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Remixing the President

Aaron Shaw has a very interesting post on what sure looks like contradictory instructions from the White House about whether we’re free to remix photos that have been released under a maximally permissive U.S. Government license. Aaron checked in with a Berkman mailing list where two theories are floated: It’s due to a PR reflex, or it’s an attempt to impose a contractual limitation on the work. There have been lots of other attempts to impose such limitations on reuse, so that “august” works don’t end up being repurposed by hate groups and pornographers; I don’t know if such limitations have any legal bite.

Dan Jones places himself clearly on the side of remixing. Here’s the White House original:

And here’s Dan’s gentle remix:

Bring it, Holder! :)

2 Responses to “Remixing the President”

  1. NB Contracts govern that which can be alienated by the individual (property) or that which has already been (unethically) alienated by the state (the liberty/right to copy).

    The individual cannot contract away any liberty that has not already been abridged. So to speak in terms of “impose a contractual limitation” is misinformed to put it mildly. One can provide conditional licenses (restore liberties suspended by copyright), but one cannot take further liberties (even if the other party agrees – see ‘inalienable’).

  2. I discovered this in 2010 and posted a comment under many of the photos pointing out that the more restrictive claim is pure BS—which it is. The only possible legal hook they could hang a hat on here is publicity rights. One cannot use images of the president to imply endorsement. (Fair enough; that’s a far cry from what they say.) I posted enough comments to (a) rile up many other Obama supporters (among which I count myself), and (b) to get a Flickr message back from the photographer. Here’s what he said, in its entirety:

    :: FYI

    I appreciate your comments on our Flickr photostream. I
    know you’re bothered by our language accompanying the
    photographs. All I can say is that official White House
    photos of the President are in a different ball game than
    other government works. You’re right that there is no
    copyright on these images. But there very much are strict
    legal limits about using the image of the President in
    certain ways. I am not an attorney so I don’t know all the
    ins and outs. But this language was developed by the White
    House counsel’s office to mirror the “likeness” policy of
    using the President’s image that has been in effect for
    many, many administrations. Hope this helps.
    Pete Souza

    They now no longer allow comments, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. Souza’s account would not even accept a reply from me, EVEN THOUGH he messaged me first. So much for transparency and accountability.

    FWIW, as another non-lawyer (but somebody who teaches a whole class in copyright), I feel free to go ahead and do whatever I want (except imply presidential endorsement) with any of these pics. One of my FB profile pics is me photoshopped in Biden’s place so that it looks like I’m walking with my arm around Obama.

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