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Barack Obama Criticism Politics The Web and Technology

Copyright and the White House Photostream

[digg-reddit-me]A kerfuffle arose over this at slashdot a month ago – in which the White House was accused of changing how they posted works on Flickr “since January.”

In reality, this has been the case for some time. I first noticed this discrepancy after I noticed that the RNC was adapting images from the White House Flickr stream in this ad from August 2009. I recognized the pictures and noticed that it clearly violated the terms of use provided with the images.

Specifically, for each photo uploaded on this account and listed as an “Official White House Photo by Pete Souza,” a notice states:

This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

However, under copyright information provided for all Flickr photos, this work has been classified (by the uploader) as “United States Government Work.” This change occurred in May 2009 after a number of commentors noted that even the most lax Creative Commons license provided more copyright protection than the works were allowed. The copyright status of all the pictures was changed then to “United States Government Work,” and the link provided on the page directs you to this which states:

A work that is a United States Government work, prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties, is not subject to copyright in the United States and there are no U.S. copyright restrictions on reproduction, derivative works, distribution, performance, or display of the work.

The discrepancy between what the White House claims and what the law actually says is significant. I presumed this was an error – and still do.

I write this in part to justify my editing of the White House photo of Hillary Clinton embracing Barack Obama in celebration of the health care victory – and partly because it puzzles me why it has persisted for nearly a year. Especially as the 2 licenses so clearly cannot both be claimed. I’ll ask the White House for comment on this and get back in the unlikely event I get a response.

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