That Picture Looks Great On You

Flickr Photographer T-shirt created with Flickr Badge, photo by Ritsa, from RobW_'s Flickr photostre

Not only are photographs everywhere, but they’re on everything. And you, too, can contribute to the picture pile-up. If you’ve got any interest in becoming a walking billboard, or before you abet others who do, take a look at a series of articles by Charlene Haze Alcantara at—Photography as Graphic Design 101, Parts 1, 2, and 3—that detail how the use of photographic images on t-shirts has become widespread, fashionable and tricky. What’s fascinating—in light of our image-driven culture—is the fact that the articles give readers a crash course in some of the complex issues surrounding the clearing or circumvention of photo reproduction rights.

Alcantara reminds readers that as digital photography and photo-design programs become more accessible, it’s easier for them to grab, manipulate and display images to express themselves and/or make a buck. While that’s not news, what is surprising is the level of detail Alcantara lays out as she describes the ins and outs of image rights and usage. Is it permissible to appropriate recognizable images of politicians or celebrities on your t-shirt? Is it legal to appropriate and use images you find through web searches on the Internet? Is every photograph copyright protected? How far should you go you go, legally, to clear usage? And should you decide not to be hassled with that, how likely is it that rights holders will come after you?

The take-away from these articles is clear. Photographs are cool. The process of making and using them keeps getting simpler. And pictures become valuable in ways that those who took them never could have imagined. Gazillions of pictures are now out there and circulating online, and with the everyday general public’s easy access to publishing, printing, and distribution tools, once-arcane tasks like clearing rights and paying reproduction fees are going mainstream. Some photos will have price tags attached to them and some (like most of those on the Flickr Commons, Flickr Creative Commons, and the Wikimedia Commons) are free for the taking. With individuals and institutions all grappling with budgetary and funding issues, the timing is right to pay more and closer attention to the literal and figurative worth of images as we indulge our endless appetite for them.

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