Virgin Mobile Causing A Stir With Flickr Photos

Virgin Mobile has been accused of breaching people’s “moral rights” after it took images from a popular photo-sharing website without asking permission and used them in a national advertising campaign.

People around the world who posted their photos on the Yahoo-owned Flickr website have objected to their images being used in hundreds of Australian billboard ads, accompanied by provocative captions. >>Full Story | Flickr Posts | Virgin Mobile Campaign

Thoughts// An intriguing story from Australia that appears to be one of the first situations to test the Creative Commons (see Word of the Week post about Creative Commons) licensing agreement. In short, Virgin Mobile Australia is using Flickr-posted photos in a current ad campaign. These photos were posted on Flickr under the Creative Commons license, which (under this particular license) allows anyone to use them for any purpose. Virgin Mobile did not contact each of the photo owners to let them know about the campaign, which, was not technically necessary. However, considering the amount of negative posts in response to the campaign, Virgin Mobile might have been better served to at least notify the photographers prior to the campaign launch.

The real sticky part of this whole debate deals with the photos that show people. Virgin Mobile did not receive a photo release for the talent, but the Creative Commons license does not fully address the issue of talent. What becomes especially tough for Virgin Mobile is that not only have they used a photo without the ‘blessing’ of the photographer or the talent, but that some of the talent in the photos are underage.

The lesson for Virgin Mobile or anyone else using publicly-hosted photos is to notify the photographers prior to using their photos, especially if they are for a commercial advertisement. A quick email from Virgin Mobile to these photographers would have created a group of Virgin brand evangelists, instead of a rash of bad publicity.

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