Monday, March 02, 2020

Scraping Photos

Dog and Fisherman

I’m writing this because I received this curious email from a stranger:
I am writing to inform you that your image "Dog and Fishermen" was used as part of the public COCO image dataset. I found it here: COCO is a collection of 328,000 images scraped from Flickr without the knowledge or consent of the photographers such as yourself. This dataset was originally created by Microsoft and is commonly used to build algorithms and computer programs that can detect objects and people, to be used for surveillance cameras and other detection purposes. I thought it was important that you know your image was used in these efforts.

Now that you are aware of this, I was wondering if you could tell me a little more about the photo. Where and why did you take it? What was the context for it being taken? If there is any backstory, I’d love to hear it.

Additionally, I would love to know your opinions on your image being used in this regards, without your knowledge or consent.”

Further enquiries revealed that this person is working on a thesis which “looks at image datasets and the ways they are created, organized, and implemented. I am specifically looking at the COCO dataset which uses hundreds of thousands of images scraped from flickr without the knowledge or consent of the image owners, such as yourself. I'm interested in re-contextualizing these images in their original contexts and juxtaposing that with the labels and organizational aspects that the COCO researchers assigned to each image.’


This photo was taken at dusk on my local beach in Adelaide, South Australia. It’s in April so getting cooler in the southern hemisphere. One of the two fishermen is completely covered, but it can’t be too cold because the other is wearing shorts.
Adelaide faces west so we routinely get magnificent sunsets. This photo is taken on an evening with pastel skies – an extra treat when atmospheric conditions are just right.
I walk along this stretch of beach several times a month, always with camera in hand. I don’t know how fruitful it is to do this kind of shore fishing – most people locally choose to fish from the nearby jetty - but in non-swimming seasons it is not an uncommon sight to see people from the shore.
I often take photographs of shore fishermen at this time of the day because they and their rods and lines often present intriguing silhouettes in the fading light.
The dog is a bonus here. As it says in the comments beneath the photo:
What was funny when I took this photo was the fact that this dog decided to stop and look like he was with 2 guys fishing. He actually belonged to someone else and wandered off to them after I took the pic!”
The sea, as is often the case here In Adelaide, is dead calm. Adelaide is on a gulf so does not face open ocean and never gets what you’d call ‘surf’.

How do I feel about my photos being used like this?

As all my photos have the least restrictive Creative Commons license I accept that they can end up almost anywhere. Really the only condition is that however and wherever my photos are used there should be some visible attribution/acknowledgement of me as the creator of the image somewhere. There is no obligation on the part of the end user to notify the owner of the image, nor ask for permission to use it, though many people do so out of courtesy – something I always appreciate. I would receive at least one email per fortnight asking permission to use a photo of mine in a book, website, newsletter, etc
I guess it would be nice if the people behind the dataset at did notify Flickr users that their photos were being used in this way, but ultimately I’m more intrigued than annoyed that one of my images has turned up on this site

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