A teachable moment after The @VillageVoice used my @Flickr photo despite my chosen @CreativeCommons license

Nopantsvillagevoice

Last week, a Flickr contact of mine congratulated me on having one of my photos printed in The Village Voice. I had no idea what he was talking about. He said it was one from my No Pants Subway Ride series. [More information about the No Pants Subway Ride, dreamed up by Charlie Todd and Improv Everywhere, is on their official blog post describing their event.]

My friend was sorting his recycling, and in the process of gathering his newspapers, he happened to skim the January 4-10, 2012 issue of The Village Voice and recognize my photo and my name. It’s all so incredibly serendipitous. When I got my hands on his issue and saw my photo in print, I was delighted with the half-page size, their treatment of it, and my (albeit teensy) byline, but I was sincerely shocked and confused.

Clearly, anything I post online is public. I’ve been telling my students to forget “public versus private” and instead consider “public versus less public.” It is comically easy to go online and copy/download/steal an image, a song, a movie, a book, etc. The hard part is to make wise choices and consistently cite sources or seek permission.

Here’s the thing: I license most of my photos on Flickr with Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial. So, that means I expect credit for my work and for others not to benefit financially for something I am offering freely. As The Village Voice charges for subscriptions and advertising, they are a commercial enterprise and use of my photo is clearly for commercial purposes.

I left a message John Dixon, Art Director of The Village Voice, saying that I appreciated the photo credit in the paper, but I was surprised no one contacted me or asked permission to use it. He wrote me the next day with a really nice apology, explaining that my chosen Creative Commons license “fell thru our quality-control cracks.” John offered standard compensation for a half-page re-use photo ($100) and to send extra hard-copies of the issue as it was no longer available at newsstands. I was amazed and gratified by John’s response, and my respect for Creative Commons grew. As per their About Page:

Our tools give everyone from individual creators to large companies and institutions a simple, standardized way to keep their copyright while allowing certain uses of their work — a “some rights reserved” approach to copyright — which makes their creative, educational, and scientific content instantly more compatible with the full potential of the internet. The combination of our tools and our users is a vast and growing digital commons, a pool of content that can be copied, distributed, edited, remixed, and built upon, all within the boundaries of copyright law. We’ve worked with copyright experts around the world to make sure our licenses are legally solid, globally applicable, and responsive to our users’ needs.

Original photo here: 

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