A Flickr Horror Story

If you think it’s bad finding unflattering pictures of yourself on Flickr and having to live with the fact that it is not your right to remove them, consider the case of Alison Chung. Alison is a 15 year old kid from Dallas. Her friend Justin Wong took a picture of her at a charity car wash, pulling a face and making a V-Sign, and uploaded it to his Flickr account to share. Which was all perfectly harmless until Virgin, a huge multi-national media company, downloaded the picture (without informing the photographer), attached a nasty caption, and used it for a nationwide Australian poster campaign advertising mobile phones.

Dump Your Pen Friend

Also through the magic of Flickr, the moment where Alison found out she had been humiliated in this way (and the long debate that follows) is in the public domain too.

Alison’s family is suing. Wong didn’t copyright the photograph, probably because he’s a kid, not an evil corporation, but he did allow Creative Commons distribution of his work. This is the Virgin defence, who are insisting they have done nothing wrong. They are saying not only can they take a photographers work and re-appropriate it for commercial purposes, the rights of the subject have also been waived too, i.e. Alison has no say in how her image is used. It will be interesting to see how this one turns out.

It’s a cautionary tale children.

posted January 30th, 2008

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john cooper said...

I wonder if the lack of a model release form could play some part in this? Although as I understand it her friend who took the photo would then become liable, and she could sue him I wonder?
The use of creative commons has much to be applauded on flickr however I think there should be a way that the author could add a note to their usage statement ‘read this before you use’ by default. This would also allow users to add a note anyone wanting to use their images.
Virgin in my opinion were out of order. They should have made contact with the author to ensure that they could use the image.

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