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Flickr says 'Obama Joker' image removal complied with takedown request

August 20, 2009 |  2:35 pm

The now-infamous "Obama Joker" picture. Credit: Firas Alkhateeb

After a Chicago student gained national fame for editing a picture of President Obama in the image of the Joker villain from "The Dark Knight" and posting it to Flickr, some of the focus, especially among the tech community, quickly shifted to Flickr for removing the image.

On a site forum, Flickr, a Yahoo property, says it isn't banning accounts for posting the altered version of a Time magazine cover.

However, the company did receive a notice of infringement under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA, which sparked the removal, wrote Heather Champ, Flickr's director of community.

When asked who filed the request, Champ wrote in a follow-up e-mail, "We aren’t able to give that information out." Even the artist, Firas Alkhateeb, is left guessing -- though, he assumes Time was behind the notice.

"Under the DMCA, an individual may choose to file a counterclaim," Champ wrote in the posting. "Whether you love or hate the DMCA, that is a whole 'nother conversation (and one that really should include a glass or two of some frosty beverage)."

The Times noted in its profile of Alkhateeb that his picture disappeared from the site shortly after we had found it and that Flickr had sent him an e-mail about the removal, citing copyright concerns. The potential of copyright lawsuits from DC Comics or Time magazine became Alkhateeb's primary concern.

In that same story, a representative for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit organization that defends digital rights, said Alkhateeb has a legitimate fair-use argument for the image. Alkhateeb says he's been in touch with the EFF and plans to file a counterclaim.

"More than anything, it's a free-speech issue," Alkhateeb said on the phone today. "I really don't think it should have been taken down in the first place."

Many commentators online agreed and wondered aloud about Yahoo's ulterior motive.

"I don't know how this crazy game of telephone got started," Champ wrote. "I'm not sure how complying with the law has led to the idea that we (the Flickr team) have a particular political agenda."

[Updated at 2:55 p.m.: Added comments from Firas Alkhateeb.]

-- Mark Milian

Follow my commentary on technology and social media on Twitter @markmilian.

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