Olympics threaten photographer

In what is an incredible attempt at Copyfraud and general corporate bullying the nasty International Olympic Committee once again attempts to use its power of intimidation to stamp on an individual photographer (via BoingBoing).

On August 12, 2008 Richard Giles posted the photo Beijing Olympics Water Cube below onto his flickr account under a Creative Commons BY-NC license.

The act of uploading a photo flickr is nothing in unusual since there are over 120 million Creative Commons licensed images on flickr.

So imagine his surprised when he received a letter dated 6 October 2009 from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lausanne Switzerland. This became even better when he read on and saw it was a Cease & Desist letter. Here are some excerpts from the letter

[THE IOC] …has recently become aware that you are currently licensing pictures from the 2008 Beijing Games on you flickr account…

…when entering any Olympic venue, you are subject to the terms and conditions mentioned on the back of the entry tickets, under which images of the Games taken by you may not be used for any purpose other than private, which does not include licensing of the pictures to third parties.

In addition, please be advised that the Olympic identifications such as the Olmpic rings, the emblems and mascots of the Olympic Games, the word “Olympic” and images of the Olympic Games belong to the IOC and cannot be used without its prior consent.

click to enlarge

Ignoring the whole issue of fair use the IOC has a very strange idea of what they are trying to protect and the methods with which they attempt to defend what they believe to be their rights.

First they argue that images can only be used privately and not be licensed. Displaying ones own images on flickr may not be exactly private but it is hardly a commercial activity. Also the fact that he licenses his photo’s under a Creative Commons license cannot be seen as a violation of “…does not include licensing of the pictures …” If he has copyright in the images his right to license them under a CC license cannot be limited.

The next problem occurs (well actually its probably the biggest problem) in the words “…when entering any Olympic venue…” and the problem is… the photograph was taken from outside the the venue.

UPDATE: So actually the IOC refers to all Richards photographs including those taken in the arena. The one’s taken in the arena make for a more complex legal discussion (the terms on the ticket and so on). But even here the main thing is that the IOC allows private use. Richards posting to flickr is included in such use. He is not commercializing his photographs he is displaying his life online.

The last issue is one of trademark. Trademark law naturally can prevent competitors from using others marks. But trademark law cannot be used to prevent a photographer from describing his photo as being from the Olympics. Neither can it, nor does it, prevent us from talking or writing about the Olympics – even without the IOC’s prior consent.

Searching Richards photostream with the search term Olympics gives 287 results. But if you do a general search on flickr you get 860 000 photographs that match the search term. There must be thousands more photographs with Olympic content but are not connected to the search term.  This is not an excuse or a defense but it does make me wonder what the IOC is going to do…

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