Friday, June 26, 2009

New York Times Advocating Copyright Infringement?

Freelance "independent writing and editing professional" Sonia Zjawinski (LinkedIn: Profile) has published a piece - Flickr as an Interior Decorating Tool - under the New York Times masthead that, by painting with broad stokes and no caveats, writes:

And if you’re wondering about copyright issues (after all, these aren’t my photos), the photos are being used by me for my own, private, noncommercial use. I’m not selling these things and not charging admission to my apartment, so I think I’m in the clear.
Ok, so she says "...I think...", well, Zjawinski, think again. The problem is, countless people will have read that article, and concluded that it was ok to infringe on the copyrights of countless people on Flickr. The responsible thing to have done would have been to have directed readers to look for the Creative Commons tags (that Flickr showcases here) that would give readers guidance about what they could, and could not, do with the photos.
(Continued after the Jump)

The author, not content to have been hoisted up by her own petard, and pummeled in the comments section, seeks out a lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who suggested "People are posting photographs and know very well that they are going to be viewed by people on a computer, and if someone wants to print a photo out that they see on Flickr to enjoy some other time and in some other place, that seems fairly analogous to what people did with the VCR."

Uhh, no. The author tries to cover her tracks, because, since she's a freelancer, she may have concerns about keeping the New York Times as a client, and she writes of her initial article in the second one "... a lot of people saw it as promoting thievery. That was not what I wanted to advocate by any means." It then seems she found a lawyer at the EFF who would back her position on this issue, or atleast give her cover. It wasn't until her second article (I would call it a mea culpa article) - Are Flickr Photos Fair Game for Home Printing?, (6/26/09) that the author directed readers to the Creative Commons pages, but how many people who read the first, then read the second?

It used to be that the news media would vet and fact-check the articles that went out under their masthead. Further, employees of these organizations knew that if they got it wrong or played fast and loose with the facts, they would very quickly lose their jobs. However, on this NYTimes gadget blog, facts and truth seem to have been separated from the reality of the laws that govern copyright.

With thanks to Rob Haggart over at A Photo Editor, and secondarily, Lane, for the heads up on this.

Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.


William Beem said...

I suppose we should take this as a warning. There is a profound level of ignorance regarding copyright violation, even from people who have material worth protecting.

Blogger Thomas Hawk wrote about this topic and essentially told people to let it go. While I think it's fine if Thomas chooses to allow free use of his photos, it's done so with his consent. Those of us who would prefer some request or acknowledgment of our images may feel differently.

Unknown said...

"... It used to be that the news medai would vet and fact-check the articles that went out..."

I think you hit the nail on the head here. I see a large contributing factor to the demise of news papers and news magazines is the fact that a lot of what they print is as well researched as most of the free blogs on the internet.

Even worse, quite often I have now discovered that they simply pick up and re-print a lot of the miss information found in peoples blogs. Often simply reflecting someone's opinion rather than cold hard facts.

News papers and magazines are dead! And the journalists at least partially can only blame them selves.

Henry Holmby said...


Why not contact Flicker and ask them to investigate Sonja's activities.

She openly admits to violating their policy as well as committing copyright infringement.

It time to hang her out to dry.

I nominate you John to lead the investigation.

Henry Holmby

James Broome said...

Assistant Managing Editor Michele McNally, who oversees photography for The New York Times, has chimed in on this topic as well.

Q. Do you endorse the view of Sonia Zjawinski that it is perfectly acceptable to steal copyrighted images from the Internet? Do you think it's a good idea for The New York Times to seemingly endorse such views by publishing them? Or do you think it is as disgusting and outrageous as I do?
— Rod Irvine

A. I have received a number of queries about Ms. Zjawinski's recent post on Gadgetwise, a New York Times blog about personal technology, in which she discussed downloading and printing Flickr images for use as home d├ęcor. Here is where The Times stands on the issues that have been raised about the post:

We are strong proponents of copyright protection. The New York Times does not endorse, nor is it our policy to engage in, the infringement of copyrighted work. We apologize for any suggestion to the contrary.


Craig Murphy said...

Sounds to me like Sonia Zjawinski might get spanked pretty hard.

Unknown said...

i strongly suggest Craig Murphy reword his comments as, here in Aotearoa NZ, we have anti smacking laws and I would hate to think that he was condoning the visiting of violence on a mere copyright infringement.

Sascha Rheker said...

From an email I received today:


(...) I really don't remember where I took the pictures from.
I thought that by using a credited low res images on a non profit site, this was OK.
I will remove the photos tonight. If you have the images online, I can link to them…
Best Regards,


This is what people learn from articles like the one from Sonia Zjawinski.

Thank you, Sonia!

One may - for many reasons - dislike the way the music industrie is dealing with copyright issues, and I don't want to promote the idea of suing 12 year old boys for millions of dollars, but on the other hand we as photographers must admit that at least the music industry managed to make clear that the somehow patronising offer to link to your website is not the appropriate way to sort this out.

Craig Murphy said...

I am assuming that your post was in jest. Your not interpreting the word spanked literally I hope?

Anonymous said...


of course Craig meant what he said.

Sonia needs to bend over and receive a "virtual spanking" internet style.

Lot of tongue lashings and hopefully a pink slip to slap her back into reality.

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