Flickr & The Purloined Picture


You must agree that this is an apt image by Linoleum Jet who captions it ‘Eating purloined pears’ (

Purloined sweets are always sweeter
Purloined kisses much completer
Purloined looks are nice in chapels
Purloined, purloined be your apples!
With apologies to Thomas Randolph’s ‘Song of Fairies’

The Purloined Letter by the brilliant writer Edgar Allan Poe is a detective story with a twist. It is not about murder, unlike Poe’s The Murders In The Rue Morgue or The Mystery Of Marie Roget; instead, it involves petty theft, petty blackmail and petty deception and, let me coin a term to describe it, psychological thinking – and that’s why the story is the opposite of petty: it’s worthy of Edgar Allan Poe and our reading and thinking.

A summary of the story of The Purloined Letter: The Prefect of the Parisian police comes to know the identity of the thief, but after 3 months of carefully searching his apartment, they can’t find the letter he is using to blackmail a lady. Of course, C Auguste Dupin finds it, not using logic but using psychology. Psychology is not something to explain (by logic) but something to understand (by something other than logic). How do you hide something so that it’s impossible to find? Hide it in plain view, in an obvious place. Trying to think like the thief, Dupin found the letter in a pasteboard that hung dangling by a dirty blue ribbon from the middle of the mantelpiece (the shelf over a fireplace). With his logical mind, the Prefect did not miss but he ignored the dirty blue ribbon that held what he was looking for. The lesson? Don’t overlook the obvious.

Now, about Flickr and the purloined picture. I have had three ‘scrapes’ with three Flickr photographers I don’t have to mention their names. You see, I downloaded images from their Flickr accounts without prior permission from any of them – that made them mad when they learned about it. In the first case, he found out on his own, and boy! was he enraged. Can’t blame him. He demanded that I give him my post office address and that he would send me a demand letter or, if I refused, he would sue me in court. I refused. He was charging me $250 for that one photo I purloined from him. I deleted it. I told him even if wanted to pay, I couldn’t – I had no money in the bank and hardly any in my pocket. He emailed another one whose photo I also purloined, but the guy was so much nicer. In the third case, I emailed the owner of the image and she was quite nice but I sensed she too was unhappy, if not mad, and like the other two, made me promise to ask permission first. I promised.

Promises are made to be broken. Guilty.

Now, I want Flickr owners to think about The Purloined Letter of Edgar Allan Poe. In Flickr, the petty theft goes on, and you can’t stop it. You can’t scout the whole Internet, and out of it, for Flickr thieves. When you do find out, you can of course sue for damages, but you’ll spend more than $250 for a case, and you’re lucky if you win. (I delete the image and then where’s your evidence? Remember this: In law, if there is no body, no corpus delicti, there is no murder.) That should be obvious. So, do some psychological thinking. It will now become obvious that all your photographs are there begging to be downloaded, because you made them all public, especially if you’re a good shot. They are copyrighted, yes, marked with that little symbol ©, but I for one have been downloading images I’m attracted to without thinking that I’m stealing from anybody, honestly not noticing those little symbols. All those beautiful pictures, they’re all a steal!

Purloined sweets are always sweeter
Purloined kisses much completer.

Notwithstanding, I purloin pictures with three crucial differences. One: When I use them to illustrate entries in my blogs – and you can be sure I have plenty of entries and plenty of blogs – I always give credit to whom credit is due, citing the Flickr names and the captions, if any. (You can look all over this page now, and the many links; click under Blogroll.) Two: I never purloin pictures to make money out of at the owner’s expense. I use them in my blogs, that’s all. None of my blogs carry any kind of advertisement; I got rid of all the ads, even the hit and visit counters. (And of course, selections from the ones I do download but not upload take turns being my desktop background. I choose the young ones, girls, with the wide smiles and hardly any decolletage showing. (It’s the smile, stupid.) Now I enjoy my desktop even more.) Three: I don’t deliberately modify them so that they look different and their original ownership cannot be traced.

No, I know that all that doesn’t excuse me from purloining somebody’s picture. But it does illustrate a point I want to make, which I did try to make with the fellow who wanted to sue me in court – I deleted his image and replaced it with a new one, not from him. He didn’t realize it, but that was opportunity lost. Think. I don’t think I’m the only one purloining pictures from Flickr or somewhere else in the Internet. I’m suggesting now as I suggested to him, the idea if not these exact words:

If you really want to prevent anyone from purloining your pictures, don’t make them public. But you want the public to share your pleasure with your pictures, of course. By all means display them! Then, why not accept the obvious – you have been told and/or you have found out that your photo has been purloined – now then, forget your purloined logic and use the occasion to proclaim to your friends or family or clients: ‘Look, I’m good enough to be exhibited by this fellow, and this one, and this one.’ You might as well recognize it for what it is: Downleading with uploading is a sincere form of flattery – and it’s public! And what is that? That’s exposure. Cash in or build on the exposure. What else do you want? So you want to sell your talent through your photographs? Then learn from the business of marketing; try this one: Turn a negative into a positive. Then, I’m positive, we all will be winners.

Revised 19 October 2006


Explore posts in the same categories: adult education, Edgar Allan Poe, Flickr copyright, Flickr photos, Psychological Thinking, The Purloined Letter, Turning a egative into a positive

One Comment on “Flickr & The Purloined Picture”

  1. very insightful read, thankyou.

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