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Hey, Isn't That . . .

He says average individuals are increasingly thinking of themselves as artists, whose work has value -- or at least deserves respect. Lessig predicts that as the average Joes have their own material appropriated, it will eventually result in better behavior from both individuals and corporations.

Or, in total anarchy?

* * *

When news broke of the Alison Chang story earlier this fall, Virgin Mobile Australia released a statement (and has subsequently declined all interview requests, including one requested for this article). In part: the campaign "was part of an approach designed to reject cliched 'advertising' imagery in favour of more genuine and spontaneous shots."

Griscom, of Babble, similarly explained the magazine's decision to use Flickr, calling the images found there "more original, less generic."

It's easy to get so caught up debating the fairness of photonapping that we miss the other question: Why would big name corporations even want our point-and-click photographs?

The answer seems to be less "Because we can" and more "Because we need to."

"Authenticity is the new consumer sensibility," says Joe Pine, a business consultant and co-author of "Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want." It is the criterion "by which people decide what to buy and who to buy it from."

It's a byproduct of the user-generated world: the trustworthiness of YouTube, the realness of Facebook. Above all else, we believe ourselves. "People don't want to buy the fake from the phony anymore," Pine says. "They want to buy the real from the genuine."

Most of Flickr looks genuine. Type in "nerdy teen" and the current first hit is not some stylized nerd with braces and suspenders and mismatched socks. What you get instead is an image more subtle -- an old yearbook photograph of a smiling brunette, glasses not quite right, hair not quite right.

The image is more "right" than the Steve Urkel an ad firm would have concocted.

And the ad firms get that. So we get videos like Burger King's "Freakout" campaign in which real people are told the Whopper has been discontinued. They do their best to replicate real.

Viewers can spot a professional pug model from across the living room.

It all gets very meta.

And none of it is comforting to the people who have had their images grabbed online.

So while these issues of authenticity and fairness and legality are all being sorted out, amateur photographers who find themselves more famous than they would like may consider taking advice from Niall Kennedy.

When his initial e-mails to the Microsoft blog asking it to remove links to his photo didn't immediately work, Kennedy replaced the image with one of a man engaging in an activity best described as "extreme mooning." Visitors to the Microsoft blog who clicked on the innocent-looking link were guided to the new photo.

Says Kennedy, "They pulled down the link within 15 minutes."


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