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IOC objects to Creative Commons license, Wikipedia at Yale, and more

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By Phoebe, Draeco, and Sage Ross
Photo of Usain Bolt by Richard Giles, who released it under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license on Flickr so that it could be used on Wikipedia

Wikipedia may be the key link in the recent news story of photographer Richard Giles, who got a legal threat from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) over licensing his images from the Beijing Olympics under Creative Commons licenses. Giles explains the situation on his blog:

It turns out that my Usain Bolt photo was being used by a book shop in the UK to advertise the launch of the Guinness Book of Records 2010. This was being done without my knowledge, and as they pointed out, in breach of the license granted on the Olympic ticket.

The Usain Bolt photo was the only one of 293 in the set on Flickr that was licensed with a ShareAlike license (allowing commercial use) rather than a non-commercial license, and Giles had relicensed that particular photo at the request of another Flickrite so that it could be uploaded to Wikimedia Commons and used on Wikipedia. Wikipedia, which uses the image prominently, may be where that UK merchant found it.

Giles reports that the IOC may only object to licensing that allows commercial use. Depending on what the IOC says in response to his request for clarification, Giles may be changing the license on the Usain Bolt photo and asking the UK merchant to stop using it. However, it is Wikimedia Commons policy to retain photos from Flickr that were originally obtained under a free license, even if the license on Flickr is subsequently changed. Wikimedia Commons has hundreds of other photos from the Beijing Olympics by other photographers, all of which are licensed to permit commercial use.

Wikipedia at Yale

Alan Dershowitz and Jimmy Wales meet at Yale University as the audience for Wales' just-finished talk leaves and the crowd for Dershowitz's soon-to-begin talk gathers. Credit: Ragesoss.

An interview with Jimmy Wales was published this week in the Yale Daily News, following his visit and talk at Yale last week.

Also at Yale, a real-life contest – the bladderball game traditionally played at Yale – turned into a Wikipedia edit war, as chronicled by the Yale Daily News.


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  • So what is the legal situation when someone releases an image under an open license when they don't have the right to do so? Taemyr (talk) 06:50, 13 October 2009 (UTC)[reply]
    • It is a breach of contract between the photographer and the venue, but it doesn't affect Commons ability to legally use the photograph. Kaldari (talk) 15:11, 13 October 2009 (UTC)[reply]
      • That's assuming, of course, that they legitimately own the copyright to the work and license it merely a matter of breaching an independent contract. Photos get deleted if the person licensing it doesn't actually have the right to license it at all.--ragesoss (talk) 15:20, 13 October 2009 (UTC)[reply]
        • So long as they are actually the photographer they own the copyright to the work and the ticket restriction is a contract law issue. When people don't have the right to license a work, it is (most often) because they are not the author.--BirgitteSB 16:44, 13 October 2009 (UTC)[reply]
          • That's not true in general. They could have sold or given away the copyright, either before or after taking the photograph. Copyright is completely transferable under US law. Also, under US law, they don't hold copyright by default if they took the photograph as part of their job as someone's regular employee – copyright is held by the employer in that case (barring agreements to the contrary). —Simetrical (talk • contribs) 16:51, 13 October 2009 (UTC)[reply]
            • I added a qualifier. The things you say are true but not really very common reasons to delete a photo uploader to one of the wikis. People in those situations generally understand that they have transferred their rights and don't try to claim otherwise. In this particular case, I am not sure whether these were uploaded from China or perhaps from the US or even from Europe. US law on transfers may not be relevant.--BirgitteSB 17:25, 13 October 2009 (UTC)[reply]
  • Is the headline "IOC sues..." accurate? From what I have seen, there was a legal threat but no actual litigation. Newyorkbrad (talk) 01:48, 14 October 2009 (UTC)[reply]
  • So far as I know, no the title wasn't accurate. Sorry about that; I should have caught it. Thanks--ragesoss (talk) 02:01, 14 October 2009 (UTC)[reply]

IOC photo license controversy

Regarding this statement in the story:

"However, it is Wikimedia Commons policy to retain photos from Flickr that were originally obtained under a free license, even if the license on Flickr is subsequently changed."

That is, in my view, not quite correct. It only holds if the license granted was within the power of the licensor to grant. In this particular case (IMHO, and reminder, I am not a lawyer) there is a possibility that the license the photographer granted, although presumably done in good faith and with no malice implied, was not theirs to grant, based on whether ticket provisions are enforceable or not. (I have no idea if they are in this context...) If the license was not theirs to grant, what I quoted does not, in my view, apply. ++Lar: t/c 18:29, 14 October 2009 (UTC)[reply]

You're right, of course; that Commons practice holds only as long as we believe the original license was legal. The point was that it's more complicated that simply changing the license on Flickr, since the photo is already circulating in CC BY-SA form, and merely changing the license won't lead to its removal.--ragesoss (talk) 18:42, 14 October 2009 (UTC)[reply]
Absolutely. Which is in part why there's a process to review Flickr licenses and record what they were as of a date, so that if the license changes on Flickr later (which doesn't track history, unfortunately) we know that the license was granted... and the item can remain on Commons. Relatedly, stuff gets "Flickr-washed" meaning that someone doesn't really have the power to license as they assert on Flickr but uploads there to circumvent detection. I in no way think that's the case here, mind you. ++Lar: t/c 19:13, 14 October 2009 (UTC)[reply]
Whether ticket provisions can be enforced is not going to be provable. Either the photographer retains the copyright as normal and separately entered a contract on admittance where he agreed to distribute any works produced only in a non-commercial way or else he agreed to transfer the copyright in exchange for admittance and a limited license on his works for personal (non-commercial) use. If the first is accurate he is safe so long as he does not distribute the photos commercially himself (which he hasn't). If the second is true, he has no right to license these works under any license whatsoever. In both cases there are reasons to think such a contract may be unenforceable. But there are no real answers to be discovered, just speculation.--BirgitteSB 20:51, 14 October 2009 (UTC)[reply]
  • The CC-By-SA 3 terms state that "Licensor reserves the right to release the Work under different license terms or to stop distributing the Work at any time; provided, however that any such election will not serve to withdraw this License (or any other license that has been, or is required to be, granted under the terms of this License), and this License will continue in full force and effect unless terminated as stated above" (7b). However even if the photographer was in breach of contract, the images remain his copyright and even if their rights were terminated, "Individuals or entities who have received Adaptations or Collections from You under this License, however, will not have their licenses terminated provided such individuals or entities remain in full compliance with those licenses." (7a)

    The question is a complex one legally: the image is beyond doubt that person's; his action in licensing it has caused loss/harm (or risk of harm, or so it's claimed) to a contractual party by virtue of breach of contract. So the answer would seem to be that Commons remains able to legally use the image, because the coppyright holder licensed the image and Commons has taken up that license, it's up to IOC to claim against the photographer for his breach and any harm they care to prove. Possibly an act of futility though. But that would still probably leave them with no visible formal legal claim against us; in the eyes of the law, Commons has republished an item under legally granted license, and neither breached copyright nor contract in doing so. FT2 (Talk | email) 03:17, 15 October 2009 (UTC)[reply]


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