For years, ignoring the pleas of its customers, and seemingly unbeknownst to most of us, flickR has been stripping author, license, and other information from the resized versions of every image we upload.
To most of you, this probably sounds like pointless geekery, but it poses a serious copyright problem. This practice contributes massively to the developing “orphan works” issue and needs to be addressed by flickR, pronto.
Most cameras insert data into images when they are created, and many photographers insert additional data such as copyright information, author information, and so on. The idea is that this information follows the image as it travels the world, and hopefully helps people (who are curious enough to look) to understand who made it and how. It also helps honest people who, down the road, discover an image they like and want to find out how – and if – they can legally use it.
When you upload an image to flickR, a server-side script creates versions of the picture in several sizes. This is awesomely convenient for good user presentation. But for some reason, flickR has decided to strip all of the metadata out of the resized versions of the image. Why, why, why does flickR do this? It seems like an effort to reduce image data size and thus Yahoo!’s cost of bandwidth, but the least they could do is keep the author and license information intact, especially for those who pay for “Pro” accounts.
As many of you know, I am an LA photographer and use Flash software called SlideShowPro to power my photography portfolio – a spot where I showcase my best stuff to give a more professional presentation. But for years I’ve used flickR for everything else; I love it for its community, content, ease of use, and the ability to easily feed my content through social media tools such as FriendFeed.
Yet, I only discovered this today, as my “Push premiere” photos began showing up this weekend on several celebrity sites. I have no problem at all with their broad distribution – I welcome it, in fact – but it does irk me that I get no photo credit and all the “downstream” copies of those images will be devoid of the very generous Creative Commons license I applied to them (the same license I apply to every image I upload to flickR.)
So, flickR is taking CC-licensed content and, practically speaking, enabling – or certainly lubricating – its release into the public domain, or at least into a state where people (and organizations) can say they “reasonably believed” it to be in the public domain (the weasel language currently being used in defense of the various image-pilfering rackets.)
This practice (policy?) is absolutely not in the best interests of the photographers who use flickR.
By virtue of their resizing scripts, flickR is literally “orphaning the work” and enabling someone down the road to claim they had no way of finding the original creator. It’s just not cool. It’s even kinda evil, condemning millions of beautiful photographs to wandering the interwebs, enduring a sad life of eternal amnesic parentlessness.
I am reminded of something I often say about the music business: the music “industry” – rather than suing 12-year-olds and funding groups like the RIAA – ought to focus on making it easy for people to be honest – while making it easy for honest people. By stripping metadata, flickR is making it harder on both.
1. Stop doing this now and preserve basic metadata in all sizes;
2. Re-process past uploads to embed provided metadata into all image sizes;
3. let their good and faithful customers know that it is fixed.
[And to those who might suggest turning off flickR’s “all sizes” option, this is another problem. The only place where flickR actually leaves the data alone is in the original uploaded size. So if you turn off “all sizes,” you actually compound the problem by hiding the only image that still HAS your EXIF data. Unfortunately this seems like the “least bad” flickR option, along with marking your flickR images “© All Rights Reserved” even when they are not.]
They should have fixed this years ago. Hrumph.
[Edit: For years, James Duncan Davidson has been pushing flickR to fix this, too.]
[UPDATE: flickR GM (and PopTech alum) Kakul Srivastava emailed me about this. I’ve since been exchanging ideas with her and her team. They are listening, they are taking this issue seriously, and trying to figure out the best way to fix it. I’ll update you when I know more.]