Richard Giles has a few posts on his blog about a matter you may have heard about. Richard took some photographs at the Beijing Olympics and posted them on his Flickr account. Last week he was sent a rather forceful cease and desist letter from the IOC, which he also put up. The story was picked up by a number of influential sites, and people all over the world voiced their outrage at what they see as unfair restrictions on sharing personal photographs of the event.

Tama Leaver - available under CC-BY
Image by Tama Leaver, available under CC BY 2.0.)

This story makes a very interesting read. It raises significant issues about the ability of spectators to take and share photos of events, and the way in which contract law is used to override the explicit lack of protection in copyright law for spectacles. More interestingly, however, it reads as an educative guide on how not to enforce intellectual property rights. As Richard explains, the Media and Communications Director of the Australian Olympics Committee was not happy about the bad press that resulted after Richard publicly posted the letter he received. Richard's actions, however, seem reasonable - he was always calm and measured about his statements, and I see no reason that he is required to protect a rightsholder from potential criticism for the way in which they send legal threats. Interestingly, Richard shared a follow-up email from the IOC, in which the IOC explained their position in much greater detail and much more polite language.

The story ends in a way that's not quite satisfactory - Richard has had to change the licensing on his photos from a permissive non-commercial licence to 'all rights reserved', and the IOC and the AOC have weathered some substantial criticism for their actions.

The moral of the story, however, seems fairly clear: pick up the phone or send a personal email before sending a form cease and desist letter.

Read the story on Richard's blog: Part 1 and Part 2.

[ edit 01 Nov 2009: fixed a typo. ]