A thoroughly snowed-in Britain has provided many photographic opportunities over the last few weeks. Amateurs and even some professional photographers have used Flickr, a photo sharing service, to upload and publicise their work. Among their number, Peter Zabulis uploaded a rather picturesque shot of tire tracks crossing a snowy field and labelled it “all rights reserved”.
The Independent, a major UK newspaper, decided to run a story on their website about the cold weather. The story contained a link to an application programming interface (API) that presented a series of photos in slide-show format from Flikr, without requiring the user to navigate away from the newspaper’s page. This ‘stream’ of photos included Zabulis’ photo. No consent was given for the use of the image.
Zabulis, somewhat unsurprisingly, immediately weighed in and asked the newspaper to remove the offending image. The initial reaction of the newspaper was to refuse to do so and to assert that they had done nothing more than provide a link to a photo sharing website. The latter part of this statement is correct – the image shown on The Independent’s website was not actually hosted on their servers, but was in fact only a sophisticated link to the actual picture on Flickr via the previously mentioned API. This poses the rather vexed question of whether The Independent actually copied the work or not, though there seems little doubt that the use was in violation of Flickr’s terms of service.
In the end, The Independent eventually removed the image and paid over a sum of money for its use. However, the increasing use of technology such as APIs is sure to mean that the issue of copyright under these circumstances is likely to crop up again.