28 May 2009

Mass media ignore CC licensing

While reading a Norwegian online newspaper tonight, I noticed that the paper had used a Creative Commons-licensed picture from flickr as an illustrative image for the article I was reading. I thought it was nice to see how the CC-license was used in a mass media site.

The picture was good, so I thought I'd look it up, and look at other images from the same photographer. The paper had credited the image with the flickr screen name, so it was fairly easy to find. To my surprise I found that the image had "All rights reserved", the opposite of a CC-license. The picture was used illegally by the paper...

I think such a license-violation is pretty serious when done by a major paper. As the curious guy I am, I thought I'd check if this was the case with more images. I ran a Google-search for articles on the site with the text "Creative Commons" within the last month. I got quite a few hits, and ended up checking 14 images.

One of the photos used legally. From lyng883 with CC BY-license

Of these 14 images 1 had no info about photographer or license, 6 used the image without violating the CC-license chosen by the photographer and 7, 50% of the images, were in clear violation of the license. 2 of these 7 even had "All rights reserved".

I put the details in a Google Docs spreadsheet here, which have links to all articles I checked, and, if found, links to the flickr-pages of the pictures used. In addition the spreadsheet has my analysis (in Norwegian) on whether the license was broken, and, if so, in what way.

My conclusion from this is that the journalists in this paper have little or no respect for the licensing of the pictures they find at flickr. When journalists, which should be trained in this, and to be expected to withstand from illegal use of intellectual property, have such disregard for the licensing, are we then naive to think others respect the licensing?

Update: It seems that this in part can be caused by photographers changing the license on their pictures. This is likely the case for the first pictures I checked, the photographer for this has told me that it used to be under CC-license up untill a couple of weeks ago.

This case is more complicated than I first thought...

Update 2: The paper has now replaced the image in the article which I linked to in the top. Both a journalist and the editor of the paper have stated that the picture should not have been used, and that they probably made an error during the search that found the image. What they have not done, is fix the 6 other errors I also found. I don't think they really understood the full extent of this.

I do not know if the paper understands the problem of photographers changing the license on the pictures on flickr. There is a good change this paper actually never did anything wrong on the picture they now have removed. From the response I got from the journalist, it seems that they had fetched the picture some time ago, probably before the license was changed (as the photographer told she had done).

The interesting problem here is that the CC rules state that when you have applied a CC-license to a photo, or something else, this is permanent. The situation the paper ended up in shows why this is necessary. The problem is that flickr does not enforce this rule, the users are free to change the license any way they like. There is an interesting article in Wired on this problem.


Hans-Petter said...

Is it not possible to change what flickr says, after some time? So that when the journalist checked the image was CC, but then the photographer changed the licence? I am not sure if this is possible, just a thought. Could you check it out?

André Rakvåg said...

This is a good point, and yes that can be done.

I left a comment on flickr-page for the first image I checked, and the photographer has replied that it actually used to be licensed under Creative Commons up till a couple of weeks ago. She was also ok with it being used in the article.

If the picture was downloaded by the paper before the license was changed I can see that this could easily happen. However, the article that used this image was posted just a few hours before I wrote this, meaning that the image was not under CC-license when it was used.

I haven't checked if this is the case for more of the images, but it could be interesting to find out. Note, however, that this is not a valid explanation for all the pictures where the license is not followed. Two of the images didn't even have the required attribution.

Hans-Petter said...

As far as I know, and I have worked with free media a bit on the wikipedia-project, you are not allowed to change the licensing to a more strict one once you have released it under one free licence. You are however allowed to multi-licence it, but nobody can for instance go to Wikimedia Commons and say "Yeah, it was free a year ago, but now I dont want it to be"

That flickr allows you to change what is viewed at will is ok, but that dont change the rules.

I totally agree with you that this is not a valid explanation for all of the images, and I know that Wikimedia Norge is trying hard to educate the oldshcool media about how to use free images and how to respect licencing even though its free.

Its also great that people like you bug them about it. Have you contacted the authors of the articles, or the newspaper?

André Rakvåg said...

Ah, nice to see you are experienced in this field. It does make sense that you are not allowed to tighten the licensing, but I suspect most people are now aware of this (I wasn't). flickr should probably notify it's users of this.

I have notified the editor of this paper, and he replied that he would look into it right away. So far, it seems he is taking this seriously.