using Flickr photos without copyright owners permission

On Monument Circle

One of my friends pointed out to me today that several of his and my photos that are posted on Flickr under an “All Rights Reserved” license are being pulled into the website – the “Official site of the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association.” You find some of them from this page – click on any of the icons that say “More Info > Photos” under each attraction. They are pulling in many photos taken by Flickr members from Indianapolis, and almost all of them are not licensed to be used this way.

Even if photos are published on Flickr, they are not licensed for other use without the permission of the photo taker unless that person has designated that they are under one of various Creative Commons Licenses. My photos are not, and should not be appearing on any site other than my own. Many other people’s photos are not licensed to be shared, either, and judging by the response I got from the ICVA, I suspect they didn’t get their permission to use them either.’s behavior is a copyright violation many times over.

When I discovered this, I immediately called the number at the bottom of the website (1-800-323-INDY) and left a message. Sadly, this is the only way to get contact of someone; there is no email or form to use.

I got a call back from a man named James Wallis (Wallace?) to whom I explained the problem. He was FILLED with explanations designed to convince me that there is nothing wrong with what they are doing. Among them:

  • Well, they’re on Flickr, so they’re in the public domain. (Norfolking Waypal. Not true. You have to follow Flickr’s licensing rules to use pictures.)
  • We’re linking to people’s accounts, so they get credit. (Lovely, but some people want more than credit for pictures they’ve taken. Some people want MONEY – hence the “All rights reserved” designation. If they wanted to share, they’d mark the photos with Creative Commons Licenses.)
  • We’re only showing a very small thumbnail. (Not true; they have a larger image that pops up if you click on a thumbnail image. Either way, use of the picture small or large without permission is wrong.)
  • We have lawyers that told us this is okay. (You have some bad lawyers, dude. I know better, and throwing this excuse out there hoping I don’t is not cool.)
  • We’ll take your pictures down right away. (Lovely – what about all the OTHER photos you’re using without permission?)
  • We’ve been doing this for a long time. No one has complained until now. (So, you’ve been robbing banks for a long time – doesn’t mean you get off when you get caught.)
  • Most people are quite happy when they see their pictures are featured on our site. (It’s sad that most people are sheep and don’t know their rights. I suspect many people would be happy to share their photos IF YOU ASK THEM FIRST. I might have. Maybe not – I have actually sold photos, so if they have some commercial value, I want money, even if it’s a small amount.)

I tried, throughout the conversation, to point out that if they had only acted in Good Faith – if they had sent a message to Flickr users asking for their photos, they might have gotten not just permission – but people willing to go out and take pictures of stuff they’ve seen specifically for the site. People are taking pictures of the city because we like this place. If you ask us for help promoting the city, many of us would be happy to help out.

Hell, if they’d contacted me, I’d have pointed out that I have WAY BETTER photos
than the ones they picked – I have an entire collection – A Sense of Place – of pictures documenting my love affair with the Circle City.

Just act in good faith – be considerate, and don’t lie and make excuses when people call you out on your behavior. It’s disturbing that someone promoting the city could produce that list of excuses. If you love the city, love it’s citizens, too, and act on their behalf.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Rachel

    And as you showed me earlier today, you can exclude your pics from the Flickr API by going to You > Your Account > Privacy & Permissions and editing the “Hide your stuff from public searches” item — and checking the box next to “Hide your photostream from 3rd party sites that use the API.” I did that today — will look tomorrow to see if my pics dropped off the site. Thieving bastards!

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