Photography: Major newspaper accidentally puts a photo of mine on the front page

March 17, 2010

A few days ago a family friend mentioned to my mom that it had been neat to see a photo of mine in The Oregonian, the west coast’s oldest newspaper and bastion both in local culture and my own life—my mother worked there from well before I was born until she retired a bit over a year ago.

My mom then fired off an email to me after finding a text copy of the article in question, showing that there was a photo credited to me. Of course, being a text copy, there was no way to see the photo itself, but the content of the article suggested it was probably this one:

"Old Perpetual"

I knew that the article had been published on Feb. 22, and I knew that I needed to find a print copy, as the online variant of the article didn’t have my photo, or any mention of any photo by me. David was smart enough to Google “lakeview lyza gardner” and the first relevant hit, after posts on my own site, was this (scroll down*).

Not only did I have a photo—unknowingly—in The Oregonian, it made the front page.

My first reaction was one of shock. Having been around various folks at the paper for much of my life, I know that they don’t source photos willy-nilly. There are photo editors and procedures and these are educated people. I’ve successfully published both written and visual items with them previously.

Is this a mark of the newspaper industry’s sinking ship? The Oregonian, specifically, recently capped a series of employee buyouts with a rather sweeping round of layoffs. Budgets are furiously tight, freelancers underpaid, editorial quality wavering. Or is it a display of digital ignorance in terms of how to appropriately search for legitimate images online for use in commercial publications?

The photo in question is licensed with Creative Commons’ Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic. That’s a mouthful, but the premise is fairly straightforward.

Creative Commons — Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

Detail of Creative Commons license page for this license. The highlighting is my own.

Not to mention that a photo editor or other professional sourcing an image for publication should know how to search correctly for appropriately-licensed images.

This little box at the bottom right of a Flickr image page links to information about licensing.

On Flickr—which is where I can only imagine that this photo was picked up—this can be done thus:

  1. Get thee to the Advanced Search page.
  2. Search for what you will, but near the bottom, make sure to note this section: Flickr: Advanced Search
  3. If you are looking for images for a non-commercial entity, say, this blog, which is just an instrument of personal expression, selecting the top box is enough (“Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content”
  4. If you are, say, a major newspaper, you’ll want to be sure to click the box that searches for content to use commercially.

My mother, being ever a champion for my cause, followed up before I even got a chance (she knows who to call). I got a sincere apology from an editor and an offer of payment. Via an email, this editor claimed that this was only the second time a photo had slipped through the cracks during the six years he had been around.

I do believe that there is honest chagrin here. I’m sure that the professionals who are likely stretched impossibly thin cringe every time something like this gets past them. But at the same time, how much of this goes by silently? Would I ever have found out were it not for the fact that I live in town and know a lot of people who know a lot of people who read this particular newspaper? What do you think?

* I would have reproduced the image of the paper here, but the terms and conditions are weird/not originally in English and I couldn’t determine if it was OK.


  1. Call me pessimistic, but the number of times I’ve dealt with this and it’s been blamed on a intern or an assistant that doesn’t know better. Obviously, this might be a case of an honest mistake and each case is different, so I can’t call bullshit on any particular event, such as this. But, in general, I honestly think that it’s become an accepted part of business to run photos first and ask forgiveness later. Think about it. You’re dealing with people with tight budgets. It’s like playing lotto no paying the $2 parking meters and seeing if you get a $25 ticket. Except in this case, if you get caught, you offer to pay the $2 parking meter charge. You don’t have to do it much to come out ahead.

    Just saying.

  2. Mark says:

    You definitely should be compensated for it. If you’re releasing the image under a CC license to where it can’t be used for commercial purposes, and they in turn print it (and therefore release it commercially) you should be compensated for it. They’re essentially breaking the license.

  3. Preston says:

    The site you link to ( is almost certainly violating The Oregonian’s copyright! Which is pretty ironic in a blog post about how your copyright was infringed.

  4. Fran says:

    In response to the comment by Davidson, pessimism is all very fine, but I did work in The Oregonian’s newsroom for 32 years, and it was definitely not SOP to publish any image without clearing its rights. The folks I contacted there were appalled that it had happened to Lyza. The newsroom is struggling to put out a product with a fraction of the staff it had just a few years ago. Such a lapse was just waiting to happen, but I doubt it was intentional.

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