Earlier this year it was impossible to escape from the snow. Not only was it lying on the ground outside or falling from the heavens above but websites and newspapers were full of photos of the stuff which illustrated in equal measure the picturesque nature of snow, the fun millions of people had in it whilst they bunked off from work (I mean, were snowed in) and the annoyance it caused to the poor souls who got trapped in or had to abandon their cars.
Peter Zabulis took a snow-related photo of the picturesque variety. On 3rd January he uploaded the picture, of tyre tracks etched across a snow-covered field, onto Flickr and tagged it as having "all rights reserved". You can see it here.
Imagine Peter's surprise when, on 5th January he visited the Independent's website and found his photo being used in a section showing photos of snowbound Britain, without his consent. He complained to the paper and since he didn't initially get the answer he desired, he put all of the correspondence between the paper and himself on a separate Flickr page entitled "Breach of Copyright - the Independent".
The correspondence makes interesting reading. The Independent stated that it had not copied the photo. Instead, it had taken a photostream from Flickr and incorporated it into the Independent's website via an API (an application programming interface, more about these here). Effectively the Independent had provided its readers with a sophisticated link to Flickr which, rather than making the reader leave the Independent's website to view the photos, enabled readers to view the Flickr photos from the Flickr website whilst remaining on the Independent's website.
The Independent's initial reply signed off with "We did not take the photo from Flickr, nor present it as anything other than as it is shown there. I do not consider, therefore, that any copyright has been breached or any payment due". However, the matter was eventually resolved with payment being made by the Independent to Peter.
If there was no infringement of copyright it seems to 1709 that a potential loophole may exist here. The implication would be that a website could incorporate works in which copyright exists from another website via an API without permission from the copyright owner, without infringing any copyright. In some cases this may not be a problem (for example where the owner of the works is happy for them to be distributed as widely as possible), but if the "incorporating" website is generating (for example) ad revenue the "incorporated website" may have objections and may wish to enforce its rights.
1709 is especially interested in this subject because last night it was told (by a reputable source) that the three initials "API" were going to be very important in terms of Internet developments over the next few years, so one could expect issues such as this one to become more widespread.
This story was flagged to 1709 in yesterday's Guardian, in an article about the merits of the current copyright regime. You can read it here (note that the Guardian was careful not to use a copy of Peter's photo) and make your own mind up as to whether you agree with the views of the author of that piece.
One can only imagine that appropriation and use of photos which are in the public domain is a fairly common issue nowadays. In fact, the first comment this morning under the story in the Guardian is from a blogger who had his photos used (without consent) by amongst others the Daily Record. You can read more here.
ps photo is the author's own - all rights reserved!