A week or so ago, there was a large discussion on QuiltArt.com about copyright. Congress is debating the Orphan Works bill (there is an excellent article on this subject here) and the subject of Flickr.com came up. Someone mentioned that they had found their work on Flickr posted by someone else and were upset that anyone logging on could use their image to put on coffee mugs. In the back of my mind, I remembered Gloria Hansen discussing how she had found an image of her work on Cafepress.com and that it was being used on lots of merchandise.

So on a lark, I went to Flickr, which I didn’t know much about, and typed “quilts” into the search engine. There were so many — so I typed in “quilts Greaves”. Holy Cannoli — there were my quilts that have been in the International Quilt Festival in Houston the last couple of years, some posted more than once.

When I started looking at the pages, there were copyrights on my quilts granted to the poster. I was stunned. In looking further, I found that Flickr automatically gives an “all rights reserved” copyright to people that post to their servers. (This can be changed to different degrees of copyright, but really none would apply in this situation.)

Their help files indicate that it is possible for the image poster to restrict downloads on an image, but there is no way to see download restrictions on an image page.  To the casual observer, anyone could use the image on any Flickr products. (Which is interesting — one woman wrote me that she had put download restrictions on the images of my work — and my mom pointed out the irony that I couldn’t have made myself a coffee mug with an image of my own work.)

Flickr appears to be a community photo album — but there are people using it for sharing their experiences at exhibitions — which would be personal use and no problem (for me anyway) if Flickr did not presume the poster to be the sole copyright holder and automatically grant them an “all rights reserved” copyright on their images (of other people’s work).

This has been hard for me because I am flattered when someone likes my work enough to take a picture and share it with others. I believe that personal use of images is a good thing and that including images on blogs and other photo album sites is great when full attribution is given.

Someone on quiltart pointed out, however, they we do not have a working definition of “personal use” when it comes to copyright. And strictly speaking, copyright is either authorized or not — there is no room under the current rules for anyone to copy a piece of artwork unless authorized or otherwise not covered under the existing law.

Of course, Flickr’s reaction was to notify each poster of my work that they were being given “NOI’s” (notice of infringement) on their account and that more violations would result in termination of their accounts.

I am saddened by this entire thing. I have had very upset emails from the posters — who I honestly do NOT think realized that Flickr was giving them copyrights on my work — and all they want is to have continued access to their pictures. I wish that they would consider another photo album service — and have told them so — but in the end, it is easier to stick with what you know. (And sadly, from a legal sense, although their intentions were good, they did indeed violate my copyrights by not asking for my permission.)

And following the easy way is why there is apathy about the Orphan Works bill. No-one wants to think about how it is going to affect them. Actually, I would hazard to say that apathy is strong nowadays about a lot of things. My family had to face this same issue when we left — hmmm, let’s just say a mainstream church denomination. Everyone in our local church agreed with us, but no-one was willing to do anything about it. The minority has taken over. Political correctness has overcome our ability to defend our positions. We think that as long as we believe what we do that the others can’t really affect us. That is wrong.