What Happened to Deep Dreamers’ Flickr Styles Album?
Here’s a recap and explanation of the events leading up to shutdown of the Deep Dreamers’ Flickr styles album. This extensive post also summarizes the e-mail exchange between me – Daniel Zamir, the Flickr account owner – and Flickr representatives. Finally, I suggest how to set up a new Deep Dreamers' Styles Album. The Deep Dreamers’ admins and I believe that this experience has many potential implications for Deep Dreamers beyond the direct effect of losing the styles album. At the very least, it’s a good opportunity to advance the conversation within the Deep Dreamers’ Facebook group on how the complex and thorny issue of IP (intellectual property) affects us.
Part 1 – Some Background Information
I was hosting the groups’ style images on a Flickr pro account that allowed me to store an unlimited number of images for a fixed, prepaid annual fee.
The Flickr pro account setup and maintenance was a shared effort: All Deep Dreamers’ admins had the credentials to the account, and they uploaded shared style images (and some source images) to the account. This brought the number of images shared by various Deep Dreamers, like Andrew Irving, to around 10,000.
Before I created the single Flickr account on November 18, 2018, the images had been shared on various platforms. Most were on the admins’ free-tier Flickr accounts, some on Google Drive, and some on personal computers. Needless to say, it was a total mess: We had many duplicates and didn’t know who had what images. Around that time, the admins started setting up the wiki site for the group (http://ddg.wiki/), and it made sense to have a single link to all shared images. IP was not on anyone’s mind at the time.
Part 2 – The Events Leading up to “Account Deleted”
Around January 2019, several indications in parallel led the Deep Dreamers’ admins (I was an admin at the time, too) to understand that they might need to take IP more seriously: Changes to copyright law in the EU (the infamous article 13) were on the horizon, and the Flickr styles account began to attract many “followers” who were not Deep Dreamers’ but rather artists and photographers. The first sign of trouble brewing came on January 11, when the DDG team posted a special notice about new copyright restrictions that would affect users:
“DDG has just posted new information for European users. I’m not sure whether this information is visible to users across the world, so I’m posting it here: They say new European copyright law will make it very hard for small communities like DDG to operate in Europe, and they link to this article: https://juliareda.eu/2019/01/article-13-almost-finished/, which in effect says that internet platforms will be made directly liable for any copyright infringements their users commit. This is very gloomy news.” (post by Irene Muehldorf on Deep Dreamers’ Facebook page on January 11, following the publication of the notice by DDG)
The admins took this turn of events seriously and wasted no time.
In particular, Ben Beekman and Peter Barlow put great effort into finding a new solution for our style image repository.
Let’s recall that we had many images whose intellectual property owners we could not determine. To be honest, we at least suspected that a great or even overwhelming number of them had IP owners who might not permit hosting them online, including on sites like DDG.
The admins had in mind that the goal of the shared image Flickr repository is to serve the Deep Dreamers’ group. Thus, we would not have been doing a good job if a group member could download an IP-infringing image as a source or style, only to then have the image removed from DDG platform. Just posting a “disclaimer” was no longer an excuse: The group admins carry a certain responsibility for images they host, since users trust us.
We took “offline” (made “private” in Flickr) all the images we were not convinced were “IP safe.” This turned out to be almost all of the roughly 10,000 images on the account. We made a gargantuan effort to replace the IP-infringing images with images from two types of sources:
- A gigantic number of fractals all created and owned by Peter Barlow;
- Images collected from the internet from sites we naively assumed to be “IP safe.” This included sites like Shutterstock (from a paid account), Pixabay, and a few wallpaper sites, mostly “Wallhere.”
Within days, we already had some 10,000 public, mostly new, images in the account!
Phew, problem solved!
The next sign of trouble came around a week later, when I got a “copyright infringement” e-mail from the Flickr “Copyright/IP Team” on January 23 regarding one of the hosted images. This is what it said (I’ve edited out some personal information):
Title: Copyright Infringement From: Flickr Dear daniel.zamir, We have received a Notice of Infringement from via the Flickr Copyright/IP Team and have removed the following photo(s) from your photostream: “ Subsequent Notices of Infringement filed against your account will result in further action that may include termination without warning. If you believe that you were designated by mistake or misidentification, and that you have not infringed ’s copyright, you may submit a sworn counter-notification as to the mistake or misidentification. Please contact the Flickr Copyright/IP Team for more information on this process: https://help.flickr.com/en_us/copyright-and-intellectual-property-policy-Hy9DcImP7 Regards, The Flickr Team
Within the same day, I responded to Flickr, explaining it was an honest mistake:
To: From: Daniel Zamir Subject: Personal apology for (unknowingly) using your image on Flickr Hi, First apologies this is my responsibility at the end of the day. Short excuse: Wallhere claims it to be non copyright (if my memory is correct). I will stop using them as source. However, you might want to check them for your images. Regards, Daniel Zamir
Response from the IP owner, same day:
From: Hi Daniel, Thank you very much for your reply and the heads up! I will certainly check the site for other images. I’m aware that some of my older images somehow made their way to different wallpaper websites – but I’m not sure how they got them. Maybe it was a different upload option at Flickr when I started with it. It’s kind of nice to see that other people like these gemstone macro shots. But I have a few plans for those so I just report any image that I can find outside my photostream. Please also don’t take it personally for reporting to Flickr, I’m happy that you enjoyed my image! Thank you, have a nice day and with best regards
While it was clear that we had a problem, being picky about what new images to upload was the easy part. Sorting through the 10,000 images all currently assumed to be “IP safe” was possible, but was a cumbersome process that had to be done manually.
Only a week later, while we were still going through the details of how to clean up the account, and without a second warning, Flickr blocked all access to the Deep Dreamers’ Styles Album account.
Part 3 – “Account Deleted”
On February 2, 2019, Deep Dreamers noticed an issue with the Flickr account: Frequent users were quick to point out that they could not access any image in the account.
Next, on attempting to log in, we (the other admins and I) got some unclear message that the account didn’t exist or that the user name / password was invalid.
“Password reset?” Nope… It seems the site doesn’t recognize the user name.
Later on that day, I got the following e-mail from Flickr:
From: Flickr Title: A Note About Your Account Hi daniel.zamir, In joining Flickr, you agreed to abide by the Terms of Service and the Flickr Community Guidelines found below: http://www.flickr.com/guidelines.gne http://www.flickr.com/terms.gne Specifically, this includes the following guidelines: *Don't upload anything that isn’t yours.* Only upload content that you have created and respect the copyright of others! This means don’t steal photos or videos that other people have shared and pass them off as your own. This includes other people’s photographs and/or stuff that you’ve collected from around the Internet. Your account was brought to our attention and upon review, we determined that your content and/or behavior was in violation of the Guidelines and Terms of Service. As a result, your account has been deleted. Regards, Flickr Staff
Part 4 – Why Did This Happen?
Some of the images were not original content (OC) but rather downloaded from wallpaper sites. So, when someone reported a copyright infringement, Flickr closed the account in line with its Terms of Service.
In hindsight, a single Flickr account was not viable as a general repository for Deep Dreamers for several reasons.
- The account holder is responsible for all content uploaded. This means that he must not upload an image from a purportedly PD (public domain) website rather than an OC image. Any infringements require Flickr to ultimately delete the respective account.
- The account holder must not allow third parties to access his accounts. Flickr accounts are for single users only, and while Flickr may appear attractive for content sharing and team collaboration, it’s not designed for that use.
Part 5 – What’s Next for Sharing Images?
Once bitten, twice shy
A word of warning to anyone who wishes to use a Flickr album to share style images: Make absolutely sure you upload only content you have created. Even if you upload collages you make that incorporate recognizable images from artists, you might draw the attention of so-called IP trolls. In this case, an IP troll is someone other than the artist who travels the internet for copyright infringers and sues them. If worse comes to worst, you may even be baited by content made available as PD or CC0 (Creative Commons zero, i.e. no copyright attached). If you don’t observe the CC licensing requirements to the finest letter and detail, you risk being sued for recovery of damages for violating that contract. And that can be very, very expensive.
What options do we have to share style images?
Let’s take another look at Flickr. Flickr’s great advantage lies in tagging. However, the permissions settings are a disadvantage for Deep Dreamers’ purposes. Not every Deep Dreamer wants to share their own art freely with the general public (public setting). But letting Deep Dreamers use images set to private would require the Flickr account holder to add all Deep Dreamers who use Flickr as friends, a tedious procedure. Deep Dreamers who do not have a Flickr account or who do not want to open one may browse the styles only if you give them a Guest Pass.
Other online style image management and sharing platforms for Deep Dreamers
Alternatives to Flickr include Google Photos (free version: unlimited space, but a maximum resolution of 16MP and no direct tagging) and 500px (free version: upload seven images a week, store up to 2,000 images, tagging possible). Ideally, the platform is free, does not restrict image size or the number of images uploaded, and enables tagging as well as searching by defined features. While Deep Dreamers’ admins and moderators have been exploring other options, they welcome any useful input.
Part 6 – More E-Mail Exchanges with Flickr following “Account Deleted” (Extended Version)
Background: While for the most part, the Flickr story ended when my pro account was deleted or blocked, the Flickr staff and I exchanged some more e-mails. This exchange started with my request to Flickr to restore images that I owned and that were hosted on the account without backup. Flickr (fortunately) allowed the account to be opened temporarily for a few days, allowing me to retrieve the images and even have the option to fully restore the account, under the strict condition that I would not upload a single IP-infringing image. Given the conditions, I chose to let Flickr to permanently delete the account after I had completed my backup. This resulted in a very informative, lengthy exchange about why Flickr did what it did, and about copyright law and law enforcement in general.
The e-mail exchange is provided below, without any additions:
My response to Flickr, from late February 2, 2019, the day the account was deleted:
To: Flickr (Response to e-mail) Hi, While I understand the reasoning for this, please keep in mind I used at least one source (Wallhere) that claimed itself to be only non-copyrighted images. I was not able to sort through the images in time, and only saw this email now. Since many of the images belong to me (personally), and to my friends, I would like to have at least a link to be able to get the images, many of which have no additional backup. Regards, Daniel Zamir
Response from Flickr, about a week later (February 8):
From: Flickr Support (Trust & Safety team) Title: Re: Possible Collection Account Hi Daniel, Against my better judgement and contrary to policy, I've restored your account and we're currently in the process of marking all photos on the account Private. I do, however, sympathize that you have irreplaceable memories which is what we're all about at Flickr, but that's the risk you face when violating the Terms of Service and Community Guidelines. You have two options:
- Download all of your personal content, then any “collected” content you may want to keep, and close the account.
- Download everything you don’t have local copies of, then meticulously go through the account deleting everything you yourself have not created, being sure everything is moderated correctly (set to Safe, Moderate or Restricted based on the content, and Private, F&F, or Public based on your preference).
If you go with option 2, you’ll be allowed to keep the account and the remainder of your Pro subscription. I will recheck this account in five days. If there’s a single TOS or CG violation, I’ll be forced to permanently close the account. That means one adult video, one wallpaper you didn't create, one screenshot of Rick and Morty will be cause for deletion. You will need to go through the process of reassociating your e-mail account with your Flickr account. I’m sending out a separate e-mail that explains that process. Should you have problems there, please start a new e-mail so the account specialists can help you through. Regards, Flickr Trust & Safety
After completing my backup, I sent the following e-mail to Flickr Support on February 10, 2019:
To: Flickr Support Title: A few final comments following IP issues, account deletion Dear Flickr support & Flickr Trust & Safety, First, I would like to thank you for giving me a chance to recover my personal images (regardless of whether it was “against your better judgment”). I am all in favor of option #1: Please delete the account asap! I think however it will be in your best interest going forward in understanding why this is my obvious choice (as in, worth your time in reading the remaining of this e-mail). The main reasons for this have nothing to do specifically to Flickr, and would apply to most platforms:
- The credentials to this account were shared with friends of mine, who share a common art hobby than relies on “collected” content. I trust them all, but the implications of this are clear: While I had the full responsibility for images, I did not have full control over content, and do not even know the source of most of 10K+ images that were there. This is very bad practice even with the full trust in my friends.
- To make matters much worse, it turned out in retrospect that some sources of “collected” images make false claims or give the impression of hosting only public domain images, e.g. the image in case came almost certainly from a site (https://wallhere.com/) that was falsely assumed to host only public domain images. While this specific example is a clear error of judgment on my part, it highlights the clear potential of even more “legit” content sites to have copyrighted images. When hosting a shared collection of collected art images (over 10K+ as mentioned), the law of big numbers means violations are almost unavoidable.
However, and despite the gratitude on how things ended, I also have some constructive criticism towards Flickr on how this was handled, which made an easy decision to close the account even easier:
- Retrospectively, overlooking the whole series of events, probably most shocking to me was the clear lack of a review process for IP infringement, even in the case of large number of violations. Here is, in my opinion, how a process might look like that is both strict towards violations while being more professional and respectful towards users: Upon finding violation(s) in any number, have automatic script to “freeze” an account, which would be effectively marking all content private while caching original state. Same script sends an e-mail to the user, notifying him of the exact violation(s), informing him that the account was ‘frozen’ (as opposed to the term “deleted,” which is both technically inaccurate or misleading and overly alarming), and giving the user 48 hours to either remove violating content or open a “dispute” / claim true ownership. Mind you, I probably really didn’t own the violating images, but no e-mail was sent at all except for “account delete,” so I don’t really know (potential violation of principle of “assumed innocence”).
- It takes a (relatively) long time for Flickr to respond to e-mails / messages. This magnifies point #1.
- While this is probably the least important critique, it also magnifies the feeling of unease that there is a (relatively) large number of “bugs,” which would be mostly be considered “minor” but add up. From experience of working in software (automation SQA), this to me adds up as a lack of best practices across the organization.
With all that said, I sincerely wish you the best of luck, and your platform has clear advantages over all other competition (which is why me and my friends chose you to begin with), particularly around tagging and search, which are very important when hosting many images. Regards, Daniel Zamir
Response from Steve, Flickr Trust & Safety, one day later (February 11, 2019):
Hi Daniel, Thanks for getting back with us, for your candor, and for taking the time to share your feedback. I see that the account has now been closed.
- To this first point, yes this is indeed the main problem. Per our Terms, “You are solely responsible for maintaining the confidentiality of the passwords associated with your account and for restricting access to your passwords and physical access to your computer while logged into the Services. You accept responsibility for all activities that occur under your user account.” Flickr accounts are only designed for a single user, and while the platform is attractive for content sharing and team collaboration, it’s not designed for that use.
- This is why our Community Guidelines state:
“Only upload content that you have created. Respect the copyright of others. This means don't steal photos or videos that other people have shared and pass them off as your own. (That's what favorites and galleries are for.)” The greatest issue is that when obtaining things from the Internet, there is no realistic way to ascertain whether the licenses are valid. To give an example, and something you should be very cautious of going forward with any platform you and your friends choose, is IP Trolls. These people exploit the ignorance of consumers and acting either alone or in conjunction with an accomplice make available content under public domain or creative commons license and one of two things happen. Either the content was NOT public domain or creative commons, and it’s represented as such, and when used, the ACTUAL copyright or intellectual property holder recovers damages either through invoicing or collection or by filing suit, which is fully within their right, as they themselves have done nothing wrong OR; content truly is made available under creative commons (which has strict requirements for CC licensing, such as giving attribution and providing a backlink) and when people do not observe those licensing requirements to the finest letter and detail, are subject to the same recovery of damages for violating that contract. While this practice seems shady and unethical, it is likely perfectly legal and a solid business model in which to victimize, or rather, allow unaware consumers to victimize themselves. Each violation may be in the thousands, and at 10k images you were a perfect target for a very, very large settlement that these guys win. With that, please try to see this as less of a reprimand or repercussion, and more of a rescue. You may just have dodged an enormous life-changing bullet that only you alone (and not your friends) would have to endure. We see complaints often due to this practice and there’s little we can do other than through our TOS and CGs attempt to protect the intellectual property rights of others and require our members to upload only content they’ve created (not content they think they're licensed to use).
- Having just purchased Flickr, we’re working from a codebase that in some circumstances is greater than 15 years old. We’re just not there yet. Typically, on a “normal use” account when a copyright violation is filed, we will walk through the process of executing a takedown under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), giving the accused the opportunity to file a counter-claim while temporarily removing the offending content. However, in this case and others like it, when seeing an account that primarily consists of collected and not original content, it’s more efficient to simply close the account, as it violates not only DMCA but our TOS and CGs and despite our efforts, will never get the opportunity to speak with an actual person. It most cases it’s simply a waste of time to try since bringing these types of accounts into compliance would typically leave absolutely no legitimate content. Most often, it is a case of blatant and flagrant abuse exploiting our platform for collection (usually porn). We did send one Copyright Violation notice to your account, but with the volume, the account was flagged for Trust & Safety review at which time we elected to simply delete the account, which is an accurate term as this account had to undergo a deletion recovery process to accommodate you which is typically not possible and not an option. Had this not been done when it was, the account would had been irrecoverable.
- Yes, indeed. Again, while we’re making great strides, having recently acquired Flickr we’re still building our teams and trying to tame the beast. We’re currently focused on high priority and critical interactions, harm to children, terrorism, e-crimes and fraud, and providing priority support to our paying users (after you were deleted, you no longer received priority support). With that, we’re certainly not where we’d like to be with providing timely support to our free subscribers. We will get there, and we’re already leaps and bounds ahead of the “support” previously offered by Yahoo. I do welcome you to create a new account to see that transformation if you do still have personal use that conforms to our TOS and CGs. You’re not banned or anything.
- We certainly welcome any bug reports and feature requests. These do have to be prioritized and may take some time before they become priority as we continue rebuilding our infrastructure post-Yahoo, but anything that affects the user experience is pretty critical to our mission.
I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to share your feedback. It’s rare in cases of TOS violations that I am privileged to have a conversation with an actual person with legitimate feedback and legitimate uses and concerns, as opposed to simply cursing me for deleting their donkey porn or bringing about their arrest for violations I won’t mention. I’m happy to know we were able to reunite you with your personal content and that our mission of protecting priceless memories was at least somewhat successful. As I mentioned, you’re not banned from our platform so if you do still have personal uses that fall into our Terms and Community Guidelines, I welcome you to create a new account and re-upload your personal content (after being sure you have a local backup!). Sincerely, Steve Flickr Trust & Safety
Part 7 – My Opinion
Based on the last response from Flickr (from Steve, Flickr Trust & Safety, February 11, 2019), assuming I understood it correctly, we’re facing a real challenge in how to move forward with the shared image repository.
Keep in mind many of the issues with copyrights has much to do with the *source* of the images, not with the platform on which you choose to publish them.
Let’s say you download (mind you, even pay for), a “open source” image. Nothing will stop the original owner of the image from changing the IP status of the image retroactively, without much notice, or from adding bs requirements for using it. Next, he may go on to sue you for all you own for using the image (unknowingly) in contravention of the law.
This might sound sleazy to the point of being absurd, but it turns out it is a common business practice. Even worse, many “free” wallpaper sites are involved in taking action against the very people who use their site. Please note that my thoughts are based solely on the e-mail response. Filipe Cruz, who know stuff about this topic, has called out this opinion / interpretation (posted word for word in a recent discussion on Facebook) as being inaccurate:
Filipe Cruz: “...For something to be considered free for use it needs to come with a license or explicit permission, and that when given is irrevocable (unless specifically specified to be temporary or for a specific use beyond the one you are then using it for). If someone tries to go after you, you just need to present proof that you had that license (screenshot of the chat, url where you found the image claiming to be free for use). A free wallpaper download site is typically not licensing its use for third party re-use, just allowing you to download for private use. If there is no license next to the image, don’t assume it’s free for use. When in doubt contact the website, or find a properly licensed alternative. Unless of course your definition of “open source” is taking something from a random place on the internet without checking its license for third party use, then indeed you are open to get taken action against. Free for download != free to use. To avoid problems, stick with materials in public domain or that come with proper Creative Commons licenses allowing you to do your use.”
My suggested solution for sharing images
I propose using Google Drive (but with some added functionality). Here’s how this concept could work:
I am currently working on a new project (in progress) to create your own Flickr-like image repository, with all the tagging, smart-search bells and whistles, for free.
The basic idea is that you upload your images to Google Drive or sync them there from other people. The project is intended to add functionality to Google Drive via external image recognition API (https://clarifai.com/), so that you get the same level of functionality Flickr had – but without the “patent troll” risks (or with much, much lower risks), since most of the time, all images are private, meaning only you can see them.
More information about Project
The concept could work as follows:
- Each user has his own repository of images that he can partially or fully sync with a main image repository (I’m tempted to call it the “master” repository ;-)).
- During the sync, he can make the repository public to anyone who asks. It will be private all other times.
Go to README.md for more information.
I also added a short video to “prove” this can be done, at least in terms of the most challenging part of the puzzle (image recognition):
Why make the repository public during sync (and not just “shared”)? The goal is to have searchable images, so image “tags” also need to be potentially synced via external object recognition API. After some research, I think Clarifai appears to be the best option. This concept presupposes a fairly low number of Deep Dreamers. Our Facebook Group currently has only about 500 Deep Dreamers, so most of the time there will be no reason for sync. For most practical purposes, even the “main” repo will thus be private. That means that IP trolls will never find it. The access grant can and should be automated via “Apps Script.”
What if we do choose Flickr?
Alternatively, crowdsourcing style images across several Flickr accounts held by Deep Dreamers could work. This is an option we may yet consider.
Written by Daniel Zamir (with input from Irene Muehldorf and Filipe Cruz)