Get Shouty

July 25, 2007, 9:31 am
Filed under: Digital Strategy


Reported in the fabulous Bannerblog:

Virgin Mobiles latest campaign Are you with us or What which covered press, outdoor and online has been using photos from Flickr that were under an attribution creative common license.

So what? you say. As long as you credit the photographer you can use the photo for free for any use. Sweet deal for the agency as photographers can be expensive. Damn if only Herb Ritts used Flickr. So nothing wrong so far, an email to the photographer or a free phone would have been nice, but nice doesn’t make the world go round.

What is causing all the problems is that the photographers didn’t get model release forms for the people in the photographs. Most budding photographers wouldn’t even know what that is or need to. Not only did Virgin Mobile fail to get photos with models releases they insulted some of them with the actual ad. They did a double whammy with the image above the girl is 15 years old. Ouch.

While bloggers and the Flickr community are up in arms, none of them are lawyers and this could all fizzle to nothing. Virgin seem to have changed all the photos on the website Are you with us or to remove any faces.

The general agency spot poll  consensus is “Yeah Flickr is a great place to get free photos”. You even break copyright law by basing vector artwork on a photo you don’t own copyright for see here. Although this is a lot easier to hide and harder to prove.

Virgin Mobile could have avoided any negative press by just paying a partly fee to those who agree and opting to not use photos for those who don’t.

If you want to read more about this then check the article in the Australian, the offending Pen pal photo, a Flickr group discussion where even Flickr’s GM weighs in, or here where a representative of Virgin Mobile’s advertising team apologizes (slightly) or just Google it and read for hours.

Bannerblog have the official response from Virgin Mobile’s media people: 

“Flickr is about providing a platform for photographers to reach new audiences. As such the decision to feature Flickr photography was based on the desire to champion a vibrant, current, online community. It was part of an approach designed to reject cliched ‘advertising’ imagery in favour of more genuine and spontaneous shots. It is typically Virgin to embrace fresh initiatives and the democratic spirit of Flickr matches the inclusive nature of our ‘Are you with us or what?’ campaign. The images have been featured within the positive spirit of the Creative Commons Agreement, a legal framework voluntarily chosen by the photographers. It allows for their photographs to be used for a variety of purposes, including commercial activities. All of the photographers have been accredited in the adverts.”

ABC Radio / Triple J had a discussion on this – listen.

I can’t help thinking that, as a big brand with deep pockets, being half-arsed is no way to act when you get questioned by the community that you profess to be ‘supporting’.  Celebrating a spirit doesn’t give you license to not have rigour around legalities and not to compensate all the parties involved in the creation of your message. 

A hot topic in ad land is about how to protect and charge for agency IP. Unless the players in commercial content creation game stand up for the little guys, how can we set the agenda with our clients. Become the change you seek.


5 Comments so far
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Let me say again…


Comment by Sean Howard

Virgin Mobile have apparently withdrawn the campaign.

I suspect most users of Flickr aren’t that interested in “intellectual property”. Sure if someone makes a million bucks out of your photo then you want a cut eh? But if you want to make money the istockphoto is a better bet. What you really want to do is share your photos with your mates and have fun.

Which is where Virgin Mobile missed the point. Imagine you are showing some photos to friends and some random stranger comes up and says: “Hey, you look a real dork in that” and then invites the whole room to boggle at your dorkicity.

How good is that going to make you feel? And how uninclined to legal action are you going to be as a result?

There is a really good, ground-breaking Flickr-based campaign for Virgin Mobile to develop there (their product takes pictures for heaven’s sake) where participants get to feel great about themselves and have fun and it’s not about making giving anyone else a kicking.

Comment by Matt Moore

Matt- not that I’m defending Virgin, but the photos used were not the standard, they had been released under a Creative Commons license that only required attribution.
I am a BIG believer in context. The photos were released for the potential of celebrating the art of the photographer, not mocking the subject.
I agree that Virgin missed a great chance to showcase their understanding of social media and their product.
I wonder what the effect these ‘free’ photos have had on their bottom line?

Comment by katiechatfield


So this is something genuinely interesting. It seems that this context of celebration was lost – which is a real shame. The end result was really clumsy – partly as a result of trying to be too clever? Kind of like trying to make an off-hand humourous remark in a group conversation and really pissing people off (not that I have ever done that, esp. not in the Rose in Erskenville).

And I would suggest that this isn’t primarly about legal issues (altho that’s what it’ll get boiled down to). CC may only ‘require’ attribution but the people who take the photos and are in them might need something else.

The real shame for Virgin Mobile is that their brand is one of the best positioned to take advantage of this stuff and now they’ve been burned…


Comment by Matt Moore

This campaign initially made me envious…of course because working on a brand that fits and having a client trust you in going this route is still a treasure here in OZ. Seeing the aftermath and how the backlash was handled, I wonder why this particular client did not remember (from the Jason Donavan campaign) that campaigning consists of much more than getting the work out.

Comment by tim

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