Politician pin ups – open-licensed pictures, please

Politicians, like visits to the dentist and taxes, are a necessary evil. We all moan about them, but someone has to take care of the machinery of state.

So it’s important that we hold them to account, and elsewhere document their activities in a neutral way. Hyperlocal bloggers do the former, and the latter takes place on Wikipedia, and on sites like the excellent OpenlyLocal (both of whose content is open-licensed).

To illustrate such articles, bloggers and Wikipedians need photographs of the politicians (and senior officers). While it’s possible for individuals to take such pictures (and even open-license them, as I described previously), it would be better if such pictures were available from official channels. Such organisations already take or commission professional quality shots and make them available to the press. If they don’t already, they should make sure that their contract with photographers pays for full rights, enabling open-licensing.

I recently asked Birmingham City Council’s press office to make their pictures of members of BCC’s cabinet available under an open licence, and, to their credit, they did so. I was then able to use one of them on :

Wikipedia article using a picture open-licensed by Birmingham City Council

Some might ask “but what if the pictures are misused, to misrepresent those people”. Well, if someone’s going to do that, then they won’t bother about copyright anyway, and other laws (libel, human rights) already enable redress.

So come on all you councils, civil service departments, police forces/ authorities and so on — let us have pictures of your elected members and senior officers, free (i.e. with no “non-commercial” or “no derivatives” restrictions) for reuse on our blogs, Wikipedia and other sites. Major companies, too, could do this for their most-public board members.

Then there’s all public bodies’ other photographs. After all, West Midlands Police kindly agreed to my request to open-license the fantastic aerial shots from their helicopter…

St. Martin in the Bullring Church, Birmingham
Birmingham’s Bull Ring, from the West Midlands Police helicopter. Although this picture is ©WM Police, I can use it, here and on Wikipedia, because they kindly make it available under a CC-BY-SA licence

20 thoughts on “Politician pin ups – open-licensed pictures, please

  1. Peter Weis

    Thanks for sharing this Andy.
    In Germany we did several of what we call “Landtagsprojekte”. The idea is bring the Wikipedia community and the members of the German Landtage (state diets) together and take pictures of our politicians. Germany has 16 federated states and we managed to take pictures in 3 (Lower Saxony, Thuringia, Hamburg) of them so far. Further projects are planned. With technical and financial support by WMDE and Skillshare ev. we were able to realise these projects in the past.
    Releasing images under a free licence isn’t always possible due to the photographer’s rights. Based on the problematic legal situation for many of these photos we decided to take new ones ourselves. If looking at the content that politicians or their PR agencies provide already to Wikipedia, we noticed a significant gap in image quality. This set of photos is unlikely to be re-used outside the web due to their smallish resolution. On the other hand there is the high resolution quality that we were able to achieve by our projects. Here’s an example of the Hamburg Parliament: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Annegret_Krischok_IMG_6105_edit.jpg

    Regards, Peter Weis

  2. Marc Reeves

    Please double check, but I believe the Conservative Party allows fair use of any images on its Flickr account. If so, a good principle for their parties to follow too.

  3. Liam

    I’ve previously tried to get access to the official portraits of Australian federal politicians – to use in their biographies on Wikipedia (for the same reasons you described above). Whilst the lawyers, parliamentary library etc. were understanding and thought it was a good idea, apparently the proposal was rejected from ‘higher up’ because of a fear that those pics would be used for satire if they were freely-licensed.

    This is daft. Satire is already allowed as a legitimate exception to copyright law so free-licensing it won’t change that. Furthermore, as you’ve also pointed out, issues like defamation or libel are still perfectly enforceable independently of copyright. And finally, as you also mention, most people wanting to make fun of politicians will ignore copyright anyway and probably chose a more embarrassing photo (whilst eating perhaps?) than the official portrait.

    In fact, making the official picture free-licensed *decreases* the impact of satire because it makes sure that the good quality picture is the most available and widely distributed.

  4. Jim Barter

    I’m not actually supposed to say. I’m employed as a contractor to keep our website healthy and safe. 😉

  5. Kelly Quigley-Hicks

    I didn’t realise that Wikipedia couldn’t use non-commercially licensed images – and your open-licensing post is incredibly helpful on an area that a lot of people are confused about.

    One thing about releasing pictures is to make sure that they’re actually decent quality and project a professional image of the politician and their party/organisation. I blogged a basic how to guide last year for councils here: http://kellyquigleyhicks.wordpress.com/2011/07/08/say-cheese-councillor/

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  7. Jani

    Hi Andy. I was wondering if you have set a license for your blog. I’m thinking of republishing this post in Finnish (after translating it myself), but I wouldn’t want to break any terms you may have set. You have good points I’d like to raise with local decision makers if I get the chance.

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  9. Helen Reynolds

    Hi Andy,

    Great suggestions here. I work for Monmouthshire County Council and I’ve now put our councillor photos taken this week up on Flickr under a Creative Commons licence. Our website has an open government licence too so any information there is available for reuse. I think we just need people like you to tell us what is useful, it’s in a council’s and residents’ interests to have information and content shared and spread around I think, keeps us all informed 🙂


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