The Piano Player of Kiev

December 8, 2013 · 16 comments

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Finding the source of a photo on the web is seldom easy. This photo of a serene piano player on the streets of Kiev, playing placidly in the rain while facing helmeted security forces, quickly went viral yesterday and was picked up by social media and traditional media worldwide. Photojournalist Jeremy Nicholl of Russian Photos asked on Twitter if anyone knew who took the photo. Here is how I found out:

1. Jeremy referred to a tweet by TheBlogPirate
2. A Google Image search for the image found an earlier tweet by Sergiu Zamari in Hungary at 7:59am on Dec 7th. The caption was “Man playing piano to riot police!”
3. A search on the English caption found many additional uses but none seemed promising.
4. The image used by @zamari was larger and a repeated Google Image search found a Photo of the Day entry by Ukrainian blogger Igor Bigdan . The photo was credited (c)Левый Берег to a Ukrainian news service Left Bank
5. A search of the Left Bank site for piano (піаніно) and pianist (піаніст) and review of recent images came up empty.
6. Another Google image search adding the filter site:lb.ua found more images including an even larger one on a Russian aggregator blog
7. A source credit pointed back to a Google Plus post by Gordon Black which was a reshare of a G+ post by Oksana Vus
8. Near the end of the comments one commenter noted the image had been published by Der Speigel and Oksana replied “Dear, this is not my photo! ” and referenced a tweet by Ukrainian journalist Nastya Stanko at 6am on 12/7
9. A Facebook search found Nastya’s Facebook profile where she posted on Saturday a reshare of a photo posted by Олег Мацех
10. in a comment on a reshare of the image by Anastasiia Bereza, Oleg, one of the protest organizers, explains “Thank you all! Use the photos on your own, it is common property and collective authorship” and explains that the photo was his idea, that Andrew Meakovski is the photographer and Markiyan Matsekh is the pianist, and that although it wasn’t really staged they did ask people to move away a few steps for a moment.

In another interview Oleg says “It was a great pleasure to watch the crowd, happily singing Chervona Ruta (a Ukrainian folk song) while the police timidly began to shake their heads in time to the music.”

What is fascinating about this convoluted journey of one image across the web in less than 48 hours is that it rapidly hopped from one social media network to another and another (Facebook to Twitter to Google+ to blogs to Twitter again) and that it was variously credited along the way to several different sources before losing attribution completely. A news service or anyone trying to source the image might have a very difficult time tracking it down.

Last month a jury recently awarded news photographer Daniel Morel $1.2 million after finding Getty Images and AFP guilty of copyright infringement for misappropriating Morel’s images of Haiti earthquake from Twitter even though they knew (or should have known) the source and sought permission. This situation is different since the image was actually made by the protest organizers who were keen to have the image published to further their cause. However, considering how fast it spread and how it jumped from service to service, there really wasn’t an easy way for a prospective publisher to find that out. Tracing back to the source takes time and perseverance.

Interestingly, in the same two hour timeframe that it took me to track down the source using search engines, Jeremy found the same source through his multiple twitter contacts.

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