Flickr is one of the treasures of the Web. You can find high quality images on just about every topic imaginable. It’s great for sharing with friends, planning vacations and illustrating blog posts. It also raises a lot of issues relating to intellectual property, privacy rights and publicity rights.
The New York Times has a piece on the intersection of social networks, privacy rights and intellectual property. Virgin Mobile in Australia used a picture of Alison Chang posted on flickr as part of a billboard. The picture had been uploaded by photographer Justin Ho-Wee Wong, who assigned a Creative Commons license, allowing for commercial use of his picture.
Under U.S. law (which I don’t think would apply in this case), there are two separate issues. One is the rights of the photographer who took the picture. It seems that in case, the license provided by Wong allowed for use by Virgin Mobile. The other issue is the the rights of the person in the photo. Generally speaking, your picture cannot be used for commercial purposes without your consent. It can however be used for editorial purposes; if you’re at a news event, a newspaper or TV station doesn’t have to have your permission to show you.
Of course, this brings up the issue of defining “commercial purposes” and “consent.” Is Google Street View a commercial use? What if they put ads around the Street View images? Many semi-public places like sports arenas and theme parks state (often in fine print on the back of your ticket) that you give consent to commercial use of your likeness by entering. These same places prohibit you from using pictures that you take inside for commercial purposes.
I’ve thought a lot about these two issues as I’ve uploaded pictures to flickr. I typically post pictures with a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. People are free to use my pictures for noncommercial purposes, as long as they credit me. They can also make derivative works, as long as those works are also shared. In two cases that I know of, my pictures have appeared in print publications.
The other issue is privacy. I try to edit out (or at least mark private) any images that might be embarrassing to my friends. I don’t include people’s last names in the tags or descriptions to prevent directed searches. I’ve had a couple of requests to take down or edit images of friends, which I honor.