Where to start on this one? It’s been a dramatic couple of days…
•On Monday, Rebekka Guðleifsdóttir, one of Flickr’s most popular photographers, discovered that only-dreemin.com was selling her work on ebay and in their online store. They had profited thousands of dollars from this blatant copyright infringement.
•Rebekka posted about it on Flickr, under a composite image of the images that had been stolen (still available at her blog), starting a major @#$%-storm on Digg, Reddit, thomashawk and elsewhere.
•The page on Flickr had thousands of page views (over 101,000 views at the time of its deletion), and hundreds of comments (~450) offering support and advice to Rebekka.
•Yesterday, Flickr permanently deleted the image – along with all the comments, page views, favorites, etc. According to Flickr staff member Heather, “We maintain a rolling snapshot of the site to recover from outages etc. When a photo, comment, FlickrMail, tag, note, etc., is deleted, it’s removed from that snapshot.” An email was sent to Rebekka, accusing her of harassment and threatening account termination: “Flickr is not a venue for to you harass, abuse, impersonate, or intimidate others. If we receive a valid complaint about your conduct, we will send you a warning or terminate your account.”
•As should be expected, there’s a bit of an uproar about Flickr/Yahoo’s action here. See Rebekka, Thomas Hawk, and Digg. It’s currently the top story on Reddit.
•Flikr has apologized, admitting a “mistake”, but denying censorship: “Actions taken by the team to ensure that any content or activity on the site resides within these boundaries is not and cannot be viewed as censorship. That said, the removal of rebekka’s photo was a mistake.”
•There’s a discussion going on in Flickr’s forum about all this. Thomas makes a substantive point here saying (emphasis his),
The problem is with Yahoo’s process which is thoughtless and irresponsible at best. When a “mistake” happens over and over again you have to expect that a little “oopsie, we made another mistake,” might not be enough…Yahoo’s *process* needs to be changed. It should be changed. It could be changed in a very simple way to prevent most incidents like this from happening in the future.
1. Do not delete any image permanently.
2. Provide Flickr users a 48 hour rebuttal time to dispute those that would wish to censor their work.
3. Have an actual competent human being review the decision.
Thomas has been burned in the past by Flickr’s overeager deletion policy. He points out that the Flickr help forum has 90 threads on “censorship” – so there’s obviously a systemic problem with the Flickr/Yahoo process. The fact that it has been used (in at least two documented cases now) in favor of abusers over against the abused makes this a justice issue in my book.
getting out my hammer…
UPDATE: Stewart Butterfield, “one of the co-founders of Flickr, and … the general manager with overall responsibility for all things Flickr”, has posted a very thorough explanation and heartfelt apology for the entire situation, and claims that “There are several policies which will be changing as a direct result of this incident and the goal is that nothing like this ever happens again. Any errors from now on should be on the side of caution.” I very much look forward to hearing more about the policy changes.