Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sonia Zjawinski, NYT's "Gadgetwise" Blogger, Likes To Take Your Photos Off Flickr And Hang Them In Her Living Room.

Sonia Zjawinski, a NYT blogger, has stirred up quite a controversy among photographers by endorsing on the NYT's "Gadgetwise" blog a practice that many consider theft.

In a post called "Flickr As An Interior Decorating Tool," Zjawinski has disclosed her habit of taking photos off Flickr pages and using them to decorate her home:

I sift through Flickr on a regular basis for images to use as visuals for my blog posts....I’ve gotten in the habit of printing faves out and framing them. If a user offers the original resolution for download, don’t let that go to waste. Download, print, frame!

Zjawinski does go on to acknowledge that there may be those who consider her approach to home design unorthodox, or even perhaps a violation of copyright law:

And if you’re wondering about copyright issues (after all, these aren’t my photos), the photos are being used by me for my own, private, noncommercial use. I’m not selling these things and not charging admission to my apartment, so I think I’m in the clear.

Obviously, photographers and others may feel quite differently about this, but it’s a thorny issue: If printing out an image on Flickr isn’t ok, what about Wi-Fi picture frames that stream images from Flickr and display them in your living room? What about Tivoing an episode of Lost and watching it later with friends?

The writer promises a followup post in which she'll interview lawyers about the implications of her approach, but it may be too late to calm the angry voices that have already surfaced on the web. Within hours of the appearance of Zjawinski's post at 6:31 p.m. last night, dozens of Twitterers expressed outrage at her apparent endorsement of artistic theft.

"Is this lady for real?" posted one angry photographer. "She has no concept of copyright/ownership. Thanks NYT."

According to a Linkedin profile, Zjawinski is a 2000 graduate of the University of California at Berkeley. She was previously home market editor for Budget Living Magazine -- that may explain something -- and has writting for Wired Magazine and New York. She has been writing regular posts for the Gadgetwise blog since March of this year.

As an aside: the photograph of Zjawinski, at left, appeared without credit on the website, to which Zjawinski contributes. We presume she'll have no objection to our use of it. In the interest of full disclosure, The NYTPicker admits to the occasional use of photos and illustrations taken from websites without express permission, the practice Zjawinski endorses. We do our best to limit the use of such images, and as often as possible, post pictures provided by the NYT or other outlets for publicity purposes.

Maybe someone should ask Michele McNally -- the NYT's assistant managing editor in charge of photography -- what she thinks of Zjawinski's decorating techniques. She's this week's guest in the "Talk To The Newsroom" feature at You can reach her at We'd ask, but they don't like us much.


Ron Hogan said...

If Zjawinski limited herself to photos that had Creative Commons licenses, there wouldn't be any problem at all with what she's doing.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it's easy to search through Flickr for photos with CC "share alike" licenses. The photographers encourage that kind of sharing. Sigh.

Jake said...

Any idea what her Flickr user name is? I'd really like to block her since I do try to make a living doing this...

Anonymous said...

What if she likes a picture in the print edition of a large metropolitan newspaper, cuts it out and tapes it to her wall? Is that any different? If so, how? Should we track sales of masking tape?

The biggest abusers of copyright (and "fair use") have always been the large media who do it to save, metaphorically, two cents. It's a matter of principle for them.

Anonymous said...

If she likes a picture in the print edition and clips it out, she's not violating copyright. She already paid for that copy when she purchased the paper.

Anonymous said...

Oh, great. That means that if I subscribe to the online version of the WSJ and see a photo I like, I'm free to print and hang up any pictures from the thing because I've paid my fee, right?

I suppose that also means I can resell the pictures to the NYT, because I now own them, having given my thirty cents or whatever it is to the Journal?

This will make Mr. Murdoch very unhappy.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what's so hard to understand about copyright. It's all very easy for me to grasp. When you pay for one copy of a newspaper, you get one copy. It's a way to make sure that all of the consumers pay some share of the development costs.

The digital world gets stranger, but it doesn't allow such wild leaps as one of the anons proposes. Just because you buy a subscription to the WSJ doesn't give you the right to sell reprint rights to someone else. You can probably say that it gives you the right to print out a copy for your wall because it doesn't break the fundamental idea at the core of the transaction: everyone pulls their own weight.
It certainly doesn't give you the right to put it on your own website or print as many as you like.

Anonymous said...

BTW, am I strange or am I the only one disturbed by Nytpicker's cavalier attitude toward the copyright of photos? Everyone wants to have a well-illustrated blog but no one wants to pay the cost of a fotog.

Anonymous said...

It is certainly, um, interesting that the NYTPicker is actively violating copyright with its use of photos without permission for a publicly distributed blog, a far graver offense than taping a printout to your wall.


Anonymous #9:

It's a fair point.

We strive hard on this site to only use pictures of reporters and editors offered by the NYT for publicity purposes, which means that the NYT intends for media organizations like ours to use those pictures free of charge. Occasionally, we'll use a photo from a news story to make a point about the photo; in those cases, we're protected under the rights of fair use.

Once in a while -- and as rarely as possible -- we've used a photo or illustration that isn't clearly in the public domain, and without permission. It's an offense committed daily by thousands of blogs. That doesn't make it right, and we do our best to avoid it. If an artist contacts us to remove his or her work from the site, we'll do so immediately.