clarifying the details that I'd left a bit muddy here. :)

And thanks for the RT, too! :)

Cory said...

I'm with Isaac. My first reaction is to restrict everything once I've felt taken advantage of, but really, the actions of a few jerks, or ignorant people shouldn't affect how I feel about sharing and creative works.

Kevin said...

I agree, I think there are two issues at play: what usage terms you're comfortable with, and whether CC-Attribution matches with those terms.

Myself, I'm comfortable with different terms for different things. I share the altruist ideals listed above, so I favor open licenses for things like academic papers, Wikipedia articles, computer source code, and so on. However there are also digital artifacts that I want to keep private, e.g. the bulk of my personal photos or my home address. I'm not sure exactly what my litmus test is, but it's something like "if I were running for public office, would I be worried about this?"

It seems like they violated the Attribution clause, but if they had cited you they'd technically be in compliance. Maybe adding No-Derivatives would prevent this sort of recasting? The core problem really seems to be that these jerks exploited the picture for an objectionable purpose, and regrettably the only way I know of to prevent that is to keep nearly all my pictures off the Internet.

Kaimi said...

There's also an argument that can be made -- and it's being made right now, in the Virgin Airlines case -- that other protections, such as common-law right of privacy, further restrict some uses of the pictures. I.e., this wasn't just unpaid use of a picture of a flower that Jana took. It was use of a picture of _her_. That raises privacy concerns (and potentially others like defamation).

For instance, if I post a fully-attributed, CC-shared blog post with Jana's picture, that reads "this is what a child abuser looks like" -- she has a defamation claim against me for my content, regardless of the fact that I complied with the CC license.

The same might apply here. But it's a novel claim (the privacy aspects) and it remains to be seen what courts will do with it. The Virgin Airlines case is still in litigation, last time I checked.

xJane said...

I take John's pics, too (for posting to Facebook)—I often attribute them but don't include the full CC license, which I would guess is a violation of that license. Certainly seeing your picture next to an offensive article (or a borderline pornographic one) can be a violating experience, and unfortunately the only solution I see to that is removal of your photos from the 'net.

There's a reason I do most of my posting as xJane rather than as my real name…

I have to agree with John, too, that "people will create things I don't agree with".

G said...

this is the kind of stuff that makes me just want to pull out entirely. Not that that fixes anything. Just sayin'

you handled this very well.

Vajra said...

It's an interesting issue which is very topical right now. Shepard Fairey, who did the now iconic posters of Barack Obama during the campaign, is being sued by A.P. bc he used one of their photos for his art. Fairey is a street artist part of Obey http://obeygiant.com/
The issue is whether his use falls under the fair use provision of copyright laws. Interestingly, the photo upon which the posters are based is probably worth more now...