On the day that Heathrow Terminal 5 opened, I went along for a look around. Just my luck to wander in as their baggage-handling system malfunctioned, so there were queues of disgruntled passengers everywhere. I took several photographs (without upsetting the security guards). And then I came home and posted them up on Flickr.
Yesterday morning, over breakfast, I thought I noticed a familiar photograph on a political blog - a queue snaking off across Heathrow Terminal 5 with the slogan "Labour Isn't Working" slapped across the top. I checked back to my original and yes, that was my shot, reappropriated as one of those ubiquitous DIY political virals. And underneath the fake poster, where he ought to have mentioned me, Iain Dale had written the message "Sent to me by London Architect". I was rather cross.
All of my Flickr photos have an Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works Creative Commons licence. Bit of a mouthful, but essentially it means you shouldn't reuse any photo without giving me credit, nor use it for commercial purposes, nor alter or transform it. This particular T5 photo has been reused before, for example by Londonist, and they duly gave me credit when they posted it. But this time my airport shot had been amended and reused without attribution, which irrefutably broke the terms of the licence. I was rather cross.
I left a message on Iain's blog telling him that the photo was mine and asking him to remove it. My comment ended up lost somewhere in Iain's moderation queue, which suggested to me that he was still asleep and hadn't noticed yet. His reference "Sent to me by London Architect" also suggested that Iain hadn't tweaked my photo himself, but had instead admired the viral rehash sent in by a reader. Either Iain hadn't checked the source, or London Architect had failed to mention it, but my photo ended up on his blog without permission. And then I posted my disquiet on Twitter, because I was rather cross.
If you've ever wondered what the point of Twitter is, yesterday morning might have convinced you. Within an hour my single tweet had snowballed, and scores of other webfolk were very cross too. Stealing other people's photos is wrong, they agreed, and a whispering campaign was up and running. Thank you, you're all wonderful. Shortly afterwards Iain checked his blog and removed my photo, which was a relief. And he apologised, which made me less cross.
Iain then replaced my image with another shot of an airport queue, appropriated via an acceptable Creative Commons licence. The new viral even had a black strip across the bottom confirming that the image had been sourced responsibly. This black strip looked damned ugly, to be honest, and dramatically reduced the sloganeering impact of the new illustration. But at least nobody's going to be spluttering with shock when they see this image over their cereal. Republish responsibly and nobody need get cross.
Guido did at least have the courtesy to send me an email - not that I was able to read it at the time. Only later did I discover that he'd offered me two options, one of which was to remove the photo, and the second of which involved requesting my t-shirt size. Thankfully, without the need for any further requests, the photo-removal option won out. Second time success, but really should have been first.
As we enter the period before what will be a digitally-resourced general election, there are going to be a lot more viral political images winging around. Some will be brilliant, others will be lame (I'll leave you to decide what my photo became). But there should be absolutely no excuse for republishing photographs nicked off the internet, at least not without attempting to confirm where they came from. Iain and Guido hopefully won't now misappropriate one of yours. But if anybody does try rehashing your creativeportfolio for their own political ends, do please remember how important it is to get cross.