Wikipedia and Olympics Committee heading for collision?

CC-BY-SA photo of Usain Bolt, by Richard Giles

It looks like Wikipedia is  actually at the center of the recent copyright kerfluffle of the photographer (Richard Giles) who got a legal threat from the International Olympics Committee (IOC) over licensing his images from the Beijing Olympics under Creative Commons licenses.  Giles explains the situation on his blog:

It turns out that my Usain Bolt photo was being used by a book shop in the UK to advertise the launch of the Guinness Book of Records 2010. This was being done without my knowledge, and as they pointed out, in breach of the license granted on the Olympic ticket.

That photo was the only one of 293 in the set on Flickr that was licensed with a ShareAlike license (allowing commercial use) rather than a non-commercial license, and Giles had relicensed that particular photo at the request of another Flickrite so that it could be uploaded to Wikimedia Commons and used on Wikipedia.  And Wikipedia is probably where that UK merchant found it and, assuming the license to be legitimate, used it (so it would seem) under the terms of the free license.

Giles reports that it looks like the IOC really just objects to licensing that allows commercial use.   Depending on what the IOC says in response to his request for clarification, Giles may be changing the license on that Usain Bolt photo and asking the UK merchant to stop using it.

What happens now?  By buying a ticket to the Olympics, Giles’ appears to have (implicitly at least) agreed to terms and conditions that say he won’t use photos from the games except for private purposes.  But he does own the copyright to the Bolt photo, and therefore ought to (except for those terms and conditions) be able to license it however he likes.  Will the fine print of an Olympics ticket be strong enough to force Wikimedia (which agreed to no terms and conditions) to stop using the photo and offering it to other downstream users?

171 thoughts on “Wikipedia and Olympics Committee heading for collision?”

  1. In a word: no. The photographer still owns the copyright and the licence can’t be revoked on existing copies under that licence. The IOC may think they have a case for damages for breaching the ticketing terms, but that doesn’t revoke the copyright in established US law. Perhaps they think they can revoke it under Chinese law, given the photo was taken in China. But for the moment, the IOC can just fuck off.

  2. I hope Mr Giles gets all the possible support from the Wikimedia Foundation in this situation. A lot of pictures originate from Flickr, some licenses are changed on the request from Wikipedians from NC to CC-BY-SA licenses so that the images can be used on Wikipedia. If Mr Giles gets punished for relicensing, it serves probably as a warning to other photographers in similar cases not to relicense under a commercially re-usable license. The conditions of the IOC are not unique but very common on sport events and other events. This could potentially affect the possibility to obtain freely licensed images in general if IOC prevails with their legal opinion as to the restriction of licensing by imposing conditions on the ticket as implicit contractual terms (not to license photos commercially). For example pictures of rock and popstars at concerts.

    If Mr Giles should have to pay damages, perhaps there is a possibility to alleviate his situation by relevant Free Content Organisations – I mean this organizations benefit, so they should share the risks, too? Fair is fair.


    1. Certainly, I would hope the free culture communities would give Giles whatever support we can. But that would mainly be in terms of legal help, I imagine. Raising money to pay excessive damages would just encourage more suing of amateur sports photographers and reward the IOC for it’s anti-fan behavior. But like David Gerard said, the IOC isn’t likely to willingly to put itself through the PR nightmare of actually suing.

  3. The basic question will end up being about the requirements of the ticket Richard purchased. If there was a clear indication in advance of all the purchase steps that making the ticket purchase would require the purchaser to enter into a contract not to use photographs they may take, then the IOC *might* have some sort of case. But it is like shrink-wrap licencing. If you don’t have a chance to sensibly know about it then it can be deemed an unfair term and unenforceable.

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