Could My Dad Get Run Over by the Tank Man?
August 10, 2006 3:25 PM   Subscribe

My dad wants me to modify the Tank Man photo on photoshop to apply to some local activism he's involved with. He's just informed me he wants to put it on a T-shirt. Could we get sued?

My parents are currently fighting to stop a Liquified Natural Gas facility from being built off the coast of their city. My dad wants me to photoshop "We Can Stop LNG" all snazzy-like onto the Tank Man photo and then make signs and t-shirts from it. His motive is definitely promoting awareness, not profit, but my internal caution alarm is going DING DING DING. Would this be Very Illegal, Sort-Of Illegal But With No Likely Repercussions, or Totally Okay? If it's one of the first two, is there any way I could go about it legally (trying to contact the photographer, Jeff Widener), or should I just tell my dad's it's a no-go?
posted by granted to Law & Government (28 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
How many shirts are we talking about?

Technically, it's infringement. Realistically, if you're just making a handful of shirts and not selling them, it's unlikely anyone would care.
posted by frogan at 3:28 PM on August 10, 2006

Totally Illegal With No Likely Repercussions and Also Kind of Tasteless from My Perspective
posted by Hildago at 3:30 PM on August 10, 2006

I'm pretty sure that the only way you could do it that would be totally legal would be to get permission. It looks like you can do that through the Associated Press website. They have a section at the bottom of that page that gives contact information:
To reprint AP photos/graphics for commercial or editorial use
Of course, you also have to ask yourself if this is something that's worth going to the trouble of dealing with the AP for. If it's just a small non-profit protest thing, I doubt anyone will say anything about your using the photo.

But, while you're thinking about all of this, you might also want to consider whether that particular image is really appropriate for a campaign against a natural gas company. Just a thought.
posted by magodesky at 3:36 PM on August 10, 2006

You should probably just tell your dad it's tasteless (comparing the fight for freedom against a murderous oppressor government with a fight against a liquified gas plant being built), and illegal, and while there may be no legal repercussions it's still a very bad idea and may have a public relations blowup in his face.

But especially that it's tasteless.
posted by Kickstart70 at 3:42 PM on August 10, 2006 [4 favorites]

But especially that it's tasteless.

Just wanted to repeat that.
posted by dersins at 3:56 PM on August 10, 2006

Totally Illegal With No Likely Repercussions and Also Way Tasteless
posted by Optimus Chyme at 4:09 PM on August 10, 2006

Yeah, the day the LNG company starts crushing your dad and his friends with tanks for voicing opposition is the day they earn the moral right to wear that guy's image on their activist t-shirts.

But if they insist, it's not something that anyone would care about as long as they're not making money from it, I don't think.
posted by Dasein at 4:13 PM on August 10, 2006

I'd also like to add a vote for Tasteless....

I don't think Tank Man would have stood in front of a Tank to keep a Natural Gas company out of his town... He might have focused his attention on things a little bit larger.
posted by hatsix at 4:15 PM on August 10, 2006

I remember reading somewhere that Tank Man was likely executed. I would hate to see someone sell out his memory.
posted by Addlepated at 4:38 PM on August 10, 2006


Tell your dad to come up with something funnier, of his own. Hmm, gas ... something funny ... nope, can't think of a thing.

According to ^, nobody knows what happened to Tank Man, the execution thing was claimed by a British newspaper but never substantiated.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 4:44 PM on August 10, 2006

I wanted to add that even if YOU don't think it's tasteless, and even if your dad doesn't think it's tasteless, the fact that so many people have mentioned it should tell you that perhaps your potential audience will, too. The comparison is probably not going to win any support and may detract from the point your dad is trying to make.
posted by peep at 4:51 PM on August 10, 2006

Not to mention that the NG company would recognize the image as stolen immediately, and would have plenty of reason to 'narc' you out to AP. Seems like it should be a rule of activism, "don't hand the hangman the rope to hang you with"
posted by nomisxid at 5:01 PM on August 10, 2006

It's tasteless.

Also odorless and colorless.
posted by staggernation at 5:10 PM on August 10, 2006 [4 favorites]

Just another vote for "tasteless," here. Activism is all well and good, and in general I approve, but appropriating this image like that is a Bad Idea, in my opinion.
posted by Alterscape at 5:24 PM on August 10, 2006

While the AP or the photographer owns the copyright on that image, nobody can copyright all images of a man standing in front of a tank. If you know anyone with a modicum of artistic talent, they should be able to do a line drawing of a different man in front of different tank.

In addition to being kind of tasteless, it seems dumb. After all, Tank Man lost, unless China suddenly became nondictatorial and nobody told me. Using this is akin to using using Custer waving a "NO LNG" banner at Little Big Horn as a motif.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:36 PM on August 10, 2006

Thanks for everyone's input. I agree that tastelessness is probably a better argument against it than possible legal repercussions. I'll figure out a tactful way to explain that to my dad.

In his defense, although he may not have thought it through (and apparently I didn't, either, or I would have focused on more than copyright issues in deciding whether or not to do it), I know he didn't mean to be offensive or tacky. This is a really important issue to him, and one of the few things that gets him excited and motivated these days - he's retired, mostly blind, and pretty depressed as a result.

So Tank Man, wherever you are, we didn't mean no harm. *scuffs foot*

I'll figure out a different way to help him. Thanks again!!
posted by granted at 6:04 PM on August 10, 2006

you could make an homage to tank man with a different person and a different street and a row of LNG trucks. That might play a little better anyway.
posted by Megafly at 6:12 PM on August 10, 2006

If you give people an opening to shift the focus of a debate away from the issues and towards some quibbling little point, they'll do it as soon as they're feeling threatened. Your dad wouldn't want the debate to suddenly be "about" the innapropriate use of that image and not about whatever points he's raising, so tell him to not even risk it. Best of luck.
posted by Hildago at 6:42 PM on August 10, 2006

I think it's great when parents take an interest in computers, LOL.

Way to go, Dad, for seeing the possibilities for photoshop. :)
posted by bim at 6:46 PM on August 10, 2006

posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 6:53 PM on August 10, 2006

Now, you could do something cartoon-like inspired by the image that would be completely legal, but still kinda tacky. See if you can't find something better here.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 7:42 PM on August 10, 2006

I think the tactic of saying how many people responded that the political connotations of the image would distract people from the message he's trying to promote might be a good way to dissuade your father. We all tend to get blindered by our own issues.

Maybe we can redirect this thread to suggestions on alternate images of the little good guy standing up against the big bad guy that would be less freighted for the t-shirts? Further votes of tasteless are not really needed.

Now if I could just think of one...
posted by nanojath at 8:13 PM on August 10, 2006

More tasteless is the idea that someone would copyright the image of Tank Man staring down those tanks.
posted by iconjack at 9:41 PM on August 10, 2006

Eh, I don't think it's all that tasteless.
posted by delmoi at 11:37 PM on August 10, 2006

Note, on the Wikipedia page linked in the question, that AP provided the following permission to Wikipedia:

"Wikipedia is only authorized to display this image to its users. Permission is not granted for copying or redistribution in or through any other medium. Image must be provided with the following credit: 'Jeff Widener (The Associated Press).' "

Obviously AP takes its copyright to this photograph seriously.
posted by jayder at 5:51 AM on August 11, 2006

It would be a copyright infringement, most likely. Although I did see this funny photoshop of the pic on the SA forums yesterday.
posted by JJ86 at 6:16 AM on August 11, 2006

iconjack writes "More tasteless is the idea that someone would copyright the image of Tank Man staring down those tanks."

Copyright is granted as soon as the image is taken. You need to take extra ordinary steps to public domain the image.
posted by Mitheral at 9:04 AM on August 11, 2006

Now that the question's been asked and answered, here's something rather horrifying and fascinating about Tiannemen Square:

More4 (UK) screened a doc on TV the other night entitled “Tank Man”, covering the protestor who stood in front of a line of tanks at Tiannemen Square in 1989. (A homepage for the film can be found at PBS’s Frontline). The most amazing segment (for me, anyway) was when a group of Beijing university students (from one of the capital’s universities that were heavily involved in the protests at the time) were shown the infamous photo of the man against the machines of tyrrany. Not one of the students knew what it represented. China’s mastery over history appears to be complete, bringing George Orwell’s classic statement to life: “He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future.”
posted by WCityMike at 9:09 AM on August 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

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