Is My iPad Stealing Your Photo?

Probably not but it’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. The other day I was browsing through Apps on my iPad and came across one called Explore Flickr (also available for the iPhone). The description of the app says that it will allow the user to browse hundreds of the top daily images on Flickr, find beautiful wall paper and lock screen images, view photo details and browse photo comments right on from within the app. And then there was this one other feature that really caught my eye, “Download high definition images direct to your iPhone or iPad photo library“. This last item seemed a little curious to me so I downloaded the app to check it out. It was free after all.

After installing, I opened the app and was greeted by a screen full of thumbnail images fed by Flickr.

I have to admit that there were a lot of great looking images and I was enjoying tapping on the individual images and seeing large, beautiful versions of them. After all, the iPad does have a kick-butt screen. As I explored the images, I noticed that there was a small gear symbol up in the corner so I gave it a tap and up popped a couple of actions; one said Save to Photo Library and the other said View Photo on Flickr.

I also noticed something on the particular image I had opened. There, at the bottom of the image there was writing, which read Danny Irvine Photoraphy ©. Seeing that, I couldn’t help but wonder why it was that I could just download the image and use it if Danny had clearly marked it as copyrighted. I decided to use the option to view the photo in Flickr, which opened up the Flickr web page for this image. When the page opened I discovered two things. First, Danny Irvine is an extremely talented landscape photographer. Second was this statement below his images, which read “All images are © Danny Irvine Photography, All Rights Reserved. You may not use, replicate, manipulate, redistribute, or modify this image without my written consent

So if it plainly states that Danny’s images can’t be used for any purpose without his permission, how is it that I was able to download it directly to my iPad? It’s actually due to the Flickr API. For those that don’t know, an API is an Application Programming Interface, which allows a software program to interact with other software. In this case, the Explore Flickr program is using the Flickr API to locate and display images from the Flickr pool. The problem is that this app, like so many others that use the Flickr API, can bypass the photographer’s wishes by ignoring copyrights.

So how can you fight this sort of problem? Well, the first thing you should do is to make sure that you have asserted your rights within the Privacy & Permissions section of Flickr. Under the Defaults for New Uploads section you can set your license to All Rights Reserved.

Next, and probably most importantly is to set your download permissions. Under the Global settings section you should set the Who can download your stuff option to Only You.

If you have this option set, the only one that can download your images is you, while signed into Flickr. This was apparent when I selected a different image on my iPad and saw the message below.

With so many many stories of folks having their Flickr images used without their permission, it only makes sense to lock them down as tight as possible so that they can be enjoyed but not taken.

By the way, I want to give a huge thanks to photographer Danny Irvine, who gave me permission to use his image for this article. You can check out all of his work on his Flickr page or visit his website to see more of his fantastic photos.

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  • Richard Keech

    There is something else you have to do!
    I had this problem of sites using the API and I emailed Flickr who told me there is a preference to opt out of having your images visable to people using the API
    But it is hidden you can only get to the pref by direct link
    One for opting out of the API and one for optingout of blogging

    • jeff

      Thanks Richard,
      You are right, this opt-out option is not exactly an easy find.

    • William Beem

      The only problem is that these options appear to have no effect. I set my account for API Optout, but I still see my images on Flickriver. I have long set my account so that I am the only one enabled to blog my photos. However, it appears that others can blog my photos using the Flickr API. I suspect this may be a permission granted to them based upon some group where I’ve hosted my photo.

      If you disable downloads, then your viewers only see a medium sized image. It’s a shame that Flickr doesn’t enforce the settings it has, and doesn’t allow photographers to set more granular controls over how images are displayed on Flickr.

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  • Julie McLeod

    Thanks much for the heads up. I don’t use my Flickr account much but checked my settings anyway and found I’d enabled downloading by anyone. Corrected now.

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  • http://w gene lowinger

    If someone wants to get your images, they’re gonna get’em. So post very low res images, 72ppi is only good for screen viewing anyway. If the viewer wants to download a low res image and view it, go for it. Be happy with crap!

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  • KC

    The other option is to not use Flickr, Facebook, or any other site that states in their Privacy and Use section that any images uploaded to their site can be used at THEIR discretion, without your permission, while the photo is still on their server (if you delete the image, then they can’t use it).

    • William Beem

      True, but how disconnected do you want to be? Flickr is a fine community for sharing photos with friends, peers and complete strangers. I really don’t think that Flickr (or Yahoo) is grabbing people’s images for unrelated usage, nor is the site making any claims to copyright. The reason they make that part of the license is so they can legally display your image on Flickr. The same is true of Facebook and countless other sites.

      Would you really want to have to grant permission every time someone wants to look at your photos online, or would you just agree to the TOS so Flickr can show the pictures?

      • KC

        I have not read Flickr’s TOS, but here’s Facebook’s TOS as of April 22, 2010:
        Section 2, Paragraph 1:
        “For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (“IP content”), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (“IP License”). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.”

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  • Aaron Hockley

    If you’ve configured Flickr to allow downloads, but chosen a license that states no unauthorized use, I’d say it’s the photographer who set themselves up for this snafu. Don’t blame the iPad for doing what the photographer has allowed to be done…

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  • Michael

    Flickr should have this locked down by default. Perhaps they are adopting Facebook’s “the user can fix it later” attitude. Yet another reason I deleted my pro Flickr account and moved to PhotoShelter.

  • m.s

    Very interesting, thanks for reminding us about flickr options!

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  • Happy Tinfoil Cat

    This is a mistake in the app (or maybe deliberate) not a problem with the iPad or even Flickr. Flickr has recently improved security but still nothing will stop those with basic computer skills. My photos are copyrighted, if stolen, I can sue whether or not they are ‘protected’. The app puts its users in legal jeopardy.

    Many people incorrectly think that _if_ they can download a photo, they can use it even for commercial purposes. We see this all the time, even from companies that should know better. If Coca-Cola used mine in a national campaign, you bet I would get compensation. Now with all that said, there are billions of photos on Flickr and I get a little giggle at people who think their work is so unique and precious they upload low-res, postage-stamp sized, heavily watermarked HDR stots of kittens at sunset.

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