Those Creepy Phone Pics You Took Might Have Been Immortalized in Print

A New York artist bought a bunch of old phones from a Sugar Land man and published a book packed with the pictures and texts he found in them.
Mon December 3, 2012 9:31 pm
Kyle M. F. Williams

Live in Sugar Land? Recently upgrade your phone? You might want to sit down for this, because BuzzFeed reports that a New York artist who purchased 44 Motorola V3 Razr cell phones en masse on eBay from a Texan reseller has self-published a book containing photos and texts discovered on 23 of the devices.

The artist, Kyle M. F. Williams, originally purchased the phones for $89 for a project that would involve gluing them to a scooter (Razrs on a Razor, if you will). But once he discovered the payload of "texts, sexts, pics, and vids" that unwitting owners forgot to erase before parting with their phones, Williams's project quickly took another direction.

"I took a couple days and figured out how to dump all the content from the phones onto my computer," Williams told BuzzFeed.

Dwight Silverman over at the Houston Chronicle 's Techblog tracked down the person on eBay who sold Williams the phones. The seller, a "Houston-area student who's in the middle of studying for finals" and prefered to remain anonymous, elaborated on the phones' origins to Silverman: 

The 44 Razrs sold to Williams were not acquired from individuals. Some came from businesses that recycle old cell phones. Some came from Texas sources, while others were scored from around the U.S., so the phones may not contain personal information from local residents.

So what did this uncensored peek into these phone reveal? A mix of "selfies," vices, general tomfoolery, and potentially life-altering missives. 

It's unclear where the book falls in copyright and privacy law. Silverman contacted Houston-area attorney Katie Sunstrom of Lorance and Thompson, P.C., to speak to the legal issues raised by this case: 

There may not be much of a issue regarding copyright, as personal texts, photos and videos generally don’t have market value. But the creator of the content would still retain copyright, unless the content was expressly released into the public domain.

More importantly, Williams’ book does raise privacy concerns, Sunstrome said.

'There’s an invasion of privacy issue,' Sunstrom said. 'If you send a text or an illicit picture, you have a reasonable expectation that it will be kept private and not be made public. Maybe the phone owner is negligent for not deleting the content when they discarded their phone, but publishing that content is an invasion of privacy.'

For Williams part, he tweeted to Silverman that if he receives a cease-and-desist order he'd pull the book, but at $9.99 a copy he only needs to sell a handful to make a profit. And if this venture goes well there might be a follow-up. As the anonymous seller told Silverman: "Let Kyle Williams know if he ever wants a sequel, I have thousands of phones available.” 

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