Breaking the Rules

From the Flickr Community Guidelines:

Don’t upload anything that isn’t yours. This includes other people’s photos, video and/or stuff you’ve collected from around the Internet. Accounts that consist primarily of such collections may be terminated at any time.

There are 16,655 photos on Flickr tagged “Britney Spears”. You will find 1,925 tagged “Adam Lambert”, 9,184 tagged “Bettie Page”, and 51,016 tagged “Michael Jackson”. Granted, a fairly high percentage of these photos aren’t really of the celebrity (more flagrant Flickr “tag abuse”!)  Still, most of the images are promotional shots or other photos clearly not taken by the Flickr poster.

One wonders if there are some poor Flickr employees whose daily task it is to search Flickr for clear copyright violations and then to ban the Flickr scoff laws flaunting the rules. Somehow I doubt it. I would guess Flickr only acts upon a complaint; the site is just too huge to be effectively policed.

When a law cannot be enforced it is easily ignored. This is certainly true on Flickr. There must be at least 100,000 images on Flickr which are obviously not created by the poster. There is no telling how many, how many hundreds of thousands, of Flickr photos violate the copyright rules.

Don’t use Flickr for commercial purposes. Flickr is for personal use only. If we find you selling products, services, or yourself  through your photostream, we will terminate your account.

I can’t say how many violate this rule. I’m also not clear what it means. Many photos on Flickr are flagged “license photo”. I’m assuming this usually involves the photographer being paid for the licensed use. That would seem to be “commercial activity”. By way of example, this photo by Xindaan could cost you over a thousand dollars for a one time license. You will also find Flickr professional photographers linking on their profile page to their commercial websites; isn’t that a “commercial use”? I link to my blog on Flickr, and on my blog I link to my commercial photography site. Is that a commercial use of Flickr?

There are also, of course, various “commercial” enterprises now posting on Flickr. The entire purpose for these “Flickr members” is obviously commercial. I suspect, however, Flickr approves of this activity because it receives compensation. Recently a video game company created a totally fictitious Flickr page for one of a new game’s characters as part of its promotion. It wasn’t clear whether this use was approved by Flickr.

Here’s a good post from ClickZ discussing the same questions. Here’s a post promoting the use of Flickr in the sale of real estate (the poster recommends setting up a page for each listing so prospective buyers may see what the outside and inside of the house looks like).  Here’s one more website promoting how to use Flickr as a commercial tool.

So with Flickr the rules are the rules — except when they aren’t.

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