The Olympics and Creative Commons Photographs

Updated October 14, 2009 : Part 2 of this blog post, and more information about the IOC’s request, can be found at The Olympics and Creative Commons Photographs Part 2.

A long blog post about attracting several thousand views on Flickr, interviews with the Toronto Star, Candian TV, and a chat with the Australian Olympic Committee.

On October 7, I received an email from the International Olympic Committee. The letter attached to the email was a little confusing, and in some ways concerning. It related to a collection of photographs that I was sharing on Flickr from my visit to Beijing for their Olympics in 2008.

In all honesty, I wasn’t sure what the IOC were requesting. In the legal letter they made several points: Firstly, that the terms and conditions of the tickets purchased for entry to an Olympic event stated that any images taken by me were only to be used for private use. (The actual statement is “7. Images, videos and sound recordings of the Games taken by you with a camera, video camera or audio equipment or any other kind of equipment may not be used for any purpose other than private, non-commercial purposes.) Secondly, that Olympic identifications such as the Olympic rings and the word “Olympic” can not be used without its prior written consent.

Given they made several points, I was completely confused and unsure if they were requesting that I remove the photos from Flickr completely, or if I just needed to change the license.

Regardless, the heavy handed nature of the letter made me want to share it online to see what others thought. As we all know, the wisdom of crowds goes a long way. I posted the letter on Flickr, and tweeted about it.

A lot of people expressed their support for me, as well as their concern about what appeared to be the IOC’s draconian rules. It caused quite a stir and within hours the Inquisitr had an article online about the C&D.

I also sent a note to the Electronic Frontiers Australia. Along with their sister organisation, the EFF in the U.S., they are well known for helping with on-line freedoms and rights. It didn’t take long and Nicolas Suzor (EFA Chair) responded with some thoughts suggesting that I comply with their demand and temporarily remove the CC licence from the images and find a solicitor to give you legal advice.

I’m a firm believer in not rushing things, unless of course it’s about life a death. So rather than be hasty and respond any further I chose to sleep on it. They required a response within about 48 hours, and I figured that it was unlikely that I’d be sued or locked up in jail if I took a little time.




Beijing Olympics: Usain Bolt Breaks The World Record (Men’s 100 Meters)

Originally uploaded by rich115

Overnight the story managed to get a life of its own. Thomas Hawk, a well known photographer and CEO of Zooomr, wrote a response on my Flickr photo and an article on his own blog: International Olympic Committee Tries to Shut Down Olympic Photos On Flickr. He also sent an email to several people at the IOC suggesting their request was unfair, and would only damage the IOC’s public image. Jordan from NowPublic also wrote an article, IOC Tries to Take Down Olympic Photos on Flickr, and Cory Doctorow from Boing Boing added his weight, Olympic Commitee claims that photographing exterior of venues violates copyrights.

Before long I also had the Toronto Star, Canada’s CTV, the UK Telegraph requesting I make some comments. I also had 5,652 view of my Flickr stream for the day. The story had gone slightly viral.

It was definitely time for me to clarify a few things with the IOC. So I sent them an email asking for clarification.

With reference to the below email and the attached letter.

Could you confirm that the IOC would like me to change the license of
my photographs on Flickr. Are you requesting that I change the license
of the photos taken from inside Olympic venues to Copyright, or is
there another Creative Commons license that would satisfy your
organisation? Or are you requesting something else?

Please let me know as soon as possible.

Kind regards
Richard

I also sent a note to Creative Commons Australia. A few people had suggested that I make contact with them, because it seemed that this was the crux of the issue. Almost all of my photos were licensed using a Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic, except for one photo of Usain Bolt that was licensed using Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic. More on that later.

CC Australia had already heard of my issue, and Jessica Coates suggested I give them a call so that they might provide some support and suggestions. After a brief chat, Jessica thought I’d taken a logical approach to clarify their request, and said I was free to contact them again when I had more information.

It was now time for me to wait and see how the IOC responded.

Thursday evening rolled around, and I was enjoying a quiet night in front of the TV with my sweetheart @lu_lu, when I decided to check my email on my iPod before we crashed for the night. I was pleasantly surprised to see a very reasonable email in my inbox from the IOC.

Dear Richard,

Thank you for your email.

We hope you understand our goal is to promote and not to censure the Olympic spirit and to protect the rights of the athletes appearing in the photos.

Indeed, what the IOC is asking is that you change the license of the photos taken inside of the Olympic venues from “attribution – share alike” to “all rights reserved”. We are happy that you and thousands of people share your exciting experience of the Olympic Games on flickr and other social media but the IOC would like to avoid uncontrolled use of athletes’ image rights and of Olympic images and identifications.

You might be interested to know that one of your pictures was chosen from the Creative commons database and recently re-used in England for commercial purposes, in breach of your CC license as well as of the image rights of the athlete depicted.

We thank you for your understanding and complying with the above.

Should you have any further question, you can contact me by email or by phone.

The tone and manner of the email was much more down to earth, and explained in a bit more detail what the IOC hoped to achieve. It clarified that they did not have a problem with me sharing photos online, it just caused a lot of complication when the photos were being used in a commercial manner. They specifically pointed out that one of my photos was being used in England without my permission. Not only a breach of their contract, but also a breach of the license that I’d applied to the photos. I just wasn’t sure which image they meant.

Friday morning saw a few more emails from the press, and after dropping my daughter to a friends house I arrived at work to a message asking for me to call the Australian Olympic Committee.

Things seemed to have escalated a little, and the matter was becoming somewhat more urgent.

I gave them a call back, and left a message. A short while later a gentleman from the AOC called back and we had a very pleasant chat.

It turns out that my Usain Bolt photo was being used by a book shop in the UK to advertise the launch of the Guinness Book of Records 2010. This was being done without my knowledge, and as they pointed out, in breach of the license granted on the Olympic ticket.

Back in August of 2008, right after the Beijing Olympics, an author for Wikipedia had contacted me to ask if I might change the license of the Usain Bolt photo to Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic, so that it could be used in Wikimedia projects. This was a bit of a big deal to me, for more than the reason at the time, because I figured it was awesome to have one of my photos on Wikipedia. Now I really didn’t give much thought to a license that I really didn’t know existed on the Olympic tickets, but I was also more than happy to help a Wikipedia author, because after all, they weren’t going to make any money off the image either. It was all done with the greatest respect, and the aim of sharing information with anyone who needed to know more about Usain Bolt.

Back to the present day, it seemed that licensing my photo in a more liberal way had prompted a book store to use the photo to promote the launch of the book. This had then prompted the IOC to send me the cease and desist letter.

It all made a lot more sense now, and I was much clearer about what the IOC was requesting. They were very comfortable with me sharing my photos on Flickr, but they needed to ensure that my license of the photos did not allow commercial use. A much more respectable request that removing any of my photos from Flickr.

It still wasn’t clear from the last email from the IOC whether I could continue to use a Creative Commons license. Their last request was for me to apply a complete copyright license. However, I prefer using a CC license, and felt that for public benefit I should clarify further if the IOC were comfortable with a CC license that allowed sharing for non-commercial purposes. So I drafted another email and sent it to the IOC.

Hi

Thanks very much for your email, it clarifies the issue a lot.

I have also been contacted by the AOC and they have explained that
a bookstore in the UK is using my Usain Bolt photograph
without permission. I was not aware of this, and will contact them to
discontinue their use of the photo.

I am now fully aware that you’re happy for me to share my photos, but
that you require me to license them for non-commercial use. Would you
be ok if I changed all the licenses on these photos to another
Creative Commons license, rather than full copyright? This is the
license that I think might suit your request:

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/

Thanks again for your email, it’s much appreciated.

Kind regards
Richard

As of writing, I’m waiting to hear back from the IOC about their license preference. However, given the non-commercial CC licenses provide the protection that they require, I’m hoping they’ll be happy with its use.

In the mean time, there seem to be two morals for this story. Firstly, make sure you check the license you’re agreeing to when you attend an event and plan to share content. This might seem like a no-brainer to many, but with the increase in amateur photography (etc.) and the ease with which we can all share our work, it’s time to be more diligent. Secondly, if you’re an organisation it’s a great idea to dispense with legal letters and have real conversations with your customers. Had the IOC sent me a brief email or tried to contact me via phone, rather than send a threatening C&D, all this could have been avoided.

It’s this last point that strikes me as being the most important. Gone are the days when organisations can tackle customers with an impersonal attitude. We’re all a lot more connected today, and all a lot more savvy about the choices that we have. I think we all expect to be treated as equals, with a lot of respect. We also know that there are millions of others that now expect the same, and we’re all willing to stick up for each other. As Clay Shirky says: Here Comes Everybody.

Lets hope that for everyone’s benefit that the IOC are happy with a non-commercial CC license. It’d be great to have such a large organisation accept that we should all be free to share our work using an alternative to outdated copyright.

Updated October 14, 2009 : Part 2 of this blog post, and more information about the IOC’s request, can be found at The Olympics and Creative Commons Photographs Part 2.

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39 thoughts on “The Olympics and Creative Commons Photographs

  1. You’re absolutely right about your last point with emailing/phoning before sending threatening letters. I think if companies and organisations made a quick phone call to say, “hey, we noticed you…..” it can save a lot of time, and also save people changing their opinions (@cameronreilly’s comment on your Flickr is pretty good example there). When I first saw this story break I thought the IOC were a bunch of jerks too, but that was before any of us, even you, knew the full story and what they were really requesting.

    It might have been helped if the original letter wasn’t written so much like a form letter with all of their rules and regulations which I’m sure you were already aware of having attended the Olympics.

    Even though this has all happened, your point about being diligent when sharing content from events on the internet is an extremely important one, and is just another needle in the haystack that is copyright and all of those ownership issues floating around. :)

  2. Thanks for the explanation Rich. I reckon you’ve handled the whole situation logically and reasonably. Like many others I was disappointed with the IOC’s C&D but their follow-up is much more rational.

    Fingers crossed you can use the CC license.

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  7. Nice post! I eager to see how the IOC responds to your last email.

    It probably won’t be possible to put the CC BY-SA genie back in the bottle, since none of the downstream users agreed to the terms and conditions of the IOC. It’s unlikely that Wikipedia will stop using the photo and stop providing it to others under the license that allows commercial use, since that was the license at the time it was uploaded to Wikimedia Commons.

    It’s a great photo, by the way. Thanks so much for putting it under a Wikipedia-compatible license!

    Good luck!

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  11. Richard – I think you handled the situation very professionally – though I still fail to see what legal leg the AOC has to stand on – they’re your pics and you can license them as you see fit?

  12. I am sure that the proposal in your last e-mail was very relevant. Actually the pictures should comply two licences:
    * The licence that IOC conceded to you when you entered the stadium. You agreed not to use the pictures for commercial purposes.
    * The licence that you concede to other Internet users.
    Apparently, you personally have no problem if your picture is reused commercially, which you expressed initially by choosing a BY-SA contract. But some bit of information was missing, because reusers could not know that the picture was submitted to further limitations that come from the conditions under which the pictures were taken. You know suggest to use the BY-NC-SA limit, taking into account the limitation that IOC imposes to your pictures.

    However, to be the closest to reality, I (IANAL) think that you might use a licence CC-BY-SA plus an additional note that IOC (not you) is prohibiting commercial uses. Whether the limitation comes from an individual somewhere or from an international committee has different implications for a publisher. You in principle have no problems in reusing your photographs for commercial purposes, so in case a publisher wants to use the image, they should contact the IOC (and if they agree to pay a fee, they will probably come to an agreement with the IOC).

    It now may be hard for you to force a publisher to discontinue using an image, since you gave them permission by the CC contract. You can only claim that the contract is breached if they did not give credit as specified in the licence. However, the publisher was also a bit unprofessional not to check that everything was correct before actually sending the book to press. Hopefully the IOC accepts your licence change and finds an agreement directly with the publisher.

    Anyway we all knew for 4 years that the IOC was on the dark side of copyright, as illustrated by their claim that one should ask before linking to their site (see at http://www.linksandlaw.com/linkingcases-linkingpolicies.htm , the section dedicated to the Olympics). One could believe they would not dare to damage further their image, but they did.

  13. Erratum :

    Hi, you made an small error : the wikipedian didn’t requested you a Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic CC license

    but a CC-BY-SA 2.0 as stated here : http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Usain_Bolt_Olympics_Celebration.jpg

    reviewed by a bot that checked the original image on flickr here : http://www.flickr.com/photos/35034356424@N01/2767537621

    You licenced it with this license : http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en_GB

    Wikimedia Commons, the image database for WIkipedia, only accept licenses that allow distribution and modification ( as it’s necessary for a collaborative encyclopedia, so that images can be digitally enhanced or cropped by a Wikigraphist ). Few conditions are accepted : attribution and share alike (reuse with the same licence)

    That’s why a wikipedian would never have asked you a licence that do not accept derivatives (like a cropped version or a photo montage).

    If you change the licencing of your image on Flickr to “all rights reserved” or a CC licence with “no commercial use”, it does not change the previous licence you gave to people. You might have to go to court to remove the licence you gave (if it’s even possible), and might have to pay the people that reused it with your licence for the damage they would suffer by removing it.

    Another thing might be checked : did the UK bookstore reused your photo according to the CC-BY-SA 2.0 licence you gave : he had to publish it with the licence’s legal text or a link to the wikimedia commons page or the licence text online (that’s what Share Alike means : keep the same licence). The licence you gave : CC BY SA 2.0 do allow commercial use.

    I’m not a lawier, and i dont know if their are specific Australian laws regarding this, but i wanted to warn you about this matter. Please, contact a lawier for correct advices.

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  19. I am sure that the proposal in your last e-mail was very relevant. Actually the pictures should comply two licences:
    * The licence that IOC conceded to you when you entered the stadium. You agreed not to use the pictures for commercial purposes.
    * The licence that you concede to other Internet users.

  20. If you change the licencing of your image on Flickr to “all rights reserved” or a CC licence with “no commercial use”, it does not change the previous licence you gave to people. You might have to go to court to remove the licence you gave (if it’s even possible), and might have to pay the people that reused it with your licence for the damage they would suffer by removing it. Thanks for posts

  21. Of note, here is a photo that I took during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics along with the tickets for one of the events. The rules back then stated that “Images of the Olympic Games obtained by Spectators with cameras, video and/or audio devices or other means cannot be used for broadcast, publication or any commercial purposes under any circumstances.”

    thanks for notes..

  22. Richard shared a follow-up email from the IOC, in which the IOC explained their position in much greater detail and much more polite Olympic Games obtained by Spectators with cameras, video and/or audio devices or other means cannot be used for broadcast. thanks for posts…

  23. He take down his Beijing Olympics photos on Flickr. Check Richard’s blog entries for what happened. Of note, here is a photo that I took during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics along with the tickets for one of the events. The rules back then stated that “Images of the Olympic Games obtained by Spectators with cameras, video and/or audio devices or other means cannot be used for broadcast

    zirkonyum diş
    porselen diş
    fiyatları
    thanks for posts.

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