[Air-L] Flickr, distributed imagery and copyright (was: a question of open source ethics)

Paul Caplan praxis at theinternationale.com
Mon Jan 18 06:57:23 PST 2010

Thanks to everyone who has responded, on list and off.

There seem to be some really interesting issues:

Apps as frontends to websites. 
There are many Apps that allow users to browse Flickr (their own photos and others) including those photos 'taken nearby' (cf. mobilefotosapp.com). These are effectively providing frontends to Flickr but from within a standalone App. The user of the App is 'browsing' Flickr but can save images they like to their phone, just as they could save from the main Flickr site or even the mobile version of the Flickr site. The question is whether there is some difference (legal or otherwise) between browsing a website through a browser and through an App.

Flow of images versus individual pictures
Flickr makes use of the fact that images are now arguably an issue of flow and distributed media. The slideshow option to view an individual or a Group's images - again replicated on mobile Apps such as cooliris - foreground the issue that part of the cultural practice of Flickring is assembling these montages. The question is what happens when those slideshows are created  and displayed on the fly, by software perhaps in a flow that changes each time the App is fired up.

Augmented reality
Augumented reality Apps further complicate the issue by repositioning images as data to be pulled in alongside other data across a live view. To see those images is one thing. What about using them as part of one's own imag(in)ing as I've been playing with ( http://www.flickr.com/photos/content2bdifferent/4247003217/)? In this case I'm 'using' a corporate logo (arguably copyrighted and trademarked) but what if I pull some other data from the distributed web as part of my image as Twittality (http://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/twittality-augmented-reality/id339494135?mt=8) does when it pulls in people's avatars? And does that change when I freeze that flow as my created image?

Copyright and sharing
Of course users of Flickr can attach licences to their images. The question is where issues of 'fair dealing' and critique (http://www.ipo.gov.uk/types/copy/c-other/c-exception.htm) come in when a user's browser (mobile or not) can cache images, they can be bookmarked, added to Evernote or Zotero, embedded etc. Perhaps a more interesting question still is how a site that positions itself as 'photo sharing' rather than 'photo album' works with that logic. If my images get part of their power and 'meaning' from their relation to the community and the wider distributed flow, where are the boundaries between my 'work/creativity' and someone else's or even the site's?

Doubtless those with more legal knowledge than I will be able to point to the current state of thinking on this (and thanks for the various links people have sent) but I think the debate needs to happen at other levels than just the legal or even the ethical. This seems to me to go the heart of the issue of networks as protocol-driven (cf Galloway)  assemblages where one's entry into those spaces/practices places one's photographs, photography (production and consumption) into new sets of power-full relations.

If the App I am building (like those that have gone before) provide a window onto distributed space - that's one set of relations. If it allows people to filter those views and remix data - that's another set. If they can then embed, save, pass-on those views - still different sets of relations. And if they can use the App as a different sort of image maker - well different again.

When Levine rephotographed Walker Evans' work, the postmodern affectation was around the display in a gallery. When the game happens in networked space, the issues are... interesting.

Paul Caplan
praxis at theinternationale.com
07801 151 052


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