CC licensed photos and the International Olympic Committee

Weezie’s Birthday Ballooning by Richard Giles / CC BY-SA

Richard Giles, a social media specialist in Australia who frequently posts and CC licenses photos on Flickr, received a threatening letter from the International Olympic Committee last week, mentioning a set of photos he had taken at the 2008 games in Beijing.

Giles posted a rundown of the story so far on his blog. It is not clear the situation is resolved yet, and initially there was confusion about which photos or licenses are at issue, but there are many worthwhile posts about it to check out, including these:

Regarding Ross’ post, of course the UK merchant that used the photo in an advertisement that eventually attracted the IOC’s notice may have discovered the photo directly on Flickr as well. In either case, the value of moving to a more liberal license if you want your works to spread is highlighted — Giles’ Usain Bolt photo is under CC Attribution-ShareAlike, while his other Beijing photos are under CC Attribution-NonCommercial.

cc-shepard-fairey-logo-mediumWhatever the resolution of this particular dispute, there’s no question that the IOC’s attempt to control how photographers use their own photos is symptomatic of the permission culture and tragedy of the anticommons we are facing. Creative Commons can’t directly influence the IOC’s policies, but we’re creating an alternative to ensure a non-gridlocked future of creativity and innovation, an alternative that offers benefits to those who participate in the commons now, and whose successes will change minds. Please support us — we’re in the midst of our 2009 campaign to raise $500,000 to fund this work.

The photo at the top of this post by Richard Giles is not of the Olympics, but does look fun. Note that even such an innocuous photo could be under threat as we move in the direction of a permission economy — building owners attempt to control public photography, why not balloon owners or designers? Give now.

5 thoughts on “CC licensed photos and the International Olympic Committee”

  1. “Regarding Ross’ post, of course the UK merchant that used the photo in an advertisement that eventually attracted the IOC’s notice may have discovered the photo directly on Flickr as well.”

    Wouldn’t the merchant have needed to make sure there was a model release as well? Didn’t this come up with the issue in Australia? (was that the place?)

  2. Creative Commons has done more to harm commercial photographers than (arguably) any other group out there. I hope that the IOC situation, along with other IP protections lead to the downfall of this ersatz “license” system.

    Creatives were able to give their work to the world if they chose to and to license it however they chose to, long before CC. CC has simply ruined creatives’ earning potential by forcing the default to “free” so that creatives have to fight to get paid for their work.

  3. drew,

    Publicity rights are complex and vary by jurisdiction (including by state within the US). See for a little info … public event and endorsement may figure in, but I’m not lawyer and this is not legal advice, which CC can’t give. So, the short answer is, I don’t know.


    I think fun and cheap technology has had far more impact on the low end of the photo licensing market than have standard public licenses. Fun — people love taking, and sharing photos. Check technology — awesome photo equipment is available to anyone, at least in wealthy regions — to have fun with. This means a surfeit of high quality photos that people want to share, and CC makes doing so a bit easier and more effective. I’m glad you think we’re making a big impact!

  4. I can’t speak for Canada, but at least in the US, if it can be seen from a public street, then it is fair game.

    The IOC is always shrouded in controversy, and I’m not sure they would want it any other way. Useless, arrogant, you-know-whats is what they are.

    For an event that is supposed to project peace and inclusiveness, the IOC does a masterful job projecting selfishness, greed, and exclusivity.

  5. I think this whole issue speaks of a wider concern. When posting images to the web, can we really expect them not to be used by other parties. It seems to me that the time has come for a finite copyright application that insists upon payment before usage and until this is available photographers must expect their work to be pinched.

    Arguments I have heard in the past have drawn correlation to the problems experienced in the digital music industry. However, rock bands have paid many millions to their record companies in the past to develop the digital media versions of their music, so they can surely expect multi-millions to be spent protecting their work. Photographers have sailed along on the wind of free software and free promotion online for long enough and now it’s time for them to pay for the development of protection software for their images.

    If it’s worth showing, it’s worth protecting … so it’s worth investing !

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