Flickr has created a giant crap storm (or “a whole lot of makey uppey” according to Heather Champ of Flickr) over the removal of the now famous Obama as Joker magazine cover. I won’t get into all of the details, mainly because everyone has probably already heard of it, but there are some lingering questions/issues that need to be addressed by Flickr right away.
First, contrary to what many are saying, this is most definitely a free speech issue. While it is true that Yahoo is not the government and therefore they are allowed to “censor” users (mainly for violating Flickr’s TOS), this is not a terms of service issue. The reason Yahoo is giving for taking down the photo is that they were given a DMCA takedown notice. Who sent the notice? Was it Time Warner? Or perhaps the White House? (Also, notice how many Time Magazine covers show up in a simple Flickr search. I wonder why none of these images have received takedown notices.)
Regardless of who sent the DMCA notice, the faux magazine cover is clearly parody and should be protected. If a federal law is being used to supress free speech, regardless of who instigated the notice, then it is a violation of the individual’s rights. Of course, the argument here would be whether the image is a parody or not and whether the parody deserves automatic exemption; as I see it, that is the main question.
Second, it is very clear that Flickr is very pro-Obama and while they will tolerate anti-Bush images that also violate copyright, they are intolerant of criticisms of the current administration. While they are within their rights as individuals to believe whatever they want, where in the Flickr TOS does it say they will remove any image they dislike? Why have a TOS if you aren’t going to follow it?
Finally, and this one is on as users, why do we constantly believe the internet is free? Big companies and government don’t see the internet the way we do, and while we might look at an image of an unaltered magazine cover and say that it provides good advertising, corporations don’t always see it that way. Similarly, we might view Flickr as our little playground where we can do what we want (geez, we paid $25 for a pro account), but we are constantly reminded that Flickr can and will do whatever they want and whatever is best for them, even if it screws the users.