Toyota Using Images from flickr

This is an editorial from Volume 2009, Issue 1, The Copyright & New Media Law Newsletter.

Unauthorized uses of copyright-protected works are arising in new ways with respect to digital media.  Web 2.0, which allows sharing of content, provides a myriad of heavily populated sites (multi millions) for uploading and sharing copyright-protected content.  Examples of Web 2.0 are wikis, blogs, and social networking sites such as Facebook, myspace and flickr (from Yahoo!).

Flickr Images

Flickr is a popular site where professionals and amateurs share their images (photos and videos) with the world.  What can the public do with these shared images?  To find out, one can easily click the link at the bottom of the flickr home page that says Community Guidelines.  Simply set out are two lists:  What to do;  What not to do.  On the former list is the following point:  “Respect the copyright of others.  This means don’t steal photos or videos that other people have shared and pass them off as your own.”  This seems like a basic copyright rule, which makes you wonder what Toyota U.S.A. (or perhaps its advertising agency) was thinking when it recently included – without permission – on its Toyota 4Runner Web site,  a number of photographs from flickr.

Shortly thereafter, a Toyota representative posted the following apology on a flickr forum:  “Toyota apologizes for pulling images from flickr without photographer permission. Images from a handful of photographers appeared on a Toyota site for five days. We’re working quickly to reach out to the individual photographers involved. Until then, the images have been removed, and corrections have been made to the process of pulling images from Flickr.”

And Now a Word from Our Photographers

On a social networking site, reactions are, of course, quick and to the point.   For example, one photographer commented, “I have to wonder if this would be an appropriate response if say, a bunch of vehicles were stolen from Toyota.”

Another Flickr photographer comments, “You would think major corporations would know better.”  Hmmm.

And another…“Toyota will hear about this pretty soon. It’s gone viral on Twitter.”  Ouch.

Another…“You make photographs that they use for free.  They make cars that you use for free.”  Perhaps the cost of an after-the-fact license fee?

Another…“Astonishing.  One of my photos, one of those marked “All Rights Reserved” no less, has shown up there.  Do they not know?  Or not care?  Or is this a case of any press is good press?”  Toyota…any comments?

And another directly aimed at Toyota…“I’m surprised that nobody at Toyota considered the implications infringing copyrights to advertise your products.”  Would Toyota mind if we used their trademark without permission?

Rules of the Road

What was Toyota thinking?  Using content without permission, even content from a social networking site, requires permission.  In fact, flickr makes it easy – each image is linked to the original photograph so that all someone has to do is send a flickr mail to contact that photographer and to obtain permission.

Lesson learned:  The rules of the road (pun intended) exist in the physical world as in the digital world.  Never presume permission – even if you find online content, even if that online content is in a social networking, i.e., sharing forum, get permission!

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