Flickr Photos Used by Virgin Mobile

Virgin Mobile seems to have just made a potentially big ‘oopsie.’

In a current outdoor advertising campaign, the giant media corporation grabbed a photo off flickr (from user chewywong) and slapped it onto a billboard. That’s not where the issue lies. The photo was licensed under the creative commons and all that was required for use of the photo was the printing of a link back to the source material and Virgin complied with this license.

The problem lies in that the image featured an unreleased minor. Using this photo without a model release opens up Virgin to a potential claim by the model. Currently, the model and her family are investigating their legal options in a claim against Virgin. They’re not pleased about the use and probably won’t have a big problem finding a lawyer to pick up the case for them.

The usage was originally discovered by a flickr user (sesh00) who hoped to inform a fellow user about the use of the photo. He saw the billboard in Australia and took a photo which he posted here (see that link for much of the commentary from the model and her family). He has also posted this thread that discusses the situation.

Instead of paying a photographer and model to produce a shoot, Virgin looks like it may be paying even more both in terms of cash and in public opinion.

9 Responses to “Flickr Photos Used by Virgin Mobile”

  1. Mikey Leung says:

    Very interesting discussion, considering I am now thinking of using Flickr to get more visibility for my photos.. Have you had to deal with any cases of image theft as of yet?

  2. dsawchuk says:

    Since I don’t really use it all that much I only put up low res versions of my images, it hasn’t come up for me.

    I have had a travel company ask to use one of my images for free, but I turned them down.

    I actually find it a bit surprising that so many people put up high resolution work and that there aren’t a lot more cries of work being stolen.

  3. Susheel says:


    Just wanted you guys to know about the recent fiasco where a very popular flickr photographer, Rebekka Guðleifsdóttir had her pictures stolen and used without permission and subsequently had a lot of issues…

    Here are a couple of posts from her blog explaining the issue… do read the comments… many are quite enlightening

    See the link below for Rebekka’s flickr stream

    I hope that offers some idea of what’s going on…


  4. dsawchuk says:

    Hi Susheel,

    Thanks for the info. I covered that story a little while ago here, here, and here.

    Lots of flickr drama lately. 🙂

  5. Dave says:

    Darby, the ad campaign also used a photo of a popular web designer Molly Holzschlag. You can check out her reaction over at her blog,

  6. dsawchuk says:

    Hi Dave,

    I had a feeling there might be a few more instances of this happening. It is a big campaign after all and they probably needed a number of images. If they were dumb enough to make the mistake once…

  7. Damon says:

    Hi, my name is Damon and I’m the brother of the girl whose image was used in the Australia Virgin Mobile Campaign.

    There is a big discussion thread on the FLICKR forums, but I just wanted to post and let you guys know that we have retained legal counsel in the US and have sent Virgin Mobile US and Virgin Mobile Australia a formal demand letter requesting compensation for the use of her image in these ads. I feel that it should be fair that they compensate her since they used her image for commercial purposes.

    Here’s my email address in case any other photographers or models from the ads want more information:

    Any legal queries can be forwarded to:

    Ryan Zehl
    c/o Fitts Zehl LLP (Houston, Texas)

    Here’s the link to the FLICKR discussion thread:

    Flickr thread here.



  8. dsawchuk says:

    Thanks for keeping us up to date and good luck with everything.

  9. Keith says:

    All photographers should pay attention to the metadata files and fill out the form properly before opening up their images for use, whether copyright free, or chargeable usage.

    I now embed all my travel images as “Intended for unreleased travel imagery.” That way there is no doubt in the potential users mind that model releases have not been obtained. It also ensures that the user does so at their own risk and that from a moral point of view the photographer has distanced him/her self from any legal issues that may arise from its use.

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