Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Is Flickr Hiding Behind Copyright Infringment To Censor Free Speech?

Social Media has the ability to spread ideas like wildfire. However, if you don't own the platform from which you want to espouse your views your speech may be stifled. A perfect example of this occurred when Firas Alkhateeb, a college student from Chicago created a photo that some call art, others call politically charged, and some have called racist.

According to the L.A. Times, Mr. Alkhateeb utilized Adobe Photoshop and modified a photo of President Obama to make the President look like Heath Ledger's Joker character from the most recent Batman movie. In January of this year, Mr. Alkhateeb uploaded his creation to Flickr. Several months later somebody downloaded the photo and put the word "Socialism" on the photo and started plastering posters of the modified photo throughout Los Angeles.

Whether or not you agree with the message that it conveys, it appears that the photo modification is protected under the famous 1841 Folsom v. Marsh case that established the analysis later codified in the United States Copyright Act of 1976 Title 17, U.S.C. Section 107: Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use.

From a legal point of view, there is a valid argument that the photo represents protected political commentary. Under our First Amendment, no matter how reprehensible a person's words or ideas may be that person has a right to them and a right to publish them. As Social Networking use increases, these types of incidents will increase ten fold. Therefore, this type of censorship that Flickr is engaging in may be just the tip of the iceberg.

Copyright 2009 by the Law Office of Bradley S. Shear, LLC. All rights reserved.