Is Flickr giving away your photography lunch?

Using the new image search function from Google, it looks like my Flickr account is the biggest source of unauthorised use of my images.

I have traditionally used utilities such as Tineye to assist in determining where my images are being used. They do an excellent job of identifying images or portions of an image, but they have not indexed a lot of my photos, despite have a business relationship with Photoshelter who host my image archive.

Google recently released a new image search function which is almost the opposite of Tineye, having indexed a larger percentage of my images,  but their partial image recognition is lacking …. no doubt they have people working on improving this.

Check out these links to read more on Google Image search:-

To me as a photographer, the perfect match would be if Google purchased Tineye and combined the technologies… major indexing clout, combined with powerful image recognition.

I decided to take the Google image search function for a spin and see what it could do.

One of  the results that struck me most, was a image of the inside of a computer portable hard disk drive posted to Flickr less than one month ago . This image has a Rights Managed (RM) copyright license which has special conditions for offering exclusivity of use, and I know from my records that it has not sold from any of my stock photography sites.

carl chapman harddisk image search result

Doing a Google search, I see my image appears on a number of other sites. Visiting each site, I was able to identify the images came from my my Flickr account, as I use slightly different copyright watermarks on each site that I post images.

This was very concerning to me. I only post selected images on Flickr, all with a “Rights Reserved” designation, and a “Do not copy” warning notice. I also have Sharing functions and access to original images disabled in the Flickr Privacy & Permission menu.

I sent an email off to the friendly people at Flickr support, and received the following reply:-

Hello,

Thank you for contacting Flickr Customer Care.

Before I go into addressing your concern, I’d like to first apologize for the delay in my responding to your inquiry. We are committed to answering your questions as quickly and accurately as possible. However, we are currently receiving unusually high volumes which caused the delayed response.

I understand that you have a concern with your photos that are showing on the other website like XYZ (name changed to protect the innocent… Carl), even though it was set as All Rights Reserve and disabled the sharing options. Allow me to provide the information you need.

There are a few ways that your photo might be displayed outside of Flickr, but still hosted here. Some of the ways include:

* Blogs

* Tag search applications

* Web-based games (often fun memory based programs)

* Screen savers (displaying most recent uploads or photos from Explore, etc.)

* Desktop photo display widgets (like Apple’s Dashboard or Yahoo! Widgets)

Through the Flickr API, it is possible to construct such websites and applications that query Flickr’s publicly available photos via tags or user ID and build dynamic content that displays photos in interesting ways. If they are properly using the Flickr API and abiding by the requirements, the photo as seen on the page will link back to the photo page as it is found in your photostream, and it will be for non-commercial use. The actual image itself is not hosted on that site, but the display will probably look different than what you are used to.

If you would rather your photos did not show on these sites, you can opt-out here:

http://flickr.com/account/prefs/apioptout

Your photos will still be searchable on Flickr.com, and you will still be able to use third-party sites for your own stream (ex., our printing partners).

Separate from the API Opt-out, we offer the opportunity for users to hide the “Blog This” button above your images:

http://www.flickr.com/account/prefs/blogging/

This will prevent people from using Flickr’s integrated blogging feature found above a photo though it is not a guarantee that your photo will not be blogged manually.

Note: There are a few instances where your image may be hosted on Flickr, but someone has just linked to the static image element and not through to your photostream itself. This is against the Flickr Community Guidelines. If you have questions about that, feel free to drop us a note via Help by Email:

http://www.flickr.com/help/website/#7

Thank you again for contacting us. If you have any other questions, please feel free to reply to this email.

Regards,

Flickr Customer Care

Now I maybe missing something, but I have never seen the API opt-out setting on any of my account menus…. this should be readily available to the account holder.

After contacting the offending sites, I found a couple of people used third party programs utilising the Flickr API to download images for their sites and blogs. Some applications like Zemanta do a good job and filter images by license before providing content to their users, and also embed special code to show their application was used. However, other applications are unfortunately much less detailed or compliant in the design of their software.

Some offending sites appear to have been subscribed to auto-posting software (such as Simplespeed ) which automatically reposts web page  content and images to other sites, replicating the unlicensed image around the web.

… what a nightmare for photographers.

Conclusion

I spent hours chasing down the relevant site owners, and most were very good about removing the unlicensed images.

However, the rate at which images seem to be able to propagate around the web without appropriate licensing is mind boggling and getting very scary. As a photographer it’s getting more difficult to control the licensing I can offer my clients, while maintaining a presence in the social media sphere.

From several past blog posts and podcasts, I know some elite photographers such as Trey Ratcliff (Stuck in Customs) are happy for their images to be shared around the web to increase visibility, and I can understand that point of view.

For now I have opted-out of the Flickr API, and disabled the “Blog this feature” while I internally debate my options. I will continue to operate my Flickr account, as it has been a source of some excellent business contact referrals, but if my lunch continues to be given away, I may consider shutting it down.

Guess the key lesson is to be very careful with your settings when promoting your images through social media platforms, and watermark all your images.

I’m interested to hear others experiences and opinions.

Carl Chapman

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One thought on “Is Flickr giving away your photography lunch?”

  1. This has happened so much with my Flickr account lately — even though over 3 months ago I opted out of 3rd party search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo) and their API. Doesn’t matter. ARR photos on Flickr are free game to anyone on Tumblr.

    My proof is here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/suomynona/5900859927/ and http://pouryourheartintoit.tumblr.com/ in case one site or the other takes issue with my accusations.

    That, and many local Seattle sites/publications thought I wouldn’t find out that they were using my photos without my approval or providing credit.

    Someone that was once very generous has turned into a NO person.

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