Flickr CCFlickr’s gallery of Creative Commons photos for wall-art prints. Photograph: PR

With a very modest apology to an astoundingly arrogant move to sell Creative Commons' licenced images as wall art, Flickr announced recently it would discontinue the controversial, for-profit venture.

From the Guardian Tech story, Flickr scraps plan to sell users' photos as wall art after licensing row:

"Flickr has announced it will stop selling wall-art prints shot by its community of photographers after a heated debate around Creative Commons licensing.

"On Thursday, Flickr apologised, saying the service – which offered high-quality mounted and canvas prints – wasn’t in the “spirit” of the Creative Commons community.

'“We’re sorry we let some of you down,” Flickr’s Bernardo Hernandez wrote in the apologetic blog post."

The story also quotes Corynne McSherry, Electronic Frontier Foundation’s intellectual property director, as saying: "It doesn’t appear that Flickr is doing anything wrong." Legally? No, of course. That's what can happen with CC generic licenses. But Flickr soon found out what they were doing wrong. We hope the EFF did, too.

Where images are still used for "free" in commerce

That Flickr took the spirit of Creative Commons too liberally should be surprising, but it isn't, really. Creative Commons' licensed images are regularly used online, both by for-profit and non-profit ventures, to enhance their stories and brand appeal, thus increasing their value to fund raisers and ad partners. It is no wonder that internet marketers and SEO specialists tell their clients, "Use images, images, images!"

Capitalizing on that revenue-enhancing call to use images everywhere, companies have 'flocked' to Flickr's CC-licensed images as the go-to place for "free". That's why we recommend against using CC, especially with Flickr. Creative Commons licenses are valid forever, as long as they are, ahem, respected*. With copyright attribution, you have the right to take control. Attributing images with your copyright, both in metadata and with a watermark, allows you the ability to claim where and how your images are used. These steps also help protect work that YOU created from becoming an orphan work (traveling the web without any record of authorship) and exposing them to commercial exploitation.

You can learn about metadata here, and which social media sites strip or preserve metadata.

And, if at all possible, register your work with the US Copyright Office! (You can register in bulk.) You will then have the full power of the law behind you.

The internet is a marketplace

Let's face it, the reality today is that the internet is an enormous commercial marketplace. Much wealth has been accumulated by a relative few because of the hundreds of millions of images freely "shared" on the internet. Think of the OSP's (online service providers) that are worth billions merely for the "free" image content they publish. Then imagine that service without them. That should give you an idea of the value images generate!

Help Flickr users reclaim their rights!

  • Whenever you see a CC-attributed image adding market value to a story via any online service provider/social media outlet, contact that user and let them know, especially if they used a CC-NC (non- commercial) license. Ask them to go after that website for usage fees (for a CC-NC image).
  • Encourage ANY CC user to change their license to "All Rights Reserved". They would still retain the right to allow free usage in particular instances (by request) but they can also barter or negotiate for monetary compensation. The important point is: the choice will be theirs.

Take control

Take control of what you create.

  1. Decide who you uses your work and under what conditions.
  2. Read and understand the "terms and conditions" any online outlet requires.
  3. Be smart about what you "share".
  4. Consider what you're worth and ask for it, always. Don't give away the value you created merely to line another's pockets.

When you step up and take control, you raise the bar for everyone.


*You can change or remove your CC license, but the change only applies to new uses. Those who used your CC image previously have the former rights forever.