On releasing an image to the wilds…

(There are no image credits on this post because (much to my slight embarrassment) I made all of these. The eggs are all Creative Commons licensed over on Flickr; click any picture to go there.)

I have a long history of making slightly geeky easter eggs for friends and family. I grew up making silly eggs with family, and later learned some of the techniques of pysanky, traditional Polish egg-decorating. (Despite not being Polish. Or Christian, actually.)

The first seriously geeky one was actually inspired by a student who worked for me in a tech center at the University of Michigan Libraries, who said “You couldn’t make a -Batman- egg, could you?”

Egg decorated with Batman logos and a utility beltThanks for setting me off down a lifetime of strange creative choices, Asif.

Egg decorated with polynomial functionsEgg decorated w picture of Aang from the Avatar animated seriesEgg decorated to look like Superman wearing a capeEgg decorated to look like a spaceship from the series Stargate Atlantis

To maintain plausible deniability about my own extreme geekiness, I’m not going to admit which of those were requests, which were done with specific friends in mind, and which were just for me…

Some time ago, I made a birthday present for a good friend who is a fan
of Doctor Who. Although I am not, myself, a big fan of Doctor Who, I was -aware- that the internet likes Doctor Who. I just wasn’t quite aware -how much- the internet REALLY LIKES DOCTOR WHO.

Egg decorated to look like a Dalek from Doctor WhoI documented the creation pretty carefully, because I’d referenced some lovingly detailed info from ProjectDalek, and they ask folks to document their builds. I honestly don’t remember how it got there, but relatively shortly after I posted my photo series, it ended up on BoingBoing. It was also featured on Neatorama around the same time, and several photos were used on a site called Kuriositas.

This is all awesome, and from my perspective a bit hilarious. But also it’s -100% totally legal for all those sites to copy my pictures- because they were published with a Creative Commons Attribution license. Anyone can use them for any purpose, without further permission from or payment to me, as long as they give me credit and say they’re using it under a Creative Commons license. That’s it, done!

Since 2010, the Dalek egg is still pretty consistently the most-visited image in my Flickr feed, and hits to it spike right around Easter every year. It shows up a lot of random places around the web. A co-worked spotted it on Buzzfeed fairly recently. The actual egg lives with its owner in Northeast Minneapolis (though it did make one public appearance at the Nerd Party Storefront-in-a-Box in summer 2010).

However, I was reminded of it this morning, when a friend sent me this Facebook message:

screenshot of a facebook message that asks Was this yours and links to a Reddit pageOn visiting the relevant Reddit page, I saw a link to my egg. And, as is common for Reddit, it’s actually a link to an imgur.com version of the file. This is actually the first time I’ve seen it anywhere remotely prominent where there wasn’t even a vague stab at providing image credit. I don’t feel outraged about it; I recognize that what happens once an image is on the internet is waaaaay out of the control of the original poster.

But the Reddit URL got me digging through my Flickr stats, and lo & behold, I found it shared on Reddit two weeks ago – with an argument about proper credit immediately after posting, even though that poster never made a copy of the image – but -did- link to my original version. (Reddit’s does have ethics, folks.)

Amused, I dug even further through my Flickr stats, and ran a TinEye search. The picture is all over the place, sometimes with credit, and sometimes not. There’s a post on a site called Loljam that is a direct copy of the Buzzfeed post, only it neglects to credit image sources. There’s lots of copies of it shared on personal blogs that link or provide credit to bigger blogs (mostly Kuriositas) that shared it first. I have no doubt there’s quite a few copies out there that I can’t see from Flickr referrers or TinEye. The spread is kinda awesome.

If I were a professional photographer, I suspect I would not find the unattributed uses so funny.

Finally, what got me laughing hilariously and made me to decide to write this blog post – I noticed I had some “FlickrMail”, and discovered two requests for permission to use my already-CC-Attribution licensed image – one FROM A BRANCH OF THE BBC. Who are the creators (though perhaps not the actual copyright owners) of the original TV series on which my unlicensed, no-permissions-sought, fair use derivative and/or arguably-transformative work was based!

I just…

Also, I hate it when people ask for permission to use things that already carry a CC-license sufficient to the purpose.

Anyway, I responded to both the BBC and the other person requesting permission to use my image with the following:


Dear Nancy

BBC Wales online are planning a fun Easter feature on how to decorate
eggs and would like permission to include your fantastic Dalek Easter
Egg . We would, of course, credit you accordingly.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards

Melanie Lindsell
Producer, BBC Cymru Wales
Hi Melanie,

You don’t need any additional permissions to use any of the images of
the Dalek easter egg, as they are all already licensed for use with a
Creative Commons Attribution license. All you need to do is provide
credit, and state that you’re using it under the Creative Commons
license, and you’re good to go.

I will not provide separate permissions to use it, even if that (sadly)
would mean that you would not feel able to use it. I am a big fan of
Creative Commons licenses, and would like to see them used more (when
appropriate) by everyone!

I would -love- to have the egg featured on your site – up to you whether
you think the Creative Commons license covers your use.

-Nancy Sims-)

Anyway, that’s it. Put an image online, and if it captures the imagination, it’ll get used. And used, and used. Sometimes legally, sometimes possibly-legally, and sometimes people will ask for permission when they don’t need to. There are good and bad things about all of that.

Happy Easter, if that’s your thing!

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