Flickr, a social networking site that allows members to upload and share photos with others, recently discovered photos of Egypt’s State Security police on a man named Hossam el-Hamalawy’s Flickr account. The problem? Mr. el-Hamalawy did not take the pictures; instead, he got them from activists who found them at police headquarters. Flickr’s Terms of Use do not allow members to “upload, post, email, transmit or otherwise make available any Content that infringes any patent, trademark, trade secret, copyright or other proprietary rights (‘Rights’) of any party.” Therefore, the site removed the pictures and notified Mr. el-Hamalawy that he should not re-post the pictures.

Image Source (ironically):

Image Source (ironically):

Flickr is the most recent in a list of social media sites that have been forced to deal with the increasingly political use of their resources, particularly in light of unrest in the Middle East. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have all had to respond to controversial activist posts on their media that violate their terms of use. Indeed, “citizen reporters” continue to utilize social media like Flickr because it provides a new and unique opportunity to let the public at large see, hear, and react to the violence and turmoil of political uprisings as they happen. On the other hand, even if the use of such sites is extremely useful to information-spreading and newly-visceral comprehension of current unrest, it still violates the rules of these sites as these rules are currently written. Moreover, it does so in a context in which the parties whose proprietary rights are being violated are likely to notice.

In this way, this latest incident with Flickr underscores the need for social media sites to recognize and put procedures in place that deal with the various areas of law that these uses bring to light. In light of the increasing desire to take advantage of the mass appeal and instant gratification of social media, the following questions will need to be answered: are there any situations in which “citizen reporters” can stretch or violate copyright law in order to increase awareness of politically-sensitive crises? If so, how can (and should) social media sites protect themselves and impute order into that process?

– Andrea Verney

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