Creative Commons Licenses

Hi Folks:

I shared this on the message board for our local photography group and thought I’d post it here as well. I received this link (Yahoo Starts Selling Flickr Users’ Photos) from a family member the other day, and since it’s likely to kick up a lot of controversy I thought I’d add a few notes here. Sometimes companies try really hard to shoot themselves in the foot, and sometimes they seem to prefer to go for the head shot… Be that as they may.

First of all, Yahoo is not doing anything (technically) illegal, nor have they changed their Terms of Service or anything to get people to give up their copyright. Rather they’re using permissions some people have already given them (and everyone else), perhaps without realizing it. We come back to Copyright vs. Usage Rights.

Let’s forget about photography and digital images for a moment. You own a lawn mower that you built. You own the lawnmower, it’s yours and you own the design. For physical things like a lawnmower that’s called a patent. For artistic works it’s called copyright. Now, you may decide that no one else can copy or use your lawnmower or your design except by paying you under specific contract. You own the copyright and you reserve all rights to it. That’s one level of usage. Now someone might try to steal your design and use it illegally, but that’s an entirely different issue. The rest of this is about legal use.

You have a lawnmower, and you decide to let your neighbour use it to cut his grass. That’s a usage right. Your neighbour doesn’t claim ownership to the lawnmower, but he has the right to use it when needed. That’s another level of usage.

You have a lawnmower, and you decide to let your neighbour use it to cut his grass. Being the generous sort, you not only allow your neighbour to use it to cut his grass, but you allow his kids and others to use your mower to cut other people’s grass to make money. That’s a another level of usage.

You have a lawnmower that you’ve designed, but you decide that your neighbour (and others who like to tinker) should have the right to change the design, to make improvements, to use parts from your design – maybe the newly designed motor for example – on other machines that they own. Nobody is allowed to sell your ideas, but they can use them in their own creations. That’s a another level of usage.

You have a lawnmower that you’ve designed, but you decide that anyone who wants to should have the right to change the design, make improvements, switch out parts, and to sell their ideas, as long as they give you credit for the original design. That’s a another level of usage.

For artistic works all of these different scenarios (except all rights reserved) are covered under what are called Creative Commons Attribution licenses. Under Copyright, All Rights Reserved, you have your images on Flickr or whatever, but nobody is legally allowed to even download them without your permission. Creative Commons allows other people to use your work in different ways. You decide whether people can use your work commercially or not, and you decide whether people can change your work or not. Changes might include cropping, re-editing, including your work in a composite, whatever. There are six Creative Commons licenses, all explained here: http://creativecommon…­

All six licenses require that the people using your work respect your copyright, credit you as the owner of the work and link to you or your image in their use of it. A Share-alike license is the most open, saying that anyone can use your work in any way provided they respect your copyright. A Non-commercial license means that people cannot use your work for commercial purposes: they can’t sell any derivative works or make money from them. A Non-dervis license means that people can’t alter your images. A Non-commercial/Non-dervis license is the most restrictive.

So basically what the article is saying is that unless you’ve attached a Non-commercial license (or all rights reserved) to your images, other people can make money from your work. Yahoo! is taking advantage of that fact and selling people’s images because the photographers have given them permission to do so.. You can set a license for any or all images in your Flickr photostream and you can set a default license for all of your new images.

As for Marcia and me, we have all of our images set to a Creative Commons Non-Commercial/Non-dervis Attribution license. Anyone is welcome to download and use them with three conditions. One, they can’t make money from them. We’re not, so why should anyone else? Two, no one else can alter them in any way. Three, people have to give us credit for the images and/or provide a link back to the reference image (on Flickr or wherever they found it). We also limit our Flickr uploads to 1024 pixels on the longest edge. At even 200 pixels/inch, that would make about a 5″ print.

Here’s an example of one of our images on the NatureWatch website in NZ. Here’s one of our images on the Victoria Clipper site.  Now, the Clipper is a commercial company, but they’re using our image to promote Victoria, so it’s all good. Notice in both cases the copyright has been respected.


P.S. Setting or changing your license on Flickr is a two-part process.

1) For any images you already have on Flickr, the easiest way is to go to You/Organize to bring up the Organizer window. Now, click the first thumbnail on the bottom left, go to the extreme right and shift-select the last image you have. Drag them all up into the Batch window. At the top, click Permissions/ Change Licensing and select the license mode you want.

2) To set a default license for any new images you upload, you click on your profile picture (top right), and go to Settings/ Privacy and Permissions/ Defaults for new uploads/ What license will your content have and choose a license there.

NB: Although 500px, Smugmug and other sites haven’t announced their intention to start selling their users’ images, if you’re allowing CC share alike (i.e. without the Non-Commercial attribute) you’re still giving others permission to sell your work. You may be okay with that; each person has to decide on their own comfort level.

6 Replies to “Creative Commons Licenses”

        1. wolfnowl Post author

          Sheila: The \’lawnmower\’ used in in this post was an analogy. For something physical like a lawnmower you wouldn\’t need a copyright but a patent, and for that you\’d have to contact your local Patent Office.


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