Is's use of Flickr photos illegal?
March 17, 2010 6:59 PM   Subscribe

Is's use of Flickr photos illegal? is a Canadian "local search" site launched last year by Transcontinental Media. They appear to be swiping photos from Flickr without permission. On each of their city portal pages, such as Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver, there is a row of small photos at the top (randomized when the page is reloaded). Clicking on each photo links to the photo's page on Flickr, and every photo I have clicked on says very clearly "© All rights reserved."

I e-mailed Weblocal several months ago to ask whether they have asked for permission to use these photos, but never received a reply. I suspect they have not asked permission, as there are hundreds of photos and they do not appear to be "curated" in any way.

I am not a Flickr user, but I am a photographer who publishes work on the web and am concerned about this apparently irresponsible and possibly illegal use of social media by a large corporation.

Is this illegal? If so, is there anything I can do about it?
posted by oulipian to Computers & Internet (9 answers total)
Why would it be illegal? They're linking to the appropriate source and probably providing local photographers with extra advertising. A great use of geotagging and Flickr's API is flexible so that developers can utilize it in ways like this.

No one's going to try to steal a thumbnail anyway. You're overthinking this and underestimating how to use it to your advantage.
posted by june made him a gemini at 7:08 PM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

No one's going to try to steal a thumbnail anyway. have presumably already stolen the thumbnail, as it is being used on their website without permission. Their website exists primarily to sell advertising, so having fresh, local photos to show is of some value to them. It seems to me that they are taking advantage of photographers who publish their work online, and are not really playing by the rules.

It would be a great use of geotagging and Flickr's API if the photos were all drawn from a group called "Weblocals" which photographers had voluntarily contributed to, or if the photos were Creative Commons licensed, or if Weblocal had asked permission, but this does not appear to be the case.

You're overthinking this and underestimating how to use it to your advantage.

I am concerned with photographer's rights on the web and the situation is of interest to me.
posted by oulipian at 7:21 PM on March 17, 2010

Unless they're your photos, not really.
posted by mcwetboy at 7:48 PM on March 17, 2010

This is something that you should perhaps ask in the Flickr Help Forum. This issue comes up all the time there. If it's a huge issue with a big company, sometimes Flickr can intercede, but usually it's up to the individual photographers to do something about it (sometimes sending cease and desist notices, etc). Search around the help forums to see what people recommend. I would post this over there anyway just to give a heads up to the photographers whose pictures are being swiped. Strength in numbers could help.
posted by bluefly at 8:02 PM on March 17, 2010

If you're concerned about this, you should probably be talking to Yahoo/Flickr about this. The code the site is using is all public photos with keywords like "Montreal" or "Toronto". This is the same as going to and searching for these cities. I think this falls into the Flickr terms of service where Flickr can use the public thumbnails for site promotion. Because the site is following Flickr guidelines and each thumbnail linking back to the photographer's site, this really isn't more than an ad for Flickr. The 32x32 pixel thumbnail can draw users to the photographer's page on Flickr and/or to Flickr as well. If they were appropriating the photos and not linking back to Flickr, it would be a big deal. But that's not happening here. Thumbnails of public photos are showing up. If a flickr user wanted to make sure their photos didn't appear in the "public" photostream, they can mark the photos private.'s page has Flickr's badge code straight from the In the badge wizard you can set it up to either show your photos, a set, or photos from public photostream.
posted by birdherder at 8:06 PM on March 17, 2010

Thanks bluefly and birdherder. I do not have a Yahoo account and the photos are not mine, so I will probably not post about it in the Flickr Help Forum, but someone else is welcome to.

I've been browsing the forum, and have found some interesting recent discussions here and here. In the second link, a user quotes the Flickr API TOS as follows:

Comply with any requirements or restrictions imposed on usage of the photos by their respective owners. [...] Although the Flickr APIs can be used to provide you with access to Flickr user photos, neither Flickr's provision of the Flickr APIs to you nor your use of the Flickr APIs override the photo owners' requirements and restrictions, which may include "all rights reserved" notices [...] or other terms and conditions that may be agreed upon between you [rem.: the API user] and the owners [rem.: of the photo]. In ALL cases, you are solely responsible for making use of Flickr photos in compliance with the photo owners' requirements or restrictions.

It sounds as if API users frequently disregard this requirement. I'm surprised that Flickr would allow developers to display photos which users have tagged "All Rights Reserved."

I think what irks me about the Weblocal website is that at first glance the photos suggest some level of community participation which isn't there at all. It's deceptive, and little more than astroturfing.
posted by oulipian at 8:45 PM on March 17, 2010

Flickr photos have copyright information attached to them by the photo poster. I'm going to guess these are extractable via the flickr API and could be doing that and only using photos that are licensed for free reuse. But I wouldn't be surprised if they are just grabbing anything, rights be damned, which would be illegal.
posted by chairface at 11:12 PM on March 17, 2010

To expand a bit on my previous Wikipedia link, this site is using small 75x75 thumbnails and hyperlinks. Their legal argument would be that this is fair use, similar to Google using thumbnails on their Image Search. Google was sued over the thumbnails, and it got a bit complicated legally, but they are still using the thumbnails so they clearly think it's still allowed.

OTOH, the site in question is in Canada, so applying the U.S. fair use doctrine isn't correct.
posted by smackfu at 8:30 AM on March 18, 2010

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