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Obama might be banned from taking selfies for all the wrong reasons

The selfie heard round the world
The selfie heard round the world
Win McNamee/Getty Images

The leader of the free world has a selfie problem.

President Obama loves taking selfies — he's done it with everyone from world leaders to teenagers — but his latest shot with David Ortiz during the White House ceremony to honor the World Series champion Boston Red Sox has caused a tiny, ridiculous firestorm of controversy. Ortiz took the photo with a Galaxy Note 3 supplied by Samsung as part of a larger promotional deal, and when the electronics giant gleefully retweeted the image it violated longstanding rules against using the President's likeness for profit. That's not good, but it probably didn't deserve anything more than a light slap on the wrist, especially since both Samsung and Ortiz have said the moment wasn't planned.

"I wasn't trying to do anything," Ortiz told The Boston Globe last week. "It just happened in that moment. It was a fun thing. I signed that deal with Samsung a few months ago. They didn't know what would happen. Nobody did."

But things have gone much farther in the week since the photo was taken: White House senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer told CBS' Face the Nation yesterday that "perhaps maybe this will be the end of all selfies," presumably ending the practice from now on.

That follows press secretary Jay Carney saying White House lawyers had talked to Samsung and would "object" to the photo on the grounds that it was "advertising," and what appear to be several more humorless conversations amongst lawyers from both parties. David Ortiz and the President thought they were taking a selfie, but what they were really doing is asking us all to reconsider the nature of sponsorship deals in the world where Twitter exists and Samsung's $14 billion annual marketing budget is roughly equivalent to the entire GDP of North Korea.

Assuming Samsung and Ortiz are telling the truth and the moment was unplanned, it's hard to see the problem. Samsung gave him a camera, and he used it — and then Samsung pointed out that he'd used it. Once he'd tweeted the photo, it didn't even matter that he had a deal with the company; Twitter's terms of service allow anyone to retweet or embed public tweets. Ortiz's tweet has been retweeted some 42,665 times and favorited some 49,000 times already — should Twitter be slapped on the wrist for the gobs of PR the service is getting from this controversy as well? What about the Red Sox, who embedded video of the entire ceremony on their site — a video of the President singing the praises of their championship season? That seems like much better use of the President's likeness for promotional reasons than a single selfie.

Just for the record, official White House photographer Pete Souza took this photo with a Canon 5D Mark III.